Advocate Spotlight: Denyse Phipps Crank
This month, as part of our Advocate Spotlight series, we are highlighting CSC patient advocate and cancer survivor Denyse Phipps Crank. In our Q&A with Denyse, she talks about her personal experience with cancer. She also describes what it was like to attend President Biden’s historic announcement at the White House on Feb. 2, when he relaunched the Cancer Moonshot with a call to action on cancer screening and early detection. “The best way I can sum up the experience is like being a little kid on Christmas Day and getting not just the things you need, but the things you really want,” she says.
Keep reading to learn more about Denyse.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got connected with the Cancer Support Community.
Back in 2019, I lost my husband, which was very traumatizing and hard for me. I wandered through the year. And then, in 2020, I started losing family and friends, not just to COVID-19, but to other diseases and illnesses as well. That year, just 2 weeks before Christmas, I lost my only brother to throat cancer. I was devastated. Around that time, I had a doctor that pushed the issue of having a routine mammogram. I had just lost my brother and wasn’t in the right headspace to do it, but she really pushed how important it was to not put it off. I was so fortunate to have a doctor that helped me navigate the health care system; when I was told it was going to cost about $600, she said, “We are going to get this done” and found a hospital that would do it for free.
On January 4, 2021, just 4 weeks after my brother passed away, I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, which — after doctors finding that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes — was raised to stage 2. I was so overwhelmed. I had just lost my brother to cancer, and now I had cancer. I lost it then. It was earth-shattering and, in that moment, I thought I was going to die.
My nurse navigator encouraged me to reach out to the Cancer Support Community. I spoke with a [Cancer Support] Helpline navigator for over an hour, and she was the sweetest person in the world because she sat there and listened to me. In the moment when you are diagnosed, you are so confused, and the first thing that came to my mind was that I was going to die. I didn’t even know what questions I should ask. The Helpline navigator helped explain that there are different stages [and] different types of breast cancer and helped me to understand my diagnosis better. She was so caring and gave me a way to get my feelings out. She kept letting me know that CSC was always here for me. It is an incredible feeling to know that there are people out there that are willing to help me.
“I want people impacted by cancer to know that they don’t have to do it alone, that there are places like CSC that they can go for help.”
What was it like attending the White House reignition of the Cancer Moonshot? What were your initial thoughts hearing the goals to reduce cancer deaths, expand access to cancer screenings, and improve the patient experience?
It was so hopeful. For a world leader to take on an initiative like the Cancer Moonshot, to make cancer a priority issue, and to say to people impacted by cancer “You can make a difference” and “You matter” is just so inspiring. The event at the White House was both exciting and overwhelming. The best way I can sum up the experience is like being a little kid on Christmas Day and getting not just the things you need, but the things you really want.
Is there one issue you are particularly passionate about?
I want people impacted by cancer to know that they don’t have to do it alone, that there are places like CSC that they can go for help. I’m not ashamed to tell people I am a cancer survivor — I want to use my personal story to help save a life. I am passionate about encouraging women, especially young women, to know your body and know your family history. And if you realize that something feels off, pay attention to it, and don’t put off seeking care. If I can help even one person, it’ll be worth it.
Tell us something fun about yourself — any hobbies, interests, or fun facts?
I love R&B music, especially music that I grew up with. I have an internet radio station. Music soothes me. Music makes me feel. I do it for fun, I do it for relaxation, I do it for me.