This month, Living Well spoke to courageous women, including Paulette Holloway, who have faced breast cancer to hear their survival stories.
Paulette Holloway was born and raised in Highland Park, MI and is a graduate of Highland Park High School. She has a passion for educating our youth, and for over 30 years has kept our youth active in basketball by coordinating the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball programs and serving as the athletic director for K-12 charter district.
During a vacation to the Bahamas in May 2013, Paulette noticed blood in the top of her swimsuit from the right breast and there was itching as well. Upon returning, she contacted her OB/GYN, who ordered an ultrasound and a mammogram. The mammogram did not detect any breast cancer. However, the ultrasound showed a mass and a biopsy was done on her right breast. She was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, identified by Mayo Clinic as the earliest form of breast cancer. This means the cancer began in the milk ducts and started to spread further back into the breast, making the cancer invasive.
Initially, her doctor ordered a lumpectomy and 25 rounds of radiation, but a review of the MRI of her right breast showed the cancer had spread deeper into her tissue and there were signs of cancer in her left breast. “I made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy because I didn’t want to go through this again,” said Paulette, who opted for a bilateral mastectomy with transflap reconstruction. She has a team of doctors, an oncologist, a surgical oncologist and a plastic surgeon who reconstructed her breast tissue. What should have been an eight-hour process turned into a grueling 19 hours. Because of kidney failure and a collapsed lung, she said she “almost died.” Paulette’s doctor assured her that she would not have to have chemotherapy if the cancer did not spread to the lymph nodes. Not long after the surgery, testing results came back showing one cancerous lymph node. She was subsequently prescribed six rounds of full chemotherapy and 10 rounds of Herceptin.
Sadly, during Paulette’s stay in the hospital she contracted a MRSA infection, a strain of staph bacteria, causing her to have a picc line, a tube accessing the vein, where she had to inject herself with antibodies every three hours.“I had to set my alarm for every three hours to ensure I was taking my medication,” she recalled. Paulette’s chemotherapy did not start until November, although she completed her bilateral mastectomy in July. “I had to heal first before I could start chemotherapy,” she said. Due to the MRSA infection, the fat transferred to reconstruct her breast tissue would die, causing open wounds. This infection “is something my doctors think I got while in the hospital, it happens a lot.” Two nurses would come out every week, one would check the picc line and the other would assist Paulette with the care of her wounds.
Once chemotherapy started, by January the medication started to take it’s toll. The side effects included fainting, nausea and loss of hair. The chemotherapy lasted from October 13, 2013 to October 14, 2014. The intense treatment “makes, you feel like you want to die,” said Paulette, a firm believer in faith which she says helped her get through this extremely challenging chapter of her life. In addition, she benefited from use of Facebook where she spoke candidly about her experiences and received an enormous amount of support. “I live in faith, not fear,” she said. Paulette Holloway’s last treatment was October 13 and she in the process of embracing her life as it now is. “I am blessed to see each new day and am looking forward to whatever God has in store for me,” she said.