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Obituary for Denise Neish

Obituary for Denise Neish

Multitudes mourn the passing of Denise Jo Neish (Spriggs), age 44. Denise passed away peacefully at home in Highland, Utah, in the presence of her adoring husband, Branden, their children, Alec (15), Lily (9), Max (9), Macy (8), and her mother Jeanne Sykes. Denise is also survived by her siblings, Jeanette Robins, Chris Heinrich, and Will Spriggs. Denise was preceded in death by her father, Dennis Spriggs, in 1992.

Denise fought a heroic battle with stage IV breast cancer for over 7 years, inspiring family and friends with her unshakeable faith, optimism, humor, and resilience.

Denise was born in Jefferson City, Missouri on July 16, 1973. At age 6 she began a running routine with her dad and siblings. This ignited a lifelong passion, that, along with a rare tenacity, made Denise virtually unbeatable in the 800, mile, and cross country throughout junior and senior high.

After being recruited by multiple colleges, Denise accepted a track scholarship to Weber State University. She loved being a collegiate athlete and highlighted her career by placing third in the nation in the 1500 at Junior Nationals.

After her junior year, Denise surprised her coaches and teammates by leaving to serve an LDS mission in Adelaide, Australia, where she was a beloved leader and in the first sister companionship to serve in the remote city of Darwin.

Upon returning from her mission, Denise surprised everyone again by joining the University of Utah track team, resulting in her meeting and eventually marrying the love of her life, Branden Neish, on October 16, 1997, in the Salt Lake Temple.

After earning her English degree and putting Branden through BYU, the couple embarked on a nationwide adventure, having their first child, Alec, while living in Michigan, Lily and Max (twins) in Boston, and Macy in San Diego. Along the way, she coached track at UVU, Harvard, and Alec’s school, Timberline Middle.

Denise loved music and began teaching herself piano and guitar as she went through cancer treatment. She also loved writing and authored a beautiful memoir and kept a blog at

Denise, our little hummingbird, will be remembered for her unwavering dedication to faith and family. Her deep love for her children gave her the drive to push through each difficult treatment so that she could have as much time with them as possible.

Thank you, Denise, for enriching our lives and inspiring us to be better.

Funeral Services will be held Saturday, April 28th at 11:00 am at the Highland Stake Center, 5335 West 11200 North, Highland, Utah, where Viewings will be held Friday, April 27th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm and prior to services on Saturday from 9:30 to 10:30 am. Interment in Highland City Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, please offer a donation in memory of Denise Neish to Huntsman Cancer Foundation:


When my oldest son, Alec, was three years old, he called me into his room one night, a little scared, and said, “Mom, will you turn off the dark?”

It took me a second to realize that he was asking me to turn on the light. I don’t know if he imagined there was a switch on the wall that said, “dark”, and we switched it on at night and off when we wanted to illuminate the room. I guess no one had ever explained it to him before.

Another time, when he was about the same age, we were driving in the car, and Alec got super excited about a dog he saw outside running ahead of his owner on a leash.

“Mom!”, he shouted, “look at that dog! He’s taking his lady for a walk.”

I laughed so hard about that one. That really was what it looked like, and is probably exactly what the dog thought was happening.

As adults, it’s sometimes funny to us when kids see things differently. Often we think there is only one “right” perspective. I don’t mean to muddy the waters here. There are things that really are either true or false. Facts are facts, but if we are looking at the same set of true facts, how we see those facts can change everything. Sometimes we can misinterpret facts to come up with conclusions that are not accurate, but often we just interpret facts differently than someone else, and both perspectives are equally true and valuable. Making meaning of the world is personal, and as varied as all the people on this earth.

For the past nearly seven years I have been battling cancer. It’s the kind that will not go away unless there is some new breakthrough. I am being treated to extend my life, and try to maintain quality of life in the process. I’m a mother of four young children, and I have done my best to do my part. I exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, and my husband and I have navigated and researched my treatment options diligently. For most of the past few years I have felt quite well, and I’m grateful to have far exceeded my original prognosis of about two years. I have completed several half marathons, and even one full. Other times I have been hospitalized, or otherwise dealing with side effects from treatment. I have kind of prided myself on keeping things fairly normal for my family, but recently things have gotten a lot tougher.

For the past year, my cancer has been in attack mode. We have not been able to stabilize it as before. For years I have gone from one treatment to the next, with close observation, and each treatment has given me some time to live my life before losing its effectiveness. Since the cancer spread to my liver, just over a year ago, it has spiraled out of control. I have not found anything that has worked longer than a couple of months. We decided I needed to get back into IV chemotherapy last May. I am now on my third chemotherapy drug, because the first two have already failed me.

