Denise Poland

Denise Poland and her family are hikers, often making trips to Colorado to fulfill their passion. In August 2021, her son and she accomplished their goal of climbing Longs Peak, a 14,259 ft. mountain. At the time, she had no idea there was a major challenge to come next.

“It was a long-time goal of mine to summit Longs Peak,” she said. “Summiting the mountain was more about the internal journey, challenges, and battles within myself to conquer the mountain. The summit was reached. Life was good.”

A couple weeks after she arrived back home to Quincy, Denise would face the climb of her life. She decided to do a self-breast exam, something she tries to do at least every other month, if not monthly.  She discovered something.

“I’m just coming back from this wonderful time in Colorado, and I found these two small lumps myself,” she shared. “After speaking with my school nurse, she said you’re going to want to call your OB/GYN.”

She did just that, reaching out to Quincy Medical Group (QMG) Gynecologist Dr. Peter Dureska, who got her in right away.

“Quincy Medical Group has been fantastic. I cannot say enough positive things. They got me right in. Everything was done very swiftly,” she said.

After a biopsy, Denise received a call a couple days later from Dr. Dureska, who gave her and her husband the diagnosis — invasive ductal carcinoma, a form of breast cancer. Shortly after her diagnosis she met with QMG General Surgeon Dr. Christian Zwick and QMG Medical Oncologist Dr. Raymond Smith to talk about her treatment plan.

“I have no markers for it, I have no reason to even have this in my life, but we are faith-based people,” Denise said. “We truly believe that God placed us on this path for His purpose. We have not questioned ‘Why us?’ at all. We just feel there’s a reason that we don’t know yet.”

That journey has brought many unexpected blessings, which have been uplifting for her along her journey.

“Every day I’m in awe of the blessings and answered prayers we haven’t even asked for. Blessings are happening that I didn’t even pray for. There are just these things that might seem small to other people that are so incredibly meaningful,” she said.

Denise is a school social worker at Thomas S. Baldwin School in Quincy. She explained that she wanted to work part time for years, but the opportunity never presented itself. This year, she was able to work part-time. She said she believes God was preparing the path for me her to have the time needed for this journey.

“My family and friends have gone beyond the word ‘friendship’ and check on me weekly and pray unceasingly — all with pure love. My husband shaved my hair off, holds my hand while I ‘ugly cry,’ makes sure I eat, and allows me to move through this journey without judgment,” she shared. “Our oldest son is a photographer who did a cancer photo session with me. This experience will be one of the most meaningful of this journey. Our youngest son has been able to be home for a few months. He has shopped, cooked, cleaned, attended appointments, and freely given of himself to be supportive.”

Her job too has been a blessing. Both her coworkers and students give her added strength and joy.

“As the School Social Worker at Thomas S. Baldwin, I get to be around kids who give unconditional love and staff who treat me like Denise and not ‘Denise with cancer,’” she shared.

One of her students gives her a daily hair report taking a lighthearted view of the hair she’s lost due to cancer treatment.

“He lifts the corner of my hat and will say, ‘Oh, no hair today,’ kind of like a snow report. ‘She’ll have hair coming in April,’” Denise said with a laugh. “Just joy like that is so uplifting.”

Denise has one more round of chemotherapy, then she’ll be scheduled for surgery followed by radiation. She’ll continue HER2 injections through October.

The community of support she has formed at QMG has also helped Denise. She has leaned on her doctors and the nurses through it all. The small things that they have done have made a big difference for her.

”The other day I wanted hot chocolate and they didn’t have any. Pretty soon one of the nurses comes back with hot chocolate. She ran around to the other departments to find me some. Who does that? It’s been an amazing experience for us,” she said.

For all women everywhere, she asks of them to perform frequent self-breast exams.