Denise Banski, A Survivor Story

Denise Banski is a Project Specialist III in the WOW! Department at TD Bank — now in its 10th year as a supporter of Susan G. Komen. Not only active in fundraising to fight breast cancer with the Komen TD for the Cure Walk team, Denise is also an inspirational breast cancer survivor herself, sharing a message of hope for those struggling with an initial diagnosis.

Recently, we had the privilege to speak with Denise, with more of her story shared in her own words below.

We’re excited to hear your story, Denise! Can you tell us about yourself, family, hobbies, or anything else you’d like to share?

I live in Voorhees, NJ with my husband Doug. I have one son, John, who is an attorney in Philadelphia. I enjoy being outdoors, and you’ll find me on the beach every weekend during the summer! Since I’ve been spending a lot more time at home these past several months, I have really enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes! I also enjoy reading, yoga, fitness and spending time with family and friends.

How and when were you diagnosed?

I remember that day well. It was September 3, 2019. I was sitting at my desk at work when South Jersey Radiology called me. After a series of abnormal mammograms and ultrasounds, I had a biopsy of both breasts on August 28th, so I was anxiously awaiting the results. I stepped outside to take the call. It was then that I learned the left breast was fine, but there was cancer in the right breast.

How did you handle the diagnosis news?

I was in shock and felt numb! I thought I had prepared myself to hear the worst, but certainly didn’t expect it when the news was delivered. There was complete silence. After what seemed like an eternity, I asked the woman on the other end of the phone what the next steps were. She said I need to find a good breast surgeon. At that point, it hit me that this was real and that I had cancer. I went out to my car and called my husband with the news. I was crying. He was very upset as well, but it was his love, support and strength that got me through this.

What has been your biggest hurdle during the treatment process?

From the point of diagnosis through the next 6 months that followed, my life was consumed with doctor appointments. I was seeing doctors 2–3 times/week. Although I knew they were there to help me, I was irritable, angry and frustrated because I just wanted to be left alone. I was tired of being touched and probed. I felt like I had lost all control of my life. Weekly mental breakdowns became the norm for me where I would cry and shut down. The biggest challenge for me was when I started radiation treatments. I had to go every day for 4 weeks, with more tests squeezed in between. After the 2nd week of radiation, I remember coming home and I told my husband I was done with all this and I wasn’t going to have any more treatments or see any more doctors. Of course I didn’t mean it; but I was physically and emotionally drained.

Were there any programs or services offered to you that helped with the treatment process?

Penn Medicine/Virtua offers a variety of programs to help cancer patients cope. Although I didn’t take advantage of any of them, it helped me to know they were available. There were weekly support groups available onsite at the hospital, as well as social workers for cancer patients struggling at any time to deal with everything. I had the most amazing oncology team. They were so compassionate and would give me hugs on my bad days. Once my treatment ended, they had prepared a Cancer Survivorship Care Plan for me, which included additional resources/tips on living a healthy life post-cancer.

Where do you find support?

I had so much love and support from my family, friends, People Leader and co-workers. This was extremely important because I don’t think I would have been able to get through all this without it! If I was having a bad day, I didn’t need to explain myself; rather, there was always someone there to give me a hug.

Additionally, there are so many programs out there to help patients and their families cope with a cancer diagnosis. During my journey, I received a lot of information from Penn Medicine/Virtua on Emotional Recovery as well as Breast Cancer resources. Two of my favorite resources are the Living Beyond Breast Cancer and the Komen websites. There is so much valuable information out there, including toolkits and resources. Through TD Bank’s existing partnership with Komen, I was already aware of available resources. When I was first diagnosed, I tried to learn as much as I could about breast cancer. I turned to Komen’s interactive Treatment Navigation Tool to learn what to expect after a breast cancer diagnosis. I also used Komen’s Breast Cancer 101 interactive tool to learn more about breast cancer. Both of these interactive tools were extremely helpful to me and allowed me to be more informed and prepared as I started having those initial treatment conversations with my surgeon and oncology team.

Today, I find support in talking with anyone who has survived cancer! We all have a story to tell and different experiences to share. Sometimes it just helps to talk to someone who has gone through it as well and understands.

What advice do you have for women and men who reach out to you after their cancer diagnosis?

I say take one day at a time, one hour at a time and one minute at a time. A cancer diagnosis is so very scary, but there have been so many medical advancements and breakthroughs made throughout the years to treat and cure this horrible disease. Additionally, there are so many resources and support groups out there. YOU are not alone!

I found it helpful to keep a personal journal throughout my journey. This allowed me to express my feelings on paper, keep track of all my appointments as well as write down any questions I may have had for upcoming appointments so I didn’t forget to ask during the appointment.

Don’t be afraid to educate yourself; don’t be afraid to ask questions, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to show your emotions — It’s okay to be angry; it’s okay to cry and it’s okay to ask for a hug!

When did you first get involved with Susan G. Komen?

I have been a Passionately Pink champion for the past 7 years and participated in the Komen MORE THAN PINK Walk for the past 5 years. This will be my 6th year participating; although this year’s walk will be virtual, it has a special meaning to me as this year I’ll be participating as a survivor!
I always loved participating in the walk each year. There was so much love and energy during these walks!!! And of course, I LOVE the sea of pink! Pink, pink everywhere!!! Everyone is there for a purpose… whether they’re walking for someone currently in treatment, a survivor, or a loved one who has passed. We’re all there to support one another, share stories, raise money and have fun!

One of my favorite parts of the MORE THAN PINK Walk is the parade of survivors. It is always so emotional and heartwarming when the survivors come out — whether they are 1-year, 10-year or 30-year survivors — they are fighters and champions! They provide so much hope and inspiration for anyone currently in treatment!

What’s your favorite part about being on the TD for the Cure Komen Virtual MORE THAN PINK Walk Team?

As this is TD Bank’s 10th year partnering with Komen, I am so excited to be participating in this year’s virtual walk! Although our team will not physically be together this year, we’ll be together virtually and spiritually — supporting one another and raising money to save lives — all the while championing toward a common goal — end breast cancer forever! I have no doubt that this year’s virtual MORE THAN PINK Walk will be filled with so much camaraderie and energy like no other MORE THAN PINK Walk before!

Do you have any fundraising tips to share with fellow Walk participants?

With the unfortunate COVID-19 environment, fundraising has become a bit challenging and forces people to get more creative. However, every little bit helps. No donation is too small! If you’ve signed up to walk, ask your network of people — family, friends, neighbors and coworkers to visit your page and donate on your behalf. Get the word out and post your fundraising link on social media! Your donations WILL make a difference and will go toward research, screenings, treatment assistance services and education! Why not encourage family and friends to join the walk! #WalkWhereYouAre.

Anything else you’d like to share about your journey?

While my cancer journey was one of the toughest things I have ever gone through, it has made me so much stronger! I now know that I can handle anything, no matter how big or how small. This time one year ago, my life was unraveling and I didn’t know what my story was or how it would end. I had so many questions, as well as so much fear and anger. Today, I am in a much better place! I am extremely thankful for my family and friends for all their unending love and support. Additionally, I am so very grateful for the amazing doctors, nurses, and specialists who helped me throughout my journey to get me to the point where I am today — cancer-free!

Click here to learn more about the Komen Pennsylvania Virtual MORE THAN PINK Walk on May 9 and take a stand against breast cancer!