Holly's Story, diagnosed at 34

Hello Young Survivors! I am Holly Austin, a 39 year old survivor and a very lucky human being. My story is different than a lot of people because my cancer was not found because I felt a lump, but because I did not. What happened to me is a miracle from God and my husband and children nor I would not be here today to tell this story if this didn't happen. But love led me to survival and it has taken me a long time to submit this story due to fear, which I have very nearly combated. My story is filled with twists and turns… a story that only God himself was responsible for and due to the love and belief my family has for me, it proves that love does conquer all and I am a living miracle.

In June 2002, my mother, Marie, was diagnosed with a very rare form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma called "Mantle Cell". It is rare and one of the nastiest cancers to ever be diagnosed with, as your 13th chromosome literally goes out of control thus leading to cancer cell growth. It all really started with a lump in her neck, the size of a baseball. She was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease.

She was put on a regimen of ferrous sulfate, vitamins and had blood work monitored. After her condition worsened, she was on medical leave for six weeks upon her retirement. At this time, she worsened, began to get very weak, and lost weight quickly. She could not get off of the couch or lift her head. After her diagnosis, she went through over 70 chemo treatments, MRI's, CAT scans, bloodwork, procedures, and at the time of her death on August 24, 2003, she had had enough.

Flashback to May 2003. I had filed for an adoption to adopt my husband's children. I was asked to go to a family physician and she was booked. So I went to my OB/GYN who did a breast exam and felt nothing. He then said, "Holly, you are going to be 35 in August, let's do a baseline mammogram." I said, "Well, I thought I wasn't supposed to get checked until I was 40." He said, "That's true, but I always felt that women should get baselines at 35," so I was an early bird. He wrote me the prescription and I headed out the door. To be honest, any other time I would have not even scheduled that mammogram. I would have let that prescription just sit on my refrigerator behind that magnet and collect dust. I don't know what possessed me to make that appointment other than Divine Intervention because I would have NEVER gone for a mammogram if I wouldn't have had to go.

So I make the appointment. The only opening they had was Friday, June 13. I growled at that but agreed to it. The day I was to have the mammogram, my husband called me and told me that I needed to cancel it because he could not watch our kids and that if I could reschedule that would be great. I told him that I wasn't planning on going anyways and I would get a mammogram in the next year or so. If I would have waited, I may not have had the prognosis I had. So something happened at home and I forgot to cancel the mammogram. My husband called me two hours later and asked me if I had cancelled the mammogram and I told him I had forgotten and he told me that he could take the kids after all and I met him on my way to the hospital to have the mammogram.

During my mammogram, when the clinician was taking the films of my right breast, something went wrong and they had to do a retake. This was to my benefit because that's where the cancer was... in my right breast, not the left, which is where most breast cancers occur. So then they said, "OK, Holly everything looks good, we will see you in four years. "

What a relief that was to me! But they hadn't looked at the second set of films yet. So this was on a Friday the 13th and on Monday the 16th, my phone rang bright and early from the hospital to come in for another mammogram. I was walking around with pangs in my stomach. I couldn't eat or breathe at this point and all the while, I had a mother just released from the hospital and hospice was taking care of her at home.

So after the mammogram, an ultrasound was performed and they could not find the lump. So finally they found it and the doctor told me that what I have is what they worry about because it is not fluid filled. I knew right then and there I had cancer because the next question that came out of my mouth was, "What are my chances of survival?". So then I was told I needed a stereotactic biopsy, which was awful. My right breast was numbed and I laid down on that table in the freezing cold hospital with my breast feeling like it was being smashed with bookends and the blood that came out of my breast during the biopsy amazed me. They took quite a sample. So as soon as I left the hospital I went to my parents' home and I had to bathe my mother, feed her, and change her diaper because at this point she was on a walker. My breast was in excruciating pain but I did it anyway. She was my mom; she fed me, bathed me, and changed my diapers so, I could do the same for her. My father needed a break so I went over and took care of her and shopped for her. It was indeed a very dark time.

Two days later my OB/GYN gave me the phone call that makes the world look much bigger than what it is. At the same time, you feel very small and swallowed up by the ground as you are in the middle of your life, making plans, living your life, and you realize that your life is about to change for good.

When I asked him what was wrong with me he said, "Well, the pathology revealed there is some cancer there." I started screaming and crying hysterically, "Don't let me die! Please don't let me die! Don't tell me I am going to die!"

He then read me my pathology reports over the phone and told me that I was a Stage II but it looked like there was no lymph node involvement. I was then referred to my specialist, Dr. Brenda Sickle-Santanello who is an angel on loan from the heavens above. I went in for my chest x-ray, MUGA scan, bloodwork, and on the day of the surgery I found out the lump was SMALLER than originally thought which put me in a Stage I. There were no lymph nodes. I had clear margins and was ER/PR Positive with moderately differentiated cells. I was also negative for HER/NEU over expression and was given adjuvant therapy of doxirubicin and the "red devil" adriamyacin, which I hated. I woke up to a teddy bear and a blue breast from the auxiliary lymph node dissection and was pleased to find out there was NO lymph node involvement. I lost all of my hair and my mother died 16 days after my 35th birthday on August 24th, 2003.

I had my first chemo treatment right before her death and my hair fell out at her funeral. I spent my first wedding anniversary on August 31st, 2003 burying my mother. My father was crying and gave my husband and myself a night out on him to celebrate our marriage and he told us to have the time of our lives.

I did end up adopting my husband's children and I am now their mother, with my name on their birth certificates. If it wasn't for God showing me how much love these children had for me, I would not have lived to raise them, which I know meant that I was meant to be their mother. That's what led me to that mammogram. I saved those children from peril and they saved me right back, which is what bonded us as mother and children.

So I am over 4 years clean, knock on wood, and I have an excellent prognosis. In the past 4 years, I have lost nearly all of my family and my mother, grandmother, and myself all had cancer at the same time and I am the one who beat it. Everyday now I let positive thoughts consume me instead of the fear that was once cancer inside of me. I still cry at all of my tests because one test can change your life but I believe no matter what, until you are not breathing anymore, there is hope. I watched my mother take her last breath and it was the most peaceful thing I had ever seen in my life. On her death bed, she told me I was going to be ok and had had seizures the day before her death. As soon as she told me I was going to be ok from cancer, that was it. It was STAT STAT STAT, her bpm's were 176 and she was whisked off to MICU where sepsis claimed her life at the age of 56.

I watched her leaving this life, dying, being my mother, telling me to live and breathe in this life because it is so short and I will never forget the golden glow over her sedated face when she was trying so hard to tell me I would be ok. She told me she loved me and that was it. So I have her watching over me.

My hair was gone completely in weeks and now I have long long hair as you will see in my profile picture with my Bunny Suki. She is my little bunny. We call her, "a person dressed in a rabbit suit."

I recently went and saw my old nurses and they could not believe it because of how I look and my hair is so long. I got a card in the mail from my favorite nurse and we always keep in touch. I love her so much!

Now, I have a brand new house, two healthy children, a great husband, my good health and I am back on the radio being a disc jockey as I have done for three years.

There is always hope. God is there as he was for me and my life. I am living proof he exists. I am a miracle of this life.

I pray for you and I want you to know from my heart, there is always hope. Never ever give up. Miracles happen. I am one.

God Bless You,

Holly Austin