A Change in My Surroundings

Who you are surrounded by matters (more discussion on this in a future blog).  What you are surrounded by matters as well.  My house holds great memories, but it is also where I lived when I was diagnosed with and battled triple negative breast cancer.  And, I’d like to rid myself of some of these reminders.

There’s no spigot of money, but there are some relatively low cost things that I can do to surround myself by some beautiful and uplifting things that replace negative reminders and provide instant gratification.  Items of beauty and positivity can be a constant source of encouragement, motivation and inspiration.  Here are a few:

  1. Music player or iPod speaker – uplifting music at your fingertips. (I will share some uplifting tunes on my playlist in a future blog).
  2. Bible verses, poems, calming passages posted or framed (I will share a few that I like and that have been motivational for me in a future blog).
  3. Piece(s) of art – preferably one that you create. Watercolor, drawing, sculpture, framed puzzle can all be therapeutic as well as become pieces of art.
  4. Color throughout. Paint can be a quick, easy and relatively inexpensive project, especially if you tackle an accent wall; an accent wall should be the wall that you look at first thing in the morning and last thing before you go to sleep.  You can also add some colorful curtains, pillows or throws (remnants from most fabric and craft stores are sold at discounts and could be a good source for creating some of these pieces).
  5. Uplifting books of hope, faith, and courage. (I’ll share a few that I like and that have been motivational for me in a future blog).
  6. Flowers – if not allergic, a few fresh flowers from the supermarket are not too expensive. If you have allergies, the synthetic flower market has really evolved and they have some that look like the real deal.
  7. A vase filled with colorful marbles or accents.
  8. A vision board (definitely would love to discuss this in a future blog) or a picture of your serenity place (the beach, the woods, a mountain).
  9. Scented candle if not allergic or some fragrance that is tolerable. Plus, the candle market has evolved and some are also actually like works of art.
  10. Pictures of you and your support team that will reinforce the full force that you’ve got behind you.

This is not an exercise in interior design or a makeover, but more a spruce up to help infuse more positivity and uplifting things in your every day.  If you don’t have the time, energy or finances to begin these changes, they are great suggestions to provide to your support team when they ask “How can I help?” “What can I do?” “What do you want?”  You can provide your list and invite their assistance to help you infuse your surroundings with positive reminders and beauty.

Please send pictures and updates of any ideas that you incorporate in your surroundings and also any additional ideas that you have to add to the list.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

I Don’t Want to Land on My Feet

I’ve fallen many times.  My mother’s death from breast cancer knocked me down, off my feet.  My triple negative breast cancer diagnosis knocked me down, off my feet.  Growing up, I always heard the platitude that things are good if you land on your feet.  I’m going to remove this phrase from my vocabulary.  I DON’T, I never want to land on my feet again.  I want to fly, high!

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

Putting the Puzzle Together

Stuck in that place where your life is like a 1,000+ piece puzzle and you just don’t know how to solve it?  As a Reconstructionist™, I’m often consumed with how to put things together to solve this puzzle of rebuilding life after a breast cancer diagnosis, a life threatening illness, a life changing or catastrophic event.

My daughter loves puzzles and my late mother loved puzzles.  I’ve seen each spend hours or just a few minutes to quickly solve a puzzle depending on the type, the color variations, and the sizes and shapes of the pieces.  There are so many ways to solve a puzzle.  I remember my mother would start by picking out all of the corner and outer pieces (any with a straight edge).  She would build the entire frame first and then methodically complete the inner pieces.  My daughter will sometimes dump everything out and first work on pieces that have similar colors and graphics.  She will put together groupings of pieces at a time and then put those groups of pieces together to solve the puzzle and see the Big Picture.

Throughout my life, I’ve seen my late mother and, now, my daughter solve many puzzles; each with her own method and timing.  I’ve been guilty of feeling overwhelmed by the puzzle pieces of this “new normal” and being like an ostrich with my head in the sand.  But, I’ve learned that your head doesn’t need to be in the sand. There are multiple ways to solve the puzzle, some fast and easy and some more lengthy and difficult.  But, solving the puzzle starts when you open the box and dump out all of the pieces and begin to see things take shape.

Think about how you will you get started working on your puzzle right now!

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

Reconstruction. Picture This.

