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Chantal Rice: Fighting Cancer on Her Terms

Publication: Austin American-Statesman

As managing editor for Austin Woman magazine, Chantal Rice finds it difficult to slow down. 

On any given day, she can be found in her North Austin office providing editorial oversight for a magazine dedicated to dishing out thought-provoking stories that inspire and support women.

“During the 10 years or so I’ve been with the company, we’ve done so many stories about how we, as women, often overwork ourselves, and how illness impacts our health. I wasn’t prepared for it to happen for me,” said Chantal, who discovered a lump in her breast during a self-breast exam in late 2018.

A diagnostic mammogram and biopsy confirmed Chantal had breast cancer.

Almost immediately upon diagnosis, Chantal was introduced to a nurse navigator who connected her to Bridget O’Brien, D.O., a breast surgical oncologist at Texas Breast Specialists–Georgetown, and Mika Cline, M.D., a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Austin Midtown.

Making Empowered Health Decisions

“I was in this weird place where everything felt like it was happening so quickly, but it also felt like we were moving slowly. Dr. O’Brien ran tests exhaustively before we made any decisions about treatment. Because of this approach, she also found a second spot on my breast that didn’t appear on previous scans,” said Chantal. 

Together, Chantal and Dr. O’Brien discussed the latest evidence-based treatment options. 

“My number one goal from the beginning was to get this cancer out of me at all costs. Dr. O’Brien and my care team kept saying it was up to me. I had expected to be told what to do. I didn’t expect them to say, ‘Chantal, what do you want to do?’ They were willing to do whatever they needed to do medically within the parameters I set with them. It made me feel empowered to make decisions about my health,” said Chantal, who ultimately decided to have a mastectomy on her left breast.

She was writing her own cancer story, on her terms, while staying close to home, near the unwavering support of her family and friends, colleagues at Austin Woman magazine, and her partner, Thomas. 

“I’ve lived in Austin for nearly 20 years, and I don’t have a lot of friends or acquaintances with cancer, but those few I do know drove quite far for treatment. I was so thankful I didn’t have to travel to the ends of the earth for excellent treatment,” she said. 

From the patient coordinator to the nurses and the receptionists, Chantal said everyone at Texas Breast Specialists and Texas Oncology welcomed her “without that pity that you often get when you tell people you have cancer.”

“When you choose to have a mastectomy, you can feel like you’re losing a part of your dignity. It’s a private part of your body. Everyone was so wonderful and I didn’t feel uncomfortable or weird asking questions. I truly believe Dr. O’Brien saved my life,” said Chantal. 

For Dr. O’Brien, the respect is mutual. 

“Chantal is such a wonderful, positive woman and such an inspiration to others. I was moved by the way she embraced the data surrounding breast cancer, her specific diagnosis, and her treatment options. She has the most infectious energy, smile, and laugh, and today she continues living life to the fullest, leading and driving through example. Chantal is fierce, strong, and she does amazing work as a magazine editor inspiring Austin women to pursue and achieve their professional and personal goals,” said Dr. O’Brien. 

Dr. Cline commends Chantal for prioritizing her health. 

“It is a privilege for me to be a partner in Chantal's care,” said Dr. Cline. “In meeting her and listening to the story of her diagnosis, I was so glad to hear that she wasn't complacent when she found a lump in her breast despite past testing that didn't reveal breast cancer at the time. She knew her body and acted accordingly when she thought there had been a change.”

Chantal said she’s learned a lot through her cancer journey but is particularly focused on listening to her body. Prior to her diagnosis, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Chantal to work 10- to 12-hour days. Today, she’s learning to take breaks, such as getting up and walking around throughout the day, not eating lunch at the computer, and knowing when to call it a day. Even on her busiest days, she builds in reminders on her phone that tell her it’s time to slow down.

A Support System Close to Home

Chantal said she wouldn’t have made it through without the wonderful support from her family, colleagues, and her partner and caregiver, Thomas. 

“Texas Oncology and Texas Breast Specialists saved me, but Thomas has been on the front lines of taking care of me and being my caregiver at home. He’s been my feet when I couldn’t walk. He held my hand overnight in the hospital after my surgery—and he was sitting in the most uncomfortable chair! His emotional support has carried me through.”

The roles of Thomas and the rest of her support system were particularly important in the weeks following Chantal’s reconstructive breast surgery earlier this month. She will continue seeing Dr. O’Brien, her breast surgical oncologist, and Dr. Cline, her medical oncologist, every three to six months for the next several years to ensure she remains cancer-free. 

More than 18,100 new cases of female and male breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in Texas in 2019, according to the Texas Cancer Registry. 

Chantal’s message to those facing a diagnosis is simple and straight from the heart: “Breast cancer can be beat, especially if caught early. Don’t be afraid to ask for support—and don’t ever lose hope.”

Women of all ages should check their breasts monthly and report any changes to a physician immediately. For more information on breast cancer screenings, diagnosis, and treatment, visit TexasOncology.com.