Diem remembers Laura Ziskin, who showed her how to use her cancer and be proactive in change
In her PEOPLE.com blog, Diem Brown, the Real World/Road Rules Challenge contestant recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer for the second time, opens up about her desire for a child and the ups and downs of cancer and fertility procedures.
Cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie! What other three dishes scream Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is a holiday that brings back fond memories and immediately triggers you to reflect upon the past year.
A year … If you would have told me that after I climbed an Icelandic glacier on MTV’s The Challenge, I would find a cancer-filled cyst, freeze eggs, have two surgeries, start early menopause, go through chemo for a second time and film/post my chemo hair loss process make-up free and bald, I would tell you to put me back on that glacier!
However, now I can look back at those seemingly overwhelming moments, happy to be where I am: Rounding out the end of this trying journey, ready to move on from my “frenemy” cancer once and for all.
After my first cancer bout, I used to say, “I’m thankful I had cancer” because of how much I grew and matured dealing with it.
I took this sentiment with me while I was an entertainment reporter, covering Stand Up to Cancer’s celeb-heavy telethon back in 2010. It wasn’t until I met the courageous fighter Laura Ziskin that I changed my tune.
Ziskin was a brilliant producer of movies – from Pretty Woman to The Amazing Spider-Man – and she helped create Stand Up to Cancer to find a way to discover a cure for this “stupid” disease. Laura used her talents and her connections to assemble a Hollywood celebrity power team that would rival any Oscar stage, raising more than $100 million for cancer research through simulcast telethons.
While I was interviewing Laura moments before her 2010 Stand Up to Cancer broadcast, I could not help but see signs that she was in treatment for cancer. Yet Laura seemed to be the masterminding force behind this massive event. You could see that she was tired, but Laura’s motivation to “fix it” was more powerful than anything I had ever been around. We ended the interview and the camera guy remarks to her, “Oh, you know Diem had cancer too.”
Shooting him an “eh not now” look, I glanced back at Laura and smiled saying that I was amazed by her strength, and then I continued for some stupid reason muttering something about how I was grateful to have had cancer because of the strength I found during my battle.
Puzzled and a bit annoyed, Laura quipped, “Are you kidding?! Well, I guess you can be positive about cancer because you beat it and I’m still in it. Personally I wanna knock out the damn thing.” We e-mailed a few times back and forth after that, and she made me think about how your vantage point can affect your opinion.
How dare I tell a woman with cancer I was happy I had beat cancer because “it made me stronger?” How insensitive! Laura’s words and example flipped a switch that made me want to be proactive in fighting this “stupid” disease.
Sadly Laura lost her battle on June 12, 2011, which ironically is also my birthday. So when I was re-diagnosed with cancer in June 2012, it was Laura’s “are you kidding” words that resonated through my mind.
I am NOT thankful to have cancer, but I am thankful and lucky to have beaten the crap out of it once and am ready to kick cancer in the butt again.
I am thankful for my friends who have consistently shown support and love through Facebook, texts, thoughtful gift packages, girls’ nights in watching ABC Family instead of “clubbing it,” and never judging my good vs. bad days.
I am thankful to my family and loved ones who have put up with my many drastic mood swings, held my hair back when getting sick and picked my hair up as it fell out. Loved ones who have sat in hospital rooms all day just watching me sleep as chemo flowed though my body. I never had to ask – they were just there.
I am also thankful for everyone who has read, shared or commented on this blog. I have read every comment and I am thankful for the time you took to share your thoughts and opinions.
So on this Thanksgiving I am NOT thankful I had or have cancer, but thankful to have met a cancer-fighting warrior like Laura Ziskin, who showed me how to use my illness as a means to be proactive in change.
I hope y’all have an amazing Thanksgiving and tell the people that make your day a lil’ brighter how thankful you are to have them in your lives.
Thank you ALL so very much! HAPPY THANKSGIVING 🙂
Check back for updates every Thursday: Diem will be chronicling exclusively for PEOPLE.com her journey through fertility treatments, chemotherapy and her quest to educate others about ovarian health. You can also follow her on Twitter @DiemBrown.
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