Health & Wellbeing

“My back ache was terminal cancer!” Brave Aussie mum Melissa warns women to push for answers

"Trust your gut instinct"
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Having beaten stage two cervical cancer months after giving birth to a baby boy in 2021, Melissa Saint thought her whole life was still ahead of her.

At the beginning of this year, the Adelaide-based businesswoman, 35, was wrapped in a “love bubble” with her now-two-year-old toddler Edward, and partner Matthew Giannoni, a 31-year-old refrigeration mechanic. The couple was planning to add to their family via IVF, after doctors found Mel’s womb was “perfectly fine” despite previous radiation therapy.

Mel was originally diagnosed with stage 2A cervical cancer in 2021. Abnormal cells had been detected while she was pregnant. She underwent treatment and an April 2022 PET scan revealed there was no trace of the insidious disease.

But when she began experiencing lower back pain this February, the mum suspected something was wrong. Doctors and chiropractors advised it was likely muscular or a slipped disc from carrying Eddy. Despite knowing Mel’s previous cancer diagnoses, an MRI wasn’t ordered.

Yet the pain didn’t go away and last month, during a visit to her gynaecologist, Mel was served what she calls her “death sentence”.

Mel undergoing chemo
Undergoing chemotherapy is tough on the young mum. (Credit: Supplied)

A new PET scan revealed the cancer was back and had spread to multiple lymph nodes – including one mass the size of a fist pressing against Mel’s bowel and spine. It is now understood to have been the cause of her back pain.

“At the medical oncologist appointment, he looked at us and said, ‘This is what’s going to end your life.’ It was the last thing we expected to hear,” she says.

When Mel spoke to New Idea earlier this month, she had recently finished a round of chemo. She’d also just shaved her head while video-chatting with her Queensland-based mum and sister, and South Australian dad and his partner.

“My hair was falling out in clumps anyway, so I shaved it – I’m proud of it,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Eddy still calls me Mummy and that’s all that matters. It’s a relief because I look a lot like my dad now!”

Mel with her son and husband
Partner Matthew and little Edward give Mel strength to fight. (Credit: Supplied)

Despite her terminal diagnosis, Mel is fighting for her life, and is currently facing at least two more rounds of chemo. She is also considering a second opinion.

“Eddy doesn’t know Mum’s sick and I don’t want to tell him yet,” she explains. “I’m not ready to do all those things like videos and letters for him unless I absolutely have to.”

In among her medical appointments, Mel, Matt and Eddy are taking off this week for a holiday to Hamilton Island. They’ve been helped in part by the generous donations of family, friends and even strangers to a GoFundMe page set up by her older sister, Lisa, and friend, also called Mel.

family trip to bali
The young family are trying to make the most of every moment together. (Credit: Supplied)

“Because of that page, I’ve been able to get a wig that’s identical to my hair, and go on a holiday,” says Mel. “We want to make as many family memories as we can. It will help in the times to come.

“I want to do what I can now for their future. Matt is a wonderful dad and partner. He’s putting on a brave face, but has told me that when he’s on his own, he does let it out and breaks down a bit.”

Now, Mel wants to advocate for other women to press their doctors for answers if they feel something’s not right.

Mel with dad, Trevor
Family, including dad Trevor have been a big support for Mel (Credit: Supplied)

“Trust your gut instinct, keep at your doctors and don’t give up,” she says. “I should have gone back to my hospital or my gynaecologist.

“I don’t know if it was a fear thing. I don’t even know if it would have changed the outcome, but I’ll never know.

“I didn’t know women being misdiagnosed was a thing until it happened to me. More doctors need to listen, especially when the patient already has a background [of cancer].”

Donate to Mel’s GoFundMe here. 

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