Mark Melendez is a busy man, but especially come October.
According to the National Cancer Institute, Connecticut has among the highest incidence of breast cancer in the country. And it is here that he practices plastic and reconstructive surgery and is on the board of Susan G. Komen Southern New England, the local arm of an international breast cancer charity.
With offices in Shelton and Fairfield — the latter of which celebrated its one-year anniversary in September — Melendez performs a spectrum of procedures for the face, hand, body and breast, including the DIEP Flap procedure, which uses a patient’s own tissue, as well as facial rejuvenation like Botox and fillers.
“It’s very satisfying to see a patient going through a transformation, whether it’s for cosmetic or reconstructive reasons,” Melendez says. “The reconstructive side is where we’re shaping or providing tissue to a defect, whereas with cosmesis, we’re enhancing someone’s well-being aesthetically, which impacts their state of mind, their self-confidence and their outlook on life.”
For the past three years, since finishing his fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Melendez has been particularly interested in — and inspired by — helping men and women with breast cancer. Philanthropically, much of his efforts are focused on improving patient access to quality breast care.
“Breast cancer is multifactorial,” Melendez says. “Age is a factor. Family history is a factor. Gene mutation is a factor. But I think that since the implementation of Obama Care, the Affordable Health Care Act, we’ve seen more patients, the uninsured medical patients, being diagnosed and treated with breast cancer.”
And, of equal importance, emphasizing the importance of knowing your options.
“The challenge that I’ve seen is that all patients don’t know the options of breast reconstruction,” he says. “I think that, in itself, is a challenge for patients, because patients want to see all of their options and know that there are many ways that we can reconstruct the breast.”
For nearly two years, Melendez has been a board member of Susan G. Komen Southern New England, an organization based in Farmington that works to improve access to quality breast cancer care and raise funds for research. The organization has funded more than $889 million in research and more than $1.95 billon in medical care, education and support since its inception in 1982.
And every year, during the months of September and October, Melendez donates a percentage of his proceeds from breast reconstruction cases to the organization.
“It’s been equally inspirational and humbling to see the survivors of breast cancer, of both men and women,” he says. “For me, as a practice, we definitely provide a great service to breast cancer patients.”
Melendez offers some suggestions to remaining alert for cancer: get a yearly physical, conduct self-breast exams, know your physician, know a plastic surgeon that can provide several options for breast reconstruction and seek second opinions.
But aside from making his mark on breast cancer, he has some additional plans in store.
“I have an interest in possibly starting my own organization in Nicaragua, where my cousin has purchased some land and is building homes in a nature preserve that’s close proximity to a hospital,” says Melendez, who has participated in mission trips to Ecuador and Vietnam. “So, I’m hoping to provide a medical preserve in a few years.”