Four Courageous Women Share Their Stories Ahead of Survivors Parade at Churchill Downs

Events / Travel
Survivors Parade, Kentucky Oaks, Churchill Downs, Coady
The Survivors Parade is one of the highlights of Kentucky Oaks day at Churchill Downs, which will host the parade for the 16th time in 2024 and honor 150 survivors and fighters of breast and ovarian cancer as part of the 150th Kentucky Oaks celebration. (Coady Photography)

The Survivors Parade, now in its 16th year, has entrenched itself as one of the highlights of Kentucky Oaks day at Churchill Downs.

As part of the celebration of the 150th Oaks, 150 survivors and fighters of breast and ovarian cancer, will march on the historic track Friday before the premier race for 3-year-old fillies. Their aim is to raise awareness of breast and ovarian cancer and to encourage fans to donate by visiting the web sites of Norton Cancer Institute Survivorship or the Horses and Hope Kentucky Cancer Program.

Here are the stories of four courageous women among the 150 chosen to participate in the Survivors Parade:


Chavez has attended the Oaks before and admired those in the parade. She admitted she is in a bit of “shock” that she is marching because, “I never thought it would happen here.”

She had been experiencing sporadic pain since last fall but never connected it to cancer because there was no strong family history of the disease. She hopes others can learn from her experience. “It is really important for women to advocate for what they are feeling in their bodies,” she said. “I was feeling pain and I dismissed the pain for a while.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Chavez

Finally, the pain could be dismissed no longer. She was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive lobular carcinoma, meaning the cancer had originated in the milk-producing glands of her breast, on Jan. 16. She underwent a lumpectomy only to find that the issue was more widespread than first thought. She is to have a double mastectomy a week after the Oaks, but doctors do not believe any chemotherapy or radiation will be needed because the cancer was discovered fairly early.

Chavez wants her experience to offer hope to others. “It’s not a death sentence. You don’t have to look at it as a death sentence,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of amazing doctors and I fully trust them.”

The single mother also has had wonderful support. She will walk with Moriah Gilbert, her best friend and a nurse who has been with her throughout. Parishioners at Immanuel Baptist Church brought food to the house.

Her daughter, Emme, carried groceries and handled other chores because Chavez has been warned against heavy lifting. “She has been like a little momma. She’s been very helpful,” Chavez said.

She teaches at Watterson Elementary School in Louisville. She thought it best to keep her illness from students concerned about her prolonged absence. “I didn’t want to make them sad and I didn’t want to share that burden with them,” she said. “I just want to teach them and love them.”


Daddis fully understands how challenging cancer can be. She has fought the fight twice now.

Courtesy of Susan Daddis

The first discovery occurred in 2012. Doctors were confident that a lumpectomy followed by radiation and medication would eradicate her breast cancer. To her dismay, it resurfaced in 2018.

“They can’t be sure if it was a new cancer or if they didn’t get all of it the first time,” Daddis said. “They were pretty aggressive the second time around.”

Surgeons performed a unilateral mastectomy followed by 16 punishing rounds of chemotherapy. She would not wish those side effects on anyone. The recurrence was particularly hard to cope with from a mental standpoint.

“It was shocking,” she said, “and that it was a little farther along the second time was a little scary.”

The great news is that Daddis marked five years without cancer – a significant milestone – in January. She plans to walk with best friend Shawna Jones and expects to feel mixed emotions. For her, it will be an unmuted celebration. At the same time, she cannot help but think of the handful of friends she made during treatment who succumbed to cancer. She will keep them in mind, too, as she cherishes the support from the massive crowd that always turns out for Oaks day.

Daddis is a retired teacher currently employed as a school library assistant. She welcomes the opportunity to speak to other women who are making decisions about cancer treatment options. She wishes to convey the importance of mammograms, an incredibly useful tool for doctors that is some women ignore out of fear.

“To me, it’s very important when you turn 40 to get that baseline so they know what they are looking for,” she said.


Day may always view this as one of the hardest times in her life. It was September 2021, and she needed to tell Madeline, her then 9-year-old daughter, that she had been diagnosed with cancer.

Courtesy of Jennifer Day

“She knew cancer was bad and people die from cancer,” Day said.

Madeline assumed the fetal position and began crying when she heard the frightening news. She posed one question. “Mom, are you going to die?”

There was no immediate prognosis for Day’s stage 2 breast cancer. She agreed with her doctors that everything possible should be done as part of an aggressive approach. She began chemotherapy the week after a five-centimeter tumor was discovered. She underwent chemotherapy every week for 12 weeks and ultimately endured 16 rounds in all.

“We threw everything we had at it,” Day said.

There was a steep price to be paid, but she gladly paid it for herself, her husband, Josh, Madeline and Holden. “It was rough. I lost my hair, I lost my eyelashes, my eyebrows,” she recalled. “I had a lot of nausea. I was tired.”

Meanwhile, the demands of helping to raise two children remained. “I was trying to balance doing things and enjoying them with taking care of myself,” she said. Holden became her “best buddy” during that time and often climbed into bed to comfort her.

Day, a nurse practitioner, underwent a double mastectomy in March 2022. She was able to return to work four weeks later.

Day emphasized how important the mental aspect is during the battle with the disease. “You’re going to have bad days. You are going to have good days,” she said. “Allow yourself to feel those things and don’t bottle it in but don’t stay stuck there. You have to keep a positive attitude.”

Day will march with Deborah Alfred, her proud mother.


Cancer dealt Martinez a devastating one-two punch when she was diagnosed five months after her mother, Anita. She was 24 and went for a routine exam in 1999 that she expected would yield the typical good results reflecting her youth.

Courtesy of Christina Martinez

“The next thing I know,” she said, “my doctor finds this lump and it was a whirlwind from that moment until we actually started making some plans after the diagnosis.”

Martinez left Syracuse, where she was a graduate student, to focus solely on her health. She underwent a double mastectomy due to the aggressiveness of the malignancy and a strong family history, among other factors. Five rounds of chemotherapy followed the operation.

One of her greatest concerns all along involved whether she would be able to become pregnant. She joyfully tells of Zoe, her 18-year-old daughter, who will be beside her every step of the way beneath the Twin Spires.

“I consider her my miracle baby,” said Martinez, her voice choking up. “I didn’t know if I’d be able to have children. So, for her to be able to participate in this parade with me is really emotional.”

The Martinez story is loaded with good news. She is blown away by the thoughtfulness of her husband, Dedric, who nominated her for the Survivors Parade. She has been in remission for 25 years. Her mother is an equally proud survivor.

Martinez completed her Masters at the University of Buffalo and operates a financial planning business. She has learned to deal with all of the emotions associated with contracting cancer. “I think it’s just normal to have it in the back of your mind,” she said. “But I don’t worry about it like I used to. I’m more confident in modern medicine.”

One last bit of good news: Zoe, her “miracle baby,” has come far. She will begin her studies at Creighton University in the fall.

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