Michelle Denson
Michelle Denson
When most teachers start a new school year, they’re focused on getting to know their new students, working on lesson plans and preparing their classrooms. But, for Olde Towne Middle School’s Michelle Denson, the 2017-18 school year did not begin how she had planned or expected.

Denson, a sixth-grade information and communication technologies (ICT) teacher, got a life-changing phone call during school, informing her that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. A few days later, she had a PET scan, and the doctor revealed she had Stage 3B breast cancer, indicating the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.  

With no family history of breast cancer, Denson was quite surprised by the diagnosis. She opted to have genetic testing done to make sure that she did not have any genetic markers for breast cancer in hopes that good test results would allow her mother, sisters and daughter to rest a little easier.

Before her diagnosis, Denson had noticed a knot close to her sternum through self-examination. Six years prior, she had a benign cyst removed, so she was hoping that this lump was just another benign cyst. Unfortunately, things were much different this time around, and her doctor told her she was about to experience the longest year of her life.

“If I had not found my lump through self-examination, my cancer would have gone undetected by the mammogram,” explains Denson. “My doctor couldn’t feel the knot when I first went to her, and I was so nervous, I could not find it either.”

Denson’s doctor then scheduled a mammogram. The morning of the appointment, Denson was prepared. “I had found the lump and was ready to mark it with a Sharpie if I needed to, just to make sure I could find it this time,” said Denson. “The technician did the mammogram, and she told me she did not see anything. At that point, I had her come over and feel the lump next to my sternum.”

Shocked at where it was located, the technician tried repeatedly to get it to show up on the mammogram, but she was unsuccessful. The cancer was not in a place the mammogram could detect. But, because she had felt the knot, the technician put in orders for Denson to have an ultrasound. 

“After the ultrasound, the nurses and technicians told me they needed to get a doctor,” said Denson. “Within a few minutes, a doctor was standing beside me and immediately biopsied the area. I knew by the way he spoke to me that this was more serious than the lump I had had removed before.” 

Since her diagnosis last August, Denson says her Titan family has been very supportive. Her coworkers, as well as OTMS students and parents, have encouraged her, helped with meals, prayed for her, and expressed their love and concern. In the spring, a team from Olde Towne’s Technology Student Association (TSA) even created a community service video for the American Cancer Society in Denson’s honor, highlighting her courageous journey. The team’s video came in third place at the TSA State Competition last April and placed in the top 12 at TSA Nationals in Atlanta in June.

Now a little more than a year into her battle against breast cancer, Denson is starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. She has two more bottles of chemotherapy pills to take, and then she will have a CT and bone scan in early November. At that point, she hopes to be cancer-free. 

“I’m a fighter, and I don’t plan on letting this take me out,” Denson said. “Hopefully, from my experience, I can touch someone else’s life and be a good example. I haven’t let cancer take my ability to smile, laugh or enjoy life because those are things that I can control. In this fight, attitude makes a big difference. And for me, I have chosen to be positive and happy and laugh as much as possible.”