Survivor Stories: 2015

 

Paul Mehaffey (39 y/o) // art director of TOWN Magazine // photographer // musician // whiskey & tattoo enthusiast // survivor of father Gerald; lung cancer (diagnosed ‘03; passed ‘04)

“After he found the tumor, he got a letter from the VA saying various people exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam were coming down with various types of cancer. He had been disabled most of my life; since 1988 with pancreatitis, & almost died from that. So he was disabled in 2003, when they found the tumor. He did his own research in ‘88 & ’89, & did it very privately. They did discover Agent Orange poisoning in his blood. Nobody at the VA took it very seriously. They basically said, ‘Well, it’s there, but you’ve been fine for all these years’ – but he was never happy with that conclusion. My dad’s relationship with the VA – & the fact he was in the army anyway – was really a disappointment all the way through. He joined the army out of a broken heart, even though he would’ve been drafted anyway…

“Pancreatitis added 10 years to his life mentally & physically. He was legally blind. He couldn’t use his hands as normal; couldn’t drive; couldn’t work. He basically stayed in the house I grew up in in Travelers Rest for 15 years & did his own thing…he was depressed, really. But if anything, what he did his entire lifetime was have a great sense of humor about everything with me. He wasn’t a great talker, but he was a great listener. He was my buddy, my best friend – the best listener in world. No matter what I was going through, my problems were always bigger than his...Thankfully, nowadays, my mother MaryAnne plays both parenting roles.

“I didn’t know my dad was depressed until I was older enough to understand it. My dad had an immense amount of guilt for not being the father he wanted to be. If I gave too much attention to him because of his disability, he felt guilty; or it hurt him in some ways. So I did anything I would’ve done as a normal teenager. I chased girls; I went to shows; I tried to go on road trips. I was just trying to be a boy in his 20s, & it took him to really die before I actually became a man. It was a wake up…He lasted a week after my birthday. He made a point to stay here until my 27th birthday.

“What kept him going was me being happy, me achieving. I really didn’t start achieving in life until he died, because I promised him minutes before he died that I would continue to make him happy. If I am successful now, that’s why.

“I’ve been a visual person all my life, & my dad was especially. Looking at things calms me. My dad was a really good artist, an amazing illustrator. A lot of his work – which were just doodles to him – there’s hardly anything left, which sucks, because he would do it all the time. I was an illustrator & did more cartoonish kind of things growing up, & when he died, I promised him I would continue it. That’s why I do what I do now.

“When I was younger, thunderstorms were a big thing for my dad & me – they’re a huge thing for me still. It’s kind of like Mother Nature’s way of communicating with itself, in a weird way…Weather has always been very interesting to us. We had this little converted garage that was a game room & my dad’s hangout, where a lot of this [storm watching] was done. It had a pool table, a bar, tons of art books, Shakespeare books – just all the kind of the stuff he was into. Then there was the screened door, & the backyard & enough area to see the sky. So when it was storming, we would just sit there. I had my first beer with him there. Just the sound of it in general, we loved.

“For his funeral, we had two visitations: one in the Knoxville, Tennessee area – Maryville, where he’s originally from – & one in Waynesville, where he’s buried, & where my grandmother is. So during that one, I got up & said a few things about my dad unannounced, & I remember that the whole time – I think the song was called ‘A Quiet Storm,’ & I think it’s Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – that was playing. My dad LOVED Motown, so it played very softly during the whole service. At the end [of my remarks], I said, ‘Every time it rains, every time it storms, that’s his way of communicating with me.’ So after that particular service, we started driving home. It started raining in Waynesville. It rained all the way into Greenville, & for 22 days it rained here. 22 days! That was an unreal phenomenon.

“Then the first time I went & visited him in Waynesville – the first time is always the worst. You never know what to say, & once you leave the first time from visiting a dead parent, it’s always very confusing…I remember I called him by his nickname. Every time I visit him now, when I leave I honk the horn three times for ‘I love you.’ But when I came back from that first visit; the next day, it flooded in Greenville…I actually now have a tattoo of a thunderstorm that I got 5 years ago.

 

Dr. Janet Kwami // Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Furman University // mother to Nicole (pictured, 3 y/o) & Natalie (6 y/o) // wife to Nathaniel Buah Kwofie // singer, artist & baker // acrophobe // currently surviving breast cancer (diagnosed April 28, 2012; one week after her 38th birthday)

Christmas is here in two sleeps! So on a special night this week, we bring you no truer, wondrous testimony than that of a living, breathing "miracle," as this week's survivor so aptly describes. 'Tis the season, so let this serve us all a reminder of what it's really about; & that the "season" does not – & should not – end.
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“I was informed about two life-changing events at the same time: I was pregnant with my second child, & I had breast cancer. The results of the biopsy shocked us, as nothing prepared us for a stage III breast cancer diagnosis & a five-week pregnancy.

“We met with several specialists, & the options presented to us were grim; we couldn’t be assured of a positive outcome if we chose to keep the pregnancy. Because the cancer was HER2 positive, it was believed that the pregnancy was actually fueling the cancer. The doctors recommended I terminate the pregnancy & focus on my treatment. Actually, one doctor asked, ‘What’s the point of having a baby & not surviving cancer to take care of the child?’ My husband [Nathaniel] & I had been trying for [one], & we did some further research, & decided to keep the baby. It was a difficult decision, as we did not know how the chemo would affect the baby eventually. We are glad we did, as Nicole is perfect in every way – our little miracle.

“I was at a pivotal time in my academic career, & then with the diagnosis, everything changed…my life came to a screeching halt. I informed the Furman administration, & I went on medical & family leave. I had just received a NSF grant, had my research trip planned out & had two international conferences I had to cancel. The support from my colleagues at Furman was phenomenal & helped me through this difficult time.

“Treatment & pregnancy was difficult. It was not easy to comprehend how I could be nurturing – & loving a tiny living being in me – while aggressively killing a deadly disease at the same time. Many people wanted to know how it was possible to undergo chemo & grow a baby at the same time. It was nothing short of a miracle. When I was diagnosed, there was not much out there about pregnancy & cancer, so I felt really lonely & was not sure what to expect. There were days that I felt very sick & couldn’t eat, but the fact that I was pregnant actually gave me the extra determination to fight this.

“Fighting cancer has given me a new perspective about life. I really take each day at a time; I try to make memories with my family & not stress about little things. My husband & close family members have been supportive – I’m not sure how I would have made it without the support of my family. Through cancer, I have grown to connect with a close-knit group from my church family at Disciples United Methodist Church. They have become my family away from home; with my parents living in Ghana, West Africa, my network of friends has become my family.

“I think Natalie, my 6-year old, is pretty aware that I am dealing with some health issues & is, unfortunately, very conversant with terms like ‘chemo’ & ‘radiation.’ She is very empathetic, & knows when I am having a rough day after treatment. I have been journaling my experience, & hope to share it with [my girls] when they grow older. I have learnt through this journey that it’s not what happens to you that matters, but it’s how you respond. I tell my friends: This is my new normal.

“I love this saying: ‘Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.’