My children love building bricks, building blocks and manipulatives.  They will painstakingly work on designing them according to the instructions to insure that they look exactly like the picture on the box.  When they get knocked over and shattered and pieces lost, after their anger and frustration, they go back to work.  With missing pieces, I’ve still seen them make great designs.  It may not look like the picture or the ideal image that they had, but it still looks good.

I have to continually make sure I keep this in mind.  Breast cancer and life reconstruction – physical, spiritual, financial – may not look like the picture I once had in my mind.  As I’m rebuilding, I haven’t always followed the “instructions”.  But, I’m still (re)building something phenomenal!

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

Role Model in the Mirror

The road to healing from breast cancer has been full of potholes, detours and navigational challenges.  In these difficult moments, when a straight and uncomplicated path seems elusive, a response is often to seek a mentor, role model, celebrity whose narrative details their navigation from dark days to seeming paradise.

I’ve found myself looking for or renting movies that recount stories of survival, tenacity, resilience and courage.  They highlight the strength of someone I admire for their ability to, against the odds, persevere and prevail.  I’ve used this for motivation; watched the movie or read the books or the magazine article.  It’s fine to look outside for influences that can inspire and motivate us.  But, I know for sure that the most inspiring person with the most motivational story, the most compelling example of fortitude is you.  The role model you seek is the person looking at you in the mirror.

  • The young survivor who pursues her PhD all while managing recurrences and multiple new treatments; a message to breast cancer that you won’t erase my dreams.
  • The mother of two young children who trains and completes a marathon in the midst of treatment; a message to breast cancer that you won’t take my physical strength.
  • The woman who’s battled breast cancer and ovarian cancer multiple times, undergoes a multitude of physically challenging treatments but continues to travel nationally and internationally to advocate for legislation for breast cancer patients and increased funding for research; a message to breast cancer that even if you keep coming, I’ll keep going.
  • The young woman who takes “breaks” from chemo nausea to plan a magical and unforgettable birthday party for her daughter to maintain some normalcy for her young child; a message to breast cancer that you won’t destroy all of the treasured moments in my life.

Sometimes our strength is in simply getting up to face another breast cancer day.  THE FIGHT.  THE GRIT.  THE RESOLVE.  Even in the midst of their breast cancer battles, they fight for themselves and others, hold on to dreams and keep traveling down the road, regardless of potholes, detours and navigational challenges.  Some are your stories.  Some are my stories.  They are a potent reminder of the strength that we all have as breast cancer survivors; of the dogged determination that we draw from a well that may, at times, seem empty.  We push forward against and despite the odds.  The next time you need to be motivated and encouraged, reflect on your own incredible story, tap into your own fuel, step in front of and be uplifted by the role model in the mirror.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

More Days Like This

Mel and Ken jazz concert 070616

On Wednesday, I spent the morning and afternoon at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) offering a survivor’s insights on the National Cancer Institute’s study of African American women and breast cancer.  This is the largest ever national study on “how genetic and biological factors contribute to breast cancer risk among black women.” Along with Dr. Damali Martin of the National Cancer Institute, I conducted radio and television interviews sharing this information nationally, especially among African American women.  That evening, my nine year old daughter, Kennedy, and I went to an outdoor jazz concert.  When I was battling cancer, I wished for motherhood moments like this.

My health and my family are a priority!  When I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2008, my first prayer was for God to let me see my children grow up.  I was especially concerned because triple negative breast cancer disproportionately affects African American women, young women and there is currently no targeted treatment.  I was increasingly concerned because of my family history; I’m fifth generation in my family to have breast cancer and many of my relatives succumbed to breast cancer in their 30s and 40s.  African American women, while diagnosed at a lower rate, have a higher rate of breast cancer mortality.  All of these factors fueled my concern when I was diagnosed at 38.  My daughter was 19 months old and my son was four years old.  I am blessed that I have been able to watch them during the last seven years and it was nice to end the day with my daughter after being encouraged by the release of NCI’s study.

