In Her Own Words: A Cancer Warrior’s Victory
Denika Philpott

You Have Cancer…
The minute I was told those 3 words, I was gripped by fear; one so raw and powerful I feared it would crush me. My diagnosis? Stage 3 breast cancer with a tumour measuring 14 x 15 cm. Now you might be thinking, “I can’t image how I would feel if someone broke that news to me”. Well, I used to think the same thing. 

But all of a sudden, I didn’t have a choice. I was being told the three words everyone dreads, and my first thought was the fear of leaving my family behind. It was truly breathtaking – and not in a good way. I wasn’t ready to leave my children, my husband, my parents. I wanted to see my children graduate high school; I wanted to LIVE!

The cancer was so aggressive I didn’t have time for the shock to wear off before I had to start aggressive chemotherapy treatment. The day I sat in my surgeon’s office, he said “First, we have to go through 6 rounds of chemo because you’re a mess in there. We HAVE to shrink it because if we go ahead with surgery first, I can guarantee we won’t get it all.” 

That was when the seriousness of this disease really hit me. I had to have chemo, followed by a double mastectomy, radiation and a complete hysterectomy. All this was to take place over the course of nine months. I kept thinking, “How on earth will I ever get through this? What or who will sustain me?”

The pain, not just physical but mental and emotional, was massive. My tolerance for physical pain is quite high, but it felt like cancer had broken me. I remember sobbing for months straight, right from my gut. I would sob for everything I was losing, as well as the changes that were going to happen in my life – and for the unknown. At 41 years old, I had a family, and so much life left to live! I wasn’t ready to die.

The Cold Reality Sets In
During my treatment, there were many days I would find myself in a deep pit; very cold, dark and wet. This absolutely terrified me. I felt my life was crumbling around me and I felt defenseless to fight. After chemo treatment #2 I had to have my head shaved. I had long, gorgeous, naturally wavy hair with these vibrant colours going through, so to have to shed my crown to make way for granny hats to wear at night (due to how tender my head was from chemo) to head scarves during the day, it hit me really hard.

Then my husband would wrap his arms around me, my mom would visit, my daughter would paint me a special piece of artwork or my son would make me a cup of tea. As I looked around I decided that in order to climb out of this hole, I had to be ALL IN! 

That’s where pure faith and strong determination (also known as stubbornness) came into play. I would get up every morning, look in the mirror and demand that cancer be gone and pray for God to help me through, even though I had no idea how my journey would end. I had a playlist of about 20 songs that I would listen to every single morning – those songs were my prayer, my meditation and my source of strength that would carry me through the day.

With each day I’d become emotionally stronger and more determined. Now don’t get me wrong, I had days where I had complete meltdowns – I would sob, wail, sulk, not want to see anyone. BUT would I stay there? NO way! I would put my lipstick on, adorn myself with big hoop earrings and go to a bookstore to immerse myself in my favourite things – books. When the rigors of chemo would send me to bed, the minute I felt better, I would “Get up, Get dressed and Get out”…that was my motto for months.

Awakening the Warrior Within
During my fight, I became very fond of this quote: “The devil whispers, “You can’t withstand the storm.” The warrior replied, “I AM the storm!” 

I would repeat this often with such passion that people around me would nervously giggle. I don’t think some realized how real this fight for my life actually was. I had pulled on my armour – every gift brought to me, every prayer lifted up, every message in hope was my shield, my helmet and my sword. With the heart of a lion, I fought! 

I claimed victory over my life! I would envision travelling with my family, celebrating birthdays, holidays. I would picture myself with hair again, whole, healthy and happy. I would repeat over and over, “God has a purpose for my life, I am not done here and I will NOT give up!”

From the Struggle Comes the Strength

So let’s fast forward nine months after my diagnosis. I had endured six rounds of chemotherapy that has all kinds of weird side effects, a double mastectomy, 25 rounds of intense radiation where I was one of the worst burned they’d ever seen and a complete hysterectomy which sent me into surgical menopause – another “not fun place to be”. 

I had a new body, a whole new ME, inside and out. I felt deformed because of both breasts being gone, along with my scoliosis leaving my right side caved in. I have a second scar on the left side of my chest and a 10 inch scar on my back where I had reconstruction surgery. Unfortunately, I developed an infection which developed into sepsis, so I found myself clinging to life yet again. I have a belly scar from my hysterectomy and a little paunch that wasn’t there before! 

But by embracing the new me, I had to make a few changes including expelling the negative from my life. This meant people, a career, situations, drama… This negative energy was so draining and stressful that in order to be HEALTHY in mind, body and spirit, ALL negative had to go. Don’t let people fill your backyard with their garbage. It was a decision I made during my transformation – and I still hold onto that. 

I don’t say this from a heart of bitterness or anger – it’s from a heart of love and self-awareness. I have always been a helper and my passion is to enrich, empower, and uplift.

The Future is Bright
During my journey I could have taken one of two paths: I could have wallowed in self-pity and hated my body OR embraced this change and learn from it. I hope it’s obvious which path I chose.

I took this opportunity to dig down deep and, when I did, I realized some very important lessons. I tapped into my talents and my skills and began to love myself in a way I never had before! Every morning I remind myself how fortunate I am to be here, (an attitude of gratitude!). I remind myself how amazing life is! I am so grateful for the gifts I have been given in my life. I am blessed with an amazing family, I am a published author, and I am head over heels in love with my Mary Kay business!

I took all the lessons I learned during these past three years and opened myself up for my purpose – enriching people’s lives is my passion. The Company I am with has wrapped its arms around me and has filled my cup so high it’s overflown. My skills and talents have been waiting quite a while to finally find their home – and it feels good!