When Fort Wayne City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers learned in August she had Stage 2 breast cancer, she told her doctor, “OK. What's next?”
Late last week, Chambers completed her final radiation treatment and rang the Parkview Cancer Institute's bell in celebration. Ever upbeat, Chambers said she is recovering from the radiation and has one surgery left. After a little more recovery time, she said she plans to hit the ground running in 2021.
Breast cancer runs in Chambers' family – her mother survived a battle with the disease in the 1980s. Because of that, Chambers said, she's always been diligent about her health, taking particular care to get regular mammograms. But in the midst of a frenetic 2019 City Council campaign, Chambers said her health took a back seat to other priorities.
“I did discover a lump on my breast in 2019, and I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't get that checked,” Chambers said in an interview Wednesday. “To hear those words, 'You have breast cancer,' was very hard to hear.”
On top of her role as one of three at-large City Council members, Chambers teaches five days a week at East Allen University. Radiation therapy left her physically and mentally drained, but she continued to teach and only missed a single City Council meeting.
Chambers said she struggled with the decision to discuss her diagnosis publicly, saying she didn't want to be seen as incapable. Over the summer, Chambers was asked to head up the Mayor's Commission on Police Reform and Racial Justice, after a series of Black Lives Matter protests rocked downtown Fort Wayne.
Ultimately, she decided to be open about it.
“I live my life and I govern through transparency,” she said. “This was nothing to be ashamed of.”
What she found was a community ready to support her. She found kinship in fellow breast cancer survivors and leaned on friends, family and colleagues for support. And she had nothing but praise for the staff at Parkview Cancer Institute for everything they did for her.
“They are so amazing,” Chambers said.
Undergoing cancer treatment isn't easy under ideal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic. Two days before Chambers was set to start radiation, her husband, a podiatrist, “had the sniffles” and decided to isolate himself, to avoid jeopardizing Chambers' immune system.
He later tested positive for COVID-19, but his foresight with regard to Chambers' immune system “was the best call he ever made,” the councilwoman said.
“My husband was in the basement for three to four weeks,” she said. “He was never hospitalized, and I never got (COVID).”
Chambers said she wants other women to know that surviving breast cancer is hard, but “you can survive this and come out on the other side with a new zest for life.”
“But don't do it alone. Lean on your circles,” she said. “And never, ever, ever skip your mammogram. Life is too short for you to do something like that.”