One of my insights through my cancer experience is the importance of access to information.  I believe that learning as much as I can about this disease and my specific subtype has helped me advocate for myself to ensure that I’m getting the best care.  Seven years later, as my daughter and I listened to the soothing music, the concert ended with a Louis Armstrong tribute and the band played “What a Wonderful World”.  We sat smiling (see picture above) and I thought to myself, it’s indeed wonderful to be able to enjoy this time with my daughter.  As the NCI study on African American women and breast cancer begins, I am hopeful that the findings will ensure ground breaking information that leads to more ways to reduce disparities and ultimately eradicate cancer.  I pray for increased survival and quality of life.  I hope that my daughter and I have many more years of jazz concerts together.  And, I hope that the outcomes of this study will provide many more days like this for me and Kennedy and for African American women who face breast cancer.

For more information on this study visit:

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.


In My Lifetime

In my 46 years, I’ve seen many positive changes that I didn’t think I’d see and couldn’t imagine years ago.  I remember my grandmother and other older relatives commenting on advances and progress that they thought they would never see in their lifetimes and now I’m living the same thing.  I hope I live through at least one more.  But, here are a few that I’ve experienced:

  • Typing – I’ve moved from using a typewriter to an electric typewriter to a personal computer to a laptop and now a tablet
  • Telephone – I’ve gone from the big yellow (or green) phone on the kitchen wall to a cordless phone to a wireless phone
  • Computer memory – I’ve gone from saving college papers on a floppy disk to using a USB flash drive to saving my documents in the cloud
  • Listening to music – I used to listen to music on a boombox and then a Walkman and now an iPod
  • Watching movies – I used to watch movies at home on Betamax and videotape and then DVD and now you can watch movies on Blu-ray

In my lifetime, I’ve had the opportunity to live through many changes and advances.  As Vice President Biden leads the Cancer Moonshot Summit today with the goal to “double the rate of progress toward a cure”, I hope that this collaboration and new approach will allow me the privilege of expanding the list of progress and change that I’ve lived through.  I hope that I can say to my children and grandchildren that there used to be the dreadful cancer diagnosis, then there were cancer treatments and therapies and now there’s a cure.  I’m grateful to President Obama and Vice President Biden for their commitment to the Cancer Moonshot’s goal and I hope that I can say that cancer is cured in my lifetime.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.


Thumbs Up from My Kids: Prayers for a Cancer-Free Future for Them

AACR Cancer Moonshot panel

(Photo of Early-Career Investigators from left to right: Kara A. Bernstein, PhD; Major K. Lee, IV, MD, PhD; Christine M. Lovly, MD, PhD; Paul A. Northcott, PhD; Jose G. Trevino, II, MD)

My 9 year old daughter and 11 year old son give me thumbs up or down when I have to miss an activity in their extremely busy pre-double digits and preteen lives.  They know “mommy works in cancer” and are forgiving if my advocacy conflicts with their schedules.  And, I get thumbs up from both for missing today’s summer afternoon activities as I attended the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Congressional Briefing on “Seizing Today’s Opportunities to Accelerate Cancer Research: An Update on the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative and a Dialogue with Early Career Investigators”.

Working in cancer can foster a range of emotions as you see advocates succumb to disease or promising treatments fail to achieve their intended results.  But, the best days are those that highlight advances as well as showcase the current and future generation of researchers and clinicians who’ve dedicated themselves to answering the unanswered questions about the many diseases that are cancer and are searching for more ways to: prevent cancer; expand screening options; increase survival; and ultimately eradicate cancer.

I was beyond impressed with their passion and dedication to not only treating patients, but also educating their patients and being visible in the communities that they serve.  They addressed a variety of topics that impact the current and future standard of care including:

  • NIH funding
  • National Cancer Moonshot Initiative
  • Precision Medicine Initiative
  • Immunotherapy
  • Health Equity
  • Clinical trials diversity
  • Biology of tumors

There was also an encouraging discussion on pediatric cancer.  Beyond discussing these issues, the researchers’ and clinicians’ dedication was palpable.

Their research is so important to me, having lost my young mother, aunt and many young cousins to cancer.  When I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2008, I asked God to let me survive to watch my kids grow up.  I appreciate every opportunity to be with them, but also appreciate their understanding of those times when our schedules conflict and I have to miss an activity because of my commitment to working in cancer.  I’m thankful for their thumbs up today.  I left the briefing enthusiastic, reenergized and also hopeful.  I’m hopeful that the work that these researchers do will allow my kids, despite hereditary cancer in our family, to have a cancer-free future.

I’m off to play with my kids.  Today was a great day.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.


