Cancer survivor says don’t just survive, thrive

Christine Stefan, co-chair of this year’s Relay for Life, encouraged cancer survivors not to just survive but to thrive and make the most of their lives.

Stefan, who has been cancer free more than nine years, said that as she battled cancer, her family treated her with love, encouraging her to rest. As time went on, she fell into a sedentary life as she continued to take it easy — napping, not socializing with friends, not doing much of anything.

Two years ago that changed. “I was 52 and in poor physical shape as if I was elderly and debilitated. I had survived, now I wanted to thrive,” she said.
Stefan started martial arts, and today is almost halfway to her black belt in Tae Kwan Do. She gardens.

“My husband and I drove to the Grand Canyon and camped on the South Rim in a tent,” she told a gathering of cancer survivors as they got ready for the start of the Relay for Life. “I bought a kayak and love paddling on the Sound.

“It’s a wonderful thing that we can say that we have survived,” she said. “But wouldn't it be better for us to thrive?”

Saturday’s Relay was an all-day event at Jonathan Law High School, the 15th annual for Milford Relay for Life. Student groups and other organizations set up stations around the Jonathan Law track to raise awareness of cancer and walk the track to raise money to fight the disease.

News 8 Reporter Renee Chmiel, who had breast cancer two years ago, was the guest speaker at opening ceremonies. She said cancer changes a person.

“It changes you. That may sound trite, but it’s true,” she said.

After cancer, trivial annoyances just don’t seem quite so important.

“I’m just trying to enjoy myself as much as I can,” Chmiel told the crowd, adding that after radiation and surgery she is now cancer free,

Mayor Ben Blake read a proclamation, naming the day cancer awareness day in Milford.

His proclamation noted that “during 2017 there will be an estimated 1,688,780 new cancer cases and 600,920 cancer deaths in the United States alone. That amounts to approximately 4,630 new cases and 1,650 deaths on a daily basis.”

And School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser talked about how cancer has taken its toll here in Milford, mentioning Danni Kemp, a Foran High School graduate and promising athlete who died earlier this year after battling brain cancer, and Mike Nelson, a physical therapist for the school district, who died in August from cancer.

And she talked about Sean Cleary, a Foran High School student who missed school last year due to cancer but has now returned, cancer free.

She also mentioned Sharon Varga, a Milford resident who helped start an annual pancreatic cancer awareness walk in Milford. Varga is still fighting another form of cancer, but she beat the pancreatic cancer, and Feser said that is remarkable.