Never let it be said that Denise Hogge wasn't a fighter. For if ever anyone battled valiantly against a disease, she did.
SADLY, LAST Wednesday, July 6, she succumbed to cancer, at the age of 50. But it was after a 12-year fight during which she endured numerous surgeries and underwent two liver transplants.
"I think the cancer, if it could speak, would tip its hat to her," said her husband Paul, 54, of Centreville's Westbrook community. "It was supposed to kill her 12 years ago, but she went 15 rounds with it."
For more than 30 years, he's owned ERA Champion Realty in the Greenbriar Town Center and the Colonnade at Union Mill. And he met Denise in 1986 when she answered his ad for an assistant.
He hired her, sight unseen, after a phone conversation and she began work two weeks later. "I was smitten with her, the first time I saw her," said Paul Hogge. "She had a glow and a class about her."
They married in 1990 — April was their 15th anniversary — and raised three children, Jonathan, 21, a senior at Virginia Tech; and Rebecca, 12, and Ashton, 14, who attend Liberty Middle School.
Denise's medical problems began in 1993, with severe bleeding. A gastric tumor was growing, encapsulated, inside her, but doctors didn't discover it until September 1994. Said Hogge: "It was the size of a small watermelon and was pressing up against her pancreas, liver and intestines."
She was just 39, her children were 1, 2 1/2 and 10, and doctors at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital gave her six months to live. Her tumor was so large and in such an invasive place that they couldn't remove it.
"We're very religious and, through prayer, we found a surgeon at Johns Hopkins," said Hogge. "The Lord led us to Dr. William Dooley, one of only 10 surgeons in the U.S. who could do a brand-new procedure that she needed."
SURGERY LASTED nearly nine hours, and Dooley removed the tumor, 60 percent of Denise's pancreas and some of her stomach, intestine, gall bladder and liver. He also removed a growth on her liver, but worried that others might materialize later.
In spring 1997, six new tumors were on her liver and Dooley removed them. "Denise was a strong woman and very optimistic," said Hogge. "But [her cancer] was like a continuous cloud on the parade for 12 years."
In early 1998, the tumors returned, but doctors couldn't remove them without taking too much of the liver, itself. Then a doctor friend of the Hogges referred them to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., that had just opened for the sole purpose of doing transplants.
In March 1998, they consulted the head surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Steers. "By this time, Denise only had a couple months to live," said her husband. "Johns Hopkins didn't then do liver transplants for cancer patients, and Sloane-Kettering [in New York] had a one- to two-year wait."
But Steers performed the transplant in August 1998, and all was well until November 1999 when some 200 tumors grew along the wall of Denise's stomach. Again, they were removed at Mayo. A month or two later, her liver failed and she needed another transplant.
"On May 6, doctors said she had seven days to live," said Hogge. "They were waiting for a liver that was a perfect match. I was by her bedside, 'round the clock, in Intensive Care. I told the doctors, 'If the Lord wants to call her home, this is the time. [Otherwise], He needs to provide her a liver.'"
On the night of the seventh day — Mother's Day — a match was found, and a 12-hour surgery ensued. A month later, though, Denise's blood developed an antibody against the new organ and it started failing. Although doctors treated her blood to prevent it from attacking the liver, it took her some five months to recuperate.
In 2001, tumors returned again, but this time a drug existed to kill them. However, after a couple years, Denise's cancer built up an immunity against it. In 2003, she had a tumor on her hip, and in January 2004, a hip replacement.
By now, the Hogges had bought a second home outside Jacksonville, Fla., so when Denise was there for treatment, she could spend time with the children. They did that, said Hogge, "because we never knew how much time she had left."
THEN TWO tumors grew on her stomach wall so, last August, doctors put her on a trial medicine at the Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. But on March 1 of this year, doctors realized the medicine wasn't working and another tumor was on her liver.
