A tattoo of a fairy is printed on the left side of Melanie Richard's chest.
Richard always has loved angels and fairies. The 48-year-old wife and mother has two Christmas trees each December -- one for Christmas decorations and another for angel and fairy decorations.
But the fairy tattoo on her chest symbolizes more than a simple penchant for winged, spiritual beings.
It symbolizes her perseverance and survival.
In 2008, Richard was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy surgery -- the removal of both breasts -- and five months of chemotherapy.
"It's been a whirlwind of emotions (since 2008)," said Richard, who was named the New Balance honorary chair award winner for the 2011 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure set for Oct. 2 at the Boomtown Casino and Hotel.
During chemotherapy, Richard shaved her head and was too upset to leave the house without hair. But after two weeks with no hair, Richard said something changed.
"I decided to shave it all off," said Richard, a Sparks High School graduate. "When it grew back a little, I'd shave it again. I stopped wearing hats. I would go everywhere with my shaved head, Walmart, out with my family -- everywhere. I decided not to care about it."
Within six months of the diagnosis, Richard participated in the Komen for the Cure event, a national fundraiser to raise cancer awareness and fund cancer research. She said she raised nearly $5,000 in 2008. Richard placed in the top 10 fundraising participants in Northern Nevada for the event in each of the past three years.
"It's important for her," said her husband, Dean, who shaved his head in 2008 to show support for his wife. "It wasn't the first time she dealt with cancer."
Richard's mother died of cancer in 1987 -- the same day Richard found out she was pregnant with her first child, Brianna.
"I think about her all the time," Richard said of her mother. "She died the same day I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter. I never got to tell her she was a grandmother."
Richard's mother was a first-generation immigrant from Greece when she arrived at Ellis Island in the 1930s. Richard describes her mother as an intelligent, hard-working woman from a rougher generation. She persevered through tough times -- a lesson Richard learned and applied in her battle with cancer.
Richard's husband was the first to notice the bump on her left breast in 2008. Richard had a mammogram one month before the discovery, and nothing was reported.
"They still couldn't find anything (after it was checked again)," her husband said. "They performed an ultrasound that didn't find anything. That's when we had the biopsy done.
"They told us, and she (Richard) had a blank stare. She said, 'Oh, my God. What do we do now?'" he said.
Doctors told the Richards that mammograms are only accurate 94 percent to 95 percent of the time. In Richard's case, she fell in the small percentage that didn't receive an accurate reading.
"We did a lot of soul searching," Dean said. "We researched. We looked at the Internet and talked to people."
Richard decided to have a double mastectomy to make sure the cancer never returned. She also attempted two reconstruction surgeries, but both failed because the skin on her chest was too thin, she said.
"I knew physically she would be able to get through, but the emotional toll was much more," Dean said. "Now, she runs 5Ks. She goes to the gym all the time, and she eats healthy."
"It wasn't easy, but she got through the emotional portion. In some ways, she is stronger than before," he said.
If anyone wants to donate, follow this link and type my name Melanie Richard