 

Our Survivor Series photographer Mark Kirby was so inspired by this week's featured survivor duo, he wrote a little something himself to introduce them to you all. Stay tuned for another post, with their story in their own words; but for now, meet Julia & Ernie, as told by the man behind the lens.
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This is the story of “We.” Throughout the Survivor Series, we’ve met amazing, strong & inspiring survivors. We’ve heard stories about family, spouses & friends who helped survivors get through their battles. Julia Dandeneau & her grandfather, Ernie Dandeneau, are the epitome of that teamwork. This is their story of “We.”

Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes in Starbucks on Main Street has seen Ernie & Julia sitting at the bar, both studying. I had no idea this seemingly typical high school student was one of the strongest & most amazing people I’ve ever met until we spent a morning together. Julia – just 16 years old – has endured three brain surgeries, 27 MRIs, over 30 radiation treatments, & at least 40 sessions of chemotherapy. But, she’s too busy doing her homework to talk much about it. You see, through all the treatments & time in & out of hospitals, being treated by 19 different doctors, she has not fallen behind her classmates. As Ernie explained their journey to me, Julia was busy with American History, occasionally correcting a fact or adding an aside, multi-tasking with the best of them.

But this is the story of “We.” Julia’s tumor was discovered when she was in 3rd grade, but things got worse two years later. That’s when Ernie retired from his career as a COO/CEO to be Julia’s “Treatment Chief Of Operations” which he has being doing everyday since. While they now have Julia’s treatment history computerized, Ernie still proudly carries the notebook that contains Julia’s band-aid collection, the precise settings of every radiation dose Julia ever received, & anything else that can possibly support Julia’s fight. Their first Make-A-Wish Foundation grant enabled them to go “electronic,” which ensured Julia could continue her studies while going through chemo. The seats near the Apple Store above Starbucks became their base of operations, so Julia could use the store’s faster Wi-Fi to finish her studies before heading to the hospital for treatment. Ernie, who managed hundreds of subordinates during his professional career, now manages hundreds of complications & challenges with the same skill & attention to detail.

As I sat & listened to the incredible journey they’ve been on together, it is always “We.” Ernie has fought the battle at Julia’s side, every step of the way; & then there’s “Dr. Pumpkin,” Julia’s therapy dog who is at her side every moment. Pumpkin was critical during some of Julia’s toughest treatments; & opened doors to many nurses, technicians & specialists who always wanted to visit with her.

I liken Julia to a prizefighter & Ernie, her manager. Julia has bounced back from every jab & upper-cut, while Ernie has been right there in the corner, feeling every punch, & still coaching & training every second of the way; & one thing this corner man will never do is throw in the towel. Julia has beaten the cancer. Their fight now is with the aftereffects of the disease & treatment. But, they are winning. They WILL win. 

 

Stephen Shuford (26 y/o) // research scientist @ Kiyatec // Clemson grad, ’10 (BS) & ’11 (MS); Bioengineering // sports (especially Clemson) fan // new homeowner // cancer survivor (diagnosed in 2010 @ 20 y/o)

“After my surgery, I missed two days after spring break, & then I was back in school. Then I had chemotherapy in the summer after school ended. I had about 3 1/2 cycles. I had to stop because I got MERSA from one of my ports, so I was hospitalized for that & had to stop. I had IV antibiotics for a while until that was cleared up. Then I restarted again, but I developed an allergy to the antibiotic they were using -- so I was hospitalized again for that. Each [hospitalization] was about a week. So it took a little time, but I’m cleared. I’ve been good.

“A lot of what we do [at Kiyatec] is trying to model cancer as best we can so we can test it as much as possible. So we can use people’s actual samples to do a bunch of different tests, or we can use cell lines that can mimic everything. We try to make the environment as much like it is in the body as possible, so we can have the most accurate testing of drugs & stuff. Most of the drugs we test are FDA-approved for the specific type of cancers we test.

“The main goal is to give information back to the doctor that can help the patient. I was sort of on that [career] path already [before I had cancer]. I’ve always been a math & science & biology person. But it makes me appreciate what these people are going through -- even though I don’t know them personally. We don’t know the patients we work with; it’s a double blind study.

“If you have to go through treatment, make sure to take care of yourself & have a good support system. If you don’t take care of yourself going through it, you can feel a lot worse, & it can get pretty ugly. Listen to your doctor; take your medications the way you are supposed to. Eat the way you are supposed to, definitely. The better you take care of yourself, the better you will feel throughout the entire process.”

 

Stephanie Whittenberg // wife & mother // pianist & trumpeter // music teacher @ Cherrydale Elementary // Columbia College SC grad (music education) // survivor of osteosarcoma (diagnosed Nov. ’93; finished treatment Feb. ’95) & currently surviving breast cancer (diagnosed Dec. ’14)

“When I was 19, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. At the time when all that happened, I was like, ‘OK, let’s just do this & get it over with.’ I knew what cancer meant, but at the time, my attitude was, ‘Well, I’m going to be OK.’ I think maybe there was one instance where it crossed my mind I could have a bad outcome, but it never really occurred to me until later, when I got older & I kind of realized what happened. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily automatic pilot, but I was like, ‘OK, let’s do the chemo, let’s do the surgery, & let’s get on with life.'

“Then 20 years later -- last December -- I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve already had reconstructive surgery. I am almost done with what is technically a chemo, but it’s more of an antibody – that I’ve had to do for a year. I’ve already done all the bad, ugly chemo that makes you sick & you lose all your hair – I finished that in May. This other treatment I do every 3 weeks, & I have 2 left, & I will be done...

“The first time, I had other people worrying for me. Now I have a son, a husband -- other balls in the air that you’re thinking about… You want to make sure you get better so you can be there for them.

“Obviously the second time, you know a lot more. You could probably throw a rock outside your door & hit someone that has cancer, or has a friend or a family member with it. Maybe when I was younger, I just wasn’t aware about what all could possibly happen. I am sure I was stressed, but as far as the fear factor – I just didn’t think in those terms when I was younger.

“I remember the first thing my orthopedic doctor said to me was, ‘I am going to save your life, & then I am going to save your arm.’ He just had such confidence; I just trusted him totally. Plus, I was a teenager, so I didn’t know not to trust him as well. I think as you get older, you just don’t trust people as much, & you question things more.

“I haven’t ever been [like], ‘Why me…’ With the breast cancer, it was scary, & initially I was like, ‘Am I going to be one of the people that doesn’t have a good outcome?’ But after the PET scan was clear -- after that moment, I just felt really blessed that whatever told me to go to the doctor (well, God) -- I just felt really fortunate, & like I had protection. The two cancers are not linked…It’s just one of those things -- just for whatever reason, I just ended up getting two types of cancer. Obviously I felt frustrated & scared & all that. But I just feel protected & blessed that I have done so well, because overall, I have.”

 

Ron Hoffman (53 y/o) // business management & supply chain logistics professor Greenville Technical College // Marine Corps veteran (24 yrs) // survivor of wars & Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (diagnosed ’03; cleared ’05)

Veterans Day may have been exactly one week ago, but particularly in light of the past week's events, it's never been more apparent how we need to revere these survivors every week, every day. So meet Ron. He's endured some major deployments -- & cancer, too.

“I loved [my time in the military]. Serving your country has a lot of privileges, & it has consequences. But the biggest thing I loved about it was being able to go places & realizing what we have here.

