Lesley Holladay Fights Like a Girl

By Wendy Pollitzer

Featured in The Island News

October 7, 2010

Breast cancer survivor Leslie Holladay and her son, Thomas.

Lesley Holladay is a fighter.  In August of 2006, Lesley was diagnosed with Stage III Invasive Breast Cancer. She was only 33 years old when her biopsy revealed the lump she’d found six months prior was, in fact, cancerous.

After almost 2 years of chemotherapy at MUSC and radiation treatments at the Keyserling Cancer Center, Lesley fought the battle and now wants to give hope to young mothers who have been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, a disease that now affects 1 in 8 women at some point in her life.

The good news? There are approximately 2 ½ million breast cancer survivors in the United States. Breast cancer death rates have been going down. This is probably the result of finding the cancer earlier and better treatment.

Lesley had the right outlook and the proper plan to fight her battle.  She explains, “The difference between winning and losing is your attitude. When you’re physically defeated, the only way to survive is to push forward. You can’t look back; you’ve got to have faith that you’ll beat it.”

“Luckily, I had my mom here to help me with Thomas, my precious son. My main objective was keeping Thomas’ life as normal as possible. Knowing I had to survive for him got me through my day-to-day. Thomas helped me stay focused,” she said.

“Thomas says his prayers every night, and in them, he thanks God for healing his mom’s body of cancer.”

In addition to her faith in God, Lesley also mapped out a strategic plan to research the disease and prepare for her crusade while managing a household with a 5-year-old.

A friend accompanied Lesley on her trips to the doctor. She took careful notes while Lesley listened to the prognosis. She explains, “you’re so overwhelmed when you first find out you have cancer. You’re not sure what to ask, what to listen for, etc. Because my friend came with me, I was able to research her notes later and come back with detailed questions in order to develop a plan I was comfortable with.”

And the advice Lesley would give to a newly diagnosed woman with breast cancer? “Time is of the essence at the beginning of your diagnosis. Make sure you ask the right questions. Also, nobody knows your body better than yourself. If you find a lump, push forward with questions and be proactive with your prognosis.”

Lesley Holladay is the Director of Operations for the United Way of the Lowcountry. She’s a 1996 graduate of the University of South Carolina. She never expected she would get breast cancer at such a young age.

When she received chemotherapy treatments at MUSC, Lesley met a girl her age with two children, also diagnosed with Stage III Invasive Breast Cancer. They became each other’s support network. Whatever they read, learned through the Internet or friends, they would share with each other each time they’d see each other at the hospital.

“It’s important to have someone as your support, someone to explain to you what to expect,” said Lesley.

“One of the most memorable things I experienced while receiving chemotherapy at MUSC was a laptop and iPod from the Share Our Suzy Foundation out of Charleston. Those two items certainly kept my spirits up while I struggled with the terrible effects of chemo.”

Share Our Suzy (SOS) is a foundation named for Susie McGrane, a young woman in her young twenties diagnosed with breast cancer. Originally called Save Our Suzy, the annual wine tasting event raised money to help with the financial expenses associated with Suzy’s treatments.

When Suzy lost her battle to breast cancer, the foundation, known as Share Our Suzy(SOS) was formed. The goal of SOS is to allow patients to focus solely on recovery and not the financial stress brought on during this very difficult battle.  Funds raised are used for assistance with every day needs such as wigs, prosthetics, childcare, gas cards, utility bill assistance, medication assistance and more. SOS takes care of the critical areas that insurance companies do not.

“I know Suzy would have wanted this for me,” explained a thankful Holladay.

Lesley Holladay will be walking in the 17th Annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure® in Charleston Saturday, October 16th. She’s also an active committee member for Lowcountry Pink for the Cure, which brings awareness to the fight against breast cancer by challenging area businesses to decorate their storefronts and windows in a pink theme.

Locally, the Susan G. Komen Foundation gives money to Beaufort Jasper Comprehensive Health Services and Beaufort Memorial Hospital. “Awareness is really starting to make a difference,” explains Lesley. “Research and Awareness is key to fighting this horrible disease.”

I agree. My mother is a breast cancer survivor as well. My grandmother was not. She died at the young age of 56. We have come so far, so fast. But we still have a long way to go.

If you want to do anything to help with the global fight against breast cancer, do it this month. Get involved. Donate. Wear pink. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Let’s all do our part to help young women like Lesley hurt less. It’s possible if we have her attitude. It is, in fact, the difference between winning and losing.

To my dear friend Lesley and my courageous Mom, Shirley: Keep fighting like Girls! To my loving grandmother, Elsie: We’re fighting in your memory. I love and miss you.

About Wendy

Wendy Pollitzer is a versatile writer living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

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"I love Wendy Pollitzer’s writing. Her instincts are remarkable, her nose for truth infallible. I can’t pick up a journal or magazine that she’s written for without going straight to the table of contents in search of her piece. What I think is so interesting about her work is that she really believes in what she’s doing, in getting it right. She’s very, very good. "— Pat Conroy (Prince of Tides, South of Broad) 1945-2016