Belles of the (Cancer) Ball …and Oral Chemo Update

Hi friends! Coming to you live from cycle 7, day 15 of my Chemo Pill experience. Oh boy! I just started my 21st week of these things and let me tell you…..it has not been a walk in the park. I always want to be positive and look on the bright side of things (you can always find a bright side if you’re looking!)….but at the same time, I don’t want someone (who is on the same chemo pills and reading my blog) getting the impression they aren’t doing well or that I’m just “breezing” through this. That wouldn’t be authentic….and I do try to keep it real because if you’re reading this, my guess is that you would prefer to know the truth. So, I’m trying to balance the “truth” vs unnecessarily scaring someone who just got diagnosed/is going through treatment and might be reading. One thing that most people don’t understand (not that they should….who in the world would know stuff like this?) but any chemotherapy is “cumulative”…..so the energy and side effects I had during cycle one, are definitely not the same today, knee deep in cycle 7 of 8. If you’ve read my other blog posts, I’ll use a previous analogy: I wouldn’t say oral chemo has been like “camping in the woods without a bathroom” MOST of the time (like IV chemo)…..but we’re DEFINITELY camping ….and the bathroom is about 2 miles from the tent 😉 Long story short, if you’re on Xeloda and thinking “wtf”…..don’t worry, you’re not alone. I’ve been lucky because I have a friend Victoria who is also taking Xeloda and has experienced a lot of the same side effects. Most of our texts begin with “DUDE….what is happening?!”….If that gives you any indication of what it’s like. If you see me and I don’t look miserable, you’ve either caught me on a good part of the chemo cycle or I’ve become fairly proficient at the art of faking it when I’m in public. This weekend my mom came in town because my hands hurt so bad I could barely function with normal things like you know, laundry, dishes, opening a bottle of water, etc. Thank the lord for my mom, my husband, and my support system. Here’s a pic from this weekend. My cat Geneva has about 4 people in the world she “allows” to pet her, my mom happens to be one of them 😉 (Yes, she still has nothing but contempt for Mark, bless his heart….but he’s still trying).

My “what’s new” summary was really long winded so if you’re still reading, kudos. If you are on Xeloda, here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Eat with your meds….and have some kind of healthy “carb” even if its just a small portion. I know everyone may not agree with this….but that seems to help me even though “carb” was kind of a 4 letter word for me prior to cancer 😉

2. Keep your hands and feet moisturized. Buy a huge pack of cotton gloves and socks (I got them from amazon). Sleep in the gloves/socks if you can. (Louisiana in August is not the most ideal time to do this however.) Your oncologist will tell you which creams he/she recommends. O’Keeffe’s “Working Hands” and “Working Feet” have been some of my go-to creams. Also, my esthetician Leslie (who is amazing) gave me some straight up shea butter that I also like to pair with the cotton gloves. I have a friend that uses diaper cream on her hands….so that may be worth trying for some of you. The pain is so bad I’d probably consider using just about anything at this point! 😉

3. (I’m Sharing this because I wasn’t aware until recently) but Xeloda can cause the lining of your stomach to shed. It’s not pleasant. I’m not sure what you do for that honestly…..but I do take Prevacid dissolving tablets in the morning and evening which seems to help (recommended by my oncologist). I’ll share some pics of my hands and feet later, but this isn’t the blog post for that….we’re moving on to fun things shortly!

4. If you’re sick every morning…..you’re not the only one. Zofran (generic….the brand name is stupid expensive) helps me with the daily nausea. Heat is not your friend right now in any form (hot showers and baths).

5. If your hands and feet are hurting like mine and you’re thinking “well how am I going to workout??” Been there. My solution: swim laps! A few nights ago I legit had a Micheal Phelps clone swimming in the lane to my right……

https://images.app.goo.gl/QQ6NPHj5TsFUFTGw6 (not joking- he literally warmed up with the arm flap/back slap)

……and I had a gentlemen that was basically flailing and appeared to be drowning on my left. So with that being said, don’t be insecure. Just get moving regardless of your skill level. Oddly, the chlorine hasn’t bothered my hands but that’s just me. The cold water feels good…..so for that hour in the pool my hands aren’t hurting which is a welcome relief! Be sure to shower right after, you don’t want to leave chlorine on your hands and feet obvi.

