“What room is Dana in?” was the question on nearly every woman’s lips at our annual breast cancer retreat. We all knew that where there was Dana, there was fun, laughter and music. With more than 200 women attending the retreat each year, it is impossible to get to know everyone. Over the years, we have formed our own little groups, or cliques you could say. But everyone seemed to know Dana and she was considered a part of every group. She “belonged” to all of us. She was our Rock Star!
“Believe” was Dana’s motto.
Dana was the first of my survivor sisters to reach out to me after I was diagnosed. Soon after discovering my blog, she messaged me on Facebook to assure me that everything would be ok. She had battled and beaten stage 2 breast cancer just one year prior to my diagnosis. I cannot tell you what a relief it was to read the words of encouragement from her. At 44 years old, my experience of breast cancer was, for the most part, hearing about little old ladies, who eventually succumbed to the disease. But there was Dana, a survivor at just 32 years old. “Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that you have to die, Flo,” she encouraged me. “We have lots of years left to live!”
Dana and I at our annual breast cancer retreat.
Over the following months, as I underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatments and a mastectomy, Dana was always there, cheering me on. Although we had not met in person at that time, she became my mentor. I opened her emails and Facebook messages as if they were a gift: The gift of hope.
Then, just three months after she first contacted me, she sent me a message that turned my world upside down. Her cancer had come back and this time it was stage 4. I was devastated! At that point, I was still going through my treatments and I didn’t know what the outcome would be for me. Dana was my hope and my inspiration. Because she had beaten cancer, I believed that I too could beat it. But with her stage 4 diagnosis, I lost faith in my own ability to survive. However Dana remained positive even in the face of this terminal diagnosis. She never lost hope, and she never, ever lost her faith and will to live. Seeing her strength and her will to survive gave me back mine.
Dana was a friend to all, and a better friend you could never ask for. I was privileged to meet some of her family and through them, I learned how Dana excelled, not just at being a friend, but also at being a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister. Sometimes when I was worried about Dana, I would creep her Facebook page to see what she was posting. Like me, she was very open about her disease and would sometimes post about her health status. One night, just about a week before she died, I could not get her off my mind. I checked her Facebook page and there was a post, “Dollhouse for sale.” I smiled believing that death could not be close if she was still dealing with mundane, day to day things like de-cluttering her home. But that was Dana; being a good mom right to the end. Her husband, Todd, told me that after she passed, he was becoming frustrated with some paper work that he had to do. Then he discovered that she had filled out these papers before she died, to save him the frustration. Even in the face of death, Dana continued to take care of her children and her beloved husband.
Dana and her beautiful family.
Although I could see Dana getting sicker and weaker over the past several months, she continued to live every moment to the fullest and spread love and joy everywhere she went. What continues to inspire me most about Dana however, is not how she lived her life, but how she faced her death. I recently read this passage, written by Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl:
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he picks up his cross, gives him ample opportunity-even under the most difficult circumstances-to add deeper meaning to his life. He may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal…….It is true that only a few are capable of reaching such high moral standards.
Dana is one of the few who was truly capable of reaching these high moral standards. I can only imagine the anguish that I would suffer at the thought of leaving three children and a loving husband. But just weeks before her passing, Dana said that she was not afraid, nor was she bitter or resentful. She told her friends that she experienced a peace that was beyond understanding. She remained brave, dignified and unselfish to the very end. Dana died just as she lived her life: with grace.
There is an old expression, “Only the good die young.” I believe that there is some truth to that. I believe that our souls come to this earthly plane to achieve greater levels of goodness (or Godliness), and to help other souls to grow and to evolve. There is a key truth that our souls must learn, but not only learn, we also must live this truth before we are ready to leave this world. Some learn to live that simple truth in a short life span, while others die after living a long life without ever having discovered it. The truth is this: Love is all that matters. Dana lived that truth every day. The love that she showed to her friends, her family, Johnny Reid, (who was as much a fan of hers as she was to him), and all who she met, was so pure and genuine. Dana just had that way of spreading love and joy everywhere she went. And that is why we, her survivor sisters, swarmed to her like bees to honey. Just to be in her presence was a gift.
Dana was a great fan of Johnny Reid, and he was a fan of hers.
The last words I spoke to Dana were through the same medium as the first words we spoke, a Facebook message.
-“Sending you lots of love, Dana.”
-“I love you too, Florence. Xoxo”
Thank you for the gift of your friendship and for the gift of your love, my friend. Rest in peace.
Dana singing her song at the launch of “100 Perks of Having Cancer”