When Denise Browne was 31 she was told she would have six months to live. In July Denise will be celebrating her fortieth birthday.
In 2003, Denise received the news that every women fears: she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, and the young mother was told she wouldn’t live to see her children grow up.
Now just eight years later, the St. Johnston woman is not only proving the medics wrong, but she is also the now the proud mother of four young children, Jordan, Erin, Conrad and Reagan - two of whom she was told she would never have.
“I just want to scream yaaaah I’m still here!”
When she received her diagnosis, Denise, mother of two at that stage, was told because of her cancer and treatment she would never have another child, but determined to not to settle, the Inishowen woman kept fighting.
“I was told I would never have anymore children, but then our miracle baby, Conrad came along. He was the first positive news we had for such a long time, after that I went back to being a mammy again. Then Reagan (1) came along... These two wee ones know a different mammy to the others.”
But having the children has meant that her recovery has been put back and Denise still regularly has to attend the hospital for check ups.
A cancer patient again
“Having the children has been good in one sense, but bad in another. I should have been given the all clear from the hospital, but with getting pregnant it put it off for a while, so I’m still going to the hospital every three-six months for check ups.
“The doctors are just taking it day by day so I don’t know how long we might have to wait for the long clear. We keep getting the check ups and although it’s good they are continually checking me, I’m normal every day of my life until I get a letter to say to say I’m back down to the hospital, and all of a sudden I’m a cancer patient again.
“Then you are straight back into it again. It’s in your head all the time, all they ever talk about is cancer; I never want to be in that conversation again, ever! For somebody to say we’ve found this, and this is what is it and this is what happens next, that’s hard going.”
Having fought the disease twice, Denise found it extremely difficult to deal with the second time around.
“Being diagnosed with breast cancer really makes you stop in your tracks. The first time was bad enough, but because you don’t really know what has to happen, you hear what they are telling you, but until you have gone through it yourself you have no clue. “There is no way you can prepare for it, and I would never want to hear those words again.”
But for Denise her main aim was not to let the disease get the better of her and to turn every negative thing thrown at her into a positive.
“We found out more about going through treatment and the options available from the person in the bed next to us, or someone’s mother or aunt. They gave us information which was much more important to us than anything consultants and doctors and nurse. With this in mind, we set up Breast of Donegal an information website by cancer patients for cancer patients for which we are currently awaiting charitable status.
“It’s all the stuff you need to know, but you don’t find it out until you’ve been through it yourself. We only know about this because we’ve been through it all before and we’re hoping now other people will not have to go looking for the information we never knew.”
Within the website, the group have an innovative idea called the Breast Pocket where all the fundraising money goes for people to use when required.
“This money is for everyone who has a cancer diagnosis and we won’t ask what the money is for. People don’t think how much money is involved with something like this. For example we got a phonecall on a Monday evening after we paid all our bills to be in St Lukes in the morning. There wasn’t a penny left in the house, and think who watching the kids and how are we going to get there?
“There was no preparation but at the same time you can’t put it off. The breast pocket is designed to give those struggling cancer patients a 100 euro cheque, that will cover your petrol or diesel or whatever you may need. It will get you on the road that day.”
The group have also got the support of Sir Gerry Robinson, whose wife Heather was diagnosed the with the disease, as the ambassador of Breast of Donegal, and they also plan to have the site translated into Irish.
“Cancer information never been in Irish, so we decided to get to contact Urdas na Gaeilge through Brian O’Domhniall to get the website translated into Irish. This county has both languages in it, so I thought it would be respectable, and it’s never been done before.”
But if the website isn’t enough to keep the mum of four busy, in her spare time she decided to produce and record her own CD.
“If I was to die tomorrow, that’s it. That would be me off the planet and what would be left behind me? I always thought if anything was to happen to me, there wasn’t even a picture of me in house, everyone in my family knows that I sing, and knows how I sound, but if anything did happen to me, my kids would never have known”
Denise said to herself she was going to do something about it, and so she decided this year was her year to make the album she always dreamed about.
“I think all cancer patients make a to-do list, making a CD was top of my personal list. It took me eight years to do but I got there in the end.”
Denise’s CD, For You, is on sale today in shops around Donegal, but the 39-year-old revealed how the album was never originally supposed to go on sale.
“I’m a lifetime waiting on this CD, and I can’t wait just to hold it in my hand properly. This was never supposed to go on sale, it was always just for the kids, but I got a respond, because it’s something different not the usual two step country, and though why not.
“There are 13 songs on it because 13 is unlucky for some but not for me. My Children each picked a song each and Paul (Denise’s partner) picked a song... its called For You, because it’s for them.”
Never willing to give up, next week the energetic bubbly lady will be climbing Croke Patrick for autism, and next on her “to do” list is the Dublin City Marathon in October.
“Should I finish it on my hands and knees, I will be crossing that line. We don’t take life very seriously, there’s no point at all. Our lives are very simple.”