NJ DISCOVER SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: DIANE YOUNG UNIMAN; Author, “Bonjour, Breast Cancer-I’m Still Smiling,” Breast Cancer Survivor, Opera Singer, Motivational Speaker, Lawyer, Writer, screenplays, musicals AND ETCETERA. By Calvin Schwartz September 20, 2019
Interviews; every once in a while, there is celestial orchestration involved. Here we are. The past 17 months have been alignments, stars, a moon, synchronicity, an astronomical numerical visitor; all ingredients of the time I’ve known Diane; a literary explicative for what a special journey since meeting her at The Garden State Film Festival, March, 2018.
We briefly met at the film festival’s Friday night cocktail party. Diane was promoting her Official Selection screenplay musical, Triangle 146. Same night, there for Diane, was Dr. Gloria Bachmann, Director of the Women’s Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Amy Papi, Legislative Committees, Middlesex County.
Alignments. A few months and blinks later, I’m sitting on the Advisory Committee of the Women’s Health Institute along with Diane and Amy under the direction of Dr. Bachmann. All because I wore a red Rutgers hat. This experience, alignment, has been transformative. The knowledge absorbed. Synchronicity. Purpose. A changing world for me. In the middle of the astronomy, Diane Uniman.
Visitors. Friends. Things meant to be. The number 444. Then, Diane gave a lecture to the Women’s Health Institute on surviving breast cancer, double mastectomy. Mesmerizing for me. Diane captivated. I knew one day, we’d be sitting down in an old-fashioned journalism setting; detailing her vitality, passion, devotion to husband and sons, family, talent, warmth, humanity, positivity, humor; after all she calls herself (book author name) ‘Princess Diane von Brainisfried.’
Before anything, here is the book website. Whether or not, this is such a special insightful, upbeat, needed book. http://www.princessdianevonbrainisfried.com Also to note: There is so much to Diane. The purpose of this interview(capturing Diane’s essences and wisdom) is to really motivate you all to read the book.
4 PM September 10th. Green Room kitchen table.
Diane is a Philadelphia, Elkins Park native. “In junior high, they needed a goalie, so I volunteered to play for the Field Hockey team.” To date, Diane has won over 50 separate awards for film festivals, musicals and screenplays. In the picture on the cover of her book, she is wearing a halo wig because of cancer treatment three years ago. I asked her about the Eiffel Tower tattoo on her face on the book cover. “My husband is a tri-athlete and I am a Francophile (loves French stuff). At a race, they were doing face painting. I said, “I’m freaking bald. I might as well get the Eiffel Tower on my face. Later on, the title of the book came to me. Voila, I’ll call it ‘Bonjour, Breast Cancer.”
A book writer myself, I wanted to know what motivated Diane to write, ‘Bonjour..’ “Never thought I’d write about the cancer. I wanted to move on. Don’t look back. But I kept having epiphanies. I did write so much down and realized that I can help a lot of people. Like Viktor Frankl, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.” Along the way Diane talked to a woman who taught her to cut through fear and to survive physically and psychically.
A copy of her book on my left, autographed, her author’s pen name, Princess Diane von Brainisfried, reverberated. “How did that name arrive?” “I was rummaging in my father’s closet, saw a royal coat of arms.” I had a curious look on my face as she laughed. “No, I was blogging and the name came to me and decided to be silly and funny.”
Time for seriousness. A star and the moon. “Diane, what was the most devastating part about having breast cancer?” “There are so many different fears. I talked to my mother’s father (never met him) Told him I love life. My grandchildren. The fear of checking out way too early was devastating.”
“And what is the most important thing to take away from your experience?” She was so quick to respond. “To learn strategies to create optimism. It’s not what’s happening to you that is important, but what you tell yourself is happening. I can’t let cancer steal my joy…. Optimism can be learned!”
A few quiet moments of reflection went by. “You need to find meaning and also humor.” I asked, “Humor?” “Yes, like calling my estrogen cancer pills, Youth and Beauty pills.” Diane went on to explain that she didn’t say she had cancer but was diagnosed with it. For her, it’s a psychic survival, focusing and refocusing.
