A Fashion Phenomenon
- Fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg, 74, built a fashion empire with her famous “wrap dress” in 1974. “It’s so strange … this little dress paid all my bills, paid for my children’s education, made me famous, gave me a voice—I mean that little dress did everything for me.”
- The independent businesswoman beat tongue cancer, initially discovering something was wrong after a lunch with fellow designer Ralph Lauren.
- Top experts explain how HPV can cause this type of cancer, which is classified as a head and neck cancer (and also causes anal and cervical cancer). “The virus gets into our DNA, and likes to settle in the tissues of the cervix or the back of the throat, and can ultimately cause changes that form cancer,” Dr. Jessica Geiger tells SurvivorNet.
“I am now a woman at the sunset of her life,” she said to People while discussing her new book, Own It: The Secret to LIfe. “And therefore, part of what I know I’m leaving behind is a beautiful family and my brand. But I also want to be able to use my voice, my experience, my knowledge and my connections in order to help other women to be the women that they want to be.”Read More
“It’s so strange,” she said. “This little dress paid all my bills, paid for my children’s education, made me famous, gave me a voice—I mean that little dress did everything for me—but for the longest time I took it for granted. I never honored it. When people said, ‘Diane von Furstenberg, the wrap dress!’ I’d say, ‘But I do other things, too.’ It was only last year, as I prepared the exhibit, that I realized how important it was.” DVF was referring to her Journey of a Dress exhibition that celebrated 40 years of the wrap dress.
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Her Love Stories
When Diane initially met Prince Egon von Fürstenberg in Switzerland in 1965, “the greatest catch in Europe at the time,” she wrote in an essay for Vogue, she said she was unimpressed with him, but they grew closer over the years and wound up marrying in 1969, three months after learning she was pregnant with their first child, Alexander. Then came their daughter, Tatiana, in 1971.
The pair split three and a half years later, but didn’t divorce until 1983. The Prince died in 2004 from liver cancer. By that time, von Furstenberg had already been swept away by media mogul Barry Diller, whom she had married in 2001 after years of living separately.
“I met Barry when I was 28 years old and he was 33,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “And you know, it was real passion and completely unexpected on his side and my side. It was very, very violent passion, and we stayed together. He was bicoastal, but we lived together in New York, and five years later we separated. I wanted to live my independent life, and we both did. But we were always in each other’s lives, in that we were always there for each other.”
“Then 26 years later, we got married, and so now it feels like we have always been together, yet we have not always been together. It’s in no way an example of anything. It’s just life, you know? But now I realize how lucky I am.”
The strong woman never let marriage or motherhood get in the way of her fashion business, and flew around the world, achieving continued success. Von Furstenberg’s drive, to this day, is fierce. Her mother — a Holocaust survivor — taught her to not be fearful by shutting her in a cupboard as a little girl.
“She would say, ‘Fear is not an option.’ She would lock me in there so I wouldn’t be afraid of the dark,” von Furstenberg told The Times. “And the truth is, I am glad she did it. First of all, it doesn’t stay dark. Second of all, what are you afraid of? It is just dark. It was the best gift she gave me.”
She has sourced her mother as a fashion inspiration. “I used to feel great admiration watching my mother get dressed to go out…she looked at herself in the mirror with a smile of confidence,” the designer wrote in her book, The Woman I Wanted to Be.
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A Tongue Cancer Diagnosis
Von Furstenberg shared the bizarre story of how she found out she had cancer after a lunch with designer Ralph Lauren.
“It’s the most ridiculous thing,” she said to Harper’s Bazaar in 2009. “… So I didn’t really know Ralph very well. And we ordered one course because neither of us really wanted to do this lunch.” Lauren started opening up to her about a benign (non-cancerous) brain tumor that he had had. “And I said, ‘How did you find out about it?’ And he said, ‘It’s funny. I had a noise in my ear, and I went to the doctor, and there was nothing in my ear, but that’s when they found it.'”
DVF realized at that moment that she had a noise in her own ear and thought she was being crazy. “He tells me about that and I have a noise in my ear? So I pay no attention. The next day, I still have a noise in my ear, so I immediately went to the doctor, who found nothing wrong with my ear. But he said, ‘You know you have a swollen gland here.'”
Her doctor biopsied it and said it was only a cyst and wasn’t in a hurry to take it out. “No, no, I want it out,” she said. “And when they took it out, they cut it, they found little bad cells in it. I did eight weeks of radiation. But I was lucky; that was 15 years ago.”
Preventing Tongue Cancer
Tongue cancer, which is often categorized as a “head and neck cancer,” is associated with HPV, the human papillomavirus. HPV was not widely known at the time of Von Furstenberg’s diagnosis. Only in recent years have doctors been discovering more about the virus and its association with these diseases.
There is also now an HPV vaccine that prevents against HPV-related cancers and can be administered starting as young as 9 years old.
“We recommend strongly that children are vaccinated against HPV to prevent cervical cancer, but also to prevent head and neck cancer,” Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet. “Now the key with the vaccine is that you received the vaccine before you ever reach sexual debut or have sexual encounters. So that’s why these vaccines are approved for young children ages 9, 10, 11 years old, up to 26.”
How is HPV Spread?
“HPV is spread through sexual contact,” Dr. Geiger says. “HPV is a virus that’s actually very well spread throughout Western society. Fortunately, for the majority of us, over 90%, we clear the virus without ever knowing that we were exposed.”
However, in 6% or 7% of the population, “the virus remains dormant in our body.” she says. “And over time, meaning decades after we were first exposed, the virus gets into our DNA, and likes to settle in the tissues of the cervix or the back of the throat, and can ultimately cause changes that form cancer.”
The important thing to know about HPV is that there are many different strains, and only a couple of them tend to cause cancer. “The vast majority of humans in the US, both men and woman, will eventually get infected with human papillomavirus,” Dr. Allen Ho from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center tells SurvivorNet. “Probably less than 1% of the population who get infected happen to have the cancer-causing virus that, somehow, their immune system fails to clear.”