Sadly, Diane passed away in July 2016 at the age of 39. She is remembered fondly, and her optimism and advice in this profile remains on our site to serve as a reminder of the great person she was.
Name: Diane Coffin
City: Paradise, NL
What was/is your diagnosis? Initially, inflammatory breast cancer triple negative. Since pathology report, metaplastic breast cancer
What year was it? What was your age at the time? 2015; 38 years old.
What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
Running the Cape to Cabot race in 2014. It’s a race from Cape Spear to the top of Signal Hill. I still can’t believe I finished.
What is a top item on your life to do list? Travel the world
What are your hobbies? Hiking, running, biking, photography
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
Busy. I have two small children. My daughter is eight-years-old. My son is five-years-old and special needs. He has a form of Epilepsy that started when he was five months old. We found out then that he is severely delayed. I always found time to fit in my exercise routine, but I was always worried about the future and what it would hold for him. We struggled with not being able to get a diagnosis for him. These days I’ve come to accept him for who he is and not what he will be.
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I woke up one morning with a painful lump. That’s it. Everyone was telling me that it can’t be breast cancer because breast cancer is not painful. My family doctor treated me for a mastitis, but it still didn’t go away. I received a ultrasound which lead to a mammogram a month later which is when I received my diagnosis.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
I was devastated. My husband was away for work training in the US. My family doctor told me the news and that it wasn’t good. I had a highly aggressive form of breast cancer. She took my cell phone and talked to my husband. I couldn’t get a word out I was in shock.
In which hospitals were you treated?
St. Clare’s and the Health Sciences Centre
What did your treatment consist of?
After numerous test, I started neoadjuvant chemo October 2015. I completed five rounds of biweekly treatments, which were not working. I then started weekly treatment on New Year’s Eve on a different drug combo for eight weeks. After my treatments, I had a radical mastectomy on my left side. I’m currently undergoing 31 rounds of radiation. My pathology report showed that the chemo wasn’t effective in treating my cancer and I had metaplastic cancer cells.
What is your current medical status?
I’m currently undergoing radiation. I had a CT scan a few weeks ago, which showed spots on my lungs. They are too small to biopsy so I’m waiting for another CT scan in a few months to see if they grow.
Life after cancer:
How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
I used to run a lot, which was my escape. It was my form of therapy. I’m not able to run now. Chemo has left me with severe pain in my legs and feet. I’ve met so many great friends through my running club that have really stood by me through my cancer journey.
I’ve had some ups and downs going through cancer. Being a young mother, I still had to provide care for my two children. I find I’m more patient with them now. I don’t let little things bother me anymore.
When I told my daughter I was going to have to take some medicine that would make me lose my hair, she cried. When it actually fell out, I cried. We went wig shopping together. It was an awesome experience. We both had a great laugh. I realized I’m more of a hat/scarf person. I would put on a hat when her friends would come over. One time I forgot and her friend asked her why I didn’t have hair. I told her, “Sorry, mom forgot to put on a hat.” She said, “That’s ok, I still think you’re beautiful with or without hair.”
We all have come to realize that life is short love one another not matter what.
What is the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
Having to still be there for my two children. Some days I wasn’t able to sit, I would lie in my bed crying, not sure I could do it. My daughter would come rub my head and ask if I needed anything. I was hard for me having her see me so sick.
What really helps you to keep going while you are sick?
Support from friends and family. I’ve had people show up with meals just when I needed it.
What keeps you busy during treatment?
I started to read again. I’ve never had time, but being hooked up to an IV for four plus hours, there’s lots of time to read.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada? How did it happen?
I was referred by the Nurse Navigator at the Cancer Centre here in St. John’s.
Do you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis? If so, how does that affect you?
Yes, I was young being diagnosed with cancer. It was a shock really. Not everyone can understand. I’ve found it hard to understand. Sometimes it’s good to listen to someone who is going through cancer. I’ve had some dark days. It’s hard to process and understand myself, let alone for my family and friends.
Did anyone talk to you about fertility options before treatment?
I had my two children. I wasn’t planning to have any more. I did know that chemo can put you in early menopause which is not an enjoyable experience at such a young age.
If you have children, how has your diagnosis affected the way you parent? Do you have any tips for other parents on talking to their children?
I was always up beat and honest. Sometimes my daughter would cry and I’d let her know that everything was going to be ok. When I told her I had to have a mastectomy, she thought it was strange. She didn’t understand. They had just learned about Terry Fox in school. I said to her that Terry had lost his leg and still ran across Canada, maybe I’ll lose my boob and run across Newfoundland. We had a good laugh of that one. I’ve always try to find the positive in life. I think laughter is good for the soul.
How has your cancer experience affected your body image, and your relationship to your body?
I still have one breast. When the nurse took of the bandage after my surgery I cried a few tears. I then realized that I had to do it to save my life. It wasn’t the end of the world. I’ve never felt sad about it since.
What are some lifestyle changes you’ve made since your diagnosis?
I’ve always been a healthy eater, but I have started to eat more nutritious foods. I’ve cut out refined sugars, which is a hard one because sugar is in everything. I’ve reduced the amount of animal protein that I eat. I’ve never eaten processed food so that wasn’t hard, but I’ve made some radical changes to my diet.
Resources and recommendations:
What would you add to a treatment-day playlist?
Before cancer I would have said something up beat or pop, but I’ve started to learn to mediate which is a new experience for me. It requires a lot of concentration and relaxation.
Which books/movies/podcasts/TV shows/etc. would you recommend?
I’m currently reading I am Malala. It’s a great, inspiring book. I’ve also read Florence Strang’s book she co-wrote called 100 Perks Of Having Cancer. It got me through chemo. It quite humorous as well as educational. Radical Remission is another great book lent to me by a friend who had cancer.
What are your favourite blogs and websites for passing the time?
Another special needs mom, Julie Broderick, does a great blog on raising a special needs child. It’s great. Check it out Tulip Tales. She can explain the feelings of the things such as the first day of school.
Have you participated in any other retreats, conferences, programs, or support groups you’d like your cancer peers to know about?
I’m part of a breast cancer group. I’ve met some great courageous, inspiring women. Also, through them I found out about a cancer retreat called Knight’s Cabin. It is a charity group started by a lady whose friend had cancer. It was an amazing experience.
The Cancer Centre is great at treating the symptoms and cancer but this retreat gave me the ability to treat from within. I’ve never mediated before, but practiced at the retreat. It’s hard to stop my mind from thinking a million miles a minute, but living in the moment is a great tool.
Stay in touch:
What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?
Reach out find a group or someone to talk to about your situation. It’s really enlightening to share stories.