Diane Belden always knew breast cancer was a possibility. Because of a previous experience with cysts, she began getting mammograms in her early 30s. She had been called back for a follow-up screening before and was never worried.
But something about her call back last October seemed different. The doctor found a very small and deep lump in Diane’s breast—a lump she would not have felt for 8-10 years.
Upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, Diane turned to her neighbor and friend Janis Tillman. “Janis told me: ‘You are going to have to decide if this cancer is going to define who you are.’ It was the best advice I could have received. I said to myself: ‘Yes, I have cancer. But it is just a part of me. It is not who I am.’”
A breast cancer survivor and member of the UNC Lineberger Board of Visitors, Janis helped Diane with a referral to receive treatment at the N.C. Cancer Hospital under the care of Dr. Nancy DeMore, Dr. Claire Dees and Dr. Ellen Jones. “From my very first meeting with them, I felt I was in strong, capable, kind hands,” said Diane.
With the steadfast support of her husband, friends and family, Diane underwent a lumpectomy followed by four sessions of chemotherapy and daily radiation treatment. “My experience—at a very vulnerable time of my life—was beyond positive,” said Diane. “Where I really felt the power of the staff was in the radiation unit.”
Diane was not prepared for the draining impact of radiation. “I thought I would have all this energy—that my husband would drop me off and I would run home,” she remembered. “I was exhausted. The fatigue was overwhelming.”
The connections Diane made with the UNC Lineberger team were instrumental in helping her cope with the demanding treatment. “Radiation made me tired, but because of the staff I never once dreaded going to treatment,” she said. “It’s the little things that made such a difference.”
Compelled by the exemplary level of care she received throughout her cancer journey, Diane and her husband decided to make a donation in honor of the entire UNC Lineberger staff.
“The patient care here is so extraordinary, and I wanted to do something to honor the staff that was significant,” said Diane. “The caring is genuine. We wanted to let them know how important their service is to those going through cancer treatment.”
A UNC Lineberger tradition, patients bang a gong to celebrate the final day of radiation treatment. Although timidly tapping it at first, at the goading of staff, Diane gave the gong a solid, meaningful whack. She had tears in her eyes as she left the unit for the final time.
“I was so happy to be done with treatment but knew I was going to miss everyone. Many people can do their job well, but not everyone can do their job well and provide such excellent patient care.”