I am a cancer survivor

By Kathy Chaffin - kchaffin@civitasmedia.com

Even after eight cancer or cancer-related surgeries, I sometimes forget how hard I have fought for my life.

So far, I have won my battles with the cruel disease, but I have loved many who didn’t, including my beloved mother when she was only 48. Breast cancer stole Janice Faye Smith Chaffin from me and my family in 1985, and all these years later, I still struggle with the loss.

Since then, other family members and many friends have died from cancer, including a friend I had taken to oncologist visits and treatments just two weeks after my double mastectomy for breast cancer in 2007. I had already gone through five previous surgeries for a fibrosarcoma on my left shoulder, during which part of my scapula bone was sawed off, the tissue was removed from the upper left quadrant of my back and tissue was cut loose from my lower back and flapped over the top.

Seventeen years later, when I went to see a radiologist at the Derrick L. Davis Cancer Center at Forsyth Medical Center after my breast cancer diagnosis, she said the scars on my back looked like a map. Her comment inspired the title of a series of 26 columns I wrote about my chemotherapy treatment for the Salisbury Post: “Hope, Faith and Fear: A Reporter’s Journey Through Cancer.”

Two of my classmates from Davie High School in Mocksville underwent treatments at the center during the same time as me. They had different diagnoses, but we were warriors together just the same.

Today, I am the lone survivor, but I think often of Crystal Stewart Hilton and Chip Hanes.

The year before my breast cancer diagnosis, the Rowan County Relay for Life Committee chairwoman asked me to write about my fibrosarcoma surgeries for the event program. I was at the beach with my cousin and my best friend and her family when I sat down at a computer and wrote about my first battle with cancer.

When I finished, I wondered, “Why in the world would anyone want to read that?” So I did what I always do when I need inspiration, I went outside. For more than an hour, I walked alone on the beach, praying for God to help me find the words that would give hope to people going through cancer.

When I returned to our condo, the words flowed as if they were coming straight from Heaven. I like to think they did.

As an inspirational speaker on the side, I have shared these words at churches and events across the state more than 30 times with groups as small as eight and as large as an estimated 3,000.

I share them with you now in memory of my mother and all the other people I have loved and lost to cancer.

I am a cancer survivor.

I live life at a different pace. I notice things I’ve never seen before. I hear music in a brand new way. I look for the good in the seemingly bad, and most times, I find it.

I am a cancer survivor.

I know what it’s like to be humbled. I’ve had my priorities put in place by circumstance. I know what it’s like to feel pain. I have ugly scars, but they’ve taught me to see more beauty.

I am a cancer survivor.

I love to hear people’s life stories and share them with others. I believe life lessons are meant to be shared. I tell my story when I think it will help someone, and I savor every word.

I am a cancer survivor.

I like being silly. I wave at cows and talk to dogs. I love to shop for toys. I play a Native American flute even though I don’t know how, and I enjoy the sound it makes.

I am a cancer survivor.

I am an individual. I don’t like to conform. I believe in following the law and breaking societal rules. I learn something new about myself every day, and I truly love the woman in the mirror.

I am a cancer survivor.

I love God. I talk openly about my faith. I believe in miracles, and I’ve seen many. I look for the divine in all people. It’s not always easy to see, but I know it is there.

I am a cancer survivor.

I don’t waste time thinking about how long I will live. I think about how to make my life matter and look for ways to leave a positive mark, even if it’s just by planting a flower.

I am a cancer survivor.

I do not fear death, and I try to reassure those who do. I believe there is only a thin veil between this life and the next and that the power of love is strong enough to permeate through.

I am a cancer survivor.

I am part of a special group. We walk slower by choice. We listen more and talk less.

We giggle.

We live with enthusiasm.

We live with joy.

We live with hope.


Kathy Chaffin is a staff reporter for The Tribune. She can be reached at kchaffin@civitasmedia.com or 336-258-4058.

By Kathy Chaffin


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