PLATTSBURGH - When life hands some people lemons, they make lemonade. When life handed Melanie Defayette cancer, she made the most of it.
The 44-year-old Cadyville woman was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, but rather than let her condition get her down, she decided to turn a negative into a positive.
Defayette's story began last November when she found something was awry before she traveled to the national soccer competition with the Clinton Community College Women's Soccer Team, for which she serves as assistant coach.
"It was two days before we left, actually," she said. "When we got back, I was officially diagnosed."
That's when reality began to set in, said Defayette. Though her prognosis was that the cancer was caught early enough to likely be defeated with rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, it was still difficult to share her news with friends, family and co-workers.
"When it came time to tell the people at work, it was so hard," said Defayette, who works at the Town of Plattsburgh Offices, serving as head of the recreation department. "It was shocking, upsetting ... I kept think that there had to be a better way to deal with this. I'm a recreation director for crying out loud. I wanted to figure out how we could make something fun out of this."
And, all it took was an off-the-cuff remark to deputy town clerk Meg Lefevre that the office should have a pool, betting on when Defayette would lose her hair.
"I thought how much more fun could it be than people betting on when I would lose my hair," said Defayette.
"When Mel told everyone [about her cancer], it was sort of an awkward situation and you can tell she didn't want to talk about it," said Lefevre. "I think the initial suggestion for the pool was a way to alleviate the awkwardness of it. It ended up being a really good idea."
Defayette said the whole atmosphere of her workplace "just changed" with the beginning of the pool and almost daily updates on her hair loss - or lack thereof so far. And, it's been a change for the better.
"People are coming in now giving my hair a tug joking about if it's starting to go yet," she said. "It's actually an indirect way for them to check up on me, but in a way that keeps the humor in it."
The pool has even received support and participation from her family, said Defayette.
"They immediately jumped on board, seeing the humor in it," said Defayette. "One of my brothers said that if you've ever seen my hair, you'd need a brush hog to go get through it, that I was never going to lose it. It's just hilarious reading the e-mails that have been going around." "One of my brothers threatened another that he was going to put Nair in my shampoo," she added, referring to the hair removal cream, "because he's just that competitive. It's been such a funny thing."
The initial plan was just to have a small pool among the town departments with a winner-take-all scenario. However, when more and more people got involved, Defayette knew something really good could be done with the money - donating it to the CVPH Fitzpatrick Cancer Center's Treasure Chests Breast Cancer Support Group.
The most recent counts show more than 50 people have donated to the pool, totaling $600.
"It's gotten really big," said LeFevre. "This is going to be able to help a lot of people."
Town Supervisor Bernard C. Bassett commended Defayette for owning her situation and finding a way for others to offer their support in a way that everyone could find humor in, he said.
"While working together to support Mel, we have also found a way to bring attention to breast cancer and to help make a difference," said Bassett, who added he's been more motivated with each e-mail update he receives from Lefevre. "I'm pleased that we are able to respond and do our part to help Mel and others who are dealing with this dreaded disease."
Though she views her cancer as a "major speed bump," she said it's one she's glad she's going through during a time of year when things are typically slower for the recreation department.
"If I'm going to go through this, this is good time of year to do it," she said, laughing.