I have a special guest post today….since the moment that I saw this amazing woman speak in 2006, she has been an inspiration to me…..Her strength and love of life warms the heart of all who have the pleasure of getting to know her.
I didn’t get that pleasure until I started working for the Canadian Cancer Society.
After everything I had been through with my mom, all I wanted to do was continue her fight….help save more lives faster….shortly after I joined the staff of the Canadian Cancer Society Saskatchewan Division, I started to learn more about this amazing woman I had the pleasure of hearing speak at Relay For Life in 2006. The more I learnt about Dionne Warner, the more I knew I needed to meet her. In March of 2011, I received and email from our national office…it was a call for applications for the American Cancer Society International Hero of Hope program. I knew that Dionne would be perfect, she had been such an inspiration to me and I hadn’t even met her yet.
I started my research for the application. I contacted the publisher of her book, “Never Leave Your Wing Man,” Deana Driver. After Deana filled me with all the knowledge and facts surrounding Dionne’s life and Journey…It was time for my first nervous phone call to Dionne to make sure she was ok with us nominating her for this program. That first phone call was full of laughs and tears, it was like we had known each other for years.
The more I got to know Dionne, the more my view of cancer changed….Dionne had helped me to see the blessings that have come with my mom’s journey….For example, I gained a connection with my dad that may not have happened other wise, probably woudl not have gotten involved in Relay For Life or that the opportunity to have the most amazing job I could have ever hoped for. But most of all I would not have the opportunity to travel the province meeting people and hear their story of why they Relay, like Dionne.
Dionne, you are a wonderful woman, an inspiration and I feel so blessed to have gotten to know you. I was so excited when I heard your amazing news that I wanted to be able to share your story of hope and inspiration with everyone.
So without further adue, here to tell you her story is Dionne Warner.
My story begins back in Ontario, where I was born and raised by parents of Jamaican descent.
The year was now 1995 and I was 29 and getting married in a week, when during a routine breast self examination I felt a lump in my right breast. I can remember thinking this can’t be, I am too young and I am getting married in a week.
That morning I mentioned it to my girlfriends at work what I had found. They had convinced me it was nothing to worry about. Lumps and bumps show up and disappear all the time. In my mind and at that time they said all the right things.
I married in October 1995 and celebrated my 30th birthday while on our honeymoon.
Upon return home I continued to feel this lump in my breast. I realized it was now time to make an appointment with my family Dr. to get this looked at as soon as possible. No more procrastinating.
The first Dr. told me it was nothing to worry about. I felt I needed a second opinion and so did my family. The second Dr. returned with my results and asked if there was anyone in the waiting room for me, I replied “NO”. I knew then my life would forever change from the expression on her face. On November 10th 1995 I was diagnosed with stage 2-3 Breast Cancer. I truly believe it was getting that second opinion that helped saved my life.
I must say it was a long drive home from the hospital that day. Upon arrival I contacted my husband, family and friends to share my news. These were the hardest phone calls I ever had to make, so I thought at the time. They of course were all just as shocked as me. That evening the love and support of family and friends that consumed our home was incredible. I was not alone in this fight.
On November 14th 1995 a lumpectomy was performed. What would follow next was 6 months of intense chemotherapy, and for 1 month, everyday, a treatment of radiation.
My hair at the time was long, dark and curly. I watched it gradually fall out. It was devastating to me. I was 30, just married, diagnosed with Breast Cancer and bald. Who knew “In Sickness and Health” was about to kick in sooner rather than later.
I was so excited to return to work a year later with my new wig in place and whole new outlook on life and what was really important to me.
It was now the summer of June 29th 1997 and I was Matron of Honor at my girlfriends wedding. We had danced up a storm that night. The next day I was home alone and on the phone with a friend when I had a seizure, something I had never experienced before. I managed to tell my girlfriend something was wrong. She called 911.
The evening of June 30th I was diagnosed with Brain Cancer. All I could think about at the time was thank goodness this did not happen at my girlfriends wedding. My family and friends once again rallied around my husband and I with their love, support and kindness as the food just kept coming to the point that we could close our fridge. They also believed I had the courage and strength to get through this. I knew in my heart I did not want to disappoint any of them.
July 11th and September 4th 1997 were the dates of my surgeries to successfully remove the tumor. I remember waking up and looking like a Q-tip with my head all bandaged up each time.
When I was released 24 hours after each surgery, which was a shock in itself to my family and me, the bandages were removed and a dressing placed over my staples. I looked like I had caught an Always maxi pad with wings on my head in the wind. I could not stop myself from laughing. It was also nice to have my family laughing with me.
