Raejean Kanter is a 25-year breast cancer survivor and a sign of hope for the future, here is her story.
Raejean was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 1983 at the age of 37. At that point in her life she was a mother of two pre-teen children (her daughter was 10 and her son was 13), was married, had her own educational consulting firm, was writing a book, and was working towards achieving a Master’s degree. To make matters worse, she was also dealing with the fact that her father had pancreatic cancer and eventually passed. She found a lump in her breast during a self-exam and went to the doctor right away. The surgeon told her that it was probably nothing, but they did a mammogram anyways due to the baseline history in the family. She was diagnosed with breast cancer right before Thanksgiving and the holidays. On December 2nd, 1983 she had surgery to remove the lump (fortunately she found out it was surrounded by healthy tissue) on December 2nd, 1983. She had a complete mastectomy and immediate reconstruction. Raejean indicated that the recovery process was not too difficult for her. She is finally on a normal woman’s schedule for getting mammograms.
During the next three years of her life, three other people in the family were diagnosed with different forms of cancer. She was a source of comfort and strength for her family members since she had been through the fight and survived. An uncle, a cousin, and an aunt all passed away from the disease. Raejean’s battle with cancer (not her own cancer) continued. She lost her husband five years ago to bladder cancer and her mother has had ovarian cancer for over 7 years. She has not let the cancer in her life bring her down. Instead, she has done everything in her power to overcome it. She completed her Master’s degree, traveled all over the world, she looks at each day as a gift, and does what she feels she has been called to do. This is why she was thrilled to be our Honorary Chair this year. She was called to do this role to create a sense of hope for others battling breast cancer.
As you can see, being a breast cancer survivor has made Raejean a fighter. However, it has caused some negative emotions throughout her life as well. Whenever she gets sick or has any type of symptoms, in her mind, the first thought is always cancer. She must re-address the cancer in some way every week, and she will always be known as a survivor. Raejean shared a story about her experience having gall bladder surgery after her experience with breast cancer. She went through the surgery and was up and walking around the same day. Her doctor was worried about her being out and about so soon, but she had the “I’m a survivor” attitude and if she could get through breast cancer, then gall bladder surgery was certainly not going to hold her back.
Raejean has many sources of inspiration in her life as well. She has a granddaughter that is 5-years old. Her granddaughter does not know of her battles with breast cancer. Raejean’s mother certainly worries about her more so now as she is her only child. Raejean’s daughter is 37 years old (the same age as Raejean was when she was diagnosed), and will be turning 38 on September 27th, 2009 the same day as this years’ Race for the Cure! What an amazing coincidence that is, and a true sign of hope for the future. Raejean told about one of her friends that is an X-ray technician who told her “it’ll be fine” when she was tested for cancer. To this day her friend still apologizes for having that attitude about the situation, even though there was no way for her to know the outcome. Raejean also has 30 cousins that she is very close to. They meet at least 4 times a year. She seems to be a pillar of strength to these cousins and they go to her for support. She also has many women in her church that worry about her and pray for her on a regular basis. When someone is battling breast cancer, it is important to also recognize those that are co-surviving as well.
Raejean offers some advice and words of encouragement for others that are battling breast cancer. She said, “No one goes through the same thing” and “don’t give up.” She said that you will need to take each day and listen and feel what you need to do that day. Also, make sure to take days to rest and days to celebrate all the goodness, beauty, love and care. She was able to turn to people in her church for support from other survivors as well. She said that whatever your higher power may be, that an experience like this will surely bring you closer. She also advises to seek out positive things, and do not be afraid to use resources, no matter how strong you feel that you are.
As Honorary Chair for this years’ Race, Raejean wants to show others that cancer is not necessarily a death diagnosis and that there can be a tremendous life after cancer. She feels strongly that her life is better now than it was before. Her experience strengthened her faith in God and she wants to share with others that you should not be afraid to draw strength from your higher being. The picture that Raejean provided is one of her and her granddaughter blowing a “wish” from a dandelion flower. The message that Raejean wants as Honorary Chair is “Be involved in Komen Milwaukee Race for the Cure, because you need to do more than just wish.”
As a major part of the Milwaukee corporate community, Raejean feels that corporate sponsorships have really helped to elevate breast cancer awareness and participation in the Komen Milwaukee Race for the Cure. She asks, “Where have you seen more pink? Pink lids on your yogurt, pink impatiens at the flower shop, and so on. Corporate sponsorships allow the engine to run.” On Race day it is so wonderful to see all of the sponsors that are present and all the support they’re continuing to give Komen. help it to continue.
A few additional facts that Raejean wanted to share; Raejean is good friends with local TV personality, Melodie Wilson who is battling breast cancer again. Her mother’s cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 18 and she lived to be 70 years old. Finally, even Mrs. Santa Claus can get cancer; Raejean plays “Mrs. Claus” at Mayfair Mall during the Christmas season!
Raejean has been a part of Komen Milwaukee for years and never dreamed of such an honor as has been given to her this year. She looks forward to seeing all of the pink shirts that the survivors wear on Race day as it shows an incredible movement of strength and solidarity. We look forward to having Raejean as our Honorary Race Chair this year and would like to say a big “Thank you, Raejean!”
~Komen Milwaukee Race for the Cure”