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Dena Porter: Taking Nothing for Granted

Publication: Longview Neighbors, Longview

Dena Porter knew something wasn’t right.

She was on a girls’ trip to the beach when she felt a lump in her breast. She’d found a lump before that turned out to be nothing, but the Longview native says this one was different.

She called her gynecologist, Dr. Robert Wheeler, who scheduled a mammogram for when she returned from vacation.

“The lump was heavily on my mind the entire trip,” she recalls.

When she returned, she had a mammogram and a sonogram, and she says the radiologist told her it was probably nothing, to come back in six months.

“I had an uneasy feeling about this,” Dena says. She called her doctor again, who made an appointment for her with Dr. Christine Moulds-Merrit.

“I just felt like I knew my body and this was not right. When I met her, I knew that I was in good hands and felt a sense of relief and knew she was going to help me,” Dena says. Merrit looked at the sonogram and mammogram and immediately scheduled a biopsy for the next day.

Still, Dena expected a phone call saying the lump was nothing. Instead, she received a phone call to come back to see Merrit earlier than expected.

“I knew something was not good. We get to the appointment and I will never forget the words and Dr. Merrit’s voice when she said, ‘You have breast cancer.’ My stomach dropped, the room went quiet and the tears immediately began to flow. I was scared to death, but Dr. Merrit immediately made me feel at ease and that she was going to take good care of me. I remember the appointment was over an hour long. Thank goodness my husband was with me because I did not hear one thing she said to me after she said, ‘You have breast cancer.’”

The journey that meeting kicked off brought Porter and her husband of four years, Kevin Porter, closer, she says.

Dena has two children, 22-year-old Lacy Springer – mother to Dena’s 2-year-old granddaughter Charlee, and 20-year-old Landon Springer. She also has a dog, called Big Charles.

Dena had stayed at home with her children when they were younger and became a Realtor two years ago.

In 2010, friends introduced her to Kevin, who owns Envirotek Cleaning Systems in Longview, and they married in Napa Valley, Calif., in 2012.

“He drove me everywhere. He wouldn’t let me do anything on my own. It brought us closer,” Dena says of her husband’s reaction to her cancer diagnosis. “Just that word scares everybody. It really scared my kids and my mother. We had just lost my father two years ago, and now this. We’re a tight-knit family and we take care of each. It just makes you appreciate life a lot more.”

While they hadn’t known anyone close to them who had breast cancer, male breast cancer does run in her family, Porter says. Her grandfather on her mother’s side and an uncle on her dad’s side had breast cancer. She had a genetic test done, which determined she does have a gene that could bring her breast cancer back.

“You just kind of sit and wait,” she says. “There’s nothing you can do, but you live like you don’t have cancer.” Her treatment included a lumpectomy and daily radiation treatments for six weeks. Doctors determined her cancer was “estrogen and progesterone positive,” which means it fed off her hormones. She had a hysterectomy in November to address that. She’ll be on medication for 15 to 20 years.

Radiation was tough, Dena recalls, with good days and bad days. “I kept my head up and worked throughout the entire process,” she says, describing how her coworkers at Platinum Properties have supported her after her diagnosis. Her neighbors in the Fairway Oaks subdivision she lives in were “wonderful” as well, she says, bringing food and checking on her, she says.

“My husband kept me going through it all. It was not just me going through cancer,” Dena says. “My husband was going through it with me every step of the way. He and I met so many wonderful people at the (Texas Oncology–Longview Cancer Center) and looked forward to seeing them every day at the same time. As I was going through treatment I realized that this would be the place that I want to volunteer at once I am healed. I fell in love with everyone there and I have had the best care anyone could ask for.”

She rang the ceremonial bell on her last day of treatment on Nov. 2, with her entire family there to help her celebrate.

Dena has high praises for the doctors who treated her: oncologist Dr. Neeraj Sharma; Dallas breast cancer specialist Dr. Joyce A. O’Shaughnessy; and radiation oncologist Dr. Bill Taylor.

“On my last day (of radiation), I just cried because I wasn’t going to see them,” Dena said. “By the end of six weeks, they’re more than your friends. They’re fighting the same thing you’re fighting…. I just can’t say enough about (the Longview Cancer Center). It’s like its own little community in there. It’s so full of love in there.”

Dena continued to recover from her hysterectomy in December, returning to work as soon as she could while continuing to be careful after her surgery. She hated not being able to hold her granddaughter, who she described, along with her dog, as her “best buddies.” She couldn’t yet pick her granddaughter up, and it was driving her crazy, but the little girl would crawl into her grandmother’s lap instead.

“You don’t take anything for granted now,” Dena says.

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