Survivor Story

Holly Hernandez – Cancer Warrior

Holly Hernandez Cancer Warrior
Holly Hernandez – Cancer Warrior

We get to meet and connect with so many strong, incredible women in our line of work. This is a story about one of those women, Holly Hernandez. Holly’s story is one of resilience and perseverance and a connection to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund that started with a pair of sneakers–we’ll get to that a little later.

To say that Holly has been on a journey would be an understatement.

Holly Hernandez Family
Photos by Brittany Laurel Photography

In 2021, Holly and her husband welcomed their first child into their blended family. While she was breastfeeding, she noticed what seemed like a lump. Her first thought was that the lump was a normal part of breastfeeding, but she had it checked anyway. After several tests and consulting with her doctors, she received the terrible news, “you have stage three, triple-negative breast cancer.”

Holly said she felt like she ran into a brick wall. She was still in the first few years of her marriage, they just had their first child together and now she had cancer.

Holly would undergo a long, intensive treatment plan that included 16 chemotherapy cycles, a double mastectomy, radiation, and immunotherapy–all a four-hour, round-trip drive from home. 

Unfortunately, as grueling as all of that was, it was just the beginning. 

After her initial treatment, doctors would find a nodule in Holly’s lung. While taking a biopsy of that nodule, her lung was punctured. On top of that, her biopsy showed she had histoplasmosis, which is a lung fungus that is common in her rural community. It was critical that she start taking anti-fungal medication to stay alive, but it wasn’t without side effects.

As Holly continued treatment, she learned that her mother had cancer and that it had spread throughout her body. There was not much doctors could do and sadly, in a few weeks, her mom passed – another brick wall. 

In November of 2023, Holly’s breast cancer came back. It was stage four. At this point, panic and uncertainty overwhelmed her. She was well aware of the survival rates and long-term health prognosis of her disease.

While getting pre-screened for a clinical trial to treat the cancer, doctors found lesions on her brain. The trial was off–another brick wall. 

In December, Holly started Gamma Knife brain radiation, and just as she began to feel good and healthy again, she experienced another health issue that put her on the verge of sepsis. She needed a thoracotomy and lung decortication ASAP. The surgery would allow her lungs to fully inflate again, but recovering from it was scary. She’d have to be placed in a medically induced coma to heal.

We’re happy to report that today, Holly is doing well. Her recent scan showed her tumor was shrinking and she continues to break through brick walls. 

Everything Holly went through, she did so she could have every moment possible with her family. And she’s determined to turn this experience into something good, to help other women going through the same thing. Through organizations like Living Beyond Breast Cancer and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, she’s finding ways to make an impact in the fight, in rural communities like hers. Holly is going to share her experience on a breastfeeding podcast to educate women on what’s normal and when you should see a doctor.

In the words of her counselor, “Look at your life like a closet. Think of bad thoughts like an ugly shirt you don’t want to wear today. It’s there, but it’s in the back and you’re not going to live with that today.” Holly said, “It’s easy to get in a negative mindset, but you have to choose happiness.”

Holly HernandezCoach Yow took a similar approach to her fight. She would say, “When life kicks you, let it kick you forward” and “It’s ok to have self-pity, but swoosh your feet in the pool and get out” – Which brings us to the sneakers.

Ironically, Holly’s son had a pair of Nike Play4Kay sneakers and was aware of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Holly liked the sneakers but didn’t know much about the Fund. Her son suggested that Holly learn more about the organization. She did and reached out, and we are so thankful she did. We are grateful to get to share her story of resilience and perseverance. 

Who would have guessed that a pair of sneakers could lead to a long-lasting connection and the sharing of a story that will make an impact on countless lives?

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