Cancer survivor helps to raise money for Hollings Cancer Center research

July 20, 2021
Jana Chanthabane stands for a portrait on Sullivan's Island
Breast cancer survivor Jana Chanthabane turned tragedy into triumph while raising money for cancer research as co-leader for the Swim Across America race on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

Jana Chanthabane, 42, can’t help but be grateful to be alive. Following battles with breast and skin cancer, the mother of three is preparing for her fourth year serving as co-leader of the Swim Across America event at 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 perspective on things,” she said. “You just have to take time to be thankful and appreciative of the people who are here and of what you do have.”

Prior to the cancer diagnosis, Chanthabane was living out a dream of working on the water and operating her own paddle board company. Following a long paddle trip one day, she noticed something wasn’t right.


“I remember when I got home that night, I showered and just happened to feel a lump by my armpit,” she said. “I was freaked out and made an appointment to have a mammogram at MUSC.”

Jana Chanthabane walks along Sullivan's Island. 
Jana Chanthabane was only 35 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now at 42, she's bringing important cancer awareness and support to MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

Chanthabane, just 35 at the time, 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, having the conversation with my kids.”

Doctors found multiple spots of cancer in both of Chanthabane’s breasts, ranging from ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), where the cancer hadn’t spread outside of the milk duct, to stage 1 breast cancer. Thanks to early detection, Chanthabane avoided chemotherapy and radiation following her double mastectomy at Hollings. 

“I know I was really lucky because my breast cancer was caught so early. Ever since then, I’ve really tried to use any position I am 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 bands and sold them to raise money at Hollings. That money was used to buy books for children of cancer patients at Hollings.

Her daughter’s efforts to raise money inspired her to seek out opportunities to give back as well. Chanthabane was instrumental in bringing the Swim Across America event to Kiawah in 2017. 

Since its inception at Kiawah, the event has raised over $140,000 for cancer research locally. “It’s impactful just hearing the stories from the people that are there who survived so much more than I have. It is amazing to see the human spirit and how much someone can withstand and keep going.”

Jana Chanthabne sits on a tree at the Sullivan's Island Beach. 
Jana Chanthabane is preparing for her fourth year serving as co-leader of the Swim Across America event at Kiawah, which raises money for MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

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


The money from the event has helped to further her research at Hollings. The funding from Swim Across America functions as a seeding grant, which significantly helped us to collect sufficient 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 immune evasion mechanisms to develop therapeutic strategies to treat and/or prevent leukemia dissemination.”

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

“Our end 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 a higher risk for breast cancer. I want there to be a cure so that the next generation doesn’t have to worry about cancer.”