By Diane Davies – www.dianedavies.com
Fifteen years ago I faced the most terrifying journey of my life when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Hearing the word cancer connected to my body refocused my mind immediately to planning my funeral. I did not hear the discussion between my family and my doctor. I just knew that I was about to die!
Well I didn’t die. I’m still here, perhaps feistier, more aggressive, and for sure endlessly more grateful. I have planned and re-planned my funeral but for that event I hope to be the last one to arrive.
What have you done with the fifteen years of surviving your own used by date?
So, you ask me, what have you done with the passed fifteen years of surviving your own used by date? Healing took a while both physically and perhaps more so emotionally. I kept a journal for the three hundred and some days of my breast cancer journey. My mother was diagnosed with the same disease in the early 70’s. That history was not to be out run by me. I have a daughter and a granddaughter who now have a high likelihood of being diagnosed as well. My journal was for them for if/when that diagnosis comes.
From There to Here; A Breast Cancer Journey, my journal, was published in 2005 detailing my journey and my thoughts and feelings regarding what I was experiencing. Hundreds of women and their families have recounted to me how helpful my book was to them in their time of need. As a result, I began a new ministry of being a patient advocate for those traveling a breast cancer journey.
With the urging of my gynecologist from Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minnesota, I spoke to the physicians at their “Grand Rounds” monthly meeting. I talked about my breast cancer experience at Lakeview from a patient’s point of view – the good, the bad and the ugly. I read passages from my journal, now my book, and was very well received. My doctor told me afterwards that she had never seen all of the physicians stay for the entire meeting as they had done that day.
Encouraged by a friend, I joined the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group, where I found myself loved, supported and nurtured by this incredible group of women. I grew into a leadership position within this group where I was able to give back to others some of what had been given to me.
The American Cancer Society recruited me to take on a role in their Reach to Recovery Program. I was paired with women newly diagnosed whose symptoms were similar to my own. I connected with them through phone calls and home visits to help alleviate their fears and answer some of the emotional questions that are hard to live with in the early stages. A few times I opened up my heart and my shirt and allowed them to view and touch if they wanted the results of my surgery. Faces full of fear and sadness were turned into ones of resolve and hope as my visit continued. I found that my skills as a retired classroom teacher were once again being put to good use.
Washington DC was also a stop on my agenda. I traveled with the American Cancer Society as an Ambassador to meet with legislators to talk about continued funding for cancer research.
As a Reach to Recovery volunteer and a member of the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group, I was led to the surgeon and his staff at the at the Regina Medical Center, Hastings, MN where I became an in house fixture for women facing breast cancer surgery. Reach to Recovery was prescribed for each patient following surgery, which meant I received a phone call directly from the surgical nurse. Many afternoons found me at the hospital, or the patient’s home, or even at the clinic if I was needed. Our wonderful little supportive system lasted until ACS changed the Reach to Recovery program due to a lack of funding. (I never could figure that out as the women doing the outreach were all volunteers – no dollars involved – not even gas money.) At any rate, the new program through the ACS was over the telephone only – no more home or hospital visits. Our successful system we had worked out in Hastings came to an end as Reach to Recovery was no longer prescribed. The hospital could no longer contact me as it became a HIPPA violation. Unfortunately the end of something really good.
Voices of Hope DVD series became an outreach program of the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group through my leadership. The intention was to reach out to women newly diagnosed to help them through the emotions and fears of facing a breast cancer journey. Twelve women were interviewed each telling their story not to give advice and direct others in what to do but to share their experience in the hope that a viewer might find themselves in the story of another and discover support, possibility and encouragement. Ten of the twelve survivors shared on screen their surgery scars to help others make a life altering decision regarding differing surgeries and reconstruction options. The prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota included this DVD in their new patient take-home package of information for breast cancer patients.
With the success of the first DVD, the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group was encouraged to produce a second DVD addressing the family and friends of the breast cancer patient. Voices of Hope Family and Friends came into being. This courageous group of women raised the money through sales of the first DVD and donations of family, friends, organizations and businesses to make the series possible. The series is still available for free online viewing at www.hastingsbreastcancer.com.
