Holly’s Hope

There’s a new C-Word in Town and for once, it isn’t Cancer. What that in mind, if anyone needs a break from 🦠#COVID_19🦠 look no further! (I’m an employment law attorney, so I CERTAINLY need a break as well). Recently, I was asked to share my story with @ThriveGang on Instagram… which is what prompted this post. I started following this particular account because they frequently share inspiring stories about women thriving with MBC (metastatic breast cancer). I feel like I can relate to one of the site’s founders (@stephanie_seban) who is an EIGHT year MBC thriver. Obviously, she’s a little further along than I am, but I hope and believe every day that with God’s grace I can get there too. Today, I’m sharing (and expanding) on my @thrivegang story. If this gives someone else hope, then I’ll be happy🖤

Almost two years post diagnosis….surviving and thriving on a trip with friends to Vermont🖤
For those asking about my hat, it’s from @ZaharaSwim www.ZaharaSwim.com

My name is Holly Hollis Stars. I’m 36 years old and I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

About my Diagnosis: The spring of 2018 was shaping up to be one of the best ever. I was sailing through life and felt so happy about the plans and milestones ahead of me- but not just me, but for my fiancé, Mark. At 34 years old, I was engaged to a wonderful man, and we were planning our wedding that would take place in the fall. Even though Mark and I were getting married later than many of our peers, it was our first time and the process was still exciting and special to us. I was soaking up every single detail of the experience with my family and friends. Everything was falling into place and I felt confident that my life was on track. On May 8, 2018 all of that changed. During my annual OB appointment my doctor felt a lump in my left breast.

I haven’t shared the picture above before now because frankly it’s hard for me to look. I took the picture moments before my doctor walked in and found the lump that changed everything. After my diagnosis I would catch myself looking at the picture and thinking “you didn’t have a clue what was coming”. My appointment was running late that day because my OB was delivering a baby (KIND OF IMPORTANT) and I’m embarrassed that I felt impatient that day.
Suffice it to say, I’m glad I waited and that I didn’t miss my yearly appointment.

I wasn’t nervous at that point (see picture above) because I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, or any kind of cancer for that matter. But, two weeks later I found myself in a doctor’s office with my mom and Mark hearing the worst news imaginable. The doctor told me that I had Stage IV (metastatic) Triple Negative Breast Cancer and that statistically, the odds of survival were not in my favor. I immediately went into “lawyer mode” and pressed the doctor for more details. (She tried not to tell me and asked if I was ready to hear the answer to my questions….But I still wanted to know). At that time, I was told that if you take 100 women with what I have, 50% live less than a year. Time stood still in that moment. It felt like a bad dream. As we walked out of the office, Mark took me by the hand, looked into my eyes and said, “That is not OUR story and YOU are not a statistic. We will beat this. Together.” (He still tells me that today when I find myself getting scared or discouraged). After the initial stages of grief and denial, I realized that Mark was right. I was strong woman, and I knew I could beat this.

But, that initial confidence quickly faded as I tried to come to terms with my new normal. I had so many questions and felt lost without any clue of knowing where to begin. I wondered what chemo would be like and how treatment would make me feel. I worried about losing my hair and how all of this would affect our November wedding (that was already planned). I wanted desperately to have a plan of attack but had no idea what to do. It was during this time of uncertainty that I learned that it’s okay to ask questions, to ask for help, and not to have all of the answers all at once.

I began chemotherapy on May 31, 2018.

My first chemo. Terrified, clueless, and wearing a crab hat. Also, posing next to a package of Maxi Pads (which we’re stuck to my forehead). It doesn’t get more glam than this guys.

After that first treatment, Mark and I decided we didn’t want to wait until November to get married because we wanted to fight this together wholeheartedly as husband and wife. As a result, we threw together a wedding in a little over a week’s time. I remember looking at Mark and asking “So, how’s Monday for a wedding? He didn’t miss a beat and replied “I’m all in!” It wasn’t the huge soirée we originally planned. It was so much more.

