By SONYA ROBERTS-WOODS
Pittsburg’s Melinda Mayben was just being a good friend when she accompanied one of her close friends to Dallas four years ago in the fall. The friend, who felt a lump on her breast, needed to have a mammogram. The two decided they would go together and each get a mammogram that day at Baylor.
“We were going to make a day of it,” Mayben said. “I kept telling her not to worry—that it was probably nothing. We had also planned to go eat, go shopping and just have some fun.”
A few days later, Mayben got a call. Because of results from her ‘routine’ mammogram, she now needed to have a biopsy. Ironically, her friend’s mammogram showed no reason for further tests. This time around, her husband, Paul, went with her. Two days later, over the phone and while by herself driving, she received ‘the’ call.
“I really don’t remember much else after I heard the words ‘you have cancer,’” Mayben said, “except they wanted to know right then what doctor I wanted to treat me. I had no idea who to choose at the time. I was still trying to get over the shock of just finding out I indeed had cancer.”
She then thought about the fact that she would have to break the news to her husband, her children and parents. At the time, Paul was entertaining a group of “regulars” who drink coffee every morning at the couple’s downtown men’s and women’s clothing store, The Mayben Group.
“I told her not to worry and that we would get through this. She just had to trust God,” he explained.
To be fair, in the back of her mind, Mayben always knew there was a good chance that day would eventually come. Her grandmother and mother had both been diagnosed with the disease. Mayben, who taught K-5 students for 25 years at Pittsburg ISD before retiring, vividly remembers what having breast cancer meant for her grandmother.
“From an early age, I remember that my grandmother had two large scars, no breasts and her bra was always pinned to her underwear,” Mayben said. “I just thought that was normal and back then women had few other options.”
What’s ironic is that her grandmother, one of seven girls in the family, was the only sibling to have breast cancer. Mayben’s own mother, was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, in 1989 and elected to have a double mastectomy just as Mayben herself chose to do in 2013.
“I dreaded making that call to my mother because I knew she wanted to help me through it, but she wasn’t well herself at the time and I knew she couldn’t,” she said. “She always felt like it was her fault I had breast cancer because of the family history. And I now worry about my own granddaughters someday getting it.”
Throughout the process, Mayben relied heavily on her immediate family network which includes sons Mitchell and Michael and grandchildren Kenlie, 10, Keyton, 7, Kynslee, 10 and Kennady, 11 as well as daughters-in-law Casey and Karla.
“Try to say all those names real fast; that’s a mouthful,” she laughed.
It’s that sense of humor, the love of her family friends and most importantly her faith in God that brought her through the process. Early on, the family opted to make her diagnosis public.
“When you try to hide things is when everything gets all blown out of proportion so we decided to just tell the truth and let our friends know what was going on from the very beginning,” she said. “And I’m so glad we did because they are the ones who helped get us through. We had a wonderful support group.”
“Pittsburg is a small town so everybody knows everybody…and their business anyway,” she continued. “That may be the not-so-good part about living in a small town, but, for sure, when you need them, they are always right there. They support you through the joys and the sorrows. In fact, you find out you have friends that you didn’t even know you had. They all just rally around you.”
Pittsburg is really all Melinda Mayben has ever known. While Mayben was born in Dallas, she and her family moved to Pittsburg when she was only three years old. Her mother, Shirley Hamm, was the local school librarian and her father, Harvey, worked as a car salesman and sold insurance. She also has a younger brother. The Hamm family quickly settled in to life in Camp County.
In high school, the band majorette excelled academically and was involved in various extracurricular activities. She even graduated early from Pittsburg High School and attended then East Texas State University in Commerce. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree at age 20. She also started dating her future husband while she was still in high school. In fact, the two once worked together at the former W.L. Garrett Department Store in downtown Pittsburg.
In 1977, she and Paul, a lifelong Pittsburg native, tied the knot. More than forty years later, they are still together living out their original vows of ‘in sickness and in health.’ Before Mayben’s cancer diagnosis, she had also endured five painful surgeries to repair degenerative nerves in her neck. She also found a malignant area in her mouth in 1999 and had it removed without having to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.
Not quite sure how to answer the question of the secrets to a happy marriage, the couple has successfully weathered the ‘for better or for worse’ portion of their vows.
“You just don’t think about it,” Paul Mayben said with a wide grin. “You just don’t think about it. You just keep going and look up and it’s been 40 years. No, but seriously she is a very easy, going person. We’ve had a great life together. I think it also helps that we have a nice dog,” he laughed.
Four years ago, almost to the day, after choosing renowned and now retired Dallas oncologist Dr. Sally Knox, Mayben opted to have a double mastectomy and months later had reconstructive surgery. She has been cancer-free ever since.
“Something like this no doubt brings you closer to God,” she said. “It forever changes you in a good way. I don’t take anything for granted anymore. My family and friends really mean the world to me.”
“It’s really those casseroles that did it,” Paul Mayben said of the outpouring of love their family received. “It sounds funny, but those casseroles are what get you through things like this.”
Those same good dishes and lots of prayers also helped get the family through back-to-back losses earlier this year. In less than two weeks, Melinda and her brother lost both their mother and father during the month of March. The Hamms had been married nearly 64 years. Her father was actually in the hospital when her mother died.
“I think he loved her so much that he just didn’t want to go on without her,” she said.
As longtime members of the local First United Methodist Church, the Maybens credit local churches of different denominations for always taking care of the needs of the community.
“Around here, our churches are the backbone of this community,” Paul Mayben said. “Our churches always make it happen whenever there’s a crisis—big or small. I think they need to be praised more because they really hold it together.”
An avid reader, Mayben also enjoys selecting new clothing pieces for the store’s women’s line. In business now for 43 years, the couple works side by side in the store since her retirement in 2001.
“I look at every day as a blessing,” she said. “After you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you have to appreciate the power of God.”
Well said, my friend. Well said.