6. You may have to dose reduce towards the end. It’s not uncommon.

7. You may have some pretty impressive mouth sores….sometimes mine are so bad I can’t eat very much. They come and go for me. Gargle with warm salt water. I also have “magic mouthwash” which I’ve tried and given up on….but if you’re desperate, ask your doctor for that.

8. Below are some of my staples for Oral Chemo (again, this is my personal preference and everyone is different). I do slightly bend the un-pasteurized rule for a cold pressed juice. Especially when my mouth sores keep me from eating the vegetables that I should. I definitely stay away from sushi and unpasteurized dairy, meats, etc. Basically the same food rules you would use if you were pregnant.

MOVING ON to more pleasant topics. A couple of weeks ago I the opportunity to speak as the guest of honor and co-emcee at the Baton Rouge Best Dressed Ball Benefitting the American Cancer Society. I speak in front of people for work a good bit, but to be clear….I think that’s been a max of maybe 100 people at once. Certainly I’ve never spoken in front of a crowd of almost two thousand people. And before August 10th, I had shared my “cancer story” live in front of a small crowd exactly once. I probably should have been nervous or “thought it over” before agreeing to speak, but to be honest my gut reaction was “YES.” Without hesitation. I was handed a chance to not only get out of my comfort zone, but also to make a difference. Why in the world wouldn’t I jump on that chance? (To be fair, it still blows my mind that people are interested in my story and what I have to say. I do not take that for granted and still feel so humbled and grateful that people are listening).

When I said yes….the cause spoke to me….the American Cancer Society was raising money for cancer research and a multitude of other cancer related issues that patients experience… from wigs, transportation, housing….you name it. I also found out that donors could slate their donation to any type of cancer research they wanted. Immediately, I thought “what IF people heard my story….what IF that prompted them to donate….what IF that money could be used for Stage IV TNBC research….or to help people without the financial means to get quality care?” (If you’d like to make a donation for TNBC research or any kind of donation you can visit: www.brbestdressedball.org

The event started months ago with a couple of parties, a trip to the hope lodge in New Orleans, etc. Because of medical issues, I was only able to attend the magazine “reveal” party which was a lot of fun. Just to get out (even for a little while) and feel normal is such a blessing. Here’s a few pictures from that party.

Before I knew it, it was time for the ball. The day before, we had a quick rehearsal. I felt a little stiff practicing to an empty room and figured the energy on the following evening would be totally different. It was 🙂

I felt myself getting nervous right before I went on Stage…but I kept reminding myself of a simple quote I like from Tim Grover “don’t run from pressure”. (“Relentless” by Tim Grover and Shari Wenk is still one of my favorite motivational books…FYI- I plan on blogging about that book along with another book “Struck by Hope” for my next blog).

Anyway, I do realize I’m not giving the State of the Union address here, but to me, this WAS out of my comfort zone. My husband was really supportive as always….and surprisingly, he took a few candid pictures for my mom (Mark typically isn’t the first person to whip out a camera). Here are a couple pictures I found on his phone that kind of sum up my state of mind before going on stage. I’d like to say I was the person “working the room” and socializing backstage, but I wasn’t. I was there to do a job and I wanted to do it well. I knew I had the rest of the night to have a good time, but for that 50 minutes I was going to be on stage (speaking….and then being the co-emcee), that was my first priority. No, I didn’t realize he was taking these pictures….but I’m glad he did because they’re real, they’re authentic.

Right before it was my turn, Mark sat next to me on that velvet couch and said “people always ask me what it’s like to be backstage before you step into the ring for a fight…..this is what it feels like. It’s quiet, and it’s just you”. Later that week I found out that my husband was actually not BS’ing me with this particular pep talk. See Exhibit A below (I saw theses pictures for the first time last week). I still maintain that if Mark had a cologne it would be called “Omission, by Mark”😉 (If he had a band, it would be called “Sleeping in Public”…..more on that another time). Anyway, Mark and I have been together 5 years (including the time we were dating) but somehow I’m always finding out new things about him. I think that’s one of the perks of getting married a little later in life, we both had so many experiences and memories before we met.

