The first thing you notice about social influencer Megan-Claire Chase ’99 is the warmth of her smile and the abiding wisdom in her eyes.
Both come from dealing with challenges most of us can’t even imagine. Diagnosed at age 39 with stage-IIA invasive lobular breast cancer, Chase had 16 rounds of chemotherapy, eight surgeries, and 33 radiation treatments within a three-year period. She was medically induced into menopause because her body is intolerant of all post-treatment medications to help prevent a recurrence for her type of cancer.
This was the next best option, so she could tolerate 16 rounds of chemotherapy. That left which left her with permanent infertility. Chronic pain from fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and a bulging spinal disc make everyday tasks (e.g., walking, typing, or getting out of bed) difficult.
This past March, she was laid off from her job as a project marketing manager with EmployBridge in Atlanta.
“I’m so used to major things happening all at once,” Chase says. “It’s never just one – it’s always like five.”
But her spirit is strong, and she is a born communicator. With those two powerful weapons, she’s built a mighty platform to reach, educate, and advocate for cancer patients. An active participant in local and virtual cancer-support organizations, Chase also posts constantly on social media, and has amassed an international following through her blog, Life on the Cancer Train.
Whether the subject is feeling frustrated with healthcare professionals and systems, dealing with the grief of childlessness and infertility, celebrating the supportiveness of friendships, or navigating life as a Black individual in the South, Chase’s writing is personal, honest, and immediate.
“I write for myself – not for clicks or glowing recommendations,” she says.
The human factor
Readers relate to Chase and sense that they can reach out to her and find a real, understanding human being.
“A few days ago, I got an email from a guy who has stage-IV rectal cancer, who said, ‘I realized that if she can keep moving forward, so can I,'” Chase says. “Each of these comments speaks to me.”
She recently heard from a transgender man who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“I thought, how great that they could tell through my posts that I would be a safe person to tell their story to,” she says. “But how confusing and terrifying it must be to have a cancer – for a body you don’t identify with – that can kill you.”
Her engagement with the cancer community has led to promising recent developments. Through a friend of a friend, she was quoted in The New York Times this past April; through another friend, she found herself featured in People magazine in June.
As a result of these high-profile media mentions, Chase has found more resolve to network professionally.
“I have more confidence to reach out to people I don’t know,” she says. “For organizations that follow me on social media, I’ll let them know I’d love to be a patient advocate or write some content.”
Whether due to her recent media exposure, energetic networking, or years of careful brand building, Chase has lately seen a snowballing of offers to contribute articles and presentations, and host podcasts.
“One healthcare journalist even put together a contact list for me,” she says. “I think when people see you are genuine and authentic, that you stand up and speak for others, people want you to succeed. And the more you do, the more you can help.”
She dreams of expanding her platform to do even more to inform, educate, and advocate.
“I would love to talk about what it’s been like, talk specifically to the medical community, the doctors, and how they speak to people who are diagnosed under the age of 40,” she says. “I was a guest speaker at Emory University for the palliative-care team, and I think that was an eye-opener for them. That this could be a person’s first time staying in the hospital – that’s something the doctors and fellows had not even thought of.”
No matter what professional roles her future holds, she will always be a strong patient advocate.
“If people can’t find their voice, I can be their voice,” she says. “We need so much continuous support, especially post-treatment. People don’t realize that, if you have cancer, the journey is never over.”
Sigma Charter Pi
A lifelong writer who has been journaling since age 12, starting the blog was second nature to Chase. Her decision to attend Saint Rose was just as natural, even though she chose the school sight unseen from her home in Macon, Georgia.
“I had gone to private schools all my life, and I was blessed that my mother always told me I could go anywhere I wanted for college,” says Chase. “When I read about Saint Rose, I thought, ‘That sounds like a very Megan-Claire-ish kind of college.'”
She liked the proximity to New York City but also liked that the school was sufficiently far away that she could concentrate on her studies.
“I got a large scholarship, and I didn’t even visit but decided, ‘This is where I’m going.'”
She was not disappointed. “The school was the perfect size. I got involved with so many things, I tutored kids in an inner-city school, I was a cheerleader, I was the 1997 Student Association representative of the year,” says Chase, who majored in public communications.
“I felt intellectually challenged. The classes were the right size, so you really got to know the people and the professor, and you felt guided,” adds Chase, who stays in touch with communications professor Mary Alice Molgard.
She enjoyed meeting all different types of people from all over the world; she also enjoyed going home with classmates over school breaks to explore different parts of the Northeast. And she became close with her housemates in Charter Hall, where she lived from the second half of her second year through graduation.
“All of us loved the house so much that we all stayed together,” she says. Lacking an actual sorority, the group even designed its own “Sigma Charter Pi” logo.
Chase credits Saint Rose with giving her the confidence to be her authentic self.
“The amazing professors I had and friendships made helped build me up from a somewhat insecure and uncertain southern belle into a truly determined professional with a much stronger business acumen than I thought I had,” she says. “It also gave me superb skills to market myself and know how to genuinely engage with people.”
By Irene Kim