On April 19 at the Mayo Clinic, Steers removed the largest tumor inside Denise's stomach and she was hospitalized until June. Then she broke her leg and went into a rehabilitation center. "But she needed nutrients to get her strength up to recover," said Hogge. "She returned to the hospital, but the doctors couldn't do anything else to help her. The feeding didn't work and she was in pain."
"On July 1, Denise asked me, 'Am I dying?'" said Hogge. "And I said, 'It's the ninth inning, we're down by two outs and we need a whole lot of runs.'" She then asked him to take her home, and he brought her to their beach house. Their children were already there, and Hogge called Denise's parents, siblings and other relatives to come see her for the last time.
"For six days, everybody had a chance to say good-bye," said Hogge. "There were about 20 people, and they'd hold her hand, read the Bible with her and talk with her. The kids would kiss her, and we'd tell her it was going to be all right and that she could let go."
Two nieces even played Christian music for her on the violin and sang the Requiem for Mass at her bedside, and a woman from the hospital played the harp for her. On July 2, Denise's sister Toni Rey Jones came from Oakton with her grown daughters for whom Denise used to babysit.
"Probably the most touching thing was when Toni's daughter Karen — who'd brought her newborn baby Avery with her — laid her next to Denise," said Hogge. "She started crying because she realized she'd never get to know her. But then she smiled and spoke to her."
Last Wednesday, July 6, while a priest was praying over Denise, said her husband, "Her breathing became labored and everyone crowded around her and held her hand. At 4:17 p.m., she drew her last breath."
Although family members are naturally devastated, they're glad she's no longer suffering. Sometimes, said Hogge, Rebecca would say, "Dad, I'm afraid we'll lose Mommy." But, he added, "For 12 years, the children grew up around a sick mother. And at the end, Rebecca saw how much pain she was in and said, 'Dad, I want her to go to heaven.'"
Besides her husband and children, she's survived by her parents, Doris and Tony Pimentel of California; brothers Tex, of California; Michael, of Texas; Hugh, of Kentucky; and Kenny, of Herndon; sisters Toni Rey Jones of Oakton and Debra of California; brother-in-law Dennis Hogge of Centreville and sisters-in-law Peggy Hogge of Falls Church and Mary Lou Hogge of Arlington.
FRIENDS AND family may call, this Friday-Saturday, July 15-16, from 7-9 p.m., at Price Funeral Home, 9609 Center St. in Manassas. A Mass of Christian Burial will be said Sunday, July 17, at 4 p.m. at Manassas Assembly of God, with burial following at Stonewall Memory Gardens in Manassas.
Her brother-in-law, Dennis Hogge, said Denise fought "courageously and unselfishly" for so long, while being a wife and mother, and never complained. At the cemetery, he said, she'll be buried behind the historic Dogan House.
"Lucinda Dogan was remembered as the Angel of the Battlefield because, following the First Battle of Manassas, she and her daughters took canteens of water to the many wounded on the battlefield," he said. "Very soon, these sacred grounds will be welcoming another angel."
Describing his wife as loving and caring, Paul Hogge said, "An illness like this can be a strain on a marriage. But with us, it brought our love and marriage so close because we were fighting so hard to weather this storm. I told her the Lord had a reward for her in heaven for all she'd been through."
Son Jonathan called her "the best mom a son could ever have asked for. She was supportive of me in everything I wanted to do. After her first surgery, I was in sixth grade and she was only supposed to live six months. So I had a lot more time with her than I ever thought I would have, and I'm just grateful for every moment I had."
Toni Rey Jones said her sister "truly believed [her ordeal] was God's plan for her, and she never wavered in her faith. I don't know if I'd have an inner strength to endure what she did. She kept trying — she never gave up."
"And she was blessed with two liver transplants as a cancer patient," continued Jones. "The important message is that organ donors give opportunities to other people. Without that, her daughter — who was 2 at the time of the first [transplant] — would not have known her. And she'll never be gone. She was my baby sister — she'll always be with me."