There is no lonelier time for a woman than when she learns she has breast cancer. The looming prospect of losing her breast, her hair, and facing her own mortality can be a lonely daunting road to travel.
Denise McCroskey knows that road. On October 17, 2011, she was diagnosed, at age 55, with Stage III breast cancer.
“I didn’t know what was facing me or if I would be alive in the spring,” she said, knowing her father had died of pancreatic cancer just three months after being diagnosed.
That fear helped Denise focus. No time for frivolity. On that night, she made a decision that would help her heal and inspire other women. She started a blog.
“The night I was diagnosed I was so overwhelmed I didn’t know how I would ever get through what I had before me. All my life I’ve always had to write about things in journals, so if I could help just one other woman going through what I was going though over my diagnosis I would put it out there and see if I could get the word out.”
Get the word out she did. Her blog, denise4health, has tallied more than 19,000 hits since March 1. One of those was from an editor at Ladies Home Journal which has resulted in a feature story about Denise to appear in the October issue on newsstands September 11.
The Oregon resident and Lake High graduate writes about her experiences with a mastectomy, five months of chemotherapy, seven weeks of radiation, lymph-node removal, hair loss and heart damage, a side effect of the drug Herceptin. She writes about her fears, her emotional changes, having to choose between a wig and a turban and friends disappearing during chemo therapy. All of these things comprise what this single woman says is that “crazy, lonely roller coaster ride” that is breast cancer.
Sharing her personal story has had a positive affect on the lives of other breast cancer survivors. One woman from California wrote: “While in the midst of my AC chemo treatment I was feeling so awful that I thought I would try to research a little online about AC. I wanted to know this because I felt so horrible after my second round of AC…that I wanted to ask my doctor if I could stop and not take my remaining two AC treatments. I stumbled upon your blog and have been reading about your journey. Because of you, and the many others walking this journey, I have decided I can do it. I’m not alone…I wanted to let you know that God is working thru you…He brought me to you. Just when I needed someone who I knew, knew how I felt. Thank you.”
Another woman in Georgia wrote, “I started reading...and I read the entire thing. I was glued to my chair and tears were falling. I could not move until I read the entire blog from start to the last post made by you this week. You have validated my entire thoughts. You have made me feel so normal in them: My fears, my laughter, my 'what ifs'. Everything. You understand. I cried and cried. You have given me some hope."
Those responses have validated her reasons for starting the blog. She explains, “It’s given me a purpose for the whole breast cancer journey. It’s so overwhelming when you start because it’s like learning a whole different language. I had no concept. I thought all breast cancer was alike. I was totally misinformed about who gets breast cancer. I’ve learned an amazing amount of information and it is helpful to my healing to help other women because I’ve done a lot of research for them.”
Denise has two pieces of advice for all women. They come from her biggest regret. While she had mammograms every other year, she wished she would have gone to the doctor in 2010 when she started to feel a pain similar to a bee sting deep in her breast. She searched the Internet and concluded that pain in the breast doesn’t necessarily mean cancer. Unfortunately, she neglected the pain until she felt a small lump which sent her to her physician.
Her physician called it the “save your life lump” because a breast exam revealed a larger malignant lump. One month later, her breast was removed.
Denise cautions all women who feel pain in their breast to see a doctor and be skeptical about what you read on the Internet.
“I think you can’t always trust what you read on the Internet. I guess we want to, because we don’t always want to go to the doctor and we want instant answers. But often times there are more underlying things that need to be addressed… I know for myself that when I saw that breast pain is not cancer that was good enough for me.”
Denise’s path to recover is on hold due to the heart damage. She has gone back to work as a self-employed property manager. And, she is scheduled to resume nine months of chemo at the end of this month. Meanwhile, she will keep writing, both to help her heal and to inspire others traveling that “crazy, lonely roller-coaster ride.”