My wife was with us. She had lost her best friend to breast cancer. “So, Diane, what do you most want to tell women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer?” “Give yourself permission to be happy, healthy and go on an adventure. It’s not only the cancer, but getting through disfigurement. You lose your hair. And the trauma the night before the mastectomy. I’d say, “yebit, yebit, yebit, (yeah, but, yeah, but, yeah, but) I get to live. My own boobs gone, but I get to live. And there are gifts with breast cancer involved.” She went on to explain that Maire Antoinette had to deal with getting her head cut off. And Diane kept asking herself if she wanted to live or die. It was her choice. “Now is all we have,” A reference to Eckhart Tolle.
Synchronicity. “We’ve talked a lot about synchronicity, signs and symbols. Please elaborate.” “Doubt is not your enemy. Embrace possibility.” Then, Diane and I talked about intervention, spirit and 444 and 111 in our lives. Part of our shared synchronicity. But, we realized, we’d need about fifteen more pages to partially explain, so we agreed to move on. Maybe the next book.
Time for humor. “You use a lot of humor in your book. Share a funny story?” “I couldn’t get my wig to look right. So, I started to cry until I realized, I had put it on backwards.”
Being she is so family conscious, I asked about how she broke the breast cancer diagnosis to her family. I thought this would be a heavy question. I was wrong. “Yes, there was a fear of hurting my children. My husband, Howie, said he would tell them, so one day, Howie picked up bagels and donut holes. While my son was eating a donut hole, exclaiming how good it was, Howie said, “By the way, your mother has breast cancer.” Ruined his eating donut holes forever.”
On analysis, it’s probably propitious to say this book is not only for breast cancer. “It’s also for dealing with trauma.” An evolutionary question to ask. “Diane, how is your life different now?” “I have morning rituals to stay in positive mindset. I do quick meditations. Take three breaths and say thank you. I remember it’s a gift to take a breath. A gratitude of being alive. I’ve gone with three women to a Positivity Retreat in Saratoga Springs. It’s a support system with a loose curriculum.”
Diane made reference to her great- grandmother, Dena who taught her father that if you can’t laugh, then you lost everything. Diane also mentioned a Cherokee legend in her book which talks about feeding the good wolf not the bad wolf. It was a grandfather telling a grandson that everybody has two wolves inside of them fighting for rule. One is evil and one is good. The grandson asked, “Which wolf is winning?” Grandfather answered, “The one you feed.”
Winding down. “Anything else to add Diane?” “Happiness is a decision and make it first. You have to reframe what you tell yourself is happening. The night before my mastectomy, I told myself that I’m not getting my boobs cut off tomorrow, but I’m getting new Park Avenue boobs. (refers to reconstruction after surgery. Park Avenue boobs refers to the rich people getting boob jobs) And people should ditch labels of good and bad. Like be careful calling breast cancer ‘bad;’ look at all I’ve done. And in the morning wake-up with gratitude. Everything looks worse at night.”
An after-thought. A few days later, just called Diane to talk about the interview. “Diane, I wrote ‘Opera’ in the title but we never talked about it.” An unmistakable contagious laugh (through the phone). “I had this passion for opera as a kid. Had a burning desire to sing it. Had amazing teachers all this time… Private teachers… My first teacher studied with Maria Callas’ teacher… My current teacher is at the Manhattan School of Music…Sometimes I would travel an hour each way for lessons… It took a long time to sing in public… When I sing, I feel like I can fly!”
When I heard that’ fly reference, it was a wow. She expressed how overjoyed to have this passion for certain things; like singing, writing musicals, screenplays, making people feel better. She sang in the Garden State Opera Chorus and in benefits for organizations.
Diane also wanted to emphasize that one should never skip a mammogram based on fear. “Never let fear stand in your way. Time is of the essence. It is life. It’s a big gift for me to be a role model for my children. It is life.”
A deep breath. “Diane, just a few off topic questions, actually way off topic, then again, maybe not. Maybe fun. A good way to close. So, tell me five things you can’t live without.”
With no hesitation. “Family, friends, health, humor, stuffed artichokes.” A few moments later, the artichokes became pets.
“Living or Dead who would you like to have dinner with?” Again, no hesitation. “Ben Franklin. He was from Philly, brilliant and an entrepreneur and inventor.”
“Before I leave this earth, I won’t be happy until I…” “Model kindness on every level.”
Finished so we all hugged. A mind expansive afternoon. The talent, poignancy, depth, breadth, passion of Diane Uniman. What shot into my thought process was, “You could fill a stadium, arena with who you are. And this is a perfect way to close.”