Gospel house music prodigy Dana Divine has a reputation for being the life of the party, so it’s no surprise that she brought that same upbeat energy to her cancer journey.
Whether you’re having an intimate gathering or a big bash, you’ll want Dana Divine on your guest list.
“If there are only two or three people present, once Dana arrives, it’s officially a celebration. She is the life of the party,” says Rishal Stanciel, her ride-or-die for more than 30 years. How else could one define Divine?
In many ways, her list of accomplishments is long. Divine is a musician, record producer, independent label owner, gospel radio and television show host, wife, mother of three, community engagement manager and breast cancer survivor. It’s a mouthful, but her list of accomplishments only scratches the surface of Divine’s story.
Divine, whose last name is Wint–Divine is a nickname given by her husband–is a Chicagoan who can’t sit still. Not even when cancer called her name in 2009.
While Divine is known for her energy, gospel music came first. Growing up, she was always in the choir at school. Professionally, her roots were in the 1990s house music scene. While studying abroad at the University of Sussex in Brighton in 1985, Divine began writing songs, doing studio work and singing and touring with a band.
Divine’s love of house music grew after returning to the states, morphing into her own brand of gospel house music. Twenty years ago, she shook the gospel world by creating the Gospel Slide, a Christian line dance. “It was a little controversial, as it wasn’t like a praise dance. It wasn’t well received at first, but over time the church came up to speed,” says Divine. As a musician, her classic hits include Basstoy’s “Turn It Up” (on which she is a featured vocalist) and the solo single “Brighter Days.” “Runnin’,” another Basstoy track she is featured on, was even included on Sony’s PlayStation 2 music soundtrack and became one of Nokia’s first ringtones. This year she released “If Your Love is True” with Soulbridge.
Divine’s can-do, no-limits attitude is the way she’s always lived. And it came in handy when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer more than a decade ago at age 41. While shaving, Divine discovered a small lump under her right armpit. She had also noticed that there was a weird odor from her armpit that no amount of washing could make go away.
“I dismissed the lump, but did call to schedule my annual appointment with my OB-GYN,” she says. “He did not notice the pea-sized knot during my visit. He did, however, order an ultrasound so that I would not worry. It was during the ultrasound that the lump was found.”
Time stopped after receiving her diagnosis. “I remember feeling a slow, hot sweat forming at the crown of my head traveling to the bottom of my feet as she said, ‘We found cancer,’” recalls Divine, who had stage I breast cancer in the left breast and IIA on the right. “I really don’t remember much of anything else she said.”
Nothing is the same after cancer. You learn to navigate the new normal. I just kept going.Dana Divine
For treatment, Divine opted for a double mastectomy. It wasn’t until after her surgery that the mysterious odor went away. She also had chemotherapy. “I was only nauseous after my initial chemo appointment. I exercised a lot during my treatment, with the intention of either sweating it out (releasing toxins through my pores) or peeing it out (drinking plenty of water). I did very well through chemo,” she says.
It was a tough time, but the undefeatable Divine proved quite the soldier. “I’d just completed my sophomore CD project months before my diagnosis, and found that my own music would be my source of strength during the journey,” she recalls. “The CD is titled “Lifeline!” Go figure.” Divine went back to work four weeks after surgery.
“When I think back, I must have just needed to keep my life as normal as possible. I did not want my children to see me looking sad and crying. I would put on a wig, and some eyelashes like I was having a show or performance,” she says. “However, years after treatment, a photo of a woman popped up on my computer and my family was like, ‘Who is she?’”
It was her, bald, eyebrow-less, and minus 25 pounds. Unrecognizable. “She was a trooper. Dana didn’t slow down,” says Stanciel, who lives in Atlanta. Stanciel spent some time with Divine during her ordeal. They went to the track near Divine’s home and walked or ran together. She admires Divine’s determination. “She pushed herself physically and was adamant about juicing and eating well. She was doing everything she could to help her healing,” says Stanciel.
Four weeks after surgery, Divine returned to making music. “As a radio personality and recording artist, I was able to channel my cancer experience into introspective music and creativity,” Divine says. “Writing music is my ‘happy space,’ where I get lost for hours and hours. I will never tire of weaving melodies and words into music.”
Divine is now cancer free. Reflecting on her cancer experience, Divine’s advice for other women is “Pay attention to everything. Get a checkup.” She is surprised at the number of women over 40 who haven’t had a mammogram. “It’s important to get your mammogram every year. With cancer, things change rapidly. If you’re getting your mammogram every year and something has changed, at least it hasn’t been more than a year,” says Divine.
Divine, 52, has had no recurrence of cancer since 2009, but memories linger of “making lemonade out of lemons,” says Divine. “Nothing is the same after cancer. You learn to navigate the new normal. I just kept going. I’m proud of the fact I’m a survivor. I learned a lot about myself.”
Divine’s experience birthed a new ministry of doing her part for breast cancer awareness. She has participated in fundraising for breast cancer through walks and events for organizations like Peer Plus, Sisters Working It Out, and the Tatisa C. Joiner Foundation. Today, you’ll find Divine working as the community engagement manager for Equal Hope, a nonprofit organization that strives to eliminate the health disparities in Illinois for women with breast and other cancers. And despite her busy schedule, she still makes time for her music.
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the entertainment world. But Divine is utilizing isolation for her art. “While Zoom invites you into the room, the audience experience is sorely missing,” she says. “We feed off of the energy of the audience. I can’t wait until society gets back to ‘live’ music. In the meantime, all the extra time spent inside, and away from the world, has inspired me tremendously musically and spiritually.”