Diane is a devoted wife and mother, a retired teacher, an author, an inspirational speaker, a tireless volunteer...and a breast cancer survivor!
Tell us a little about yourself and your lifestyle.
I am a fifty-eight year old breast cancer survivor of two years. I taught first grade for sixteen years and third grade for ten years in Hastings, Minnesota. In 1996, I moved across the river and up a few grade levels and began supervising student teachers for the University of Wisconsin - River Falls. I am now fully retired from my teaching career and have joined the ranks of the volunteers who help make the world go round.
Several areas are close to my heart and keep me very busy. The United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minnesota keeps me involved in higher education. I serve on the Board of Trustees for that institution. I serve as a team leader for a number of groups with Cottage Grove United Church of Christ, Cottage Grove, Minnesota. The American Cancer Society utilizes me as a Reach to Recovery Volunteer, an advocacy team member and an ambassador to the Celebration on the Hill in September of 2006.
My husband and I make our home on the banks of the St. Croix River in Minnesota but spend our summer weekends at our home on Rainy Lake in southern Ontario. We love to jump into our Cessna 185 on floats about noon on Friday and find ourselves on the lake in about two hours. We have a married daughter, Krisi, who lives with her husband Jeff in Stillwater, Minnesota. As of yet, we have no grandchildren but look forward to that day. We live a very blessed life.
Describe how you found your cancer, were you on 'watch' or did it sneak up on you?
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 70's. I have always believed that someday I would need to face that same battle. Each year I very faithfully had my mammogram and yearly exam. In October of 2003, I received the dreaded phone call telling me they had found something on the mammogram and would I please come in for a magnified view. My first thought was, "Well here we go!" Calcifications had shown up on my right breast.
It was decided that I would come back in six months for another look. I made the appointment and never gave it another thought until about two weeks before the scheduled mammogram. I noticed in the mirror that my right nipple seemed to be about an inch lower than my left and that the right breast appeared somewhat larger. Then I remembered my Mother telling me after her mastectomy, that she had watched her breast grow and change for over a year before she gave in and went to the doctor. I pretty much froze with the realization and terror of what I was now seeing on my own body.
The pictures were taken and I was told to have a seat and the Doctor would be in shortly. The film was placed on the viewer and the areas of concern were pointed out. I guess I pretty much removed myself once I heard the CANCER word. He then told me that on a scale of one to five, one being benign and five being malignant, that I was about a three. My world was going out of control and I couldn't do anything but go with it.
Cancer was confirmed with the biopsy and my journey continued. Did it sneak up on me? No, I expected it. Was I on 'watch' for it? Yes, but how do you prepare for an unknown catastrophe. The diagnosis feels like a whack in the stomach with a baseball bat then you climb into a box of rocks that someone continually shakes and all you can do is hang on.
Following diagnosis, what helped you cope the most, and gave you strength?
The Three "F's" - Family, Faith, and Friends - helped me to cope the most and gave me more than strength for the journey. They taught me through practice what it is to love unconditionally, give generously and pray unceasingly. My family, Butch, Krisi and Jeff were there for me every step of the way. My husband said the right things at the right times and the right things even when I didn't want to hear them.
I grew tremendously in my faith through my journey. I learned to rely on God's love and strength. I learned that pray works and can be felt and does make a difference. My friends became the "earth angels" that showered me with love, support, flowers, cards, gifts, food. Some wrote poems for me, others cleaned my house, others washed and ironed clothes, others sat and let me cry and they all prayed.
How has breast cancer changed your outlook on life?
The answer to this question lies in one of the poems written for me by my friend in Walcha, N.S.W., Australia, Carolyn Salter.
LIFE WAS SO EASY
By Carolyn Salter
Life was oh so easy
How could I then know
That this was a path
Down which I would have to go?
No options for me
Journeying with dread
Heavy, awful, arduous,
The path that I must tread.
How could I then know
How much that I would learn?
And the friends that I would make
Who would with each other turn
The negatives to positives
Finding easier ways
Trusting in each other
To lighten heavy, difficult days.
How could I then know
How my perspective would change?
And see my life go right way up
Life's noticeably different now
Little things become so dear
Troubles once insurmountable
Much Simpler now, and clear.
Could I even thank
This strange experience I had?
Will you think me crazy
When I say that I am glad
That this cancer came along
To wake up my whole world?
And now I'm navigating life
With every sail unfurled.
What advice would you give to someone who is newly diagnosed with breast cancer?
Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
Don't be afraid to express your feelings. Kick the wastebasket across the room. It's okay to be angry and ask "Why me?" Get it out of your system. Then get on with the journey. Ask questions no matter how trivial you think they are. Learn as much as you can and be an active participant in your treatment plan. You must have trust in the medical world but that trust can be based on knowledge. Lean on your family, faith and friends and let them be a part of your journey. Ask them for what you need - your job, as a friend told me so lovingly, is to SURVIVE! Look beyond the pain and the "yuck" to what lies ahead - being cancer free.
How has The Breast Cancer Research Foundation been helpful to you?
Breast cancer treatment was drastically different in 2004 than it was for my mother in 1970. In 2006 there is certainly more reason to be hopeful about breast cancer. Early detection and better treatment have allowed more women to survive breast cancer with less impact to their bodies than ever before. The National Cancer Institute has set a challenging goal for the nation of eliminating suffering and death due to cancer by the year 2015. This is only possible because of research and research can only happen when the dollars, both public and private, are allocated for that purpose. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation plays a huge role in that equation. Research makes the difference!