Fighter. Survivor. Thriver: A Leidos employee shares her cancer journey
It was a normal, sunny day in 2019 for Dinah Ray, Weapon Systems Operations security manager and assistant facility security officer for Dynetics. She was going to get the results of her latest mammogram, a friend in tow. The doctor had advised her to bring one, but Dinah wasn’t too concerned. She’d been through this before.
“I kept telling my friend, ‘It’s no big deal. It’s nothing.’ It had happened before. It never turned out to be anything,” Dinah said. “But then, the nurse came in and said the ‘C’ word.”
She had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Her treatment would require surgery and chemotherapy, but the whole conversation after her diagnosis was a blur.
“I just kept thinking, ‘I’m going to lose my hair,’” Dinah said. “I know that sounds silly, but that was all I could think about at that moment.”
The possibility of confronting death would hit her later, but Dinah refused to be taken down by the negative thoughts this early. She was a fighter, after all.
Dinah served in the military for five years and has been with Dynetics for 27 years. She worked her way up from the front desk to her current position in the security department. She’s well-known around the office for her bright smile and welcoming personality.
She’s made security fun by hosting annual security trainings filled with “game shows” centered on security terms and “commercials” featuring employees reenacting popular commercials or shows but with a security spin. She also started a security poster contest for employees to submit funny, security-themed captions for various images. The winners are placed on posters around the Dynetics campus and turned into calendars.
Needless to say, Dinah’s kind of a big deal, especially when it comes to fun.
However, she knew cancer diagnosis would slow her down. She had chosen to have a double mastectomy because she felt like it was the best option for her particular situation.
“That was pain I had never felt before,” Dinah said. “I have Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory disease that attacks the digestive tract and also required her to have surgery), which can be very painful, but this … this was something else.”
She was sent home with drains and required around-the-clock care. She even had to sleep upright in an armchair for a week.
“Every inch of me hurt,” Dinah said.
When she was cleared to go back to work, she went in every day she could – even though she’d been told she could take as much time as she needed as her treatment got underway.
“But work is what keeps me sane,” Dinah said. “I always tried to schedule my appointments for Thursdays or Fridays in case I was sick from the treatment. I needed to be here every day I could be.”
Dinah’s coworkers recognized her resiliency, and they stepped in to make sure she knew they were all rooting for her as she fought back against the “C” word.
“They made these pink bracelets that said #DinahStrong,” Dinah said, “and they sold them to help me with my medical bills. I had so many people tell me that they looked at those bracelets throughout the day and would think of me and say a little prayer. That meant so much to me.”
Radiation and chemo would claim Dinah’s hair, but a good friend helped her out by purchasing her a wig that looked almost exactly like her lost locks. She also found herself in and out of the hospital as the treatments irritated her Crohn’s. Through it all, though, Dinah kept smiling, as friends and coworkers helped out, sitting with her during treatments, bringing her food and simply providing words of encouragement as she went about her day.
“I really am thankful for all the kind words, prayers and just help I received from everyone as I went through this,” Dinah said.
Dinah finally finished her treatments, and at the beginning of 2020, one year to the day she’d been diagnosed, she was declared cancer free.
“I don’t have all the dates written down, but I do remember that it was the same day,” Dinah said. “One year to the day. Can you believe it?”
Dinah had reconstruction surgery, and she’s resumed her role as the fun security trainer now that the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, allowing employees to return to the office.
“I do remember when COVID-19 started because I had just finished up treatment, so my immune system was quite weak,” Dinah said.
But it didn’t stop her from making those commercials for the annual security training. The big one for that year featured the security team, where else but on Zoom. As they try to conduct their weekly meeting, one of them doesn’t realize she’s not on mute, and the shenanigans proceed from there. It was a funny way to relive some of the harder days of 2020.
“If I had to go through all of my treatment through 2020, I don’t know that I would have made it,” Dinah said. “Being able to have my friends with me, being able to come into work and actually see people, it made a big difference.”
Dinah had survived her own fight with breast cancer, but she wasn’t done just yet.
Dinah had always been big on supporting breast cancer efforts, even before her own diagnosis. Her grandmother died from breast cancer, and several friends had been directly or indirectly impacted by the disease.
In Huntsville, Alabama, the Liz Hurley Walk is one of the biggest fundraisers for breast cancer research, and Dinah had participated before. In 2019, though, she formed her own team for the walk, #DInahStrong. Friends and coworkers joined, and they walked together to raise awareness. The walk was cancelled the following two years due to COVID-19, but in 2022, Dinah was able to reform her team. This time, though, she was participating in a different walk.
“It was the first year I was able to participate in it as a survivor,” Dinah said. “It was a very special moment for me.”
Dinah walked with fellow area survivors of breast cancer to kick off the event, and she was cheered on by a team who had seen her through it all.
“I like to say I’m a fighter and a survivor and a thriver,” Dinah said. “I believe we should live each day to the fullest. I believed that before, but I believe it even more now.”