Remarkable story of survival inspires Relay for Life walkers

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Eight time cancer survivor Dionne Warner was the inspiring speaker during the kick-off of the Relay for Life in Swift Current on June 1.

Eight time cancer survivor Dionne Warner was the inspiring speaker during the kick-off of the Relay for Life in Swift Current on June 1.

"Yes, you heard me correctly. I have survived and been diagnosed eight different times, including one diagnosis for the fourth time," Warner said proudly from the Relay for Life stage at Riverside Park.

As a survivor of some of the most lethal cancers, Warner shared her touching journey through numerous diagnosis, endless treatments, and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.

"I ask everyone to please believe in hope, faith and miracles, for this evening you are looking at one. I stand in front of you, at the age of 47: a 17-year breast cancer survivor; a 15-year brain cancer survivor; a 12-year liver cancer survivor; a three-year bone cancer survivor; and a three-year lung cancer survivor. And I can promise you this, you have not seen or heard the last of this warrior!"

She received a diagnosis of stage two/three breast cancer just a week after getting married in 1995 at the age of 29. In the summer of 1997, a day after serving as matron of honour at girlfriend's wedding, she had a seizure while led to the diagnosis of brain cancer.

She was cancer free for almost three years but in 2001 her battles against cancer resumed when liver cancer was detected. At this time she was planning remarry to her now husband Graham, but she did not want to put him though the pain of her cancer and offered to move back to family in Ontario.

"At this point I wasn't sure what I was going to do. Then Graham arrived. I took a deep breath, held back my tears, and told him I had Liver Cancer and that he did not have to marry me. I would go back home," she recalled. "Graham, an avid pilot, at my bedside took my hand, looked at me and said, 'you never leave your wingman.' At that moment, I knew I was not alone, that Regina was my home, and that together Graham and I would get through this."

The couple did marry in October 2002, but they cut their honeymoon short to undergo a second surgery for liver cancer.

Warner had a lengthy seven year period of being cancer, a time which allowed her to volunteer at the Allan Blair Cancer Centre in Regina in order to salute the wonderful patients, families, doctors, nurses she had met on her cancer journey.

"I wanted patients to see hope standing in front of them."

Her toughest battle came following devastating news in 2009 when she was diagnosed with Stage 4/Palliative bone cancer in her spine, ribs, pelvic area, along with lung cancer and third diagnosis of liver cancer. As surgery was not an option, she once again stayed on high road during her journey.

At her first chemo treatment, she was decked out in her pink Cancer Sucks t-shirt, she walked into the chemo ward with war paint on her face, ready for battle.

"It was after that very memorable day, and the wonderful reaction from nurses, doctors and patients, that we continued to dress in costume and themes for every treatment I had."

She points out she and Graham did a total of 78 costume themes, including disco, pirates, Rider Pride, and cowboy/cowgirl.

"Our friends and family were saying 'have fun at chemo!' Now how often do you hear that?"

Graham documented the themes and various treatments during email updates, and the "My Beautiful Dionne" emails were widely delivered to inspire others.

In the midst of treatment they met Regina author Deana Driver who felt this story must be shared, helping others believe in hope and miracles.

"Never Leave Your Wingman" is now available at all Chapters and Coles bookstores across Canada.

"Our book is about keeping hope alive. It is a happy book, we like to say."

In January 2012, after a routine scan, her doctor was smiling ear to ear while delivering the incredible news that the scan showed no trace of the cancer that they had found in 2009.

"He said it was a total miracle. And that's what he calls me, his walking miracle."

"I will never say this journey has been easy. I always gave myself 24-hours to say 'why me?' And then after those 24-hours I would say 'why not me?' and "what am I going to do to beat this?' And the answer was easy: I'm going to fight back with everything I've got."

She was diagnosed in August 2012 with the return of liver cancer for the fourth time and is currently undergoing chemo treatment.

"This cancer is not knocking me back!" she said to loud applause.

"The message I have for survivors and their families is this - does Cancer suck? Yes it does. Survivors, never be embarrassed that you have been diagnosed with the disease. For you are already letting it win. Never be afraid to ask for help - your family and friends are just waiting for you to say the word. Survivors, you need to dig deep into your soul and find the courage and strength, and determination to fight back. For you are not alone. Your family and friends are your biggest fans, cheering you on all the way."

"Survivors, family and friends, let laughter in. It is the best healing medicine to surround you. And trust me, I have laughed, even when it's hurt."

Organizations: Allan Blair Cancer Centre

Geographic location: Swift Current, Regina, Ontario Canada

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  • Cynthia
    June 05, 2013 - 17:53

    Wonderful inspiration !!!!