Melissa's story

I was just in the midst of everyday, crazy life as a woman in my 30s with two children, a husband and a job… Please be aware of what looks and feels normal for your body, and if you do notice a change, have it investigated promptly.” 

For nearly two decades, Mel Just has seen and heard, first-hand, the lifelong impact of breast cancer. Now, she truly feels it too. 

In her diverse and specialised role as a clinical support worker with radiology group Queensland X-Ray, presenting partner of International Women’s Day Fun Run, 38-year-old Mel professionally and compassionately cares for breast cancer patients. 

Now, after her own rollercoaster journey with a rare and aggressive breast cancer jolted into gear in August 2022, Mel has a personal and lived experience to add to the mix. It includes a deeper empathy for the women she nurtures, etched from her own battle. 

“I was just in the midst of everyday, crazy life as a woman in my 30s with two children, a husband and a job,” Mel said. 

“I noticed an unusual nipple discharge, which led me to have other investigations done. Ultimately, I received a phone call from Emma Clarkson (Mater Breast and Endocrine Surgeon) on a Friday afternoon as I was out for a walk, and she told me that I had cancer. It hit me like a tonne of bricks. 

“I remember it so clearly. I just couldn’t compute it initially. It felt for a little while like the bottom fell out of my world, and from then things just moved very quickly. I was amazed at just how quickly things moved, to allow me to start treatment. 

“I was diagnosed with a subtype called inflammatory breast cancer, which is not a common diagnosis. What that means is that I received chemotherapy initially, followed by surgery, and then radiation therapy.Unfortunately, there is no option for conservative surgery in the setting of inflammatory breast cancer so for me that meant a mastectomy and an axillary dissection. 

“After my surgery, I went on to have 25 sessions of radiation. I did also opt to have my other breast removed which was not an easy decision to come to, but looking back it was definitely the right choice for me, given my personal risk factors. 

“For me, the experience didn’t actually feel real until I had my first dose of chemo. That was honestly one of the most frightening days of my life. It almost brings tears to my eyes just thinking about that day now, because it was so scary. You never hear people say, ‘oh, chemo was super easy, it was a total blast, I loved it’ so when I first walked into that building, it was terrifying. 

“I found chemo challenging, but at the same time, I was really impressed with the team at Mater Cancer Care Centre (MCCC). They made the experience so much easier to tolerate, and made me feel so safe and supported throughout chemo. I cannot speak highly enough of the staff there. 

“Without going through the experience, it's hard to understand how a cancer diagnosis and the treatment that comes along with it affects every part of you physically, and psychologically. You don't come out of the experience the same person that you were going into it.” 

Amidst so much upheaval and adversity, Mel, with hubby Dylan standing tall through the rough patches, has been determined to find gratitude and positivity amid the turmoil. 

A massive silver lining was the opportunity, while unable to work, to spend more time with her boys, Elliott and Reuben. 

“I've been surprised to come out of the experience in a lot of ways stronger than when I went into it,” Mel said. “But I think that the big learning experience for me is that looking past those initial stages of cancer treatment, people need a lot more support going into the next phase of life after treatment.” 

It is this very messaging being championed by International Women’s Day Fun Run, to advocate for survivorship and empowerment for women living with breast cancer, that resonates so strongly for women like Mel. 

At just 38, knowing she has the ‘Sea of Pink’ in her corner for the long haul is incredibly impactful. 

“I heard someone say once, ‘breast cancer has a long tail’, and I think that really describes it perfectly,” Mel said. 

“Breast cancer is not a ‘12 months of treatment and you’re done’ sort of thing. There’s a lot of recovering to do, physically and psychologically. It has been more than 12 months now since I was diagnosed, and I’m still very much dealing with the fallout in my everyday life. 

“I am on a hormone-based therapy for the next 5-10 years to hopefully prevent any recurrence. This essentially puts me into menopause, and that’s been quite an adjustment to make while still in my 30s. Those sorts of longer-term consequences of treatment sometimes go unseen and unspoken about. 

“There are significant changes to my body, and changes to my identity. I’ve found that incredibly confronting, but I’m taking steps towards trying to make my body feel normal again and trying to feel more comfortable in myself.” 


Mater Chicks in Pink was created so no woman goes through breast cancer alone. 

Will you support women like Melissa?


Donate now