I Was Changed Because of Cancer

By Nikki Kallio | Photography by Hillary Schave

The last thing Diane Anderson expected to hear in 2002 was that she had breast cancer — at 44, she was an active and otherwise healthy mother of three girls. Nor did she expect that it was just the beginning of her health concerns: In 2013, doctors found a “suspicious” spot on her lung, and in 2023 she developed a four-centimeter meningioma — a benign but potentially cancerous brain tumor — which required an eight-hour surgery to remove.

Over the past two decades, Anderson has been through multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, long-term drug therapy and 33 rounds of radiation — twice. Through it all, “I had tons of help from my family and friends,” including from her husband, Paul, who went to every chemo and doctor appointment with her, she recalls. A teacher took time to have lunch with her youngest daughter at least once a week, and there was a constant stream of delivered meals, house cleaning and rides for her kids. “And I even had one friend that did returns for me at Christmastime.”

Anderson also received support through the American Cancer Society’s Look Good Feel Better program. So in 2003, when Anderson was asked by friend Joanie Conley to be the honorary chair of the organization’s Relay for Life event in Waunakee, it seemed like a way to return that support and help other patients and families who could benefit.

Her first year, Anderson organized five teams and raised more than $12,000. Over the past 21 years, she’s raised $266,047 for the organization via Relay for Life teams, wine-and-cheese events, rummage sales and online fundraising .

“It just definitely hits me in the heart when I think of the support I’ve had from friends and family and the American Cancer Society. They may not know who I am, but I know who they are,” Anderson says. She notes her late friend Conley (who passed away in 2023 of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) was a hugely positive influence on her, too.

Anderson, who has some ongoing health issues related to her treatment, stays motivated by her three new granddaughters — all born in 2023, including a set of twins.

“All of a sudden I have three little ones, and I can spoil them rotten,” she says.

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