Cancer Picked the Wrong Chick: Holley's Battle with Breast Cancer
By: Hillary Ossip
Holley is currently fighting breast cancer and is determined to win. In the season finale of Texas Car Wars she and her husband Barrett ("Beep") open up on camera about the challenges and struggles brought on by it, but also their determination to keep a positive attitude and Holley's will to survive.
This morning, we got to know Holley better and spoke with her about the show, her family, and her battle with cancer. Read on to learn more about her inspirational story!
Also, if you want to share your well wishes and support with Holley and her family, head over to Barrett Auto Care’s Facebook Page. Holley and Beep read the posts and messages personally.
In the episode you tell us, "Cancer picked the wrong chick and I'm going to kick its butt!" What helps you do that?
A piece of advice that someone gave me was to give my cancer a name. Name it something so that it's not just a figment of my imagination. I named it Cletus. I continuously talk about kicking Cletus' butt and Cletus is going down! That's what my friends and family and I call my cancer -- it's Cletus. When you think of Cletus, it doesn't give you a very positive image in your mind so that's why I loved the name.
You've said "It's all about attitude." What's your attitude right now?
My best friend from high school went through this three years ago. I remember, as she went through it, I thought to myself, "How can she be joking at a time like this? How is she taking this so light?" I almost felt like her attitude was a little flippant. I was like, "You have cancer! What are you thinking?" And now, it all makes sense. She was the greatest teacher to me.
It's a difficult situation, but if you let it get you down, then it's just one more check box to cancer. I refuse to let it get me down.
My attitude is, this is a bump in the road. We'll do it, we'll take care of it. And then I can get back to life being normal. My attitude will never change. That is, you stay positive and you focus on the positive.
How did you find out you have breast cancer?
It was a total shock. I actually found a lump while I was still breastfeeding one of my children and kind of ignored it because, well, when you're breast feeding, your breasts are very awkward. So, I ignored the lump, didn't get it checked and let it go four or five months. Honestly, I kept thinking it was a clogged milk duct because I'd had them before and it was very very similar.
I finally went and had it checked four or five months after I initially found the lump. Life got a little busy, and I ignored it for a while. I went and was just going to have them drain my milk ducts because it was just an infection that had gotten bad. I was informed at that time that this was not a clogged milk duct and we needed to do a mammogram so we could see what's going on.
I'm only 39, so I'd never done a mammogram before -- they say start at 40. They did the mammogram and I was quickly whipped into a sonogram and spent quite a bit of time in the sonogram. Then the radiologist came in, turned on a light and -- I do my best to recall this conversation -- I just remember her telling me, "There is absolutely without a doubt cancer and we need to do a biopsy and figure out what's going on." Don't ask me what else she said because I can't remember.
When you hear the "C" word it flips your world upside down and hits you on the back of the head with a two-by-four.
The biopsy confirmed cancer. I went to an oncologist. I have the best oncologist in the world -- Beth Hellerstedt. She staged me at stage three breast cancer, proceeded with ten million tests it felt like, confirmed stage three and that it was a lump in my left breast. Her treatment plan from then on was two different types of chemo, four doses of a very heavy-hitting chemo, and that was every three weeks. I've just completed that and Tuesday, October 30th, I begin another type of chemo that is a little less harsh on my body, but chemo therapy is never easy. It's called Taxol. After that, I'll have a double-mastectomy, I'll have six and a half weeks of radiation, and then I'll go through the reconstruction process and have a hysterectomy. And hopefully my life will get back to somewhat normal!
So, there you have it! There's my story!
What is it like being a strong woman in a predominantly male business and show?
I don't feel strong. I just feel like I'm me. I am a woman in kind of a man's world. I just try to be who I am.
My husband has been an amazing teacher to me in this business. Before I met Beep, I knew zero about cars. You're lucky if I knew where to put the gas. He has taught me everything I know. He has taught me, "Be who you are and teach others what you know. But don't try to fake it 'til you make it because people will see through it." That's the best advice I have gotten in this business -- stand for what you believe in. Help people, don't talk down to people. That's really what I try to do. I don't really think I'm that strong. I just think I'm me.
I had great parents. My dad was always very strong. My mom was always very strong. They were always there for me. I guess it's just who I am, because I don't feel strong. There are many days these days I feel super super weak. But, my husband is there to always remind me who I am, my sister is always there to be my pillar of strength. It's also my support system -- it's not just me.
What are the group dynamics at Barrett Auto Parts?
I'm actually the newbie of that group -- believe it or not. Everybody at Barrett besides me has known each other for at least twenty years or more. I'm the newbie, and you'd never know it by the way those guys treat me.
They are the nicest, the most supportive -- they're my brothers. I have no brothers, I only have sisters, so they gladly accept the title. We absolutely have each others' backs -- not just at the shop, but in life. There are no words to describe the brotherhood that's there -- or maybe I'm sisterhood also.
