EAST LIVERPOOL - Local artist Melissa Lucas lost her battle with triple-negative breast cancer last July at the age of 44. However, the fight against the disease that took her life is being carried on by the people closest to her.
The second-annual Melissa Staib Lucas Fundraiser for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer was held Saturday evening at the American Legion Post 374 Hall on Parkway Avenue. Though brief flashes of sadness appeared when Melissa's husband, Jeff Lucas, and her daughter, Rachel Lamp, spoke about her struggle, the overall atmosphere was that of a party. People came together, with music, food and Melissa's first love - art - to celebrate her life and raise money to find a cure.
The triple-negative breast cancer that took Melissa's life is a rare and highly aggressive form of the dreaded disease, according to Jeff. Unlike other cancers, TNBC will mutate and develop a resistance to chemotherapies that initially work. Melissa's first three months of treatment worked and halted its advance, he says, but only temporarily.
Kellie Wolfe, friend of the late Melissa Staib Lucas, her daughter Rachel Lamp, and husband, Jeff Lucas, pose with a painting completed by Melissa at a fundraiser held for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation at the American Legion Post 374 Hall on Saturday evening. Wolfe, Lamp and Lucas coordinated the event for its second year. (Photo by Richard Sberna)
Indeed, the strength of the cancer was shocking. "They blasted it with radiation, and it didn't do anything to the tumor," Jeff said. Explaining it as the doctors explained it to him, he said, "It's almost like a concrete block. Nothing can get into it."
"The doctors were amazed. It destroyed over half of her liver, but not the cancer," Rachel added.
Also, unusually for breast cancer, it actually developed on her chest wall, behind her breast, from which it began to spread into her organs within a month of detection. "There is no targeted treatment whatsoever," Rachel said. Even mastectomy is not effective since is spreads so rapidly.
Understandably, Melissa went into a deep depression following the diagnosis. "She needed a way to focus all of that energy," Rachel said. The idea for an event to raise money for the Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Foundation was what turned her attitude around, and became the basis for the event's slogan, "Turn a Negative into a Positive," which appears on T-shirts and bracelets at the event.
The fact that TNBC particularly strikes women in their 20s and 30s, many with younger children, touched Melissa deeply. "She saw all these young women online with babies, losing everything, and their children losing their mother," Rachel said. It was a primary motivator for Melissa to take action with what time she had left.
After her condition when into its final decline, Jeff says Melissa told him to keep the effort going. "We promised her, Rachel and I, that we would continue it on. It sort of keeps her memory alive," he said. Melissa wanted them to continue on with it for a second year and many more thereafter, until - hopefully - a cure is found.
Donations are always accepted at the national web site, www.tnbcfoundation.org, where tribute donations can be made in honor of a victim of the disease, including Melissa. There is a also Facebook event page where people can get in contact with Melissa's family, see examples of her art, photos from the event, and find out how they can help.
The first event raised more than $8,000 last year. Rachel said they were very thankful for those who have made donations since then, even if this year doesn't match the 2013 total. She says people are very curious when they hear about the illness due to its rarity, accounting for between 10 and 15 percent of breast cancers in U.S.
"I'm happy even if we don't raise as much as last year, because we're raising awareness," she said.