Young mother shares breast cancer journey


by TERRI GRUCA / KVUE News and photojournalists DATHAN HULL and ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @TerriG_KVUE

Posted on February 18, 2013 at 11:31 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 19 at 3:12 PM

AUSTIN -- Family history, smoking, even age can all increase a woman's risk of getting breast cancer.

What's surprising is how often breast cancer is diagnosed during pregnancy, breastfeeding and even a year after delivery.

This is why a Central Texas mom wanted to share her story.

As a mother of two rambunctious little boys, Holley Kitchen dreamed of spending her days surrounded by laughter and even a bit of chaos. 

"It's never quiet, never dull, and I wouldn't have it any other way," Kitchen said.

She never dreamed her days would be spent in a hospital bed getting chemotherapy.

"I'm not supposed to have breast cancer," said Holley.

Holley has no family history, she exercised daily, ate healthy, and breastfed both her boys as infants – all things that can lower a woman's risk of getting breast cancer.

"I felt this knot and I thought, uh, it's another clogged milk duct. We'll work through it. It’s not a big deal," she said.

She scheduled a mammogram.

"It was my first one. I'm only 39. You're not supposed to get mammograms," she said.

A routine appointment, turned out to be anything but.

"That was July 19, 2012. I'll never forget it as long as I live. My life changed that day," Holley said.

Holley had cancer - stage 3 breast cancer.

"I just lost it and I couldn't stop crying for hours. My first thought was, ‘What are my kids going to do for a mom?’" said Holley.

Dr. Beth Hellerstedt is Holley’s oncologist.

"All of this represents abnormal change," said Hellerstedt pointing to a mass in Holley’s breast, which is clearly visible on her mammogram. "We knew we were going to have to take many different steps in order to try to give her the best possible outcome."


The plan: chemotherapy, mastectomy and radiation to rid Holley's body of the cancer, a tumor the size of a lemon, which had already spread to her lymph nodes.

"I don't force myself to be positive, I just know I'm going to get through it and the days are a lot longer if you frown about it and you don't smile and try to have a good time," said Holley.

Starting in October, every week for 16 weeks Holley's doctors poured poison into her veins.

She documented her journey on Facebook, counting down the treatments, all while continuing to work on the family business, tape a reality show for Discovery called Texas Car Wars (they began taping the show before Holley was diagnosed with cancer), and care for her boys.

"I don't think about it every day. I have two small kids, I can't think about it every day. They don't and momma has to be normal," said Holley.

Through it all her spirit shined.

"One of the hardest parts for me was when I was going to lose my hair. I thought, ‘How are my kids going to see me? Are they going to be like mommy what is wrong with you?’ And you know we involved them in the head shaving. You just don't realize how resilient little kids are," Holley said.

"Watching her inspires me to want to be a better person,” said Beep Kitchen, Holley’s husband.

"There's no quit in her and I think because of that she's done remarkably well with her treatment," said Dr. Hellerstedt.

On that final chemo day, her family and friends rallied around her to celebrate. Her boys were front and center.

Even with one obstacle down, two others loom – her mastectomy and radiation.

Holley and her husband own their own business and most of her medical bills are not covered by insurance. So once again her family and friends vowed to help.

One week before her mastectomy, they put together a benefit. In true Holley fashion she was all smiles.

"The outpouring of this community is amazing. It's very hard to be on the receiving end of this," said Holley. "So many other people have it worse." 

It's often said the worst of times can bring out the best in people.

Holley is a reminder that even when facing what seems like insurmountable odds, with the right attitude and the right people around you, anything is possible.

"I don't wake up scared. I don't go to bed scared. I have moments where I'm scared,” said Holley. “It's just scared selfishly because I want to see what my boys grow up like. And I will. There's no doubt I will."

Holley is now recovering from her mastectomy and doing great.

Dr. Hellerstedt said all her margins came back clear, meaning at this point she is cancer-free. She still has six weeks of radiation to go.

Holley says she wants her story to remind all women to see a doctor when you notice even the smallest change.