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.
“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 I became more withdrawn, feeling like all hope was lost.”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???”