At an age when most women are just starting to think about possibly getting a first mammogram, Brandi Mellinger of Ocean Pines, Md., is getting ready to celebrate her 10-year anniversary of being cancer-free.
Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26, she went through surgeries and chemotherapy all within a six-month period and said she didn’t really deal with her diagnosis again after that. On the Facebook page for her year-old non-profit organization, the Pink Ribbon Pinups, Mellinger writes about how, at first, she wasn’t sure she wanted to tell her story, but that sometimes life changes things.
“Telling my story without being asked a specific question scares the bejesus out of me... I’ve been called selfish and arrogant and lots of other things. But it’s not like I volunteered for cancer, or to be a spokesperson when all was said and done,” she wrote. “I got it when I truly believed I was strong enough to handle it. I went through the necessary therapy, and now I’m back in the game. Kind of like spraining your ankle...
“In the past year, though, a few things have happened to make me rethink how I view my past. My story could have an impact on another young woman who was diagnosed at an early age. My efforts could help fund research for a cure. I could make a difference. Who knows?”
Mellinger — the editor of the Ocean City Today newspaper — formed Pink Ribbon Pinups in 2011, with plans to raise awareness and funds for the cause through a variety of endeavors, including a pinup calendar featuring other young survivors and team participation in fundraising walks and events.
Because she was diagnosed at such a young age and because her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer while young, as well, when she was diagnosed, Mellinger was tested for gene mutations called BRCA1 and BRCA2 that increase a woman’s chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
She tested positive for BRCA1 and opted to have a bilateral mastectomy two weeks after her diagnosis, “rather than simply have the lump removed and play a waiting game for the next lump to pop up.”
Although she is now almost 10 years out from her diagnosis, Mellinger articulates the effects breast cancer had on her just like it was yesterday.
“It’s a lot to take in. And young people can get it. It’s not just for older people. I was diagnosed at 26, and my mom was 28. You lose your breasts. You lose your hair. It sucks. When all the other girls are beautiful and having fun, it’s a really hard time... but, it is not the end of the world.”
Mellinger said the goal for the Pink Ribbon Pinups is to raise money through a variety of endeavors to support other young people who are going through cancer — and to let them know they are strong and they are beautiful — no matter what.
“We want every woman — young and old — to understand that, no matter what life throws at her (be it breast cancer or some other life-changing event), she is beautiful. We each have a very, very powerful, unbelievably strong woman inside — most just don’t realize she exists until something as devastating as ‘you have breast cancer’ forces her to the surface.”
“So far we have done events like the Komen Race on the Boardwalk and the Pink Ribbon Classic,” Mellinger said this week. “We raised money by having a fundraiser for a friend that had leukemia. All the money we raise is going to help somebody.”
After a busy summer, the Pink Ribbon Pinups are hitting the ground running this fall and will have a table at the Rods & Rockers Fall Car Show at Oasis Bar & Grill this Saturday, Oct. 6, which will feature a pinup model contest.
They will also be participating in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk on Oct. 20 in Ocean City and are raising money as a team for that. Last year, the group raised $2,661 through the walk.
At the end of the year, the Pink Ribbon Pinups will be the recipients of the cash that ends up on the ceiling at J.C.’s Northside Pub in Ocean City — a fun way for patrons to support a local organization.
“Brandi, being a transplant, has really taken root here and become part of the community,” said Jeff Edwards, owner of J.C.’s Northside Pub. “For me and my restaurant, being the same, giving back to a local organization is the major thing with supporting her. We literally ‘raise money’ by having patrons wrap a quarter in any dollar denomination and turning it into a dart and throwing it up on the ceiling.”
Edwards said that, in four years, they have raised about $10,000 for local charities, including Believe in Tomorrow of Ocean City, Amped Riders from Berlin, Md., and the Worcester County (Md.) Humane Society, including what they will raise for the Pink Ribbon Pinups this year “just by people throwing money up on the ceiling!”
To support the Pink Ribbon Pinups, people can make a donation at PNC Bank at branches in Ocean City, Berlin, Salisbury and Pocomoke. They will soon be accepting donations via PayPal. Supporters can also donate in the team’s name or by joining the team for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Ocean City on Oct. 20.
For more information on the walk, visit the Web site at: http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR?team_id=1244976&fr_id=47537&pg=team. For more information on the Pink Ribbon Pinups, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pinkribbonpinups.