Health Care

Cancer survivors to gather to celebrate life

Like so many baby boomers, Catherine Salkowitz had big plans for her retirement. She was going to take up shag dancing, learn to play pickleball and plant a vegetable garden.

Battling cancer was not on her to-do list.

But at age 59, just as she was preparing to retire, Salkowitz was diagnosed with breast cancer. It took three surgeries and six weeks of radiation to rid her of the disease.

This Sunday, the Sun City Hilton Head resident will join dozens of others who have battled cancer at the second annual Beaufort Memorial Hospital Cancer Survivors Day Celebration.

"A diagnosis of cancer is not what it used to be," Salkowitz said. "There are new treatments being developed every day. You have to stay positive. Attitude is so important."

It has been five years since the former pharmaceutical sales rep received the news that the mass in her right breast was malignant.

"There is no history of breast cancer in my family, so it caught me totally off guard," Salkowitz recalled. "I was scared, but I decided I was going to do whatever I needed to do to battle it."

She underwent three surgical procedures to have all of the diseased tissue removed. To reduce the chance of a recurrence, her doctor recommended she receive radiation treatment five days a week for six weeks.

She considered going to Charleston for treatment, but her husband, Wayne, suggested Beaufort Memorial's Keyserling Cancer Center. The Duke-affiliated center had not yet opened, but the staff invited them to tour the facility.

Since the Keyserling Cancer Center opened five years ago, it has treated more than a 1,000 patients with a variety of diseases, including lymphoma, colon, breast, lung and prostate cancers. The Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons recently granted its Outstanding Achievement Award to the center as a result of surveys conducted during 2010. It was one of a select group of 90 currently accredited and newly accredited cancer programs across the U.S., and one of only 13 new programs to do so.

The Cancer Survivors Day event will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. in the hospital's Riverview Cafe, and will include live music, refreshments and the inspiring stories of survivors such as Salkowitz.

"I don't wake up every morning thinking about cancer, but I'm very aware I have another day to enjoy," she said. "I'm getting to do all the fun things I've always wanted to do."