FORT POLK, La. –
Editor's Note: This article was originally published October 2, 2020. Cancer does not care. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor; old or young; male or female ... it doesn't discriminate. Our hope is you will read Dyan's story and understand the importance of self breast exams and annual screenings.
Have you ever had a best friend? My college roommate, Dyan and I became instant best friends when we met in our Witte Hall Dormitory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in August of 1990.
Dyan was from the small town of Waupaca in northern Wisconsin and I came from Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee. She was a huge Metallica fan with a major crush on Kirk Hammett. She had mall hair and used aqua net hair spray by the can. I was a Janis Joplin wannabe on the verge of grunge, my wardrobe consisted of tie-dyes, flannel shirts and Birkenstock sandals. We came from different worlds, but we clicked instantly.
We were both wild. We loved to go to parties and concerts. We did so many crazy things, my college experience was tied to our friendship. It was rare to find one of us without the other. We were always up for an adventure. She and I got to see Guns and Roses, Tesla, Metallica, Pearl Jam, and many more big name bands perform live. When I look back at those years together, I’m thankful we made it out alive. We didn’t always have the best judgement.
After graduation we stayed in touch. She moved to Hawaii, then New Mexico and finally returned to Madison, Wisconsin. I moved to Berkley, California, then Spokane, Washington before deciding to join the Army.
We wrote letters and talked on the phone regularly. While I was stationed in Germany she came to visit. After my son was born she came to Fort Riley, Kansas and took a road trip with us.
Dyan was the person I would call when I was angry, upset, and happy or had exciting news. We shared our secrets. We confided in one another. She was always there for me, and I was there for her. We used to joke that when we were old ladies, we’d be roommates again in the nursing home.
Dyan was my best friend. She was such an amazing person. I know many people considered her to be their best friend, too. There was never a person on this Earth, with a bigger heart. Her smile and laugh were infectious. Her very existence made this world a better place.
After Dyan moved back to Wisconsin, she decided that an art degree from the University of Wisconsin wasn’t going to pay her bills so she attended Madison Area Technical College to become a radiologic technologist. My step-mom, Karen, was one of her instructors.
She worked at St. Mary’s Hospital and in December of 2007 she did an ultra sound on herself. She had noticed lump in her breast and had to find out if it was breast cancer.
In January of 2008 Dyan was diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of breast cancer. Her oncologist first tried to radiate the lump, with the hope of shrinking and removing it. Unfortunately, by the time the radiation was completed, the cancer had metastasized to her lymph nodes.
With advanced stage 4 cancer, she ended up having a full mastectomy, chemotherapy and even tried some experimental therapies that left her feeling terrible. By October of 2008 she decided not to continue treatments.
I’m sure you have heard it before, but cancer really does suck. It sucks for those afflicted by it. The chemical therapies ravish the body, radiation causes hair loss, nausea and fatigue while the surgical treatments leave the patients scarred and permanently disfigured. Some say the treatment is worse than the disease, but to survive, most patients will do just about anything to fight it.
It sucks for family and friends watching their loved ones go through the ordeal, often leaving them feeling helpless, longing to do more.
Watching my friend fight, accept and inevitably surrender to her fate was heart breaking. I decided to get a tattoo. I remember telling Dyan I wanted one as show of solidarity. (we got our first together at Steve’s Tattoo Parlor in 1991). A tattoo, like cancer, leaves scars and can be painful. I chose a badger claw as a nod to the University of Wisconsin where our friendship was formed. The badger is bold and ferocious when cornered, the badger reminds us to never surrender. I wanted her to know that she was not alone and that we, her family and friends, would be there with her through it all.
I was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri during this time and am so thankful that I was able to drive to Madison, Wisconsin every long weekend to spend time with her. During those months I wished I lived closer. I wished I could make her meals or go to appointments with her. There are a lot of things I wish.
I wish she was still here!
In February 2009 we moved to Fort Carson, Colorado. It was hard being so far away, unable to see Dyan on a regular basis. We talked pretty regularly, but she never let on how she was actually doing. She never shared that the cancer had spread throughout body. She never told me everything hurt. She never told me that normal bodily functions were difficult and that every moment of every day she was in pain.
On March 1, 2009, Dyan came to Colorado. Her husband, Trevor, brought her to see me, our friend Sara in Arizona and to knock a few things off of her bucket list.
We ate at Famous Dave’s BBQ and it hit me then how much the cancer had destroyed her body. I remember telling her, we could walk to the restaurant from the hotel and she said, “No, I can’t.” Hearing that from the most vivacious, energetic, up-for-anything person, made me understand that it was the last time I would ever see my friend.
I cried the entire drive home.
Twenty-two days later, Dyan passed away in her home surrounded by family and friends. It’s hard to believe she has been gone for more than 11 years. I still think about her regularly. This weekend cleaning my house, listening to the Amazon Music All 90s station, I thought of my friend and all of the memories we shared.
I miss her!
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. There are more than 230,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed annually. One in every eight women has a lifetime risk of contracting breast cancer. Your mom, your sister, your best friend, or you might get the diagnosis.
My experience with my friend Dyan is not unique. Many people know someone who has lost their battle with breast cancer. At Dyan’s funeral and celebration of life party, there were more than 100 people in attendance. She touched so many during her 37 years on Earth. Her battle, her life, even her death have affected countless people around the country.
Since her diagnosis my grandma, Mardis, my mother-in-law, Bonnie, and my friend, Elsa, have both beaten breast cancer. My mom has had several non-cancerous lumps removed and my friend Stacey, recently diagnosed, is fighting the disease right now. Breast cancer has touched so many lives.
As of January 2019, there are more than 3.1 million women with a history of breast cancer in our country. A woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first degree relative (mother, sister or father) who has been diagnosed.
Getting a mammogram, can save your life. Finding breast cancer early increases survivability rates by 70%. That reminds me, I’m overdue for my screening.
During Breast Cancer Awareness month, remember that this disease is not a pretty pink ribbon. It’s an ugly, heart-wrenching illness that takes a toll on those afflicted. Remember those who have fought and lost their battle, like my friend Dyan. Remember to take care of yourselves, do self-exams and if you are over 40, schedule your annual mammogram. Most importantly, take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise regularly, if you smoke quit and live a long and healthy life.