Actress and Writer Miranda McKeon on Her Unlikely Breast Cancer Diagnosis at Age 19
by Ashley Hubbard
One in a million. Those were the words used to describe Anne with an E actress Miranda McKeon’s stage III hormone-positive breast cancer diagnosis in June 2021. An extremely rare diagnosis for a healthy 19-year-old with no family history of cancer.
A week prior, the University of Southern California Freshman was partying with friends at a New Jersey beach house to celebrate her first summer break from college. She slipped away to the bathroom, where she noticed a lump in her right breast while readjusting her top. Despite the extreme rarity of teenage breast cancer diagnoses, Miranda recalls assuming right away it was cancer. Shaken by the discovery, she excused herself from the party and promptly scheduled an appointment with her primary care doctor.
After having a mammogram, biopsy, and ultrasound, Miranda pushed the testing to the back of her mind and set out to San Francisco for an already planned summer trip to learn about sustainable agriculture while working on a regenerative farm. However, by the time her plane landed, she had messages from her doctor asking her to call back immediately. Her initial cancer fears confirmed, Miranda – alone and reeling from the news – reversed course and caught a flight back home to her family in New Jersey.
“I spent most of that time confused and scared, but mostly in shock,” Miranda shares in a recent interview with Coping® magazine. “Most of us go through life with the belief that we are untouchable. It’s a crazy feeling when the spinner lands on you.”
“Most of us go through life with the belief that we are untouchable. It’s a crazy feeling when the spinner lands on you.”
Cancer Treatment & Recovery
Miranda’s intensive treatment regimen began quickly. First, she had her eggs frozen, which required 10 days of nightly hormone self-injections (the same ones used for IVF) to prepare her eggs for harvesting. This gave her a safety net for preserving her fertility in case her chemotherapy treatments sent her into early menopause. All things most teenagers are years away from thinking about. For the best odds, she had to do this before starting her cancer treatment.
The day immediately following her egg retrieval procedure, Miranda started chemotherapy – eight rounds of ACT chemo over four months. This was followed by a double mastectomy with reconstruction and 25 rounds of radiation in the form of proton therapy. All of this left her grappling with intense physical trauma, pain, and hair loss.
“The worst side effect was the hair loss,” Miranda admits. “Being a sophomore in college trying to navigate self-esteem while losing my hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes was brutal.”
Another surprisingly difficult side effect Miranda encountered? Time toxicity – in other words, the demands cancer and its treatments make on a survivor’s time.
“I never would have anticipated that going through cancer treatment would feel like working five full-time jobs at once!” Miranda says. “For months, my schedule was filled with all-day doctor’s appointments. If I had a day off, I was managing symptoms, resting (also a job), not to mention trying to see friends and keep a level of normalcy for my mental health.”
She adds that even just trying to process everything that’s happened to her in the past year takes a ton of energy on top of her daily commitments. “There are so many times I am triggered or caught off guard by the need to grieve,” she shares. “Life still feels unpredictable.”
“I think with any life-threatening situation, you’re shown the fragility of life through a magnifying glass. It’s really scary. But it can also be really beautiful.”
Thriving Beyond Cancer
Though her life may not be what she would have predicted, Miranda handles every unexpected twist with grace. She is the very definition of what it means to thrive beyond cancer. From openly talking about her unconventional cancer experience to keeping a regular gratitude practice, the now 21-year-old breast cancer survivor conducts her life in a way that is nothing short of inspirational.
“I think with any life-threatening situation, you’re shown the fragility of life through a magnifying glass,” Miranda muses. “It’s really scary. But it can also be really beautiful. I’m still taking my time in learning what it feels like to hold it in my hands and have the power of this lens.”
Another way Miranda inspires others is through sharing the insights she’s learned along this journey on her blog and social media. It’s her means of paying it forward in the same way she was uplifted when she first started down this road.
“As soon as I was diagnosed, I began looking for other young women my age with cancer,” Miranda shares. “None of them had breast cancer, obviously, but looking at the vulnerability they put forth in posting photos bald or in fertility treatment was close to the most helpful thing during those initial months. It’s my hope that my own posts and blog will help other women going through tough things, even if it isn’t cancer.”
Miranda admits, though, that she benefits as well from putting herself out there.
“Sharing my story on social media never felt like a difficult decision,” she says. “Silence felt isolating to me. So, speaking out was a way for me to connect with those around me, a survival tool.”
Gratitude & Self-Compassion
For the past three years, starting even before her diagnosis, Miranda has kept a gratitude practice. “It’s completely changed my life,” she says. “It helped me through some sticky weeks in the middle of chemo. I find it to be a super useful tool to help me get out of dark periods. And when I’m finding it easier to be happier, it feels more like a way of keeping the momentum going.”
She’s also learning to practice more self-compassion. “A lesson that I will continue to learn and re-learn and then forget and re-learn again for the rest of my life is to be kind to myself,” she shares. “I push myself really hard in a lot of aspects of my life, and going through treatment was no different.”
This is a principle she feels all cancer survivors – especially young adults – should remember as well. She offers the following advice to anyone facing cancer: “Treatment is taxing, physically and emotionally. Rest when you need to rest. And know that life isn’t going to be this forever. It’s a sliver of life, even though it can feel so big. Breathe deep, pat yourself on the back, and practice as much self-love as you can muster. You’re doing the damn thing! It doesn’t matter how pretty or clean it looks.”
For someone so full of wisdom, it’s easy to forget that Miranda is still incredibly young. Currently, she’s fully immersing herself in the college experience.
“I’ve been working on being present in college and not taking the career stuff too seriously right now,” she says, though she does go on the occasional audition. “That will come – but this is a time in my life I will never come back to, or that’s what I try to tell myself at least!”
As for her cancer, despite having to take three medications for two, five, and ten more years, Miranda is officially in remission. At the time of publication, she is headed off to live and study in Rome, Italy, to finish out her junior year of college.
“This [choice to study abroad] feels like a really big leap in my healing,” Miranda says. “And I’m equal parts terrified and extremely excited for this next chapter.”
Cover photo by Lawson Chew.