Meet your 2019 Paint the Town Pink Ambassador: Maegan Siebe

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 28, 2019

Banfield teacher didn’t let cancer define her

As an educator, Maegan Siebe usually gives lessons to her students at Banfield Elementary School. As a breast cancer survivor, Siebe learned a lot about life.

For this year’s Paint the Town Pink, Siebe was chosen to be the 2019 ambassador to share her story about surviving breast cancer, living life beyond treatment and to support the ongoing research that takes place at The Hormel Institute. It’s an honor that Siebe doesn’t take lightly.

“I hope that I can share how important I found it to be and to stay focused on my life outside of cancer,” she said. “It can very easily take over your entire life and you can lose sight of all the other things in your life. The more I focused on things outside of cancer, the easier it was to stay positive.”

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The warning signs

Breast cancer was part of Siebe’s family history. Her paternal grandmother died from breast cancer in her 40s, and as a result, Siebe was taught about the warning signs growing up.

Although breast cancer is typically small, painless and found in older women, Siebe found a large, painful lump in October 2013, and was at first in denial.

“I was worried, but convinced it could not be cancer,” she said. “After a couple of months of antibiotics, doctor’s referrals, testing and waiting, I was told in December that I had stage 3 HER2 positive inflammatory breast cancer. By the time I heard the diagnosis, I wasn’t surprised, I knew it was coming.”

Still, the news stopped time for Siebe. She felt she had to put her dreams of having children on hold and to start having conversations with doctors about what the chances would be after treatment. After continuing her care, Siebe had to take a leave of absence from work because it was dangerous for her health at the time.

“It was incredibly hard for me to be away from my students, my purpose,” Siebe said. “Work and my kids became what I focused on during this time, and got through some really hard days. I was devastated. Those days where you feel like you’ve lost your sense of purpose, your identity outside of having cancer were really hard.”

However, Siebe said she decided to take control of how she responded to the difficulties of having cancer rather than let cancer’s depressive grip take control of her.

“I couldn’t control my diagnosis, what was happening in my life, but I decided I could control my response to everything,” she said. “I decided I was going to try my best to stay positive, focus on everything else in my life, and try not to let cancer change me.”

A new hope in breast cancer research

Five years later, Siebe still recounts how the words “you have cancer,” changed her life forever. Some in different ways, but mostly in ways she no longer takes things for granted. Now a mother to a little girl, a teacher, a friend, and a woman who enjoys to read, cook and be outdoors, Siebe adds another role: a cancer survivor.

“Cancer did give me a renewed sense of positivity,” she said. “I know that I am lucky to be alive and I am so incredibly thankful to be here.”

During her treatment, Siebe recounted how much Austin came together and embraced Paint the Town Pink, The Hormel Institute and the efforts to find a cure for cancer. She experienced firsthand the support from the community when she fought cancer.

“Paint the Town Pink is an extension of that,” she said. “I have been very lucky to receive all of that support over the last five years. As a person who is not originally from Austin, I can’t tell you how incredible it is to receive that support. Paint the Town Pink has truly motivated people to get involved and help raise awareness and support for cancer research. …it truly is a community effort.”

The Hormel Institute’s breast cancer research greatly affected Siebe as a survivor. Researchers made great strides in figuring out the best treatments for HER2 and inflammatory breast cancer, and based on new recommendations, Siebe was able to participate in medical research trials.

“I know that I have benefitted firsthand from the research that The Hormel Institute has done,” she said. “My daughter is here because of all the medical advances that have helped women continue to have children after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Research is also important to me so that we can find why the outcomes for people are different and what can be done to help everyone have a positive outcome once diagnosed … we have learned so much, but there is still so much more to do.”

For those who are struggling with cancer or seeing a loved one battling the illness, Siebe encourages them to continue to support one another and to help them make it through the dark days to see the hope on the other side.

“I found strength in the people around me and the things that I love to do,” she said. “It was very important to me to try and stay positive and focused on the future. Cancer definitely turns your world upside down, but I tried really hard to make it only a part of who I am, and not let it change or define me.”