"I was deployed to Iraq in 2003. While I was there, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. My cancer -- they declared it as being a service-connected disability.

"We were exposed to some levels of nerve agent in the Gulf War. Depending on who you were, where you were, & for how long, really depended how long you got hit. The army units carted all these ‘weapons of mass destruction’ from all over the country into Khamisiya, Iraq. When you destroy a nerve agent, it’s supposed to be incinerated at 2500 degrees in a scrubber, so basically nothing escapes. Well obviously they didn’t have that. They just built these huge open-air pits, & they made them hot as Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace & thought, ‘Well, this will take care of it.’ So they burned tons of nerve agent for days & days…if you look up ‘Khamisiya plume,’ you can see where it was by day & by concentration. Yes, unfortunately, I was right underneath it for quite a period of time; which would explain why all the British gas alarms would go off 2-3 times a day. Nobody was dying or shaking, so we just assumed it was the oil smoke. But as time goes on, there are some people who have issues with some of the symptoms from the nerve agent.

"What I have is a compromised immune system, & also a dysfunctional autonomic nervous system. [So the cancer] was just one of those things that [would most likely emerge] some place, some time. It ended up happening in 2003 under a lot of stress…my immune system gave up.

"Long story short, [I went from Kuwait City to Germany for a biopsy], & my wife flies in from the States. She was only the 4th Marine wife to fly into Germany – & the rest were dying. So [the doctor] cracks my ribs, splayed me open, takes out a softball sized mass, sews me back up, & 14 hours later I am on a plane back to the States. So I flew back to Camp Pendleton [in California]…It was a really aggressive form of lymphoma.

"I brought my family with me to CA. But it was August, & I wanted my kids to be off doing their stuff. [So I asked to return home to Greenville], & we got to go to Greenville Cancer Center. The really cool thing is that before we left, my oncologist said, ‘I am so excited for you.’ I said, ‘Why is that?’ He said, ‘Well, you go to Greenville, & you’re going to get an experimental immunotherapy drug that is rock star solid. When you go into remission, it’s because of THAT drug. In the military system, if it’s not FDA approved, you couldn’t use it. We couldn’t have gotten it here. You’re going to be fine.’

"The cancer went away & never came back.”

 

Lindsey Motley (with daughter Lilla, 2 y/o) // mother & wife (to husband Jay) // photographer & creative // lover of the arts & animals // lost to colorectal cancer

(diagnosed April 8th, 2013, at 26 y/o; left us February 23, 2016, at 29 y/o)

“My colorectal cancer diagnosis was during a colonoscopy while I was 17 weeks pregnant. I have exhausted all standard treatments for my cancer, & it’s specific cancer genetics. Earlier this year I enrolled in an immunotherapy trial at Duke; however, just a few weeks ago, I had to jump ship because I had progression/spreading. I've found another trial at Duke, which I will start this week on Wednesday.

“…[Being a first-time mother with the diagnosis] certainly isn’t the pretty picture I dreamed it would be. In a lot of ways, it’s been so much better. It's forced me to cherish many, many moments that I probably would've otherwise zoomed right past. It’s encouraged me to be more present, which in return helps me manage our day-to-day routine, emotions & priorities.

“…I do think that every person’s diagnosis is different, & certainly each pregnancy is different. It’s a path that I would choose for no one to have to endure. For me, however, it gave me SUCH strength - strength that I don’t think I would have had otherwise, without Lilla inside me. I felt such excitement & responsibility that I truly feel like this was the way that I was supposed to have become a mother & a survivor.

“Lilla has started to understand lately that ‘Mommy doesn’t feel good.’ While I’m glad she’s learning about other people’s feelings, & how to be empathetic, it also makes me a bit sad that my illness is starting to impact her daily routine in a way that she is aware of it. I do (one day) want her to know about the whole experience that we’ve gone through - & continue to go through - especially about the lengths that we took to make sure she made it here safely. I’ve made a book about my pregnancy, which includes all of my blog posts & updates through the time that she was born. It’s pretty awesome, & something I cherish myself. I hope that one day she will be able to read it & understand just how much she is loved.

“…It’s pretty scary to be given drugs that we basically don’t know what exactly they’ll do inside my body. I’ve never been more hopeful, that’s for sure. It's definitely just an uneasy feeling of anxiousness in comparison to the standard treatments.

“For someone looking to participate in a clinical trial, I would first tell them to rank trials by location, & how much they’re going to effect your quality of life away from home, family, work, etc. Second, I would rank them by any kind of data or promise they show. They’re often very early studies that don’t really have much data to back them up. I put a lot of trust in my oncologists & care teams at each of the facilities that I’ve been treated in. Get opinions, but eventually you just have to go with your gut feeling. There isn’t a right or wrong choice in the clinical trial world, unfortunately. It’s a difficult decision.”


CLICK HERE to donate to Lindsey's Leap of Faith Overlook in the Cancer Survivors Park

 

Babette Alvarez // mother to twins Max & Kaylee (10 y/o) // native of Germany // gym rat at Pivotal Fitness // lover of travel, cuisine & experiencing other cultures // currently surviving multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer); diagnosed Oct. 20, 2014  

“Last year on my birthday, I found out I had multiple myeloma. I will never be able to get rid of it, but it’s manageable. We knew I had cancer, but we didn’t know what kind of cancer it was, & when my doctor told me, I said, ‘OK, what is it? Is it going to kill me?’ He said, ‘No…but it’s not curable.’ & I clasped my hands, & I said, ‘Yay!’ He said, ‘OK, I’ve never had this reaction,’ & I said, ‘Well, for the past couple of weeks, I thought I was on my deathbed & you were going to tell me there was nothing you can do. This is a pretty good consensus I think. I am not going to die -- I will have to have multiple chemos & treatment, but I can do that, you know? Give me my plan & what we’re going to have to do, & I am going to run with that. I don’t have time to waste here.’

“My life hasn’t really changed that much, just because I don’t let it. I take the daily chemo pill & other medications, because the chemo can cause [other issues]. But other than that, I swallow my pill & off I go. I’m not about cancer, if that makes any sense. Cancer is not who I am. I just happen to have it, & I live with it. I’m like, ‘I have to pop a pill.’ I am trying to be very nonchalant about it; it’s what I am dealing with, but it’s not going to influence the way we live our lives. I have two kids. I am a single mom. I have an amazing support system I have to give total credit to, since I have made it through all of this.

“[Telling my kids] was terrifying, to be honest with you. You don’t want to hurt them, & I knew that telling them would put fear into them, not knowing what was going to happen; & being the mom going through all of this, I wanted to keep them in a bubble. But I believe in honesty, & I believe that they needed to know. I would be seeing so many doctors, & they would be able to know something was wrong. I sat down & told them sometimes there are ups & downs, & right now we’re hitting a low; but we would have to put up a fight, & they needed to be strong with me. We would cry together & laugh together, but we would get through it together.

