“As survivors, we have grace, strength, and courage. Even in death, our lives are victorious.” - Holly Bertone
Holly Bertone is a powerhouse. She realized soon after her diagnosis that breast cancer was her calling. “I never thought my advocacy would go so far beyond breast cancer and reach so many people.” One year after treatment ended, Holly was diagnosed with Hashimoto's. Yet, every day, she wakes up with a passion to help others. Her health challenges drive her, because she knows others are suffering too. She wrote, The Coconut Head's Cancer Survival Guide to share her breast cancer journey in a raw, real, and humorous perspective. Her recent book, Thriving in the Workplace with Autoimmune Disease offers legal resources to individuals with autoimmune diseases.
MK: Who is Holly Bertone?
HB: I am a wife, stepmother, and daughter. I am a breast cancer and Hashimoto's survivor. I am a health advocate and entrepreneur. I am an Amazon #1 best selling author.
MK: What was your vision for your life before you were diagnosed with breast cancer?
HB: My life was perfect. I was living with my boyfriend Carter and his son. In my thirties and single, I had bought a home. I dated a lot, got my Master’s Degree, climbed the corporate ladder, traveled to fabulous places, raced my mountain bike and XTerras, I rock climbed and drank margaritas with my girlfriends. I had a carefree life. I was happy. When Carter and I met, I wasn’t ready to give up my single life. But, he won me over, and I knew I was ready to commit to being his wife and a stepmother to his son. I’d done everything I had ever wanted to do, and I was ready to settle down with no regrets, and shift my focus to taking care of my new family. I was excited for a new beginning. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on my 39th birthday. Carter proposed two days later. We married 10 days after treatment ended. I was still sick and bald on our wedding day.
MK: Do you ever wish you could go back to life as if was before breast cancer?
HB: Absolutely not. John F. Kennedy summed up Luke 12:48 quite well, "With privilege comes responsibility." Survivorship is my gift and my responsibility. I consider breast cancer (and Hashi's too) as gifts from God.
MK: What is “Pink Fortitude”?
HB: PinkFortitude.com is a health and wellness website inspiring those in the cancer and autoimmune communities to turn their illness into wellness one clean and green step at a time. We provide natural living articles, healthy recipes, and DIY cleaning products for your home.
MK: Why is it so important to integrate holistic health into the breast cancer survivorship?
HB: I've learned a lot about epigenetics, and the impact of our environment and nutrition on disease. We get caught up in arguments of semantics, when we need to look at the bigger picture. We are the aggregate of everything we eat, and come into contact with. One slice of cake won't give you cancer, but cancer feeds off sugar, and the amount of sugar you eat will increase your risk. There are many factors that come together to help cancer thrive in a person's body. I want to do everything I can to make sure my body is not hospitable to cancer any more, and also to educate others how to live happy, healthy and cancer-free lives.
MK: What word do you wish you could take out of the breast cancer vocabulary?
HB: "Lost." As in... She lost her battle with breast cancer. Survivors we have grace, strength, and courage. Even in death, our lives are victorious.
MK: If there was one thing you could change about breast cancer and how people view it, what would that be?
HB: For some reason, the word "cancer" cannot be spoken in a normal voice. People always start with a pause, and then the look, and then it's whispered. It's almost if you say the word "cancer" out loud that you will catch it, or that it's a big secret. As quiet as cancer is spoken, survivorship is shouted from the roof tops. When I was going through treatment, I kept telling people that I was still me. I needed life to be as normal as possible, and not feel like a leper.
MK: What would you tell a newly diagnosed young woman?
HB: You have a choice as to how to respond. Humor was how my husband and I coped through a very difficult year of our lives. A cancer diagnosis can feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But, be encouraged to look beyond today. Whether you have been given a "good" diagnosis or are at Stage IV and/or terminal, your life has purpose. Every day you have a choice as to how you are going to live your life. You can be a victim or you can make a difference and inspire others. I challenge you to look beyond today. There will be times to cry, there will be times to laugh. Most importantly, there will be a time to define or re-define who you are.
MK: Has cancer changed how you see adversity?
HB: I don't think it's possible to be the same person after facing death and being broken to the core. I'm tougher. I'm weaker. I'm stronger. I'm more fragile. Yet, there is nothing life has handed me that can hold a candle to what I went through. Cancer puts everything into perspective.
MK: What one word defines you?