I was told by the Surgeon that if I did not have the second surgery I would have not seen Christmas that year.
At the end of year 2000 many changes occurred in my life, such as, a divorce, an engagement to the man I should have married ( Graham asked me to add that little plug, and I am proud to say he was right) and then a big move to Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada on January 1st 2001. Graham said it never got below -10 to entice me to move to Regina. Oh yeah, and something about a dry cold. Funny thing, nothing was ever mentioned about a wind chill factor.
I was now living in Regina 3 months, and in the midst of planning our wedding, I was not feeling very well one afternoon and mentioned it to Graham. He wasted no time getting me to Emergency. The Dr. on call admitted me right away after viewing my case history. He ran various tests over a few days thinking it was Kidney stones I was passing.
When the Dr. arrived at my room on the evening of March 28th 2001 the first words he said were, where was Graham? I could tell by his facial expression the news was not good. I said Graham was out for dinner with his kids and would return later. The Dr. said he would come back. I ask him to please stay and tell me what he had found so I could have sometime to absorb it myself first. He hesitated more than once trust me, then he looked at me and said I had Liver Cancer. Something he never expected to find. I think he was more in shock than I was at that moment to be honest.
I quickly called my family back in Ontario before Graham arrived and gave them the news. They all requested that I return to Ontario because the doctors there knew me and my case history. I honestly was not sure what I was going to do at this point. Then Graham arrived, I took a deep breath, tried to hold my tears back and shared my results with him. I then said he did not have to marry me and I would go back to my family and Dr.’s back in Ontario.
The next words Graham said to me took my breath away. Graham looked at me and said “You Never Leave Your Wingman”. I knew at that very moment Regina was my home, I was not alone, and that together Graham and I would get through this. He crawled into my hospital bed that night and held me tight and made me feel safe.
I was so grateful to have my case assigned to an Oncology Dr .at the Allan Blair Cancer clinic who has great compassion for his patients. You could tell when we hurt, so did he. I also felt he would do anything for his patients as long as we were willing to try, had the right attitude and believed in “HOPE”. I must say I passed that test with flying colors.
The next question was, “Is the tumor operable”? This would depend on the location of the tumor and size. The first Liver specialist I saw was in Calgary. Upon looking at my CT Scan he decided that surgery was not an option in his eyes. Graham, had already contacted the Mayo Clinic in the states and they were eager to meet with us. Then with great relief a Dr. at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon was willing to meet with Graham and I to discuss my report. Upon looking at the scan results he was willing to do the surgery. This was great news for me, Graham our family and friends.
On May 28th 2001 the tumor was successfully removed along with 51% of my Liver and Gall bladder. I remained in hospital for 2 weeks in recovery to rebuild my strength. Chemotherapy treatment would follow when we returned home to Regina.
I knew I would lose my hair for the second time. So I decided to take control and instead of watching it all fall out again I had a shaving party. My girlfriend shaved my head and Graham volunteered to shave his, I looked at him and said “Babe I know my hair will grow back, however, I cannot guarantee yours will”. We all laughed and he kept his hair.
With treatment completed and feeling good, I was happily back to planning our wedding.
It was decided that having children was not an option in my life due to my Cancer case history. My ovaries were removed on December 13th 2001. At the age of 36 I was now welcomed into the crazy world of menopause, night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings and Osteoporosis.
The date was now August 27th, 2002 and 6 months had now past since my liver cancer diagnosis and successful surgery. I had just completed my routine CT Scan. Graham & I awaited the Dr.’s arrival to share the results of my report. His face said it all when he walked into the room. It was not good news. My report showed another tumor in my Liver this time on the other side.
The look of disbelief was in all of our faces. I took a deep breath and asked, “was another surgery possible”? Can we rip this sucker out!!!??
My Dr. replied, he had already placed a phone call to the surgeon in Saskatoon and was awaiting his reply. We got the call, it was good news, the Dr. agreed that another surgery could be performed as my liver had just enough time to rejuvenate itself enough.
I only had one wish before I had the surgery and that was the chance to marry my soul-mate Graham, back in Ontario surrounded by our family and friends. I am happy to say we were granted that wish on October 11th 2002. It was the most beautiful day of my life thanks to Graham. Unfortunately the honeymoon would have to wait as we knew we needed to head up to Saskatoon as soon as possible.
On October 28th 2002 I am happy to say the tumor was once again successfully removed along with 31% of my Liver. Two weeks later we were on our way home from the hospital counting our blessings all the way.
