MacKenzie Porter on the Devastating Role Cancer Has Played in Her Life: 'It Was Heavy for Us' (Exclusive)

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The "Thinking 'Bout You" singer, who is pregnant with her first child, discusses the importance of screenings and her upcoming Country vs. Cancer charity event

<p>Bree Marie Fish</p> MacKenzie Porter

Bree Marie Fish

MacKenzie Porter

MacKenzie Porter was 20 years old when she found her first lump.

“I remember I didn't tell anybody for a while just because I was just delusional,” says Porter during an exclusive interview with PEOPLE about her very first breast cancer scare. “I didn't want to think about it.”

And while the country music artist soon found out that the concerning lump was, in fact, benign - the fear that gripped her heart on that particular day was very real and somewhat expected considering that she grew up with cancer surrounding her.

“My grandma had cancer all throughout her life, so I was very aware of it,” Porter, now 33, remembers. “She had chemo and radiation and was dealing with the side effects of radiation her entire life when I was growing up.”

<p>Bree Marie Fish</p> MacKenzie Porter and Jake Etheridge

Bree Marie Fish

MacKenzie Porter and Jake Etheridge

Certainly, at the time, Porter says she doubts she could fully understand the depths of what the word ‘cancer’ even meant. “I was just so little,” she says. “My parents and my family kind of shielded us from that.”

But that shield disappeared on the day Porter got the news that her own mother had also been diagnosed with the disease.

“I was 14 years old at the time, and that's when it got really real,” remembers Porter. “I look back at photos of that time, and [my mom] looked like a totally different person than what she does now. She was really sick, and I think everyone definitely hid how sick she was from us. Now as an adult, I can look and realize how heavy that time was. It was heavy for us, but it wasn't as heavy as it actually was for them.”

Related: Linda Evangelista Says Her 'Scars Are Trophies' After Surviving Breast Cancer Twice

To this day, the weight of a possible diagnosis also lays on her own heart.

“I've done a bunch of genetic testing and I do have a really high percentage chance [of being diagnosed with cancer] just because my mom had it, my aunt had it, my grandma had it, my grandpa had it,” she says quietly. “It just really runs in my family.”

But so far, so good.

Related: MacKenzie Porter Is Married! Country Singer and Fiancé Jake Etheridge Elope: 'Literally Perfect'

“I've been doing screenings at least once a year if not more,” says Porter, who announced Thursday that she is pregnant with her first child with her husband, actor and musician Jake Etheridge. “I've had three [lumps] in total, but all have been benign. I remember actually this last time I had to have a biopsy, which is the furthest I've ever had to go. I've kind of stopped at mammograms or ultrasounds or MRIs, but the last time they suggested that they were going to biopsy, which was scary.”

She draws in a deep breath.

“If there ever comes a day they find something, we'll have hopefully found it so soon that I can do something about it really fast.”

<p>Bree Marie Fish</p> MacKenzie Porter and Jake Etheridge

Bree Marie Fish

MacKenzie Porter and Jake Etheridge

Granted, Porter admits that she dreads going to get checked, though she's had more face time at doctor's offices lately now that she's expecting.

“It's something that I have put off several times just because I would always tell myself that I would deal with it later,” Porter confesses. “I think a lot of us do that because life is busy, and we don't want to get bad news. But that is the one good thing about having other people in your life that have gone through this. It motivates you and reminds you that none of this other stuff matters if your health isn't taken care of.”

Related: Katie Couric on Surviving Breast Cancer: 'I'm a Living, Walking Example of the Importance of Early Detection' (Exclusive)

And while Porter is taking the necessary steps to ensure that she is healthy for the rest of her days, she has also begun to look for ways that she can encourage others to do the same.

“I knew at some point that I wanted to do a big concert, doing something that I love to also help people that I love,” says Porter, who now serves as an ambassador with the American Cancer Society.

And on Nov. 20, the concert she has long dreamed of will finally happen, as Porter joins with fellow country music artists such as Dustin Lynch, Nate Smith and Walker Hayes at the MacKenzie Porter + Friends Present: Country vs. Cancer event in Nashville, with all proceeds going to benefit the American Cancer Society.

<p>Courtesy of Big Loud Records</p> MacKenzie Porter's Country vs. Cancer

Courtesy of Big Loud Records

MacKenzie Porter's Country vs. Cancer

“[The concert] is going to be filled with a ton of my friends who are amazing country artists,” says Porter, who scored a multi-week No. 1 hit in 2021 with Lynch on their single “Thinking ‘Bout You.” “I will say that every single person I asked to participate said they would be there right away because they know how important this is.”

And while her grandparents have since died after their respective fights with cancer, Porter’s mother will be at the concert cheering her on.

“My mom has been cancer free for 10 years or more now,” Porter says, adding that her aunt has also been cancer free for the past 12 years. “It's pretty incredible to see so many women around me that have gotten through such a dark time and fought really hard to beat cancer. It’s just inspirational.”

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