By Lee Rasizer, CCA Director of Public and Media Relations
She’d sit and listen to it by herself: The piano intro, the horn solo, and the gargled-nails toughness that resonates in Bob Seger’s voice during his classic, “Old Time Rock and Roll.”
For Diana Counterman, bobbing along to her favorite song on Friday mornings was a nod not only to her Detroit roots but to the approaching end of another work week, a tacit reminder that the weekend was just hours away.
But that was Diana Counterman, B.C. – before cancer.
This solo enterprise has transformed into “The Friday Morning Dance Routine.”
Each Friday, when the dunn-dunn-dunn-dunn-dunn-dunn-dunn-dunn not only unmistakably opens Seger’s song, it kicks off a cramped frenzy in Counterman’s office.
Members of Enrollment Services and Outreach and Recruitment knock the sleep out of their eyes with motion. They begin getting down before getting down to business.
“We just have a laugh,” said Counterman, an administrative assistant at CCA since 2008. “You’ve got to laugh. It beats dwelling on things. And if you watch us do it, it’s really funny.”
The speakers are cranked to 10. The lights are off. The doors haven’t yet opened and department supervisors still haven’t arrived.
So, getting out one’s yah-yahs is legal, and encouraged.
“Diana’s on the way to everybody’s office, so every morning everybody stops in and says, ‘How are you doing?’” related Nicole Hockert, one of the dance party’s most, um, expressive participants. “On Fridays it’s not, ‘How are you doing?’ but put the music on and get down with your bad self.”
This is at least the kind of getting down Counterman can endorse.
There’s enough of the getting down that has come and gone since her diagnosis was confirmed on May 26. The mood swings became even more unpredicatable after four rounds of chemotherapy leading up to her scheduled Sept. 29 surgery.
“The energy flops onto me from them,” Counterman said of the dance division. And, even when Counterman’s moves produce a leg cramp, as it did in mid-September, it beats the alternative of consistently talking about her condition.
While she appreciates the concern, the dance party beats a pity party any day.
“There’s nothing anyone can do for me, because it’s all up to me,” Counterman said. “So, I’d much rather have this.”
The irony is that every April since 1985 Counterman had given herself a mammogram as a birthday present, even though nothing in her family history or medical background suggested its necessity. A woman with whom she’d previously worked at Community College of Denver was diagnosed with breast cancer way back when, and, in tribute, Counterman decided that a little preventive medicine couldn’t hurt.
About a year ago, there were suspicions after a doctor’s visit that something could be awry, but no action was taken when the concern level seemed low from the professionals. But this April, she discovered a lump in her breast, and this wasn’t tribute anymore but a bad trip. She was called back to the medical facility the following day.
“I did the biopsy and it’s been the go-round ever since,” Counterman said.
She understandably went through the stages of grief when she learned her condition. There were rationalizations. Shock. Despair. She lost her hair, nearly lost her mind, too, when someone treating her told her that the nausea, vomiting and lack of sleep that accompanied her first chemo treatment was mental.
But somewhere along the way, the urge to fight took over.
“At the beginning there was a lot of feeling sorry for myself. Where did this come from? Why me?” Counterman explained. “And then it was, ‘Too bad. Deal with it. You’ve dealt with a whole lot more in your life and this is just another bump in the road. Get over it.’”
It’s easier done than said when a support group emerges to provide a push over the substantial bump.
And at CCA, fellow employees have more than been there for her, whether it’s Kelly Gaer’s daily hug, crying it out shortly after relating the news to Hockert and Kyla Antony, Cheryl Tomlinson calming her nerves after the diagnosis inadvertently went public on social media, or Karen Hurtado giving Counterman a bejeweled boxing glove pin as a reminder of what lies ahead.
Or, it’s folks like Hurtado, Gaer, Angie Tiedeman and Catrina Semakula joining the dance party with Diana – and Bob.
“I guess what I’m really honored about is the president even stopped by a couple times and asked how I’m doing and whether everything’s OK,” Counterman said, referring to Dr. Betsy Oudenhoven. “Wow.”
Counterman asked a group of men to shave their heads and take a picture with her, in order to publicize Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October and even they obliged.
“I think it means more than people can possibly understand,” said Tomlinson, a close confidante who began her CCA career at the same time as Counterman and was her predecessor in recruiting. “Diana’s always been connected with a lot of people on campus and when she asked people to do that, she was really surprised and thrilled with the response she got, that support, that, ‘Wow, people do love me.’
“I think she knew it, but she didn’t know it was as much as that.”
One of, if not the only, pleasant side effects of Counterman’s fight is that she’s been much more apt to empathy and compassion to others since her own diagnosis. She wants to know every detail of other’s problems and keep the focus off herself – telling them it’s going to be OK.
“A lot of times it’s me-me-me,” Tomlinson said. “Not with her.”
Hockert gave Counterman a book of unfiltered expressions designed to raise her spirits, featuring the ornery old woman Maxine.
If each day is a gift, I’d like to know where to return Mondays.
Maybe it is a man’s world. Would a woman leave this kind of mess?
Going to work would be easier if I stayed in bed for a living.
Numerous pages have been ripped out and returned by Counterman to her supporters.They can be found on desks, on walls, around the Administration Building at CentreTech.
Each one is signed by Counterman on the back, reading, “Sharing the laughs. Diana.”
Of course, breast cancer hasn’t been mainly a laughing matter.
It’s real. It’s scary. All of the well-wishes can’t eliminate its vicious, unwanted visit into a body or a life.
The four rounds of chemo that Counterman endured were grueling, counterbalanced only by the picturesque western view of the Rockies during the nearly four-hour sessions.
“I call it my ‘C Bombs,” she said.
Chemo was necessary to shrink the tumor and slow the cancer because it had spread into her lymph nodes. Her last dose was particularly difficult, causing her to lie in bed, uncomfortably, from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.
Dry mouth during the entire process made everything she ate take on the consistency of a Brillo pad.
Insurance considerations inititally prevented approval of the double mastectomy she preferred, so to enhance the odds of averting a possible future procedure. But only recently authorization was granted.
“I don’t want to go through this again,” she said.
Twelve weeks of weekly chemo will occur anyway after surgery, though at lower doses than previous sessions.
Counterman worries about her family and vice versa. Gary Counterman postponed hip surgery to concentrate of his wife’s fight. Oldest daughter Rhoda has been the family member gathering all the latest medical information. Diana can tell that they’re scared, and she’s cast in a role of easing their pain and anxiety.
“I’m a fighter. And there are times in my life where maybe the fighter wasn’t there. This has brought out the beast again. She’s back,” Counterman said. “I have my three children, six grandchildren and a great granddaughter I want to see grow up. So I’m not going to let this take over.”
Counterman then lets out a loud cackle as she adds, “I’m ornery.”
And, if all goes as hoped, she’ll soon enough be reminiscing about the days of old – the Silver Bullet Band and its unofficial backup dancers providing accompaniment.