Melissa Long, RN, remembers everything about the illness that nearly killed her. At the age of 10, she was diagnosed with Stage IV kidney cancer (Wilms’ tumor).
The experience defined her without her consent, and she admits that she was bitter about it for a long time.
“I went through a lot of rough times after treatment,” says Melissa, an oncology nurse in the infusion unit at Memorial Hospital West Breast Cancer Center. “I became very depressed and angry that my entire life was turned upside down as a result of cancer. I had a hard time adjusting back into “normal life” with people my age. At 15, I started getting diagnosed with health issues related to my treatments. The after effects from cancer were worse than going through cancer because those problems are lifelong.”
A promise she made to herself early on, however, helped her move beyond the pain. She says she made a deal with God that if he healed her, she would one day help others going through the same ordeal. After surviving the disease that ravaged one of her kidneys, liver, lungs and stomach, plus six surgeries and multiple brutal rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, she stayed true to her word.
“It wasn’t until nursing school that my mindset about my experience changed. It went from one of feeling sorry for myself to one of helping others,” Melissa says. “Once I saw how I was able to use my story to offer hope and positivity to these patients, everything clicked. I felt like this was why I got sick and this was why I was fortunate enough to make it through. I had finally found my purpose. I was determined from that point forward to tell my story with pride and to dedicate my life to helping others with cancer in whatever way I could.”
Melissa has been a nurse for the last seven years, bringing her optimism and personal insight to the people she meets. For five years she worked with pediatric oncology patients who were hospitalized at Broward General Hospital. In 2015, she joined Memorial Hospital West’s Breast Cancer Center where she now works with adult oncology patients.
Melissa is still passionate about pediatric oncology and volunteers for numerous organizations dedicated to helping kids with cancer. She also speaks at different childhood cancer events, such as CureFest in Washington, DC. The event helps to increase awareness about childhood cancer and advocate for increased funding for childhood cancer research. Melissa pushes for the development of childhood-specific drugs that are less toxic and more targeted to benefit the type of cancers that children are afflicted with.
Each spring Melissa volunteers for a Prom to Remember, an event organized specifically for teens battling cancer. Every summer she also volunteers as a nurse during cancer week at Paul Newman’s Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis, Florida. “It’s literally the highlight of my summer,” she says.
While Melissa’s treatment regimen left her with residual health problems and difficult memories, she uses those tough times to make herself a better nurse and a better person. In her role as a nurse, she’s constantly reminded of how fortunate she is to be alive and she doesn’t take that lightly.
“It’s awesome to wake up every morning and be excited to come to work and know that you’re doing exactly what you’re meant to be doing. Memorial is an awesome organization,” Melissa says. “I feel very blessed to work here, to be alive and to be able to give back in such a big way.”