Melissa Telzer Always Moves Forward

A two-time cancer survivor, Melissa Telzer knows that you can look back, but you must always move forward. She created InKind Space, a digital resource for life during and post-treatment, so others can move forward, too. 

Melissa Telzer Always Moves Forward

“I was diagnosed with cancer when I was thirteen. A sarcoma located in the breast. A very rare form of breast cancer. I had a lot of chemotherapy. I had a radical mastectomy. Being in the 8th grade, well that is just so lonely. You have to move forward, however, which I did.”

“I went to college, I lived in Italy for 6 years, because who wouldn’t want to learn Italian and become fluent? I started my career as an entrepreneur, because why not? I could start something from scratch. I could do this. I was teaching the top executives in Italy how to speak Business English. It was great. But, you know, I missed New York. When I came back from Italy, I started my career in technology. Management consulting. From there, I really honed in on my skill of understanding the whole customer experience. Two years later, I met my husband at a Jewish singles’ night. He is anything but Jewish. He’s Australian, go figure. We are going to be married 18 years this year. Together for 20.”

“Fast forward to today, I’m living my lovely life. I’m the mother of twins, in the middle of my career. Then at 46, I receive my second diagnosis. What?! Are you kidding me? No way, Jose. I’m too busy. I really don’t have time for cancer. I knew my crazy life was not going to stop for cancer, but I went through treatment again. I did it. And the whole time, I kept saying, there has got to be a better way.”

Melissa wears the Demi in Blush

There was not a better way, so Melissa Telzer set out to build one. A two-time cancer survivor, Melissa intimately understood the unmet needs of the cancer journey – and created InKind Space to solve them.

InKind Space is a digital resource ‘by the people who have gone through it, for people who are going through it.’ Currently in development, the platform will organize actionable ways for family, friends and neighbors to help, mitigating the overwhelming flood of “What can I do?” text messages received upon diagnosis. InKind Space will become a place that empowers patients and caregivers with expert guidance to make sure that every day is covered in every way possible – from diagnosis to treatment to recovery and wellness.

“I’m going to tell you two stories. One is about a grapefruit and the other is about an astronaut. This is really where the idea for InKind Space started to develop.”

“The first story begins at my first [chemotherapy] treatment, the second time around. I was 46, a runner, a very healthy eater. I was in incredible shape. I went in for my first treatment and was hooked up to my IV – they had already started the chemotherapy – when the nutritionist comes in and says, ‘Do you have any questions?’ I said, ‘Honestly, just tell me what I shouldn’t eat.’ And she says, ‘Grapefruit.’ My next words were, ‘Well I did not get that memo this morning! Because that’s what I had!’”

“Grapefruit has some compound that interacts with certain medications, counteracting whatever benefit you are receiving. This is something I should have known before.”

Melissa wears the Demi in Black

“Let’s fast forward. I’m done with treatment. I had my chemo. I had my surgery. I had a lumpectomy. Then I had radiation for 6 weeks. So I was pretty exhausted after everything. I did do Pilates through all of my chemo, because that’s who I am, but I was told I couldn’t run. I was sitting with my oncologist: bald, no eyebrows (which is really annoying!), completely defeated, exhausted, just absolutely exhausted. I looked at him and said, ‘Doctor, when am I going to feel better?’”

“He looked at me and said, ‘Melissa, you’re like an astronaut that has come back from space. You are completely deconditioned.’ I said, ‘First of all, what does deconditioned mean? And second of all, astronauts have NASA to get better. I have my metrocard! What am I supposed to do?!’ That was when I decide that this has to be better. It has to be better during treatment and it has to be better post-treatment.”

“There needs to be a place where women (or men – or anyone! – forget even breast cancer, just cancer!) can go after they are diagnosed. There should be something that tells you not to eat grapefruit. Or where you can buy a wig without going bankrupt. The day to day things. A roadmap for life during and post-treatment.”

