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Denise Ibsen Cole


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Our Mission

To raise awareness of high-risk cancers and eliminate barriers to genetic testing through support and education. 


Provide a network for those who have battled cancer or those who encourage them.

My Story

I LOVE that when I tell people about the 26.2 “step” mini marathon, I can almost see the light come on when they process what the event really is! 

I am a klutzy marathon runner, who happens to also have the BRCA1 mutation.  Because of these things my journey has allowed me to be in the position to educate thousands of people in the metro area on breast and ovarian basics and high risk as a volunteer ambassador and to run the Chicago Marathon four times to raise funds for Bright Pink.  BUT THIS crazy 26.2 “step” mini marathon, I believe has helped more people that those things combined.  The Mini Marathon has helped spread awareness about all high risk cancers, empowered people to ask the right questions, and helped people develop an action plan that is right for them.  

But to know my whole story, I have to start with my mom.  I still remember “The call”.  So many others have received a similar call.  You know the one where the person on the other side says, “It is cancer, but don’t worry we have great doctors who told us it is treatable.”  I remember being in a fog that day.  However, as the year went along just like the doctors promised, she did get better. And ever so slightly I allowed cancer to drift out of my mind.

About ten years after my mom’s initial diagnosis, I was taking a walk with a friend who mentioned something about her mother and herself looking into taking a genetic test for Breast Cancer.  I had never heard about this type of test before.  They were exploring this option because of her mother’s breast cancer history so they could tell if her cancer was bad luck or due to genetics.  The idea intrigued me, but I didn’t see how it applied to me.  Little did I know….

When cancer invaded our lives again, it was not where we expected.  My mom had always been vigilant about monitoring her breasts, but this time it was in her colon and spine, and it was aggressive.  I had forgotten about my conversation about the genetic testing and all my energy was focused on my mom’s treatment and health.  This time around the doctors were not so promising, and we didn’t even get a full year with my mom.  

With her gone I knew I had to prioritize my focus on my own health.  Starting in my early 30’s I had been having yearly mammograms, because of my mom’s breast cancer history. But now I also remembered the conversation I had with my good friend about genetic testing, something that no doctor had brought up to my mother or to myself up to this point. And now it was I that wanted to find out if my mom’s cancer was because of “Bad luck, or Bad genes”.

Since I wasn’t sure where to start, I first met with my mom’s oncologist.  Sitting in an oncologist’s waiting room, as a “patient”, but not having cancer is unnerving. Yet the irony of sitting in the same doctor’s office that my mom had sat in as an actual cancer patient so many years ago was not lost on me.  I realized how fortunate I was to be in this situation, whereas the majority of people who there to see this doctor were very sick, and would have given anything to be in my same situation to possibly  know what caused their cancer, and to prevent it.  

My mom left home at age 16, so when I met with the genetic counselor. I was only armed with my mother’s own cancer history and a bit about her family history that she had noted on a small piece of paper during her first bout with cancer, about two of her great aunts having stomach cancer.   When the genetic test results came back, I found out I was positive for the BRCA 1 mutation, putting me at elevated risks for both Breast (87%) and Ovarian (up to 54%) cancers.  Since that day I have met several other individuals with similar mutations.  In their families, it really does seem as if cancer is stalking everyone, so it makes my own family’s history look fairly blasé.

I know how incredibly blessed I am that I found out I had the gene mutation before I had cancer. And until science and medication can fix this mutated DNA, I will do everything I can to help others realize, just like my friend did for me so long ago, that there could be a family risk or genetic risk that is causing the cancer in someone’s family, so no one else has to say good bye to someone they love simply because of a “Bad genes”.

News story:  Bad Luck or Bad Genes? Woman Spreads Awareness for Genetic Testing | Nebraska Medicine Omaha, NE


If you have any questions of media inquiries, contact me anytime.

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