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Ellen Ticket Noification Spanish Fork mother enduring second round of cancer in under two years
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Most likely, as you sit and read this, Melissa Martinez can’t even get out of bed.

“Think of the sickest you’ve ever been and then times it by 100. It’s like morning sickness, the flu and food poisoning all at once,” she said.

But Monday, sitting in her front room, she looked healthy enough to run a marathon. She’s a young, fit mother of three girls. Just a regular mom, helping her girls find a basket to hold some toys while they played outside. Looking at her then, there was no visible trace of the cancer that is attacking her abdomen.

Martinez, a 32-year-old Spanish Fork resident, has stage four colon cancer. Every other Tuesday, she heads to Provo to have chemotherapy drugs pumped into her body through a port in her chest. She’s in bed now, waiting for next Monday, when she'll start to feel a bit more like herself. In that short week before the next chemo round, she’ll be a whirlwind — tackling as much as she can, and spending the rest of the time with her family.

Martinez is not your typical colon cancer patient. In addition to being rather young for this type of cancer, this isn’t her first round. Barely a year and half ago, she was 12 weeks pregnant and diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. During Labor Day weekend 2014, doctors found a kiwi-sized tumor blocking her colon. Working around her growing baby, doctors removed the tumor and a foot and a half of her colon.

“They do that, and then test the ends to make sure they got it all. They also took 26 lymph nodes around it, to check them for cancer,” Martinez said.

Because two of the nodes showed cancer cells, Martinez underwent multiple rounds of chemo, starting that December, while she was still pregnant. Miraculously, she delivered her youngest daughter that next February, in between chemo treatments.

Devastating discovery

She finished chemo in May of last year, and by September, her scans all looked clear. She was declared cancer free, and looked forward to just monitoring things through routine scans. But by March of this year, she just felt “like things were off.” She bumped up her regular scan appointment, and doctors found a 7-inch mass on her ovaries.

“Colon cancer doesn’t normally spread to the ovaries and the uterus. It’s more common for it to spread to the liver or lungs. So we thought it was ovarian cancer, and I thought, I can do this,” Martinez said.

But when doctors went in to remove it, they had to do a total hysterectomy and remove the lining of her bladder, because they found the cancer had spread. When they biopsied the cells, they learned it was colon cancer again.

“It was devastating. I was alone in the hospital — my husband had gone home to take care of the girls — and the doctor told me I had stage four colon cancer. I had trouble processing it. I thought, is this my real life?” Martinez said.

Nationally, stage four colon cancer patients have an average of 26 months to live after diagnosis.

“I felt like I was on the road to dying,” Martinez said. “It just felt like slam after slam. I didn’t feel good physically — I was healing from the surgery and its complications, and because of that it was hard mentally.”

But then she researched more and reached out to other colon cancer patients, and realized how unique her situation is. Her youth, her overall health, and the fact that the cancer hasn’t spread to any of her vital organs — but is instead content to remain in a small area of her abdomen — all of this has given her hope. She’s also heard from two other women with similar colon cancer stories, and that has given her hope too.

“One woman is 10 years down the road from her diagnosis, and she’s still fine. So for now, I’m not dying. At this point, I’m not going to be cured, but if I can get 10 more years…” Martinez said. “My biggest fear, especially with my baby, is that my kids won’t have a lot of memories of me.”

Thankful for support

She’s deeply grateful for her family and friends that have gathered around her. During her chemo weeks, various family members come in and take care of her daughters, who are 8, 5, and 1. Her husband, Jake, works full time and then comes home to get the girls dinner and in bed.

“Cancer is so frustrating. It’s such a nasty disease, you have to battle it extremely hard. If she didn’t do any treatments, she’d be gone by Thanksgiving or Christmas. So that’s why we choose to fight,” Jake Martinez said. “But it’s extremely difficult to watch her get knocked down.”

Surprisingly, both Jake and Melissa Martinez have a very positive outlook, even while they ride the roller coaster of Melissa’s health.

“It seems like an elephant at first, but you just bite away at it piece by piece,” Jake Martinez said. “And we rely a lot on our faith. We feel like this has made us grow closer.”

The Martinez’ friends have set up a GoFundMe account at www.gofundme.com/23a2q6gd to help the family with their ongoing medical costs. (Melissa laughs that their new norm is meeting their deductible every year.) Seeing the contributions there are very humbling, Melissa Martinez said, because people she doesn’t even know have donated to it. She wants to be one of those hopeful cancer stories for others. She wants to be that one that makes it through. And she wants to be able to serve others again.

“People are amazing. There is just so much good in the world. The bad is just so much louder, so we don’t always hear about the good,” Melissa Martinez said. "I mean, I’m one person out of hundred in this area that have cancer. I have so much to pay forward, and I want an opportunity to do that. Hopefully I have a lot of years to do that.”

Karissa Neely reports on Business & Community events, and can be reached at (801) 344-2537 or kneely@heraldextra.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DHKarissaNeely
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