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"This vaccine gave me my life back! I will forever be grateful to the tireless efforts of Uschi Keszler and Dr. Czerniecki.  I am challenging anyone who reads this to join our Patients In Action Movement.  We are all patients sometime in our lives. Please join me where together we will remove the threat of cancer for all of mankind!”

You have Cancer

Melissa Nicholas sold her successful business to stay home with her two children back in May of 2002.  She enjoyed time with her husband, daughter and son while finishing her Master’s Degree, running an international young women’s mentoring program she founded and training for the Adult National Figure Skating Championships to stay in good shape. As you can imagine, the words, “You have cancer” hit her like a brick!  If you’ve ever heard it for yourself or someone you love, it’s hard to hear anything right after those words are spoken.  The world seems to go silent and you are numb.  

What’s next…

Melissa was first diagnosed with invasive HER-2 (Human Epidural Growth Receptor) and Estrogen Positive Breast Cancer in March of 2010 after she underwent a lumpectomy performed by Dr. Itzhak Shasha in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Dr. Marilyn Raymond prescribed two chemotherapy regimens with Adriamycin and Cytoxan for several treatments along with Taxol for twelve weeks in the hopes to reduce the size of the diseased area along with seventeen treatments of the target therapy drug called Herceptin.  

A Chance Meeting…

Melissa was literally “skating through” her chemotherapy.  Keeping some sort of “normal” was important to her to keep in good spirits for her family. Olympian and Olympic Coach Uschi Keszler, founder and CEO of Pennies In Action Foundation heard about Melissa from vaccine recipient Shelley Dodt. Shelley was a neighbor of Professional Skating Coach Samantha de Laski.  Melissa and her daughter, MacKenzie, were taking mother/daughter lessons from Samantha before she was diagnosed…small world. Uschi wanted to meet Melissa.  As a famous Olympic Coach, Uschi has been watching and coaching the champion spirit in figure skating for many monumentally successful years through 8 Olympic Games.  This would be the first time one would be a cancer patient.  Uschi met Melissa at the rink with her daughter in May of 2010.  After a fun skate they will both never forget, the group went to a nearby coffee house to talk.  Melissa heard Uschi’s story of surviving tuberculosis when she was 17 and cancer…twice! Uschi and Shelley shared about Dr. Brian Czerniecki’s groundbreaking Dendritic Cell Immunotherapy Cancer Vaccine.  Melissa knew this was the providential reason she had cancer, she would be part of ending the threat.  Just as Uschi saw the sanatoriums’ turn into old folks homes in Germany, Melissa would work to see cancer centers turn into immunotherapy centers, where a cancer diagnosis would not be a death sentence anymore.  Melissa saw the way her lemons would turn into lemonade…and so her adventure began with Pennies In Action.

Getting to work…

While Melissa was taking treatments the skating world came together in Lake Worth, Florida for “Skate With the Stars” with Olympic and National Figure Skating Athletes Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett, Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig, Michael Chau, Haven Denney & Danny O'Shea to name a few.  Melissa remembers Caydee Denney telling her it was an honor to skate with Melissa in the show.  Of course Melissa felt the honor was all hers!  August 7th, 2010, the day after a chemotherapy treatment, Melissa would skate her program to a cheering crowd.  The event raised over $7,000 for Pennies In Action…and so the mission began.    

Back To The Fight for Her Life…  

A mastectomy was recommended after this full round of chemotherapy due to indication of residual disease.  Herceptin treatments were ongoing. Melissa did not qualify for the early stage dendrtic cell immunptherapy trials of Dr. Czerniecki available at the time since her cancer was stage 3 into her lymph system.  Dr. Czerniecki and Dr. Joseph Serletti performed the mastectomy in October of 2010 with free flap reconstruction using a donor vein and artery and tissue from her abdomen transplanted to replace the lost breast tissue along with a nipple sparing.  After surgery six weeks of radiation was recommended.  Reconstruction and radiation were all performed at the University of Pennsylvania.  No evidence of disease was determined after radiation.  However, Melissa showed ZERO immune response against HER-2 in subsequent lab testing developed by Dr. Czerniecki as a way to monitor patients after Herceptin treatments left their system. Dr. Czerniecki’s success in early and eventually later stage allowed him to open a HER-2 Immunotherapy trial against recurrence. Of course, Melissa signed right up!  The trial included six shots over six weeks and three booster shots over a nine-month period.  She has participated getting six shots over six weeks using her own white blood cells and the booster shots.  Melissa’s immune response went from zero to normal healthy range in lab testing.  If Melissa’s HER-2 cancer tried to recur her immune system would respond.  

After receiving the vaccine…

Melissa has gone on to coach women’s ice hockey, coaching teams having four appearances at the USA Hockey National Championships, as well as the Junior Women’s Hockey League, an elite league for young women training to play NCAA College and Canadian University Hockey including players who go on to the Olympics.  Melissa has helped coach over 300 games traveling two countries during some seasons.  She has also helped USA Hockey at their National Festival Camp in St. Cloud, MN where top female athletes compete to be invited each year. Melissa often says she would NEVER have attempted this schedule without having Dr. Czerniecki’s Dendritic Cell Immunotherapy.

Onward for The Mission…

Melissa is grateful to have her life back.  She works tirelessly as a volunteer with Pennies In Action. As the C.E.O. of Patients in Action, Melissa has facilitated dozens of events of all shapes and sizes since she was introduced to the research back in 2010 from skating events, biking, even running in a 126.2 Mile Relay Team from Baton Rouge to New Orleans on the Mississippi Levy.  Her motto is to take Pennies in Action with you with whatever you love to do! Melissa’s desire is to make sure this non-toxic, bio-degradable treatment becomes available for all in need and eventually prevention, ending the threat of cancer altogether.

More About Melissa…

Melissa has been married for over 23 years to her wonderful husband Nick with their awesome daughter, MacKenzie, who plays Division 1 Women’s Ice Hockey at the University of Connecticut and her awesome son, Michael, who won the Richard O. Jacobson Scholarship to conduct summer cancer research as a current high school student. Melissa graduated Summa Cum Laude from the MacArthur School of Business at Palm Beach Atlantic University with a B.A. in Organizational Management and the inaugural award for Most Outstanding Online Student.  Melissa also graduated Summa Cum Laude from Regent University in Virginia with a M.A. in Human Services Counseling.

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