Landay presides over shift in focus for breast cancer awareness
On Jan. 15, Komen Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia announced the new Susan G. Komen Philadelphia MORE THAN PINK Walk, which will replace the Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure after 28 years.
The organization has decided to lead the community in a different direction for its largest annual fundraiser, creating a new Mother’s Day tradition for empowering the fight against breast cancer, celebrating survivors and honoring the legacies of those lost to the disease.
Cherry Hill resident Melissa Landay, who was diagnosed with breast cancer a little more than three years ago, will help to guide this initiative as co-chair while still embarking on her own personal journey.
Landay grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and graduated from George Washington High School. She has lived in the township since 1994, attracted by the schools and the vibe of the area she felt is very much like that part of the city. However, that idyllic existence was shattered in the fall of 2015, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I initially found a lump in 2015, and my sister-in-law happened to be diagnosed before me. Having a brother to go through this with me and her at the same time was a blessing,” Landay said.
Diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer, Landay was told she would need to undergo chemotherapy. Instead, she bravely opted for a double mastectomy when told this kind of aggressive cancer could take one breast and then spread to the other.
To say the least, it was a shock as the diagnosis arrived as she had just just lost 30 pounds and was training for a 5K.
According to the Komen website, which cited a National Cancer Institute paper on the genetics of breast and gynecological cancers, breast and ovarian cancer are somewhat more common among women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. About one in 40 Ashkenazi Jewish people carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, increasing breast cancer risk. Landay was tested and found she did not have the mutation, and had no family history of those cancers.
Landay’s mastectomy occurred on Nov. 18, 2015, and four rounds of chemotherapy began on Dec. 24. Although away from her office, and allowed recovery time, she was always close to the pulse of her job.
“I didn’t miss a day of work the whole time. It kept me going and it was something to focus on. I had cancer but I was determined it was not going to define me,” she said.
Landay, who works at Wells Fargo, first attended a Komen event back in 2012, when she put together a team to walk. But after enduring her surgery and chemo, she made it a personal mission to help others going through the same thing — offering solace to several women at work and in Cherry Hill who were diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Everyone’s path is different. I had insurance, a supportive work environment. My husband, kids were there, and my parents were nearby to assist in the journey. I have the rest of my life to give back because I am so lucky. One out of eight are diagnosed. I gained so much more than I lost,” she said.
In the process of coming to terms with the success of her battle, Landay says she became more observant and more attuned to her faith. Temple Beth Sholom on Kresson and Cropwell roads is her synagogue, and she credits attending services on Saturdays — and addressing the congregation with the details of her cancer story — with helping her to get through the last 12 months.
“I haven’t been given an all-clear, but I can say I am ‘cancer-free.’ Technically, the day after you have the mastectomy, you are ‘cancer-free’ but you never know what’s living inside your body,” she warned.
After surgery and pre-chemotherapy, Landay revealed there is a 33 percent chance of recurrence. Post-chemo, that drops to 17 percent. Landay also had a hysterectomy to make double sure no other cancers might be lurking.
“What I say now, is that I need to do more, we need to do more than just wear a ribbon in support. More than 41,000 women and men die every year and countless thousands have their lives turned upside down due to diagnosis and after-effects of the disease. We hope in my lifetime we find the cure,” Landay added.
Like the original Race for the Cure, the new event will take place at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Eakins Oval on Mother’s Day morning, which falls this year on May 12. There will be significant changes, chief among them being the elimination of the 5K run and walk, and the introduction of a more personal, interactive community walk entirely contained within Eakins Oval and the Logan Circle area.
For more information about the walk, or to bend the ear of someone who has been through the cancer experience, contact Landay at MelissaLanday@verizon.net. To register for the 2019 Komen Philadelphia MORE THAN PINK Walk, visit KomenPhiladelphia.org/Walk, call (215) 238–8900 or email at info@KomenPhiladelphia.org.