When we first connected with iHeart Radio personality and Denver influencer Denise Plante for our Health + Wellness Issue, we knew her story matched this month’s theme spot on. She has been open about caring for her father, who passed away in 2021 after a battle with cancer. She has used her celebrity to raise more than $2 million for the American Cancer Society, as well as other worthy nonprofits.
We never could have predicted another significant life-cycle event would be on the horizen. Denise lost her mother in early December 2023, right before our editorial deadline. Below is our conversation before losing her mom and her thoughts immediately after. We thank Denise for letting us glimpse into her world at a time of devastating grief. Even during this painful time, she is a testament and inspiration for living well.
You’ve had quite the journey the past few years as the caretaker of your parents during their end-of-life stage, as well as being a working mom and wife in a public, high-pressure industry. Tell us about your experience and your takeaways.
It was a blessing to be with my dad for the final six months after his bladder cancer diagnosis that spread to his liver and lungs. I’ve always been extremely close to my parents and called them every day to and from work. My parents were so proud and supportive of me and watched me each morning on Colorado & Co. on 9News.
When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I had already left 9News. It's like God knew I was going to be needed elsewhere. I’d moved from KOSI to 106.7 The Bull at iHeartRadio, and they were highly supportive. I called Brenda Egger, the President of iHeart Denver, and told her I needed to help my parents when his diagnosis became terminal. She did not hesitate and let me do my show from their hometown with help from Brenda, JoJo Turnbeaugh, and John E. Kage.
I’d never taken care of someone until death. It's heartbreaking. When my dad was diagnosed, he was at stage 4 and 104 pounds, when he passed, 97 pounds. The night before he died, I stayed up to give him meds every two hours. I knew I was helping him and doing what he asked of me, but it was traumatic, and I had this strange feeling of guilt.
Now, I’m caring for my mom, who has lived with me for over a year and a half. She's had several strokes and is chair- and bed-bound. My husband, Michael, and sons, Austin and Wyatt, help me with my mom daily. Someone is always with her to lift her into her wheelchair or put her into bed. She's been in hospice for a couple of months now, and as I'm writing this, I'm lying in bed with her. She had another stroke last night, and her body is failing. The chaplain just left. My mom will be reunited with my dad soon. We prayed, read Bible verses, listened to songs she loves, and now she is sleeping. It's been a very different experience than my dad's.
I've learned that what matters in life is the moments we have with our loved ones. I love my job and what it allows me to do and provide, but those are just "things." Life is precious. Yes, I know it’s cliche. Once you see someone you love struggle to take their last breath, you know it is true.
Through this, I've grown closer to God, and my faith is essential. I'm learning to give it to God. If I can't control it, I just give it to God.
How has the experience of being a caregiver to sick family members changed you? Did you ever neglect your own needs?
I definitely neglected my health at times. While caring for my dad, I felt poorly, and I thought it was just stress. It was actually tumors and fibroids in my uterus. Since uterine cancer runs in our family, I finally scheduled a uterine wall biopsy. Thankfully, it was negative, and nothing had spread. That night, I hosted a big event for the station, Bull Bash. I've learned you must stay positive and busy when worried.
My mental health was also a concern. I pushed and pushed until I cried every day. I needed something for myself. I started slowly working out again. Now, I do a Zumba class twice a week with the best Zumba teacher in Colorado, Becki Umland, who makes it fun and a stress release. I also started a cycling class at HotWorx with my friend Debbie Waines. Debbie lost her husband to cancer and was a caretaker for quite some time, so she understands what I am going through.
When life happens, it’s usually impossible to just step away from work since the bills still need to be paid. How do you manage the needs of your personal life with the demands of your professional responsibilities?
My husband built a home studio about 15 years ago. He owned a media company, and I was able to use the studio to do voice work for television and radio. These days, I can do my entire show in our home studio.
Thanks to Jon Zellner and Joey Brooks, members of the corporate programming team, iHeart took my show national. Now, I do two shows, which broadcast in 26 different markets. It is incredible how technology has improved radio programming. Thank goodness I’m surrounded by a team that understands family comes first. I'm able to work from home when needed, like this week.
Life is unavoidably messy, and hard stuff happens. What are your favorite hacks to not let the hard stuff overwhelm or keep you down?
A quick 13-minute cycle workout with Debbie really helps. Acting like a fool while trying to keep up in Becki's Zumba class makes me smile, too.
One thing that truly helps is taking a simple walk with my husband. Mike suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and a blood clotting disease. At one point this year, my mom was rushed to the ER, and Mike was admitted as well. They were across the hall from each other.
I met Mike when I was 19, and I'm 51 now. We have a genuine love story. He is a rare man, someone going through so much but still cares for others with love and kindness. When we walk, we talk about life and what we want for our future.
What does Health + Wellness mean to you?
Health and wellness are not only about the body but also about the soul and mental health. If you don't take care of yourself in life, you won't be able to care for others. That is a valuable lesson I have learned these past few years.
You’ve got a significant public presence. Easy or hard for you to keep a smile on your face throughout hard times?
There have been times I’ve cried before I hosted an event. If I'm doing a fundraising event for Mental Health Colorado or the American Cancer Society, I'll explain what I'm going through.
The great thing about radio is nobody can see me. But authenticity builds a connection with my audience. I'm not afraid to be honest; I believe it fosters loyalty.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I hope people remember that I tried my best to help others. God gave me an amazing platform to help others and make our community a better place, and God comes first in my life. I pray daily on my way to work and talk to Jesus when needed. You don't have to be in a church to communicate with God. I also like to make people laugh; I hope I've done that a few times over the years.
What are your personal goals for 2024?
My family last had an actual vacation over three years ago. Going somewhere to relax to enjoy life, health, and happiness would be nice.
Parting thoughts, especially after the recent loss of your mother.
I'm sad but happy she is walking again with Dad and the Lord. Of course, my husband Mike, Austin, Wyatt, and I surrounded my mom with love until she took her last breath.
I know this article was supposed to be a twist on health, fitness, and balance in life, but it's turned into so much more for me. It has been therapeutic.
Denise Plante is a dedicated multimedia personality, delivering exceptional work across traditional and social media platforms. She engages actively with her audience in 26 markets for iHeart Radio stations, making her a truly influential voice. Follow her @deniseplantedenver.
I've learned that what matters in life are the moments we have with our loved ones. Life is precious. Yes, I know it’s cliche. Once you see someone you love struggle to take their last breath, you know it is true.
The great thing about radio is nobody can see me. Authenticity builds a connection with my audience. I'm not afraid to be honest; I believe it fosters loyalty.