ESCANABA - Have you hugged your dog today?
Denise Makosky certainly has. But it's not only out of affection that she gives a hug to her pooch, Charlie Bob. It's out of gratitude. Charlie Bob literally saved her life. It was his persistent scratching on his mistress's chest that led her to discovery of a large lump above her right breast.
It was on the evening of Sunday, Feb. 5, while relaxing on her couch and watching television, that Charlie Bob and Denise's two other Chihuahuas jumped into Denise's lap. That wasn't anything unusual because, as Denise said, they frequently jumped onto her lap at the end of the day.
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
The persistence of Denise Makosky’s 5-year-old chihuahua, Charlie Bob, led to the discovery of a lump in her right breast that was later diagnosed as stage 3 cancer.?Denise, who has been undergoing treatment since February, is pictured with her fiance, Dave Peterson.
"But Charlie climbed up on my chest and started pawing and digging at my right breast," she said. "Each time I pushed him down, he came right back up and started digging again and again. At one point he hurt me and I said, 'Ouch, that hurts!' and as I pushed him down, I ran my fingers over the spot that hurt. That's when I felt the lump."
Denise said she was quite stunned when she located the lump that eventually was discovered to be about the size of a walnut, because previous breast exams and even a mammography failed to detect it.
After a discussion with her fiance, Dave Peterson, it was decided that Denise call the doctor's office the following morning.
"From there my life has changed and my journey into the world of cancer began," Denise wrote in an online blog. "There were multiple tests and biopsies done on me and when all was said and done, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 infiltrating ductal carcinoma, triple negative breast cancer. The only words I remember hearing at that point was stage three cancer and nothing else. From then on everything out of the doctors mouth was mumbled and clouded over by my feelings of shock."
After relating how she discovered the lump to the doctor, Denise said she was told, "You better go home and hug your dog."
"I did!" she said with a contagious smile.
Born in Minnesota, Denise has been a resident of Escanaba most of her life. She graduated from Escanaba High School in 1978 and is the mother of daughter Amanda, 32, who lives in San Diego, Calif. Denise works as a tax preparer and describes her fiance as "my best friend."
With a history of cancer on her father's side of the family and because triple negative is rare, Denise was advised to undergo genetic testing, particularly to forewarn her daughter of the danger.
"The test was as simple as a blood test but the hard part was the waiting to see if this could be passed down to my daughter," she wrote on her blog. "No one can prepare you for the rush of emotions going on inside you while you are waiting for these test results. It was the longest and hardest 14 days of my life. I would constantly ask myself if I've given this to my daughter, does the rest of the family need testing, how bad was the mutation and so on and so forth. Needless to say it was a very stressful and trying time."
The results of the test were a great relief to Denise when she learned there was no mutation and the cause was not genetic.
"The genetic testing showed that I'm a fifth generation carrier, but there's no mutation and it ends with me," she said.
But the battle was on and, according to Denise, "This cancer had picked the wrong woman and that I was going to kick its butt."
Following a lumpectomy, Denise underwent six months of chemotherapy and will begin four weeks of radiation treatments in November.
Because the type of cancer that Denise is battling attacks the fat cells in her body, she said she has lost 43 pounds and hopes to lose 30 more.
"But even with that, I still have a 20 percent chance that the cancer will reoccur," she said. "Between 77 and 80 percent can be controlled and" - again that engaging smile - "why shouldn't I be in that percent?"
And throughout her ordeal, Denise said Dave has been a positive reinforcement in her struggle.
"When she was first diagnosed, I was kinda shocked," he said.
As her expression seemed to look back on the memory, Denise added, "I could see it in his eyes."
One blip on her road to recovery for Denise was the loss of her hair.
"After 14 days of chemo, my hair started falling out by the handfuls," she said. "Whenever I ran my hand through my hair, I would come up with a bunch. Finally I got tired of all the hair on my pillow at night and having it fall out in my plate and decided to just shave it off. I donated a 13-inch ponytail to a company that makes wigs."
One can't help but wonder about this remarkable woman who sat totally comfortable in her own skin with a totally bald head above her smiling face. When asked why she doesn't wear a hat or scarf, her comment was simple.
"What have I got to hide? This is me. The hair was only a part. I don't need to hide what's going on. It's pretty obvious." Denise admitted, however, that she has quite a large collection of hats and does choose to wear a hat when she's out in the sun. She will also cover her head when cold weather comes.
"Besides, it sure makes the showers go quick," she laughed.
As a member of Silver Winds Church in Escanaba, Denise was asked about whether her religious faith plays a part in her positive attitude. Her emphatic response is "Absolutely! This is the scariest thing I've ever had to go through and I find myself wondering what God is trying to show me in all this. The only time I had a breakdown, I had to remind myself that I'm on God's team and that's the best team. Some days it's hard to keep up, but I know there's a reason for all of this. Right now I don't know what's going to happen, but some day I will."