Miranda McKeon was fixing her top at a party when she felt a lump on her right breast. At only 19 years old, the “Anne with an E” actress’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer was one in a million, yet she knew something was wrong.
“I just immediately had a gut instinct and reported the lump to my primary care doctor,” McKeon recalls. After an ultrasound, mammogram, and biopsy, her test results came back positive for cancer, marking the beginning of an unconventional journey of hope, perseverance, and unwavering gratitude.
McKeon is a lifelong storyteller; whether in her personal journals or on screen, she says that stories help her shape and express her identity. “It’s a primal trait that works magic — it’s human connection that causes change,” she says. When she received her diagnosis, she says that writing felt as natural as breathing, so she started a blog almost instinctually, paying homage to her diagnosis by calling it “One In a Million.”
“During treatment, writing was an outlet for survival,” McKeon says. “I truly felt like I had no choice but to be writing at the time.” Her blog evolved into a vessel for exploring and processing uncharted emotional territory, from isolation to grief, stemming from her diagnosis. “It is a form for me to heal, explore, imagine, grieve and communicate,” she says. “It’s a lifeline for me when I feel isolated, even when I am surrounded by people.”
Garnering over a million followers on Instagram, McKeon knew making her journey public would result in an irreversible loss of privacy. But she also knew she held the power to break stigmas surrounding breast cancer. “Cancer is not something to be ashamed of,” she says. “I’m glad we’re moving away from times where cancer was a taboo topic.”
Spreading awareness and encouraging open and honest discussions are essential in demystifying breast cancer’s mental and physical effects and promoting early detection. On the video sharing app TikTok, McKeon has started a series about “keeping it real,” focusing on topics she feels are underrepresented in the media, especially for young adult cancer warriors — from fertility to hair extensions and medically induced menopause. “I hope this series and my story in general are spreading awareness to young women to start understanding and advocating for their bodies,” she says.
Although McKeon reveals that it was sometimes painful to be unapologetically candid in her battle with breast cancer, she never regretted her decision to share her story publicly. “I want to live in harmony with everything happening in my life — the good, the bad and the ugly.” she says. “It’s been unimaginably difficult, and of course, there are days where I wish I had kept it all to myself.” Nevertheless, she acknowledges cancer’s role in her growth with inspiring gratitude.
Gratitude is an undeniably powerful force. Understanding its profound impact on well-being, McKeon began cultivating this practice by pointing out “gratitude moments” by speaking up to friends and family during moments that “felt really present, grounded, happy or exciting,” she says. She notes it is a simple way to pause and reflect while practicing presence. “Hence, #GratitudeMMoment was born,” she explains.
The hashtag, which includes the double “M” taken from McKeon’s initials, was launched on social media earlier this year. McKeon uses this hashtag as a way to inspire her followers to share their moments of “casual magic” — the little wins and bright moments of everyday life. “I wanted to share this joy with others and am so happy to see people having
#GratitudeMMoments of their own,” she says about the trend, which has quickly caught on amongst her fans.
Even with gratitude as a steady pillar, grief and hardship are inevitable. It takes grace to honor not only the good, but the dark and difficult and to give yourself permission to feel the entire spectrum of being human. McKeon says she felt this way throughout her treatment, and that her body and mind felt utterly incongruent. During these times, her family and friends helped her regain a sense of balance, becoming irreplaceable healing forces. “They showed up with listening ears and ready hearts to share my pain with me. It was the most incredible thing I’ve witnessed in life,” she says.
While she may not have had the support of a group of people who had felt and known what it was like to go through cancer, she found comfort in knowing that pain is both universal and natural. “We’re all made up of the same stuff, and an understanding of this concept can bring us a lot closer and make us feel less alone in our struggles,” she says.
By her fifth round of chemotherapy, McKeon was forced to re-evaluate her relationship with her body. Despite the cold capping trial she completed before each round of chemo, she watched as her hair fell out in clumps and strands. “It has been really tough looking in the mirror at different points and not recognizing myself,” she says. McKeon believes hair can be a vital symbol of power, beauty and identity, and alopecia may feel like an utter loss of autonomy; it can feel like your own body betrays you.
As her appearance changed, McKeon was compelled to look inward. “Hair loss was pivotal in changing the way I value certain qualities about myself,” she says. “Everything superficial seems a lot less important now. I think that’s a common theme in my life right now — I don’t sweat the small stuff as much. I find I have a lot more inner peace when it comes to daily inconveniences. They just don’t bother me anymore.”
Post-treatment, McKeon has relished the normalcy of life while taking the time to heal both mentally and physically. She has returned to the University of Southern California, where she is finishing a degree in communications. McKeon is still avidly blogging, auditioning and writing. As for the future, she has several entrepreneurial endeavors in the works, but most importantly: “[I’m] in a really, really good spot at the moment, and intensely grateful,” she says. “The future is bright.”