“I think they became very protective. When I go to the hospital or the doctor, I tell them exactly what’s going on, so it’s very truthful. But they’re very protective -- I mean constantly holding hands, or hugging me, or being close to me on the couch -- looking at me & saying, ‘Mom I love you.’ I think [there’s an increased] awareness a little bit that life can be really rough, & you need to be there for each other, so I think that has brought us closer. I think also that I never wanted to take away from their childhood – I would say, ‘You guys go play,’ & even when I didn’t want to sometimes, I would, too...I ran a 5k with them with a broken rib, because my bones were compromised from the disease. We did a color run with friends of ours in Charlotte, but I walked it with them, so that they saw no matter what, we’re doing stuff. We’re not giving up. We are trying as much as possible, no matter what, to live our normal lives.”

 

Kim Eades // mother // director of sales for @Table301 // lifestyle writer & columnist // girls youth soccer coach // volunteer mentor, tutor & overall champion of education // (multiple) board member extraordinaire // survivor of carcinoid tumor (right lung; diagnosed & cleared post-surgery, 2001)
Poster October 25, 2015 

“I was visiting my mom in FL when I came down with pneumonia…they found a carcinoid tumor in my right lung. It had grown large enough where I had to have 2 of my 3 lobes removed -- a 'partial right lobectomy.' Luckily it was isolated. I didn’t have chemo, & actually for that reason, I don't put myself in that 'cancer' category; because SO many people had it -- & have it -- worse. I look at my situation as another surgery & not cancer.

“My mom doesn't understand that, because honestly, she's proud to say I'm a survivor -- but really it makes me uncomfortable. People can live with one lung, so I wouldn't say I'm handicapped because of it. But it's been 15 years, & I feel and see the scars everyday. The memory never leaves you. I can still see the look on my grandma's face as they wheeled me into the operating room. She was so scared.

“I'm one of 8 kids & to date, & I'm the only one with cancer. It's ironic; at the time, I was the healthiest of the bunch. My brother Tim climbs mountains all over the world -- so he's the healthier one now! But it just proves that cancer can affect those you least expect.

“My upbringing was unique. Not just because I come from a large family, but because my parents were involved with so many different types of business, that I experienced & witnessed [a lot of] things. They owned motels, so I was put to work at a very young age. Summers were spent cleaning a few dozen motel rooms every day. I've been robbed by gunpoint, & was sent to collect rent in areas most 12 year-olds shouldn't be -- my skin has grown thick through the years. Someone at all times has it worse off than you, so you just grin & bear it!

“My brother-in-law [said tonight], ‘your family DNA does not allow you to slow down.’ It's in our genes! The experience of surviving cancer increased my sense of diligence, & making decisions I'd normally sleep on. I'm now quick to make things happen. Adversity makes you bitter or better. What's inside of you comes out when life squeezes you. Surround yourself with family, friends & help others with like battles.

“Sticking with a routine is important. The busier you are, the less time you have to feel sorry for yourself…Make the best of it, because life is short.”

 

Renee Gossman (73 y/o) // mother & grandmother // instructor of the YMCA’s “Circle of Hope” water aerobics class for cancer survivors // volunteer in the GHS Cancer Institute lobby // former special educator at JL Mann (taught there for 28 years; retired in ‘01) // survivor of endometrial (uterine) cancer (diagnosed ’12); & of husband (passed away from heart disease, ‘05)
Posted October 19, 2015

“I have an undergrad degree from Kentucky & a grad degree from Furman, but I went to Greenville Tech when I was 65 years old & got my personal training certificate. I have always been a water person, always been a swimmer; so I turned all of that personal training information to personal training in the water & water aerobics. That requires another certification from the Aquatic Exercise Association. I took a year off when I had cancer…I was really too sick to work. Now I teach a cancer survivors water aerobics class to the most brave, courageous & remarkable people. They are so much fun, & they are gaining so much strength in their bodies! You can see them improving month-to-month, gaining strength & flexibility, balance, improved coordination – water work is fabulous.

“I was diagnosed in 2012 with endometrial cancer. Dr. Larry Puls is my oncologist, & I still go to see him. I’m just a few years out. He’s one of my great supporters, & really likes the idea of water exercise for people. He helps me with that by sending me folks.

“The Y offers the class free of charge. It’s called ‘Circle of Hope.’ So people who don’t have a lot of resources are able to come. Oncologists are getting very good about sending people to me. That’s huge! We have these wonderful people in the water. We get a lot done, but we’re also very friendly with each other, & we have a lot of laughs.  I have men & women, all ages, from 35 & up – I’d say the average age is in the 50s. Well, I’m always the oldest person -- I am 73. But that doesn’t bother me!

“I’ve had this little cottage in Pickens County for 24 years. A few years ago, I decided to sell my home in Greenville & move out here fulltime. I have a little garden, & I grow a lot of my own food. I’ve been blessed with a lot of energy. I am living the life I love, & loving the life I live. This is so cool! It’s like I’ve dropped off the grid, but I go to Greenville twice a week to teach my classes, & to volunteer in the lobby at the GHS Cancer Institute. Because when I was in treatment there, I never met one frowning, crabby person -- & you know when you are in a bad way, you start to bargain with God? I was like, ‘OK God, if you let me get better, I want to be one of the people here that greets other people coming in that might get a bad diagnosis, or already have one. I want to be one of the happy people here that gets people to where they need to be.’

“It’s really interesting. I’ve lived a long time, which means I’ve had a lot of life experiences. Some of them have been great, some of them not so great. I’ve had a lot of personal loss in my life. But I am convinced that I do not let one event -- no matter how awful it may be -- define me. I always try a way of reinventing myself after every negative life encounter.”

 

Charles Russ (34 y/o) // financial advisor // fitness freak  // former SC state champion & collegiate wrestler // West Point graduate (2002) // former Army captain (was deployed overseas for the Iraq War) // survivor of girlfriend Jessica (passed away from breast cancer in 2013, at age 32)
Posted October 11, 2015

 “Jessica & I dated in high school. When I came back here from Germany -- where I stayed for 10 years after being deployed overseas for the war -- we dated again for about a year. When we started dating, she was in full remission. The year before, they had told her she would die in 12 months. 12 months passed, & the doctors ended up basically saying, ‘Everything’s in remission. We don’t know what happened -- we thought you were gone.’ So when we talked about dating again, that was a pretty big deal – to know that she was probably going to be here. To believe she had beaten it.

“She was healthy for the first 4 months, but it went downhill really fast. We had a rapport from high school, & we knew each other. We had stayed in touch over the years. It was a different dynamic than it probably would’ve been if we didn’t have all that.

“…I’m not a doctor, & I don’t understand the workings of the disease. I just always thought there was a cure. Deep down somewhere, there’s this weird little thing that makes you think you’re the cure. As silly as it sounds – that’s what I thought: ‘I’m going to be with her, & she’s with me, & she’s going to be ok.’

“I was hurt. I had dated someone for 9 years in Europe, & we split up because I was coming back here. So the person that ended up being in my life – I prayed on it. I thought, ‘I’m in her life because I am her solution,’ & when she died, I was mad. I went through a rut. It wasn’t a good time in my life. I was next-level angry. But you have to think about it outside of yourself – the world is more than just you. When I thought about what happened & the things we did, I really thought God brought me here for her & her kids. She wasn’t supposed to be here for me – I really feel like I was here for them. Life isn’t about one person – me. Life is about the world, & us, & how we can act as a family with one another. You don’t ever know what’s going to happen. Maybe it works out & maybe it doesn’t.  Sometimes when you can just help someone do something that’s outside of your entire normal realm of thought as far as how difficult it is…I mean she had to leave two kids. But she’s still blessing me to this day. I mean look at this opportunity -- to talk about what I learned from the experience with others. I see it as a blessing.” 

