As we find ourselves deep into October we see the pink ribbons, football players donning pink on the field, and a rise in media stories about breast cancer. It has been approached and promoted in a multitude of different ways to help people take notice and raise awareness for the disease that affects 1 in 8 women and 1 in 1,000 men.
At Angeles Millwork & Lumber Co. and Hartnagel Building Supply many of us have been affected by breast cancer and we want to do our small part by sharing one of our stories with you.
You may have met Denise Fox, Angeles Millwork Paint Specialist and wife of our CEO, Kelly Fox. The compression sleeve she wears on her arm to help maintain swelling as a result of the removal of the lymph nodes starts off many conversations that lead to Denise revealing her past and current experience with breast cancer. Denise was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 just days after Kelly had accepted his dream job of being CEO of Lumber Traders Inc., parent company of Angeles Millwork & Lumber Co. and Hartnagel Building Supply.
Denise’s main goal before the family’s health insurance changed with the new job was to get all medical checkups that could be done, which included Denise’s first mammogram. Getting a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming to say the least, but hers was combined with the already stressful plans to move her family with daughters ages 3 and 6 to a new town. As much as the diagnosis made Denise and Kelly question their future plans, striving for a more challenging professional life and greater future for their family was always the goal and would remain so even in the face of cancer. The decision was made between Denise and Kelly for him to move to Port Angeles to begin the new job, while Denise remained in Federal Way near friends and family to undergo bilateral mastectomies and chemotherapy.
Denise describes the initial months as absolutely terrifying, but coming with a silver lining of support and love, “you find out how much your family and friends really love you.” Denise goes on to describe how the petty differences that we all can relate to having with friends and family completely washed away. Surviving cancer was all that mattered.
Denise’s mom, Lois, was vital to her daily health and getting better. Lois would do household chores, errands, take the kids to and from school and keep them entertained while Denise focused on beating her cancer. Friends and family would deliver home cooked meals, call with support, send friendly and frequent texts, and even pick up Chipotle, the comfort food that Denise craved.
Frequent and simple support from family and friends was the greatest help to Denise. She shares, “People meant well when they said, ‘let me know if I can do something for you,’ but I was never going to ask them to go to the grocery store to pick up milk. But if they called from the store and asked what they could pick up for me, or ‘I’m bringing over lunch, what do you want?’ I felt more able to accept the help and it provided great assistance and support when they just did it, rather than asking for me to reach out.” As uncomfortable and scary as cancer is, most patients want to spare others feeling uncomfortable or being inconvenienced. Taking the action to just do it for another is a major help to those experiencing a serious illness.
During Denise’s treatment Kelly would come back to Federal Way every weekend, for doctor appointments, chemotherapy, and on the fourth day after treatment. This was the day that the effects of chemo and other medications left Denise the most fatigued and in the most pain. On weeknights that Kelly would stay in Port Angeles Denise found great comfort in her dachshund, Sadie. Before the cancer, Sadie would burrow next to her chest and now instinctively knew to burrow lower down to not cause Denise any discomfort.
Some of the most challenging aspects of fighting cancer for Denise were the depression and the feeling of being alone. Even in the face of so much obvious support the loneliness was frightening and sometimes debilitating. Learning to be “OK” in the face of such emotional and physical discomfort took and still takes a lot of effort.
Once treatment ended and doctors had declared N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease) many assume the fight for Denise and Kelly was over. Although the major battle was won, the fight continues. Overcoming the collateral damage of treatment, finding a new normal, and struggling with the fear of recurrence is a daily challenge. The family impact was huge but they were blessed to find themselves a stronger couple from the experience. The relationships with friends and family took on a deeper importance and “you look at your kids with a renewed sense of gratitude,” says Denise.
Denise still undergoes quarterly checkups, and will continue to take medication for another 8 years to reduce the chance of recurrence. She will continue to wear her compression sleeve with pride for the rest of her life. Both Denise, Kelly and their daughters Annika and Tilly reside in Port Angeles and enjoy time in the outdoors.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Angeles Millwork & Lumber Co. and Hartnagel Building Supply will have their annual Pink Saturday Sale on October 22nd. The two stores will be donating 5% of all retail sales for the day to local Port Angeles cancer support group Operation Uplift. We would appreciate you coming by, shopping and joining us in support of those like Denise and the countless others affected by cancer.