Every two minutes, a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. For one Elon professor, her fight with the disease began almost a year ago.
You may remember Maria LaChapelle, an Elon business professor, who appeared on Elon Local News in March 2019 — just a few months after she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.
“I was in shock, I didn’t believe that this could happen to me,” LaChapelle told Elon News Network in March about the news of her diagnosis. “I’m 54 but I feel so young.”
Since March, she’s had two more surgeries and has one more to go before Thanksgiving.
“I want to be on the other side of this,” LaChapelle said. “That I’ve never given up on anything before, why would I give up now?”
Since her diagnosis in December 2018, LaChapelle has had a double mastectomy, two reconstruction surgeries and a tumor removed from her abdomen.
“It’s hard to tell people I’m not through this yet,” she said. “And I don’t want to rain on their parade because they want to have a nice sunny day when you see them.”
LaChapelle’s been out of work since December, but made a return to Elon earlier this month. She spoke at Zeta Tau Alpha’s Think Pink fundraiser for breast cancer.
The members of the sorority gave LaChapelle a jar full of “love notes” to open when she’s having a bad day — which LaChapelle said is the most thoughtful gift she’s ever received.
“It touches a little bit because I miss it,” she said. “It was a beautiful warm, moment to have greetings from students that I’ve taught for four years.”
But being out of work has also had economic repercussions for LaChapelle. She and her husband have started a GoFundMe page to help with the financial burden of treatments and prescriptions.
“One of them is about $1,600 for a three-month supply, which can bankrupt anybody,” she said. “We’re doing the best we can managing our money but it’s a struggle.”
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, LaChapelle urges people to get screened if breast cancer runs in their family. More than that, she wants people to be mindful of what they say to those fighting cancer –– like telling people that “they’re strong and will get over it.”
“It almost says ‘well I’m not going to give you any emotional support because you’ve got this,’” LaChapelle said. “And that for me was eye-opening for me because I hadn’t felt that or knew that before my diagnosis and when I tell people ‘I’m not strong. I’m petrified. Come see me in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep and I’m worried.’”
As LaChapelle continues to fight against cancer and prepare for her next surgery, she’s living life one moment at a time, soaking up moments with her dogs and husband.
“The smaller moments become so much more poignant and important,” she said. “I’m trying to just take those minutes and make mental snapshots if you will, it’s the old version of selfies, take those little mental pictures that says I’m gonna carry this in my heart.”
And LaChapelle stresses the importance of finding people to rely on — no matter what you may be going through.
“Build up that support system when you’re young now,” she said. “Make those relationships that are gonna carry you through when you have those most heart wrenching, crushing blows in your life. Because we’ll all have them.”