June 1, 2023

My Cancer Story: Denise Mccarthy


My cancer experience

My cancer journey started in December 2016. It was shattered by a phone call telling me to return home that our mother had been rushed to the hospital. Knowing that I was three hours away from home it was going to be a tedious drive. During the drive back I thought back to the previous day when I had spoken to my mom last. This was our daily routine, I checked in to see how she was doing, it was time for our annual Christmas party, and she was very excited to have the entire family together. My mom was a retired 64-year-old who was in great health, she was the caregiver to my nieces, was very active, and took a couple of medications for blood pressure.

Upon arriving at the hospital, we were told that our mother had stroke-like symptoms and tests were being run. Very quickly the physician came back to us and reported that the stroke-like symptoms were not from a stroke but were believed to be from a brain tumor. Unfortunately, the hospital that we were at was not equipped to handle this type of situation and my mother was transferred. Once she was transferred further tests revealed Stage IV glioblastoma with four tumors stacked on top of one another. The ultimate goal was for the resection of the tumor; however, this was not in her favor as low blood counts led to endless trips and admissions to the hospital for blood transfusions. During this time my mom was resilient, she remained strong, completed her radiation, and rang the bell for the graduation. The radiation assisted with managing the symptoms and did prevent the tumors from growing. In May 2017 my mom went into the hospital for the last time, with the guidance of her team, she came home to spend time with her family, with the help of Hospice, my sister and I cared for our mom until she passed away in June of 2017.

During the time that I was caring for my mom a quick biopsy was completed on my back and was discovered that I had melanoma. At the time I was completely oblivious to how serious this can and could be. I was not worried about it and thankfully my Oncologist provided me with the education that I needed. I received treatment which was very successful. I am happy to say that I have graduated from my Oncologist however I am proactive, and I see my Dermatologist every 6 months for a full body scan for preventative measures.

How has this affected my life and career

I am saddened by the fact that someone can be taken so quickly and how much of an impact that one’s death can have on your life and those around you. Today I live life to the fullest and with the values that my mother has instilled in me, I have come to realize that life is too short and the gift that was given can quickly be taken away. I used to sit and dream of all the places to see, and I wondered how I would love to change careers. Ultimately, I knew this was out of my comfort zone and was only a dream. After the death of my mother and being diagnosed myself, I decided that it was time for a change. After a lot of soul searching, I did research and stumbled upon the CTR program at the University of Cincinnati, and thus my journey began. I truly believed this was my mom’s way of inspiring and guiding me to take that leap.

What do I have to say to other cancer survivors on National Cancer Survivors Month

The knowledge that I have gained as a caregiver, survivor, and a CTR has allowed me to share my experience with others, offer emotional support to those in need as well as stress the importance in annual screenings, preventive measures for melanoma as well as recognize signs and symptoms. Lastly, I would like to say this is not an easy journey, it’s ok to not always be positive, give yourself time to grieve, to feel all the emotions that come with the diagnosis of having cancer and even the loss of a loved one, and use the support systems that are available.