Double win: Cancer patient collects lottery jackpot and responds to chemo
Diane Bishop says the $1.5M will provide financial stability so she can quit job and focus on health
Diane Bishop beamed as she held up a giant mock cheque and posed for the cameras in Atlantic Lottery's office in St. John's.
"Should I do a little dance?" she asked with a crackly voice, a side-effect of chemotherapy. Then she began to bounce, gently, from side to side.
"It's OK. My hip isn't too bad today."
Something said, "Buy a ticket" that day.- Diane Bishop
This is not a typical photo-op with the winner of a $1.5-million Super Set For Life jackpot.
"This money wasn't about going out and buying a new house or taking trips," said Bishop. "This was about survival. I can survive now, and my kids can survive."
Incredibly, Bishop — who has Stage 4 breast cancer — has just hit the jackpot not once, but twice. Her "Miracle No. 2" is that she is finally, after several failed attempts, responding to treatment.
"It's like this big ball of weight has been lifted off my shoulders. The stress is gone, the anxiety of being sick, I know I can't beat Stage 4 because you're a ticking time bomb, but it's given me hope that maybe it can go dormant for awhile ... and I can live my life."
Bishop, whose cancer has spread to her pelvic bone and lung, had been bracing for her last resort: a clinical trial in Toronto.
For a single mother with two sons in their 20s, one of whom lives with her, the disease had taken a toll.
She walks with a limp, has trouble raising her right arm, has a weak immune system and struggles to get out of bed in the morning.
Her job managing a Needs Convenience store in Mount Pearl had become increasingly difficult.
"I may not survive if I get pneumonia, so I had to weigh the pros and the cons and say, 'OK, you know what, there's got to be a way to make it, if I don't work.' My health has to come first."
But Bishop made a troubling discovery — she couldn't afford to stop working. Government support would amount to just over $1,100 a month, barely enough to pay her mortgage.
In October, she told her story to CBC, and her situation began to change. Strangers offered help, randomly showing up at the Needs store to give her money. She ended up with several thousand dollars she placed in a fund to help pay the expense of experimental treatments in Toronto.
Weeks later, Bishop did something unusual. She purchased a $20 Super Set for Life scratch ticket from the store she manages.
"It was weird. Something said, 'Buy a ticket' that day. I can't explain it."
The choice was life changing for her and her two sons.
"We were all jumping and screaming," she said, describing the moment she discovered the $1.5-million win. "It was like, 'Oh my God, oh my God, we actually won this and our financial troubles are gone.'"
Under Atlantic Lottery rules, any retailer, relative of the retailer or employee winning $1,000 may be subject to an investigation and wait 30 days to claim their prizes. The money was expected to officially be released to her today.
Power of prayer
After learning of her lottery win, Bishop's first purchase was a therapeutic, adjustable mattress to help ease her aches and pains. Her second purchase — a comfortable electric chair for watching television while recovering from chemotherapy treatments.
Bishop's biggest comfort? She can leave her sons, Jordan and Shane Parsons, with financial stability.
"I can pay all our debts off and we get a clean slate," said Bishop. "If I need to go anywhere, there's still money left over. I can invest the rest for the future, and it makes life a whole lot easier."
It's like this big ball of weight has been lifted off my shoulders.- Diane Bishop
The news from her doctor a couple of weeks later brought more hope.
"This is the only chemo so far that has worked for me," said Bishop. "It had taken the fluid out of my lungs. It has shrunk some of the cancer that is in my lung, and it actually healed part of the bone that's in my leg."
It was like winning the lottery all over again.
"We jumped, we hugged, we kissed, we did it all, myself, the doctor and her nurse." said Bishop. "And all I kept saying is, 'I'm not going to Toronto, I'm home for Christmas.'" Home means being with her family, enjoying precious time she didn't think she had, and a new financial reality she had never dreamed would happen. She's also retired from her convenience store job.
"I really believe that it's the power of prayers," Bishop said. "I've had so many people praying for me. They email me through Facebook, they come to the store, they call me, they text me, and they told me their churches are praying for me."
Sharing the wealth
Bishop is looking for ways to pay it forward.
She also receives a one per cent bonus that's awarded to the retail ticket seller, because the ticket was purchased at her work location. She plans to donate that bonus to Daffodil Place, a non-profit that supports cancer patients who travel for treatment, and also plans to give the thousands of dollars in donations from strangers to another patient with an inoperable form of cancer.
Her new financial safety net has also emboldened her to lobby government on behalf of other cancer patients who can't afford to quit their jobs.
"I'm going to continue to fight," said Bishop. "This money doesn't change anything. Retirement gives me more time to make more emails, more phone calls so government is not off the hook."
Bishop knows Stage 4 cancer is incurable, but she's now content with whatever the future holds.
"I got everything I wished for. I can go happy, but I'm just not going yet."