The drug I am currently taking seems to be working so far, but it is rough. I got so extremely sick from it after my first dose that I was vomiting, unable to eat for a couple of weeks, and was constantly nauseous and tired. After a few weeks off to recover, I started again at only half dose. Even at half dose it’s a challenge for me to handle the side effects.

I am not someone who gets discouraged easily. I don’t give up easily either. I will admit that I’m adjusting to losing that bounce in my step though. I have been frustrated about how I feel, and often wonder what that means for the future. It’s easier to be strong when there is a finish line, but my current treatment options are all chemo options, and there is no finish line in sight except for the end of my mortal life. I’m not ready for that yet, and so I need to be willing to endure the treatment options available to me.

Truthfully, I don’t want to just be enduring life, I want to enjoy it. So, the question I ask myself is, “how do I find happiness right here and now?”

I don’t know a lot of things, but I have learned a thing or two from battling for my life these past seven years. First, some things do just need to be endured for a while. That is part of life. We are not always going to be happy about how things are going, but we can still move forward each day with some hope that tomorrow will be better.

Second, I feel the most sorrow when I am thinking of myself. When I think of others more, I am excited or happy for opportunities in their life, and it motivates me to look forward to seeing their happiness and success. If I need to cheer someone up, that focus on what I can do for them somehow lifts me. Spending time with my husband or children is my best way to gain perspective and put aside my complaints, with the added benefit of enjoying the ones I love the most.

Third, when my energy is limited, I need to be more thoughtful about how I use my time. If my body needs a two hour nap in the middle of the day, then when I am awake, I need to get the important stuff done first. Sometimes that involves everyday chores to keep our family functioning, but it can’t be just that. I need to make time to write, play piano, walk on my treadmill while listening to uplifting talks or music, or meet up with a friend. If I am trying to accomplish something, like submitting my book to publishers, or working on a project, I feel good when I make time for those things on a regular basis. It gives me purpose, and that is vital when so much is out of my control.

Fourth, and most importantly, I need to feed my spirit every single day. This means different things for different people, but for me, prayer, scripture reading, visiting the temple, and listening to inspiring talks, lift me and strengthen me on a deeper level than other positive habits I may enjoy. It’s not the kind of thing I always make time for, because none of those things are necessary for making it through any given day. That’s the tricky part. Those habits take time, and the return isn’t always immediate. Sometimes I feel very lifted during the act of “feeding myself spiritually”, but other times it is like adding little drops of oil to a lamp, as the wise virgins in the New Testament. I may not need to light my lamp right away, but when I need it, I am so grateful if I have filled it by adding spiritual “drops” of oil on a regular basis. When I focus on the life of my Savior Jesus Christ, I give Him the opportunity to heal my spirit. He suffered both body and spirit, and therefore, is the only one who can truly know how I feel and what I need. When I think of Him I feel strengthened, happy, and even grateful and loved in a very real and tangible way.

Christ said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I have genuinely felt that “rest” many times over the past few years. I have been happy right in the middle of sorrow, and felt courage take over when I was afraid. I have felt an increase of love and joy in my family, and I have been so very grateful and aware of what I have, even when I want something so badly that is not going my way. Yes, there have been times when I have not been my best self, but I have seen improvement in myself, and that is rewarding.

I take comfort in the scripture that says, “Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” We just can’t control some things, but if we put our trust in Heavenly Father, He will hold our hand through it all and we have nothing to fear in the end.

I can look at life from the perspective that I have terminal cancer. I am not winning the battle, and there is nothing I can do about that, and I feel cheated of future time with my family. That is one perspective. The perspective I choose is: I have a happy marriage with a wonderful husband to whom I am sealed for eternity in the temple. I have four beautiful and happy children who are becoming just what I had hoped they would become. I feel confident in a happy after-life, and I know that eventually my whole family will be there with me. I have friends and am shown love from others every single day. I am here right now, and I can do what I choose to do with my time. Out of those two true perspectives, that is the one I have chosen.


Crazy! This was on TV!

I was contacted shortly after posting my head-shaving videos on youtube by producers of “Right This Minute”. They asked if they could use my videos and put it into their show. At first I thought it was just an online thing, but it was on national television. I thought they did a nice job of putting it together. I will say they gave me a lot of credit, and may have been exaggerating a bit with their description of my “extremely” healthy habits, etc. I appreciate their kind words and my kids loved that they were on t.v.!


