I will never forget how one early morning text message shook my world. It was a forwarded message from my sister Cathy who lives in Tennessee. It said simply “in hospital. Cancer. Let Priscilla know”.
I put my glasses on because surely I was not seeing clearly.
Nope. That’s what it said.
It was from my online friend Dena. Dena lived in the same town as my sister. Soon after Dena and I became friends, I “introduced” the two of them by getting my sister to read some of Dena’s gardening articles. My sister and Dena met in person and she introduced Cathy to the local farmers market that Dena would sell plants at.
Being unemployed cuts you off from the world but I once I discovered the online world of web content writing, I found a place where I felt at home. There is a bond between many online writers and many good friendships are made.
Shortly after I started to write, I “met” Dena. I liked her writing style. Her articles were personal without being about her. Many sites encourage writers to write in the third person but when Dena wrote articles about the subjects she loved (gardening, food and alternative medicine) you never felt bored by her personality being thrown in.
Her warm and inviting Southern charm made a brown thumb like me believe that I could grow anything. Dena was always so encouraging and helpful that way.
Somehow, our emails turned into a daily routine that often started as early as 6 a.m. Our friendship grew as we discussed not only our writing goals but our families and daily life.
We encouraged each other through life’s obstacles and challenged each other to better ourselves as writers. We would hold contests between each other, trying to push ourselves to make better use of our time by writing and striving to reach higher.
Dena was a far more experienced writer than I was.She never made me feel inferior to her- in fact she encouraged me to apply for a featured contributor position on Associated Content. She shared my excitement when I finally got accepted and helped me by showing me the ropes.
Dena worked so hard to better herself on Associated Content and managed to hold 3 Featured Contributor positions.
She also had recently started a new blog about local restaurants in her part of eastern Tennessee. In typical Dena fashion, the blog was not your typical restaurant review; each restaurant she visited told the human story of how the restaurant came to be.
Being someone who dreams of having her own restaurant, I loved hearing Dena’s stories of local eating spots not only for the delicious food they served but for how they came to being.
Dena loved being out in her garden. Even in the winter, her home was filled with houseplants. She joked that it looked like a jungle.
She loved football; the Tennessee Titans was her team. She was also very knowledgeable about herbs and promoting alternative medicine. She planned a book about alternative medicine and had even spoken to a publisher about it.
Like many people, towards the fall of 2010, Dena and her husband were having financial struggles. I could relate and we supported each other through these tough times. We reminded each other how stress could make you ill. We tried to practice the power of visualization and positive thoughts.
By the time Thanksgiving came around, Dena was starting to complain about certain aches and pains. She was under stress but was still fighting to stay positive and be more productive.
As Christmas drew closer, Dena got sicker. She had little appetite. She constantly was either soaking in a hot tub or using her heating pad just to get through the day. She would still manage to write but not with the same gusto she did previously. She relayed that her family was concerned about her. I was too.
We still corresponded daily. Around mid-December, Dena disappeared from the Internet. I was panicked and kept emailing daily. I could have called her but I waited. She finally emailed me back. She was having so much trouble sleeping that she was exhausted.
She had gone to a doctor who diagnosed her as being depressed and suffering from arthritis. He urged her to go off her vitamin regimen because he felt they were not of good quality. She rejected the idea of taking an antidepressant and instead agreed to a prescription for pain meds to help her sleep and prednisone for the arthritis he felt was causing her aches.
Dena kept on going. She had good days and bad days. We kept in contact by emailing and speaking on the phone.
Being a Jersey girl, I will never forget the first time I spoke to Dena on the phone. She had a thick Southern accent. It threw me! I knew she was from Tennessee but after communicating through email only for 2 years, hearing that Southern drawl took getting used to.
Dena made me laugh. She was chatty and funny. She was fighting to get herself back. The problem was that she had no idea what she was fighting. Neither of us did.
The first week of January, my sister went to see Dena and take her a homemade ornament I had made for her. My sister just spoke to her briefly and left. Dena cancelled plans to go out for lunch because she wasn’t feeling well. That scared me because it wasn’t like Dena.
My sister relayed how Dena had noticeably lost weight and wasn’t feeling up for company. Dena called me later that day and told me that the prednisone was making her ill and she had stopped taking it. I don’t remember discussing if she planned on seeing the doctor again or if she was going to go see someone else. She pretty much made up her mind that she was going to get over this by her will alone.
She had an x-ray done and the doctor told her that she had arthritis. She planned on getting strong again and even dug out her leg weights to build her stamina. She was drinking Ensure shakes because she barely had an appetite.
The last weekend of January was the last time we emailed. She had tried to go out on Saturday but was too weak to walk well on her own. On Sunday, she was pushing to get some assignments done since there was no football on. She did complain about being “so tired” and just wanting to sleep for more than a few hours at a time.
I was concerned but she kept bouncing back. I never expected the next day to bring the news that it did.
I spoke to Dena after she entered the hospital. She told me that her husband Rick brought her to the hospital because she just couldn’t handle the pain anymore. She optimistically told me that although the doctors thought she probably had cervical cancer she was confident that she could beat it.
She joked how it was nice to be waited on for a change. I joked back that there were better ways to get a vacation.
She told me that she had no room for anyone who had any negative feelings about her condition. She was a fighter and she only wanted to focus on what she needed to do to overcome this. I can still remember that Southern drawl of hers saying “Honey, I don’t have any time for people who are going to be negative”.
We laughed together. She asked me to contact her editors because her assignments were obviously going to be late. I told her not to worry that I would take care of this for her.
The next day she sent me a text. They found a tumor pressing on her bladder and they were going to do a biopsy. I told her that it would be okay. I knew I had to hold onto hope for her.
That was the last time I heard from my friend Dena Bolton.
I communicated with Rick the next few days getting updates. When he explained to me on Monday, a week after she entered the hospital, that there was nothing medical science could do, I couldn’t help but sob openly. It just wasn’t fair.
Dena Bolton has touched many people in her life. Her articles on sites like this one and others will make her live on through her words.
Towards the end, Dena was praying for her family and friends. Again, typical Dena. Kind, loving and selfless to the end.
For her family and those who called her friend, the shock of how this beautiful woman’s life ended will take time to sink in. I am devastated to lose my beloved friend but I also know that we will meet again. I am so sorry that her life ended this way.
Dena Bolton left us last night. I believe that she is in a garden with colors and warmth that she has never seen here on Earth. I know she is at peace and surrounded by love. I am sad but I am happy that my dear Dena is no longer suffering.
I will always have the lessons that Dena taught me. I, like many others, am blessed for having known her.