Diane Sims’s story in ‘The Turning Point’

Diane Sims

STRATFORD – Time has been a whirlwind lately for former The Expositor editor Diane Sims, currently in palliative care at her home in Stratford, Ontario. Taking a break from her battle to have the province mandate all homecare workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, Ms. Sims chatted with The Expositor about the inclusion of one of her works in a new Australian book ‘The Turning Point.’

“‘The Turning Point’ includes a five-page piece from me,” she said. “In the summer of 2020 Exisle Publishing from Australia opened an international competition with the theme “what was the moment that changed your life?” Her story is titled ‘Two Words.’

Exisle Publishing is a global independent publisher of non-fiction books, founded by Gareth St John Thomas in 1991.

Literally hundreds of entries were received by the publisher, with only 30 being winnowed out from the crowd to be chosen for the book edited by Gareth St John Thomas. “No period after St,” notes the editor in Ms. Sims.

She recites a passage from the book’s flyleaf: “each of the stories in this book offers a rare glimpse into the turning point of the writer’s life. Hand-picked as the most extraordinary entries received in an international writing competition, they are eclectic, diverse and entirely immersive.”

Ms. Sims shared a bit of her story that is included in the work she submitted for ‘The Turning Point.’ “The turning point in my life came when I was 17,” she said. Her story revolved around “two words,” an utterance she says moved her from a relatively carefree life as a teenager to an adult with all the cares in the world. Those words “f*** y**” are unsuitable for a family newspaper, but you get the drift. Those words were at first aimed at the rather crabby physician who informed Ms. Sims of her diagnosis—multiple sclerosis—and the prognosis that she would soon be confined to a wheelchair, bedridden by 27 and facing a death sentence by age 35.

“Uttering that expletive, that moment, changed my life,” she said. Raised a good Baptist girl, focused on her school, skiing and her gig as a Sunday school teacher, those words were not part of her vocabulary, but soon came to reflect her attitude toward the illness that threatened to derail her future.

Her parents did not react well to the news, recalled Ms. Sims. They would have hid her away and slipped into denial; for them, it was all over. They say that adversity builds character and perhaps that adage explains Ms. Sims’ subsequent journey through life, a life that included two bachelor of arts degrees, then a masters and going on to work at a large newspaper.

On the 10th anniversary of her diagnosis she engaged in an all-night pub crawl, which resulted in her first missed deadline—but she could be forgiven.

So the age 35 deadline passed, but other challenges remained on the road ahead, including cervical cancer (her sister faced the same challenge). A massive tumour had to be removed.

“I joked I had delivered a 10-pound turkey,” she said. Another death sentence followed, barely a year to live—back in 1996—oh, and a stint with tuberculosis as well.

Ms. Sims has spent a lifetime defying the odds.

Today, she is in palliative care at her home in Stratford and still pursuing her passions. Thanks to the encouragement of Manitoulin artist and close friend Ivan Wheale, Ms. Sims has set brush to canvas to create works of art and discovered a whole new career.

“I started painting back in 2020,” she said. She started out small, painting ornaments. “I decided I liked it.”

Then she sold one of her paintings, and then another. “Last week a friend bought five of my paintings,” she said. Commissions for several more are on the docket.

Through it all, Ms. Sims has shared her indomitable humour and wit. A friend who set about framing a recent Expositor op-ed penned by Ms. Sims asked what colour she would like the frame. The friend was startled when Ms. Sims responded “red.” 

“Why red?” asked her friend. “What’s black and white and read all over,” responded Ms. Sims.

Ms. Sims’ life may have been turned on an uncharacteristic bit of defiant profanity—but her humour and a dogged determination to not let her illness define that life forged a truly remarkable character.