Would You Let These Guys Give You a Haircut?

I have been doing chemo again for the past few months. My hair is not completely gone, but we just shaved it off before it got too thin. Chemo is working really well. The cancer was growing in my liver and bones. My liver was looking pretty bad, but Taxol has been doing the trick. My tumor markers have been dropping quickly, so that’s great! I will continue on chemo for as long as it is working, but I’m happy to report that it is working well, and I am still feeling pretty darn good.

Article for Ensign magazine

I wrote this article 3 1/2 years ago, when I was in remission, after the craziest year of my life battling cancer. I sat down one day and decided to record a few of the many ways in which I recognized that God helped me through it all. I wanted to remember for myself, and I wanted my children to know, that there was no doubt in my mind that Heavenly Father walked with me every scary, difficult step of the way. After I wrote this I sent it to the Ensign, a magazine that our church publishes, with the thought that possibly my story could help someone who might need to hear it. Then I forgot about it.

Three years later, over the summer, I heard back from the Ensign, letting me know they wanted to publish my article. I didn’t even remember I had sent them anything! I reread the article, made a few changes to make it current, and sent it back. They published it in the January 2016 Ensign that just came out.

It makes me feel good to be able to testify of something that I know. God lives. He loves us. He will help us travel our course in life if we turn to Him. Sometimes you experience something that makes this so clear and obvious. For me, my health challenges have been that type of experience, and I sometimes wish everyone could know what I know, and that it could bring them the happiness, peace, and strength that it has given me. Some may call that patronizing, others may say that in my desperation I needed to believe, and so I did. For me, I really just love people and am grateful to know that God is real, and I hope to pass that along to benefit others who feel as hopeless and overwhelmed as I did for a time.

Most readers of the Ensign already believe the same as I do, but thank you for allowing me to share, and please pass on to anyone who may benefit from it.

I posted this on the New York Times “Well Blog” under “Conversations”

Denise Neish from Highland

I was stunned with a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis at age 37. I waited to have my lump checked, as my OBGYN advised, because I was pregnant. Our assumption was that it could not be cancer because I had no family history of breast cancer, I was young, and felt completely healthy.

By the time I was diagnosed in April 2011, the cancer had spread beyond my breast to 24 lymph nodes, two spots on my spine, and one on my pelvis. The doctors told me I was “incurable”.

I had four very young children, a husband who needed me, friends and family who loved me, and a strong desire to live for all of them. My prognosis was almost more than I could bear.

I am a lifelong runner, and I am also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (a Mormon). My faith is what strengthened me the most, but an outpouring of love from friends and family, as well as some tenacity gained from years of competitive running, helped me wage a good battle against the cancer.

My husband and I sought out the best doctors and treatments, and after several months of chemotherapy, several surgeries, radiation, and lots of drugs, my cancer retreated, and I was in remission.

I needed so much help with my young family during my treatment, but I was surrounded by many people who were willing to step in and help our family during this stressful time.

I believe we are in this world together for a reason. We need each other. Extreme challenges often bring out the best in people, and I am forever changed by the love and thoughtfulness of those who prayed for me, took care of my children, brought meals, and visited me.

I enjoyed two years of remission, gradually regaining my strength. Running had such a positive impact on my psyche, and I did a few half marathons. Prayer, and trust in God, gave me peace in my heart.

After two years of remission, I had a recurrence of the cancer in my right iliac bone. This was disappointing, but not altogether surprising. I am taking some drugs which will fight the cancer without harsh side effects so that I can continue to feel well.

I am more thoughtful about how I spend my precious time each day. Teaching my children, and looking for opportunities to help others, brings me a lot of joy. Improving talents, such as playing the piano, and writing, have lifted me. I am currently training for a marathon. Enjoying my marriage and family is my top priority because I believe our family will be together after this life.

I will do positive, deliberate things with my time, no matter how long that is. I believe I will live a long time still, and I am optimistic and happy. Cancer cannot take that from me.

3 Years!

So I guess it’s my “cancerversary” today. It was 3 years ago today that I was first diagnosed with breast cancer (3 weeks after that we discovered it was stage 4). It seems like a strange thing to celebrate, but really, I am just feeling contemplative today. Grateful to still be here, and incredibly grateful to be in remission. I celebrated by running 6 miles on my treadmill today.

Next month seems like more of a legitimate reason to celebrate because (assuming my PET scan in May goes well) I will celebrate two years of remission.

But a “cancerversary” might be a good excuse to get a chocolate cake or something? Plus there’s the fact that it’s Spring Break!!