If you’re a bride to be, our photographer was AMAZING. Check him out on Insta: @neiltaweddings and @neiltaphoto …or check out his work from our wedding at www.TheStarsAlign.net
Currently, I’m still paying for our wedding website to be active (it’s a small fee). I worked so hard on it and was sad when I didn’t get to share it….so I’m making my OWN rules and keeping it up (for the time being…because I feel like it!)😁 If you’re wedding has been cancelled because of #COVID_19 and need some ideas….feel free to check out my site 😉
www.TheStarsAlign.net
I remember Mark’s mom walking to our table during our small reception dinner and taking this picture on her cell phone. I know so many brides are having to cancel or postpone their weddings right now (including one of my best friends). I can honestly empathize with how they are feeling. For those brides: keep in mind that with or without a wedding, you can still marry the love of your life, and that’s what matters in the end.

As we stood there saying our vows (that we wrote the night before) in front of our immediate family and closest friends, it became the most perfect, most meaningful wedding we could have ever imagined. That day I didn’t feel like someone facing a terminal diagnosis. I just felt like a bride. I’m so grateful to have my husband stand beside me during this process. He has been my rock and impresses me every day with his continued strength, compassion, and MUCH needed humor.

Example: much needed humor. Our cat Geneva practically invented the term “Social Distancing”. She’s a pioneer, what can I say?

The advice I would give other women facing their own diagnosis is that statistics are just numbers. There are always outliers and I’m living proof of that. I would also encourage other women to ask questions and to advocate for yourself. No one will fight for you…..like YOU. My last piece of advice is to embrace the “sisterhood” (aka, the club you didn’t EXACTLY sign up for). If you can find a support network it helps you not feel so alone.

During #CoronaQuarantine, I’ll be blogging about one amazing organization that provides support and SISTERHOOD for Breast Cancer Patients and their families (Little Pink Houses of Hope). Stay tuned for that post and in the meantime, follow @littlepinkpics on Instagram & check out www.LittlePink.org
SISTERHOOD: Breast Cancer Survivors backstage during the Bust Breast Cancer Bra Art Fashion Show.
My advice: find a positive group of women who support each other, unconditionally. #FindYourTribe
Believe it or not….this moment wasn’t scripted. I had just finished a grueling 6 months of oral chemotherapy when this event took place and my friends were so elated and PRESENT for that milestone. (I had NO idea they were planning on dressing up like this. I still laugh when I remember watching them walk in one by one in those outfits!)

What makes me a thriver: I didn’t give up when things seemed hopeless. I continued to workout during chemo and kept a positive attitude.

I forced myself to take a picture after every workout during chemo. I didn’t share all of them (that would have been boring). But it kept me accountable to do my best and view each workout as an opportunity to do something good for my body. You’ll notice there was definitely weight gain happening during chemo once I started getting steroids (compare this pic with the next one). If this applies to you, don’t let steroid weight gain discourage you (I know that’s hard). Tip: I hated buying bigger workout clothes but believe it or not, that helped me feel more confident and accept where I was in the process.
I remember the first time I had to ask for an “option” at the gym because I couldn’t complete the exercise (I was feeling SO nauseous that day). I told Coach Cam (above) about my situation and instead of feeling sorry for me, he immediately started smiling and said “you’re HERE during chemo?? That’s SO awesome!!”

At some point during my treatment (which consisted of 8 months of IV chemo, a double mastectomy, 33 rounds of radiation, and 6 more months of Xeloda oral chemo) the doctors changed my “chemo contract” from “prolonging life” to “CURATIVE INTENTION”.

I will never forget the moment I signed my first chemo contract and realized that the “curative intention” box wasn’t checked. It broke my heart…but I didn’t accept that fate then…and I still don’t today. When the doctor handed me my “new” chemo contract (above) was one of my favorite moments in this process. I remember calling my friend/soul sister Elizabeth from the airport on FaceTime and we cried happy tears together. (With everyone in the airport looking at me like I had lost my mind.) I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. God is good y’all.
All the time.
When my chemo contract changed, one of my favorite doctors sent me an email which ended with “…proceed with curative intention, full steam ahead!” I know it’s not a guarantee. I know what I have is serious and scary. But, those words are powerful for me and that’s what I hold on to. The chance and the hope of being cured.
I’ve been nervous about sharing the “curative intention” part of my story for a lot of reasons I won’t get into right now. But it’s my story, and I’m embracing it. Please keep me in your prayers because this fight isn’t over. I’m supposed to have a full body bone scan in April, my first bone scan since May 2019, and my first bone scan since I’ve been off oral chemo. I’m still waiting to hear if the doctors want me to push back my scans given what is going on with the OTHER C-Word (CVOID19).