 

Kerrie Sijon // Greenville Track Club administrator // wife & mother of 2 sons // owner of the Palace Billiards // devoted fundraiser for cancer research through C3ride.org // survivor w/ father (prostate & rectal; cleared 2 yrs ago) & so many others
Poster October 4, 2015

 “My father survived both prostate & rectal cancers, both of them found through his yearly physicals. He’s retired military, & so he was so used to getting them. I think that’s why he’s still alive today. It was still in the beginning stages, so he was able to combat it.

“I have a friend [Ron Jerina] that I’ve had for years & years. He & I started running & doing marathons together – I’m primarily a runner. His father got sick with cancer [& ultimately] died, & my friend said, ‘I want to raise money for cancer research, but I want to ride my bike.’ So I said, ‘I’ll go with you,’ & I bought a bike.

“So the money we raise for the Challenge to Conquer Cancer [c3ride.org] -- a very significant amount goes to Greenville Health System for ITOR & research drugs. Two of my friends – one with breast cancer & one with kidney cancer – they’ve both been recipients of those drugs. To me that means our money is going to something significant; it’s saving peoples lives. That’s why I keep doing it. What they go through is so traumatic, the least we can do is fight for them.

“We went to Austin, TX 5 years in a row [because of the Livestrong program]. The past 3 years, we’ve been riding to Lewiston, MN [where The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing is]. We go to the Patrick Dempsey Challenge. Each time ride, you have to raise $5,000. Since my father got cancer the same year we started doing this, I was able to ride in honor of him. I was able to raise money through his friends & my friends. I started by sending out letters to my father’s Christmas card list. It’s the generosity of others that lets me continue to go on this ride. There’s no two ways about it. I just can’t get over the generosity of people. I just feel really blessed that I’ve been able to raise money, & have the fitness to do the bike ride.

“This year we have 12 riders. Most of the people who do this ride have had cancer themselves, or have been affected like I have through family & friends. There’s no one that hasn’t been touched by cancer. Once I started doing this ride, I found out about so many of my Greenville running friends; many who were doing, or had done, chemo for breast cancer.

“What I’ve learned about cancer is the people who go through it have such amazingly positive & resilient attitudes. We can learn a lot from them. I can’t get over the love I’ve seen in the chemo room. Isn’t it crazy that we know so many people that have fought & won? It’s a great thing. It’s a great, great thing.

“I can’t NOT do this ride; it’s helped too many people. As long as I am physically able, I will always, ALWAYS do this ride. We’re leaving! We’re leaving Oct. 10 -- Saturday.”

 

Michael Pratt // collector (artwork & butterflies) & naturalist // Mark Catesby (English naturalist & artist active in colonial SC) expert // American history buff // survivor of prostate cancer (diagnosed 1999); currently surviving pancreatic cancer (diagnosed 2011)   ///   w/ wife Joyce Pratt // companion to Michael on world travels & in the every day // philanthropist // book & garden club member // CHOP! Cancer contestant
Posted September 27, 2015

Michael: “We’ve been here 30 years now. We came here from Scotland by way of India. I worked all my life in a Scottish textile company. We came here in 1986 for me to run the American subsidiary. That’s how we got here, & we liked it; & this is our home now…[We’ve been married] 50 years."

Joyce: “51 years! Our son was 50 yesterday.”

M: “We still made it, darling.

“My hesitation in getting involved in this thing…I support the basic concept of [the Survivor Series]. It demystifies & makes people see that [cancer] is quite a normal thing. But obviously when you are diagnosed with it, it’s a tremendous shock to the system. Initially, oh my God, the ‘c’ word, you know? But there’s a lot of sentimentality that gets involved. Joyce said this is about fighting cancer; one doesn’t fight cancer. One recognizes it, & learns to live with it, & to carry on life & make it normal.

“Cancer is natural. It happens. We are a very complex biological species, & the longer we live the more likely we are to develop cancer in some form or another. So the sort of things you’re doing are valuable; having people realize that they haven’t been sort of picked out, or selected personally; but it’s all part of the process of living. Some of us get away with it, & others of us get caught in it. Whether you get run over by a motorcar or fall off a cliff, sooner or later death gets you anyway -- so cancer is part of living.

“I’ve been lucky to live this long with it. I’m in pretty good health. I am still subject to various forms of treatment…I think I’ve had 70 sessions of chemo. I suppose it speaks of my stamina if nothing else.

“Joyce has been fantastic, of course. She’s done everything to make sure that life is as normal as possible. She’s gone to a lot of trouble with the food that I eat. I’ve not much desire to eat, or drink wine for that matter.”

J: “Well, I haven’t exactly gone out of the way to force feed you wine!” 

M: “But she does make sure to feed me with a diet of attractive & interesting food, which is also beneficial in helping keep the cancer under control, & of course she’s encouraged & badgered me to do things I didn’t necessarily want to do.

“The initial shock – ‘oh dear, I’ve got cancer’ – & then you begin to realize there are ways of managing cancer to minimize its impact, which enable you to live a fairly normal life.”

J: “& you do. You live a completely normal life, basically.”

M: “I still play an indifferent round of golf every week, & take my dog for walks.”

J: “That’s the hardest part of this business, because the dog doesn’t enjoy walking. [laughs]

“Michael is truly inspiring. I’ve never heard him complain, not once. He’s joyful…He goes about his business, & does what he’s always done: listens to his music, gives talks to clubs & strange historical societies, & does all his weird & wonderful things. That’s why I am surprised that he’s talking to you about it -- because it never features in his life.

“He has this wonderful Chinese doctor -- who is totally without emotion -- who has been reduced to tears over Michael. We went to England, & when we returned Dr. Yang [at Bon Secours St. Francis] just threw his arms around Michael; & Michael said, ‘OH, whoa! I guess you were more worried about me than I was!’”

M: “Yes, we managed to persuade the doctor to let us off the leash [from the bi-weekly chemo cycle], & fortunately we got back safe & sound.”

J: “It was a wonderful trip! We had a wonderful time.”

   

Mary Hazel Hinson (5 y/o) // kindergartner, ice cream connoisseur, adventurer, soccer player, My Little Pony enthusiast // survivor of kidney cancer (diagnosed 1 y/o)  ///  w/ mother (of 3) & fellow survivor, Erin Hinson // professional bed tucker, technical editor, part-time blogger, ultra marathoner, power Google Calendar user (color-coded by kid)
Posted September 20, 2015

Erin: “Mary Hazel had a radical nephrectomy where the affected kidney, the size of a grapefruit, was removed. The surgeon seemed confident that the operation was the only treatment she would require, other than quarterly scans & lab work for the next 5 years. We were lucky. We got to go home.

