Published on September 10, 2020
Follow along as Megan-Claire Chase, breast cancer survivor, passionate patient advocate, public speaker, researcher, published writer, and sought-after influencer and blogger in the Young Adult Cancer community shares her personal breast cancer story. She recounts her initial thoughts when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age, the anxiety and fear it brought, and how she learned to cope with her diagnosis and take an active role in her treatment.
Facing a Cancer Diagnosis
When you’re in your 20’s you’re most likely feeling invincible. When you’re in your 30’s you’re most likely on the path of self-acceptance and into the career groove. You are most likely dating or have gotten married and might have kids or you were traveling in the pre-pandemic days. The last thing you were thinking about was possibly getting cancer.
A significant shift in your mindset happens when you hear the words “you have cancer.” It’s like your world becomes frozen in time momentarily. All of your future plans are halted. You walked into the doctor’s office as one person and walked out labeled a cancer patient. That term will officially be on all of your medical paperwork from that moment on.
A Family History of Cancer
I always knew I would get cancer but thought it would happen in my 70’s and not in my 30’s. My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the start of her pregnancy with me. My parents faced a difficult decision because her doctors did not predict any outcomes where both of us would survive. It had taken my parents almost eight years to conceive. I am a product of IVF. I was born three months early weighing 1 lb. 5 oz. because my mother began to hemorrhage to death and an emergency cesarean was performed.
I was born with a large benign tumor on my right leg and still have the long scar, grand mal seizures, and collapsed lungs. My entrance into this world was traumatic and dramatic from day one. It was clear I would have continuous health problems in childhood and adulthood.
One of my mother’s best friends died of leukemia when I was 10 years old. She was like an aunt to me. I witnessed the cancer beast up close as I watched her go from healthy and exuberant to skin and bones and then ultimately dying. I still think of her to this day because it was my first experience of equating cancer with death.
My Breast Cancer Story
I had always had issues with abnormal pap smears, ovarian cysts and what my gynecologist thought was a bicornuate uterus. My maternal grandmother had cervical cancer at 46 and one of my maternal aunts had breast cancer at 55. It was inevitable that I would get cancer, but I always thought it would be ovarian or cervical. So, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it took me completely by surprise. At that time, I did not realize there is a connection between breast and ovarian.
You never forget receiving the cancer call. At that time, I was working in radio. I always notice the time because part of my job was listening to commercials and timing them to make sure they didn’t go over 30 or 60 seconds. I vividly remember getting the cancer call at exactly 3:05 pm on September 14, 2015. I almost let it go to voicemail because I didn’t recognize the number. My gut told me to answer it.
The doctor said, “You have invasive lobular breast cancer.” Um, what? Everything happened very quickly.
- Diagnosed on Monday.
- Met with oncologist on Wednesday.
- Met with breast cancer surgeon on Thursday.
- Met with plastic surgeon on Friday.
Once you receive the cancer call, you’re forced to face your mortality in a way that’s unnatural. The natural way to face your mortality is to live a long life, grow old, and then ultimately die. When you are forced to face your mortality in your 20’s, 30’s and even early 40’s, you are immediately thrown into the fight or flight mode. It literally becomes a fight for your life.
Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
For most, every medical term is foreign. Every appointment is anxiety-filled. The not knowing if you will live or die. The not knowing if the treatment will work. The not knowing what side effects you will have. Everything becomes overwhelming and difficult to cope with. The betrayal you feel by your body is one of the toughest pills you’ll ever swallow.
Once the word cancer becomes part of your permanent vocabulary, here are some key things to consider as you face your mortality.
- It’s okay to feel scared. It’s cancer and not the flu.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions or get a second opinion.
- Make yourself the priority and no skipping any doctor appointments.
- When you’re ready, seek out support from local or national cancer groups or through social media.
So, take an active role in your treatment. After all, your life matters.
Transcript | Breast Cancer Survivor Story: From Diagnosis to Current Day
Experiences as a Breast Cancer Survivor
I was like, “What’s wrong with me?” I’m not super-duper old. So, why do I feel like I’m five hundred years old? Why don’t I have energy? What are all these infections? What’s happening?
I thought, “Okay, I'll go through chemo, I'll have just a few surgeries,” and then, “Oh, okay, radiation.” Didn't really know much about that. “Okay, maybe some radiation.” And then I would be fine. I would be able to be one of the models that's on the brochures and go climb mountains and do all these races. And unfortunately, that has not been my reality and it was actually a real slap in the face.
I want to tell everybody to just take that deep breath. I want to acknowledge that this is a terrifying time and it's okay. It's okay to be frightened. It's okay to be angry. It's okay to kind of even lift yourself up and say, “Well, I'm going to get through it.” I mean, any emotion that you have during any serious illness is valid. It's okay. I also would love for people to understand that that emotion will ebb and flow. You will go through periods of, “I got this.” And then you'll have a day where you're probably a puddle on the floor in tears.
When I got the phone call, I was actually at a memorial. And so, I was already kind of in tears, already quite emotional. And my surgeon called me up and I thought she was calling to tell me that the sample that they had removed was benign. Instead, she said that I would need to have additional surgery and she was sending me to the oncology clinic.
The Importance of Breast Self-Examination
One day, it was actually August 31st, 2015, I was in the shower and I was always doing self-breast exams, especially because I'd had a huge weight gain and couldn't figure out why. And so, when I felt that area I was like, "What is this?" Because it felt as hard as a rock and like the size of a fist. And so at that point when I called the doctor, my primary, things moved very quickly and it's like she immediately wrote a prescription for me to get a diagnostic mammogram, and so it turned out that that hard thing that was kind of underneath my underarm was actually part of breast cancer that's still part of the breast, which I didn't realize.
After I was diagnosed, actually after I had my first mastectomy, I woke up one morning, a few days in, and suddenly I had a yard full of friends and they were all there with shovels and rakes and gloves and kneeling pads and they completely weeded my front yard and dug it out and we replanted. I think the garden gives me something to nurture, something to grow. For me, it's kind of the embodiment of life.