Melyssa Dove: Owning my diagnosis and my health

I met Melyssa at lunch at the CAM conference in March; her story was one I had to share.  Her passion for overcoming cancer and doing it on her terms resonated with me. I always caution patients about believing in one treatment just because it worked for someone else, but this blog post isn’t just a testimonial about following a particular nutrition regime – it’s about owning your health, something she has done admirably.

Here is Melyssa's story, in her own words:

At some point during our lives, we have heard someone say (or have said these words ourselves), “My life is so boring. I need some adventure to liven things up a bit.” Speaking from experience, be VERY careful what you wish for! I uttered those exact words years ago, and on August 28, 2009, I got just what I asked for — and then some. I got a whole new life, and would spend the next five years praying my days would be less eventful, and that I could just have a “normal” life again.

My name is Melyssa Dove, and I am a wife and stay-at-home mother of three little boys. Prior to 2009, I was an active mom, working out at least four days a week, hiking on weekends, and skiing in the winter. Like many Americans, I thought being active gave me a free pass to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was the one eating brownies after going to the gym, topped with “healthy applesauce.” I even had milkshakes on my post-workout diet – I figured, hey, it was milk that had to be healthy, right??

I got a very rude awakening after the birth of my second son. For some reason, I wasn’t recovering from the birth like I thought I should. The doctor told me I was fine, and that being the mother of two boys was a lot of work.  After another month and three more visits to the doctor, I still had no solid diagnosis, but was starting to get physically ill. This time, I INSISTED they listen to me.  The doctor asked if my neck hurt; I thought I had a bladder infection, so wondered why on Earth would my neck be hurting?! Sitting me back down, he palpitated my neck and felt several lumps. He ordered an ultrasound and a biopsy, and the results came to me several days later in the worst kind of way – while on vacation, I got a phone call from the doctor (standing inside a 7-11!) telling me I had Stage III thyroid and lymph node cancer.  

I was told to report to the hospital for surgery the following week, and spent my long drive home from the beach thinking about everything. I was so young (26) and was scared my boys would not remember me. There were so many things I had left to do in life; milestones for sure, but also the million little things like teaching the boys to drive and ensuring they don’t back the car through the garage door because they accidentally put the gear in reverse. I was so certain I knew how my life would play out, and now I didn’t even know if I would make it one more year.  By the time I arrived home, I made up my mind I was absolutely NOT going to be cut open and have a major organ removed. 

I am one spunky girl and don’t mind being different; in fact, I love standing out, taking risks and owning my choices. Staying true to myself, I called the hospital and cancelled my surgery date. After hours researching, I decided my best option was to make drastic lifestyle changes, with the major factor being a total revamp of my diet. Outside of my family, I was met with MUCH opposition from many, many people, and did not have solid support as I began my journey.

Now I look back and think, if I had gone the traditional route, people would have driven me to treatments and baked me fattening casseroles that inhibit healing. Instead, I ventured into uncharted terrain, which can be a scary notion for others when they don’t understand unfamiliar and unorthodox courses of treatment. 

My quest to conquer cancer began by taking a huge black trash bag and throwing out all the food in the house – I literally started from scratch. My naturopath suggested a yeast free diet (starting with ‘The Yeast Free Kitchen’ by Jane Remington) and a high dose regime of vitamins and anti-fungals. My blood work and tumor growth were monitored – my baseline thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test measured 48.64 (normal range is 0.4-4.0 mIU/L).  I refused any prescription medications, despite being told by my doctor there was NO way to control a TSH that high without meds.  

A month after starting my yeast-free diet, my TSH was down to 14.1, and by December 2009, my TSH was 10.1 and scans showed my tumors shrinking. By May 2010, my TSH was 5.1, and my doctors could never admit or explain how I was getting better with absolutely no medical intervention or drugs.

I began adding other natural weapons – In 2010, I started to juice three times a day, and in 2011 I began taking Chinese herbs. My body was getting stronger and I felt more energized than I had in years. I was healthier with cancer than most non-cancer patients, and was in the best shape of my life.  

In March of 2012, I got the phone call I had been waiting three years to hear: my TSH was now 4.0 and all other blood levels were totally normal!!  This news, along with scan results showing all remaining tumors were less than 1cm, qualified me as a patient “in remission.”

I always knew I had room in my heart for one more baby, but was told at diagnosis I would never be able to safely carry to term because of the nature of my cancer and my refusal to go on medications. I took this as fuel and ran with it, determined to get my TSH and all other blood markers in the normal range.  I wanted to be the one in the maternity ward saying, “I told you so.” Finally, the day had come where my body was healthy enough – I was given the green light to get pregnant. This was a huge victory; I can’t tell you how awesome and accomplished I felt that day, knowing for three years I busted my butt just to hear those simple words.  On December 4, 2012, I gave birth to my third beautiful baby boy. (For the record, he inherited a little TOO much of my fighting spirit!)

On August 5, 2013, I had my thyroid removed on my own terms, and refused radiation and all other forms of post-treatment. Once again, I stood my ground and chose to use food to kill the cancer cells and the tissue left behind. There was still opposition to my choices, but that didn’t stop me, and on September 23, 2013 I got a phone call telling me what I had waited almost five years to hear: I WAS NORMAL! My tumor markers were undetectable; something the doctor said he had never witnessed so soon after surgery. My thyroglobulin had gone from 420 to 126. I was cancer-free.  

Today I guess you could say I live that normal life I dreamed about back in 2009 — although there is nothing really normal about me.  I am an over-the-top health nut (some would say extreme) who is totally meat free and rarely has diary. My kitchen looks like a mini farm – I still juice and grow my own herbs, veggies and wheat grass. My boys are very involved and are better educated than most adults about food and its effect on their health. We make everything from scratch, and the older boys help plan the week’s menu and shop at Whole Foods; they even make their own trail mix from the bulk bins there (their favorite blend is pumpkin seeds, goji berries, coconut, cacao, and walnuts). Myself and my family are living proof that, with a little time and effort, you can have “fast food,” and be super healthy and energized, without ever having to pull up to a drive-through.

I have returned to school to get my nursing degree, and then pursue a path in natural medicine, which is without a doubt my true passion. I love sharing my story and giving those who are facing a cancer diagnosis hope and encouragement. If this crazy girl can kick cancer, you can too!

T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »