Diana Merriweather Ashby
March 22, 1963 - May 2, 1997
Founder of The Melanoma Research Foundation
Dedicated to Finding a Cure...
Because Tomorrow is Too Late
It was difficult to watch Diana die from melanoma at age 34, but it would have been much worse to have never known her at all. She was incredibly full of life and defiant against her cancer, even in the face of deteriorating odds and intense personal suffering. Her best friends most often remember Diana for her extraordinary sense of humor and an uncommonly strong love for small creatures, but those traits were secondary to the deep compassion for other cancer patients that she developed in the final two years of life.
A master of practical jokes and silly humor, Diana unknowingly telegraphed her frequent pranks with a slightly smug tilt of the head and a half smile. Her one liners and short quips began when she awoke each morning of her life and continued until her last breaths when Diana suggested to her sisters that they throw a big party each year in her honor and send the bill to me. Diana found humor to be great medicine, and she dispensed it generously to her countless cancer friends who emailed or called at all hours of the day and night to be uplifted by her lively spirit.
One of Diana's premier assignments in this life was that of protecting the animals, and I'm certain that she has, by now, shared her views on animal rights with our creator. Small, furry creatures were Diana's constant pets, and she often went to extremes to care for them, especially one ferret named Pup. Under Diana's loving care, Pup lived the good life until he neared the end of a typical ferret life span and acquired a tumor on his pancreas. As Pup lost his eyesight and began to lose weight, Diana responded by hand-feeding him a special blended food and giving him insulin shots every day. For 18 months, Diana fed Pup every 6 hours, rain or shine, until he finally passed gently away in her arms, very old and very content.
The compassion Diana showed for animals quite naturally evolved to a unique style of care for other cancer patients. Moments after entering any hospital waiting room, Diana would be at the side of the sickest, most depressed looking person in view, asking for intimate details of their cancer, then joking about her own doctors and treatments. Several weeks after learning that the cancer was spreading uncontrollably through her brain, Diana entered a waiting room and sat down next to an older man and his two daughters. After perhaps 30 minutes of her usual jokes and silly comments about cancer, Diana was summoned to see the doctor and the man disappeared as well. Later, as I waited for Diana, the man's daughters returned and announced to me that their depressed and hopeless father was, at that very minute, sitting in the hospital cafeteria making jokes and laughing with some people he had never met. The young women had returned to the waiting room to acknowledge a miracle and thank Diana for saving their father's life.
If Diana left a legacy though, it was the Melanoma Research Foundation. Frustrated with the lack of progress in curing cancer, she single-handedly created this organization to collect and distribute funding for research of non-conventional treatments of melanoma. While waging her own battle with the pain of multiple tumors in her brain, she managed to raise over 15 thousand dollars for cancer research, always hoping that one day others would not have to suffer as she did.
Diana's grace, humor, and compassion for others has permanently changed all who knew her. In the midst of her own pain and suffering, she had her finest hour, rising up to make this world a better place. Diana Christene Ashby taught us how to live, how to laugh, and most importantly, how to love.
- Jeff Ashby