Battling Bruin: Denise

Posted June 2014

It was 1992, the winter of her junior year at Fresno State University, when Denise came down with a bad case of the flu. However, after three trips to the student health center in two weeks, she knew it was more than the typical flu. Finally, after six months and three different doctors, there was a diagnosis: Crohn’s disease.

Although Crohn’s disease was not unheard of, it was uncommon for patients in their early 20s to be diagnosed, let alone be in such an advanced stage. Crohn’s disease is located in the small and or large intestines, but can also be prevalent in the colon. Patients who suffer from Crohn’s typically display weight loss, fatigue, chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting; all of which Denise displayed regularly. There would be many trials with different medications, including a two-year study at Cedar Sinai Medical Center. Frustration and depression began to take its toll, as attending school and finishing up her degree in Liberal Studies seemed impossible. However, with the support of her family and friends, Denise was able to find the strength to finish as well as plan for the next phase of her educational goals.

In 1996, Denise continued her education by enrolling in a teaching credential program, and although her illness was still very present in her life daily, becoming a special education teacher was her lifelong dream. In July of 1999, just as Denise was planning to accept her first teaching job for the fall, she suffered a tremendous setback with her health. She had perforated her small bowel, in the small intestine where the Crohn’s disease was located. Doctors told her family they were not hopeful that she would recover due to the amount of toxins released that affected her organs. After numerous days in intensive care and two surgeries later, she would recover.

With only a month of recovery behind her, Denise decided there was no time like the present to pursue a teaching job. She was offered a long-term substitute position in special education that would become permanent at the end of the school year. However, there was one little catch; she would also need to take over the Pep & Cheer program as the head coach. Putting her fears behind her, and to her own amazement, Denise accepted the job. Besides, she thought, how hard could coaching be? Denise had grown up being a cheerleader herself in elementary, junior high and high school. Although times have changed, along with cheer fashion, she felt knowledgeable enough that she could be a successful teacher and cheer coach.

After two more major surgeries behind her, which brought the total to four, and the constant struggle with her health for the past 15 years, Denise has been doing what she loves most: teaching children with physical disabilities, and being a high school cheerleading director and coach. Although her illness has left her with the inability to have her own children, teaching, coaching and mentoring high school students more than fulfills her heart and life.

Her connection to UCLA happens to be one of her former high school cheerleaders, Joseph Blancas, who is a captain for the 2013-2014 UCLA Cheer Team. Denise is extremely proud of Joseph and has been one of his biggest cheerleaders through out his college career. Her teaching motto is simple yet effective… “always be proud of who you are and what you represent.”

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