Tag Archive | Dana Blackwood Cox

Dana’s Gift: A Tribute

 

“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!

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“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!”

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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.

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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.

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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”

…3…2…1…Blast Off!!!

blast off

“Houston, we have lift off”  were the words echoing through my mind when the Perks of Cancer Booth opened in Nashville on August 23rd, officially launching our book into the world!  Literally within seconds we were swamped by fans, in a mob-like frenzy, charging at us for a chance to get an autographed copy.  I cringed as I saw one elderly lady with a walker being pushed over by a couple of younger cancer survivors.  Luckily, Susan shouted to security to help her up before she got trampled by the fans.  It was like a scene from an English football match, I tell you.  Gone mad, they were!  As the last copy was sold, a hush fell over the crowd and then, with what looked like a re-enactment of the Cabbage Patch Kid Frenzy of the early nineties, a roar went up as they tried to snatch books from one another.  My panic was rising and I was seriously considering bolting for the nearest exit, when……………. Shawn nudged me and I woke up.

But seriously folks, the launch was a great success, and both Susan and I are simply thrilled with all the great connections and new friends we made in Nashville.   I am sure you will be hearing lots more about this adventure in future posts, but for now, I would love to share with you just a few highlights of the trip:

DSCN3995[1]The Perks of Cancer Team at the National Women’s Survivors Convention in Nashville!

The Fashion Show:  Much to my surprise, I was chosen to be one of 12 cancer survivor models at a fashion show on Friday night, modeling really cool and comfy Coldwater Creek clothes.   It all started with a make-over, where a whole team worked on me for well over an hour, fussing with my hair and make-up to make me fit for the bright lights of the runway.  They really made me feel like a super star!  I sat with bated breath, as I watched my co-models being transformed before my very eyes from ordinary women to gorgeous cover girls.  I just could not wait to see how I looked!  So you can only imagine my horror when they swung me around to see myself in the mirror, and what I saw was a drag queen looking back at me.  And I don’t mean one of those really sexy drag queens who throws you for a loop when you hear a man’s voice coming from a woman’s body.  Nope.  I was a butt ugly drag queen, with spiked hair and the eyebrows of Groucho Marks.  If I had opened my mouth to speak, I am sure people would have pointed to me and shouted, “Oh my God, that drag queen sounds just like a real woman!” And mothers would pull away their petrified children whispering, “Don’t stare at him, it’s not polite!”  (BTW no offence to drag queens….I wish I looked half as sexy as y’all.)  However, when I explained that I did not want to look like an edgy-punk-rocker-model, I wanted to look like a middle-aged-cancer-survivor-model, they fixed me up right pretty. As a PERK, I got to keep one of the outfits I modeled.   (Thanks Melanie and the folks from Coldwater Creek for the opportunity, it was awesome!)

modelFlo the model, with Susan, the Model Buddy

Dana’s Song:  My friend Dana Blackwood Cox is a phenomenal woman, who is not just surviving with cancer, she is sur-Thriving!  Although she is living with metastatic breast cancer, she continues to inspire others through her music and her winning attitude.  At the convention, she had the opportunity to sing her song “No Time for You” on stage and she rocked the friggin’ house!  I am so proud to call her my friend.  Dana hooked up with a big time songwriter in Nashville (FYI…he co-wrote the Dirty Dancing song “She’s Like The Wind” with THE Patrick Swayze.  How cool is THAT?).   So remember that name, folks:  Dana Blackwood Cox, cause y’all just might be seeing her on stage at the Grand Ole Opry some day!   A big Newfie thank you to the organizers, especially Karyn, Judy and Melanie who helped to make Dana’s dream come true.  You ladies rock!

DanaDana, with her signature “Believe” guitar, giving one of her many performances.

Grand Ole Opry:  No trip to Nashville would be complete without a visit to the Grand Ole Opry, and what an experience that was!  I just cannot put into words the feeling that came over me as I sat so close to the stage where every major country super star has made an appearance.  We had pre-purchased our tickets to see Martina McBride, and I was expecting a “Martina McBride concert.”  However what we got was not a concert, but the full Opry experience:  a star lined show with performances by legendary singers, like Ricky Skaggs (A Simple Life), John Conlee (Rose Colored Glasses) and  Jeannie Seely (Ode to Billy Joe), just to name a few.  A lot of them were Golden Oldies, I will admit (so old in fact that it prompted Shawn to say, “Jeeze, next they will be wheeling them out in coffins to perform!”).  But there was nothing “old” about Martina McBride.  Her music is so touching.  There was not a dry eye in the place, least of all mine, when she sang, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”, which is an anthem for many women cancer survivors.

MartinaMartina McBride at the Grand Ole Opry

So there you have it y’all, lots of laughs and loads of great memories.  I am actually writing this post while sitting on a Greyhound bus en route to Memphis where I will finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief and just have some fun after working so hard at my book launch.  So stay tuned for the sequel to this post when I share with you my experiences in Memphis…..a post which I will likely title, “The Hangover”.

hangoever-copy(Oh yeah, and in case you haven’t noticed, I picked up a new word down South.  Can y’all guess what it is?).

 

Perk # 83: Cancer Gave Me A Cause

It’s not like I didn’t have plenty of “causes” to choose from before getting cancer.  Between grappling with anxiety for much of my life, being a single parent, and having a child with autism, I have enough causes to write my own “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book.  I am not the type to take things lying down, and each challenge in life has kicked me into action.  For example, to help me be a better autism mom, I have become a self-made expert in the area of autism (really, ask me anything). I have also read hundreds of self help books to help me cope with my anxiety.  However cancer is the one thing that has motivated me to action to help other people, and therefore I consider it  my cause.  Before you block me from Facebook, or change your phone number, I assure you I will not come to you looking for money to support my cause (well, hardly ever).  You see, my cause is not to raise money, or to help find a cure for cancer, but rather to help others living with this disease to adopt a more positive attitude.  I have therefore decided that when I feel strong and healthy enough, I am going to enroll into a program of study to become a Certified Cancer Coach.

In the past year, I have endured countless tests and procedures, three surgeries resulting in the loss of left breast and associated lymph nodes, six rounds of chemo therapy and 25 radiation treatments.  In that same year, I met my soul mate and fell in love, I started blogging, I accepted an offer to be guest speaker at a breast cancer event, and I was published in a popular national magazine .  The moral of the story is this: just because you have cancer, does not mean that you have to lie down and die.  Best selling author Jon Kabat-Zinn says: “…as long as you are breathing there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel.”   Even if the cancer has advanced to stage 4, life goes on.  Take my new friend, Dana Blackwood Cox, for example.   Despite having recently discovered that her breast cancer has metastasized, she is recording her first album and her song, “No Time For You” will help to raise money for breast cancer.  Now that is what I call living life to its fullest!

Dana, singing "No Time For You"

 

Tip:  Don’t let cancer put your dreams on hold.  Live every day to its fullest.