Professor Stephanie Daniels on battling with breast cancer and her return to Wheaton

On June 1, 2017, Daniels “was at home with [her] son who was recovering from getting his tonsils out” when the call came at 12:30:

“Stephanie, you have breast cancer. You’re not going to die from it, but it is a very long road ahead.”

Professor Stephanie Daniels “loves being at Wheaton,” whether she is teaching acting, or advising students on how to find their inner creativity and personal style, she is “following her bliss.” Daniels feels “lucky” to be able to educate the students at Wheaton while doing something she is so passionate about.

Portrait of Stephanie Daniels. Photo by Caroline Chafiotte.

Daniels is married and has two boys, a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old. Cancer not only affects the individual diagnosed, but also the family members and friends. How do you tell your young children that mommy is really sick? Daniels told her sons that “Just like Henry’s tonsils had germs in them, mommy’s breasts had germs in them and they had to be taken away.” To explain chemotherapy, she told them it “was like the Jedi going in with their lightsabers to fight off the bad stuff [Stormtroopers].”

The personal challenges that any cancer patient experiences are new and complex. It does something to the body, to the mind, that no one can truly understand unless they have stared cancer right in the face. Daniels felt as though losing her hair “was not as traumatic as losing her breast” and “losing the eyelashes and eyebrows was the most difficult part” because she didn’t look like herself anymore, she “felt sick and looked sick.” The prosthetic breast helped Daniels feel “normal” again because for a few minutes she would “forget what had happened.” Through every stage of treatment, her sense of femininity was challenged.            

A support system is crucial when undergoing treatment and Daniels had an amazing one, “Wheaton took care of me, my church took care of me, my best friends, my incredible husband, my family – parents, in-laws, brothers, and sister – took care of me.” Daniels’ return to Wheaton was “hard and continues to be difficult” because she does not feel 100% herself. The realization that her “body… and psyche… is changed forever” is a lot to process and takes time to come to terms with. As Daniels moves forward at Wheaton teaching acting and encouraging her students to “peel layers away to get at the truth,” she is “juggling how to be an actor and teacher and woman in [her] reconfigured body.”

“I told my boys the chemo was like the Jedi going in with their lightsabers to fight off the bad stuff” – Stephanie Daniels

On June 1, 2017, a life was changed forever. The lives of many loved ones were changed forever. One could say that was that start of a marathon, a physically and mentally excruciating journey, but as Daniels put it, “a marathon ends. This isn’t a marathon. This is just life.”