Janet Holland’s cancer story began with her father’s battle in 1952. Her family lived in Arlington, Texas, so her 'daddy' could be close to his job at the General Motors plant. She was a happy and thriving 5-year-old girl back in those days. She, her younger brother and her parents were seemingly living the good life.
Janet recalls, “At the time, I thought we must be rich people. We were living in a brand new, two-bedroom house, we were the proud owners of a television set, and I even had the luxury of taking dance lessons! Things were going great for my family ... and then daddy was diagnosed with colon cancer, and my life was changed forever.”
Her father needed surgeries and treatments immediately, so he could no longer work. Within a few short months, her parents had no alternative but to sell their home. Next, they moved to a small rental house in Hico, Texas, in a town where both sets of her grandparents lived.
Janet shares, “By the time I started school, we had moved on to the next town of Stephenville so my mom could work as an office nurse. Because they had depleted their savings and experienced the loss of insurance, my parents had to seek medical help from the VA hospital in Dallas. While my daddy was in the far-away hospital, I had to stay with my aunt and uncle in Stephenville so I could continue on in school.
"Every weekend some family member or friend would drive me to Dallas so I could see my mother. Back then, children were not allowed to visit patients at all, so that meant that my daddy was off-limits to me, and I was crushed."
“On and off for two years, my mother and daddy spent weeks at a time in Dallas”, says Janet. “My Daddy lost his fight against colon cancer when I was in the second grade. I was age eight, and he was forty. That was my first experience with cancer, and it didn’t end well.”
Janet relays that in the summer of 2008, things seemed to be moving along well for her and her husband, Buddy. They were both in relatively good health. They had two grown sons, their spouses and grandchildren that they adored, so life was good. But somehow that mountaintop euphoria soon changed.
“My battle with cancer began in July 2008 with my yearly mammogram. A close friend from church (yes, I believe this was divine intervention) happened to be my technician for my tests that day. She took the pictures, and after looking at them, came back and said, ‘Janet, we really do need to do a diagnostic mammie. Do you want me to call your doctor and do it now, or do you want to come in tomorrow?’
"I wasn’t alarmed, as the past four years, my mammograms had been inconclusive. I decided that I wanted to do the more detailed testing right then.”
“I told my friend Becky, ‘You know that my doctor is not in her office on Thursday afternoons,’ but Becky called her office anyway ... just in case. Somehow, for whatever the reason, my doctor was in that particular day. (Was this coincidence? I don’t think so!)
"Next, Becky did the diagnostic and said it was still inconclusive. And then they did an ultrasound – and I still was not alarmed. After all, I had been down this same road three times previously.”
Janet continues, “At the conclusion of the tests, I saw the technician and the radiologist study the sonogram, and then they started to whisper. I knew in that moment that I had cancer.”
Janet was told that her tests would be sent over to her new “cancer” doctor right away. Sure enough, before she arrived home, the doctor himself had called her to set up tests for the next day to determine what “it” was.
Previously, Buddy and Janet had a very important weekend planned with family, so they told the doctor that they would have to reschedule. They were set to travel to Abilene for their son Jeff’s graduation banquet, and then the actual graduation ceremony was to take place.
Afterwards, they were scheduled to help Jeff and his family pack-up for their upcoming move from Abilene to Midlothian. So, for the time being, Janet said that the tests would have to wait.
Janet shares, “I was a bit frightened that the doctor wanted to set up the extensive tests so quickly, but actually, I think God was giving me time to process all of this. We postponed the tests for two weeks, as the doctor was going to be on vacation himself. Believe me, it was a very long two weeks. But I was thankful that I had time to pray, ponder and process – but I never cried – not once.”
She and Buddy went to see the doctor exactly three weeks after her original mammogram. He explained to them that the tests confirmed he needed to do a biopsy – the very next day.
