Chaffin column: Relay for Life holds annual survivors dinner

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A lady I talked to last week said she looked upon cancer survivors as heroes.
More than a year after my double mastectomy for breast cancer and nine months after the grueling chemotherapy, I don’t feel much like a hero. But as I looked around the Rowan County Relay for Life Survivors Dinner Tuesday night, I began to understand what she meant.
The 347 survivors gathered in the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA wore “Celebrating Survivorship” stickers listing their years of survival. Mine said “18 and 1.” The 18 represented the years since the last of five surgeries and six weeks of radiation treatments for a fibrosarcoma in my left shoulder.
The numbers on the stickers varied from a few months to many years. Pat Fraley had the most years of cancer survivorship with 42.
Brooke Moose, senior community manager for the American Cancer Society, said the forms turned in by cancer survivors at the dinner represented more than 1,700 years. Counting the people who had not turned in their forms, she estimated the number at closer to 2,500.
The women in my Living in Pink breast cancer survivor support group represented 36 years and eight months of survivorship.
Six youth cancer survivors were at the dinner, including my good friend, 15-year-old Quinn Scarvey, a five-year survivor. Fourteen-year-old Savannah Hinson, a 12-year survivor, will speak with her mother, Emily, during the Luminary Service at the May 2-3 Relay for Life.
It was a wonderful evening with a fish dinner cooked and served by members of Wittenberg Lutheran Church of Granite Quarry. I spent most of the night looking at the faces of the survivors and the 210 caregivers accompanying them.
Some of the faces were young. Others were old, and in between. Looking around, my eyes filled with tears of compassion and love for my comrades.
We did not fight together on a battlefield, but we have been and continue to be warriors fighting for our lives. Some of us are veteran fighters. Others are just beginning with newly-bald heads or finishing up with new hair growing back like mine.
When I had my portacath taken out a month or so ago, I asked one of the nurses at Maplewood Vein and Vascular Clinic in Winston-Salem if I could keep it. I was sedated and my head covered with a blue tarp when they put it in my chest so the chemotherapy could be infused directly into my jugular vein, so I didn’t get a chance to see it.
I was surprised when I opened the plastic container with the port inside. It was metallic purple and shaped like a heart.
After months of fighting the longest and most difficult battle of my life, I had my own purple heart. I carried it around and showed it to my family, friends and coworkers, who feel like my family and friends.
In those first few days, my purple heart became one of my most treasured possessions. My dear friend, Rose Post, even bought a necklace for me to wear it on as a pendant.
I have worn the necklace ó which also became a treasured possession because it’s from Rose ó several times, but I have yet to wear the purple heart portacath.
I might someday. Perhaps it will be my way of marking the anniversary dates of my surgery: one, two, three … 10, 11 … 20, 21, 22 … 30 … 40 …
Like all cancer survivors, I hope and pray for a long life. In the meantime, I try to make each and every day count.
For me, that means telling as many people’s stories as I can in the Salisbury Post. Though I’m hoping to soon graduate to writing books, I consider it a great privilege to write about the people and events of Rowan County and look forward to coming to work every day.
Making each day count means enjoying the beauty of this earth as if I’m seeing it for the very first time and doing what I can to protect and preserve it.
It means spending as much time as possible with my family and friends and letting them know how much I love them. And oh, how I love them.
Making each day count means thanking God every morning and every night for my life and for being with me through the dark night of my soul. The sun is back out, shining brightly, and my heart is filled with joy.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin