Be Unapologetically Authentic

By: Kyle "Rescue" Wagner

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and First Descents wants to honor those in our community who have been diagnosed with this disease, which affects one out of every eight women and one out of every 833 men. We asked four program alumni to talk about their journeys, and we’ll be sharing their stories, advice and post-cancer thoughts with you throughout the month.

This week we chatted with Sara McInerney Hauck, who joined our kayaking program in August 2023 on the Rogue River in Oregon. Sara lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and she had never kayaked before. “I found First Descents through social media, and at first I was like, ‘Holy [crap], this seems way too good to be true,” Sara, whose nickname is “Diem,” says. “I purposely chose the least likely thing I would ever do in a place I’d never been, it was especially beautiful because I got to celebrate my birthday on the trip.”

Sara has a podcast called Facing Fear With Sara, and she just released her first short story called “Does Carcinoma Mean Cancer?” It’s a visual short story about the daunting days between being tested for cancer and waiting to find out if she had it or not (spoiler alter, she did). She recently made her biggest career switch, from full-time corporate manager writer and editor to an independent contractor pursuing writing and personal training, as a result of life changes she wanted to make post-cancer.

“Diem” chose the adventure she was least likely to ever do: kayak the Rogue River in Oregon.
Can you please tell us about your diagnosis? Sara:

I found the lump in September of 2021. I noticed a dimple first, and I thought that was kind of weird, but my first thought really was that it had nothing to do with breast cancer. Ironically, my mom was visiting me from New Hampshire right after I found the lump, and after I had her check it out, she was like, yeah, you should go get this looked at. So I went to see my OB/GYN, and she sent me to a breast specialist. It was supposed to be an hour-long visit, and three hours later my mom is texting me, and she knew something was up, because I’d been there so long. I had a mammogram, and then an ultrasound, and then I had to sign the paper for the biopsy.

I’m a pretty positive person, and so I still didn’t think anything of it. I had just turned 30 in August, and I was really healthy and worked out, and I had just run a marathon. But over those three days waiting for the results, I started to worry a bit. The day I was going to get my results, I had decided to get up and was clearly not thinking straight, because I decided to get up early and get a workout in, and I had planned this cute outfit to wear.

But then I got to the gym and I forgot my jeans! So I had to go into work in these sweatpants I’d just worked out in. I was at work in a meeting and I kept refreshing my chart to see if the results were in, and then when I got them, it still didn’t really sink in. I truly did not even know if carcinoma meant cancer.

Fortunately, the hospital called about 45 minutes later and someone explained things to me, and so then I went straight to my laptop and started Googling. My husband, he’s so great, I had called him about the jeans, and he drove them to my office, and he pulled up right after I got the call about the biopsy results. I burst into tears, and a co-worker who had always wanted to meet my husband sees us in the parking lot and starts coming over, but then sees me and is like, nope, and turns around.

My initial diagnosis was Stage 1 ductal carcinoma in the right breast. I found out I have the CHEK2 genetic mutation [which increases the risk of developing certain types of cancers] . They found more cancer than the original testing had shown, and so I decided to have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction on the same day. During surgery, they found cancer in my lymph nodes, and so I did chemo from February to July of 2022, then radiation in September and October of that year. I rang the bell on October 12, 2022.

Who made the most impact during your treatments?

My mom for sure has been my biggest cheerleader, my biggest fan of everything I do. She was there through the surgery, which was for sure an extra lift because she lives in New Hampshire. And my husband has also been very incredible; he’s a good listener and super supportive. We want kids, and so we did IVF and an egg retrieval, and now we have frozen embryos. It’s not something you expect to be dealing with when you get married.

And, of course, so many family members and friends were there for me, but then two women from Indianapolis I met who were both diagnosed at age 24, they just really became amazing supporters. They were months and months ahead of me in their treatments, and so they could share what I was facing. Their names are Chance and Amber, and they are my living cancer angels. Meeting them was totally random. Chance and I had the same nurse navigator, but she actually messaged me before the navigator made it happen, and then Amber I met through a guy I worked out with at a CrossFit gym. He was a teacher and she was one of his students.

Also, I loved the people who gave me money, and a friend who gave me a pink boa. There are also artists out there who will do nude portraits of you; that’s a great gift for someone going through this. And the people who weren’t afraid to just text and check in. I know that not knowing what to say keeps some people from reaching out, but trust me, someone going through this would rather get an awkward text than crickets. Just tell them, “Hey, I was thinking about you today, hope you’re OK.”

A friend gave Sara McInerney Hauck one of her favorite gifts: a pink boa for a photo shoot before she began her treatments for breast cancer.
How has going through this changed you?

So many different ways. I would not be where I am today without this; I have a weird relationship with breast cancer. I am incredibly thankful for it. It’s like a friend who sat down next to me on a bench who I enjoy talking to, but I’m keeping at arm’s length.

I was already unapologetically authentic, something I talk about a lot on my podcast. When I was diagnosed, I became the queen of being unapologetically authentic, and in more parts of my life. Spiritually, in relationships, everywhere. I’m much more mindful, and I’ve learned so much about the body and science. The body is a miracle!

I’m also an awesome dog mom now, which is a big change. I’m allergic to dogs, and I always hated them because they made me feel miserable, but after we got through everything, we got an Aussiedoodle who’s just the best.

What would you go back to tell yourself as you started the treatment process?

Just relax and try not to be so anxious. Accept the help, because the harsh truth is, people won’t always be there, and they won’t always care. If I could talk to Sara sitting in the chemo chair, I’d tell her to shut the hell up and eat four more servings of ice cream and have the nurse bring you three more bottles of water.

What’s the best advice you have for someone facing a breast cancer diagnosis?

Well, it’s the same thing I’d tell my past self: Take the help, even sometimes when it feels uncomfortable, or you think you might not need it. And if people aren’t giving you what you want or need as you go through this, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Feel All the Feelings

Previous Post

This is YOUR journey

Next Post