A quiet stalker strikes close to home

December 03, 1992

Ovarian cancer is called one of the silent killers. The diseas typically progresses without detectable symptoms, and is often discovered at a stage so advanced that treatment comes too late.

An estimated 21,000 women will be diagnosed with it this year alone. About 13,000 will die.

Still, those numbers are inadequate to measure the tragedy involved when the disease hits close to home, as it did recently in Howard County.

The death of Diane Zdenek is a sad testament to the toll cancer of the ovaries can take. Because Mrs. Zdenek was a teacher. Because her three children are so young, the oldest only four. Because she herself was only 40.

The death of Mrs. Zdenek didn't generate the same kind of horror or sensation as did the death of Pam Basu at the hands of carjackers nearly three months ago, but it was no less a misfortune.

The impact reaches people who never met her, and everyone can understand the deep pain that her family and friends must feel.

Also like Mrs. Basu, Diane Zdenek lived a life of significance.

As a teacher of Latin at Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills high schools for more than 15 years, she not only imbued students with the rudiments of language, she also eagerly imparted wisdom on culture and mythology.

Her annual Roman feasts for her students, complete with togas, were inspired and inspiring, and her teaching colleagues invariably recalled a woman who was small in stature but enormous in vigor and dedication.

"She loved the classics," said one. "One of the things she always said was that the study of language would allow students to communicate with people living thousands of years ago."

That sense of purpose and meaning in one's profession is an ennobling gift precisely because it can be shared with others. Diane Zdenek shared it with many.

So, the circumstances of this death compound the pain.

Ovarian cancer causes more deaths among women than any other reproductive disorder. Women over 40 are advised to have cancer-related checkups annually, but ovarian cancer can strike at any age.

It is both ironic and tragic that Diane Zdenek, who worked to instill in young people the grandeur of communication, was one of the young victims of a stalker so insidiously quiet.

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