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Stories of Perseverance: Denese Chrouch

Throughout July the Lowell Ledger and the Buyer's Guide & News will once again highlight the stories of area cancer survivors and those who are dealing with grief. Each writer will convey, in their own words, their experiences as they walk through the many phases of their personal journey.
All photos courtesy of Heather Eveland Photography.

I think my cancer story is probably like a lot of other people.  I went for a normal mammogram in January of 2018 and they found something abnormal, which they thought was just a lymph node that was inflamed, but didn’t think it was anything to worry about but something to watch. I went back in June and it was still there and the doctor said she didn’t want to get three years down the road and find a problem, so they scheduled me for a biopsy.  
Two days later I got the call saying that it was cancer. I really don’t remember all of the call, I know a lot of information was given to me and I did ask questions, but the fact that I had cancer was all that I recall. I was scheduled to meet with a team of doctors at Lemmon-Holton Cancer Center. My husband and I went for the appointment, which lasted most of the day. My team of doctors met together in a room to look at my test results and come up with a plan of treatment.  They then met with me individually to examine me and to talk about what their treatment would look like.  It was a very tiring and very emotionally draining day.  The plan was that I would have surgery to remove the lump, which I ended up having two surgeries because the margins were not clear, then to have 16 radiation treatments and be done.  My tumor was very small and was located very close to my chest wall, so that I could not feel it when doing self-breast exams.  The mammogram was the only way it would have been found until it grew larger. So I feel that a mammogram saved my life.  
The doctors had told me that they thought I would probably just have radiation, but they sent the tumor for a specialized test called oncotyping, and my score came back on the higher side, which means my chance for recurrence was higher, but my score was still in a gray area where you could opt for chemotherapy or just go with radiation. After much prayer, talking to my family and friends in the medical field, I opted for chemo. That was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, and I tried to talk myself out of doing chemo every day. Even though chemo is not something you ever want to do, I feel like I made the right decision for me so that if it ever comes back I know that I did everything I could possibly do to try to prevent that. But the day came and I started my chemo treatments, six treatments, one every three weeks starting in October and ending in January.  That really doesn’t sound like a long time, but when you are in the middle of it it feels like an eternity. After that my time was taken up with extreme fatigue, hair loss, nausea, white and red blood cell counts, being germaphobic so that I didn't get sick, doctor visits and just the ever-present unknown.  
Everyone’s cancer journey is similar and everyone’s cancer journey is unique. Even though I was getting chemo and feeling rotten, I was a also seeing people at Lemmon-Holton who were having a much more difficult time than I was and even though I didn’t know most of their names they went on my prayer list and I prayed for them daily.  
I always heard people say that cancer is a journey but didn’t really know what they meant. But it is a journey to places and doing things that you didn’t know anything about and never want to visit again. Along the journey you learn things about yourself that you didn’t know: How will I react to the possibility a life-threatening illness? Will I be sad to lose my hair? How will my family and friends react? Will my faith get weaker or stronger? I come from a long line of worriers in my family, and through this process I learned to replace my worry with fully relying on God and I felt a great deal of peace. This was all out of my control and I could sit and cry and worry or just get on with what I needed to do and make the best of a bad situation. So I made the decision, with God’s help, that cancer was a part of my life but it wasn’t going to control my life. When the time came that my hair started to fall out in clumps I told my daughter to get the clippers and give me a mohawk, because I would never have the opportunity to see what I looked like with one again. So she gave me a mohawk and used mousse to make it kind of stand up and we took pictures. It was a time of laughter in a situation that didn’t give you a lot of opportunity to laugh. I started out wearing the hats and scarves, but I have never really been a hat person, so after a while I ditched the scarves, bought a t-shirt that said, “Does this shirt make my head look bald,” and went out with my head bald and shiny. To me hair didn’t define me and I didn’t want to be constantly pulling at my scarf to keep it from slipping off. I got a lot of double takes, but mostly a lot of smiles from other people when I went out. Everyone has to do what is right for them, wigs, hats, scarves, which are great, but it felt freeing for me. My family was so supportive, taking over the daily chores and taking me to my appointments; and my neighbors and friends brought meals, sent cards and just generally made me feel loved.
Seeing this on paper makes it sound benign and clinical and it was anything but. I had times of sadness, despair and worry, but I have great faith in God and I just tried to put everything in His hands and know that no matter the outcome He was with me. This allowed me to be able to sleep at night and accept the things that came with cancer as something I needed to get through and get to the other side of, knowing God was in control. My tests and examinations say that I am now cancer-free and I am so grateful for that. Even though I’m not on a cancer journey any longer, I’m on a life journey and trying to make the best of every day, grateful to be here and putting cancer in the rearview mirror. On my last day of radiation my doctor said to me, “now go have a great life,” and that’s what I intend to do.

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