The Heroines

Denise Keller

is honored with a Brick from Mark Ayesh.

 Denise  Keller If you asked Denise Keller how having cancer changed her life, she would tell you it taught her to concentrate on what truly matters and not worry about what others think of her. It taught her that if she can go through cancer and survive she can face anything. It taught her that people can't resist rubbing a bald head!! Having cancer taught her all this, but she taught us her family and friends more important life lessons.

Denise was a typical 17-year-old teenage girl in September of 1996, starting her senior year of high school when she went to the doctor for a nagging neck soreness that we attributed to a possible P.E. injury. One surgery and 10 days of agony waiting for a diagnosis from the Mayo Clinic revealed that our only child had Large Cell Lymphoma that was not only in the lymph nodes in her neck but had also spread to a lymph node in her chest. The picture of her shown here is her senior picture and it was taken less than 24 hours after she found out she had cancer.

We, her family and friends were devastated of course. We tried not to show her our worry and fear so as not to scare her. We weren't sure how to act around her or how she would react to the news. That's when our life lessons started.

To our surprise this slightly spoiled (although she'd deny that) only child NEVER complained about her rotten fate. She never asked "why me?" She accepted her cancer for what it was to her an inconvenience that got in her way and slowed her down from accomplishing her goals. She had planned to graduate a semester early but the treatments and her reaction to them prevented her from attending school the first semester. The school was very understanding and gave her the whole second semester to work at home to complete the first semester so she could graduate with her class. This she did, as well as continue to the best of her ability her daily exercise routine, and worked at her part time job when she could.

Donna Horton, a dear woman who recently passed away from her own cancer, took her wig shopping and helped her pick out a wig that very closely resembled her own hair color and style. Donna understood how important it was to a teenager's self-esteem to look her best. When Denise's hair started to fall out she thought it made her look sicker than she felt, so late one night she grabbed her baseball cap and had me take her to an open beauty shop and instructed the surprised beautician to shave it all off. To our delight it turned out she has a beautifully shaped head. She wore her wig to work proudly the first day and received many honest compliments, but in true Denise style she just couldn't pass up the opportunity to pull the wig off and show everyone her bald head!!

Once when she overheard someone discreetly inquiring of me how she was doing, she later commented, "It's not like I'm really sick." When I amazingly inquired what she considered to be "really sick" she said, " You know, throwing up and all." We came to realize that although she knew and understood all the facts and the prognosis for her cancer she never once considered that she wouldn't survive it. Her wonderful sense of humor put those of us around her at ease by encouraging the teasing and jokes she received. She still laughs about how for Halloween we wanted to draw a felt pen face on the back of her bald head and have her wear her clothes backwards and back her up to the front door to pass out Halloween candy. Her positive attitude was an inspiration to us all.

An older man we knew was beginning to go through cancer treatment just as hers was ending. One day I saw his wife at the hospital and she told me that her husband had talked to her about chemo and radiation and Denise. He told his wife "If that little girl, can do it I can do it!" Others sought her out to talk to them, a man whose wife still fights ovarian cancer and even the dear lady who didn't know that she had cancer when she took Denise wig shopping.

Denise destroyed our image of the typical cancer victim. She continues to bring us joy and hope in the future. Her cancer will be in remission two years on Dec. 31, 1998.

November 3, 1998