Back to Exhibit A: Possibly the cover ad for Mark’s signature fragrance, “Omission”. 😁 I knew he did a little boxing (we did meet at a boxing gym after all)…..but pictures like this felt surprising for some reason. He’s so gentle and kind. Moreover, I’ve only known Mark as an architect, so I have a hard time imagining him literally kicking someone in the face (and enjoying it), but whatevs! I can’t help it, I still think my husband is THE most handsome, interesting man in the room- and I always will.

Omission, by Mark: Eau de Toilette

I DIGRESS, back to the Ball. For the people who aren’t on my personal Facebook or public Instagram (Username: @ HollyHollisStars) here’s how it all turned out😉 Sometimes It’s hard to view videos right from the blog, so I’m including YouTube links instead. Give me some feedback if the YouTube links work better.

The night started with a slideshow. A couple weeks before the event I remember Michelle Lanoix and Tonya Gautreau casually asking me to “send some pictures of your life from birth until now that tell your story”. If it were up to me, there would have been 6,346 pictures to give everyone in my life the proper credit they deserve. Understandably, production wasn’t down with that idea. I’ll be honest, I had to listen to the slideshow song a few times before the Ball ……mainly so I wouldn’t ugly cry right before I had to speak. #Priorities. I love hearing my friend’s commentary in the background of these video’s. (Wendy: “Should we stand when she’s done? We should stand.” Jeramiah: “Oh we’re gonna stand!” Or hearing my friend Elizabeth squeal when I walked by). All of those little things reminded me of how much my friends love me…and let’s be real, I could have completely bombed and they would have told me everything was fantastic! (Blind devotion people). I did not see the slideshow until after the ball (because I was backstage). I’ll admit, it’s emotional to watch this slideshow and to see these pictures in chronological order. It reinforces how lucky I am, and how far we’ve come. (P.s. this isn’t the entire slideshow, the beginning was cutoff….but I’m hoping to get a copy and see the whole thing eventually.)

Holly Stars Slideshow

After the slideshow they played a video of “our story” that was filmed a few months prior to the event. The first time I watched it, oh boy….cue the tears. When I watch our story, I’m in awe of my husband, friends, family, and medical team. I’m biased, but I think SASSO did a great job of capturing “us” and what we’ve been through. When we filmed the video, I didn’t know some of women that were involved that well, but there we were, in my house… sharing this really intimate moment. Surprisingly, it wasn’t awkward. I felt accepted and comfortable to just be myself….and I’m happy to say I have 3 new friends as a result of this video (Michelle, Dallas, Chelsea!) Some of my (devoted) friends have been adamant that someone should turn our story into a lifetime movie or a Netflix documentary. Wouldn’t that be fun? 😉 But in all seriousness, as a result of this video, I’ve received a lot of messages from complete strangers telling me that my story gave them hope for their own cancer journey. In that case, mission accomplished. [Sidenote: I only check my social media in the evenings after work and if I don’t respond to you, try reaching out again. I don’t always see all of my messages, but I love hearing from everyone!]

Our Story- Holly and Mark Stars

After the video finished playing, the stage lights came on (and accidentally caught Mark fluffing my dress, which I kind of love). Originally, Mark just wanted to walk me to the podium in the dark. He said he didn’t want to be in the spotlight. He just wanted to be with me in that moment.

Best Dressed Speech- filmed by my friend Sarah Jane Bradley

Call to ActiBest Dressed Speech- Filmed by my Friend Elizabeth Hammett

My devotional that day felt pretty on point as well.

Here’s one more quick video from my first time co-emcee’ing …..well, anything. If you know me personally, you probably know that I can be a TINY bit of a control freak, if left to my own devices. I wasn’t sure what my role as a co-emcee would entail, there was not a lot of details given to me except “it will make sense when you’re in the moment”. So, I did my best to go with the flow, prepare (the day before), and hope for the best! The committee chairs were right, evverything DID make sense once you were in the moment. Funny how that works out sometimes. Originally I thought I would not enjoy being on stage that long. But, low and behold….I loved it. I loved the energy, the lights, the glam….but most of all, I loved the genuine care and concern I felt from the crowd. I did have horrible blisters on my feet (due to the chemo pills) so walking in heels was a challenge. But honestly, feeling so much sincere love and positive energy from a crowd like that made me forget all about my feet.

