By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN There are some things even cancer can’t take away, and the blessing of true friendships is one of them.
Toni Diem of Delano was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. A recurrence was detected about a month ago, and this time, it spread to her liver.
When she heard the news, Diem couldn’t help but feel a twinge of despair.
Determined to help Diem in any way they could, friends and neighbors spent Oct. 16-18 revamping Diem’s home with new furniture, paint, cabinets, curtains, and other accessories.
“We all just worked together to make Toni’s house a place for her to feel warmth and love so she can win this war she is fighting,” said Diem’s friend Shawn Lubben.
“I have the best friends in the land,” Diem said. “It’s super humbling. I almost feel guilty accepting it.”
Diem’s friend, Cindy Scherer, organized the home makeover, arranging for Diem and her family to spend the weekend at a hotel and water park in Maple Grove.
“They got a weekend away and came home to a new house,” said Tracy Magner, who met Diem through a “girls’ night” three years ago.
The “decorating divas” included Lubben, Magner, Wendy Franklin, and Paula Moonen. Several other volunteers, some of whom didn’t even know Diem, also helped by donating meals, shopping for supplies, and giving money for decorations.
“It took a lot of teamwork and generosity from friends, family, and the community to make this happen,” Lubben said. “The fact that we had so much fun doing it is just an added blessing.”
“We really have a lot of nice people in Delano,” Franklin added.
Some of the decorations were a surprise to Diem, but she knew about the makeover plans beforehand.
Diem and her family purchased their first home in February. Diem had been busy with work and her children, and hadn’t had the time to decorate.
“When fall came, I was ready and excited to tackle it,” Diem said. “And then, blam, everything just stopped.”
The cancer had returned, and Diem’s plans were put on hold.
Meanwhile, Diem’s friends were seeking ways to help her cope with the cancer.
“It’s such a helpless feeling, to watch a friend go through treatment, and worse, to have it recur,” said Kathy Kurtz, a friend of Diem’s who provided a meal for the volunteers.
“If there is anything I can do to make Toni’s life a little easier while she deals with this cancer, I will do it,” Franklin said.
Scherer organized a group of Diem’s friends, who started planning the makeover.
“They were quickly on board,” Scherer said.
Lubben acted as Toni’s “voice,” helping to guide the decorating plans.
“There were a lot of ideas and paint colors to choose from, and Toni had talked to me about what it was she wanted,” Lubben said. “I made sure we stayed on the original course.”
“When they came over for a counseling session and ideas were flying around, I got distracted, and that’s a good thing,” Diem said. “It almost felt like a dream.”
The decorators brought over fabric samples and color swatches so that Diem wouldn’t have to go shopping.
“She [Toni] had the idea of a Tuscan theme, and we wanted to do that the best way we could,” said Moonen, whose children went to preschool with Diem’s boys. “I think it’s safe to call it a success.”
Diem definitely agrees.
“I’m just so relaxed at home now,” Diem said. “It’s calming just to sit there and enjoy it.”
Her living room, dining room, kitchen, hallway, and entryway have been rejuvenated with splashes of color and stylish accessories.
“It’s an enormous difference. We’re all kind of jealous now,” Magner laughed.
Each of the volunteers helped with different aspects of the work.
Moonen, for example, made curtains for the living room, and also helped shop for the items in the house.
“I helped round up donations and volunteers to help pull our design together,” Franklin said. She also did some sewing, painted a picture, helped paint, and searched for furniture on Craig’s List.
“Toni didn’t know what the furniture looked like, so there were some surprises,” Magner said.
Lubben’s husband, Mark, helped move furniture and paint. He also built corner cupboards for the Diem family.
“Everybody was really generous,” Scherer said. “I just kind of sat and was in awe of them,” she said.
“It was great to work with my friends,” Franklin said. “They are very talented people.”
Diem said her husband, Tim, also approves of the new look.
“My husband is afraid of color a little bit, but he loves it,” Diem said.
Their young sons, Billy, Jack, and Paul, aren’t too interested in interior design, but seemed to like the change.
“My boys were like, ‘hey, cool,’ and then they went downstairs to play the Wii,” Diem laughed.
In addition to the inside of Diem’s house, a neighbor also decorated the outside with a fall theme. The neighbor plans to do the same in the winter for Christmas, Scherer said.
Diem said she is extremely appreciative of the friends and family members who’ve provided support.
“There are just so many people who want to fix this for me,” Diem said. “I’m so blessed.”
Diem said it’s sometimes hard to accept help from others, but she is learning.
“Two years ago, I really learned how a community can get together,” she said. “I’m seeing it all over again, now.”
”We want to help Toni fight cancer,” Scherer said. “We want to make her home a place where she can come and rest and heal.”
“The best part is knowing that in a small way, we are helping her to feel more comfortable in her own home, so that she can relax and concentrate on fighting this,” Kurtz added.
“Now, when I come home from cancer treatments, I’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief,” Diem said. “This was super for my mental status.”
“I’d encourage anyone who has the opportunity to do this to go for it,” Magner said. “It helps the person in need and it helps you feel good.”
For Lubben, helping Diem gave her a great feeling of joy.
“I would love to do home makeovers in the future,” Lubben said. “I have no current plans, but am totally open to the possibilities.”
Diem is the director of music for St. Francis Xavier Church of Buffalo. A benefit took place in her honor Oct. 25, starting with a concert at the church. A reception, silent auction, and entertainment at Huikko’s Bowling and Entertainment Center in Buffalo followed.
Those who missed the benefit but would still like to donate can contact Scherer at (763) 972-8137. Donations can also be given directly to the Toni Diem Benefit Account by contacting any Klein Bank.
To read more about the Diem and her battle with cancer, go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/tonidiem.
To see more before and after photos of Diem’s house, go to www.tonidiemmakeover.shutterfly.com.