Q: Everyone remembers their birthday, their anniversary, and the day they were diagnosed with cancer. What day where you diagnosed and what happened?Denise: October 14th. I’ve been pretty good about my mammograms. In fact, I used to teach health and had a woman come in to teach self-breast examination. I thought I was going in for another routine screening and the radiation oncologist came in and said, “We found something, and we’d like to test it a little bit further.”I can picture the doctor telling me that I had breast cancer and am still in shock. But I am somebody of strong faith; my glass has always been half full. So once the initial shock wore off, I had to make a plan.It all started with Meaghan coming down and spending two months with me. She came to Florida, and we didn’t waste any time meeting with doctors. I have a wonderful medical oncologist and she knows Meaghan well because she asked a million questions that I forgot to ask. And that’s the best thing about Meaghan; going through chemo and everything, she has been here. It was an unbelievable gift that I’ll never forget.
Q: You learn a lot about yourselves in times of crisis. What did you learn about each other in this process?
Denise: I learned that I can really count on Meaghan and that she’ll be there for me every step of the way. She has my best interests at heart, even when it’s a little tough love, which I needed at times.
I also learned that I am strong and that I can get through things that are tough. My philosophy is not to give up. I’m proud of myself that I didn’t fall apart. I had my moments. I was really tested, especially when I was in the hospital and when I lost my hair. But I would tell myself I just had to get through it.
Meaghan: I learned my mom thinks her hair is not gray! We went wig-shopping and the lady brought in some gray wigs. And mom’s like, “No, no, I’m not gray.” I said, “Are you looking at the same mirror that I’m looking at? Because I’m seeing a lot of gray hair.” So that was one of the funny things I think I learned. My mom thinks she still has auburn hair!
Seriously, I’d just echo that she got dealt a pretty bad hand throughout the whole process and stayed strong. With every treatment, it felt like there was something new that happened. I’d leave and then get a call or have to go to the E.R. Eating was a chore. Drinking water was even harder and she often became dehydrated, which meant going into the hospital for fluids. That’s where I got the nickname “Water Warden.” I kept a daily tally and made sure she finished her water.
And I learned to treasure and appreciate the relationships I’ve built in my life. You never know who you get close to, and people are so kind and so willing to help in times of need. I don’t like to ask anybody for anything; I like to do it myself. But just leaning on people that care about us and love us, I learned that I have a lot of really good people in my life.
Q: You’re an only child, but you have all these sisters in the LPGA and elsewhere. Who stands out as being with you on this journey?
Meaghan: We’ve had a ton of support and my friends have been incredible. Morgan Pressel helped us with looking into doctors. Jess Korda reached out to me during surgery. Karrie Webb and her partner Michelle; Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel; all have been amazing. Paula Creamer and Marina Alex have checked in on me non-stop. Stacy Lewis has been incredible, and her mom was texting me every day. I’m in a group text with Kris Tamulis, Brittany Lincicome and Missy Pederson, and literally every day they’d ask how mom was.
Denise: Yeah, and I’m so fortunate. It’s true what you just said. All the people that reached out… I have a girl at school that calls me every day or texts me just a little emoji to keep hanging in there. A friend organized the Team Denise hat. People down here in south Florida would stop over or send me food. And what a difference those little things make! You don’t realize how much it means and how much you care until it happens.
Q: What advice do you have both for women who are getting that diagnosis and those whose family members may have received the diagnosis or friends have received the diagnosis?
Denise: I think the most important thing is to get going on the treatment. I don’t think anyone is excited about surgery, but I was because I just couldn’t wait to get the cancer out of my body. And I think that’s the urgency. Don’t waste a minute, and then get support.
I didn’t use a support group, but I probably could have. It’s important to know that you’re not alone and talking to people that have gone through it gives you hope. My next-door neighbor from New York just went through cancer treatment. We talked the whole time and she kept telling me what to expect. She’d say, “Look at me, Denise. You’re going to taste again. You’re going to be able to drink again. Your hair is going to come back.” It was great to have someone like that to reach out to.
Meaghan: I’d say number one: get a mammogram when it’s your time to. I’ve had two now and they found some stuff that they need to keep an eye on. Also, keep notes in a binder and don’t be afraid to call and ask questions. There were times where we had questions and my mom didn’t want to call, but I told her this was too important and we had to follow up. I think just being proactive; not being afraid to ask questions and asking for help, whether it be for support or finding the right people.
Q: Denise – Now that you’re on the other side of recovery, I know you’re going to be at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. What will it mean to you to see Meaghan inside the ropes again?
Denise: It will be a dream come true. I had to put that aside when I got diagnosed. When I met with the oncologist and surgeon, I told them there was this big tournament in June and asked if I’d be able to make it. When they pushed up the surgery, I’m like, “We have a chance.” And then when they started the radiation, “I still have a chance.” On April 18th, I got to ring the bell to celebrate the end of radiation and reaching my goal.
My best memories are driving in a car with Meaghan to tournaments. How many moms get to spend hours in a car with their teenagers? I got to do that, and it was such a gift. So, I’m going to fly to her house and we’re going to drive down to Congressional together.
I’m the luckiest person in the world to have a daughter like Meaghan. I know it’s been a rough time, and I’m glad she had the support that she did. I’m just so lucky and proud.