Wednesday, October 1, 2014

An Interview with Cancer Survivor Holly Bertone

Do you know how your path crosses with someone else's, and, in that instant, a connection is made?

That's what happened with Holly Bertone and me.

Holly's home on the Interwebs is The Coconut Head's Survival Guide, and if you haven't already checked her out, you should. She blogs about everything -- including her brave and courageous fight against cancer.

In August, Holly approached Scott and me about an idea she had: Would Scott be willing to don his jersey and hold two footballs -- as, ahem, breasts -- for a breast cancer PSA?

Scott's reply: For Holly? Yes.

And here's the result:

(And a very special thank you to the Detroit Lions for supplying a set of new, official NFL gameday footballs for the photo! Please note that we added the ta-ta stickers.)

But back to Holly. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I present to you the following interview with Holly in which she shares her unfiltered replies...

1. What’s the single most thing you wish you had known when you first received your diagnosis?
No one can prepare you to face death. No one can prepare you to feel more pain than you ever have in your entire life. No one can prepare you to learn so much about love and the frailty of life.   

2. Take me back to the day when you were diagnosed…what was your immediate thought? 
I was diagnosed on my 39th birthday, August 2010.  Two days later, my boyfriend proposed and we got engaged.  It was hard to digest those eight words, “you have breast cancer” and “will you marry me” in only 48 hours time.  Everything was a blur and the cancer diagnosis was surreal.  It was too much to process at once.  We focused on sharing the good news first, and the news about my cancer eventually came out.  

3. We’ve all been told that family history plays a part – at least somewhat – with regard to one’s chances of being diagnosed with cancer. What part (if any) do you think your family’s history played in your own diagnosis? 
At the time of diagnosis, the doctors put me through many different tests, including BRCA [a test for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) syndrome].  I don't have any family history of breast cancer, and all of the subsequent genetic tests I've received since then have all been negative.  If the BRCA tests would have come back positive, I probably would have opted for an entirely different treatment. 

4. What helped you the most – both emotionally and physically –when you were at the height of your treatment? 
Early on, I knew that breast cancer was God's gift to me.  I can't explain it, but it gave me peace and comfort through the toughest times.  It was still difficult to go through treatment, but deep down, I knew these trials were for a greater purpose.  I wrote a lot.  At first, it was emails to family and friends, which turned into the blog, which turned into the book.  The writing was cathartic.  And of course I couldn't have made it through without my boys. Carter and Stepson kept me laughing and didn't leave my side. 

5. What is life like today? How often do you consciously stop and think about cancer and all that you’ve gone through? 
So many cancer survivors shut the door on that part of their life when treatment is over.  I understand and totally get it.  I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum and made a conscious decision to dedicate my life to raising awareness and providing inspiration to other survivors.  It's 24/7 for me.  October is great, because everyone is receptive to all of the pink and promotions.  Every other month though, talking about breast cancer is a total buzz kill.  So I try and be creative and silly and irreverent to help get a difficult message across to women who don't want to listen. I can't thank you (and Scott) enough for being a part of this awareness with our joint campaign. 

6. You are totally welcome, Holly! This was a pleasure...you are blessed to have the support of a wonderful husband who has stood by you – and continues to. Brag a little bit about him.
Carter is a retired Army Green Beret.  He is one of the toughest men on the planet.  He is fiercely loyal, has a heart of gold, and is an amazing husband and father.  I am a bit of a free spirit and very independent. Carter understands and respects that about me and gives me the space and freedom to do my thing.  He makes me laugh every day, which especially during treatment, was needed.  He's a keeper.  

7. I'll say! You characterize your blog, The Coconut’s Head Survival Guide, as “A lifestyle blog with a twist of cancer survival,” and it serves as a tremendous resource to cancer survivors. And the site is, of course, incredibly personal. How did you find the courage to put your story out there? 
I faced a lot of self esteem and body issue demons while going through treatment.  I realized that I was not alone, and that all women deal with these issues at some point in their lives.  I'm too fat; I'm too thin.  My boobs are too small; my boobs are too big.  I hate my thighs.  I hate my nose.  I hate my feet.  My hair is too curly; my hair is too straight.  We're all the same, right?  I wanted the blog to be a happy and inspirational place and my message to be that your true beauty is your heart, you don't have to be perfect, and to live each day to the fullest.  Even the non-cancer part of the blog when I write about DIY, decor, food and recipes and everything else, I keep it honest and simple.  My life isn't glossy magazine perfection, it is real and normal.  

8. You created a company called Pink Fortitude. Tell me about some of the projects you’ve created and what you’ve currently got in the works. 
Pink Fortitude, LLC is the host company for all of my breast cancer ventures.  I've been working on a series of short e-books for cancer patients to read during chemo treatment, the first one is Drops of Fortitude - Find Your Inner Strength During Cancer Treatment.  I published my story, Coconut Head's Cancer Survival Guide - My Journey from Diagnosis to 'I Do.'  And most recently, a children's book, My Mommy Has Cancer.  This one is most special because it was illustrated by children of cancer survivors, including my stepson.  I've been working on a series of breast cancer awareness public service announcements, one of which you and your husband helped with!  I've been promoting these on Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram. 