“The relief was overwhelming & not to be taken for granted, but another feeling crept in the shadows…Guilt? We got to go home, when so many other kids we met were just starting their treatments – hours of chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries. I remembered the mother I met, whose son was admitted in the room next to ours after his chemo meds made him sick. He was entering his second year of treatment. The mother was exhausted. I felt sheepish when answering her questions about Mary Hazel. Yes, she was lucky her cancer was contained. Yes, she was lucky to be able to go home so quickly. Yes, we surely were thankful & relieved. Sensing my hesitancy to sound outwardly victorious, she held my hand & told me not to feel guilty because my child was a survivor. Because my child gave other parents of newly diagnosed children something vital -- hope.”

Mary Hazel: “I don’t really remember too much about [having cancer]. I just know I had a bad ol’ kidney & now it’s gone. I remember Green Monkey having to get all those shots & Band-Aids. But he is pretty brave.”

E: “Green Monkey was her first lovey & goes to all the major checkups with MH. The child life specialists at GHS use him to demonstrate what to expect next. They are amazing.”

MH: “[I remember] Dr. Bryant. She always asks me to tell her a joke. Like, where do dogs park their cars? In the barking lot -- get it? Barking lot!

“I remember I always get chocolate chip pancakes at Mary Beth’s when we leave the hospital. One time I wore that purple hat (the clinic) gave me…& then we usually go to Falls Park for an adventure. Sometimes we have ice cream, but sometimes we just feed the ducks or play in the river. I like it when [my mom] twirls me in front of the [TD Stage at The Peace Center] & it makes you all dizzy!

“Can we have an adventure on Friday?”

E: “I don’t see why not.”

 

Carmen Brotherton // volunteer & mentor // survivor of ovarian cancer (diagnosed in 2009)
Posted September 13, 2015

"Being a cancer survivor is a gift -- a gift from God. What we do with this gift is up to each of us to discover. 

"For me, it has allowed me to tell my story of cancer diagnosis, treatments & how I live a full life; a life filled with passion & purpose. Volunteering at the hospital has given me the opportunity to talk with other cancer patients to encourage, give hope, & sometimes bring smiles to patients' faces. Then to hear some of them say that I can do this, too -- that's when I know what I went through was worth it all. 

"Cancer will change your life. My hope is for each one that is on the journey of being a survivor is to find your passion & use ALL your energy to fulfill it. God has taken me & used me in some powerful ways to help me move on, reach out to others, & to live a very fulfilling life as a survivor."

 

Jacob Farley (26 y/o) // CrossFit coach & athlete @ CrossFit Reaction // personal & small group trainer @ The Life Center // Master of Sports Science (health & fitness) graduate // survivor of Osteosarcoma (bone cancer); diagnosed Dec. 26, 2012 (23 y/o)
Posted September 10, 2015

“I was participating in a CrossFit competition, & one of the exercises was box-jumps. I flipped at the top of the box & hit my shin on the way down. I didn’t think much of anything about it over the next month & half, but there was a little lump that was getting bigger & more painful instead of healing. They took a biopsy on Dec. 23, & we did a bone scan on Christmas Eve, so we knew that we were waiting to find out something on Christmas Day. It was a weird Christmas.

“Recovery was, honestly, very painful. They took out a whole bone in my leg -- my left tibia. It was rough. It never fully healed the right way, & I got MRSA. It’s tricky to get rid of it, & we did a total of 7 - 8 total surgeries to clear everything up. This was AFTER going through therapy to learn how to walk again.

“[Eventually] my doctor told me I would only be able to bike, swim & walk. I told him to just cut it off. I kind of got what I wanted, because I was sick of the whole thing. After talking to some people & realizing how active I could be with an amputated leg, it was kind of a no brainer for me.

“… I’m a fairly spiritual person. I just had a crazy, weird peace – I don’t know how to describe it -- that came from praying & knowing that other people were praying for me. It got to the point where I was like, ‘It is what it is.’

“Being worried is something that I haven’t been in a long time. I learned what battles to fight.

“I have gone back & ventured into doing those box jumps again, but I take my leg off to do them, & as far as lifting weights goes, I’m to the point where I can pretty much do everything. It’s sort of fun learning how to do these things again.

“I really learned patience more than anything, because it was all a waiting a game for me. You wait in the hospital to get done with chemo. You wait for results of how your chemo is going. You sit on the couch all day long, because you can’t walk. I went from being a really active person to being on a couch or in a chair 24 hours a day, because I was always getting over a surgery during that whole time period. It was an awful, awful, awful experience, but it did teach me patience. I had to move back in with my parents. I couldn’t work.

“…But I grew up. “

 

Ben Geer Keys (77 y/o) // 5th generation Greenvillian // husband to Martha & father of four sons // outdoorsman & nature photographer // CSP volunteer // prolific board member //master of the printing press // tennis champion // survivor of sister Crawford Keys Small (passed away from cancer in 2013)
Posted August 30, 2015

"Kay Roper called me one day to photograph the banks over there [at the park’s site], because I do have a camera, & I do enjoy photography. That’s how I got involved [with CSP]. As Kay knows, my sister was a victim of cancer.

"I’m so addicted to wildflowers, that when they bloom, I’ll drive anywhere in the country just to see one. I have 1,000 pictures of the same flower. I’ll leave here in the morning & drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway just to look at the vistas; & why that’s restoring to me -- & it is to a lot of people – I’m not sure. It’s just natural beauty. I get an emotional high. I don’t do well in the city.

"My sister went to New York with a lady named Betty Hipp. They lived there, & both met their husbands there…the last three or four years of her life, she came back to Greenville.

"We were fortunate to have a close family on both sides. My grandfather, who was the president of Furman, & my grandmother lived over on Broadus Avenue…we lived with them. My grandmother on the Keys side had fried chicken dinner for everybody that lived in Greenville every Friday night.

"We always had family events, & so when [my sister] came here, & especially when she was ill, we reconnected & got to know each other pretty well. She would always remind me of things I shouldn’t have done as a young boy, like pull her hair & do little funny things. She was two years older than I was. But we did catch up, & my wife of 50 years & my sister were good friends. We would go out to dinner & converse about how it used to be.

"I’m a very positive person…I’ve had the good life. But I feel like there are a lot of people – & I hate to be negative – but there’s too much talking about the shortcomings of family members rather than the beauty of the heritage that they have. These days, nobody has Friday night fried chicken dinners. I’ve had the good life."

 

Yuri Tsuzuki // Heart of Steel // welder // creator of 'Do Butterflies Dream?' art project // survivor of father (stomach cancer), grandparents (stomach cancer) & uncle (lung cancer)
Posted August 23, 2015

"In Japanese, cancer is written . It is pronounced 'gan' which sounds like 'gun.' I remember when my father was going through his rounds of chemotherapy & radiation treatments. One week was particularly hard for him, both physically & mentally. A shy man, my father rarely spoke & even more rarely made a joke. But as he sat propped up by pillows, no longer the intensely, imposing father I grew up fearing, he said, 'You know…Cancer is a gun. You feel like someone has put a gun to your head. You feel helpless. I’ve been thinking, & I have the perfect gift I’m going to give my oncologist...I am going to give him a gun so that he can take care of cancer before it takes care of me!

