Cancer affects millions of Americans every year — statistically, nearly 40% of men and 36% of women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Dawson County News employee Holly Nonnemacher recently opened up about her six-year journey with tumors on her thyroid.
In 1999, Holly had a cold. And it would change her life forever.
“I had kinda not been feeling well,” said Nonnemacher. “I had a cold, and the doctor felt my neck and said, ‘well that’s not supposed to be there.’”
Holly spent the next six years in and out of doctors’ offices, from general practitioners to endocrinologists. Eventually, she was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist who suggested a biopsy on the mass growing in her throat.
“When the tests came back, they said it was cancer,” recounted Nonnemacher.
Holly didn’t know what to feel.
“It was a total mix,” she said. “I was scared a little, but I was also kind of relieved.”
After six years, she had an answer to what had been causing her so much pain and sickness in her neck.
“At least they could do something now. At least we could address it,” Nonnemacher said.
For Holly, the most important tool in her battle with cancer was a good support system.
“It’s like, everything,” she said. “I can’t imagine going through this experience and not having my friends and family.”
After radiation, Holly was forced to live with a friend because she wasn’t allowed to go home and be around her sister and nephews. She was still emitting radiation.
“I couldn’t hug her. We could be in the same room to watch a movie, but across from each other. I had to eat off of paper plates, and all of my food had to be put in separate bags in the trash.”
After about a week, once her radiation levels were low enough, she went home.
“My sister took me to and from my doctors visits, she read up on the foods I was allowed to have and not allowed to have, to this day she keeps a file of all my medical stuff, and then my nephews came in every day. I have a little stack of cards — every morning they made me these little cards.”
That support was part of what gave Holly the strength to keep going.
“Just the peace that I could rest and recover, and that I had someone who would make my follow ups, call my doctors, and take care of me. That’s like everything. Because if you’re feeling sick and you’re recovering, I can’t imagine having to also be my own support system,” Nonnemacher said.
“Of course, those people are out there,” she added. “People do it. Those are the real strong people, who go through all that stuff and don’t have the support system. That’s strength.”
Thankfully, Holly has been cancer-free since 2005.
When asked what advice she had for anyone just beginning their journey with cancer, Holly just smiled.
“Take a deep breath, first. Second, you don’t have to do all the steps and have all the answers to your entire process today. My dad always says ‘just do the next thing.’ You don’t have to look at your whole scheme and be overwhelmed and paralyzed. Just do the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing.
“And that might be ‘I’m going to stand up today and make a phone call.’ That might be how close your ‘next thing’ is. You might not be looking at the next big thing. You might be looking at ‘I’m going to get up today’ or ‘I’m going to make the phone call’ or ‘I’m going to make a list.’”
“I would also say, perspective,” added Nonnemacher. “Laughter is huge. It’s just so important. Anything you can find that makes you laugh and brings you peace will help you heal.”
As a final word of encouragement to those currently battling cancer, Holly recommends connecting or reconnecting with faith.
“It’s peace that passes all understanding,” she said. “There’s something so huge to be said for faith. I’ve seen faith work miracles in people’s lives, and not just in healing but in the peace it gives you as you heal.”
“Ultimately, I think this is my final takeaway from everything I’ve been through,” said Nonnemacher. “Life is so very short. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow. I think you go through this and your perspective changes on what your priority is. The things that you’re panicked about and stressed about, almost all the time are not important. We spend our time being paralyzed over things that have no power over us, and once you go through something like this, you realize how little any of those things have power over you, except the power you give it.”