It still feels surreal that now there is a chance this cancer may not ever return……even having Stage IV TNBC. In a couple of months I will be celebrating my 2 year “cancerversary” this May and hope and pray that I will still be NEAD. (No evidence of active disease). I can’t say that I feel lucky that I drew the cancer card, but I do feel lucky that I’ve been able to experience the outpouring of love and compassion from so many people. Case in point:

“Hope is the thing with feathers”-Emily Dickinson
I can’t even begin to list all of the amazing gifts I received over the last two years. I’m still in awe of how God works through people. The picture above is of a quilt my mom’s friend made me. She handed me the story below right before she gave me the quilt.
When Annette (and her husband and son) came to my house one Saturday and presented me with her “labor of love”- I was so taken aback I couldn’t find the right words in that moment.
I tried to properly thank her but I don’t think I ever did. Even today I can’t read “Holly’s Hope” (above) without tearing up. All I could think was “how lucky am I to feel this kind of love?” Annette, from the bottom of my heart- thank you.

Overall, I feel lucky that this diagnosis forced me to take a hard look at my FAITH and my priorities, and to trust in the plan God has for our lives. I’m lucky to still be here, to appreciate the little things, to live every single moment and to love the people in my life. My name is Holly. I’m an attorney, a wife, a fighter, a survivor….and a THRIVER.

xoxo,

⭐️Holly Hollis Stars ⭐️

For those wanting to know where I get my custom clothes (like my skirt in this picture), message me here or on Insta @ HollyHollisStars and I’ll give you the deets😘

If you made it to the last picture- thank you for taking the time to read my blog. It means so much to me. While I’m practicing #SocialDistancing I’m hoping to catch up some blog posts that are overdue!

10 thoughts on “Holly’s Hope

  1. Wow. I cried the whole time while reading this blog. Our whole family is so thankful to our Lord for bringing Holly to her 2 year anniversary of NEAD. Looking back over the last 2 years, I see how HE has achieved his purpose through so many people from family, friends from the past, present, new friends And strangers that have never even met Holly but has prayed for her continuously. People have brought food, gifts, cards, supplies, companionship, financial help, gone with her to chemo treatments, doctor’s appointments and on and on. So much love and support has been poured out to Holly and Mark. I want to especially thank my friend Annette Davidson for the Special, Special Holly’s Hope quilt. I know that she prayed over Holly each time she planned and worked on the quilt. Her husband Ricky is a runner and he shared with us that he prayed for Holly each morning run. God has honored all your prayers by continuing to heal Holly’s body. It’s been a very tough 2 years, but look what God gave in return. As my eldest sister Glenna says, “ What the devil meant for harm God turns around for good.“
    May God bless each one of you that has touched Holly and Mark’s lives. We are beyond grateful.
    Holly’s Mom

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Holly I am amazed by your spirit through all that you have experienced. I am in awe of your courage. I am praying for God to take this disease from your body and to give you health and ever lasting love with your husband and family. God Bless and praying daily for good reports.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Holly I am not one that normally comments on personal stories. I don’t do social media at all. BUT, your story is amazing, your courage and strength are an inspiration to me more than anything I have encountered in many, many years. And not to be corny or sappy but what a perfect beautiful couple you and your husband make. You are lucky to have each other. The two of you are a shining example of what a relationship is. I was feeling all sad and wallowing in my stupid problems when I saw your story and I realized what a sappy jerk I was being and that what I was all depressed about is nothing. Look at what you have been thru, what you have done and where your at. You give me new inspiration and purpose, there I go again sounding corney,LOL. May you have everything your heart desires, and your husband also, may he also have all he wants in life. You both deserve the best of everything. Thank you I needed that wake up and kick in the behind more than I even realized.

    Like

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