Meet Diane, another Cowgirl vs. Cancer

I’m thrilled to introduce Diane, our second Cowgirls vs. Cancer scholarship recipient who will be joining us on a Cowgirl Yoga retreat this summer. Diane is pictured here with her sister Katheryn Harlen, also a breast cancer survivor and founder of Through Healing Eyes.

It has been two years since my last cancer and, although it may seem pretty normal to some, my life since cancer has been one worth fighting for!

Next month my baby girl is graduating from UNCW with a degree in English and a high school teaching certificate. I am so proud and excited to see the next phase of her life unfold. Considering where she started, she has come a long way, much like my battle with cancer (or I should say, cancers).

Last week my 25 year old daughter called and needed a vacation, so she asked me to join her in Costa Rica for six days. We did nothing but relax! It was just what we needed. I am so honored that my daughter feels she can call and ask me to go on a vacation with her. When life is challenging and she needs her mother I am here! Cancer can take away many things, but it can’t take away being a mom.

Last month my husband and I had the privilege of taking care of our 15 month old granddaughter while the rest of her family traveled through California. Her mother, father and five month old sister were in quest of a suitable Doctorate program for Matt—her father/my son. We had the best time ever with our granddaughter—but I do know why God, in his infinite wisdom, gives babies to the young! Our granddaughter has been a guiding light throughout my cancer and recovery. She was born with Spina Bifida, and she never ceases to amaze me with her endless abilities and talents. She is currently going to therapeutic horseback riding!

In December, my husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Wow, that’s a really long time, yet it is hardly any time at all. We were looking at pictures taken shortly after we were married, and in my mind we still look the same but somehow the camera lies to me. I would not have become the woman that I am had I not married and had children and now grandchildren. Yet, here I am. I could say the same about my cancer. It has shaped me to be the person that I am, and I have lived with cancer—or the effects of cancer—for almost 35 years. I was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease at the age of 19. I had surgery to remove my spleen and nine weeks of radiation treatments. I was told then that there was a good chance that I would be sterile. Thank goodness I wasn’t because my children have enriched my life in ways that I could never have imagined.

My husband and I raised those children as best we saw fit, and life seemed to be normal–or as normal as it can be—owning our own business and having 3 children. Our life was exactly what anyone could ask for. However, as we all know, life has this mysterious way of changing courses when we least expect it. In 2001, with little time to think of myself, between the horseback riding lessons, surf contests, and cheerleading competitions, I was diagnosed with radiation induced chondrosarcoma of the breast. So, essentially, the treatment that saved my life previously, and allowed me to become a wife and mom, was now coming back to haunt me.

Looking back, at 19 I was only a baby, a baby who made a life-altering decision to reject a treatment that could one day ‘potentially’ ruin my chances of having children. If I had known I would be facing death once more, would I have still refused the treatment? Absolutely. I would never have traded a cancer-free life for the life I have led. Now, I would definitely give up the experience of cancer to keep the life I have but I don’t think it works that way.

So, this treatment was a bit more intense. I had a bilateral mastectomy, 4 rounds of chemo, high dose chemo, an autologous stem cell transplant and more radiation. Whew! It took a village to allow me to be able to do that. My sister was my caregiver, while her husband graciously took on her role, and raised their two teenage children. My husband, unquestionably did the same—raising our children, and sitting effortlessly by my bedside. The stem cell transplant required many trips to Duke and a month-long stay taking care of a person that was pretty much a zombie. My children had to cope with a Mom that was completely out of it, and looked scary.

For six months straight, friends came every two or three days and brought food to my family. These memories remind me that there are so many gifts to be grateful for. Now, nine years later so many goals have been accomplished. All of the children have graduated from high school, gone on to college and graduated, my son married the perfect woman and has 2 darling little girls. My daughters are both perfect women, and my best friends.

There is one caveat in all of that perfection: I was diagnosed in 2007 with not one but two cancers at the same time. I should have realized that luck of some form or another was on my side and rushed out and bought a lottery ticket. This time I had Hodgkin’s Disease (again) and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. What are the odds of that? Again, I got to hear my doctors say, “Wow, I’ve never seen this before.” That’s NOT what a patient wants to hear. So, again, I did 6 chemo treatments, and again so many wonderful people pitched in and helped. My room was redecorated when I came home from Duke. New sheets, a new robe, a new shower curtain, none of which I had asked for—but desperately needed. Food, as usual, just showed up, cards, prayers, almost anything we needed somehow just showed up! I do not know why, or how I became so lucky to have such thoughtful, beautiful souls in my life that know the exact right move to make without even asking me! I do not question why or how though, no point. God gives us these answers when he is ready.

I am 2 years out from that treatment and dealing with the Post Traumatic Stress syndrome of having had cancer, AGAIN. I have lots of ways to cope with that, some good and some not so good but I try to keep an attitude of gratitude and not let it get me down.

One way is yoga. Yoga is something that I have practiced since high school. Back then, I had to do it from a book since there were certainly no yoga studios in Nash County, NC. People thought it was a bit strange, too. Given my life story, it seemed fitting that others viewed it as strange. I have used yoga to breathe through many procedures as well as to get my strength back from various illnesses. I have also loved horses for as long as I can remember and I have had horses most of my life. I am blessed to have two “Happy Appys” (Appaloosas) right now, and they are also part of my therapy. So, when I read about Cowgirl Yoga in the spring of 2008 I knew right away that it was the catharsis I needed to renew myself after the last round of treatments. What could be better than combining two of my most vital therapies? (Diane attended a Cowgirl Yoga retreat in July, 2008.)

Just as marriage has changed me, as motherhood has changed me, as cancer has changed me, Cowgirl Yoga changed my life, and has had a huge impact on who I am today. When I read the email inviting me back as a Cowgirls vs. Cancer scholarship recipient, I was so honored and humbled. It is coming at a time when my soul needs a balm, and I know that I will benefit as much this time as I did last time. The Ranch camp retreat sounds like so much fun; I am already dreaming about sleeping under the clear night sky in Montana.