Last year, Dana Robinson shared her metastatic breast cancer story at the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network’s Annual Conference. I was sorry to learn she died last week.
At the conference, Dana introduced one of the foremost experts on breast cancer immunology. I can’t recall a single phrase from the researcher’s presentation. But I remember Dana’s words.
“Some of my friends who started this journey with me are no longer with us,” Dana said. “I can feel them cheering me on to keep pressing forward. We know that miracles are small things that happen every day. Someone has to beat all the odds while fighting this beast we call cancer – why not me? Why not you?”
Weeks later, Dana’s phrase echoed in my mind: “Miracles are small things that happen every day.” She said this in matter-of fact tones, in the same way that someone else might say “Two plus two is four,” or “i before e except after c.”
I liked that–that was Dana’s radiant faith.
When I think of Dana, I see her smile. I didn’t know her well, but her outgoing personality shone through. Two years ago, after a massive snowstorm near Washington, DC, Dana shared a photo of herself laughing as she looked at the huge snowdrift on her front porch. Some online friends, knowing Dana was having a rough time with her treatment, sent her a knitted Afghan. She was absolutely delighted–I wasn’t part of the knitter’s group, but Dana’s message (“Look at the surprise I got”) brightened my day.
Dana had previously shared her story at Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer. Dana, attended the past three events and had hoped to attend this year’s conference to be held this weekend in Philadelphia.
In 2002, Dana, then 31 years old, was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, more than a year after she first sought treatment. ” Because of my age, no family history and the fact that African-American women have high cases of fibroadenomas (a benign breast lump) – the lump went misdiagnosed,” Dana recounted. “I was told to come back and have it checked in six months. Six months later, I was told the same thing.”
The lump began to bother Dana and she insisted on surgery. Three more months passed before that happened–Dana, then in a failing marriage with two young boys at home, learned that she had invasive ductal carcinoma. “I searched the internet for information on breast cancer until I felt I had actually reached the end of the Net,” Dana said. “The information was helpful, yet overwhelming. I became more withdrawn, feeling like all hope was lost.”
Dana’s stepfather, a prostate cancer survivor told her “time heals a broken heart and trouble doesn’t last always.” Dana resolved to stand strong on her faith. “The treatment regimen was tough, but I gained this inner strength that I never knew I had,” she said. “My renewed faith gave me the will to keep going. With the support of my family and friends, I was able to work during treatment and try to keep my life as normal as possible. It was very important for me to show my boys how their mommy handled adversity.”
Dana was diagnosed with cancer again in 2004–Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In 2008, she was diagnosed with lung and bone mets. “Yet another test of faith and I decided to STAND,” she said. “We have to praise Him in the good times and the bad. I am reminded that it’s the time in the valley that makes us stronger and helps us appreciate the mountain tops.”
Almost a decade after her first breast cancer diagnosis, Dana attended the LBCC conference. “With this group I could discuss my new normal… the ups and downs, treatment options, anxiety, and the fight we all face when we are determined not to lose ourselves by feeling like a full-time patient,” she said.
Dana’s motto was Live Well, Laugh Freely and Celebrate Much.
“The road gets hard and knocks us down, but the important thing is not letting it keep us down,” she said. “We have to brush ourselves off and stand up again. As the saying goes, ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain’….Well, I have never been much of a dancer. I just don’t have any rhythm – but I have mastered the simple two-step. So as we are gathered here today, reuniting with old friends, making new ones, gaining more knowledge and tools to leave here tomorrow feeling motivated and empowered – I invite you to embrace the gift of TODAY with me…shall we dance???”
I will be the first to say that I “burned” many a book as I went through my cancer journey. I didn’t want to read about odds, magical moments and revelations, unicorns and… Well, I think you know what I mean. However, the story of Dana Robinson touched the very essence of my inner being. Something about the description of her? The fact the she and I have two boys. That we share a secret that is only known to survivors. Everyone can say “I know how you feel.” Too many are finding out. Dana will surely live on in the hearts of her sons, and a piece of her will go on to those that were fortunate enough to hear her speak. Although I was not one of them, I hope that today Dana is “dancing in the rain!”
A beautifully sad story of yet another brilliant life snatched from this life too early. It sounds that those who received a touch from Dana were blessed. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for sharing Dana’s story
Thank you for sharing this. Dana Robinson was a miracle every day.
Dana was a very close dear friend of mine. This article speaks volumes to the testament of the type of person she was. She touched so many of our lives in different and such a deep ways. We are missing her terribly but know that her love for life, beautiful smile and warm spirit live on in her children and family and us, her extended chosen family.
I was very touched by this story. I unfortunatley know all too much about breast cancer. People like Dana are an inspiration and one of the reasons I continue to fight so hard. Thank you for being a true hero. You will never be forgotten.
THis was quite BEAUTIFUL! Such a wonderful spirit!
To know Dana was to love her. She was a fighter till the end and encouraged her Family and Friends to Live, Laugh and Love more every day even in the midst of adversity. We loved her sooooo much but God loved her enough to take her higher, higher and higher to live in his Mansion. She loved her boys and her family very much and we will surround her boys with Love and more Love to get through this storm in their lives. I was moved by her life and her stories which touch so many lives. If she touched you, you were Touched By An Angel!!! She’s Free. I will never forget her sweet personality and her Smile that would brighten up a room, your day and your life when she graced you with her presence!
Dana is a personal friend who asked me about 4 years ago to document her life in pictures.I was privileged to learn about life and truly living through her … Thank you for Honoring Dana this way, she would have loved it . She Lived, She Loved and She Laughed, Cancer did not break her and i hope and pray for all that are fighting the same fight. choose to live like she did , she is my hero.
If only you could have met her……Dana was one of my sista-friends in a circle of ten and to say she profoundly touched each one of us is a gross understatement. Fly free my dearest Dana….luv u forever!
Thank you for posting your story breast cancer has affected my family along with myself, It is a tough thing to overcome
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