The Cancer Center of Santa Barbara with Sansum Clinic Gala

Santa Barbara Cancer Center and Sansum Clinic Gala,

  The Cancer Center of Santa Barbara with Sansum Clinic Gala

Last week, I had the great honor and privilege of speaking at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara and Sansum Clinic Gala (held in the tent above). Speaking before a crowd of over 500 people (yes, 500!) with Jay Leno (yes, Jay Leno!), Rickey Minor and the Tonight Show Band as the entertainment  gave me epic Nerve Bugs. However, I gave myself a Moonstruck “snap out of it moment” and saw this opportunity as an incredible way to publicly (in a big way!) thank all of those who provided such extraordinary care to me and my family during my pesky bout with breast cancer.

The event was pure magic. In total, the evening raised $1.1 million (net, after all expenses) in support of the Cancer Center’s Patient Assistance, Wellness, and Support Programs, which aid patients with all aspects of healing with services like financial assistance for those who lack insurance; practical assistance with co-pays, insurance coverage, and travel expenses; nurse navigation; nutrition counseling; support groups; individual and family counseling; classes such as yoga, tai chi, painting, writing, meditation and laughter; cancer prevention and colon cancer screening programs; and hereditary cancer risk counseling for patients and families. These services are not typically reimbursed and are crucial during cancer treatment. Boy oh boy, do I ever know.

Several people have asked if I would share my speech and so, here it is:

Santa Barbara Cancer Center and Sansum Clinic Gala,

When I was asked if I would speak this evening, I thought, “What an amazing opportunity to be a cheerleader.” Don’t worry, I’ve left my pom poms at home and I’m not going to do any cartwheels. That, I’m afraid, might necessitate the assistance of every nurse and physician in this room.

However, tonight I have the great honor of cheering about the care provided to me by the clinician’s at both Sansum and the Cancer Center, with a very special debt of gratitude to my  doctors, Fred Kass and Kurt Ransohoff.

As a

  • healthy,
  • happy,
  • vegan-eating,
  • marathon running,
  • 39 year-old mother

…with no family history of breast cancer, being diagnosed with the disease in 2010 Rocked. My. World.

In an instant, as a nurse and social worker, I now found myself on the other side of the bed.

To add insult to injury, at the time of my diagnosis we were new to Santa Barbara, having moved here from Chicago only three months prior. Now, I was thrilled to be living in Santa Barbara. Aren’t we all?

But truly, after having worked at multiple academic healthcare institutions, I wondered whether it was possible to get the same—world-class—care that I knew was readily available in Chicago.

So, as a discerning clinician myself, I went into my medical network to get additional opinions and explore other treatment options.

Guess what?   My search led me right back home to the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. In fact, when I was consulting with one oncologist from Harvard, not only did he corroborate my plan of care, when I asked him: “Do you by any wild and crazy chance know an oncologist in Santa Barbara by the name of Fred Kass?” he responded with: “Of course I know Fred. I trained with him.  He is as good as they get.”

Becoming a patient gave me a whole new and unexpected consciousness and sensitivity to the physical and emotional turbulence that patients endure.

I realized that I had two choices about how I was going to handle my diagnosis: from a place of fear or a place of optimism.

I chose – and it was indeed a very active choice for me – optimism in the form of finding Silver Linings.

Now here’s the thing about Silver Linings:  Unfortunately they DON’T take away nausea OR vomiting OR constipation, but they DO provide balance and perspective.

When you have cancer, Silver Linings come in small and big packages.

I remember one day when I was particularly sick. I literally could not get the 5 feet from my bathroom to my bedroom. So, I laid on my bathroom floor. As I was laying there, I thought, “Ok Miss Silver Linings, where are the Silver Linings now because you cannot get from the floor of this bathroom to your bed?”

I no sooner had that thought when my beloved 87-pound black labrador Buzz came waddling through the door. He curled up into a ball of love and laid down with me. Now, I still wasn’t able to get to my bedroom, but he provided the Silver Lining of comfort and love that I so desperately needed in that moment.

What I know for sure is that Silver Linings are always present. All one has to do…is look for them.

My treatment was brutal. My body reacted violently to the chemo that was working to save my life. In fact, I vividly remember an especially difficult time that required being admitted to the hospital for an infection.

Lying in the hospital bed feeling – and probably looking – like a bald skeleton who had been run over by a train, I remember looking up to see Dr. Ransohoff (my internist) and Dr. Kass (my oncologist) standing at the foot of my bed.

Their presence – their mere presence – provided me with the comfort to know that I would be ok. The REAL Silver Lining of this story is that I’m not unique.

What I know for sure is that my doctors – and the teams with whom they work have the same compassion for and dedication to all of their patients.

Cancer is a terrible, equal-opportunity disease. Cancer strikes everyone from any one of us here to those who are already financially desperate or have complicated family dynamics.

