Chrissi McSweeney: “The small choices we each make every day have such an impact on the world around us”

…Another big realization I had during chemo was that you really never know the struggles that the people you see daily are facing. I don’t necessarily think goodness only comes from big gestures or actions but from the daily interactions and decisions we all make. I make it priority to share with my daughter how […]

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…Another big realization I had during chemo was that you really never know the struggles that the people you see daily are facing. I don’t necessarily think goodness only comes from big gestures or actions but from the daily interactions and decisions we all make. I make it priority to share with my daughter how important it is to think of others and their feelings, to hold the door, say hello, include others when playing, to volunteer in our community. The small choices we each make every day have such an impact on the world around us.


Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chrissi McSweeney.

Chrissi is a 47 year old wife and mother who beat ovarian cancer and achieved her dreams of building a family. Chrissi’s fertility options were preserved because of a very important conversation with her doctor — one that Chrissi believes more women should have.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Hello! My name is Chrissi McSweeney and I am a 47-year-old wife and mother who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer ten years ago. While I would never consider being diagnosed with cancer lucky, I feel so fortunate to have been surrounded by the absolute best physicians and medicals professionals throughout my treatment.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I heard the Steve Jobs quote, “If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll be right” shortly after completing chemo and it just resonated with me. Prior to being diagnosed with cancer I felt young and invincible and never would have stopped to truly consider that idea. After diagnosis I realized that any day, any one of us could have our last day. Tomorrow isn’t promised.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?

I found I had cancer in by a very fortunate accident. About a year and a half before being diagnosed with cancer I was diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis by my gynecologist. Knowing that it would be difficult for me to conceive when I was ready, he referred me to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) at South Jersey Fertility Center. Dr. Van Deerlin with South Jersey Fertility Center did some scans and diagnosed me with a fibroid and ovarian cysts.

I was told the best course of action was to have surgery as soon as I was ready to begin trying to conceive. In the intervening year and a half, my then boyfriend and I got engaged and married. On my honeymoon I called to schedule an appointment with Dr. Van Deerlin to get the ball rolling for surgery. In preparation for that surgery, an MRI showed that one of the cysts might be cancerous. Dr. Van Deerlin brought in a gynecological oncologist “just in case”, although none of the doctors actually thought it was cancer.

I was 37 years old and most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are in their 60s or older. Surgery was scheduled with my RE, the gynecological oncologist, and a general surgeon. I went into surgery sure that I didn’t have cancer. I was a newlywed and felt invincible. I actually got a spray tan because I wanted to look good after surgery.

On August 5, 2011, my life changed forever. I woke after surgery to see my husband (of four months) sitting next to my hospital bed with his head in his hands and I knew…it was cancer. He didn’t even need to tell me. Following that surgery, I spent five days in the ICU and over a week total in the hospital. While none of that experience felt lucky, I feel so amazingly fortunate that every doctor erred on the side of caution. I truly believe that I am here today because of their careful consideration and actions.

While the doctors performed an oophorectomy, they made sure to keep my uterus intact so that I could still carry a baby and experience pregnancy. It was so important that I had that conversation with my RE early on to discuss my fertility options.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

The scariest part was the unknown. Following surgery, I had to wait two weeks to find out staging and treatment information. I found out I needed six cycles of chemo and shut down once I heard the words chemo and port. During the following months there was so much unknown. How would my body react? What side effects would I have each cycle?

How did you react in the short term?

In the short term I consulted Dr. Google. I tried to research as many blogs and “real people” accounts of life during chemo as I could find. I looked at tutorials on how to tie a head scarf and bought a wig. I wanted to be in control of as many things as I could since my life seemed so out of control.

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

Once I settled into life on chemo, I looked for ways to keep busy when I could I volunteered at a children’s cancer charity, spent time with family, and baked tons of Christmas cookies.

Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

I am most grateful for my husband. He came to every appointment, spent hours siting in a folding chair while I received chemo, went out of his way to buy any food or drink I thought I might be able to handle. I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through chemo without him.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?

I learned that I was stronger than I realized. Cancer changed my priorities in a big way. I was fortunate to be able to conceive and give birth to my daughter three years after I was diagnosed.

During my entire pregnancy, I just assumed I would continue working (more than) full time as I had been for the almost twenty years since I had graduated from college. The path to motherhood had been so long and difficult. Once I met my daughter, I just knew I needed to be able to spend more time with her. While I tried returning to work when she was three months old, I kept thinking “If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll be right.”

I just knew that at the time of my death I wouldn’t ever wish I had spent more time at work, but I would wish I had spent more time with my daughter. When she was six months old, my husband and I made the decision that I would stay at home with her. She is now seven, starting first grade in a week and I feel so lucky to have had that time with her.

How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?

Another big realization I had during chemo was that you really never know the struggles that the people you see daily are facing. I don’t necessarily think goodness only comes from big gestures or actions but from the daily interactions and decisions we all make. I make it priority to share with my daughter how important it is to think of others and their feelings, to hold the door, say hello, include others when playing, to volunteer in our community. The small choices we each make every day have such an impact on the world around us.

What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?

For me personally, loosing my hair was one of the easier side effects to handle but every movie or book seems to make this the pivotal moment of cancer treatment. I found wearing a wig easy and the wig I chose looked so identical to my own hair that my extended family didn’t even know when I started wearing it.

Another misconception is that all women who have cancer have breast cancer. Countless people assumed that I had breast cancer solely because I am a woman.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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