MARENGO – Inside her home office, Denise Edwards would display four Post-it notes with a phrase borrowed from The Police’s 1978 song, “Can’t Stand Losing You,” during her eight-year journey as an adult college student.
The notes, scribbled with a black Sharpie, read: “I can’t stand losing/I will not lose.”
Edwards, a 48-year-old Marengo resident, often needed the motivational message after returning to college eight years ago to pursue a nursing degree and overcoming four bouts with cancer.
After starting at McHenry County College, Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer, requiring breast reconstruction surgery. Just before receiving her associate degree, she was diagnosed with left and right ovarian cancer.
Before enrolling at Northern Illinois University to pursue a bachelor’s degree, Edwards learned that she had uterine cancer. Now cancer-free, Edwards looks to start her new career as a nurse after receiving her diploma from NIU on Sunday.
She sat down with reporter Stephen Di Benedetto to discuss her decision to return to college and the unexpected path that followed.
Di Benedetto: How did you go about managing your health and your studies?
Edwards: I have a very wonderful husband. My husband said to me, “Denise, you don’t need to worry about working. You worry about your goals with schooling.” He has taken care of this house financially for 20 years. He is [the] one who will cook, clean, shop, and he’ll pick me up when I am down. He has risen beyond expectations to a spouse that I can’t speak highly enough of. If it had not been for him, on several occasions I wanted to quit. I wanted to say, “Is this really worth it at 48 years old,” and struggling with narcotics and being on pain medications and having a foggy head, there was a lot of times I wanted to give up.
Di Benedetto: How would generally describe the situation that you went through?
Edwards: With all the adversity, you should never doubt yourself, if you have something you believe in. There is going to be a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s very exciting to know that I’ll be wearing that nurse’s cap.
Di Benedetto: From your experiences, why should people pursue adult education?
Edwards: Adult education is something I was very fearful of. Being an older adult going back to school, there was a lot of stigma placed on me because I was sitting at MCC in classrooms with my son’s friends. I would sit next to one of his football buddies or wrestling buddies. ... I fully encourage adults to pursue education. The more that we can keep our brains activated and moving in a healthy way, the longer we can keep those brain cells working.
Di Benedetto: What do you want people to take away from your story?
Edwards: If you have a goal, don’t let adversity get in the way of achieving that goal. ... It’s hard for us to see through the trial and tribulations when we are going through them. It is hard to dig deep down inside when we are struggling. God knows, I’ve had enough of that. But I’ve always had a strong faith. If it wasn’t for my faith, my husband, my determination, I would not have succeeded.
The Edwards Lowdown:
Hometown: Country Club Hills, Ill.
Husband: Jamie Edwards, 50
Children: Matthew Cermak, 25; Daniel Edwards, 24; Eddie Edwards, 21
Favorite aspect about nursing: Listening and learning from patient
Favorite hobby: Riding the Harley