At only 35 years old, I was years away from my first mammogram, but like most young women diagnosed with breast cancer, I could feel the lump on my own. I didn’t do regular exams, but knew my body well enough to know that the lump was new and different, and so I headed to get it checked out by a breast surgeon right away.
My diagnosis came quickly, and because I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, the most aggressive form of breast cancer, I didn’t have to wait for lots of diagnostic tests to confirm my treatment course. We knew right away we were all in– chemo first, then a bilateral mastectomy once my body had recovered.
Immediately after this point I started the blog, mostly as a way to quickly disseminate information to friends and family, far and near. So many people sent me notes, texts, and messages wishing me well, and the blog made it easy to update them all at the same time. It has been a place for me to chronicle some of what I went through with treatment and reconstruction, and since then, it has evolved quite a bit. Now, I sometimes I share memories that I didn’t blog about during my treatment, some of the struggles of being a “survivor,” and some of the emotional baggage that I’m just now unpacking. It has also become a place where I can offer a little scientific insight into the breast cancer studies that pop up in the news on what seems to be a weekly basis.
Name: Jamie Holloway
Occupation: Mom, Blogger, Breast Cancer Advocate
Year you Began RunLipstickchemo.com: October 2012
What were your main concerns after being diagnosed?
Well, this seems silly. One of my biggest concerns was that chemo would leave me without the strength to run the Girls on the Run 5K with my daughter. All through second grade, she had been looking forward to being a “big third grader” when she was old enough for Girls on the Run and we could do the race together. My heart broke to think of disappointing her. I was concerned about my kids’ reactions, I didn’t want them to see me sick. I wasn’t worried about being sick, I wasn’t even worried about dying. I was worried about how my cancer would affect them.
What gave you the courage to go ahead with a double mastectomy and chemo?
I’m not sure courage is the right word. Cancer is definitely the kind of crisis that leaves a person devoid of emotion and normal things like courage. I prayed, and felt confident that the God who had made my body knew what it would have to go through. I just needed to do my part. There was no time for anything like being brave, for me it was all about two things: doing what it took to get rid of the cancer and enjoying my life in the process.
Hope did you cope emotionally?
I only cried when I was diagnosed, when I told a few people very close to me, and once when I was just so very tired. And that was all within the first week. It’s not that I ignored my emotions, I think the coping mechanism was to just give them the backseat. (They moved back up to the front seat as soon as I was declared healthy, boy that was a surprise!) Mostly, though, during treatment, I didn’t give myself the opportunity to dwell on my mortality or to be overwhelmed by fear. I was fortunate that I wasn’t working outside the home at the time, so any morning that I didn’t have a doctor’s appointment was filled with coffee dates, shopping trips, or a run with a friend. I napped pretty much every afternoon, and spent my evenings with my family. It’s pretty hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re loving life.
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position?
I’ll let you know! After college, I attended graduate school at Georgetown University. How’s this for irony? My PhD is in Tumor Biology, earned for my research into the signaling pathways at work in, you guessed it, breast cancer. I chose to stay home when my daughter was born (just as I was finishing my dissertation) and was just thinking of looking for a job as I sent my youngest to kindergarten when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now that I’m healthy, I’m back to looking for that first real job.
Your work has now become very personal, how is it you hope to help other women through this?
As I neared the end of my graduate studies, I realized a need for scientists in the process of educating the public as well as patients and caregivers about breast cancer. There are so many nuances to a breast cancer diagnosis and the treatment plan, and there are so many new studies being released about what might cause breast cancer or how to best detect and treat it. I don’t’ think anyone means to mislead, but breast cancer is a very emotional topic, and it’s easy for a message to be misunderstood. Now I have a platform to help bridge the gap between the technical and the emotional. I would love to offer hope that breast cancer isn’t always awful and tips for getting through the diagnosis, treatment, and aftermath.
