The breast cancer diagnosis came for Melissa Black, a second grade teacher and mother of two, on July 31, 2018. Both Black and her husband Charlie had a hard time finding a word that captured what they were feeling at the time.
"It's a call you don't want to get. It's not what we wanted the pathology report to show, and a lot changed very quickly," Black said.
The timing of it all was very interesting, Black said. Not only was the family dealing with a cancer diagnosis, they were also in the process selling their house and moving into a new one. As a teacher at Pinecrest Elementary, Black was starting to prepare for the new school year.
However, the fear and uncertainty started to fade when the prognosis came. The cancer hadn't spread to Black's lymph nodes - it was caught early. A treatment plan was put together and within three weeks Black started chemotherapy.
"It all went really quick. All of the sudden there were appointments - we were just shocked with how many appointments there were right away," Charlie said.
"I've done a lot of research throughout this whole journey, and I think I was Googling, looking for different resources for families or different opportunities to help support kids whose parents had a cancer diagnosis, and came across Wishing for Mommy," Black said.
Wishing for Mommy is a program hosted by Dignity Kids, Inc., a nonprofit organization that gives $500 grants to children whose mothers have breast cancer. Wishing for Mommy raises money for the grants by selling pink martial arts belts at schools across the country, a movement called the Pink Belt Revolution, started in 2013.
The goal of the program is to give children the opportunity to express their feelings through writing.
When Black first printed out the story pages for her son, Marcus, 9, and Donovan, 8, she had no idea how many grants the group gave out and what the likelihood of receiving one would be, but she wanted the boys to express their thoughts and feelings about her journey with breast cancer.
The boys were taken out of the house by their aunt and uncle, who served as the scribes of the boys' stories. Both had decided that if they got the money, that they wouldn't use it on themselves. They wanted to donate it back to help fight cancer.
"I wanted to do it so that I can help other people, not just my mom, even though my mom is still important," Marcus said.
"No mom should be sick," Donovan added to his brother's answer.
The Blacks received a call in late December that the boys had won a grant and that they would be invited to Morris Martial Arts for a special ceremony for their award.
At the martial arts school, each boy got their own pink belt and broke boards that read "Crush cancer!" on them.
Both boys are football fans, so they decided to give the money to Tackle Cancer, an event put on by the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund. The nonprofit challenges every high school football team in the state to host a Tackle Cancer game, where money is raised for cancer research. The Minnesota Vikings and many universities in the state participate as well.
The Black's learned about Tackle Cancer while at a University of Minnesota football game. At the game, Donovan asked for money to donate, Charlie said.
Currently, Black is recovering from a double mastectomy, a procedure she had done early this month.
"I am cancer free now. The pathology came back - they were able to get everything. There is still a journey, with some follow-up treatments and procedures, but we are hoping the worst is over," Black said.
The road ahead is paved in targeted therapies and a number of preventative treatments to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back.
Black looks forward to "getting back to life," in both her own habits as well as being a mom to her sons.
"I am just excited to be able to get back to some of my workout routines and running. Family life, too. I haven't been able to be as actively involved as a mom as I usually would be. We've had a lot of help," Black said.
One thing that has been a great help, the Blacks said, is the support system that they have from their family, friends and the community. Charlie recalled feeling thankful to those who would help out with Marcus and Donovan when he and Melissa had to be at appointments.
In explaining why the boys might have decided to donate the money instead of keeping it for themselves, Charlie said: "That might be part of it too. They feel like they are being really well taken care of, and they have everything they need. That's the way we feel too. Everyone has been so generous, and we feel so blessed."