Former Athlete Diane Berberian Shares her Life Experience with GMercyU Students

December 6, 2021
Former Athlete Diane Berberian Shares her Life Experience with GMercyU Students

Lauren Yancer '21
Marketing Major

On Tuesday November 23rd, Diane Berberian, an ex-endurance athlete diagnosed with throat cancer, appeared as a guest speaker in GMercyU’s Death and Dying class taught by Assistant Professor of Psychology Mary Reilly. 

Professor Reilly first learned about Berberian in a 6ABC news broadcast a few days prior. After sharing the story with her class, GMercyU men’s soccer coach Dave Bontempo called Professor Reilly and asked if she wanted to meet Diane. Dave and Diane have been long-time friends and he had brought her to campus to speak to the team. Professor Reilly had the privilege of meeting Diane that same day and, to her surprise, Diane offered to speak to her Death and Dying students. 

Diane Berberian, age 63, was first diagnosed with throat cancer in 2016. With a seventy-five percent chance of surviving, doctors warned Berberian that her cancer would have a reoccurrence. Diane’s reoccurrence happened in 2020 when she was told she she now had bone cancer which spread to her liver and had one month to live. Diane had to make the hard choice of deciding whether to seek treatment or live out the rest of her month with family. She ultimately made the choice to only seek enough treatment to get her affairs in order. She didn’t want to burden her family with those decisions after she passed.

At this time, her doctor also warned that this is the time to bring out the bucket list. To that, Diane simply said, “My whole life has been a bucket list.”

“The diagnosis has not defined me yet,” Berberian said.

Now, more than one year later, Diane is still alive and living her life to the fullest. Berberian just recently participated in the Philadelphia Marathon, being pushed in a chair by a team constructed of friends and family. Diane lives by the motto, “she believed she could, so she did.” Diane’s diagnosis has restricted the use of her body so she can no longer physically run. Because of this, Berberian’s friends and family created shirts for the marathon saying, “and when she couldn’t, we pushed her to the finish line.”   

The biggest thing Diane wanted the students to take away is that death is not scary. Although it is a common fear amongst many, Diane says that, if you fill your life correctly, from birth to death, then the fear of dying is non-existent. 

“I think what struck me the most was her ability to speak so openly about what is considered by many to be a taboo subject. In our class, we studied that the United States is a death denying culture and most of us are reluctant to discuss the topic. Diane’s ability to look death in the face and share her experience with this journey was remarkable. Because of this reluctance to discuss the topic, I don’t think any of us will have an opportunity like this too often in our lives. Her presence was a remarkable gift that I am very grateful to have received,” Professor Reilly said. 

Students had the opportunity to ask questions throughout the class. Towards the end, one student asked Diane if she had anything left on her bucket list. Berberian simply stated that her final bucket list item is to meet Pink. More specifically, Diane said, “Pink needs to meet me.” 

On November 28, Diane’s dream had come true. She received the opportunity to chat with Pink via Zoom to share her story and complete her bucket list. You can read the full story on her meeting with Pink here. 

“Getting the chance to listen to a strong woman like Diane was a great experience for myself and the rest of the class," GMercyU Senior Occupational Science student Evan Kirby said. "Our course, Death and Dying, focuses on a lot of different topics surrounding death that are not usually talked about much in society. Diane let her guard down and allowed herself to open up to us, and it was through her life experiences that we were able to learn about many valuable life lessons and, most importantly, learn about how we should approach death when the time comes. She is an incredible woman and the epitome of someone who continues to live life to the fullest no matter the circumstances.”