As Janet explains, “An angel, disguised as a beautiful young nurse, took care of me as I was waiting for my surgery. (I think it was another 'God' thing.) The caring nurse told me, ‘It’s OK to be scared. I understand. I had breast cancer five years ago, but God is good, and He sent me a miracle. I now have a precious, healthy 3-year-old daughter, and that was after I was told I was infertile and would never conceive. But, conception is not the only way one becomes a parent!’
"Yes, she adopted her baby girl. What an encouragement this sweet lady was to me!”
Janet continues, “My doctor discovered a huge tumor, 7.5 cm, about the size of a lime. The 30-minute operation took over an hour, but somehow my husband Buddy already knew right away that it was malignant.
“On my follow-up visit (after surgery), I told my doctor something like this: 'I want this thing out of me as soon as possible. In fact, if you have to, go ahead and remove both of my breasts. After all, I would not look much different anyway.' He did agree that I needed a bi-lateral mastectomy but said that my tumor was so large that I needed chemo as well. For some reason, I thought if I had a mastectomy, that I would not need any other treatments.”
According to Janet, the next couple of weeks were especially hard on Buddy. Neither of them slept much. They were busy seeing doctors and having tests and more tests done. They finally notified their huge families for a special Labor Day get-together at their house. The next day both of her sons and Buddy accompanied her to her first oncologist’s appointment.
Janet says, “My son Shane walked in beside me to the cancer center in Sherman. If he hadn’t been holding my arm, I would have collapsed. I had never seen so many sick people together in one room in my life!”
They learned that Janet’s cancer was hormone receptive, and it had been slowly growing for years while she kept it well-fed by the estrogen she had been taking each day for 17 years.
Janet relays, “I have a wonderful friend Julia who knows the importance of support groups. She found a cancer group for me right away, and what a blessing these folks were to me! And God guided me through this, friend. Yes, I had my church family, my own family, and supportive friends, but I learned something each time I went to the support group. I also realized how blessed I was. I had the ability to forget I had cancer (at least at times), but for those who have colostomies, etc., they can never forget they have cancer ... ever.
“I started chemo and actually did well on the first 12-week cycle, with only a few bad side effects. I didn’t have to work, so if I was tired, I could rest. This was a huge plus for me because I was allergic to the Neulasta shot given to boost white blood cell growth that protects against infection.
"My oncologist had emphasized that I must stay out of public places. The second 12-week round was much more difficult, and I still have some unpleasant side effects today – but I was happy to know that I’d made it through the chemo treatments.
“About ten days after my first treatment, my hair began falling out, but that was OK because I had already purchased a wig. Finally, we shaved my head. This devastated me – not because of vanity’s sake, but because I knew now that the cancer inside of me was REAL."
Her weight had dropped to 90 pounds during her lowest point during the treatments.
“After 28 weeks of chemo, I was ready for my bi-lateral mastectomy. On March 9, 2009, I left the hospital with no hair, no breasts, no nails, and no eyelashes – BUT I WAS ALIVE! After three days in the hospital, I came home and was wonderfully taken care of by my church family. They kept us well-fed for several weeks.”
Janet adds, “A few weeks after surgery, I began radiation. I had heard many horror stories about radiation treatments, but it was relatively easy for me."
Presently, Holland is in remission. The doctors say that if she stays cancer-free for four more years, she will be considered “cured."
“From the very beginning, when my own cancer was detected, a lot of people heard my diagnosis, and they called or came by to see me. The majority of my visitors/friends were ultimately surprised that I wasn’t devastated and asking, ‘WHY ME’?"
In conclusion, Janet proudly says, “I’ll tell you WHY. I believe God sent me those signs along the way and throughout my cancer journey, so I would realize that I couldn’t have possibly done all this without His help, as well as the help from so many others in my life. But I thank my loving Heavenly Father today that I AM A SURVIVOR."
Janet’s favorite scripture is the entire thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, but the final verse is especially meaningful to her.
“And now these three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (NIV)
Janet and Buddy Holland are residents of Waxahachie, and their church home is Creekside Church in Midlothian.