Mélanie Albert: a beautiful profile in courage
PHOTO: SEAN SISK PHOTOGRAPHY
The world is sick right now. There we were, happily going about our business when the human race got an unexpected phone call from the World Health Organization informing us that a rogue organism has been detected in our system.
Nature had randomly generated something that’s designed to kill us. You may be feeling fine at the moment, free of symptoms, but that’s not going to last, so you’d better be prepared to take your physician’s advice and get ready for some radical treatment.
That’s the kind of call Mélanie Albert received last spring.
Mélanie is well known as the epitome of fitness and good health. She has the awards to prove it. In the world of competitive fitness modelling, she’s a champ. In spirit and ambition, she still is, in spite of the challenge she faces.
The Orléans resident was diagnosed last spring with invasive ductal carcinoma, two weeks after her 40th birthday. No matter how taut your abs may be, that kind of news still feels like a sucker punch. Her birthday happens to land on March 18th, the day Canada went into COVID lockdown.
If you or a loved one has ever received serious medical news, the first response is always the same: there must be a mistake. “I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. There was nothing in my head that could register that I had cancer,” Mélanie recalls. “After I got the news, I went for a run and made a really healthy meal like I always do. I felt too strong and healthy to think there was anything wrong with my health.”
A mammogram was ordered, two years after a small mass was detected in Mélanie’s right breast. It was thought initially to have been a cyst and nothing more, as she did not have a family history of breast cancer. The mammogram was a life saver.
“I want to warn women that a doctor won’t necessarily push you to go for a mammogram at the first sign,” says Mélanie. “You need to go for your yearly check-up. Don’t wait, because I got diagnosed at stage one, but it was aggressive so you have to act. You have to be your own advocate, so get what you need when you feel you need it!”
Mélanie Albert is a licensed professional hairstylist and an elite fitness model. (LEFT PHOTO: BRYCE MURDOCH PHOTOGRAPHY)
Mélanie had good reason to feel fit, energetic, and healthy before her diagnosis. She’s an elite fitness model who wins competitions all over North America. She’s developed and marketed everything from clean-eating tips to classes in stage presence. Mélanie is also a licensed professional hairstylist with 20 years of experience who completed her apprenticeship at La Cité Collegiale in 1999 and took a series of advanced Master colourist classes with Matrix and Wella Professionals.
Mélanie’s skills continue to improve through international training with elite educators at the Sebastian Advanced Academy in Los Angeles, and the Toni&Guy Advanced Academy in New York City with celebrity hairstylist Nick Arrojo from TLC’s hit television show “What Not to Wear”.
In 2005, Mélanie was awarded 1st place in the Ottawa Suite Style competition, which earned her a trip to Las Vegas.
Mélanie faced a difficult situation when COVID restrictions delayed surgical intervention and made chemo the expedient option to get her cancer under control.
“I was very impressed by the fact that egg freezing was rushed before starting chemo treatments, because chemo and radiation may cause fertility problems,” she says. “It was a very hard process involving three hormones injections done at home in the stomach every day for three weeks.”
Most women don’t want to look like Kojak (1970s American TV series starring Telly Savalas), so the heartbreaking side effect of going cueball can be a discouragement for some when chemotherapy is the recommended course of action.
“I’m a hair stylist, I love my hair,” she explains. “I put my foot down and said, No! I want this tumour out of me right now before I do chemo. This was April, and I wasn’t going to wait until September, and I really didn’t want that chemo poison in my body.”
It was through determined insistence that Mélanie’s surgery was moved up to May to remove a breast tumour. By that time, cancer cells were detected in a lymph node, making post-surgical chemotherapy imperative and urgent.
“I dreaded it. I love what I do and my hair is everything to me. I do photoshoots all the time as a model and my look is my life and my livelihood. How was I supposed to feel!?”
Melanie is well known in the Ottawa region for her work styling brides on their big day. (RIGHT PHOTO: BELLEFONTAINE PHOTO)
Mélanie’s home-based hair salon was closed due to lockdown, a blessing in disguise, she feels, that allowed her to concentrate on the battle. Friends tried to be comforting, assuring Mélanie that a wig would do the trick. “But guess what,” she says, “my head’s too small and wigs didn’t fit me. Besides I wasn’t going to spend $4,000, but I’m grateful I received one from the Cancer Society as a donation,” she recalls with emotion in her voice. “How did life go from what felt perfect in every way to suddenly being a living hell? But the social workers and medical team are amazing, and they make all the difference!”
At the best of times, it’s unsettling going into a hospital for any reason, because it is such an emotionally charged environment. It’s the worst place to be sick, especially during COVID. You want to belt somebody for asking you for the umpteen time if you’ve been outside of the country. But you don’t, because everybody is a model of kindness and patience. St. Francis in scrubs. You struggle not to sob because it will just gunk up your mask. You focus on a single, positive thought as you sit in that little room waiting for your doctor, and you always wait, feeling like a deportation case. Physically distanced and isolated in the isolation. Not to mention being regularly impaled with a weapons-grade needle, chronic weakness, and the horrible feeling that what’s inside of you may suddenly be outside of you.
Being sick sucks, and this is a terrible time to be sick. Perhaps the biggest absence we are feeling in our lives is the warm embrace. It is our earliest memory of love and security. Reaching out and holding those dear to us and being held in return is a craving we all seek beyond our personal bubbles.
Friendships just aren’t the same without a good hug. Touch is also essential to healing. It should not pose a risk, but it does. And that could be the cruelest of all COVID consequences, especially for individuals with compromised immune systems. Mélanie now faces three weeks of daily radiation starting in March. She’d probably love a hug from everyone in her life.
If a vision of health, feminine beauty and fitness like Mélanie Albert can have her life turned into a living hell, then bad luck is just a card that can be dealt. You gotta love her for the fighter she is.
The Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross wrote about ‘the dark night of the soul’ being the time when one’s heart is receptive to a state of grace. Mélanie Albert has a message to share with the COVID world, and those among us battling illness, as she continues her treatments. Embrace gratitude. “What is it that you are grateful for, what is the good thing that has happened for you during COVID?” Mélanie asks. “Even if there is a heavy weight to carry, there’s always something good in the bad, so you have to find it and be grateful for it.”
Fight on with gratitude, everyone. The sun is growing stronger every day. Step outside for a few minutes, and consider this:
There's music in the sighing of a reed; There's music in the gushing of a rill; There's music in all things, if men had ears; The earth is but the music of the spheres. – LORD BYRON