Moving Forward From a Diagnosis: Dennise’s Survivor Story

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Dennise Sanchez is Director of Quality Assurance, Scientific & Laboratory Services, Parsippany, NJ with Pfizer, and participating in this Sunday’s Komen New Jersey Virtual MORE THAN PINK Walk on October 4 — sharing in efforts to fundraise for a cure not only as a team but individually, too!

Dennise is active in fundraising to fight breast cancer with the Pfizer team, and is also an inspirational breast cancer survivor herself, sharing a message of resilience and strength through friends and family, and recognizing a purpose in the journey. She reminds us that every person’s experience with breast cancer is different.

Recently, we had the privilege to speak with Dennise, with more of her story shared in her own words below.

“Cancer is only going to be a chapter of your life, NOT the whole story.”

Thank you for visiting with us, Dennise! To start, we’d love to know more about yourself and family.

I have a small family, but we are very a tight-knit group with large hearts.

I have a daughter, who just completed medical school and was able to move back home last October to support me on my journey. I also have a sister who currently resides in St. Thomas with her husband and my mom lives in Puerto Rico. I moved from Puerto Rico to NJ about 8 years ago for a career change. I came up north excited for the opportunity, but also alone. However, in my time here, I have created a network of friends and co-workers who I now call my family — my extended family.

Some of my friends and family tell me that I have a calm, nurturing demeanor and such strength that they can’t help but notice. They say that I am a no-nonsense boss who tells it like it is. My friends have reminded me that I make it clear to always be mindful of how I treat myself, my family and my co-workers and not to waste stress on things like work, money or titles.

How and when were you diagnosed?

My diagnosis was in September 2019.

For a long time, I was feeling discomfort under my left breast and armpit. I tried many different types of bras and none seemed to ease the discomfort that I felt. Mid-August of last year, while taking a shower, I noticed that my left breast was atypically hard. My first thought was nothing else could be wrong, as I always went for my mammograms yearly, like a clock, and never postpone them.

The timing could not have been better, as I was also due for my yearly mammogram screening. A few hours after the test was done, I received a call from the radiologist suggesting that I get in contact with my doctor, with also the need for a biopsy and an MRI to further assess the left side. Over the course of the next three weeks, I went in and had my breast and left lymph nodes biopsied as well as the MRI.

On September 6th, I received the call from my doctor with my diagnosis: I had Breast Cancer; Invasive lobular carcinoma, Stage IIB.

How did you feel when you first received the diagnosis?

I had a follow-up appointment three days later with the registered nurse, where I had my mammogram performed. She explained in detail the diagnose, type of cancer, how it grows, etc. I was calm listening to her but felt very overwhelmed. The feeling of being overwhelmed was not so much by the diagnosis but the uncertainty of what to do next. I don’t recall being fearful or sad. My mind was already in the strategic mode that characterizes me: ask what to do next, where to go to overcome this diagnosis. She provided me a list of doctors, hospitals and explained to me where to start with the path forward. I left that appointment feeling empowered that I had enough information to put in place a plan to overcome the diagnosis.

That same day, I made a conscious decision of keeping the diagnose to myself. I wanted to make sure I understood what all of the next steps and treatments were before sharing the information with anyone else.

The recommended treatment was to start with chemotherapy, followed by surgery with the potential of radiation treatment after.

“About a month later, I was ready to share my diagnosis with family and friends.”

I recall telling everyone that I have a long journey ahead of me but I was ready for the challenge if you come with me. I was able to explain to them my diagnosis and my journey ahead. This gave me the opportunity to look at everyone eye to eye and tell them that it was going to be okay since God never gives me more than I can handle. This also allowed to be put my mind at ease, since it was no longer a secret I was carrying around on my own and found the support system I would need for this journey. Being this open and honest with my family and friends, made me vulnerable, but also more confident and stronger.

I went through chemotherapy from October 2019 through February 2020; 28 sessions in total. I had a bilateral mastectomy and five lymph nodes removed on May 8, 2020, and radiation from July to August of this year.

The blessing throughout this process was the team of doctors and nurses I had. The care, compassion showed to me was key during this process. I am a chemist and scientist that needs to have well-defined expectations, so the number of question that I threw out at my team of doctors and nurses were incredible. However, none, and I mean none, as silly as they may have been, were disregarded. All my concerns were listened to and answered with empathy and compassion. I am really lucky to have found my amazing oncologist who knows exactly what to say and how to help me through the process.

Through my journey, I met other women going through breast cancer and other types of cancer in different stages, their guidance, empathy and support helped me tremendously. They were and still are my safety net.

What has been your biggest obstacle while healing?

For this question, I reached out again to my family and friends to help me answer it (because sometimes they know better than I do). They said that my biggest obstacles were the body weakness right after chemotherapy, not physically being present in my office and struggling with my memory at times. However, they noticed that I was finding a sense of normalcy during the process and would own it, such as my beautiful new look after losing my hair.

How do you keep a positive and empowering mindset in your fight against breast cancer?

One of my favorite sayings is that everything happens for a purpose. And with that in mind, I never ask why me or why is this happening. Instead, I ask what I can learn from what this situation is teaching me and just keep going forward.

“I was not alone in my journey.”

I had built strong relationships with my neighbors, friends and co-workers who really helped me along the way. According to my co-workers, I kept an incredibly positive mindset and came across as being confident in my fight. And of course, always reminded everyone that God has a reason.

What’s your favorite part about being on Team Pfizer for the Komen New Jersey Virtual MORE THAN PINK Walk?

My favorite part of being on the Pfizer team is that WE are making a difference, that I am part of a bigger purpose. I don’t know who or where our contributions will help, but I do know it will help others and just that gives me purpose.

Do you have any fundraising tips to share with fellow Walk participants?

Don’t be shy to ask, most people just aren’t aware that foundation like Komen exists. Just walk the talk, and live by example.

Anything else you’d like to share about your journey?

Everyone’s journey is different. “Cancer is only going to be a chapter of your life, NOT the whole story.” Live every day like it was any day before your diagnosis and that normalcy will help you continue moving forward.

One of the main lessons I have learned through my diagnosis and journey is how to lean on others and accept help when I need it the most. I have always been the “caregiver” of my family, so it was difficult for the past to rely on others. I am now more comfortable asking for help when the need presents itself.

“Pay attention to the signs your body is giving you a message that something is not quite right.”

I am still amazed at the ones you touch without even knowing; the ones that will cross your path and decide to continue in it. The strength you sometimes don’t even know have, the new person you become every day, the beauty in every person that crosses your path — you will find every day is a gift and can’t be taken for granted.

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Click here to join Dennise, alongside Gold Sponsor Pfizer, for the 2020 Komen New Jersey Virtual MORE THAN PINK Walk this Sunday on October 4! While we may not be able to walk side-by-side, we can come together virtually to share our stories, support one another, and raise money to save lives.

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Our mission is to save lives by meeting the most critical needs in our communities and investing in breakthrough research to prevent & cure breast cancer.

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