An award-winning journalist, television producer and co-founder of The MOMS, Denise Albert is also a breast cancer survivor who documented her journey both in her writing and on video. “The MOMS is all about being part of a community and sharing our experiences. So, I knew that if I didn’t share my experiences with cancer, I wouldn’t feel like I was being true to myself,” said Denise. In addition to identifying herself as a #fulltimeworkingstayathomemom #HappilyDivorced, #FutureCancerSurvivor (and #Survivor), Denise is the mother of two sons and a JWRP Media Magnet. We spoke with Denise about her life during and after cancer — as a mom, a media professional, and an all-around positive person.
How did you share your journey with cancer with your children?
When I learned that I had a lump in my breast, my kids and I were supposed to be leaving for a vacation. But with so many doctors’ appointments scheduled, I needed to cancel our plans and tell them why. My kids are very inquisitive and immediately asked me, “Is it cancer?” At that point, I didn’t know, but I made the decision to tell my kids that everything was going to be okay and that I would continue to go to my appointments.
When I had an outline of my treatments, I told them that I had early-stage breast cancer and that I was very lucky because eventually, I would be cured. Because of the treatments, I’d look and feel different sometimes, but we’d continue living our lives. My kids had lost multiple family members to cancer, and I needed them to see that many people survived cancer, too. We googled “breast cancer survivor” and they were happy to see many famous people whom they recognized.
Throughout cancer, I tried to remain positive, but sometimes you can’t fake how you feel. I wanted to be a part of their everyday lives, and on some days, all I could do was walk them to school. I encouraged them to speak to the adults in their lives about how they were feeling. My mother, their babysitter, and our friends and community were extremely supportive and loving.
During your treatments, what helped you stay positive?
In the beginning of my treatment, I had chemo every other week. While everyone’s experience is different, I found that the first week after a treatment was very difficult for me. I tried to work out as much as possible, but if I couldn’t, I’d just walk my kids to school. It was so important for me to get out of the house and to see people — and not just stay in bed all day. When I felt better, I’d go to a spinning class. Though I didn’t have the energy to push as hard as the other people in the room, I felt great being there with them and exercising to fantastic music.
The night before I started chemo, Melissa Gerstein, my MOMS co-founder, threw a surprise party for me. That set the tone for my treatment and showed me what I needed. My boyfriend and I went to many Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel concerts. I took my kids on a trip after ending chemo and before starting radiation. After I finished radiation, I planned a girls’ dinner with friends. It was always helpful to have wonderful things to look forward to.
What was it like to juggle work and cancer?
Work was tricky because on the one hand, I was open about having cancer so people knew what I was experiencing, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to be seen as sick because I needed to continue running my business. I am so fortunate that Melissa is my partner because she understood what the treatment involved and picked up a lot of the workload while I was sick. Her mom and her sister both had breast cancer, too. I also know how lucky I am to work from home. When we hosted events with celebrities, I’d put my wig on and get my makeup done, but then realize that I was too tired to help run it. So, I’d sit in a corner and “turn it on” for ten minutes while speaking to our guest.
Early on in my treatments, we hosted an event with Jennifer Garner. I had planned to get my wig the following day, but when I woke up that morning, I found that my hair was falling out. So I ran to the wig store, shaved my head, and put on my wig before heading to the event. My motto is, “You have to keep going, living, and showing up,” so not attending the event wasn’t an option for me. Jennifer knew that I had cancer, and when she saw me, she grabbed my hand and asked me, “When was the last time we saw each other?”
“About a year and a half ago,” I said.
She told me, “So, the next time we see each other, this will all be behind you.”
In Good Housekeeping, you wrote a “thank you note to cancer.” Can you share how cancer has given you a new sense of gratitude?
Cancer changed me. Today, I try to live every day with positivity. I share my story with people all over the country in hopes of helping them. It’s been eye-opening to realize that one doctor’s appointment can change your life — and I share that message widely.
I don’t worry about the little things anymore. In the past, I used to waste so much time blowing out my hair. Now, I love my wigs and I don’t have hair drama. A bad hair day isn’t going to ruin anyone’s life. I spend as much time with my kids as possible, and I make an effort to be involved in their activities and not just watch them from the sidelines. I don’t want to regret not going on a water slide with them because I was lazy, cold, or didn’t want to get my hair wet. I try to include them in everything I do and travel all over the world with them. Since returning from Media Magnets, I’m looking forward to taking them to Israel soon, too. I feel so lucky that I can!
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