Holly Hammond: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
The knowledge that beating cancer has more to do with whatever drugs are out there and dumb luck than anything else. It is completely out of our control. You are not a failure if you don’t beat it. There is nothing you could have done differently, there are no diet changes or magic water or MLM schemes that would have cured you if modern medicine didn’t. We’re all doing the best we can, so be gentle with yourself. You didn’t “lose” the battle with cancer, and anyone who says that is stupid because at the very least, the cancer will die with you, so it’s a tie.
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Hammond.
Holly Hammond is an ambitious, vibrant young woman living in Los Angeles, CA spreading awareness around her shocking stage IV cancer diagnosis at age 28 and the breakthrough treatment that changed everything.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?
I’m 31, I was diagnosed at 28 with stage IV triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma. I grew in Laguna Beach, CA, except for ages 6–14, when I lived in Lake Tahoe, NV, and now I live in Los Angeles, CA. I grew up writing and making art, went to school for animation, and now work as a storyboard artist and writer. And I have an English bulldog named Matilda!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ― Neil Gaiman, Coraline
I was always an avid reader and I would use books, movies, and any stories really as a way to escape from my reality. But what’s cool about stories is that the things you learn from them stay with you. They inspire and give hope in any circumstances and you come out of the story stronger than when you went in. I read a lot to escape my treatment and drew a lot of hope and inspiration from the things I read.
How did you find out that you had cancer?
I rolled over one night when going to bed and found a lump. It was supposed to be a cyst, but somehow still had cancer in it. It just escalated from there.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
At the point of diagnosis, all I was upset about was that the surgeon wanted me to have a double mastectomy because I’m BRCA2+, and I was scared they were going to cut off my nipples. Which is the dumbest concern ever, but I just pictured myself being mutilated against my will, so it was all I could fixate on. By the time I was allowed to get my double mastectomy, I was stage IV and had been through chemo, and I wanted my breasts as far away from me as humanly possible! Including the nipples, which are made of breast tissue and would have doubled my cancer risk!
How did you react in the short term?
I made a lot of horrible, morbid jokes so that my friends and family would stop looking at me with sad cancer face. It got to the point that they were so sick of me pulling what we affectionately referred to as “the cancer card”, that it made the whole cancer thing no longer taboo and they would joke about it with me. Humor helps a lot, so laugh at whatever you can in these situations.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
I’m a huge fan of therapy, yoga, meditation, exercise, I did all of that. I read a lot, tried to see friends when I could. I tried to not fixate on my diagnosis — the statistics were really bad, so I stopped researching that kind of stuff after I had my treatment plan set. I reminded myself that I am not a statistic and those numbers don’t have to apply to me.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
I’m most grateful for my best friends, who really stepped up for me when I got sick. This isn’t something you expect to deal with in your 20’s and early 30’s. They organized a carpool system take me to chemo, as I was too sick to drive. They took care of me after surgeries. And mostly importantly, they didn’t treat me any differently and kept me feeling as normal as possible during active treatment. We’d laugh and gossip and talk just like we did at happy hours before I got sick, except we’d be at the infusion center over chemo cocktails. It really helped that they never acted like they felt sorry for me and kept their own spirits positive around me.
If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?
Unfortunately my cancer seemed to say, “Please die” but jokes on them, as I’m two years cancer-free next month!
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I learned I was too outcome-oriented instead of enjoying the journey. In example, I worked hard all through school to achieve my dream career, and was taking jobs to “pay my dues” to get there. Then when I got diagnosed, that all was gone. All that hard work, everything, meant absolutely nothing if I didn’t achieve the success that was promised. It taught me to focus more on the moment and less on the outcome, which is often times not in our control. You can enjoy exactly where you are and still have goals.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
The biggest game changer in my treatment plan was the inclusion of immunotherapy Keytruda. Without it, the statistics of living long-term were basically nothing for my diagnosis. My doctor really advocated for me to get it, and it’s important to me to share my story, teach others about new treatment options such as Keytruda, and show people that Stage IV breast cancer doesn’t have to be terminal anymore, as we’ve been led to believe. There are so many new drugs and new options available and we need to spread that message so others can benefit too and get their lives back.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
Oh, I hate cancer scams and people that try to shame cancer patients from living their lives. You should always follow doctor’s advice first, and get multiple opinions from reputable sources (like multiple oncologists at great cancer hospitals, not your crazy aunt on Facebook). But the amount of stuff I see online, like sugar causes cancer (it does not), you can’t drink alcohol (you can if your doctor approves it and your liver/immune system is functioning properly), essential oils can cure you (literally has never happened), I mean, it makes me crazy. Especially for Stage IV patients, we are never considered “cured”. You have to live your life again, as long as it doesn’t affect your treatment. So go get dessert, have another glass of wine, and please do not spend $7000 on a special sauna that “cures cancer” when there has never been research to back that up!
Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
My advice for new cancer patients is to not panic and don’t look up statistics. You are not a statistic and treatments get better every year and change all the time. You don’t have to figure out how to live the rest of your life, you’ve just got to get to the next big discovery.
5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer
- A dark sense of humor. If you can find humor in this experience, it makes things a lot easier. Plus, it’s a little fun to say the worst possible thing and watch everyone’s reactions.
- Pull the cancer card as often as possible. It’s our only perk. The “cancer card” is when you want something and for some reason someone has resisted giving it to you, you just say, “Oh, you don’t want to go to brunch? When I’m dying from cancer?” This has the added bonus of making your friends stop feeling sorry for you and instead roll their eyes every time you bring up cancer again. It kind of goes with #1. It makes things a lot funnier and light-hearted.
- Amazing doctors. Okay, this probably should have been #1. Doctors that genuinely care about you, know the latest research, treat you like a person, and have compassion are so, so important. If your doctor treats you like a statistic instead of a human being, you should definitely switch and/or get a second opinion if possible. Cancer is a tricky, complicated disease and you want someone on your side that cares enough about you to do the extra work to make sure you’re getting the best options out there.
- Postmates gift cards. I don’t know why everyone wants to give cancer patients blankets and coloring books. Yes, they are useful, but can you eat them? No. There will be many, many days where you don’t know what you want to eat, don’t feel well enough to cook, and don’t want to leave your house. If anyone wants to know what to buy a cancer patient, food delivery gift cards are it. Always.
- The knowledge that beating cancer has more to do with whatever drugs are out there and dumb luck than anything else. It is completely out of our control. You are not a failure if you don’t beat it. There is nothing you could have done differently, there are no diet changes or magic water or MLM schemes that would have cured you if modern medicine didn’t. We’re all doing the best we can, so be gentle with yourself. You didn’t “lose” the battle with cancer, and anyone who says that is stupid because at the very least, the cancer will die with you, so it’s a tie.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
I think everyone should learn how to advocate for themselves, have access to genetic testing and regular scans, and learn their risks and how to prevent cancer. If I had known that I had BRCA2, what it meant, and to get a double mastectomy in my early 20’s, I never would have had this happen. Unfortunately most people, especially young people that are told we’re “too young for cancer”, aren’t screened early, aren’t aware of the signs, and have no idea what could be waiting for them. Prevention is the best cure.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!