Denise Hogan is a riot. She talks a mile a minute - never missing a beat. She's the epitome of petite, but her personality is far from it. In one word, she's a survivor.
"Personally think I'm a survivor across the board," Denise told me at a recent LUNG FORCE Expo in New York City. "I think I'm just a thick head. I won't give in to life's problems."
Thick head or not, Denise has the winning formula. At nearly 70 years-old, Denise is a 5-year lung cancer survivor. She spends her days making herself and others laugh, and she is not afraid to take risks. When she was diagnosed in July 2010, her tumor was stage 2 and around 5 centimeters in the upper lobe of her right lung.
"I woke up one morning and had a bad pain here," she said while pointing to her upper chest area. "I exercise so I thought I just pulled a muscle, until I realized along with the pain I had shortness of breath. I called my doctor and got an appointment right away. My doctor said my lungs are clear but told me to get an x-ray just to make sure everything was OK. When I left the x-ray, she called and said I have pneumonia and I said, "I'll take that!"
After taking a two-week course of antibiotics, Denise started to feel better, but she was extremely tired. And then one morning, she coughed something up that landed her in the office of a pulmonologist. Immediately, she said she knew it was cancer and that for her, the only option would be surgery to have it removed.
While her cancer was a temporary roadblock, she found a way around it.
Denise refused to let her cancer diagnosis define her. "They did a hook-like cut in my back and moved my ribs, whatever the surgeon had to do to get to my lobe, was fine with me. I just wanted the cancer out of my body. When I first came home from the hospital, I went for a walk," she said. "I didn't want my life style to change." Walking that day was her first step toward health and eventually getting back to yoga, exercising, walking, and life.
Despite being declared cancer-free after the surgery to remove her tumor, Denise underwent chemotherapy for three months—just to be safe. She admits she did it more for her family, and she has no regrets. But she admits it was very difficult and not at all pleasant.
Today, as a LUNG FORCE Hero and ambassador for lung cancer awareness, she is sharing her voice because she's a survivor. And she wants people to know that lung cancer survivors do exist. She's living with her lungs and moving on with her life because letting her diagnosis define her would have surely changed her, but not necessarily for the better.
"Last year I [was speaking about lung cancer] and the woman before me was stage 4 and she had me crying. When it was time to speak I got up and said, "This is going to be a happy story," Denise said. There are happy endings and the numbers are increasing.
Statistics show that one in five women will survive five years after being diagnosed, and only half will survive one year. As a survivor, Denise doesn't let the statistics get her down. She's is a ball of energy, a shining light. Denise wants to show the world that people can and do survive lung cancer. And, she's fighting for both those with the disease today and those who have lost the battle.
"Whenever attend an event that is lung cancer driven, all they talk about is people that die," Denise said. "We have to turn this around." People live and our numbers are increasing.
Lung cancer does not have to be a death sentence, early detection is key. Listen to your body it knows when something is wrong and don’t let fear keep you from going to the doctors.