"Stay strong and fight, because you can beat it" is something that Diana Davidson says to those facing a cancer diagnosis all the time.
She should know. This month, Diana, the wife of Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson, is approaching the one-year anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis.
Last October, having been in Columbus less than a year, Diana was at CrossFit training. The two-time competitor in the Masters division of the CrossFit games banged her chest while working on chest-to-bar pullups. Upon returning home, the mother of two noticed a pain in her chest and found a lump in her breast.
"I didn’t like the feel of it," Diana said. "I thought I was the epitome of health, but you don’t know, you never know."
Although her annual checkup was still a month away, and her previous checkups and sonograms revealed previous abnormalities to be just calcium deposits, Diana started trying to schedule a mammogram. Considering it was the month of October, also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, finding an appointment when she didn’t even have a local doctor yet was difficult. When Diana finally was able to schedule her scan, she went alone.
"The radiologist came out and said to me, I think this is cancer," Davidson said. "First of all you are shocked to hear the words, and me not knowing anybody in town and being there by myself, to hear those words is so surreal. You’re in shock. You’re like, you’ve got to be kidding me."
Diagnosis received, Diana knew the next step was to begin to fight her disease. John had been at practice during her appointment, and when he came home she told the man she had known since they met as teenagers at a Calgary ice rink — she was 15, he was 18 — that she had cancer.
"I think he took it harder than I did," Diana said. "I knew I had a battle to fight here and I wasn’t going to go down easy because that’s how I am. I had to keep telling him, ‘I’m going to be fine.’"
The next few weeks passed in a fog. Diana worked with a team from OhioHealth, which she calls amazing, to put together a plan that would include a lumpectomy. That was followed by waiting for tests, results and phone calls.
Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson and his wife, Diana have been married for 40 years. Diana was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.
One of the hurdles that Diana had to face was waiting to find out if her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Often, this is an indicator that cancer cells may have reached other parts of the body and the cancer has potential to spread. For Diana, a positive result could mean radiation or chemotherapy. When the call came, she was home with her daughters while John was at hockey.
"That was an extremely emotional day. It gets to the point that you don’t even want to answer the phone but you know you have to," Diana said. "When they called and the first thing they said was, ‘I have great news,’ you think, oh thank god. I started crying and my children started crying and John came home and he started crying."
The most difficult step, however, had nothing to do with her treatment; it was when she had to tell her daughters.
One of the Davidsons’ daughters is a doctor who came into town the day Diana received her diagnosis. The other lives in Canada and had to be told via phone.
"It was the hardest thing I have ever done," Diana said. "Our daughters think we’re invincible. The absolute hardest thing was to tell my girls."
With a medical team in place and her family behind her, Diana got to work beating the disease. For support, she leaned on her family as well as her CrossFit and hockey communities.
The day of her diagnosis coincided with a breast cancer fundraiser that Diana’s CrossFit gym was holding called "Barbells for Boobs." Diana took her daughter with her to the event and now sees it as an annual symbol of her survivorship.
The hockey community responded with an outpouring of encouragement that was instantaneous. Support came from everywhere including Wendy Pleau, who had faced her own cancer battle while her husband, Larry, was general manager of the St Louis Blues when John was team president.
Blue Jackets forward, Nick Foligno warms up in a purple jersey to mark Hockey Fights Cancer night. Foligno lost his mother to breast cancer.
"I had held her hand and saw how awful it was for her. She’s doing great now, thank god," Diana said. "I had given her as much support as possible and when she heard she just came running to me crying, saying, ‘No, it can’t be you.’"
Hockey provided not only support but also an outlet for John, Diana says. She was thankful he had it as a distraction from the impact of her disease.
"Without hockey, I think he would have been a basket case," Diana said. "My girls kept asking if dad was going to be OK, and I said yes, he’ll be fine."
While the Davidsons are now living in a new normal, they are happy to report that they are, in fact, fine. Diana says her current bill of health is a good one. She has continued meeting with her oncologist every couple of months and the reports have been positive.
And so now, it’s to hockey that the Davidsons turn once again.
Tonight, Nationwide Arena will be awash in purple as the Blue Jackets take part in the NHL’s "Hockey Fights Cancer" campaign. The Jackets are auctioning off purple jerseys worn by the players in warm ups and selling shirts that are emblazoned with the slogan, "drop the gloves against cancer." Fans in attendance will have cheer cards to name their personal connection to the fight against cancer, and OhioHealth will have an installation where ribbons can be placed in honor or memory of a loved one.
Diana can’t wait to see it all. She had always been passionate about giving back to specific causes, but the fight against cancer has moved to be one of the top on the list. She says Hockey Fights Cancer night will feel like coming home.
"I love how the hockey community gets into this whole evening of purple — there’s ties and sticks and more," Diana said. "It’s wonderful that they do this — and it does hit home even more now."
As the Jackets, and Diana, plan to welcome all fans to Nationwide Arena tonight, she has a message for those who have been touched by cancer.
"I’ve said these words over and over again — please stay strong," Diana said. "Because there are days you can fall into the why me, why me, why me. The deeper you get into that the worse it becomes for you. Just stay strong and fight the battle."
To be part of Hockey Fights Cancer night, watch the Blue Jackets face off against the Calgary Flames tonight at 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena. Ticket information can be found at BlueJackets.com. The game will also air on Fox Sports Ohio.