GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Melissa Marshall has sung the 1978 disco anthem “I Will Survive” to entertain people as a vocalist performing in Atlantic City.
The song turned into a motto to live by for Marshall when she received a diagnosis of colorectal cancer in September 2013.
Marshall, who lives in Galloway, received a colostomy bag in November 2013, had chemotherapy and radiation in 2014 and is in remission. She has transformed into an advocate to educate the public about colorectal cancer and started a nonprofit group, the No You Cant’cer Foundation.
“Everything evolved. It was never my intent to start a foundation,” said Marshall, 54. “Everyone else was too afraid to talk about it. Then, I figured out, I’m the one who has a voice. I might as well. It really ended up that the cancer changed my life for the better, not for the worse.”
Marshall tries to spread awareness of colorectal cancer in several ways. This month is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
Marshall sings and co-wrote a song, “No You Cant’cer,” that is available for purchase as a CD single. She has sung the past 30 years in all the Atlantic City casinos, except for Borgata and the former Revel.
“When you think about it, cancer has never really had a fight song,” said Marshall. “This song was written with the word ‘cancer’ in it, but it is also a little deceptive, because I wrote it like it’s a guy who did me wrong, but it’s really cancer.”
When Marshall says cancer changed her life for the better, she is lucky to be alive at all.
Marshall suffered fatigue, weight loss and rectal bleeding but didn’t say anything because she thought they were signs of menopause and the stress of preparing for hip-replacement surgery.
One day, Marshall confided in a female friend what she had been dealing with.
“She literally yelled at me and said, ‘Call the doctor, and don’t call me back until you have an appointment,’” Marshall said.
Marshall saw a colorectal surgeon, who told her within five minutes of examining her that she was dealing with a life-or-death issue because she had a very large mass. Within six weeks, she was having surgery for Stage III colorectal cancer.
While recuperating from ostomy surgery, Marshall designed a necklace, which is her foundation’s trademark. The No You Cant’cer Butterfly necklace features a butterfly charm on a blue ribbon — the color of those supporting people with colorectal cancer.
Marshall created necklaces for other cancers, in pink for breast cancer, teal for gynecological cancer and opal for lung, head or neck cancer.
“The day I came home from the hospital, the vision for this design came to me in my head. I turned to my husband and said, ‘I’ve got a favor to ask you.’ I came home on Nov. 26, 2013, and by Christmas Day, this was around my neck,” Marshall said.
As a cancer survivor, Marshall is very optimistic and gives no indication from her behavior that she lost anything to cancer.
A Philadelphia-based keyboard player, Dennis Matthews, who has been playing with Marshall for 26 years co-wrote, plays, sings and produced “No You Cant’cer.” He said Marshall has always been upbeat.
Marshall organized a benefit for the No You Cant’cer Foundation that will feature Matthews and other entertainers known in the Atlantic City area, including Kenny Jeremiah, Terri Fusco, Sandi Fontana and Ann Michel.
The event starting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City is called the No You Cant’cer Karaoke Cabaret. Besides the singers and instrumentalists, it will include a karaoke auction and raffle prizes.
“We all started in the casinos. This is a big love-in with friends. We all worked together. We have lost a lot of friends to cancer and heart attacks. A lot of us have a personal stake in this,” Matthews said.
Besides the necklace, the song and the benefit, Marshall films videos for YouTube and created a foundation publication called “It’s in the Bag,” to educate the public about people living with ostomy bags.
Nancy Fonte, a registered nurse, is one of three board-certified wound ostomy continence nurses with AtlantiCare. Fonte knows Marshall from AtlantiCare’s Ostomy Support Group, which offers assistance to people who have had surgery related to colorectal cancer, Crohn’s disease and other ailments.
“The support group has been around for about three years,” Fonte said. “The word is getting out and starting to get out because of people like Melissa.”