LUNENBURG — Melissa Dupuis has a lot to be thankful for these days.
The former longtime professional ballet dancer is grateful to once again be taking the stage next weekend after a years-long hiatus; a milestone made that much sweeter as she is now in remission from breast cancer.
“I never really thought about my mortality until I got diagnosed,” Dupuis said about being diagnosed with Stage 2 HER2+ breast cancer in January of 2022 at the age of 38, shortly after her daughter’s first birthday. “I thought I had a clogged duct, turns out it was cancer. My family and I were planning on possibly having a second child, perhaps moving to a bigger home, and our life came to a screeching halt. I realized that we are all so fragile and life can change in an instant.”
Fast forward to today, after six rounds of chemotherapy and 25 rounds of radiation, losing all her hair, and undergoing a double mastectomy with reconstruction, all within a year, the tumor is gone, and Dupuis is now cancer free. And she is looking forward to performing once again in “The Nutcracker” following a pandemic and illness related interruption.
Dupuis grew up in Lunenburg and lived there through her childhood and until going off to college.
“It was a great place to grow up and I have many fond memories living there,” she said of her hometown.
She and her husband Jake and their 3-year-old daughter Sage and Australian Shephard Stanlee recently moved to Newbury after living in the Boston area for 15 years. She was a professional ballet dancer for over 15 years dancing with a small company in Boston – until the pandemic arrived.
“Once Covid hit we all had to stop dancing, then I got sick so I couldn’t participate in ‘The Nutcracker’ as I usually do,” Dupuis said. “This year will be my first year back dancing with North Central Youth Ballet and I’ll be their Sugar Plum Fairy. Why am I sharing this? I think it’s important to not only raise awareness for our youth to get checked out if they feel something is not right, but also and perhaps more importantly that you can rise above challenges and accomplish anything you put your mind to. In my case, it was surviving cancer and getting back on the stage!”
Dupuis said she hopes people will find her story “inspiring” and that she is happy to share it. When asked how her cancer diagnosis changed her life, she expressed that she is one of those people who does “all the right things.”
“I eat really healthy, I exercise daily, I am in tune with my mental health, I drink water and I practice good sleep hygiene. And yet, I still got sick,” Dupuis said. “My diagnosis rocked me. I immediately thought of my family and leaving them behind. I never really took life and happiness for granted, I’ve always been a happy person, but after my diagnosis this escalated. I really started to be present even more. I got rid of any toxicity in my life, I focused on the people, places and things that brought me joy and made my life full. The little things became the big things. Life is so precious, and short. It’s so important that we focus on joy and happiness.”
She said she “went through a loft of trauma” during treatments and that it wasn’t until they stopped that she “could finally come up for air.”
“I felt like I got hit by a brick. What. Just. Happened. To. Me.,” Dupuis said.
Besides the physical and emotional toll that the treatments brought, there was also another challenging aspect she had to face.
“I unfortunately had to stay very isolated from people as Covid was still showing it’s terrible face,” Dupuis said. “It was lonely, but my support system made me feel so loved. I am so blessed to have an enormous support system and I wouldn’t have gotten through this as gracefully without them. My husband was my caregiver, he saw me at my worst and was my rock the entire time. He took on all the responsibilities of our home with grace, allowing me to focus on healing and surviving. It’s not every day you meet someone and can survive a global pandemic and cancer all in the first three years of marriage. He’s amazing and I am so grateful.”
Sage and other family members also brought love and light to her during those challenging times — and continue to do so.
“My daughter was my constant present moment,” Dupuis said. “She was only one when I was diagnosed, so she didn’t really know what was going on, but she helped me stay present and happy even on my darkest day. My sister and my mom were there constantly. Coordinating food trains, caring for Sage, or just sitting with me while I slept. My in laws were incredible taking care of my daughter every day as we had to pull her from daycare. My dad, although far away, always made me feel loved and cared for in his own way. And then my army of friends who are my family.”
One of the most meaningful things someone did for Dupuis was her sister making bracelets for her whole family, each one with a different number representing her six chemo treatments.
“After each treatment we’d all FaceTime and cut one off. It was a way for us all to be together,” Dupuis shared. “I now have these bracelets in an ornament on my Christmas tree. I am so blessed to have an incredible support system that helped me fight the biggest battle of my life. I love you all!”
Dupuis was officially done with cancer treatments in January of this year. She said “it feels really good” to be done with that chapter and that she is “grateful” she doesn’t have to be on any medications.
“Although the physical part of treatment is over, the mental hurdle is just beginning. Survivorship is extremely difficult and when people say ‘it’s over’ it’s unfortunately not true. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of cancer. If I get a pain anywhere, a simple headache or muscle ache, my brain immediately goes to cancer.
“Overall, I am doing great,” she continued. “I am healthy, I am alive, I am finding myself again. But this journey is long, and I am learning who I am. You are not the same after cancer. So, I am learning my new ‘self,’ what it’s capable of, and healing and loving my body and mind.”
Nowadays she is a Pilates instructor and Chief Wellbeing Officer at Boston-based Vos – and is thrilled to be dancing again in the iconic ballet, an opportunity she does not take for granted.
“I stopped dancing right when the pandemic hit, then I got pregnant, and then I got sick, so I haven’t been able to dance for three years,” Dupuis said. “Putting my pointe shoes on and dancing again is freedom. Ballet is my therapy, it’s my space to just be free. After all I’ve been through, I’m so grateful that my body can still move and dance freely. I feel like myself when I dance, and I am so excited to share the stage again with my dance family.”
When asked what she is looking forward to most about the two shows, she was very specific.
“That moment when the curtain opens and I am standing there for the first time in years,” Dupuis said of what she envisions. “I am proof that you can do hard things. You can come out on top. You can get back to the things that you love. I am dancing for myself, and I am showing my daughter that you can do hard things and to always follow your heart and do what makes you happy. Always remember that life is a gift, don’t take it and those in it for granted. The universe has many ways to show you that, so be present, get off your phone, and enjoy this beautiful life that you’ve been given.”
Dupuis is dancing in the role as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the North Central Youth Ballet production.
“The Nutcracker” has three shows coming up; Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. and Dec. 2 at noon and 6 p.m. at the North Middlesex Regional High School theater, 19 Main St., Townsend.