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Sarah Chaires, FNP, never thought that she would slip off the white medical provider lab coat and slip into a patient hospital gown. On Oct. 4, 2022, everything redirected for the Chaires family when she was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer.

Nurse practitioner meeting with other emergency department staff.
Sarah Chaires, FNP, second from left in white coat, previously worked as a nurse practitioner in UNC Hospitals Emergency Department.

As a medical provider, Chaires previously worked as nurse practitioner in UNC Hospitals Emergency Department and has been an advocate for patient education and early diagnostic screening. When she noticed a change on her self-exam, she immediately called UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center for diagnostic screening.

“I was a collegiate athlete, I breastfed all three of my children, I never smoked, I never thought I’d get breast cancer, but I knew that early diagnostic screening could save my life if it was cancer,” said Chaires.

There was no doubt in her mind that if she was going to be treated for cancer, it was going to be at UNC Lineberger. She said it comforted her knowing that UNC recruits and retains world-class medical providers who are experts in their fields.

Her diagnosis was presented at the cancer center’s tumor board, whose members include experts in medical oncology, radiology oncology and surgical oncology. Together they review and discuss the case presented and develop a comprehensive medical plan for treating that patient’s cancer.

Chaires met with Lisa Carey, MD, ScM, FASCO, UNC Lineberger’s deputy director of clinical sciences and nationally renowned breast oncologist, and she said she had a “five star general for a caregiver.” Her confidence in Carey helped her develop a warrior’s mentality and prepared her to undergo her treatment.

“It has been such a pleasure to be able to take care of Sarah Chaires through what is a pretty complex and arduous journey,” Carey said. “She has been through chemotherapy, infusional anti-HER2 treatments, double mastectomy surgery, and now more infusions and anti-estrogen pills and injections to get her cure rate as high as possible. None of this is easy, but she’s demonstrated grace and perseverance throughout.”

Chaires’ treatment team included Kristalyn Gallagher, DO, FACOS, FACS, director of UNC’s surgical breast program, and Adeyemi “Yemi” Ogunleye, MD, SM, director of microsurgical reconstruction.

Sarah Chaires using a microphone and speaking at a fundraising event.
Chaires spoke at the 2023 Swim Across America fundraising event at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Chaires is quick to share that she and her family, which includes her husband, three sons, and extended family in Canada and the United States, don’t live in fear from the cancer diagnosis. They have 100% confidence in her “curative” comprehensive cancer treatment plan. “I know I will see my sons graduate elementary school, through to college, and well beyond. The confidence that I have in my oncology team is everything.” She also has adopted a new life motto: “With grace and flexibility, I will OWN my future.”

Chaires is proud to have been a clinical provider at UNC for almost 20 years. She now volunteers as a family nurse practitioner with her nonprofit, Carolina Swims Foundation, which combats the rates of childhood drownings by “Giving the Gift of Swim” to underserved children and children in foster care.

A dual citizen of Canada and the United States, Chaires encourages everyone to advocate for themselves to receive early diagnostic screening, “because early detection can save your life.” She also promotes the importance of donating to support research because innovations in medical technology and science are life saving.

She has donated tissue samples and enrolled in every clinical research opportunity available to her. “It is my duty to pass it forward so another mother, friend, daughter or wife can live in remission from curative oncology treatments. I’m forever grateful for the cumulative and tireless efforts of scientists, oncology providers, and cancer patients before me, without their sacrifices, the treatment for my cancer might never have been discovered. Now, I get to live!”

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