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Cancer survivor shares story of endurance

Posted: Monday, October 23, 2000

"When you fly against the wind, that's when you learn to soar your highest."

Kenai resident Denyse Mitchell said she found the quote after her recovery from breast cancer. She doesn't know who said it, but she knows the words hold true for her.

Though cancer has been prominent in Mitchell's family history, she said, she never thought it would happen to her.

"I had always been so healthy. I never paid my (insurance) deductible in any given year," she said.

However, her life changed the day she said she found a dimple in her breast while standing in front of a mirror.

"I sort of panicked a bit," she said.

But she set panic aside and went to see her doctor.

"She looked at me and said, 'cancer, chemo, go get a mammogram,'" Mitchell said.

So with those words in her head, she walked out of the doctor's office and immediately went to get a mammogram.

The results of the test came back suspicious, and a biopsy was ordered for Mitchell. Less than a week after her initial consultation, the biopsy came back positive.

A week later, Mitchell underwent a mastectomy -- the removal of her left breast.

But the fight did not end. Mitchell still had chemotherapy ahead.

She started chemotherapy 10 days after her mastectomy.

She was told the chemo would make her sick and she would lose her hair.

Mitchell said it did both. She lost all of her hair, but she bought a blonde wig and wore scarves. She said she endured six months of chemotherapy and currently goes for checkups once a year.

She admits that her first year was rough, with worries about the first checkup, but her recovery progressed.

Two years after her treatments, Mitchell had a biopsy taken from her other breast, and the results came back benign.

Looking back on her experiences, she said, she wants women to know that cancer -- especially breast cancer, if caught early -- is not a death sentence.

And as a seven-year survivor, she should know. Mitchell said she lives life to the fullest, and the little things don't bother her anymore.

"Once you go through treatment, it is time to go on with your life," she said.

Today, Mitchell works full-time and is an advocate for breast cancer awareness. She also participated in Reach To Recovery, a program for breast cancer survivors to help newly diagnosed women in any way they can.

"I can say that I have been there, I did it, you can, too," she said.

After finding out about her cancer, she said she was approached by many who were sympathetic, but others said nothing and even avoided speaking to her because they did not know what to say.

However, since cancer is not contagious, she said, people should not avoid the subject.

"If you feel like saying it, just say it," she said.

BYLINE1:By SARA J. SMITH

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

"When you fly against the wind, that's when you learn to soar your highest."

Kenai resident Denyse Mitchell said she found the quote after her recovery from breast cancer. She doesn't know who said it, but she knows the words hold true for her.

Though cancer has been prominent in Mitchell's family history, she said, she never thought it would happen to her.

"I had always been so healthy. I never paid my (insurance) deductible in any given year," she said.

However, her life changed the day she said she found a dimple in her breast while standing in front of a mirror.

"I sort of panicked a bit," she said.

But she set panic aside and went to see her doctor.

"She looked at me and said, 'cancer, chemo, go get a mammogram,'" Mitchell said.

So with those words in her head, she walked out of the doctor's office and immediately went to get a mammogram.

The results of the test came back suspicious, and a biopsy was ordered for Mitchell. Less than a week after her initial consultation, the biopsy came back positive.

A week later, Mitchell underwent a mastectomy -- the removal of her left breast.

But the fight did not end. Mitchell still had chemotherapy ahead.

She started chemotherapy 10 days after her mastectomy.

She was told the chemo would make her sick and she would lose her hair.

Mitchell said it did both. She lost all of her hair, but she bought a blonde wig and wore scarves. She said she endured six months of chemotherapy and currently goes for checkups once a year.

She admits that her first year was rough, with worries about the first checkup, but her recovery progressed.

Two years after her treatments, Mitchell had a biopsy taken from her other breast, and the results came back benign.

Looking back on her experiences, she said, she wants women to know that cancer -- especially breast cancer, if caught early -- is not a death sentence.

And as a seven-year survivor, she should know. Mitchell said she lives life to the fullest, and the little things don't bother her anymore.

"Once you go through treatment, it is time to go on with your life," she said.

Today, Mitchell works full-time and is an advocate for breast cancer awareness. She also participated in Reach To Recovery, a program for breast cancer survivors to help newly diagnosed women in any way they can.

"I can say that I have been there, I did it, you can, too," she said.

After finding out about her cancer, she said she was approached by many who were sympathetic, but others said nothing and even avoided speaking to her because they did not know what to say.

However, since cancer is not contagious, she said, people should not avoid the subject.

"If you feel like saying it, just say it," she said.



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