"To be honest, I was waiting for it. I had watched my mother die from it. I had a premonition; I knew it was going to happen to me and that made it easier to deal with. Still, you are never prepared for the moment you are told that you have cancer."

Meryl Lemeshow was just eleven years old when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In those days, no one said the word cancer. You were kept in the dark. She remembers that her mother got very sick, and then she was in the hospital for several weeks. During that time she had a radical surgery. After she came home, she was still weak for a while, but she got better and was in remission for five years. The conventional wisdom in those days was that if you remain cancer free for five years, chances are you'll be fine for the rest of your life. But she wasn't. After seven years, she was diagnosed with cancer again, and she passed away at age fifty.

Influenced by what her mother had gone through, Meryl became a registered nurseFifteen years later, Meryl was happily married (she and her husband have now been together for thirty years), and raising her two children, Joshua, then aged eight, and Stacey, then aged six. Influenced by what her mother had gone through, Meryl became a registered nurse with a certificate in operating room nursing. In her professional life, she had dedicated many years to helping surgical patients.

Then, in 1992, Meryl was diagnosed with breast cancer. The lesions were removed and she had to undergo three surgeries to get the margins cleaned. Radiation wasn't offered then because it wasn't needed, but the surgeries alone were painful and required a long recovery period. Afterwards, she was especially attuned to the needs of patients who were recovering from or being treated for breast cancer, and she invented a specially designed pillow that gives added support to damaged and sensitive tissues during exams and alleviates much of the pain that patients experience during follow-up care.

She also became an advocate of preventative medicine - speaking to other women about the need for regular breast exams and mammograms. She was following a careful regime herself.

"I watched things carefully," says Meryl. "In addition to self-exams and mammograms, I had a monthly exam done by a surgeon. It was the surgeon who discovered the lumps the second time - only one hour after a mammogram showed nothing!"

The cancer had returned after only five years. This time, Meryl chose to undergo a double mastectomy, in addition to chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery. It was the one choice that Meryl feels gave her the best chance at survival, and she has never had any regrets.

"I did it because I watched my mother die. At least I know now that I have given myself the best possible chance at living the longest."

But Meryl hasn't stopped at taking care of herself. Since her diagnosis in 1997, she has charted a new course in life as a personal fitness trainer specializing in exercise for cancer patients and those dealing with medical challenges, and built a fitness center which is also a resource center and support network for survivors. She makes information about nutrition and medical advances available, promotes the Pink Ribbon Foundation and other causes, and she becomes a genuine friend to each survivor who walks through the doors. Because she's had other surgeries as well, she can also relate to people needing exercise as a way to recover from other medical challenges. She takes each thing she's been through and turns it around and uses it as an inspiration and a source of information on how best to help others. She has a unique gift to motivate and inspire people and provide them with hope as they navigate through their respective challenges.

Whether as a speaker, a trainer, a nurse, or a mother, wife, and friend, Meryl meets her challenges with a positive attitude and tremendous inner strength.

She is motivated by a desire to help other survivors feel supportedLast May, Meryl spoke at a cancer awareness event co-hosted by the Chabad House at Ohio State University and Alpha Epsilon Phi, a traditionally Jewish sorority. The event also raised money for the Pink Ribbon Foundation, and has inspired other Chabad Houses to host similar events. Sarah Deitsch, program director at the Chabad House at OSU, said of the event: "The overall mood was one of creativity, awareness, and support. Even though it was about something which is tragic, Meryl's focus is so much on the positive that that's what the evening became - an evening of transforming the negative to the positive, and the women really bonded.

"She spoke very eloquently and touched a cord. Breast cancer, unfortunately, really hits a lot of young Ashkenazi women; so many people know someone who has survived it or is going through it. She was very informative and there was so much camaraderie. She also donated beads from the Pink Ribbon Foundation and the women all made bracelets together, to raise money for the foundation and to raise awareness. It really was a beautiful evening."

As a speaker, she is motivated both by a desire to help other survivors feel supported, and to help women in general understand how to guard their health. She spoke of the absolute silence that surrounded the disease when her own mother was dying from it. "In my home, I handled things differently. There were no secrets. There was no mystery. I was very honest about what was happening, because I felt that as a family we all needed to know," Meryl stated. My husband, Mal, and I were very honest with Josh and Stacy about what was happening, because we felt that as a family we all needed to know the truth," Meryl stated.

Her approach has paid off. At the event at OSU, her daughter gave a short introduction before Meryl's lecture.

"The feeling I got when she spoke," said one attendee of Stacey's intro, "was not one of sadness or discouragement. It was one of strength, and real pride in who her mother is and what she is doing."

Whenever Meryl speaks, whether it is one on one with clients at her fitness center or whether it is to a women's group, survivors and those whose loved ones have had breast cancer open up to her. Reaching out to people and being able to give them the support of someone who has been there and survived is a major focus in Meryl's life now, as is alerting women to how we can better take care of ourselves.

A mammogram is not one-hundred percent reliable"A woman should do everything she can to stay healthy. She should eat healthy, she should exercise; all of these things help, but every woman should also have regular breast exams and mammograms. A mammogram, however, is not one-hundred percent reliable. In addition to monthly self-exams, women need to have an exam done by a professional health care provider."

Nevertheless, Meryl stresses the need to keep a positive attitude. When she herself began chemotherapy, she wanted something to cheer her up and bring an instant smile when things were at their worst. So she though of something small that would make her smile. She asked he manicurist to paint each of her fingernails a different color, so that when she looked at her hand and saw an array of colors, it would lift her mood. As she went through the treatments, sitting in the waiting room with other patients, all of whom were having infusions of poison – literally - in order to kill the cancer cells, all of whom were suffering the side affects, Meryl noticed something. She wasn't the only one who smiled every time she looked at her nails. The other patients smiled, too. So, long after chemotherapy was no longer needed, Meryl kept her unique manicure. Today, she alternates the colors as the seasons change, having a summer, fall, winter, and spring palette.

Still, she doesn't gloss over the reality of what having cancer means and how difficult it is to struggle with such a disease.

"Probably the worst thing anyone can say to a person who has cancer is 'I know what you are going through.' Unless you've actually gone through it, you don't know. What you can say is, 'I don't know what you are going through right now, but I love you and I want you to know that I am here for you.'"

"As time has passed," she writes on her website, "I have come to realize that each hand with five fingers of a different color… they represent five facets of my life. They are… Meryl the person; the surgical nurse; the breast cancer survivor; the personal trainer and cancer exercise specialist; and the inventor/entrepreneur."

Taken together, the many hues of her manicure represent something else - a unique woman whose sense of humor, passion for living, and compassion for others continue to inspire all those she encounters.