Meet Michele Robinson
Michele Robinson is a breast and ovarian cancer survivor who has made it her life’s mission to provide emotional support to others battling cancer. Michele currently resides in Reno, Nevada, but she longs for visits to the home in her heart – Kailua-Kona, Hawaii – where she was a cancer liaison and ran the town’s first ever cancer support group called “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for 7.5 years. She’s facilitated proclamations for ovarian cancer awareness, partnered with multiple cancer organizations and women have traveled from as far as Japan to attend her program and receive her compassionate support.
Q&A with Michele
When were you diagnosed with ovarian cancer? Breast cancer? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
In May of 1994 I was diagnosed with breast cancer; it was carcinoma in situ, stage zero. I had a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy, which was successful. Ten years later, in September of 2004 – I was not so fortunate. I was diagnosed with stage IIIC ovarian cancer after experiencing months of bloating and abdominal pain, and after being misdiagnosed three times. Throughout my treatment and surgeries, I almost died multiple times from different complications, but I can thankfully say that this month marks fourteen years of NED (no evidence of disease) for me.
When I was sick, I tried to enjoy life, despite the circumstances. As crazy as it sounds, I had a wonderful time during chemo – it was always “Wednesdays with Michele”. As soon as I felt better, I would cook or bake for everyone on the oncology floor as if I were an old cocktail waitress making friends with everyone. I remember my primary care physician being in labor and going down with my IV pole to sit with her.
You say that getting cancer was a blessing. How so?
I have always helped people in some way, all my life. But, if I did not get this disease, the opportunities that have come my way would never have happened and I would not have met so many incredible people. I would have never experienced sitting on a tumor board and other cancer boards, I would have never sat with patients who were going through chemo for the first time, started a support group, or met my best friend – my hānai sister as we say in Hawaii – if it weren’t for getting cancer. These are all blessings.
Although I consider my battle with this disease a blessing, I have lost many loved ones to cancer, including my first husband and countless friends to ovarian cancer specifically. I’m a big believer in hope, but I’m also a realist. Cancer can come back anytime it feels like it. So, I just keep it on the back burner and I’m aware of my body; making sure I am doing what I am supposed to do. I do not consider myself “cured” and I never will. I am in remission and that’s good enough for me. I will take that any day of the week.
“I’m a big believer in hope, but I’m also a realist. Cancer can come back anytime it feels like it. So, I just keep it on the back burner and I’m aware of my body.”
What do you always tell women facing a new cancer diagnoses and seeking your support?
If I am in person, I put my arms around them, hug them and tell them “I’m sorry that you have to go through this.” On the phone I say, “I want you to pretend that my arms are around you and I’m holding you.”
The second thing I say is “No matter what happens, don’t ever give up hope until it’s time to give up hope, and that day may never come.”
The third thing I say is a line from Mame Dennis in Auntie Mame – “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” I tell them “although you have been hit by a train wreck, there are others who have it worse than this, so go fight and fight hard.”
Why do you share OUR wish for ovarian cancer early detection?
If we had early detection for ovarian cancer, we would save so many lives. If more people knew that they are at a higher risk, they would be better educated. We need something. What that something is, I don’t know. What I do know is that everyone must learn their family history. Even if your grandfather had prostate cancer, that puts you at a higher risk for breast and ovarian caner. My father’s sister had breast cancer four times. Know this history and don’t be ashamed about it. My generation lived in a world where no one talked about being sick. Now, we have only gotten better at discussing the matter. People are still hesitant to ask their family about their medical history. They do not realize it’s not just their life that’s affected – it’s their children’s and their grandchildren’s lives as well.
“If we had early detection for ovarian cancer, we would save so many lives. If more people knew that they are at a higher risk, they would be better educated. We need something. What that something is, I don’t know. What I do know is that everyone must learn their family history.”
What’s another wish you have in the fight against ovarian cancer?
I wish we were educating our children better. Whether it be through their parents, school or doctors. Everyone thinks, “I had a pap smear, I’m fine.” What does that have to do with an ovary? Nothing. Many people don’t know that ovarian cancer begins in the fallopian tube.
We all need to spread awareness and education. If we don’t do that, we are not doing our job. We cannot make people do anything with the knowledge we present, but it’s our responsibility to share it. It’s never too late, you can start now.