Blizzard In My Life – The Aftermath (Companion to Periscope)

Today I started a series of Blizzard Chats on Periscope (https://www.periscope.tv/w/aXeY1zEyODM4NTEwfDFlYUtib0xBcVJaR1hypLERBawL4NlmoM_LCTzjKZpfJU2-GOglFiwJ1mhW1Q==).  I live in the Washington, DC area where Blizzard 2016 dumped about 2 feet of snow on us.  The blizzard, great storm, reminded me of storms in my life; in particular the storm that was my triple negative breast cancer diagnosis in 2008.

One of the greatest challenges of my life was this storm and its aftermath; digging out and reconstructing.  I am a Reconstructionist™ – someone who’s been through the process of rebuilding and healing and continues to do so.  The process of rebuilding and healing, at some points, was unfathomable.  It was a hard realization that, after the storm, my life wouldn’t just return to normal without some work (a lot of work) on my part.  And, now I’m never pushing for normal in my life; I’m pushing for extraordinary.  It’s a serious undertaking and I learned that you can’t get to the business of digging out without getting your tools and resources together.

I’ll be expanding on my future Blizzard Chats on Periscope and blogs, but wanted to provide a few tips for starters.

  1. Get some inspirational music.  I have an aptly titled “Inspirational” playlist on my iPhone that includes all of my motivational music.  My “push” to keep digging out music.  The song that comes to mind immediately is Coming Out of the Dark by Gloria Estefan.  If you don’t have one already, start building your playlist.
  2. Get your inspirational movies lined up.  Cool Runnings, based on the true story of the first Jamaican bobsled team, highlights the team’s perseverance in the face of the seemingly impossible.
  3. Build your unconditional support team.  This applies to family, friends, coworkers, church members. Only UNCONDITIONAL supporters gain entry.
  4. Gather some mantras, Bible verses and uplifting quotations.  I recommend starting with those that are four lines or less. They are easy to commit to memory and be recalled and recited several times a day.

If you’re like me and live in the path of Blizzard 2016, you may be slowed down from the hustle and bustle of life while many offices, schools, streets and buildings remain closed for the big dig out.  I hope that you’ll take this opportunity to use some downtime to start prepping for your big dig out of your storm and begin your own reconstruction.

I’ll be sharing more insights in the coming weeks on the blog and on Periscope.  Let’s reconstruct something extraordinary.

January 26, 2016

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.







Keep Going Until Everything (the bumper and the wheels) Fall Off

Last week, as I was taking down our Christmas tree (yes, it’s late, I know), I was pulling down one of our keepsake ornaments that we’ve had for a while.  These keepsake ornaments are from places we have traveled or mementos of milestones and special occasions.  One of these ornaments is Santa and a reindeer riding top down in a convertible (see photos).

I paused, both when we put the ornament on the tree and when I took it off.  When we pulled the ornament out of the box to decorate the tree, I paused with indecision trying to determine if we should put the “broken” ornament on the tree because I had neither the time nor the handy resources to fix it.

But, as the symbolism smacked me in my face, I knew I had to put it on the tree.  As a triple negative breast cancer survivor (one who had a bilateral mastectomy the week before Christmas 2008) and a child who lost her mother to breast cancer (in early December 1990) the meaning behind this broken ornament was so important.  My mother, a three time breast cancer patient, was an inspiration who soaked in the beauty of each day all while managing her 12 year breast cancer fight.  I’ve been broken while facing breast cancer including losing my mother to this disease, being physically broken by all of the surgeries that I’ve had fighting breast cancer and by the emotional and physical brokenness that can accompany breast cancer as you ask “why me”.  But in my brokenness, I’ve worked to move on and get what’s good in life.

So, it brought a tear to my eye to see Santa and his passenger reindeer moving on, bumper hanging, convertible top down and seemingly drinking in life.  It reminded me, even if you’re broken, keep moving on, keep living life to the fullest and do it until the wheels, bumpers and doors fall off.  And if they do, get out and walk or run the rest of the way.  Enjoy every breath of life you can.  Be unstoppable.


Broken ornament on the tree Broken ornament on the tree 2 Santa and reindeer still look happy Santa and reindeer still look happy 2

Melanie A. Nix – coloring outside of the lines in my new normal