It’s Just a Life with Breast Cancer and I Rock it!
As I glance around the Coffee Emporium on Central Parkway, it takes a few minutes to recognize Talika. When I do, she immediately jumps up to greet me with a smile. She’s wearing a bright pink scarf that matches the tuft of fuchsia hair on the top of her head. She is bubbly and radiant, bearing no indication that she endured a chemotherapy treatment just a few days ago.
Talika Dennis is a 34 year old mother, daughter, wife, sister, cousin, and friend who happens to have cancer. In July 2011, Talika began feeling pain all over her body, which led to a Fibromyalgia diagnosis. Later in October, Talika realized something was off when her left breast grew almost an entire cup size within a week. After a series of tests, Talika was diagnosed with Stage IV Inflammatory Breast Cancer at the age of 32. The cancer had metastasized to her chest wall, liver, and L1 (a transmembrane protein with a strong implication in treatment-resistant cancers).
“I looked at my doctor and said, ‘what’s next’,” says Talika of her diagnosis. Upon researching, she found there was a 17 percent chance of survival for that type of cancer. Dr. Irfan Firdaus, Talika’s medical oncologist from day one, notes that hers was truly a horrible case. According to Dr. Firdaus, most patients with this type of cancer live for six months.
Dr. Firdaus and his team prescribed aggressive treatment, including chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, which resulted in a year of remission. “In my eyes…she is always extremely positive, always upbeat about the treatment and I think that helps her immensely,” he says. Talika recently experienced a recurrence; a tumor on her lung and is receiving a newly FDA-approved chemotherapy treatment, Kadcyla. “Hopefully, with treatment, we can get that stabilized or maybe even eradicated completely,” Dr. Firdaus says.
Before her journey with cancer began, Talika was a passionate school administrator, working at a public charter school in Cincinnati. She was charged with the social development of students and in the words of Talika, “Taught them the power of positive thinking and power of belief.” With the diagnosis, she was forced to apply her teachings to her own life. “Life has dealt me some sour lemons but I’m making pink lemonade,” Talika says. “I make it sweet.”
Leaving her job was the toughest part of the diagnosis. “I could not swallow the fact that I was leaving 500 and some kids that depended on me,” she says as tears fill her eyes. “If I could mold leaders, I could change the world and I was dedicated to doing that.”
Her smile returns as she describes her next venture to help those in need, Pinky’s, a cancer spa. Talika hopes Pinky’s will be “the one-stop shop for cancer patients in Cincinnati.”
Talika laughs as she tells me how quickly she lost her hair. “I had to embrace my new beauty and embracing my new beauty made me come up with the concept for Pinky’s.” She hopes Pinky’s, which had its grand opening Oct. 30, will be a place of healing and relaxation for patients.
“I find peace and I find purpose in helping others, I am a public servant at heart,” Talika says. Ultimately, she hopes Pinky’s will be a place where cancer patients can go to feel good. Dr. Firdaus commends Talika’s efforts; “I thought it was a wonderful idea and pretty novel too, in Cincinnati there is no such service.”
According to Dr. Firdaus, patients undergoing chemotherapy have severely compromised immune systems; even a cuticle infection can be dangerous. He adds, “It’s important to be taken care of by a spa that understands the unique needs and treatment of a cancer patient. This is something a normal spa may not even consider.”
Besides her impossibly positive attitude and inspiration to make a difference, Talika attributes her success with this disease to her medical team at OHC. “They spoil me,” she says. Dr. Firdaus and the rest of Talika’s team have been very supportive through her journey and she feels they were hand-picked just for her. “They give me more than just drugs, they give me the will to say, ‘if you want to fight, we’re going to fight with you.’”
Great patient-doctor relationships are paramount for Dr. Firdaus and the physicians at OHC. “We all have that philosophy where we really have to put the patient first…anything we can do as physicians that can make them feel better about themselves…we strive to do that.”
Talika is an exuberant young woman who despite all the lemons she has been dealt in life continues to make pink lemonade. As she embarks on this second round of treatment, she is realistic while maintaining her positive attitude. “It’s just a life with cancer and I rock it,” she says of her incredible journey.