DiPalma looks toward future

by Kate Paulman

Maria DiPalma has never been one to look at the glass as half-empty.

“I’m a fairly optimistic person,” Music Department Chair DiPalma said. “I’m the one who sees the glass half-full.”

DiPalma was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2003. Since her diagnosis, she has undergone a biopsy, a removal of cancerous tissue; chemotherapy and will begin radiation treatment in the summer.

DiPalma said she had problems with cysts when she was younger and that made her diagnosis more realistic, but not easier.

“Breast cancer for a woman is like your worst nightmare,” DiPalma said. “It’s not like you take an antibiotic for 10 days and you’re fine. It’s actually something that I’m going to have basically the rest of my life. I’m in chemotherapy now and they’re trying to eliminate whatever else might be floating around in my body. But it’s one of those things that you just never know if you’re really cured or if sometime in the future it’s going to come back. The chemotherapy is eight treatments and I’ve just had my third.”

Over 20,000 new breast cancer cases are diagnosed in the United States. every year and there are more than 2 million survivors today, according to the National Association of Breast Cancer Organizations.

“I tend to try to look toward the positive,” DiPalma said. “I try to see the horizon when all of this is going to be over and my hair grows back.”

DiPalma said there was no time wasted between diagnosis and treatment.

“It was just one thing after another,” she said. “Things kind of happen fast. Once I went to the doctor and they thought I should get a mammogram, the next day I was in the surgeon’s office and he was saying, ‘OK, we need to do this biopsy.’ You don’t have a lot of time to think because you want to have action taken. There’s not a lot of time wasted.”

DiPalma took two weeks off from teaching to have surgery. While recovering, she gave limited voice lessons at home and has since been back the rest of the semester.

“Everyone’s been really supportive, that’s been really terrific,” DiPalma said. “The administration has been really accommodating about the fact that I do have to kind of cut back a little bit. People over here in the department and other faculty have picked up loose ends that I haven’t been able to accomplish.”

DiPalma said that her students also helped pick up the slack.

“This semester I have only voice students rather than classes so it’s all one-on-one lessons,” she said. “My students have really pulled through. They’ve done a lot of practicing and work on their own because I’ve had to miss some of their lessons. I’m very grateful for all of that.”

Yet despite the support, she said she has to remember to take it easy.

“I guess the worst part is just the stress on your body,” DiPalma said. “You’ve got the shock of the whole reality of the thing, then you’ve got surgery and then you’re still recovering from that when you start chemotherapy, which is itself a pretty powerful thing.”

DiPalma’s doctor told her to remember the implications of her treatment.

“My doctor says, ‘Don’t ever forget that you’re being poisoned,'” DiPalma said. “‘So even on days that you’re feeling good you have to remember to not go too far. Your cells are being poisoned throughout your whole body. You have to remember to be careful’.”

Despite harsh treatments, DiPalma still manages to see the bright side.

“It certainly is devastating, but it’s not the end of the world,” DiPalma said. “You have to be thinking that this is all leading up to eventually being cured. We have to keep looking forward.”