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It's like wearing a neon sign announcing, "I'm a cancer survivor"

Breast cancer took a lot from Robin Winters. It took her hair – dreadlocks she’d been diligently growing for 15 years to connect with her cultural heritage. She lost both her breasts in a mastectomy at age 53. She even lost relationships, as friends and family struggled to support her through the most difficult time of her life.

But, as Robin tells it, God gave her twice as much back. As an operations specialist at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Robin strives to give back to the members she supports every day, because she’s been in their shoes.

A two-time survivor, Robin will be nine years cancer-free in September. But for a long time, she didn’t want anyone to know what she’d been through.

“After my surgery, I felt like I had a neon sign on my head that said, ‘She’s a survivor,’” Robin said. “People could look at me and tell. It didn’t matter if I have on these padded bras or nothing. I just knew they knew.”

For months after her mastectomy, she wouldn’t leave the house. But one day, when she did venture out, a beautiful surprise was waiting for her.

“Something just told me to go buy a lottery ticket – something I never really do,” she said. “Well, I did, and I won $100. I went up to cash that $100, and here he is, a guy that I’d not seen in 40 years. A beautiful man from high school that I’d had a crush on back then,” she said. “And there he was. And we talked, and – he’s my fiancé.”

Robin’s now-fiancé Kenneth supported her through her treatments and helped her see the beauty in herself. Now, she wears “survivor” as a badge of honor.

I got breast cancer when i was 53. I was angry. I was angry at a lot of people. I was angry at God for a long time. I was so afraid of who I would become after this, because I'd already felt myself pulling in. I didn't go out of the house for three months after the operation. I wouldn't go out, and I wouldn't look in mirrors., ya know. I didn't want to see the bald head. I didn't want to see the flat chest.

About four years, three years into the breast cancer, I didn't have a boyfriend, I'd divorced my husband. And I was cashing in a lottery ticket. And here he is, a guy that I'd not seen in 40 years. I graduated in 1980. It's been 40 years since I've seen you, dude! And there he was. And we talked, and he's my fiancee.

It will be nine years on September the 23rd that I will have been cancer free. And every day that I live I just try to help somebody amd that's where my job falls into place. When I can help, I try to go out of my way to help whoever is on my line.

I thank God for life, and if it can help anybody, it starts off so terrible and mean and ugly, and I just sound so terrible when I'm telling my story, but it ends so beautifully.

My heart is so filled with love and compassion for people, and my eyes just don't see the negative like they used to, so it's okay. It's really okay.

“I just didn’t know how strong I was,” she said. “I’m so glad I found that strength. My story starts off very terrible and awful and mean and ugly, but it ends so beautifully. My heart is so filled with love and compassion for people, and my eyes, they just don’t see the negative like they used to. So it’s okay. It’s really okay.”

Now, Robin embraces her identity as a survivor, but also as a grandmother to three beautiful kids, Tristan, Sa’Niya, and Tahj; a wonderful mom to her son Kelsey; soon-to-be wife to Kenneth; and an encourager to strangers and loved ones alike.

“I thank God for life. Every day that I live, I try to help somebody. And that’s where my job falls into place, because I get to help somebody almost every single day. And I love that,” she said. “I love that I get to do the service work. I try to go out of my way to help whoever’s on my line.”

Her journey helps her connect with others who are experiencing similar struggles.

“I tell my story to others if that’s going to encourage them to be strong and to not give up,” she said. “You might feel weak on the surface, but underneath it all you’re a fighter, whether you know it or not.”

authors photo

Emilie Poplett

Emilie Poplett

Senior Communications Advisor

Emilie is a senior communications advisor at Blue Cross NC. 

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