More than that, I hope to give women some facts and perspective to give them confidence in the choices they make. It’s not always about making the “right” choice, sometimes it’s about feeling completely confident that you’ve made the right decision for you.
Do you think having the knowledge you had from your studies scare you more or prepare you more for your fight with Breast Cancer?
It’s funny, I think a lot of people expect that knowing what I did about breast cancer, I would have been more afraid. Actually, I think it worked in my favor. I knew enough about what I was facing to be confident in the treatment plan I was offered. I didn’t feel the need to head straight to google and spend hours reading horror stories. In fact, I did not do a single breast cancer related search until after I’d been declared cancer free.
Can you tell us a little bit about your day-to-day work life?
Right now, at heart, I’m still a stay at home mom. I do spend a fair amount of time trying to keep up with the scientific literature focusing on breast cancer. Occasionally, I review research grants and offer a patient’s perspective on the proposal, and I have served as an advocate reviewer– a full voting member on a breast cancer grant review panel. Of course, I spend time working on my blog, and lately, I’ve been prepping several talks for breast cancer awareness campaigns. Right now, I am working to transition from passion to profession, looking for a job that will allow me to share from both my education and my experiences to empower other women facing a breast cancer diagnosis.
What do you hope Runlipstickchemo serves to do for women?
My blog, Run Lipstick Chemo, started out more for me than anyone else. I didn’t want to have to answer a hundred different emails to tell everyone what was going on, that I was still fine. Really. It has evolved, though, to be a place that I hope women can find hope, humor, and some friendly advice when they’re facing breast cancer. I always strive for honesty in my voice and empowerment in my message. Breast cancer is not to be taken lightly, but we don’t have to let it take control, either.
How would you like to see it evolve in the years to come?
Eventually, I hope I’ll run out of stories to tell! When I told her that I would be needing yet another reconstructive procedure, my dear friend joked, “Well, that will be good for the blog!” I’d like to think that in a few years, I won’t have any new cancer tales with which to regale my audience. I hope Run Lipstick Chemo will be two things. I want it to offer hope to women that breast cancer doesn’t have to kill them and the treatment isn’t always unbearable. They can still find their normal life in the midst of it all, even if that means going for a run and putting on a great lipstick before heading out to chemo. I also want Run Lipstick Chemo to be able to be a resource where women know that I’ll do my best to give a fair, scientific review of the latest breast cancer headline or controversy.
What is the best part of your job? What is the most challenging part?
The best part of Run Lipstick Chemo is definitely the people. The worst part? Also the people. I love all the new friends I’ve met. I’ve had such great opportunities to offer a patient’s perspective to scientists and clinicians, and to offer a scientist’s perspective to patients. But sometimes the people make me sad. As a scientist, it’s easy to recite statistics without emotion, they’re just numbers. Now when I give a talk and have to say that nearly 40,000 women will die of metastatic breast cancer this year, my voice cracks and my eyes well up. Every single time. They’re not numbers anymore. They’re my friends.
Best moment of your journey so far?
I have the best friends in the world. They hung out with me, they listened to me, they helped me when I needed it and backed off when I didn’t. I honestly look back on my “year with cancer” and don’t think about the rough stuff– I think about how much fun I had with all my friends, and how nice it was to sit by the fire, helping my kids with their homework while the dinner someone else made warmed in my kitchen. And I’ve made some wonderful friends since then– women I’d have never met without our common bond. Just like two moms with little in common can bond over birth stories, two strangers who have been through breast cancer can easily talk for hours without knowing any time has passed.
How has breast cancer affected your outlook on life?
It has given me a greater sensitivity to try to find little things that will brighten someone’s day. Going through breast cancer treatment, I realized it was rarely the grand gestures that made the biggest impact on me, it was the little thoughtful things.
What is one piece of advice you would give a women who has just been diagnosed with Breast Cancer?
You’re stronger than you think. You can do this. It probably won’t be as easy as you hope, but it also probably won’t be nearly as bad as you fear.