Everything that happens in our life becomes a part of who we are and how we present ourselves to the world. Each morning we wake up and have a decision to make regarding the day ahead. That decision is am I going to be a victim or a survivor. Having decided back in 2004 to be a survivor, had me stretching and growing into a 2011 Bush Fellowship. The Fellowship helped me expand my leadership skills and provided me with the dollars to write my second book, Breast Cancer Saved My Life (Diane Davies, 2015 ISBN 978-0-9966376-0-2) as well as help produce the second DVD.
“Now after twelve (now 15) years of survivorship, I once again reflect on those experiences and life lessons with enhanced awareness that only time can provide. With age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes less fear to cloud my vision. Twelve more year of living life through the perspective of a new lens given by my cancer experience emphasizes the increased importance of life lessons learned on the journey. What is the sense of living if we do not continue to learn and grow through each day given to us? With my teaching background and attitude of gratitude with its desire to help others, the logical next step is to pass on that knowledge to make the journey that much easier for those that follow.” (Breast Cancer Saved My Life by Diane Davies, page 9 – Book Mission)
This book is my gift of love to those facing a life-threatening diagnosis and their caregivers. The emotions, thoughts, challenges, insights and the prayers are a common part of the process of learning to come to terms with a medical encounter of this magnitude. These are my life lessons – may they speak to you:
2018 brought about another chapter in my life. I began to write books for children. As a retired teacher, I have read 1000’s of books to 100’s of children. Now as a grandmother, I have read 100’s of books to 2 children. On my bucket list is a wish to read my own books to 1000’s of students, young and old alike. Well I’m on my way. Life in the Neck New Friends was published in August of 2018. Followed by Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer in January of 2019. Both of my children’s books have won a Mom’s Choice Award on the gold level. Life in the Neck New Friends just recently won the First Horizon Award for the current Eric Hoffer Award season. The awards were not a part of the bucket list but hey, I’ll proudly take them anyway.
Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer is the story of 6 year old Jeannie Ann who in her six-year old way teaches us about the questions, fears, emotions and misunderstandings that come with facing a medical challenge. With her loving family by her side, Jeannie Ann learns about what a cancer diagnosis can bring – tumors, mastectomies, chemotherapy, pain and loss, but also hope. This story is written with honesty, love and understanding for children of all ages in my continuing quest to make the cancer journey less lonely and more filled with the spirit of love.
I found the Angel Foundation, or should I say it found me, when my good friend was dying of pancreatic cancer. A “wish” was given my friend through a number of organizations; Hospice, Minnesota Vikings and the Angel Foundation. Then in 2018 I visited the Angel Foundation with my Jeannie Ann book in hand and offered my help. January of 2019 the Angel Foundation Winter Retreat happen to be focusing on families with a Mom diagnosed with breast cancer. I was invited to read Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer to youth ages 6 – 18 followed by an interactive response in some way to the story; writing, drawing, talking – sharing with others their experience. I was blown away by not only by their responses but also their willingness to let me into their lives as an author and a breast cancer survivor. Goose bumps covered me as I came to the realization that I was making a difference in their lives. (Another bucket list goal that I hope to be able to continue!)
This summer of 2019, my 5th book, but my 3rd children’s book, will be published; Life in the Neck
Squirrel Trouble. What my next undertaking will be is yet to be determined. At seventy-one, I believe I have a few more surprises in me to spring on the world. My used by date was fifteen years ago and I’m still going strong. I’ll keep you posted
From There to Here; A Breast Cancer Journey, DeForest Press, 2005, ISBN 1-930374-18-6
Breast Cancer Saved My Life, Diane Davies, 2015, ISBN 978-0-9966376-0-2
Life in the Neck New Friends, Beaver’s Pond Press, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-59298-690-3
Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer, Beaver’s Pond Press, 2019, ISBN 13: 978-1-64343-991-4