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Cancer survivor raises money for Dempsey Center through tattooing

In August, Melissa Rivera and Ryan Fleming held a flash tattoo sale at their business Sanctuary Tattoo in Portland to raise money for the Dempsey Center.

PORTLAND, Maine — Melissa Rivera, of Brunswick, felt her world change on June 29, 2022. That's the day she was officially diagnosed with stage two estrogen-positive breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. She said she found the lump herself after a mammogram in December came back clean.

"I mean, it’s a shock – and I don’t think anyone could ever be prepared for such life-altering news," Rivera said, noting for a time, it felt like her world was in a downward spiral.

In August of last summer, Rivera underwent a bilateral mastectomy. She also made the decision to have her fallopian tubes and ovaries removed. She said she was considering reconstruction of her breasts but decided to follow her intuition and didn't go through with it, saying her body just didn't feel ready.

“Emotionally, mentally, spiritually – [I am] empowered, strengthened, skyrocketed to the next level, in regards to how I take on life every day," Rivera said about how this experience has made her stronger.

A key component in her healing journey has been the Dempsey Center, which offers free services to cancer patients and their loved ones, with locations in Lewiston and South Portland. Rivera said she has been using the acupuncture, group counseling, massage, and therapy features – and doesn't know if she'd be able to afford it otherwise.

"I think Dempsey Center’s on speed dial for me now," Rivera joked.

Rivera said she wanted to help give back to a place that has given her so much, which is why she decided to take part in the 2023 Dempsey Challenge for the first time. Her husband, Ryan Fleming, is also taking part and came up with a unique idea to use their business, Sanctuary Tattoo in Portland, to fundraise. 

"It was actually his idea to have a tattoo fundraiser," Rivera said, explaining that on Aug. 27, they held a flash tattoo sale. Anyone could come and get a tattoo for $100 or more, with all proceeds going to the Dempsey Center.

"I think we did about 22-ish tattoos – something like that. We raised about $2,500," Fleming said. Now, Rivera's total is up to $3,000. 

Fleming said the meanings behind many of the tattoos were special.

"Most of the flash was cancer-related – whether ribbons, or that kind of thing; pink flowers – just to kind of be the theme of the day," Fleming said.

Rivera said seeing everyone show up in support meant a lot to her.

"I was just really touched by people showing out – showing up and coming out for a good cause," Rivera said. 

You can register online for the Dempsey Challenge through midnight on Tuesday, Sept. 19. You can also register in person by coming to an open house and packet pick-up at the Dempsey Center's Lewiston location on Thursday from 4-7 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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