Like I said, they've known each other for over twenty years, and when I came into their lives nine years ago, it was like they had known me that long. They are just the greatest group of guys. I don't have any words to describe them. THEY ARE AMAZING. Not only are they amazing in business; they're amazing in life. They have been there and been the support for my husband that he needs when he's at work, or if he has to come home because I'm not feeling well to help me with the boys.
It's just without question -- they have our backs. It's awesome. It's absolutely awesome.
How does cancer show you what people are made of? Has it shown you what you're made of?
If you would have told me five years ago that I had cancer, I wouldn't have thought that I could have been walking this walk how I am. It's shown me what I'm made of. It's shown me that I can be a lot stronger than I ever imagined, so it's time to step everything else up in my life and be strong.
You know, I have a four year old, and you talk about testing your strength. Cancer's nothing compared to a four year old's attitude!
It definitely shapes and forms you in a way that you wouldn't have thought, at 39 years old, you would be changing who you are -- and it has, it's definitely changed who I am, my outlook and my attitude.
Just this morning I caught myself being a little negative and it makes you stop, take a break and think, "That's negative. Let's go to positive." I called my husband and I explained it to him and he said, "Then why do you need me? You're talking yourself through it!" He's the most positive person I've ever met and he's completely rubbed off on me. It's awesome.
That's why I have cancer now instead of before I met Beep, because I couldn't be as strong before as I am now. God planned it this way, and I'm taking it and running with it.
At the end of the race, when you raised more money than your original goal, what was that moment like for you?
I think us raising more money than we thought we could shows you humanity and once again, what people are made of. Also that, unfortunately, cancer has touched way too many lives. Every time I turn around, someone else is saying that it's affected their family. It disgusts me that cancer is so rampant. I think people just came out and donated and gave and supported us because they've unfortunately been in my shoes at one point in time, or my family's shoes.
Cancer sucks and I hate it. I joke with my oncologist every time I see her that I hope she goes out of business...Unfortunately, I don't think she will. Cancer is just so rampant in the world these days. I think that's what we saw at the drag race is that so many people were touched. I had so many people come up to me that day with stories that, though uplifting, were also in a way heartbreaking.
What is your relationship like with other garages, especially after your diagnosis?
The other garages -- no matter the smack talk we talk -- they are AWESOME. They have been amazing. They have been sending me messages and are always checking on me and telling me they've got my back, anything you need. They're offering their mechanical abilities. Anything and everything I've needed -- the other garages have always been there.
What does it mean to you to have your fight with cancer televised?
A few people have questioned me about how difficult it is, having it on TV. For me, it's a very tiny bit difficult to go back and see where I was. But it also reassures me because I have come a long way. You know, I'm completely bald now. Before I lost my hair, I thought that was the worst thing ever. It's so not a big deal.
With it being on TV, if I can give one human being the strength to know that it's not that big of a deal -- it's NOT that big of a deal to have to shave your head. It's NOT that big of a deal to be bald.
As a woman, I feel like one of our major characteristics is what our hair is. When you lose that, you think to yourself, "Oh my gosh! Who am I?" And it's so not who you are -- it's what you're made of. If I can give one woman the strength to go get a mammogram or to know you're going to be fine if you have no hair -- that's why I want it on TV. If I can impact one person, then it's absolutely 110% worth it.
Do people now come to you with their stories about cancer?
I have another friend who I went to high school with -- she's a couple years older than I am and has two small boys. She came to me with her story saying, "I've been following you on Facebook and your story made me go get a mammogram that I've been putting off for years and years, and they've diagnosed me with breast cancer. Because of you, it was caught between stage zero and one. Because of you, I won't have to have chemo." She reminds me that I'm her life saver. Telling the story right now, I have goosebumps all over my body because I can't believe my story made someone take a step to get diagnosed early enough to where she won't have to be bald! That's just putting it bluntly.
I've never met someone that's said, "I've never had someone in my family with cancer." It's everywhere. It's EVERYWHERE. If I can be an advocate to help people, that's all I want. That's my main point in putting it in such a national spotlight.
What do you hope people get out of your story? Is there anything you hope they will do?
First and foremost, get checkups. I don't think you wait 'til forty. I think you do it at thirty-five. Take care of yourself. Exercise. Eat well. I think the most important thing is: you know your body. If you think something is a little off -- breastfeeding or not -- get it checked. If I would have gotten this checked even while I was breastfeeding, I might've not been in stage three. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Don't put things off. Don't think it will get better. It may get better, but the relief of getting it checked and not worrying is the most powerful tool we have. So, listen to your body.
What can your fans do if they want to send their support?
Barrett Auto Care is on Facebook. Shoot me a message! I would love it! I check that Facebook page personally. There is no computer checking it, no employee checking it, it's me or Beep. I've already gotten a few messages and it's been amazing!