"Another memory -- quite different -- is the morning we saw a butterfly: fragile, beautiful, unexpected. 'Look Daddy, it’s a butterfly,' I said. Even in his weakened state, I was able to discern as he glanced upwards, a slight smile in his eyes…

“[In regards to the 'Do Butterflies Dream?' art project], imagine butterflies fluttering here & there. They hover & land on a tree, a bench, or perhaps playfully dance on a bridge: reflection, movement, whimsy...A metaphor for life, hope & rebirth. Each butterfly is a gift to commemorate, remember, cherish & celebrate the life/lives of those whom cancer has touched. 'Look! There’s a butterfly!' -- what magic & joy in those words not only for children, but also for each of us. I imagine a special place filled with butterflies. A place that is sacred & honors life’s metamorphosis, beauty, fragility & magic."

 

John Ford // high school freshman // reader, video gamer, lover of classic movies // survivor of leukemia (diagnosed 4 y/o; cleared 9 y/o) // son of CSP volunteer Lloyd Ford
Posted August 16, 2015

“It was hard being a child with cancer. I wasn’t able to do a lot of things other kids could do. Despite this, the staff at the hospital would play games with me. I used to run around the hospital with my cowboy boots on, putting the nurses and doctors ‘under arrest.’ This caused me to have a lot of embarrassing photos down the road!

“I received two & a half years of chemo therapy, & two & a half of occupational therapy to help me recover from the effects of the chemo. The hardest part was the emotional burden on the family. My grandparents would come down from Pennsylvania (a 10-hour drive) twice a month to be with me…seeing my mother try to smile through the tears as we watched Disney movies together…There were a lot of Disney movies. During the process of going through chemo, my mother & I have become closer than I thought possible. We watched Disney films to keep my mind off the immense bone pain that was a side effect of my treatment.

“The support of both of my parents & my family lead to the foundation that I needed to survive treatment. No one should have to go through cancer alone; the support of family makes the pain easier to bear. Seeing me in pain for such an extended period of time was a battle within its own right. I understand the pain & struggle of both the families of the patients, & the patients themselves.

“[Being a survivor] makes me cherish each day, cherish my family, cherish my friends, & cherish the little things in life that make it so great.”  

 

Sonya Caldwell  // real estate broker // yogi & healer // wife & mother  // survivor of her mother (passed in 2010 to pancreatic cancer), her heroic brother (passed in 2008 fighting a fire), her father (chronic leukemia), & husband (Squamous cell carcinoma)
Posted August 9, 2015

My brother was a firefighter for 17 years, & died in the line of duty in 2008. After that tragedy, my mom … It just took a lot out of her, & that’s when you get cancer, & the cancer can creep in … To me, I also feel like a lot of the cancer (& this is me) is a little stress-related. I can see that sometimes when people hold things -- but maybe not manifest it -- cancer comes out in different ways. By 2010, my mother had passed. My father had had chronic leukemia YEARS before – a decade before.

“When I lost my brother, I began to hike & hike & hike, & I needed to go to my mat to breathe. I had been doing [yoga] like everyone else just kind of like, asanas … but I began to get more into the pranayama, because I really needed to breathe through it. It’s really been a tool for me.

“I’m working on my advanced [yoga] certification, because I want to teach continuing education classes on how to get back to happy, how to come out of a grieving situation, how to live a compassionate life -- because those are all tools to move through valleys in your life. We all hit a valley -- just like with cancer -- & with my husband, yoga was a great tool for him to move back out of it. To move back into & give back to himself, because I knew that for him, he felt like a shell after it. It was interesting when he began to gain his weight back, the physician said you kind of fill back up; it’s kind of like pouring water into a glass. You have to gain your weight internally before you see it externally.

“Mindfulness is a big part of my life, because losing my brother and my mother & all these challenges: I am learning to live in the moment. I am in the moment of today. I want to live this moment with zest & zeal.

“You want to revel in the moment of the bird singing, the breeze on your face. You just want to be there. You begin to cherish & value it all so much more. That’s exactly what I came away with; that’s the good in it. It teaches you to be so much more purposeful. It’s given me a greater curiosity too, in the moment I am in. If I’ve gotten anything from it, that is the best thing.”

 

 

Janet Archer (52 y/o) // booking agent for independent musicians at Bad Blood Productions // purveyor of treats at Coffee Underground // Washington State University alumnae (architecture) // former construction project manager // survivor of thyroid cancer (diagnosed 19 y/o)
Posted August 3, 2015
 

“I had a really bad cold. I couldn’t shake it.

“I remember my dad showing up in the middle of the night -- at 1 in the morning -- & I happened to be at home studying. My dad came up & got me. I didn’t know he was coming. He took me back to where I lived. They did a bunch of tests, & stuck needles in my throat, & took biopsies.

“They found out it was cancerous, so they removed the entire thyroid. I went through radiation treatment; I think I did it over a course of a year. I’ve just been on synthetic thyroid medicine since then.

“I don’t remember a lot of details of it, quite honestly. I remember it being scary … I was pretty mature for my age anyway. I don’t feel like it made me grow up, or become more serious about things because of the cancer. I already was; this is kind of my personality. I am very intense & serious about everything, so I was already there. Maybe that helped me to just get through the cancer thing.

“I have my dad’s personality. He never really showed his emotion…I know he was scared, because I remember him walking into my dorm. That was probably the most frightening thing of this process -- I thought something must be very devastating for my dad to show up at 1 in the morning!

“I have always come from a very strong family. I think a big part of dealing with cancer -- & I see this from so many, like my grandmother, who had a double mastectomy when I was a teenager -- I think it’s just in your attitude. You have to have a sense of humor with it. I think you have to remain positive. I think that is really a big part of the battle. You just can’t give up on it. I am a firm believer of that.

I think that for many, it’s the unknown -- that’s the scary thing.”

 

Emily Price (30 y/o) w/ Shiloh (7 y/o) // Survivor Series editor & co-creator // educator // internet nerd & sometimes writer at Upstate Business Journal, TOWN magazine & Greenville Journal // survivor of mother Gayle (ovarian cancer) & maternal grandmother Helen (leukemia)
Posted July 26, 2015

"When my friend Emily -- who usually edits & posts the stories for S3 (Sunday Survivor Series) -- told me she simply couldn’t connect this week, I completely understood. Emily, who has undergraduate & graduate degrees from the Clemson English department, just like her mother -- & who is now a college professor, just like her mother -- lost her mom to stage 3C ovarian cancer. Emily is a survivor, & July 23 (Thursday) was her mother’s birthday. Emily couldn’t celebrate it with her, & I know how she felt. I lost my mother to cancer, too.

 “As I reflected on this, I remembered something Natalie Hahn (last week’s featured survivor) told me while I was photographing her for S3. Natalie, who survived stage 3C ovarian cancer as a college student, told me she & her friends also battling cancer agreed: the experience was worse on their loved ones than it was on themselves.

“Because S3 is about survivors – both those who fought cancer & those who lost loved ones to it – the stories must unavoidably be about happiness & sadness, strength & weakness, living & losing. But most importantly, these stories are about love, & (hopefully) providing inspiration for the many battling cancer now.

“While our series aims to inspire & provide strength to others, it can never be sugarcoated or always end happily. Cancer is a terrible disease. Having it or experiencing a loved one fight it are both brutal experiences. Losing someone to it is arguably the worst. But I believe realizing this is an important part of making it through -- part of surviving.

