There’s a lot of good that can come from having a positive attitude. Susan Holloway can attest to that. She believes that having a positive attitude can get a person through their grayest days.
She knows that because her optimism and positivity were a large part of what got her through a bout with breast cancer in 2017.
“I have always been a positive person, ever since I can remember,” said Holloway, who is 64. “I think you can get more out of life with a good attitude than a bad one.”
All the memories of growing up on the sandy, sunshiny beaches of south Florida could be what’s powering her positivity. It could be her family and friends who all bring her so much joy; it could be her faith; it could just be her nature. But if you ask her, it’s all of the above — and she leaned on all of it to lift her up when she received her breast cancer diagnosis in April 2017.
Holloway said that over the years she’s learned a lot about breast cancer from her own readings, from her friends who’ve had it and from attending classes on women’s health. However, despite all her exposure to breast cancer, nothing could’ve prepared her for experiencing the real thing.
“When I found out I had breast cancer, it took me a day or two to dust myself off and get back up on my feet,” said Holloway. “I talked to my family and friends. I just kept telling myself that I can do this and that it’s all about attitude. I believe that if your attitude is positive, it’ll help you get through your worst, deepest, darkest times.”
Holloway says she was fortunate in her case with breast cancer, because she was able to find it earlier before it could spread to other parts of her breast tissue. She says that doing regular self-exams is what helped her spot the mass growing in her breast. She credits the early detection to self-examinations, and having learned about breast self-exams about 15 years ago at a women’s health class.
“Ever since I learned about the importance of breast self-exams, I’ve been doing them,” Holloway said. “I always chose the date of my birthday, the 11th, to do my self-exam every month. One month, I felt a small, pea-sized lump on my right breast. I knew what it could be, so I went to see my physician.”
She was referred to Raul Zunzunegui, MD, FACS, at the Comprehensive Breast Care Center in Carrollton after an abnormality was confirmed on her mammogram and sonogram. Dr. Zunzunegui — “Dr. Z” to his patients — is a board-certified, Susan G. Komen fellowship-trained breast surgeon.
“I went to see Dr. Z, and he wanted do to a biopsy on the mass to really see what the growth was,” said Holloway, a senior sales account manager at Southwire Company in Carrollton.
“I sell wire for a living, so I know well when situations are positive and when they are negative. Dr. Z never showed any signs of alarm on his face. He just said let’s grab some samples of the tissue and let’s see what it is.”
She received the results from her biopsy two days later from Dr. Zunzunegui and he explained the results with her and discussed treatment plans. She had estrogen sensitive and HER2 negative breast cancer.
Dr. Zunzunegui scheduled Holloway for a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and a sentinel node biopsy to stage the cancer.
Holloway had surgery to remove the mass on June 21, 2017. When the results of Holloway’s biopsy came back, two of her lymph nodes tested positive for cancer.
Dr. Zunzunegui wanted to do additional testing on the tissue from the tumor to determine the risk of the cancer coming back, so a MammaPrint test was ordered and he referred her to Randall Pierce, MD, a board-certified medical oncologist with Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers in Carrollton, who performed MammaPrint testing on her breast cancer.
“MammaPrint assays help us identify patients who may have low-risk breast cancers and who do not benefit from chemotherapy,” said Dr. Pierce. “Those results help us determine the best course of treatment. In Mrs. Holloway’s case, her MammaPrint showed that she had a low risk of recurrence, so chemotherapy was not recommended.”
Holloway’s tumor measured about 1.5 centimeters in diameter. Even though chemotherapy wasn’t recommended, radiation was needed and she will have to take anti-estrogen medication for the next several years to reduce the risk of reoccurrence. She’ll also make regular, alternating appointments every six months with Dr. Pierce and Dr. Zunzunegui to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.
Breast cancer came as a shock to Holloway. She didn’t have any genetic risk factors that would put her at risk for a genetic predisposition, but she learned that the most common risk factor for breast cancer is age.
While the exact cause for some cases of breast cancer is unknown, some risk factors — such as being a woman, aging, having dense breast tissue, having a family history of breast cancer and entering early menopause — have been among the factors shown to increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
“I asked the doctor about how long he thought I had it, and he said probably for about a year and a half,” she said. “I knew the importance of self-examinations and that’s how I found it. There is so much education available today on cancer, and it’s very important that people understand the importance of early detection and do their self-exams and get their mammograms. This is all a part of the preventive care that they can do to catch it early.”
Holloway said that sharing her story of breast cancer with others and educating them about self-exams and screening exams like mammograms also helped her get through her journey with breast cancer. She even began getting involved in the community, speaking at employee meetings at Southwire and making donations to Tanner Foundation to help others who have been affected by breast cancer.
Holloway is originally from Riviera Beach, Florida, which is just a few miles north of West Palm Beach, but for the past 45 years, she’s called Carrollton her home.
It’s the town where she spends time with her family. It’s located just a few miles shy of where she attends church at Veal Baptist Church in Bowdon. It’s where she works. It’s where she was diagnosed with breast cancer — and it’s also where she learned how faith, family and community makes for the strongest support system, which continues to motivate her to see the bright side of everything every day.
“In faith, there’s hope,” said Holloway. “I had faith that God would get me through this, or either he would use me to help somebody else, but I trusted him. I knew that I had to stay positive. I had great support. The doctors in Carrollton were marvelous. My family, my church family, my work family: they were a big part of it, too. Getting through this was a journey for me and I made sure that we all took it together.”