The woman next door is a survivor is a series of stories about incredible women in the community that have overcome a mountain of obstacles with a relentless and fearless attitude. Melissa Hilliker and her husband Dana thought they had completed their family after having their two daughters: Sydney, 11, and Josie, 9. Then last year they got a surprise– they were pregnant again.
At 36 years old, Melissa felt blessed to become a new mom again. She ate well, did CrossFit and took her prenatal vitamins. At the 20-week ultrasound for her baby, she found a suspicious lump, and shortly after, had it scanned and biopsied. A few days later the results came back. It was breast cancer.
While many women know that a family history can increase their risk of developing breast cancer themselves, Melissa, a pediatric cardiology nurse, was stunned by her diagnosis. “Not only is there no history of breast cancer in my family, but I’m also the first person in my family to have any type of cancer,” Melissa says.
Radiation, hormone and targeted therapy are not generally advised for pregnant women. So, Melissa began chemotherapy during her third trimester. She completed four rounds of treatment, but her tumor didn’t shrink. After discussing it with her medical team, Melissa decided she would breastfeed her new daughter Savannah with her left breast (which was unaffected) while she prepared for surgery to remove six lymph nodes and her right breast.
“I’m just so grateful that I’ve gotten to have this precious time with my daughter,” Melissa says. In a few weeks Melissa will start hormone therapy and will have to stop breastfeeding. “It’s not how I planned it, but I praise God that I’ve gotten more time [to breastfeed] than I originally thought I would.”
Through it all Melissa says feels like there’s been overwhelming joy in her journey. In fact, her baby’s middle name is Joy. She attributes staying grounded to the support of her family, her women’s Bible study group and her faith. “I know that God can do big and bold things and that he is walking with me on this journey. I know our family is going to be OK.”
AdventHealth for Women
This month, in partnership with AdventHealth for Women, we’re recognizing some of the women in our community who are survivors of breast cancer, who have had a recurrence, or who are currently going through treatment. To us, all of these women are survivors in their own right. It is the hope of these women that by telling their stories they inspire and educate other women who are facing a breast cancer diagnosis.