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Micha's Journey Through Breast Cancer

When you live your life in color, things are never black and white. That can be hard, because it doesn't mean that things are always straightforward, and maybe not easy… But always worth it.

"I just love color," Micha Whitsel said, thinking about her upcoming wedding. "Tiger lilies and sunflowers… the yellows and oranges," she said.

The perfect décor for an outdoor, late-summer wedding with the backdrop of her father's pond in view.

"My fiancé is wearing a maroon vest and bow tie, with a cowboy hat with a hint of pink," she said.

Pink. The meaning behind the hat is a nod to the year-long journey Micha has undergone through breast cancer. It started just a few months after the couple's engagement in 2021, but that's not where the story begins.

In 2018, when she was 40, Micha went for her first mammogram. Her next one should have been in 2020, right when the world turned upside down.

Micha, like many people, put off preventative treatments as COVID-19 threw daily life to a grinding halt.

She got engaged in May 2021, but before wedding planning could start to take shape, Micha decided to check off some overdue things from her to-do list. One thing on that list was an overdue mammogram. The results changed her life.

"They knew it was highly suspicious," Micha said. "I knew something wasn't right."

More testing led to Micha’s diagnosis of breast cancer, and she turned to Meritus for life-saving care. Quickly, a multi-disciplinary team assembled and had a plan.

"It's called a 'breast conference,'" she said, explaining that before treatment began, her team of providers met with her one-on-one to explain the course of treatment they would be offering throughout her journey.

As Micha and her care team prepared for what drastic turns her life would be taking over the next few months, she thought of the wedding planning that should have been taking place instead.

"That's when I decided that I was giving myself a year. We weren't going to hurry and have the wedding, we were going to have it in a year," she said.

Micha underwent chemotherapy at Meritus Health’s John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown. She was able to keep working through most of her treatments, and her care team confirmed the chemotherapy was effective at reducing the tumor and cancer in her lymph nodes significantly.

After her bilateral mastectomy in January 2022, biopsy results confirmed a full response to chemo and no residual evidence of cancer.

Post recovery from her first surgery, Micha returned to work and began radiation treatment in March 2022. After completing radiation, she was scheduled for her second surgery in July 2022.

When she hit the one-year mark of her diagnosis, Micha was at home, recovering from breast reconstruction surgery, a procedure she had done by Dr. Salvatore DiMercurio.

As her body healed, she also spent time reflecting on the emotional toll she experienced through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. For her, outlook had a major impact.

"You have to look for the good in everything," she said. "Find that bright side."

Of course, pink is the color that represents breast cancer awareness, but with the journey behind her, Micha can now focus on a different color.

Violet.

"That's his last name," she says of her fiancé. "See? I've always loved color!"

Micha herself is wearing a knee-length dress designed by her mother, with heirloom fabric in the waist of the dress, and the rest of the fabric carefully handpicked.

The wedding planning process was made a little easier because what was missing from her cancer journey were the long trips otherwise needed for care.

"I was able to do everything right here. I had the time to spend close to home, to step back and look at the bright side of things, because that's what you have to do to be able to get through a cancer diagnosis. Find something good, every single day," she said.

Micha Whitsel and Donovan Violet were married on September 17, in Quincy, Pa., at her family home.

For more on the Expert Care, Close to Home, visit www.MeritusHealth.com.