NOMINATOR: Maria Aguayo (Tampa)
NOMINEE: Kristina Chowning (Tampa)
Some days are worse than others. For Kristina Chowning, at the age of 43, her worst day was October 26, 2011: the day she was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. As if that were not enough, it was the same day as her first mediation appointment for the dissolution of her 17-year marriage. As a mom of three boys and a beloved teacher at Madison Middle School, Kristina would not allow these heartbreaks to interfere with what she believes is her life's calling: teaching, mentoring, motivating and inspiring others. Through it all, she continued to have her ever-present positive attitude. No matter when you saw her she always had a smile on her face and an encouraging word to say.
Prior to her medical leave and scheduled surgery, and in response to her hopeful disposition, her students were inspired to organize a Pink Power Rally for the entire student body in her honor. Within six weeks of diagnosis, she underwent a double mastectomy, which then became infected and prolonged her treatment. However, this did not keep her down. She constantly came to the school to check on her students and coworkers, leaving behind a wake of hope and inspiration.
Sadly, test results indicated there was a high risk of recurrence, thus requiring her to endure four rounds of chemotherapy. Kristina had always been known for her long, flowing blonde hair. Vanity aside, and before the chemo could ravage her locks, she involved her children in the transition by letting them shave her head so they would feel more comfortable with the change. In support of their mom, her boys, then 15, 12 and 4, shaved their heads too in defiance of this ugly disease.
Kristina did not want her children's lives to be disrupted by cancer, helping them to live as normal a life as possible during this time. With her boys' active in the baseball community, she was the ever present baseball mom. She could be seen at the baseball field supporting her sons regularly and missed as few games as possible.
Through all the chemotherapy she continued to be a strong "newly-single" mother, teacher, friend, coworker, sister and daughter. She put others first and helped raise awareness by being a volunteer for the American Cancer Society, having served on the planning committee for the Relay for Life of Interbay. So much an advocate, in fact, that just two days after her first round of chemo she visited the State Capitol in Tallahassee on behalf of the American Cancer Society's Advocacy Day, alongside other ACS volunteers, including Dr. Karen Moffitt. While there, she spoke with state leaders, on behalf of cancer patients and survivors, about continued funding for cancer research and promote the Mary S. Brogan, early breast cancer detection campaign.
Fast forward to today, Kristina is happily living cancer free. Not only does she inspire her students, friends, coworkers and family with what she says, but also through her deeds and the way she lives her life. She feels that God has a purpose and a plan that includes sharing her testimony with others. While she knows every person's story is, and will be different, she feels she can help them through it with her experience. She knows life cannot be taken for granted and wants to leave the world a better place. As a middle school teacher, Kristina tells her students at the end of every class to "go be leaders and make me proud." As her colleague and friend, I can honestly say that I have been proud of her grace and dignity during what could otherwise have been a devastating time in her life. I am honored to call her friend. Her impact is far-reaching in the halls of our school, the fields of the ball park and in our community. Hers is truly a story of hope and inspiration.