When, on top of that, they learn of a very grave diagnosis that requires extensive and expensive treatments, it can cause the knees of even the most resilient person to buckle.

THIS is where the team of the cancer center steps in and finds a way to pay the electric bill or help fill out and submit a complicated disability application. Psychologically, they provide support to not only patients,  but also their families, to help them cope with the impact of cancer.

Programs such as yoga, nutrition, and support groups

  • reduce stress,
  • improve treatment tolerance and
  • enhance recovery.

This kind of VITAL SUPPORT is called “invisible healing.”  I found invisible healing at the Cancer Center Yoga classes. The Silver Lining for me was not that I could now stand on my head…but rather…that after every class, my nausea subsided just a bit and I felt a little less anxious.

Choosing the correct chemotherapy regimen or radiation dose is important, but there is so much more to the healing process.

The money raised tonight will go to support the crucial – absolutely crucial – services that are not typically reimbursed.

I know both professionally and now personally what Silver Linings these programs are in the course of treatment. They truly make all the difference in the world.

The only way I know how to make sense of my cancer diagnosis is to try to make it better for those who have to follow me down this difficult path, just as those who suffered before me made my treatment more bearable and more effective.

Tonight, as I look around this beautiful room, I am so grateful for this opportunity to say THANK YOU.

On behalf of my family AND on behalf of the patients and families served by the Cancer Center and Sansum Clinic….THANK YOU.

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  1. Vincent Kamin says

    Catching up with my emails. Two things: Santa Barbara was a fortuitous location and that one begins life without cancer–thus that expanse of time prepares one for life and its
    consequences. The Girl Scout motto states: The future belongs to those who prepare for it.
    Your role as victim and then mentor has helped add an articulate explanation for such
    an experience, so that others can realize that such survival is a gift–that those who do become the spokespersons for the others. Together a bridge is crossed. One day that
    bridge will be laden with only survivors. Each contribution made by those crossing
    the bridge with the aid of their loved ones adds to the structure and girth of such optimism. When a cure is found that bridge can be abandoned. As yet its support
    binds the others suspended through the clarity of recovery; together, never alone.
    Such events bonds isolation and illness into a public forum; there togetherness is felt. Its openness softens its plight. Everyone becomes a survivor of compassion and understanding. Part of the cure because of the money raised also involves a camaraderie filling those present with optimism. Each donor is part of the survival process too.
    Your delivery was an honest appraisal of such an ordeal, making the experience universal in its appeal– surrounded by hope and love for each condition present that evening. My own personal situation ended hopefully for my wife. I just know that everyone there felt a happy outcome was in their futures too because of your success, motivation and honest inspiration.
    those afflicted sitting there inspired by yet another survivor's success.

  2. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your speech. It was amazing. I am very thankful for your advice especially on the choice of optimism. Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. I haven't written much this year but chose to share this yesterday with my friends. I hope this might be helpful to others.

    Today is the anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. I haven’t written a great deal online about it but I feel today deserves a little something. It has been a very tough year for both myself and especially my family. I love them dearly which is what makes it so hard. I have learned a lot about cancer this year but in particular that it is just as hard on the people around you as the person going through it…just in a different way. My family is amazing, especially my husband who has been by my side for every appointment and treatment taking endless notes and always remembering the positive when my chemo brain kicks in and I forget. Thank God for the Irish and the ipad!!! Thanks also to all my friends who have been there in so many ways to pick me up and keep me marching forward. It is one day at a time. I am learning to live in the moment , which is really hard for someone who wants to control everything and now realizes how impossible that really is. I have definitely learned not to sweat the little stuff. I have slowed down a lot, I make sure to listen to my kids and remember to hug them everyday and tell them I love them because life can change on a dime. I sing loudly in the car, dance when I can and I am rocking the short hair!!! I choose everyday to be happy, to be grateful and to fight.

    • says

      Dear, Dear Jennifer. THANK YOU for sharing this beautiful post. CONGRATULATIONS on being one year out. I love that you sing loudly, dance and rock the short hair. This is amazing and the best Silver Lining of this rotten diagnosis. Sending all of my very best wishes to you! Hollye

  3. Kim C says

    Your words of gratitude landed so sweetly this morning! Just lovely, Hollye! You look stunning in your dress! And such a worthwhile cause! Bravo!!

  4. says

    You are fantastic! You speak as well as you write, and I very much enjoyed and felt inspired by your speech. It was great! No wonder they raised 1.1 million dollars.

    You looked just darling in your pink and black sundress. Also I have never seen as beautiful an outdoor tent as you had for the event.

    Thank you for sharing this event and your wonderful speech with us. 🙂

    • says

      Awwwwww, thanks Carolee! I had never seen as beautiful an outdoor tent either (which, quite honestly, contributed to the epic Nerve Bugs!). Thank you again!