Have you ever noticed how some people seem to fully embody what they do? Who they are is in alignment with what they do, how they do it and why they do everything in their lives. They are authentic to the core of their being and it is at once a privilege and blessing to be around them. My friend Melissa is the subject of this portrait and I'm going to tell you her story because it is a story of healing, the power in finding your path, living your best life, and empowering others to do the same.
Treating the seen and unseen scars of breast cancer
My path crossed Melissa's about a year ago. I had a business card of hers for awhile for treatment of scar tissue and adhesions after breast surgery. I called and we had coffee. I felt immediately at ease and like I had known her forever as we talked and told our stories in the warmth of the coffee shop on that cold, blustery day.
Melissa does John Barnes myofascial release, a kind of healing therapy that works on the central nervous system and fascia- the prevalent tissue that connects and surrounds everything in our bodies; muscle, organs, joints. She has taken her years of experience in healing therapy and now works on breast cancer surgery patients, helping them to re-integrate the surgery areas- scars, lymphoedema, tightness, numbness are all treated.
She shows the patient how to do the treatment themselves. Taking back their bodies, feeling whole, accepting themselves and their battle scars in a new, post breast cancer life. She decided to do this work after treating a woman physically mangled by the aftermath of surgery, who had simply learned to live with the way she looked and the physical handicaps left over. Melissa began researching aftercare for breast cancer surgery patients and found it severely lacking. She felt a calling and started her "Beloved Bust" website. https://www.belovedbust.com
Survival stories and battle scars
Sitting in the coffee shop that day with Melissa, she asked and I told her about my own journey with cancer, the healing and lack thereof, issues I was having, and how I felt about it all. I could see she was completely invested, listening, and touched. But I wondered in the back of my mind how this woman, who has not been touched personally by breast cancer could truly understand like she seemed to. So she told me her story.
Melissa was 21 when she was in a car accident that shattered, defined and propelled her life into what it is today. On a road trip to California, she and her close friend were in an accident, rolling the car 5 times. Melissa was taken to the hospital and an MRI showed she had a broken back and that she had little chance of walking again. She was not told that her friend had died from her injuries until deemed strong enough to handle the news.
Broken physically and emotionally, she began the long road back, defying doctors and their prognosis. In the nursing/ rehabilitation facility she spent the next weeks in, she began to be held vertically, supported by a harness, and slowly putting weight on each leg.
But the mental anguish of losing her friend weighed down her progress. One sleepless night alone in the hospital, she wrote her beloved friend a letter. After she did, she was finally able to find the sleep that had been evading her throughout her recovery.
With renewed energy, this former runner and track star wouldn't be stopped once she had a walker in front of her. This tiny blonde headed 21 year old began doing laps around the facility, being cheered on by the patients there 50 plus years her senior.
Finding her true calling
Before the accident, Melissa had been waiting tables, playing her guitar and singing, but didn't have a true path to follow. Once she healed and was able to walk again, she resumed her activities, but found the daily, chronic pain from having a broken back debilitating. A friend in massage school gave her a massage one day and she was incredulous at the difference it made in both her mind and body. She decided she wanted to pursue massage and help others feel that same feeling of calm and pain relief she had experienced.
Melissa's career took her to a physical therapy office where she worked and learned a great deal. A workshop on the John Barnes method of myofascial release during this time was a turning point. After a powerful three day workshop, being worked on and working on other students, she was flying home, and was suddenly overcome by involuntary tears as the thought, "Maybe I really. don't. have to live with this pain the rest of my life", crossed her mind.
Melissa started doing myofascial release and working out, eventually she even trained and competed in triathlons and half marathons. Her grit and determination coupled with her quest for whole body and mind healing has guided her own healing as well as hundreds of others over the span of her 25 year career and running her own business in St. Louis - Quantum Healing Arts.
Melissa's strengths are numerous, but what she teaches about the mind and body connection and the uniqueness of each person's body and pain cycle are invaluable as they empower each individual to guide their own healing. She teaches how to allow the body and central nervous system to relax and communicate pain and restriction where it has been stored up, which is key to stopping pain patterns naturally, by beginning to be mindful and teaching the body to pay attention to these areas where we store stress, trauma and pain. When asked about how her approach is different, she responded that she never follows a preconceived idea about the patient's pain issue or follows a "one size fits all" plan. Rather, she tries to empty her mind and not jump ahead as she allows the body she is working on to communicate it's unique patterns.
My friend is one of those individuals who takes everything in her life and uses it to better her life and the lives of others. She is the epitomy of "small but mighty", and is one of the least judgemental, most inspiring women I know. Her light shines brightly and touches everyone around her. Lucky us.
To check out my other portraits, go here- Portraits