"Cancer does not define you. Your actions define you. The way you treat the world around you defines you. Never allow cancer to take over who you are. Let your inner-self shine regardless of what you're going through."
Denise is 24 years old, living in White House, TN. She was diagnosed with colon cancer, stages 2 and 3 at the age of 18. She has been in and out of remission for the past 6 years, dealing with a polyp, tumor, cysts on other organs, and other cells being found.
To Denise: Your story captured me right away because I take health & fitness very serious and love how you took your diagnosis and used your physical strength to turn it into something so positive. Your daughter has a great role model to look up to. It hit me hard when you said that if something were to happen to you, you don't want your daughter to look and say "Well my mom's gone." So many people are inspired by you and I belive you are carrying a great legacy for Cali; she will grow up to be nothing less than proud of her mother. ♥
Interview Date: 11/1/15
How were you diagnosed?
Well initially, as a teen I experienced lots of pain in my abdomen but we never looked into what was actually causing the discomfort. At 18 I finally gave in and saw a specialist. My gallbladder had become swollen to the size of a softball and was leaking, which explains the final excruciating pain that sent me to the ER. After removal of my gallbladder, the pains and symptoms still resided for many more months. Eventually they did a full scan along with lots of testing and found polyps and tumors on my colon.
What were your initial thoughts and reaction when you were diagnosed?
Initially I was just confused, angry, kind of numb to it all because I didn't understand it. At that time colon cancer was the number 2 cancer killer in the world. I thought back to times where as a teen I should've been taken to the doctor, and if I had been, would it have changed the outcome? I thought about the children I potentially would never have. I thought about the boyfriend that just left me and how I was going to do this alone. I was too prideful to just lie down and be weak so it was a very emotionally exhausting time because I felt like I had to live normal and keep a straight face.
Is there a family history of cancer?
After being diagnosed, how have you changed your perspective on life?
A lot has changed. I value each day more than the last. I expect the best from myself because I refuse to one day be sick again and to look back, as I did when I was first diagnosed, and think "What legacy am I going to leave if I die?" Instead, every day I focus on being positive, healthy, constantly growing and evolving, as well as helping those around me.
What gives you strength and motivation?
My daughter. Cancer was hard but being a single mom is a lot harder. The thing that keeps me constantly pushing to remain healthy and take my life in my own hands, as opposed to allowing some disease to control me, is my daughter Calisi, or Cali as most know her. I will never die and have her think "Well, my mom's gone." Instead I want her to remember my strength, my motivation, my drive to help others, and my faith that no matter how bad things are, you can make your life and the world around you better. She is my constant fountain of strength and vitality.
Who is your support system and how have they supported you?
Initially I did this all alone. I had just gone through a horrific breakup and I was very much alone. The friends I did have at the time leaned on me so much for support in their lives that I felt guilty asking for their support. A few friends knew and would help me without making me feel weak. Since then I've developed a great support system, now that I realize that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, and they push to keep me healthy and happy.
What is your treatment process and what is your perspective on it?
I went through a few. I had cauterization of polyps, surgery to remove the tumors, surgery to remove the cysts off of my ovaries, as well as chemo and radiation. My views, as well as treatment, may differ from most. Obviously as a female, and a young one at that, I did not want to remove my colon. The doctors agreed that we had caught it early enough that, though it would be painful, there was an aggressive way to fight the disease. I knew I could take the pain and sickness if it would give me my life back and allow me the opportunity to better myself and my life. Luckily, I was a patient of Duke Hospital and they took very good care of me. Their hospital staff and doctors were amazing. I have very minimal scarring and they were very supportive of my decisions and kept my spirits up throughout the process.
What words do you have for ones afraid to get checked?
Never fear the unknown. The unknown can kill you and it's not always a quick death. The unknown takes away your opportunity to reflect on life and find a reason to fight harder to survive and leave a bigger impact on this world. Being scared that they might find something is the worst decision you could make. Catch your illness early and you can fight it with ease and confidence. Wait to check and one day be so weak and ill, they finally check it and now you're weak and worn and have to find something to get you through the fight... that's no way to live. Don't fear it. Take your life by the horns. Get checked. Live a healthy lifestyle. You control your destiny!
What advice or message can you provide to those who have been diagnosed?
Mindset. I tell this to everyone whether they are battling cancer, depression, loss of a loved one, etcetera... mindset is everything! If you are diagnosed and all you think about is what you'll never be able to accomplish, the people that will lose you, and the pain you're going through... you're going to have a fruitless battle. Win or lose in this cancer battle, you have a choice. You have a choice to be strong and positive. You have a choice to live each day better than the last. You have the opportunity to inspire the world around you and show them that regardless of some disease, you are a human being and you can accomplish things. You can live, love, laugh, lose, hurt, fall, etcetera. You are no different than anyone else around you. You just have a different battle. Weakness is a mindset. Destroy that mindset and stay positive. Surround yourself with positivity. Take your life into your own hands and do everything you can to be healthy!
What would you say to patients that feel like cancer defines them?
Cancer does not define you. Your actions define you. The way you treat the world around you defines you. Never allow cancer to takeover who you are. Let your inner self shine regardless of what you're going through.
If you would like to reach out to Denise, contact her via Instagram at denise_deux.