“Positive thinking doesn’t raise money. Stories about death and dying are what bring in the cash. I understand that. I want research money too, but not at the cost of a newly diagnosed person’s perception of hope.”
Sitting across from me in the restaurant, Diana’s face is animated and passionate. She continues, “There is a 97.3% of surviving if you get diagnosed with breast cancer, but no one focuses on that. I think more people would live just hearing that statistic and keeping a positive attitude.”
Diana and her partner, Dave Goodin, are promoters for the Texas Shredder Classic and the Texas State Naturals Championships, two very successful bodybuilding competitions held in Austin. Their shows are different from most bodybuilding contests because all contestants are drug tested to keep athletes steroid-free.
My goal was to interview her about the mechanics of running a show: what judges look for in a winning physique, tips for new contestants, funny backstage stories people would be interested to read… What I didn’t expect was to discover not only is she a breast cancer survivor, but also provides a compelling case for positive thinking.
I’m drawn to people with the ability to overcome obstacles and find empowerment in the worst situations. So, there will be future posts about The Shredder and Diana’s role in it, but today, I just want you to meet this undeniably powerful woman.
Sitting before me in her black fitted Shredderbuilt jacket, blonde hair in waves around her face, you’d never guess she was ever sick a day in her life.
“Two years ago there was a lump. No big deal…hmm; it’s not going away. I went in for a mammogram. They said, ‘It’s probably fine.’ I said, ‘No, I want an ultrasound.’ ‘You’re not scheduled,’ they said.
‘No. I need to get it done and need to get it done today.’
This was not my m.o., but something made me demanding that day. They ended up finding cancer in three places. You know you’re in trouble when they say, ‘Can you come with me?’ and lead you to a room with cherry-wood furniture and Kleenex.” She chuckles at the memory.
“A lot of women wouldn’t have insisted on an ultrasound, either from relief or from just accepting the diagnosis. It’s pretty impressive you were so assertive,” I said.
She looked away for a moment, reflecting. “I knew it wouldn’t get me. I believed I would get well. Two years later, after my double mastectomy and chemo, I got a card in the mail that said it was time for my mammogram and it hit me really hard. If I hadn’t gotten the ultrasound, it could have been too late right now and I could have been dead.“
A child at the table across from us begins to have a temper tantrum. We look briefly over and the distraction seems to have changed the trajectory of her thoughts.
“You know, the ‘what if’ doesn’t matter. I have to get strong today. What if is a waste of energy. You only have a small amount of energy and why waste it on things you can’t control? There’s nothing you can do, and chemo can suck a whole lot worse if you have a bad attitude. You know, “happy” can make “crappy” even better. I used to bring in treats every time I went in for my treatments. When I graduated from chemo, that’s what they call it – graduation, I brought in pink champagne and boas for everyone. There was a lady there who was pissed. She wanted to be miserable and she was. Why be miserable? Make the best of it.”
“How did you stay happy?”
“I worked a lot. I just started promoting Shredder, so that kept me busy too. I spent time with my family. I worked out. I only took two weeks off from my job. I was nauseous, so I would be curled in a ball in the bathroom with my laptop computer, sleeping between checking emails. Dave would laugh at me.”
“How did he handle being a caregiver?”
“Dave was fabulous. I had to eliminate the people from my life who wanted to be the ‘what if’ types. Many months after, he finally admitted how stressful it was for him, watching me go through all that pain. ‘I felt guilty complaining. How could I complain when you’re not?’ he said.”
“How did it impact your other relationships?”
“It was hard on my parents. They came down for my head shaving party and that’s it. I didn’t want them here when I wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t want them to feel bad for me.”
“You had a head shaving party???”
Her face lit up with a broad smile. “I had A Little Off The Top Party. I knew my hair would fall out so I said to Dave, ‘What do you think if we have a party? Let it be me deciding to shave my hair off instead of waiting for it to fallout in clumps in the shower when I’m alone.’ He said it was definitely ‘me’! We held it Labor Day weekend with 200 of our closest friends. Everyone had to wear a hat, scarf or wig after my hair came off. Dave and some other guys shaved their heads too. It turned out being the best thing.”
She pulled out her smart phone and showed me some photos on Facebook and I began to laugh. “That’s awesome,” I said. “What was the hardest thing about breast cancer to get through?”
“After chemo is done, at some point you feel abandoned by the doctors. For so long they tell you what to do, but they can’t tell you how to put your life back. Oncologists are really good at killing stuff. They take care of the disease, but not the person. Then they tell you it’s graduation time. My toes are turning black, I have no feeling in my hands and feet, I feel like crap, I look like crap, I have no energy, and I’m supposed to be like ‘Whoo Hoo!’??? Now what?”
“So what is the ‘Now What’? What would you like other women going through this to know?”
“Find a good nutritionist/dietician who works with cancer patients. They can help clean out all the chemo chemicals in your gut and build up your immunities. Get enough information so you can make a decision about post treatment. You can’t live life in fear of recurrence. Live your life. If it comes back, you’ll deal with it. Finally, do things incrementally.”
She still feels pain and is getting treatments at the Austin Pain & Stress Management Clinic. “Is the pain going away now?” I asked.
“Slowly. I’m working towards getting off all medicine. It’s very difficult not being in shape around fitness people. To be at the judges’ table and judge contestants…it feels hypocritical. When I’m in good physical shape I feel powerful and feel in control because I have control over my body. Cancer is never over. You always have to go back for checks. I will feel like it’s over when I can start getting in shape again. On a good day I can lift for maybe 10 minutes then I can’t walk the next day. It’s frustrating.”
We begin to pack up. I look at my phone and realize we’ve been talking for almost four hours!
“Sometimes people say to me, ‘I could never do what you did,’ and I know they mean well, but I want to tell them ‘You’d be amazed at what you can do when you have no choice.’ Unless you commit suicide you just get through it.”
“You can get through anything.“
After chemo, before her hair started growing back, she decided to do a photo shoot with Jim Allen to chronicle this point in her life; her strongest via her most vulnerable. “I didn’t think I’d show anyone this picture. I wanted to document the strength of getting through that moment. I’m really glad I didn’t have to do it without Dave. He really made a difference.”
For more information about Diana Hurley, the Texas Shredder Classic and/or the Texas State Naturals competitions, please go to the following links:
Good news update! Since this interview took place Diana, her doctor was able to prescribe her a new medication that has significantly lowered her pain levels. She was even able to exercise 18 days in a row! If anyone can do it, Diana can.
If you like inspiring stories like Diana’s, please “like” my Facebook page.
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