- Real Estate
- Paris Flash
Talk to Paris ISD Business Manager Tish Holleman about the last year dealing with breast cancer and the word “icky” comes up a lot.
“The worst part is hearing that you have it – hearing the words, ‘Ms. Holleman, I’m sorry, but it is cancer,” she said. “I thought my world was coming to an end.”
What she has come to realize, however, is that the “C-word” doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. Thanks to modern medicine, many forms of cancer are not only treatable but have high survival rates.
“Calm down, breathe and talk to your doctor,” she said. “Make a plan. Work a plan.”
Holleman has been out of treatment for nearly six months. Now she has periodic follow-up appointments with her oncologist here in Paris and the surgeon in Dallas.
It started with a routine mammogram on Nov. 28 last year. The doctor’s office tried to call her at home two days later, but she missed the call. The following Monday, the doctor called her at work at Paris Independent School District and asked her to come in for a sonogram and schedule a biopsy.
Holleman said she wasn’t too worried at that point. She had been through something similar the year before when a mammogram found some dense tissue but no tumor. It was when a nurse suggested they do the biopsy immediately after the sonogram that things “started getting freaky.”
“He never used the word ‘cancer.’ He said, ‘I will send this off, and I will get the results to you by tomorrow at 3, but you will probably need surgery,’” she said. “It was going very, very fast from wonderful, blissful ignorance to oh-my status.”
She left the doctor at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 3. Holleman had a physical with her doctor the next morning, and they talked a little about the possibility of a cancer diagnosis. By 3 p.m., she had confirmation.
“I pretty much lost it,” she said. “I was a wreck from my physical on. You have young kids. You think you’re going to die tomorrow. You don’t know how to process it.”
The earlier discussion while she “still had my wits about me” did help set some things in motion. She and her physician had started making a plan, so when Holleman got the call from her oncologist, all she had to do was call her regular doctor and get things rolling. Within a week, she was in Dallas meeting surgeons and scheduling her operation. A series of body scans had to come first, however. Her type of breast cancer was aggressive, and doctors had to make sure it hadn’t metastasized before they operated.
She had a bilateral (or double) mastectomy Jan. 10 – which she described as “the least fun part.” Her first round of chemo was Feb. 5. The series of eight treatments came two weeks apart, and her final round was May 14.
“It wasn’t fun, but with all the things I had heard about, mine was not bad,” she said. “I would even call it a walk in the park compared with what some people go through.”
Holleman did what she could to remain healthy. She ate right and made sure to keep away from sick people, since chemotherapy depresses the immune system. She also said insurance approving nausea medication made a great deal of difference.
“I had the ‘nagging queasies,’ but I never threw up,” she said.
What really hit her hard was the fatigue that came with chemo.
“The first time it hit, it felt like someone was sitting on my shoulders,” she said. “I spent the better part of every other weekend in bed asleep.”
By the end of February, her hair had started falling out. After dealing with an itchy, sore scalp for a while, she had her beautician shave her head. She had originally planned for her husband Clint and children to do it, but that proved too much. She was mostly concerned about how Brody, 8, and Lindsay, 5, would react.
“At that age, everything is final – mom’s going to be bald forever,” she said. “For the longest, I would not take my hat off at home.”
The hat became a staple of Holleman’s wardrobe. She started growing “peach fuzz” a couple of weeks after her final chemo treatment, but it wasn’t until the fall before she stopped covering her head at work. A few nice hats and scarves were part of a makeover a friend helped her with before she got too far into treatments.
“I made an extra effort to look like I felt good whether I did or not,” she said. “I think that helped me.”
As scary as cancer can be, it’s not something to go through alone, Holleman said. She encouraged patients to find a support group. Hers came from several directions, including friends, family, church and work.
“I showed up to church in a hat, and everyone had a hat on – women, babies, men,” she said. “It was awesome.”
On the last day of her treatment, PISD had a districtwide “Hats Off to Tish Day” where people at all the campuses wore hats in her honor. While sitting through her treatments, she would frequently send texts to friends, who would reply with messages of prayer and support.
“You don’t need to try to do it alone; it can be a depressing process,” she said. “I had a great church, great friends, a great husband, great kids and especially a great God – and He nailed it.”
Holleman said women should not “even be a day late” for their annual checkups. Her 2011 mammogram was the first in three years.
“One year later, it was full-blown 3.1 centimeters, which for a lump is big,” she said. “It can pop up way quicker than I ever thought it could.”
As aggressive as her cancer was, Holleman said waiting another three years could have been disastrous. Which is one of the reasons October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“Mine is still so new, October is no different than September or November. Right now, every month is breast cancer month for me,” she said. “I feel when I’m a little further removed from the process, I’ll want to get more involved.”
It has, however, become more personal. Every October, women put a pink extension in their hair for awareness. In the past, it was more of a general thing, Holleman said, but this month, it really hit home when one of her staff got the extension.
“She said, ‘Look what I did for you.’ That held a special meaning,” she said. “It means a bunch.”