Surviving the Storm

The only thing that went through her mind was dying.

“I called my best friend and she took me up to the emergency room. It was the first time I had ever been in a hospital room, so it was a whole new experience and very scary,” Marlar said.

Twenty-two years ago, AP Human Geography teacher Dena Marlar was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After three surgeries and six rounds of intense chemotherapy, in a span of only 8 months, Marlar survived.

Marlar spent most of her time that year in fear. It was difficult for her to stay optimistic, since her mind was always focused on death.

“I was pretty much afraid that whole year, with the chemo and the surgeries, I was certain that I’d die. The good news in all of this was that they caught it [the cancer] really early, it wasn’t even stage one. It was a total God thing and a total blessing,” Marlar said.

Before Marlar was diagnosed with cancer, her life was at its highest peak. She taught at a great school had amazing students, and she was actively involved in church. This made her diagnosis even more of a tragedy to her, especially since she wasn’t a high risk of at getting cancer.

“I loved my job, I was the cheerleading coach and I was very involved in my school, I was so strong in my faith and I was just a really really happy person. It [the diagnosis] just came as a shock, I really couldn’t believe it,” Marlar stated.

Marlar endured a lonely and painful process in the hospital.

“Chemo is horrible, it makes you so sick. I was never as sick with the cancer as I was with the chemo. When I did the treatment, I was very defeated, I felt exhausted and just wiped out. I was in Houston all by myself, and so it was a very lonely time, a very isolated time,” Marlar said.

Even while going through painful chemotherapy, Marlar continued pursuing her passion, teaching.

“I continued teaching, but it was probably my weakest year of teaching, because I was exhausted and I couldn’t wear the wig so my kids just got used to me being bald,” Marlar said.

Despite her conditions, Marlar was very appreciative of all her Mom and her friends did for her. She describes them as the people who “saved her,” and distracted her from her cancer. She also realized that her cancer brought a lot of them closer together.

“The only thing that saved me in all of this was my mom. My mom was a pillar of strength. She came down to Houston for every treatment. She held my head when I was sick and was absolutely the perfect example of a mom taking care of their sick child, even if they’re 36 years old. My friends also came out and brought food, flowers, and gifts to the house. In the midst of all that bad and being sick, it was a really good time of love and friendship,” Marlar stated.

Despite being so strong in her faith, Marlar did have moments of weakness.

“I have always had a strong faith in God, but this tested everything about my love and faith for my love. I hate that I was so quick to give up, but it was so hard, and I felt so bad,” Marlar said.

Marlar said that even though she doesn’t live in a fear of getting cancer again anymore, she does occasionally still get a tiny voice in her head that tells her that she could get sick again.

“For a long time I was scared it was going to come back. This is a way a cancer survivor thinks. If you have a headache, you think I have to take some tylenol, I think oh I have a brain tumor. If you have a sore foot, I must’ve stubbed my toe, or sprained my ankle; I think I have cancer of the foot! That’s the negative side of the things that have changed, I always think it’s going to come back,” Marlar said.

Looking back, Marlar is grateful for her experiences and sees good in her experience with cancer.

“When I think back on it, I wouldn’t want to do it again, but because it has changed my outlook on my life and has made me appreciate things so much more, in a way I’m kind of glad that it happened,” Marlar stated.

“Cancer gave me hope for life. I was glad to survive and it absolutely changed my life by making me appreciate every single day and every single year I get to live. I never get depressed about getting old, I’m so excited to have lived to be 58 years old, because 22 years ago I thought that I’d die,” Marlar said.