Many of us have our eyes glued to the television sets this week as we watch Olympic athletes compete with the best of the best. But we think the American spirit includes those dedicated, every day athletes who face tremendous challenges. They just have never received a medal. Here’s one of those athletes. Her name is Diane Diver and she lives in Savannah. I met her last Wednesday.
“I’m going to go out and run six and a half miles,” Diane tells me.
It’s still pitch black, a little before 5:30 a.m. And I am barely awake. But she is perky and seems filled with energy. And she has a big goal in mind. “I’m training for the New York Marathon which will be the first Sunday in November,” Diane tells me.
And she is no stranger to endurance and running the long race. Last October, she competed in the Chicago Marathon. A picture of her shows a smiling, happy woman who is on top of the world. Who wouldn’t be? She felt great and had just completed a milestone in her life.
She came home to Savannah and the very next week she went in for a mammogram. No big deal, right? She was a healthy woman, probably healthier than most sitting in the waiting room. But cancer plays cruel jokes on all its victims, even ones like Diane who can run 26 miles one week and find out they have breast cancer the next.
“So, the Thursday before Thanksgiving I had a partial Mastectomy which was followed by 32 rounds of radiation,” she tells me matter of factly. But you’ll soon find that’s her style. It’s about the race. Prepare, show up, put one foot in front of the other. That’s how she approached her recovery. At first, the doctor told her she could only walk. (Hey, some of us don’t do that, right?) But within a short time, she was told she could run again. And so that’s what happened. Once again, she began getting up early in the morning with the cloak of darkness as her only companion and hitting the pavement.
“The worst part about getting breast cancer is not knowing what to expect. You don’t know how much pain you will have, you don’t know how tired you’re going to be,” she told me. “But being able to have some goals in mind and being able to talk with other survivors really made it a lot easier to go through and know that there were to help me as I was going through the journey.”
And now the “journey” seems to have taken on new meaning. It’s not just running toward a goal, but perhaps running for her life, for that sense of normalcy that all who have heard the words “you have cancer” strive to restore. But Diane pushes through every day.
“When you’re training you’re have different things you’re focusing on; developing speed, developing endurance and being able to get through the worst part of the marathon which is usually about mile 23. That’s when the muscles freeze up, that’s when your body says I don’t want to go anymore and your mental toughness says let’s go,” she told me. “It’s the same thing when I was going through radiation. There were days a the end of thew eek when I was just weary and I didn’t want to keep going. And so that gave me the mental toughness to say – okay today you’re going to get up you’re going to get up. You may not be able to do everything that you want to do but you’re going to get out of the bed, put one foot in front of the other and not let cancer beat you.”