As soon as we saw Melissa's beautiful paintings we were fans, but once we took a deeper look into her story we were inspired and moved. Melissa is a fine artist, mother, and business owner who is redefining boundaries and breaking stigma as she perseveres in the face of having Multiple Sclerosis. We got a chance to chat with the Founder of Majestic Karma Studios about her beautiful art, her diagnosis, and cannabis.
Melissa discovered her love for art at around 8-years old, and found inspiration and influence through friends and mentors . "it was very clear to myself and others that I had some talent. My mother’s friend Sandy was an artist and was a big influence on me growing up, along with my art teacher in grade school, Mr. Carson, who was my biggest supporter and taught me so much."
Melissa's passion for art formed a career pathway for her. "She received a BA in Fine Art from Bridgewater University and attended F.I.T. in NYC for 3 semesters where she studied Advertising and Design. After graduating, Melissa worked as a graphic designer for several years, before switching careers to work in commercial finance. All of this came to a halt in 2016 when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. " It was a Monday, just two days after I had my MRI done to confirm the diagnosis. When I received the phone call at noon, I was at work still struggling from the relapse I had at the beginning of the month, I could not move my right leg for 9 days, completely dead weight. My doctor explained that she would never give a diagnosis like this over the phone...but they found a large mass in my throat that needed to be looked at ASAP. I was standing against a wall of filing cabinets and just sank down to the ground. Then I shook it off because I had to get back to work. I remember saying to myself no one gets MS and a side of cancer, you're going to be fine. I even managed to take my daughter trick or treating. I had a complete thyroidectomy in December just before Christmas and I am cancer-free."
Before being diagnosed, it is unknown how long she had MS. "I may have had it since my twenties, I was diagnosed with vertigo which could be MS-related, but there is no way to know. In 2015 I had a couple of ER visits because of a pain that was so unbearable I was doubled over in pain. They did CAT scans, an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, and an MRI of my chest and found nothing. Now I know it was an 'MS Hug' which is the spasming of the intercostal muscle in your rib cage that helps you breathe."
Melissa's diagnosis impacted her ability to stay working in the commercial finance sector. "In July 2018, I met with an MS specialist because I did not like that I had permanent axon damage which is why I have so much difficulty standing/walking for more than 10 minutes. The MS specialist agreed with my neurologist and added 'that given the placement and size of my last lesion (in my upper cervical spine) it is very likely that your next lesion will be close in size and location. If that happens you are looking at severe disability including paralysis.' She recommended that I stop working because the struggle/stress of working full time, taking care of my daughter and household will cause this grim outcome to happen sooner. So far I have had no new lesions, which is remarkable. I know I have this timebomb ticking away and will probably end up permanently in a wheelchair, but today is not that day.”
Melissa is truly surpassing expectations and inspiring through her positivity, light, and strength. It is all of those attributes that led Melissa back to her roots as a creative artist. "Since I was no longer employed, several people including my doctor encouraged me to paint. I wanted to paint something unique, something stylized so you would recognize the artist. After brainstorming with my brother, he gave me the idea to paint cannabis buds, and why not sell them? Then my mom got sick, she had 3-6 months to live, so I wanted to do this so she could see my work. She did get to see all the cannabis art I created through text (I will keep that text chain forever). The last one I sent her was on August 19, she died on the 22nd. When she died I had my 'Jo March' moment and used my grief to focus on actually selling my art. I got my website and Instagram all up and running by the end of August."
Again and again, Melissa has persevered and found strength through hardship. She has developed a personal philosophy of gratitude and patience that helps her remain balanced and positive. "It is hard to let stuff go, clean, run errands, and do chores. I have really learned to conserve my energy. Some days I can’t do much at all, some days I can go to Target to shop, but believe me, I pay for it after. I rather it’s me that has this, not anyone else in my family. I am thankful every day for all that I do have and try not to sweat the small stuff."
Melissa consumed cannabis before her diagnosis. "I have always been an occasional toker." Her first consumption experience being at age 21. "I was with my brother and a good friend, it was very funny because they tried to teach me how to inhale very dramatically so I would understand how (I never smoked anything before)."
