“McGrath Breast Care Nurses know you at your most vulnerable” – Melissa’s story

Melissa Marquis had just celebrated her 50th birthday when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The mum of two, and local primary school principal had booked herself in for her first mammogram when the screening van came to her hometown Geraldton.  

What she had presumed would be a routine health check found a 5cm lump in her left breast, and Melissa was diagnosed with Grade 3 triple-positive breast cancer.  

“As soon as the doctor uttered those words, breast cancer became real,” says Melissa. “You always hope you never hear those words. I went through a range of emotions, disbelief was one. But also, how am I going to tell my family, and what about the kids at school… I had lots of questions.”

Melissa was also worried about how her children Charlotte, 22 and Callum, 20 would take the news,
“They both took it reasonably well, but they had two very different reactions. As a mum, my heart was breaking for them and what they were going through.  

Within days, Melissa underwent a single mastectomy before starting chemotherapy a month later. A rare reaction to the treatment saw her flown to Perth by the Royal Flying Doctors Service for a blood platelet transfusion.  

“It was a very different Christmas. I can tick that off my bucket list,” says Melissa.

Mini Mrs Marquis

Melissa’s second round of chemotherapy coincided with the first day of the new school year.  

Throughout her treatment, she says it was important to explain to her students what was happening to her.  

“The Parent & Friends Association got a doll called a Bravery doll, which has no hair and they put the school staff shirt on her and got her glasses. They called it ‘the Mini Mrs Marquis. We went around with the mini doll and spoke about what is the same between the two of us. If Mini doesn’t have hair – what does that mean?  

“The children have been amazing. They have just accepted that this is how I look. Kids don’t hold back, and I’m happy to answer their questions. It’s been another support system for me.” 

Meeting McGrath Breast Care Nurse Sandy

Throughout her treatment, Melissa was supported by her McGrath Breast Care Nurse, Sandy Vlatko.  

“When I first met Melissa, she was very anxious and that was completely normal. She was worried about how her students were worried about her diagnosis and caring for her family as well. 

“I was able to contact the staff at the hospital and be that ‘go-to person’ for her.” 

“Sandy would be in all of the appointments. She would be there taking notes, or as a support person,” says Melissa. “Once the appointment was finished, she would do a debrief with us. There is a whole new language that you have to learn, and lots of words that you need to de-code and information you need to comprehend.
“Sandy was our translator. She took all the jargon and broke it down into simple terms for us, so we could understand. “ 

Sandy was also available to answer any questions that Melissa’s husband Gerard, or her children Charlotte and Callum had.  

“She’s one of us now,” says Callum. “The help that she has given mum is just one of a kind. You can’t really ask that of anyone, except for perhaps someone like Sandy.”  

“She was there for my whole family,” adds Melissa. “She has also shown a genuine interest in how the school has responded and worked with me into this journey. She’s been our cheerleader.” 

Related articles