Short Clip from the Ball 🙂

I found the next video on my husband’s phone that he must have recorded right after my speech…..it makes me smile every time I watch it. Jeramiah (the other guy in the video) has been one of my closest friends for a long time. When he and Mark get together, you’ll be laughing before the night is over. (Side-note: it may sound like I’m creeping on Mark’s phone. Let me rephrase, I asked him to airdrop all of his pictures to me and that’s how I found it…..just in case you were wondering!) 😊

I said this in my social media post, but I genuinely feel like I was able to experience 20 years worth of love in one evening. I’m the FURTHEST thing from a celebrity (and I do LOVE a good D list celeb!)….but for one night, I think I was able to understand what it might feel like to be recognized by strangers. Every minute after I came off stage when someone would see me, I saw their eyes light up in recognition….(and most would come over and say something like “you don’t know me but….”)

It was surreal, having people I didn’t know saying the sweetest things to me. So many people told me they had been following my blog….or that they were inspired by our story. Feeling “humbled” isn’t a strong enough description, but it’s the only one that comes to mind. At one point I remember thinking, “this is what happens when God takes a really crappy situation, and brings a person so many blessings as a result”. Suffice it to say, I’m so grateful for that experience. I’m also thankful for the realization that I actually like speaking in public. Who knew? Anyway, I know there are a lot of people doing terrible things in this world (just turn on the news)…..but all I saw that evening were kind, generous people, just wanting to help and make a difference. Two of those people would definitely be the Heart and Soul Award recipients Kim and Trey Bowman. I’ve always heard about how wonderful they are, and meeting them in person made it easy to see why they are so loved and respected.

To read more about the Bowman’s, visit www.bellabowman.org

The rest of the night was a dream…..(for those not on social media….some pictures) 🙂

I finally made it to the Step and Repeat around midnight 😉

Fun fact: I described the dress I envisioned, Mark sketched it on a napkin…then I had it made 🙂

Sometimes, you have to wait until the end of the night for a group pic!

Needless to say, it is a night I will never forget and to top it off, the event raised a MILLION dollars (net) to help fight a disease that affects so many people, myself included.

Looking back over the last year and a half from where we started to where we are now, it just goes to show you that the old saying might be right ….that the darkest nights produce the brightest stars.⭐️

Keep praying friends….we’re not finished fighting💛

-xo-

⭐️ Holly Hollis Stars ⭐️

9 thoughts on “Belles of the (Cancer) Ball …and Oral Chemo Update

  1. I am so thankful to God for holding your hand, comforting you, teaching you, but mostly for the slow healing. He gives you strength to go on and on! I pray if I ever get this dreaded disease I can have one fourth the amount of courage you have shown us bloggers!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are still amazing after all you have been through. I know I’ve said it before but even I am thankful you met Mark! God can do all things if we just trust in HIM! You and Mark are evidence of that! Still praying!🙏🏻🙏🏻❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You were definitely shining! Glad you were able to have such a fabulous night. One thing about the chlorine in the pool. I get the impression your hands and feet are blistered like they have been burned. If that is the case, the chlorine may help. When Ashley was 4 we were at the beach. One morning I pulled a pan of biscuits out the oven and just as was putting the pan on the counter, she laid her arm on it. It was a horrible burn. Long story short…We had to avoid the beach and went to the pool instead. Tried to keep her from getting it wet to no avail. Eventually it seemed the more she had it in the chlorine pool the faster it healed. Just a thought. Prayers continue….💞

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Holly, you are such an inspiration to so many people with or without cancer. As always, Stunningly beautiful & great speech. I follow your blog & your journey with continued prayers for you & Mark. Thank you for giving us courage and hope and strength through all of this. When I go for my checkups with Dr. Cuntz, immediately when I walk in, you are the first person I think about. God bless you ❤😍

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  5. You look so great even though I know you don’t feel so great most of the time. I don’t remember if you ever said, but what type of ice cap did you use during chemotherapy. My mom is going back on Taxol for ovarian and really doesn’t want to lose the hair she grew back again.

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