Dawn Custode is dying of cancer. Since her diagnosis over two and a half years ago, she has faced the disease with the same conviction as she has lived her entire life.
She continued to go sailing with her husband, took vacations like travelling to Africa, and visited with as many family and friends that her energy and time would allow.
I spoke with Dawn over the phone in late April. At this point, she has weeks and maybe days to live, but it’s important for her to share her lessons on resilience, stressing that everyone get a colonoscopy, and not waste a minute of time.
Here is a bit of our recorded interview.
RESILIENT PEOPLE: Dawn, you’ve been given this platform. What are you hoping to achieve from doing interviews?
DAWN CUSTODE: My major goal, my mantra is to be mindful of your time because tomorrow is not guaranteed.
If I can save one person from dying from colon cancer because they didn’t look after their body or they let the doctors push them off. If I can save one person from realizing they’re in a bad relationship because they don’t realize they’d be better off without them. If I can make someone realize they’re putting off a trip that may never come, I’ve achieved what I wanted to do.
Have you always had that mantra?
Growing up I was very extroverted. Our family moved a lot so I would show up in the middle of the school year and leave in the middle of the next school year to join another school.
It was part of my personality, making the most of things. Even if it was pizza and wings on a Friday night while playing a game of Trivial Pursuit, I always had something on the go.
I’ve heard that moving a lot builds resilience. Oprah has also said, “The path in your life prepares you for where you are now.” Can you identify with this, based on where you are now?
I feel there’s a lot of irony there. Even though I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do I still haven’t done a lot of the things I want to do. Having this diagnosis and feeling so good has made me do things I never thought I’d want to do. Like going to Africa.
What’s left that you’d like to achieve?
I’ve been going week-by-week, day-by-day. I’m hoping to get to certain goals. I spend time a lot of time at the Region of Waterloo Hospice Centre. Through their auxiliary programs they offer free services to patients and caregivers like massages, Reiki, and haircuts.
Everyone in the program is living with something terminal, and they’ve been a big part of helping me through the process. We all get together and it’s nice to go somewhere where we’re all going through the same thing. We laugh about something and they understand where I’m coming from.
One of my goals is to be at the ‘Hospice for Handbags fundraiser’ on May 16. They’ve asked my husband and I to tell our story for a video that will be posted on their website and shown at the auction.
I really want to see that. My family and friends are coming up and that’s my goal - to make it to May 16.
I’d also like to watch my friend’s son’s graduation on June 1 and anything else that is coming up.
Right now it’s day by day and it seems to be going ok.
One of the doctors had given you till the end of the month. It’s now the end of the month – how are you feeling?
I’m not ready to go. My blood pressure is good, my count’s good, I’m still turning yellow, I’m still having more pain each day than I was before but managing it with pain medication. I can still feel the downside coming but its not coming as quickly as they said.
What’s important for people to know?
Your life is your life and you should live it the way you want to live it. You have to do it in the time that you’re given.
I’ve watched so many people plan to retire at 65 and drop dead at 63. There is no time sometimes and you have to be prepared for that.
What are you hoping is on the other side?
I’m hoping it’s like the rainbow gates where all the pets you love come running for you. I hope there are people waiting for me on the other side – my mom and my grandparents. I’m not afraid of it.
What are you hoping your legacy will be?
Learn from my experience that positivity breeds positivity. The only reason I’m still here is because I didn’t curl up into a ball and let it happen to me. I was publicly out there with my diagnosis. I took positivity no matter where it came from – a prayer circle, someone taking the coffee in a cup that I made for them, making me a card. All that positivity has come to me and I’ve tried to send it out ten-fold. Learn from me and don’t waste your time.
I’m hoping that someone gets a colonoscopy, or says, “I haven’t taken that trip that I’ve wanted to take” and does it.
It doesn’t sound like you have many regrets
Not really. I have regrets of what I’m leaving behind and more regret for the people I’m leaving behind. No father should outlive his daughter. It’s hard to deal with that.
I have friends who have sick family and are dealing with me being sick. I regret that burden on them.
People say, “You’re such an inspiration”. I don’t want to be an inspiration I want to be the reason you do it. Don’t think about it, do it.
To listen to the full interview with Dawn Custode and Janet Fanaki, please click below: