Beaufort News

Cancer survivors celebrate living 'in full bloom'

Sun City Hilton Head resident Catherine Salkowitz never smoked, practiced a healthy lifestyle and didn't have a history of breast cancer in her family.

So when she went in for a routine exam one day more than five years ago, Salkowitz said she wasn't worried.

A phone call from her doctor later that evening changed everything.

"I was one of the lucky ones. Once I saw the cancer center and I met everyone, my decision was made. I knew I would have the support I needed," Salkowitz said Sunday afternoon, surrounded by local cancer survivors at Beaufort Memorial Hospital's Keyserling Cancer Center's second annual Cancer Survivors Day celebration.

Today, years after finishing the last of her surgeries and radiation treatments, Salkowitz is cancer-free.

The 64-year-old mother and retired pharmaceutical representative said she tries to live her life by the mantra of "bloom where you're planted" -- in keeping with the celebration's "A Life in Full Bloom" theme -- by getting involved in community activities such as theater and charitable causes.

One of the cancer center's first patients, Salkowitz also appears in hospital ads and reaches out to area residents who have been recently diagnosed.

"People need this kind of support," she said of the celebration. "They need to know there are other people out there who are living their lives. Everyone of us has a choice everyday. We can ask why this happened to us, or we can live our lives with flourish."

Salkowitz was joined Sunday by about 75 other area cancer survivors at the hospital's Riverview Cafè to celebrate their survivorship, get advice from medical experts and learn about healthy habits.

The event also included remarks from Dr. Majd Chahin, medical director of the hospital's oncology services, live music, refreshments and door prizes.

Chahin said the willingness of survivors to talk about their diagnoses has helped make treating the disease less intimidating.

"Research has led to greater survivorship, but it's the survivors' fighting spirit that improves quality of life," he said.

Survivors are considered those living with a history of cancer -- from the moment of diagnosis throughout the remainder of life, said Connie Duke, a registered nurse and cancer program director at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

The most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer in Beaufort County are prostate cancer among men and breast cancer among women, which is consistent with national cancer rates. The Keyserling Cancer Center, which opened its doors April 19, 2006, earned accreditation as a national community hospital program in 2010, Duke said.

She said survivors and hospital staff wanted to commemorate National Cancer Survivor month in June and celebrate local area survivors.

"For me -- and the physicians, surgeons and caregivers -- we get caught up in our work. That's why days like today are so important to us," Duke said. "The survivors -- you carry them with you in your heart for the rest of your life. It's a celebration for us to see their success."