By Nancy Hilbrands - September 26, 2022
Walt Shaffner was raised with music in his home. His mother was often found whistling and singing around the house. “She loved musicals and encouraged the family to sit down and watch them together,” he said.
Around age 13, Shaffner picked up the trombone for the first time, not realizing the lifelong passion he would develop for the instrument. He turned his love of music into a career. Shaffner became a band director in the school system teaching students how to play their instruments while sharing his enthusiasm for the arts.
In 2006, Shaffner’s ability to play the trombone was almost taken away. He began experiencing unexpected and acute chest pains. Concerned about heart issues, he consulted his primary care physician. After finding no signs of cardiac stress, his doctor ordered a chest X-ray thinking Shaffner might have pulled a muscle while mowing the lawn. After undergoing a CT and PET scans, as well as a bronchoscopy, he was diagnosed with stage 1b non-small cell lung cancer.
Shaffner learned that the lower lobe of his right lung would have to be removed. Physicians at a community hospital performed the lobectomy in November 2006 and recommended chemotherapy.
When it came time for treatment, Shaffner didn’t stop at a second opinion — he got four. His final consultation was at Moffitt Cancer Center where he immediately made the decision to begin treatment after speaking with Dr. Scott Antonia.
“It was an easy choice because this is what Moffitt does,” Shaffner said. “Moffitt has the reputation and the research, plus the geography.”
Six weeks after his surgery, Shaffner started his first of four cycles of chemotherapy at Moffitt. The treatment was a success. This November will mark his 16th anniversary of being cancer free. He continues to receive annual scans and checkups at Moffitt.
Shaffner is grateful for the many people who provided support for him and his family during his cancer journey, including his church and co-workers. “After my surgery, the deacons from my church took shifts staying with me in the hospital throughout the night,” he said. “During my chemo treatments, staff at my school would wipe down everything in my office to protect my compromised immune system.”
Shaffner found comfort in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
His advice to others facing a similar diagnosis? “Get the best tools you can find, which in my case meant the team at Moffitt, but trust God for the outcome.”
Shaffner barely missed a beat in his music career during his treatment. Within three months after his surgery, he started playing his trombone again, quickly building up his lung capacity.
During his 43-year career in education, Shaffner has led marching bands and held dozens of concerts with his students. He rose through the ranks as an assistant principal, principal and district administrator before his retirement.
Shaffner’s focus has returned to playing the instrument he picked up as a teenager. He plays the trombone in three community groups and gives lessons. During certain seasons of the year, he makes himself available to work with middle and high school students to prepare them for competitions and auditions.
When not making music, he loves to spend time with his wife and their grown children. They travel often and enjoy playing pickleball.
The Shaffner family have been Tampa Bay Rays baseball fans for years, even traveling long distances to watch the team play. On Sept. 24, the Rays welcomed Shaffner to Tropicana Field to honor him through the Salute to Survivors program presented by Moffitt Cancer Center.