Holly Bertone is an author and breast cancer advocate. She is the President and CEO of Pink Fortitude, LLC, a company dedicated to promoting inspiration and positive self esteem to cancer survivors and ALL women. Holly’s books include the heartwarming Coconut Head’s Cancer Survival Guide: My Journey from Diagnosis to “I Do,” the e-book Drops of Fortitude: Find Your Inner Strength During Cancer Treatment, and children’s book, My Mommy Has Cancer. She is a contributing editor for The Breast Cancer Authority, and is a syndicated contributor for BlogHer.
Holly is originally from Waynesboro, PA. She holds a Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins University, a Bachelor’s Degree from Elizabethtown College, and is a Project Management Professional. You can follow Holly on her website and blog, Coconut Head’s Survival Guide. She is passionate about reaching out to breast cancer survivors, and also volunteers for organizations supporting military veterans. Holly is an Ambassador for the Tigerlily Foundation and was named a 2014 Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women. In her free time, she loves to garden, hit flea markets, antique stores and yard sales, and drink a cup of coffee on her back porch. Holly is married to a retired Green Beret, is a Stepmother, and lives in Alexandria, VA.
HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE YOU WERE DIAGNOSED?
I was diagnosed on my 39th birthday, August 2010. Two days later, my boyfriend proposed and we got engaged.
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT YOU HAD BREAST CANCER?
I found the lump on my own and by accident. I went immediately to my primary doctor, which started the process of a mammogram, biopsy, MRI, and numerous other tests. I was healthy and had no risk factors or family history. I was ER/PR positive, HER2 negative.
TELL US YOUR REACTION TO THE DIAGNOSIS.
It was hard to digest those eight words, “you have breast cancer” and “will you marry me” in only 48 hours time. We focused on sharing the good news first, and the news about my cancer eventually came out. I spent that engagement year going through cancer treatment, rather than planning a traditional wedding. That year, I learned about my priorities in life, and how they are non-negotiable. I learned that I have to take care of myself. I learned that my faith does not waver. I learned about unconditional love from my Fiancé and soon-to-be Stepson. I learned that I’m a lot stronger than I think. I learned that life is too short to have regrets.
WHAT WAS YOUR TREATMENT PLAN?
I had a lumpectomy on my right breast. The artist formerly known as the tumor was 1.3 cm. I had four rounds of chemo – taxotere and cytoxin. I had 36 radiation sessions. I’m on 5 years of tamoxifen, maybe more. My last treatment was on March 21, 2011 and our wedding was 10 days later on March 31, 2011. Even several years later, I’m still recovering, both inside and out.
HAS HAVING BREAST CANCER INSPIRED YOU TO DO SOMETHING GREATER WITH YOUR LIFE?
Early on, I knew that breast cancer was God’s gift to me. I knew that I was going through those trials for a greater cause. I have since dedicated my life to promoting breast cancer awareness and supporting other survivors. I have authored several inspirational books for cancer patients. I write, I blog, I tweet, I do as much as I can every day to send a positive message about breast cancer and survivorship.
SHARE YOUR BIGGEST STRUGGLES AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE THOSE?
My biggest struggle going through treatment was dealing with self esteem issues. I lost part of my breast, all of my hair, and was thrown into early menopause, all while trying to be a beautiful and sexy fiancé. Chemo wrecked my GI tract and needless to say, when you are bald and have the walking farts, it’s hard to find that inner beauty queen. It took me a long time to re-program my brain to understand that beauty isn’t how long your hair is or how big your boobs are. Real beauty comes from within. That is the beauty that my fiancé and his son saw in me, and I had to learn to find it for myself.
FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED?
Life is short and precious. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring. As cliché as it sounds, live each day to the fullest and give as much love and kindness as you can every day. Take care of your health, and don’t be in denial if something seems off. Tell yourself every day that you are beautiful, because you are.
Read more from Holly at The Coconut Head’s Survival Guide