Thursday, July 23, 2009

"I Never Knew What It Was Like Below the Surface"

I was honored to be interviewed by Pat Fridgen, editor of the Echo Pilot, a few weeks ago. Her story, "Cancer experience results in book," appeared in the local newspaper on Wednesday, July 15th, 2009. She describes many aspects of my book, including the initial shock surrounding the diagnosis, the lengthy treatment phase, and finally, the author's return to a relatively normal life.

Fridgen writes about our interview: "Today people ask of she is cured. 'I'll know when I'm in heaven,' Holmes replies.

"She explained that breast cancer does not have the five-year mark to indicate remission like leukemia does. The longer she is cancer free, the better.

"Though her career has been as a neurosurgical and orthopedic nurse, she realized immediately she had never truly understood what a patient went through. 'I never knew what it was like below the surface,' Holmes said.

"Then she became the patient. Her experience, chronicled in the book, shares the fears, triumphs, and daily realities of fighting cancer. She wrote of her love/hate relationship with wigs and the pink ribbon symbol for breast cancer awareness. Interactions with friends, neighbors, and medical personnel offer insight as to what is helpful and what may dishearten a cancer patient.

"'Breast cancer is not a death sentence,' Holmes declared. 'The sooner you catch it the better.'

"She is willing to talk to anyone about the disease. She encourages mammograms. She has one or an MRI every six months to keep on top of her condition.

"'God is great,' she said. 'He takes you through the rough times, but there's a reason for it.'"

Thank you, Pat, for a wonderful article!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One Survivor's Story

I received this email eight days ago.  I have never met this woman, but after reading her story, I immediately felt as though we had been friends for years. Cancer can do that, you know. It can bring people together who would have never connected otherwise, spawning unique and personal bonds that can last a lifetime.  God's perfect timing and desire for us to grow in relationship with Him -  as well as with others - are truly indescribable.  The sender's name is Karen, and she allowed me to reprint excerpts of her letter to share.  Please read on:

"When my oldest daughter told me about your book, the title sounded really familiar.  Did I hear this on Midday Connection on WCRH?  She said maybe I could take it with me to Myrtle Beach.  So with 2 days left until our departure, I stopped at Borders and bought it.  I was excited about reading it so I opened it that same evening and couldn't put it down.  So many memories and feelings came flooding back to me ...

"I only read it on the beach, at times tears ran down my face - under my sunglasses, tears I hid from my husband.

"In February of 2008, I was diagnosed with breast cancer - and it was bad.  At least it seemed bad to me.  It could have been a lot worse.  Mine was stage 1, grade 3, triple negative breast cancer.  I was devastated.  I dreaded telling my children (all grown) and grandchildren.  I dreaded telling my aging mother.  

"Like you, I was low risk.  I had no family history, I breast fed all my children and  I was physically active ( I attend Body and Soul Aerobics).  I had mammograms for the last 13 years and they were all negative.  I could have very well skipped this one -- thinking this one would be negative, too.  But God spoke -- and kept speaking until I made the appointment.  Although I felt a little "jiggle" each time I walked down the hospital steps where I work, I ignored it.

"I worked full time through my treatments.  I had 6 treatments of Cytoxan and Taxotere every three weeks.  Patients normally have 4 [treatments] but since I was triple negative (not having receptors for estrogen or progesterone) I needed 6.  I can not take any oral treatments because of the triple negative status.  I had an 80% survival rate, the extra 2 treatments gave me another 2%, totalling 82%.  The treatments were cumulative and hit me hard after the 6th one. Then I developed a huge DVT [blood clot] and was hospitalized for 6 days for heparin and to get the clot dissolved.  I have just in the last 3 months started to feel like myself again.

"Working daily with that darned wig ... I couldn't wait to get home and take it off.  I felt like taking it off in the car, but was sure I'd be stared at.  Even though it looked very natural and like my  own hair, I was glad to say goodbye to it on Christmas Day.  

"Anyway, I read your book on vacation.  I finished it on the last day that we were there; it was excellent.  It made me realize that I'm not walking as close to God as I should  be.  I have drifted away, but I'm changing that.  I blamed Him at times for what I was going through.  But I realize that I have touched others, helped others who were diagnosed after I was.  With so many women working at the hospital, it seems like every time I turn around, someone has had or is being diagnosed with breast cancer.  So many people were praying for me; I was on lots of prayer lists.

"I plan to save your book and give it to a friend or acquaintance when the time comes -- for encouragement and spiritual guidance.  Thank you for writing this book."

Psalm 51:10

I immediately looked up the Bible verse she selected and wanted to share it with others:
"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."

Although I don't know this woman, there is  one thing I do know for sure: God loves her, and He will never leave her side.  That is His promise to all of us!


Risk Factors Associated with Breast Cancer

I was honored to be interviewed recently by Lauren McLane, editor of the Record Herald Newspaper, in the May 14, 2009, Relay for Life issue.  Entitled, "Cancer has many causes," this article highlights two types of risk factors associated with breast cancer, namely those that we can control and those that we cannot.  The article noted that I was diagnosed at age 43, and I was not in any of the categories usually associated with the risk of breast cancer.  Because  of that, I wanted other women to be aware that they, too, might be at risk.
The risk factors that we can control include the following: 
1.) Being overweight, especially after menopause, or gaining weight after menopause.
2.) Lack of exercise. The American Cancer Society recommends 45 to 60 minutes of intentional exercise five times a week. 
3.) Having more than one alcoholic drink per day.
4.) Never having children. 
5.) Undergoing hormone replacement therapy.
6.) Use of birth control pills. 
7.) Night shift work. Studies have suggested that working at night and sleeping during the day interferes with the body's ability to produce melatonin, a crucial hormone.

I was also asked to relate the factors that women can't control.  These include:
1.) Being a woman.  Women are 100 times more likely to get breast cancer than men.
2.) Aging.  Getting older increases the chances dramatically.  Over a woman's lifetime, she has a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer.  At age 20, the risk is 1 in 1,837; at age 30, it's 1 in 234; at age 40, it's 1 in 70; at age 50, it's 1 in 40; at age 60, it's 1 in 28; and at age 70, it's 1 in 26.
3.) Having a mutated gene, including BRCA1 and BRCA2.
4.) A family history on either side, of having breast cancer.  A first degree relative - a mother, a sister, a daughter - nearly doubles the risk of breast cancer.
5.) Women who start menopause after age 55 or start menstruating before age 12  are at a higher risk.
6.) Having a first child after age 35.
7.) Having a high breast density on a mammogram.
8.) Treatment for Hodgkin's disease.
9.) A personal history of breast or ovarian cancer.

"Holmes encourages all women, especially those younger than 40, to perform routine breast self-exams, to have yearly checkups with a doctor and get regular mammograms (starting at age 40).
"Some women are leery of mammograms, fearing that the radiation from the procedure is a risk.  Studies have shown, however, that the amount of radiation is a safe level.
"The benefits of early detection absolutely outweigh the risks."
I concluded the article with this statement, "Do as much as you can to prevent it - exercise, lose weight, eat healthy.  Fear is our worst enemy."

I would be happy to discuss the above article, risk factors, or any other questions with you!