Cancer survivor helps to raise money for Hollings Cancer Center research

Jana Chanthabane, 42, can’t help but be thankful that she’s still alive. After battling breast and skin cancer, the mother of three prepares for her fourth year as co-leader of the Swim Across America event in Kiawah, which raises money for MUSC Hollings Cancer Center — the same center that treated Chanthabane for breast cancer in 2014.

“I think having cancer changes your view of things,” she said. “You just have to take the time to be grateful and thankful for the people who are here and for what you do have.”

Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, Chanthabane lived a dream to work on the water and run her own paddleboard business. After a long paddle trip one day, she noticed that something wasn’t right.

“I remember when I got home that night, I showered and happened to feel a lump under my armpit,” she said. “I was shocked and made an appointment for a mammogram at MUSC.”

Jana Chanthabane was only 35 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now 42, she brings important cancer awareness and supports the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

Chanthabane, then just 35, was told by doctors to remain optimistic. Findings made during the mammogram led to a biopsy that eventually revealed her worst nightmare: Chanthabane was diagnosed with breast cancer. “You just immediately question everything. I remember, probably more than anything else, the conversation with my kids.”

Doctors found multiple cancer sites in both of Chanthabane’s breasts, ranging from ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), where the cancer had not spread beyond the milk duct, to stage 1 breast cancer. Thanks to early detection, Chanthabane avoided chemotherapy and radiation after her double mastectomy in Hollings.

“I know I’ve been really lucky because my breast cancer was discovered so early. Since then I’ve really tried to use every position I’m in to try to make a difference.”

During her treatment, Chanthabane’s two daughters did something she will never forget: they created their own pink rainbow band and sold it to raise money at Hollings. “That money was used to buy books for children of cancer patients in Hollings.

Her daughter’s fundraising efforts inspired her to also look for opportunities to give back. Chanthabane was instrumental in bringing the Swim Across America event to Kiawah in 2017.

Since its inception in Kiawah, the event has raised more than $140,000 for local cancer research. “It’s impressive to hear the stories of the people out there who have survived so much more than I have. It’s amazing to see the human spirit and how much one can withstand and carry on.”

Jana Chanthabane prepares for her fourth year as co-leader of the Swim Across America event in Kiawah, which raises money for MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

Proceeds from this year’s event will help support T-Cell leukemia research by Haizhen (Jen) Wang, Ph.D., Hollings’ researcher and assistant professor at the MUSC College of Medicine. This will be the second year that she has received funding from the group.

Wang said the money from the event contributed to her research at Hollings. “The Swim Across America funding acts as a seeding grant, which has significantly helped us gather enough preliminary data to obtain a competitive grant from the National Cancer Institute,” Wang said.

Wang also noted that the study examines how malignant cells in leukemia patients spread to other organs in the body. “It is extremely important to understand the mechanisms of immune evasion to develop therapeutic strategies to treat and/or prevent the spread of leukemia.”

Registration for this year’s swim in Kiawah is open. Chanthabane said she hopes the money raised at the event will play a small part in ultimately eradicating cancer.

“Our ultimate goal is to cure cancer. I think about my girls and whether or not I passed on a gene to them that puts them at higher risk for breast cancer. I want there to be a cure so that the next generation doesn’t have to worry about cancer.”

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