Melissa wears the Demi in Black

“When you are, say, 14 months into the journey, your adrenaline is fired up. You are on a mission to conquer cancer. But what happens after? Think of the astronaut. How do you get better? What can you do? What fitness programs are out there? What Pilates studio understands breast cancer? How should you eat? How do you replenish yourself? Where are the answers? I wanted to create that.”

“I wanted [InKind Space] to be about Community, Education, and Support. Those were my key things. With the Community section, I wanted to create a place where you could rally your community, giving them actionable tasks. People want to help but they have no idea where to begin, and often don’t want to ask. Make it easy for them to say, ‘Alright, I’m free at 10:00 on Tuesday to help walk your dog.’”

“With Education, curation was important. When you google “Breast Cancer,” you get over 581 million results! That’s very overwhelming when you are already overwhelmed. There is so much content on all these websites and apps! Give me something tangible. Give me something actionable and tangible.”

“I was able to have our content organized and filtered by diagnosis and treatment type. So whether you are in chemotherapy or radiation or post-treatment, the content is filtered [accordingly.] If you have just been diagnosed, and are entering week one, you would receive recommendations for fitness, wellness, products, recipes – the top five articles for your diagnosis. That’s the idea: to have curated information from trusted sources.”

In terms of Support, Melissa is interested in connecting people in the same zip code with the same treatment history. As she builds her platform, she continually emphasizes the need for a local, lifestyle-based approach that provides resources and support long after treatment is over.

“I think what happens is – and it happened to me both times – the reason post-treatment is so important is that people disappear. When I was 13, I lost all of my friends and it was a very lonely time. Kids don’t know what to do. At 46, I have a beautiful community, I’m very lucky, but not everyone can maintain that. They go back into their lives. Post-treatment is the missing link. It’s a critical issue. An unmet need. There are over 5000 posts a day just on breast cancer. The same questions are repeated, but there is no trusted answer.”

Melissa wears the Demi in Blush

When Melissa started pitching her idea, many investors assumed InKind Space was another initiative with a big pink ribbon on it – another nonprofit, another gala, another race. While Melissa applauds all the organizations that have raised awareness and spearheaded incredible research, she makes a point to differentiate what she is building – which is a sustainable, for-profit, lifestyle management tool.

“Here is one of the key things. There are over 20 million survivors of cancer today and that number is growing. A cancer diagnosis is not a life-threatening issue anymore. It’s a lifestyle management issue. I want to have a cancer lifestyle curriculum. That is my ultimate goal. InKind Space should be the space that someone can go before, during and after a diagnosis. You can look back, but you have to move forward. That’s where InKind Space comes in.”

There is something disarmingly human about Melissa’s approach. For twenty million survivors, who have been given a chance to continue living, Melissa is going the extra mile to make sure living is truly possible. InKind Space is organizing important medical resources, but it is also organizing community, kindness and human connection. Her advice to those supporting someone going through it?

“Just show up. I had friends that came from Australia. They just said, OK, we’re coming. We’re cooking for you. They just showed up. Some people don’t want to intrude. Do a Fresh Direct order. Some people sent me flowers every treatment day, and I knew they were thinking about me. Others would just say, ‘Do you want to go for a walk?’ Just show up.”

Melissa wears the Demi in Black

As the mother of two teenage girls, Melissa understandably worries about their own health and what they are thinking, but Melissa’s example of exuberant resilience gives both girls – as well as everyone in the growing InKind Space community – more reason to look forward than back.

“At thirteen, I found out I had cancer when I was trying on a new bra. It didn’t fit me – and I felt something. The doctors told me there was a 99% chance that it was benign. But I was that 1%. Today, I’m the mother of two thirteen year-old twin girls who are fully formed. I freak out. I make them do breast exams. When should self-exams start? No one knows. I look at my girls and think, ‘How traumatized are they now?’”

“But maybe they are empowered by it, too. They see that I look forward. That I don’t look back. I hope that shows them that no matter what gets you down, you just gotta move forward.”

Interview by Kate Mack. Article by Molly Virostek. Photographed by Stephanie Lavaggi. Styled by Emily Newnam. 

Tags: bodytalk , Boobs

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