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Our Patients. Their Stories. Dia Draper

Our Patients. Their Stories. Dia Draper

I ask you to consider in your darkest hours when you are wrestling with that thing you think you can’t survive—what if your setback could be the setup for your epic comeback?

Dia Draper

Dia Draper shown with Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth medical student Shelsey Weinstein. Dia participated as a cancer patient in an initiative at Geisel for medical students to learn the art of compassion-centered medical care, a program funded by the Dolan Family Foundation.

In August 2014, I met friends in Las Vegas for some fun mixed in with a conference for my work. On the last day there, I experienced concerning symptoms that led me to a local hospital. I woke up from a colonoscopy, still groggy, to a doctor saying, "I am sorry we don't have good news. We found a tumor." On the day I was scheduled to leave Vegas I made a couple of calls to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. I was able to get an appointment with Dr. Stefan Holubar for the next day. I flew home feeling confused, alone and not knowing how my journey would take shape.

As Dr. Holubar examined me, I instantly trusted him. He had a level of confidence that kept me at ease. When he reviewed his findings, I said, "Wait a minute. I have cancer?" It had not sunk in until then. It was Stage 3B colon cancer to be exact. I freaked out. I ran laps around the exam room, wailing in fear and grief. Dr. Holubar stood back and let me process the news in my own way. He didn't attempt to touch me or stop me. When I was done, he calmly said, "I know you are scared but you can get through this. We can beat this. I know how you are feeling because I'm a survivor too." He then pointed to the blue ribbon on his lapel—the symbol for colon cancer awareness. I immediately calmed down.

I had thought that the three years after I got divorced were my most difficult ones, however, the year of my cancer treatment was the worst year of my life. My doctors, Dr. Holubar and Dr. Gregory Ripple, along with nurse practitioner, Elizabeth McGrath, created a treatment plan and they supported me every step of the way—chemotherapy, radiation and two surgeries. If I had a serious concern, I would email them and they would always respond. I honored that privilege and didn't abuse it. Every time I had an infusion, they would check on me. One of the hardest days was my 39th birthday. I was feeling terrible, and sorry for myself. I could not believe it when they came into the infusion suite singing happy birthday with a cake and balloons. I remember thinking, "Who has time to do this?" The people at Norris Cotton Cancer Center gave me hope to get back up and to keep fighting.

There is terror and then peace that comes from staring your mortality in the face. I'm here to say to those who will journey through challenging circumstances, once you've won, your faith in the goodness of the Universe only grows stronger. I am thankful for the strength I gained during my cancer treatment because I was with my mother when she heard the words "you have cancer" 18 months after I received my treatment. I was there to give my strength to my mother when she needed it most. I ask you to consider in your darkest hours when you are wrestling with that thing you think you can't survive—what if your setback could be the setup for your epic comeback?

Dia Draper is now cancer free. As a way of giving back, Dia is setting up a business to offer care packages delivered across the world in finely crafted crates filled with comforting items like custom-made blankets, teddy bears and unique treats. The proceeds from this project will be used to purchase support items such as snacks and gas cards for caregivers of those who are receiving treatment for a chronic illness at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and other facilities. In addition to her full-time work at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Dia also travels around the country to deliver motivational speeches to inspire others to live with joy and intention. Hear Dia's inspirational TEDx talk.