Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm
Melanie Holmes, senior vice president of Manpower Inc., says her breast cancer diagnosis was the best thing that ever happened to her, although she does not exactly know why. Holmes was diagnosed in 1999 after a routine mammogram. Holmes says the diagnosis saved her life, and even after her doctor told her the news, she still could not feel the 2.5-centimeter tumor in her breast.
Since her diagnosis and treatment, Holmes has been healthy for four years. Now she says her relationships are more meaningful and she is more apt to take a risk or two in life.
"I started looking outside of myself more," Holmes says. "My life was organized and perfect. Everything was predictable before my diagnosis. Since my diagnosis, I got a big dog named Hannah who completely messed up everything in a good way, and now I have a second dog named Wilson."
Cancer cells also were found in two of her lymph nodes, which meant the breast cancer had begun to spread.
Holmes underwent 10 months of treatment, including a mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation. She took prescription drugs, including Herceptin and her current prescription of Tamoxaphen, to reduce the chance of recurrence.
"I was single at the time. I am currently single and had no family in the Milwaukee area," Holmes says. "What carried me were people from work. I call them my angels."
Her co-workers offered to take Holmes to appointments, and some accompanied her the first time she met her surgeon.
In the time between her diagnosis and her treatment, Holmes was forced to learn as much information as she could about breast cancer and treatment options.
"You very quickly learn a whole new language because you are learning information you never knew or never paid attention to before," Holmes says. "Fortunately, I had a fabulous support team of people from work."
Holmes says she never considered taking a leave of absence from work until she was healthy, although that option was offered to her. Holmes took off Fridays for chemotherapy and left work early or worked from home if she was fatigued.
She was senior vice president at the time and had been at Manpower for 17 years.
Holmes was overwhelmed with cards and support from Manpower employees and executives across the nation, in particular a Manpower franchise owner in Holland, Mich., who Holmes had known for years.
"Right after my surgery, I was sitting at home recovering, and this huge box was delivered to my door with candles, hats, videos, books, books on tape, socks – all of this stuff," Holmes says. "That is the kind of support I got from co-workers."
Breast cancer did not change her view on the way she does business. Holmes says it has always been important to her that the people she deals with like her. She says she hardly even thinks about her own breast cancer anymore.
Since deemed healthy, Holmes says a few women in her office also have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she is glad to be able to share information with them.
"The whole thing about being diagnosed, the hard part, is the unknown," Holmes says. "The gap between diagnosis and treatment is an awful time, and your mind does terrible things to you, but once you have the surgery, you know you are OK with it."
Holmes has been on the board of ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, a Milwaukee-area organization, since its inception in 1999. Holmes was undergoing treatment at the time and was drawn to the organization, which provides personalized support at no charge, because she felt the need to give back and get involved with those affected by breast cancer.
"ABCD has been a great organization for me, because (the attendees) are all connected by breast cancer," Holmes says. "It is nice to know that someone gets it. Some people don’t understand what you are dealing with when from the outside you look normal."
When Holmes is not running around with her dogs or busy at Manpower and ABCD, she is working with St. John’s Episcopal Church, supporting United Way, attending classes for the executive MBA program at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management and sitting on the boards of COA Youth and Family Services, the Milwaukee Ballet Co. and Forest Home Cemetery.
If it wasn’t for breast cancer, Holmes says, she would not have thought to go back to school, adopt two dogs or be actively involved in multiple community organizations.
"I was diagnosed April 26, 1999, the day Jeff Joerres was named chief executive officer of Manpower," Holmes says. "Every year, we send e-mails to each other about how our lives have changed since that day."
December 17, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI