Melanie D’Souza and her husband Rich are a young couple, just starting out with two young children in their fifth year of marriage. Tegan is five, and Hayden is only two years old. Melanie is active in her community as a freelance photographer and Rich operates heavy machinery in a family run company. The couple, up until recently, have been going through the motions of the every day: trying to raise children and make a living. Spending time together as a family has been difficult with their working schedules. Rare is the weekend when they can all be home together and do “family things,” until recently.
In July 2016, Melanie started to feel some pain in her breast, and immediately went to the doctor for advice. Her doctor did an in-office manual exam and dismissed it as hormonal. Melanie left his office that day, with a nagging voice inside of her, telling her that her doctor was wrong. There was also something else she heard as she walked out of the office. Her doctor, whom she desperately needed to trust, said to his secretary “she is a hypochondriac,” referring to Melanie. She never went back to him.
Just a few weeks before Christmas of 2016, Melanie found a lump in her breast while getting out of the shower. She visited a new doctor, who sent her for a mammogram. After only two days, as Rich and Melanie were walking into Tegan’s school for her very first school play, Melanie’s doctor called her with the news that they had found something and further testing was needed. After a few more appointments, she was told that she did have Stage 3 Hormonal Positive, HG Negative Breast Cancer. During the endless doctor’s visits that followed, the couple was told that, Melanie would be receiving Chemotherapy treatment, a double mastectomy, and that the doctors would be very aggressive with the treatments, including removing lymph nodes and then registering radiation after the Chemotherapy. Life, as they knew it, was about to change.
Upon receiving the news, Rich’s initial reaction was to deny it. He buried himself in a kitchen renovation and tried not to think about it. Before the diagnosis, Rich had been frustrated with Melanie and her constant googling for answers. At one point, he even told her that if she kept this up, she was going to make herself sick; of course in hindsight, he knows that she was just listening to her body and was desperately looking for answers. Fighting back tears, Rich admits “I can’t help but feel horrible about it.” Melanie spent the next few weeks sleeping, and in her waking hours, she would cry. This early stage was short lived. Quickly, the couple realized that they had to stop taking every moment for granted; this was going to change them as a couple and as a family. Melanie admits in the past, they took family time for granted: “I was busy focusing on my business, and Rich and I worked opposite times so one could be here with the kids.” In late January, just before Melanie started her Chemotherapy, they took the kids downtown Toronto to see Monster Jam, something Melanie’s dad used to do with her. “There was a time when we would have been complaining about the traffic, all the walking and the cold etc. This time, we just took it all in and were extremely grateful for the day.” Rich believes this diagnosis has already made them stronger as a couple. “You don’t realize how much you love someone, until you think you will lose them.” The couple’s biggest fear at this time is how this will affect the kids. Tegan and Melanie are inseparable; “I worry about how much of this she will remember,” Melanie says. She also worries that she will not want to go out with her kids for fear of the way people will look at her. “I love taking Tegan to dance… will I still want to [during and post treatment]? I don’t want people staring and feeling sorry for me.”
The D’Souza’s are about to embark on a tumultuous journey. The next few months will be trying and challenging. They are grateful for the support of family. Melanie’s mom will be staying with them during the week, while Rich is working. Many friends and family have been bringing food. Melanie openly admits she is a terrible cook, “everyone knows I eat the same thing every day!” She laughs, “so the meals are a blessing!” Melanie had also been working at The Hawthorne Cafe; owners Kerry and Matthew have been extremely generous with meals as well. The couple is overwhelmingly grateful for the community support. From a Go-Fund-Me page to a generous group of local photographers who have rallied together to raise funds for Melanie, there has been no shortage of help. The couple admits as the situation progresses, the need for meals will still be there and they worry about their financial well-being. With Melanie having been self-employed, naturally, they are short one income. However, they would like it be known that their motive for sharing their story is not necessarily for community support, but rather to share their lessons.
Melanie swears, “once I kick this in the butt, and I will, I am going to be an advocate, and make sure men and women listen to their bodies and make sure your doctor takes you seriously.” Rich insists, “Never take no for an answer; If your doctor does not take you seriously, find another.” They have also learned that family time is more precious than they ever knew. Like many families, they got caught in “the race.” Melanie says she knows that for a while she will not be the mom she wants to be. “However,” she adamantly insists, “when I am better, things will never be the same. Time with my family will have a new meaning.”
The D’Souza’s have a little family tradition they hold dearly. When in need of some “team spirit,” they all pile their hands on top of the other and chant “D’Souza!” Then they raise their hands in the air, and know that they are strong. As a community, let’s all pile our hands together and chant with them.
Members of the community can make donations to The De Souza family on their Go-Fund-Me Page.