When you are a nineteen-year-old college student, the last thing you expect to hear are the words, “You have cancer.” But that’s exactly what happened to Diana Pernicano this past November, when she was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. Luckily, Diana had a happy ending. On February 28, after three months of intense chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering, Diana was declared cancer-free.
She decided to make a positive out of a negative by learning as much as she could about the disease, and devoting herself to educating others, kids in particular, about cancer. “Kids in middle school and high school need to understand that it’s important to go to the doctor and to stay healthy, that cancer doesn’t just happen to adults,” she said. But people of all ages also need to understand that cancer doesn’t always have to end badly. She said she was surprised by how many of her classmates assumed she would not survive. She’s happy to say, “Today, two out of three cancer patients will become a survivor.”
Diana has also devoted herself to fundraising, and is currently working with the American Cancer Society to raise awareness and funds. She had already been participating in the Yorktown Relay for Life event before her diagnosis, partly because her father also suffered through a cancer scare nine years ago. He was diagnosed with a cancer of the spine that was also treated successfully. (Their cancers are not related.)
After her diagnosis and treatment, Diana was invited to speak at the Relay for Life kickoff event in February, and did so well that she was invited to help with the speakers in the New York City office. “Survivors who I heard speak would talk about the experiences they had, but not about specific programs that helped them get through the experience.”
She impressed enough people with her story and attitude to be featured in an ACS video distributed to colleges across the country educating college students about the disease, as well as the importance of sharing stories about experiences with cancer and reaching out to others. Visit YouTube to see it for yourself! “It’s such a different perspective when you go through this at my age,” she says. “It’s also so hard, no matter what your age, to really understand what a patient goes through, unless you have cancer yourself.” Diana also invites everyone to read more about her experience on her blog, at dianapernicano.wordpress.com.
Diana will continue her studies in nursing at Mount St. Mary College in the Fall, where she was attending school when she was diagnosed. Her focus will be on oncology nursing, which she was already pursuing because of her father’s experience with cancer. But now she feels she can contribute so much more to cancer patients, because she has the unique perspective of knowing exactly how they feel.
Diana has a good role model in her father, a Club Fit member who was a runner before his diagnosis and used Club Fit to help him get back on track. He is still at Club Fit almost every day. Diana became a full member three years ago. She uses the Fitness Center, plays racquetball, shoots hoops in the gym and enjoys Zumba — an all-around member! She also attended a Cancer Wellness session or two, and although she was too sick to participate more, she thinks it’s a great resource for others going through what she did. Diana is on the cross-country team at Mount St. Mary, and intends to return to the team in the fall.
Diana will have her own team for the first time at this year’s Relay for Life, “Diana’s Lymphomaniacs,” and has already raised more than $10,000. Part of that number includes funds raised on May 18 with a foul-shooting competition for Mildred E. Strang Middle School teachers and students at Club Fit Jefferson Valley. Forty students and 17 MESMS teachers participated! The actual Relay for Life event will take place on June 13th at Jack DeVito Memorial Field in Yorktown, and the Lymphomaniacs are happy to accept donations at her Relay for Life page! For more information on how you can join the fight against cancer, visit www.cancer.org.