When she called to tell me she had stage 4 breast cancer, I fell silent. Stage 4? What does this mean? All I could do was ask, “When do you want me to come?” She started crying. We both did. We lived so far apart, and life had taken so many twists and turns since we were in college. But that didn’t matter. Time and distance had no bearing on friendships like ours. We decided that I’d come stay with her for a week while she recovered from one of her chemo treatments.
My best friend from high school was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 44 and died 6 months later.
When you’re 15, you never dream that one day you’ll be saying goodbye to your best friend who will battle breast cancer. Childhood dreams don’t include this kind of fight.
Breast cancer statistics mean nothing when you’re living a carefree life of Friday night lights, school dances, beach cruising, and weekend college parties. “1 in 8” means nothing until that “1” is someone you love.
We met when we were 15. She was gregarious, outgoing, full of laughter, and the life of the party. Our friendship was built on a deep connection through faith, laughter, trust, and crazy fun times. She was the “Ying” to my “Yang.” We definitely balanced each other out. I could spend hours telling you about our friendship. But I feel that absolutely nothing I share could ever do justice to this amazing friend who touched thousands of people with her courageous life.
The day she told me she had breast cancer, she spoke with such resolve. She was a fighter. She declared that she was “battle ready” and she wasn’t about to let cancer get the best of her. Holly had been fighting Freidrich’s Ataxia for several years and even had the phrase “It Takes Hope” tattooed on her arm. She pushed through the dismal prognosis, the pain, the suffering, and the sorrow and gave us all an example of the courage it takes to be raw, honest, and open.
For weeks she battled the cancer with chemo treatments that left her physically defeated. After several months of these intense and debilitating rounds of chemo, she valiantly chose to stop the treatments so she could enjoy what time she had left.
Holly courageously chose to live out her days to the absolute fullest. While this decision may have been hard for some to understand, for her it was the only decision that gave her complete control over her life. She was going to live her life in a way that brought her joy and victory. After battling Freidrich’s Ataxia for so many years, Holly wasn’t about to let breast cancer have a final say on how she lived out the rest of her days. We all watched and cheered as she conquered her bucket list items. She filled us with hope. She filled us with the courage to face our own giants. And she inspired us with her tenacity.
To the Ones Left Behind
When you lose someone you love, you are not just left with the memories, you are left with the impact they had on your life. Holly’s character, the sound of her laughter, and the depth of her faith are forever imprinted on my soul. She chose to live better, not bitter. Her life had meaning. And as hard as it is for me to say this without feeling guilty or selfish, the truth is I am richly blessed because of her life.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear her voice, that I don’t remember her faith in God, that I don’t recall her strong character. Her life story has left us with a treasure chest of foundational truths that point to the God she loved despite her challenges and defeats. And because of that, we can pass on the beauty and depth of those truths to others.
Always With Me
The week I went to stay with her was the last time I saw her. It was the last time we laughed and cried together. The last time we got to be silly like the teen girls we were and always will be. The last time I got to hear her contagious laugh. And the last time I got to hold her in my arms and pray for God’s mercy and comfort in the midst of her deep suffering.
But it wasn’t the last time I get to have her with me. Because she is always, always with me.
It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Tag someone you love. Remind them how much they mean to you. Spend a bit more time with your loved ones today. Remind the women in your life to schedule their breast exams. Let’s fight this and win.
Originally published October 2019.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.