What is the most important thing a women should know who has just been diagnosed?
Stay off the internet! There are so many scary stories, and so much of the medical advice is either wrong or easily misunderstood. Fight the urge to head to google and go down that rabbit hole. Write down your questions and talk to your doctor, nurse, or even a social worker at the cancer center. The internet is a wonderful place for shopping. Not so much for medical advice.
What is one thing that kept you positive during your journey?
I quickly realized that I didn’t have much choice in the matter. I had cancer, I would have to be treated aggressively. Feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to make the time pass any more quickly, and it wouldn’t help me heal better. I remember once studying about Moses, wandering the desert with the Egyptians looking for the promised land. And you know what? He never got there. Wandered forty years, got to see it from a distant hilltop, and then died. Morbid, I know. But it struck me years ago (long before being diagnosed with cancer) that we never know where our journey will end up, so we can’t pin all our happiness on the destination– getting the degree, having that baby, getting the promotion, finally living in the big house. We need to enjoy the journey in case we end up somewhere else, which, incidentally, might be better than the original destination anyway. I’ve always tried to be an “enjoy the journey” kind of gal, and it served me well during my breast cancer treatment.
We have to ask, what is your favorite lipstick?
That’s like asking a mama to name her favorite child! I love them all! But I have to say, Dubonnet by MAC is a deep, wine-hued red that was my go-to most days when I was bald. I wore a scarf on my head and wanted my face to look radiant and healthy, and Dubonnet never disappointed. I hope it’s never discontinued, besides being a great color, it holds a pretty sentimental place in my heart.
On being a survivor…
I hesitate to use the term “survivor,” worried that it will imply that I didn’t die because I am somehow stronger, better, or more favored by God than another who must bear the label of “victim.” Still, we all know that it means I had breast cancer and didn’t die, and it has given me entrance into a sorority of beautiful, thriving women. I don’t call myself a survivor boldly, but I am proud to be a part of the sisterhood of breast cancer survivors.
What inspires you?
I’d say my biggest source of inspiration is a good challenge. I’m competitive by nature, so go ahead and tell me that it will be hard to get out of bed while I’m on chemo. I’ll show you, I’ll get out of bed, head out for a run, and put on makeup before I head out for coffee. Of course, that works in non-cancer parts of my life too. Sometimes the challenge is entirely from within, but nothing feels better than proving to myself that I can do something hard, something I never thought I could do.
How has Breast Cancer changed you?
I don’t wear a bra anymore! There are definitely some “perks” to the whole reconstruction process. Really, though, I’d like to say that I’m pretty much the same mom and wife I was before all this, just with shorter hair. But I’ve definitely learned how to be a better friend. When your friends love on you every single day for an entire year, you can’t help but pick up a few things. I learned how to pay attention to my friends, to try to figure out how to brighten their day, and to show compassion.
What are you most proud of?
Breast cancer didn’t take all that much from me. But as I agonized over whether I could finish a fall 5K, I began to accept that I would not finish the spring half marathon I’d been planning to register for with a friend. I was proud to finish that 5K strong, with my daughter by my side, bald head and all. But I was even more proud as I strongly finished the Nike Women’s Half Marathon only a year after I’d had my mastectomy and been declared cancer free.
What do you wish every DC Lady knew?
When it comes to breast cancer, there are a few things I wish every DC Lady knew. There are things that she can do to reduce her risk of breast cancer. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for so many reasons, and breast health is no exception. Eating better, drinking less, and moving more all reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Even so, a woman who “does everything right” can still develop breast cancer, and early detection makes a difference. (So get you mammograms, no excuses!) The caveat is that there are no guarantees. Even among those whose disease was “caught early,” 20-30% of women with breast cancer will develop the metastatic disease that will eventually claim their life. Breast cancer is not always a death sentence, but it is not to be taken lightly.
photography by Sally Brewer Photography
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