When Melisa Ruddek was diagnosed with breast cancer, one of her first thoughts was that she had no time to deal with it.
“I thought, ‘I don’t have time for this. How am I going to fit this into my schedule?’ ” the 40-year-old Vinco resident said.
“I know that sounds awful, but when you have three kids who are super involved in stuff, and you and you husband are working, you just think ‘how am I going to schedule this in?’ ”
Her ordeal began in August 2016 when she was experiencing pain in her breasts that would come and go with her menstrual cycle.
“I ignored it for awhile, thinking it was menstrual related,” Ruddek said. “I had a routine checkup with Dr. (Adib) Khouzami and mentioned it to him and we went ahead and did a mammogram. They didn’t like the looks of it, so immediately that day I had an ultrasound done.”
From there, Ruddek had a needle biopsy performed on her left breast by Dr. Gerald Gargiulo.
“It came back that it was definitely cancerous, but we weren’t sure what type, so we had to wait to see what kind of chemo or treatment we were going to do first,” she said.
A few days after being diagnosed she learned she had triple negative breast cancer, meaning it was not a hormone-driven cancer.
“I had an aggressive tumor and they wanted to start chem immediately to prevent it from metastasizing,” Ruddek said.
She underwent chemotherapy at Conemaugh Cancer Care Center that consisted of four treatments every other week and 12 that were weekly over a five-month period.
Because Ruddek’s blood work came back BRCA positive, it was recommended that she have a bilateral mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery.
“I had that done in February,” she said. “Because of the size of the initial tumor, I had to do 31 treatments of radiation as a preventative measure.”
Ruddek completed those treatments in the middle of June.
“Everything is good now and back to normal,” she said. “I just have to follow up yearly with PET scans and MRIs of the breasts.”
Ruddek has nothing but positive things to say about her care.
“I can’t even tell you how great of care I had in Johnstown and that was huge not having to travel and being able to stay local,” she said.
“That takes a lot of stress out of it.”
Ruddek said losing her hair was one of the most emotional aspects of her diagnosis.
“My oldest and middle daughter and husband were all in the bathroom when we were shaving my head; my youngest didn’t want any part of it and hid on the couch under a blanket,” she said. “She sent a note under the bathroom door saying she didn’t want to see my bald head.”
Prior to shaving off her hair, Ruddek said it was falling out in clumps.
“It’s unbelievable how that happens,” she said. “I wore a wig to work because it made me feel better, but as soon as I got home that thing was off and I wore hats.”
It was her support system of family, friends and co-workers that helped Ruddek get through the tough times.
“People were absolutely amazing,” she said. “I think out of all of this I’ve learned that there are still so many good people out there. It was also everyone’s prayers and strong faith that truly got me through it.”
Ruddek, who has been employed for more than 21 years in the bariatric clinic at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, said for women who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer the key is to stay busy and form a support system.
“For me it meant continuing to work, and it was so important for me to be at my kids’ functions because I didn’t want it to affect them,” she said.
“I wanted to be everywhere that I could be.”