Along with other treatments, Melissa now uses cannabis as part of her care and relief program, to help alleviate her daily symptoms. "After my diagnosis of MS, my naturopathic doctor (I believe in all the help you can get) recommended that I get my mmj card, which I did. I am so glad I did! Now I partake every day, it helps with pain, nausea, and the dizziness I am plagued with. I always consume before I paint, it helps with opening up my mind to thinking outside of the box and to let it all drift away. It also helps loosen up my shoulders so I can paint. It is really difficult to be creative when you are in pain. "
This daily symptom relief is very important because Melissa was not getting relief from her MS treatments. "They help slow the progression of the disease or try to keep my body from attacking itself. I am now doing Ocrevus which is an infusion given every six months. About a month before I am due for the infusion I can start to feel it wear off (your body aches like you have the flu without the congestion or fever). And for a month after you have to be very careful because it wipes out your immune system to restart it with stem cells (Ocrevus is a biologic, very similar to leukemia treatments). So yes it is scary with Covid-19 still running rampant worldwide. "
Melissa is no stranger to canna-stigmas due to her consumption. "Two years ago I befriended one of the moms at school that I met at a PTA event. Her daughter and my daughter were best friends, so I thought we should become friends too. We went to museums, movies, water parks and even went to a ballet class together. We would chat the entire time waiting for ballet class to end. I remember one day she was complaining about the pot smell coming from her neighbors and how the property management company did nothing. I remember saying to myself, 'Guess we will never be besties.' So one day she was dropping off my daughter from a sleepover and she must have smelled the remains of me smoking inside (yes I was smoking inside which I never do, but my daughter was at a sleepover so I was being naughty). After that, complete silence, she never showed up again to ballet and any attempt to get together was ignored. It was embarrassing to be judged like that, more importantly, I felt bad for my daughter, I should have not smoked in the house that one time."
This is an amazing example of why normalization is such an important thing. Cannabis can be such a healing and beneficial gift to us, and anyone who can find value from that should be able to, judgment-free!
Melissa says that cannabis helps her physically, mentally, and creatively. “Mentally, it keeps me calm and honestly a joy to be around. If I am grumpy, just give me a minute while I take this puff. Physically it helps me walk. My legs spasm, and sometimes I really struggle to walk and cannabis helps make it less of a struggle without the effects of long-term liver damage from big pharma. Spiritually it keeps me pleasant and fun to be around."
She finds that it helps her tap into her creativity when it comes to her art process. "When I painted Night Terror, I really let the creative juices flow and after I finished, I realized this is it, holy shit this is awesome. Then the rest of them came out of me so easily."
Melissa wanted to take a new approach than what she had seen traditionally when it came to cannabis-related art. "I did a lot of research to see what is out there, what's already been done, etc. I found most of the cannabis art out there is campy and not taken seriously. I wanted to create something that anyone could have in their home that would not offend grandma when she stopped by for a visit. I painted a few pieces before I was able to find the look I wanted and stylize the pieces, I was able to create a set of rules that I can apply to each piece."
Crafting a piece can take 2-3 days, and that doesn't mean the work is done. " It depends on how much I like it, sometimes I hate it and paint over it and start all over again."
The works are so beautiful, from the best-selling Grimace (Melissa's personal favorite) to the earthy and bold Purple Elephant Hybrid!
When it comes to misconceptions about cannabis, Melissa feels like people are focusing on the wrong thing. "I guess they think that you are a loser, stoner, pothead. Alcohol is actually poison and that's legal, like seriously WTF. I would rather be driving behind someone that smoked versus someone who just drank any day of the week. Like Dave Chappel said 'I don’t know why pot is considered dangerous, the only thing in jeopardy when I smoke is cake.'"
Melissa also mentioned a major misconception about the MS & Chronic Illness communities that can be harmful. "It is an invisible illness, I look fine, therefore I must be fine."
These are both stigmas we need to continue to work towards breaking, through conversation, education, acceptance, and compassion.
When it comes to her consumption, Melissa prefers edibles, vaping, and (her favorite) smoking flower. " My favorite strain for flavor is Monster Cookies, it tastes like blueberries. I always prefer Indica strains because it helps the most with pain. I also like Pie Face, that one tastes like cherries. " Yum!
Outside of creating beautiful art, Melissa has been able to lose 100 pounds throughout the last 14 months and is continuing to work on new art projects. "I have been toying with making a cannabis Christmas card, I think I will make them for just me to send out personally and next year make them before November to sell online." We know they will be stunning!
She left us with a positive note about how we are already seeing such positivity in the world from cannabis. "Today’s world is benefiting, there are so many CBD companies out there, many states in this last election approved recreational use over the age of 21, including my state of Arizona (yes I did vote). I think it is important to educate instead of demonizing cannabis. Ignorance is not always bliss."
We love everything about her down to the tiny touches she puts into her art and business, Majestic Karma, or MK reflecting her name Melissa K, along with a self-designed logo, and personalized signature “my initials are in a star, bottom right on each piece. Star is my favorite shape and purple is my favorite color.” We are incredibly inspired by Melissa's strength, positivity, and perseverance. To learn more about her check out the Majestic Karma Studio website and follow her on Instagram @majestickarmastudios.