Denise Wegman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, but she didn’t want to give up one of her favorite passions — karate lessons with her son at Arikata Martial Arts.

Denise Wegman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, but she didn’t want to give up one of her favorite passions — karate lessons with her son at Arikata Martial Arts.

It made her feel better. It made her feel strong, even when she had to wear a baseball cap over her head. Even when it was exhausting. Even when she had to sit on the sidelines, she wanted to be there — and to this day, she believes karate helped her beat the cancer, and make her who she is today.

“I just have this love for it,” she says. “It really helped me tremendously.”

Through months of treatment, Wegman, who lives in Greece, hardly missed a weekly lesson.
She remembers going through moves and sequences in her head while sitting through medical exams, in MRI machines and waiting on test results. Her treatment consisted of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation.

Wegman, who has worked at Crane-Hogan Structural Systems, Inc. in Spencerport for 27 years, is now  four-years cancer free almost a black belt. She’s predicts she’ll reach that mark by next spring, and her son, Joe, who is 11, just received his purple belt.

Merging self-confidence and self-defense, Wegman says karate is as good for the mind as it is for the body — both of which can be devastated by cancer. Still, she kept kicking, sparring, feeling priviledged to learn the martial art.

“It makes you feel like you can walk out there and tackle the world,” Wegman said. “It really does give you one of those highs.”

Wegman’s daughter Jennifer, who is 24, came to every chemotherapy appointment during her treatment. She also credits the support and prayers of her family and friends, who know that she’s unique in her ability to fight cancer with the growth and discipline of karate.

Barbara Keiser, owner of Arikata, says Wegman is truly an inspiration to fellow classmates — and anyone who hears her story. Wegman has a close relationship with the school, which she has a great deal of respect and admiration for.

And they feel the same way about her.

“She continued to do whatever she could do, she didn’t give up, she didn’t give in, she kept trying,” Keiser said. “One of the principals of black belt is perseverance and I think she’s just an excellent example of that.”