I think my title sums up how I feel.  My heart has been aching for the past year for a person that has been there since I was two, for twenty-eight years of my life, and now she was gone. She was my cousin. She was there before my sister. I don’t remember life before her.

I feel guilty that I didn’t take the time to get to know my cousin. Sure, I did the family obligations, the birthdays, holidays, and weddings. But it wasn’t until I was at her funeral that I realized how much I had missed out on. I felt awful because she used to drive me crazy. I found her very annoying at times. While everyone talked about the saint she was, I felt so guilty about I used to feel about her.

Denean was different, she always was.  She was an old soul before she was in high school.  I think she knew even then. In 1998 we got the call, my mom, best friend and I, while we were working at my mom’s practice: Denean had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  It’s treatable, she will beat it.

But, still I think to myself, it’s cancer and she’s only 17.  Through treatment and chemo and losing her hair she remained positive. It was as if she was God’s own army, it was amazing.

Remission with follow-ups came next for five years and then there was a lump.

Breast Cancer.  Denean had a biopsy and yes, at the age of twenty-three she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  A double masectomy and a hysterectomy followed, plus lots of chemo and radiation. Then remission again. She had won, we had won! It was a good day.

Then two days before her brother’s wedding, another lump.  This one was bruised and ugly.  Breast cancer again.  With no breasts.  It had spread.  Lymph nodes, bones, tissue.  Her mother, my aunt and a nurse, asked a doctor how long we would have with her. 5 years, he told her, 5 years at best.

My cousin was twenty-five at the time.  She wouldn’t live to see thirty.

But we were all selfish. We expected her to win, to beat it. She always did.

Looking back, we missed it.  She knew she was dying and she planned for it. My only regret in life is that I didn’t plan for it, too.  My best friend told me to spend time with her while I could and I didn’t. I did once I realized what was happening, but I regret that I didn’t before.  Three weeks before she died, I rushed home with my two-month old baby to be by my cousin’s side.  Until the day that I die, I will be grateful that I had that one week with her. I got to make jokes with her about her ICU nurses, see her sarcastic sense of humor one last time.

I will carry that week with me always.

Denean left the hospital September 17, 2009 and three weeks later she died on Sunday, October 4th, 2009; her father’s birthday.  Her funeral was standing room only. The women and the real men wore pink to honor her.

Denean was that person that you read about in People Magazine.  She fought cancer three times, she put herself through school and she taught to special needs kids–it was her passion. But her most important job of all was that she lead so many people to Christ.  She helped start a prayer group in her high school that started out with 10-20 people. Today, it is well over 200 people.

To say it is an honor to have known her for her entire life would be an understatement.  I feel blessed by the hand of God to be related to Denean.

Thank you for this forum.  It feels amazing to talk about her.

Denean, if by the Grace of God you are reading this, I love you and I miss and I will forever feel blessed to have the honor of being your cousin. I think about you every day and will miss you until the day I die.