It was at my 1-year check-up, results “CLEAR” that my Oncologist shared an interesting story with Graham and I. He told us about a conference he attended in the states, and how he brought up my case history, plus the recent discovery of Cancer in my Liver. He then proceeded to ask each Dr. at his table of 10 would they operate. 8 of the 10 Dr.’s replied “No”!
He then proceeded to tell them, not only did she have one surgery but she has had two Liver surgeries and you would never know it to look at her. Apparently they were all very surprised. My Dr. then proceeded to tell Graham and I “That sometimes it pays to think outside the box”. I believe those are words to live by.
I personally felt the need to give back and help other patients on their journey through cancer. So I began volunteering at the Allan Blair Cancer Clinic. Many have said “To look at me you would never know”. I had one patient say to me as I was fixing wigs in the wig room that “I was to pretty to be looking after sick people”. Note, at this time I had a full head of hair. I asked her to take a look at a photo in the wig room of a patient with no hair. She gasped and said “What woman would let someone take a picture of her looking like that”? I then proceeded to tell her that the photo was of me and that I was a 4X Cancer Survivor.
At that moment you could have heard a pin drop, she then looked at me, took my hand and said, “My Dear if I look as good as you when I am finished my treatments it will all have been worth it”. We both giggled and hugged one another. I believed at that very moment she understood why I needed and wanted to be at the Clinic to give other patients and their families “Hope” and to hear their stories of inspiration to continue to inspire me.
The year was now 2009 and I have been cancer free for 7 years. All was fabulous. I was enjoying life with my husband, my family and friends. “LIFE WAS GOOD”! Who knew that was all about to change once again. Hang on to your seats everyone.
On December 9th 2009 after a routine scan I was diagnosed with stage 4 Bone Cancer in my Spine, Ribs and Pelvic area. Lung Cancer, and I have never smoked a day in my life and the return of Liver Cancer.
I became a “Warrior” that day in the fight for my life. I continue to believe in Hope, Faith, Medicine and Miracles. I am a person of great determination to beat the odds and to never give up. I ask all survivors to embrace the disease, own it and “Fight Back”! Show your Cancer Who’s Boss!!!! I know my Cancers are in shock and running scared!!!!! Can I get a “Whoo Hoo”!!!
My first chemo treatment was on December 17th 2009. I decided I was going to dress up like a Warrior, paint and all and walk into that chemo room with my bright “Cancer Sucks” t-shirt on.
From that day forward Graham and I have continued to dress in costume to various themes dancing our way into chemo. We have presented 78 themes to date, such as Disco, Save the Ta Ta’s and how about Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy just to name a few.
Graham and I wanted to make the chemo room a happy place and bring smiles and giggles to the patients and nurses faces. We believe we were doing that.
On May 6th 2010 I was honored to be presented with the Community Leadership and Enhancement Women of Distinction award for my volunteer work in Regina.
On June 16th 2011 the launch of our book “Never Leave Your Wingman” written and published by Deana Driver from Regina was born. It is our journey filled with Hope, Love and Inspiration. We are very excited to have sold over a 2,800 copies so far. The book has reached places as far as the Netherlands, New Zealand, London, England, Jamaica and the Philippines just to name a few. The book also contains 32 colored pages of photos of some of our themes and treatments I did in Mexico. Graham & I wanted to show that there is life before, during and after Cancer. We will have you laughing when you never expected it.
In July 2011 I was honored as one of 4 Canadians by the American Cancer Society to be one of their 32 International Heroes of Hope Ambassadors from across the world. I am truly excited fulfilling this role!
News Flash Update:
Graham and I are ecstatic to share with our readers that after successfully completing a PET Scan January 17th in Winnipeg, Manitoba we received our results of this scan on January 24th and it was mind blowing to say the least.
My Oncologist told me I was officially in “REMISSION”. He also told me that I had far exceeded his expectations and truly was a walking miracle. Graham and I continue to pinch ourselves after hearing this amazing news “WHOO HOO”!! “WHOO HOO”!!!!
These were the greatest phone calls we would make.
I will never say this journey has been easy, I always give myself 24 hours to say “WHY ME” and then after those 24 hours I would come to my senses and say “WHY NOT ME” and what am I going to do to “Fight Back”. The answer is “NEVER GIVE UP OR GIVE IN”!
I ask everyone to keep “HOPE” alive, to treat each day as a precious gift and to live your life with no regrets.
Warner Warrior Dionne