“ Although it can seem cancer can take EVERYTHING away from you, it cannot take your spirit, I really believe that to be true.
Melissa Carroll is an artistic mAss Kicker! She studied Art at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She has been exhibiting her work in New York and Massachusetts since 2005. In August 2013, her paintings were displayed at the Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York City! The exhibit consisted of self portraits and portraits of other cancer patients with whom she got close with during chemo therapy. We were very lucky to find time in her busy schedule to ask her a few questions.
mK: Thanks for doing this Melissa! First question… What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
MC: I was diagnosed when I was 28 with a rare bone cancer, Ewing’s Sarcoma. I was at a bar that winter and a friend of mine squished my foot with a barstool breaking my left foot. In a weird twist of fate that is exactly where the tumor was.
mK: What were your symptoms?
MC: I never felt any pain until my foot was broken. I would have never gone to the Doctor unless my friend had dropped that barstool on my foot. After it broke, I would feel a dull throbbing pain in my foot which was more prominent at night.
mK: Wow! Hope you bought that friend a drink for breaking your foot and discovering your sarcoma. How & why did you get involved in advocacy?
MC: I had no other choice. My whole life as I knew it stopped, just like that. I immediately went into a year of one of the most brutal chemo regimens that exists. Along with countless surgeries and radiation. I couldn’t work, I had to move in with my parents, I was told that I’ll probably never be able to have kids, I lost every hair on my body, I was in and out of the hospital fighting for my life. I was so alone. I had no idea that suffering existed on this level but was at a hospital filled to the brim with other cancer patients. How could I have been so ignorant to the limitless evil of cancer? It blew my mind. It’s been three years and all though I do everything I can to lead the most normal life possible, I’m still in treatment fighting and not a second goes by that cancer hasn’t affected.
I started writing in my blog early on just because I felt so alone and wanted to reach out to others like me. Being a painter, it was just organic that my work would reflect my personal feelings on living with this horrible disease.
mK: Who is your hero or are your heroes?
MC: My heroes are my friends that also have cancer, some who have lost their battle but fought till the end. They have inspired me and taught me that I am LIVING with cancer and that I am still me, cancer does not define me. My heroes are my parents, who without I wouldn’t be here right now. Seriously, I have the best parents. They have done everything not just to help me survive but to make me happy. Ask anyone whose met them and they will tell you how special they are. Everyone at the hospital loves my Dad. My mom is the strongest, smartest lady I know. I’ve always looked up to them and now I do even more. Also my true friends who have stuck with me even though I know my situation is scary for them. They are the reason I continue and I value their friendship more than I could ever express.
mK: You are very blessed to have strong family support. What motivates you?
MC: Feeling good motivates me. After literally spending almost a month at a time in bed, in pain and too exhausted to get up to vomit when I have a good day/week I appreciate it so much. My motivation is just to be as happy as possible because life is short. I lead a double life in a way. In Brooklyn I’ll go to parties and dress up and laugh but I don’t have the capacity for drama that many people my age find themselves in because every Tuesday I’m back at the hospital for an infusion. “Back in Cancer World.”
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
MC: I am obviously still myself. I have the same sense of humor, same likes and dislikes, same favorite movie but for the longest time I couldn’t wait to be cancer free so I could go back to being old Melissa, Pre Diagnosis. After I relapsed last January my heart was so broken. I went to India for a volunteer trip (A Fresh Chapter) I had been picked to go on and had been waiting for. It was there that I met the most amazing people that were all in remission. I learned that even though they no longer had cancer that once it enters your life it is a part of it forever. I’ve learned to accept it a little bit more. I had young friends die and I have to believe that even though much of my life is a nightmare that I am lucky to be here and that I have a lot of beauty in my life that sometimes I’ll even forget I have cancer for a few minutes.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
MC: My boyfriend makes me laugh and I think that he’s so brave for being with me. Being scared makes me cry, waiting for scan results. I don’t cry as much as I used to, I think that I’ve become a little numb after everything I’ve seen/ been through. My good friend recently died of Leukemia. When I first found out he passed I think I was in shock. Seeing and talking to his mom breaks my heart. They were so close and neither of them ever gave up hope till the end even though he suffered tremendously. I cry when I think of how much my parents have suffered from my cancer. I cry when my Doctor looks me in the eye and gives me bad news. I get angry when I see friends end relationships/ friendships over trivial things. It’s just hard for me to understand living such an intense life.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
MC: The most interesting thing I’ve done was also a life goal come true. In August I had a solo show at The Andrea Rosen Gallery, one of the best galleries in the world located in NYC. I showed 20 watercolors, 5 self portraits and 5 portraits of my friends with cancer. The show reflected what it is truly like to have cancer without glorifying the disease. About 300 people came: old and new friends, teachers, nurses, relatives, and strangers. Salman Rushdie came and bought a piece!! It was a lot of work and I could barely stand but it was like a dream and every single piece sold within 24 hours. That show kind of launched my career that I never thought I could have.
mK: Very cool! What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor?
MC: I think my toughest challenge is just keeping a level head and not sinking into the swamp of sadness. I get over it by painting, seeing my friends, music and having hope.
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
MC: My guilty pleasure is One Direction. Haha. I also will spend my last dime on a cool puppet. I went crazy in India filling a suitcase with marionette puppets.
mK: Yikes… marionettes are creepy. So is One Direction! j/k… another random question for you… If you could have dinner with any famous historical figure who would it be?
MC: This might seem like a college frat dude answer but I would love to chill with Bob Marley. Seeing his documentary, Marley, really opened my eyes to what a courageous beautiful person who loved life but was taken to soon from cancer which he found out about after someone stepped on his foot playing soccer. We would hangout on hammocks and smoke pot and drink juice and eat some salad (he was a vegetarian.) We’d joke around and talk about life and love. One of my favorite quotes is from Bob: “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” Which I think is so true. The only people that can really hurt you are the ones that you truly care about and vice versa. That’s what having real human relationships is about. That’s what being alive is. You work things out, or you let it go. Life is to precious to waste your time arguing or being angry.
mK: So, what do you like to do in your spare time?
MC: I like to walk around when I have the energy and see friends, normal stuff. I like to paint and listen to music. I love traveling. I love laughing
mK: Actually DOING the things that you enjoy is key to happiness. Sounds obvious, but there are so many excuses that impede this. What are you up to now?
MC: I’m back and forth between New York and Boston undergoing a clinical trial at Mass General to shrink the tumors in my lungs. I’m also busy painting a lot of commission work and might start thinking about another show or a book with my work.
mK: We’re rooting for ya! Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
MC: DO NOT GOOGLE! Every person and every cancer is different. The only thing that keeps you going is having the tiniest sliver of hope. Often things on the internet are written when someone is venting or sad/angry most people, including myself, are too busy living when they are doing well. Also you don’t always know when something was written. Information can be out of date and Medical advances occur every day!
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
MC: I was born In Ireland and lived in Australia when I was kid. My dad is from Ireland and my parents met in Australia where they were living and moved back to when I was little. So I have Duel citizenship. Also people see me as an artsy fartsy pale girl but I also grew up swimming and snowboarding.
MC: When I first got diagnosed a friend of a friend who had fought cancer and has been in remission for 7 years told me that although it can seem cancer can take EVERYTHING away from you, it cannot take your spirit, I really believe that to be true.
Melissa Carroll: boy band groupie, puppet master, Bob Marley disciple, water/mountain adventurer, Irish-Aussie-American, and creative mAss Kickin artist! Check out her website to see what she is up to!