9. From the comments you leave on other writer’s blogs (mine, included!), to the posts you publish on your own blog, you are always so darn positive – and I find it infectious. How do you manage to maintain you glass half full outlook on life? 
Oh I have my share of grumptastic moments, trust me!  But after cancer, everything is relative.  Every morning I try to wake up full of gratitude and blessings because I'm alive. Cancer puts everything into perspective.  You can't always control what life hands you but you can control how you react.  

10. What do you want anyone reading this to know about breast cancer awareness and advocacy?
Take care of your health.  I was young and healthy and if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Early detection really does save lives.  Be your own best health advocate. If you sense something is wrong and your doctor dismisses you, get a second opinion. 

Thank you, Holly, for sharing your wisdom, insight, and positive energy with all of us!


Join us on Facebook and Instagram. :-)

17 comments:

  1. What a great interview. What a good sport Scott is. And Holly...she is such a beautiful and courageous soul!

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    1. Thank you so very much, Crystal. I not only appreciate you stopping by for a visit, but for also sharing via social media. This blog post -- and collaboration in general -- was so very fun to do...

      Thank you to the moon and back for your support!

      xo

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    2. Hi Crystal - Thank you for your kind words. Very much appreciated! Hugs, Holly

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  2. Hi Courtney - Thank you so much for this interview and especially the PSA with Scott. It's so important to get the word out about early detection and hope for survivors. Hugs, Holly

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    1. Are you kidding me???? No. Thank YOU!

      YOU are courageous one. YOU walked through the fire. YOU are the inspiration.

      Seriously, Holly, I am so, SO very glad our paths have crossed. It has been a pleasure...

      xo

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  3. Holly you are very very very brave.... getting sick is one of the things I have grown to fear most after having children.

    And... I love that photo of Scott. It makes me laugh - in a good way. :)

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    1. Hi Dakota - Thank you for your kind words and I totally agree about that picture. It's hard not to smile right?!? Hugs, Holly

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    2. Hi, Dakota! I totally second you about the fear of getting sick. Absolutely nothing could rattle me as much as that...

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      xo

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  4. Very Fabulous photo of Scott!! brilliant! Holly has been a bloggy friend of mine for a while and I have read her story, you both are heros in my book :)
    Jenna

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    1. Hi, Jenna! Welcome...and nice to meet you! (Any pal of Holly's is an instant friend of mine. ;-)

      Thank you for stopping by,commenting, and sharing your kind words, but, no-- HOLLY is the real -- and only -- hero here!

      Enjoy your weekend, and thanks, again.

      xo

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    2. Hi Jenna - You are way too kind, thank you. Not a hero. Just someone who went through the fire and came out on the other side. Thanks so much for stopping by! Hugs, Holly

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  5. Hi there, Courtney! I'm an "OLD brown girl with long hair"/fellow blogger who is very familiar with Holly's story since we met online last year. I'm so happy to see others joining right in to bring awareness. Holly, and any other person who has so bravely faced breast cancer, deserves to be recognized for the warrior they are!

    High five, and a big "Right on!" to your husband for his hilarious but eye-catching participation! Lookin' good for the cause!!! (The husband of one of my dear friends is former defensive coordinator/current defensive line consultant for the Lions! Even though I'm a diehard Chiefs fan, I still proudly wear my Lions team shirt on game days...with a Chiefs hat, of course! :-) )

    I never tire of campaigning for this cause as it is near and dear to my heart. It's wonderful to see others doing the same. Have a wonderful pink weekend, go Lions (and Chiefs!), and save the ta-tas! :-) Nice to "meet" you!

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    1. Hi Alycia - Thanks so much for stopping by and for all of your kind words. You know me, I don't tire about being an advocate. God gave me a second chance at life for a reason. Oh and I'm totally Switzerland here... GO TEAM!!! Hugs, Holly

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    2. Oh, Alycia! How your message put a smile on my face! I just shared it with Scott, too. Thank you for your very kind words...

      Saying yes to Holly for this very special and worthwhile collaboration was an absolute no-brainer -- She did the heavy lifting: She kicked cancer's @ss.

      The friend of yours who is former defensive coordinator/current defensive line consultant for the Lions -- what's his name? I'm sure Scott would know him. That's awesome that you still root for the Honolulu blue!! And even if you didn't, you're still welcome here. ALL fans of the game are. If it's NFL, I love each team all the same; "all in the family," is what I say!

      Enjoy your weekend and thank you for commenting.

      xo

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  6. A wonderful interview. Thank you for sharing. How wonderful your hubby is to support the cause :)

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    1. Hi Limeade - Thanks for stopping by! Scott was such a trooper to be a part of this campaign and I'm not sure who had more fun with it - me or Courtney! Hugs, Holly

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    2. Hi, Limeade Gal, I second Holly: This was so fun to do. I love it when things come to fruition like this -- and for an awesome cause, no less...

      Thank you for taking the time stop by, visit, and share your energy.

      xo

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