“As I photographed Emily today, I met her mother, even though I’d only seen photographs. Emily’s mom was an incredible professor, & ended a long & distinguished career that included Dean of Graduate Studies & then Associate Provost at Gardner-Webb University. Emily is following in her mother’s footsteps as she enters her third year of teaching at Furman University. Her mother inspired countless students to embrace literature, to use language as a tool to reach & touch others. Her daughter does that today through S3, teaching, & writing for ‪Community Journals. While I didn’t have the honor of personally knowing Gayle Bolt Price, I feel as though I did; because I know her survivor, Emily.”

 

Natalie Hahn (22 y/o) // speaker, soon-to-be published author & CHOP! Cancer contestant // Wofford College grad (’15) // survivor of stage 3C dysgerminoma (ovarian cancer, diagnosed 19 y/o) 
posted July 19, 2015

“It was not until after the surgery that we learned it was ovarian cancer. The doctors were fairly certain that it was a malignant tumor, but ovarian cysts run in my family, & the ultrasounds weren’t able to give us much information other than there was a mass in my stomach. Halfway through the surgery, the doctor asked to speak with my parents. They had to make the decision whether or not to leave my right ovary, which the cancer had already spread to -- something we had not expected. I am very thankful that they made the decision to leave [it], giving me a chance to one day, have a family. 

“Being a survivor is someone who is able to tell a story after facing adversity with grace. Not only those who experience cancer firsthand, but I also believe that family & friends share in this survivorship. 

“When I was diagnosed, I looked for books on how to cope with ovarian cancer at a young age, & there were none. So, I decided to begin writing my own book, which I hope to have finished soon. This will serve as a guidebook for other young women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, & will touch on everything from being a teenager & losing your hair, to coping with life after cancer. I think it’s very important to focus on living your life after treatment, because that’s the goal, to survive and beat cancer & continue living life. 

“The title of the book is Nattitude, which is a term that was coined by my boyfriend, Ragland Coxe, & his family. ‘Nattitude’ was the attitude that carried me through treatment, & what helped me focus on the positives in life rather than cancer as a disease. I have always seen my diagnosis as a gift, as strange as that may seem to some people. Having cancer has given me the opportunity to speak & share my story with many people -- & show how even when you are dealt bad cards in life, you have the opportunity to play them in a way that benefits you.”  

 

Linda Satterfield (60 y/o) // avid marathon runner // former radiologic technologist for Greenville Health System (25 years) // survivor of breast cancer (diagnosed 47 y/o on May 14, 2002 on 8th wedding anniversary w/ husband Kent)
posted July 12, 2015

“This year was my third Boston Marathon & my best one yet. My training went well, & I had a solid run & it was fast enough to qualify me to go back next year, which among runners is kind of a big deal. I've run 20+ marathons over the last 30 years. It may sound odd, but marathon running is probably good training for going through cancer treatment -- both are hard & sometimes painful, but the key is to keep going & don't stop until you finish! The main difference, of course, being that people choose to run marathons -- but no one 'chooses' to get cancer. During my five months of treatment, I was able to continue to run a little, although I mostly walked. I was on a three-week chemo cycle, & usually by the end of the second week I'd be strong enough to run slowly.

"I adopted the philosophy that if I couldn't run, I'd walk, & if I couldn't walk far, I'd walk as far as I could. My running buddies were great support & would walk with me when I wasn't strong enough to run. After the treatments, it was great to get back to normal running. While I was in treatment, I set my sights on running a half marathon in Williamsburg, VA several months after the treatments ended, which I did with my husband [Kent], sister, & a good friend -- it was awesome. I've run 12+ marathons as a 'survivor'. The message in that for people who might be in treatment now is that there are lots of positive possibilities post-treatment, even though it might be hard to imagine it while they're going through the treatments & not feeling so good physically, mentally, or emotionally. DON'T GIVE UP!

“[My advice to those experiencing cancer is] be good to yourself and take each day as it comes. A day or two before my surgery, I bought a ‘Life Is Good’ hat for good luck, & wore it throughout my treatments (especially when I had no hair!) -- so you might say that was the attitude I tried to keep throughout. Cancer is really hard on the family members & caregivers too, & they need to take care of themselves while they're taking care of the patient. While it may not be possible for everyone, getting enough sleep, some exercise, & an occasional break is important so they can stay positive & ‘up’ for their loved one. It's a team effort, really.”

 

Zach Elliot (20 y/o) // Shriner’s Hospital & Children’s Cancer Center volunteer // snowboarder, boxer, wakeboarder, runner, biker // survivor of osteogenic sarcoma
(bone cancer, diagnosed 9 y/o)
posted July 5, 2015

“When we had recess, I would go play kickball with all the kids on crutches with one leg. I kind of took what I was given, and I used it for what I thought I was given it for. I realized what life could actually take from you. But at the same time, I stayed strong. I never had a negative attitude about anything. Anything someone tells me I can’t do, I’m going to try to do it. I’ve met a lot of paraplegics like that. Most of the paraplegics I’ve met are veteran based … I have an American flag on my prosthetic leg right now. I think I would probably be in the military if I didn’t have this.

“When I first was diagnosed, they gave me a 20 - 30% chance of living. My biopsy came back 97% gone. I became cancer-free at 11.

“When I was younger, I had a clue what was going on. But at the time, I didn’t really know about cancer; I hadn’t really been presented that aspect of life. We got different opinions, and my parents really took the choice for me as far as what they thought would be best … I thank God every day that’s what they chose, because if they didn’t give me a prosthetic leg, I would live with a metal rod in my leg and have a limp for the rest of my life.

“If you look at it, you’re only given one chance. One opportunity. You’re given what you’ve got. You can’t dread upon it. If you do, what’s the point? If you’ve gone through all that, there’s a reason for you to be here. It’s something God had planned. There’s something out there for you to have -- something meant for you.” 

 

Clara Lawrence (10 y/o) // student, dancer & birthday girl // survivor of leukemia (diagnosed at 2 m/o)
posted June 28, 2015

“Now, since I’m older, I notice signs that say 'pink for Lilly' or 'wear gold for Mary' & I think that was me. I was one of those people fighting cancer, & people were wearing colors for me. I want to wear colors to support other people. I am very grateful that I’m okay. The cancer experience really helps me stop & think about other people … I have learned that cancer can change people.

“A survivor has a cancer experience; I am a survivor. But, you can have someone close to you that has cancer. Like my mom, it must have been hard for her to watch me have cancer. You know, my mom is a survivor, too.”

 

Jim Kirby (89 y/o) // WWII vet, attorney, FBI agent, father of photographer Mark Kirby // survivor of wife Charlotte (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma)
posted June 21, 2015 (Father’s Day)

"I fought in the Battle of the Bulge, where 28,000 American men were killed. I'm very grateful to the Lord to have made it through! 

“I struggled to understand why God would take my wonderful wife, who was loved by so many & who did so much for others. But my faith, my two boys, & my friends helped me get through it ... You can't control the outcome, you simply have to have faith in God's plan and do everything you can to support your loved one. Not a day goes by that I don't think of my wife. But I'm grateful that God has given me these 16 years. Grateful for life."

      

 

 

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