Denise Albert is a familiar face to many New Yorkers. She’s a sought-after parenting expert for local and national television shows, co-host of a radio show on Sirius, and co-creator of multimedia lifestyle brand The MOMS. Denise uses her multimedia platform purposefully, talking about topics many find too personal to discuss.
So it didn’t surprise me that when the single mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, she chose to document her journey publicly. A former TV producer and reporter, she decided to forgo the Photoshopped images of herself, opting for photos that were raw and at times tough to look at. But her fearless attitude and unwavering optimism—complete with the hashtag #FutureCancerSurvivor—encouraged everyone around her.
Here, Denise shares the secrets of her enduring spirit that has moved us all.
What made you decide to be so transparent about your breast cancer diagnosis and treatment?
It was important to me to share my story because I knew it could help others. I found a lump myself just months after a mammogram. I also found out I had dense breasts, and I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know I should have asked for further testing. So by sharing my journey so openly, I hope it helps others who are either going through something similar or supporting a friend or family member. Also, so much of what I do with The MOMS is about our lives as moms and parents, and it wouldn’t have been authentic for me to keep this part of my life quiet. It’s just not who I am.
You have an amazing working relationship with your business partner and co-creator of The MOMS, Melissa Gerstein. How has your journey with cancer impacted that relationship?
I always knew I had the right business partner and friend, but when you go through something like this and have their unconditional love and support, it’s confirmed again. Melissa works harder than anyone I have ever known, and this year she did even more. We never had to talk about it—she just knew when I needed to rest and when she had to do more because I couldn’t. Many times this year it looked as if I didn’t slow down, but actually, I would show up to our Mamarazzi events, smile, work, and leave. It was hard for me to talk to people, and she would say, “Go sit and hide; I’ve got it.” Everyone needs a Melissa Gerstein by their side.
You’ve mentioned that even though you’ve been sick, you still consider your midlife years some of the best times of your life. How is that possible?
It just makes sense to me that life should keep getting better. It’s really that simple. I love to have fun. I love to be adventurous and do interesting things with my boys. I’m happily divorced. I have one life, so I’m going to love living it.
Where do you get your positive energy and attitude from?
I’m really proud of my relationships with my family and my closest friends. It takes work, but I have great people around me. My parents are amazing—I love being with them, and I love seeing them with my kids. I have lifelong friendships and newer friendships through work and through the kids, and I cherish each and every one of them.
How did you come up with the hashtag #FutureCancerSurvivor?
Since so much of what we do with The MOMS is social media, I wanted to create something that was inspiring to others and something for me to look forward to. I’m lucky; my diagnosis was early. But anytime someone is diagnosed with cancer, there’s a feeling that you won’t survive. By calling myself a #FutureCancerSurvivor, it was the positivity I needed to continue through my journey.
Tell us about the online community you started for women with breast cancer.
Because I have been so public about my journey, I am in daily contact with so many people around the country who are dealing with their own illnesses or have a sick child, friend, or family member. There’s something comforting about talking to people who understand what you’re going through. We can learn so much from each other. I don’t want to talk about cancer all the time—especially to people who see me dealing with it every day—but talking to people who “get it” is therapeutic. I hope to continue to help others by sharing information, being there, and listening.
How is your health now?
My doctors assume I’m cancer free, so I’m considered a survivor now. The worst is behind me. I have a lot of little side effects, but you learn to live with aches, stiffness, and other body and mind changes. I’m taking care of myself and working out—I spin at Flywheel. I continued to work out throughout the treatments, and while I may not have had the best or sweatiest workouts, just being there felt good for my mind and body. Now, my workouts are getting better, and I’m starting yoga.
What’s next for you?
My motto is “anything is possible,” and now I believe that more than ever. If I could get through this past year—a lumpectomy, six months of chemo with all the side effects, shaving my head, surgery to impact a mediport, six weeks of daily radiation, immunotherapy treatments, more medications with more side effects, feeling and looking sick, continuing to work, and continuing to be the mom I want to be for my boys (with some help from my mom, their dad, and the most incredible sitter)—I can do anything.
By Dr. Robi Ludwig