Bonita Holliday-Guy was just kicking back watching TV one hot August night three years ago when she felt a small lump high up on her breast. She promptly had it checked out by her primary care physician who suspected a cyst and referred her for an ultrasound.
A radiologist at Duke Raleigh Hospital looked at the scans and ordered a mammogram that day. A biopsy followed, and triple negative breast cancer—whereby breast cancer cells don’t have estrogen or progesterone receptors or the HER2/neu growth-promoting protein—was the diagnosis. Her tumor was about two-and-a-half centimeters.
According to the American Cancer Society, these cancers tend to grow and spread more quickly than most other types of breast cancer, and because the tumor cells don’t have hormone receptors, commonly used hormone therapy and drugs that target HER2/neu aren’t helpful.
This kind of cancer also tends to occur more often in younger women and in women who are African-American or Hispanic/Latina. Holliday-Guy, an operations manager for Xerox, was diagnosed at 38 with no family history of breast cancer.
Holliday-Guy’s case went before a breast cancer tumor board and a lumpectomy was recommended for that September, followed by eight rounds of chemo therapy every other week. Her oncologist was Michael Spiritos, MD, and surgeon was Lisa Tolnitch, MD, both of whom are now based at Duke Women’s Cancer Care Raleigh.
Married only four months when she was diagnosed, Bonita-Holliday said her new husband was saddened, but “very supportive.”
“I’m not going say he was as terrified as I was,” she said, “but we stayed positive.”
She said the American Cancer Society-affiliated “Look Good, Feel Better” program that offers wig and make-up tips, and the ACS Triangle web site that “features positive stories beyond the facts” buoyed her spirits when she went looking for information.
“My treatments were always on a Friday so I’d take that Friday off, wake up that morning, make myself a Nutriblast, drink some water, and go get chemo for two to three hours,” she said. “And the requirement for anyone who took me to treatment was that afterwards they would take me shopping, take me out to eat and take me home.”
Steinmart by Duke Raleigh for clothes and shoes was her go-to destination, and she also enjoyed shopping for wigs with her sister and a co-worker.
“I would change personalities depending on the wig I had on,” she laughed. “I think I ended up with five different ones. One of them was even blonde!”
Working weekdays, except on treatment days, she said, kept her mind off cancer.
Those at work who didn’t know what she was going through, she said, saw her wigs and “just thought I was trying something new.”
“One day I wore a new wig to work but I took the old one with me because I wasn’t sure just how I would feel in the new one, but I was uncomfortable,” she continued. “So I went in my office, took off the new wig and put on the old one and when I came out of the office I got all these strange looks. And one person finally got bold enough to say ‘Miss Bonita did you just change wigs?’ It just threw them off for a minute. I said, ‘Y’all gotta get used to this. I’m liable to come in my office as one person and come out looking like a different person’.”
After her chemotherapy treatments, Bonita-Holliday’s doctors discussed her cancer’s high probability of recurrence, and gave her a choice of radiation, not recommended because of her medical history, or a single mastectomy.
“It was a struggle trying to decide if I really wanted to have a mastectomy,” she said. “Though it was a little more aggressive, it put my mind at ease and the quality of my life didn’t really suffer.”
Holliday-Guy has been in remission ever since, and sees Spiritos every four to six months for follow-ups and has annual mammograms. Before diagnosis, she was accustomed to doing monthly breast self-exams, but now she does them every week.
“I don’t worry about the numbers too much, but I’m not going to say that it doesn’t cross my mind occasionally,” she said. “And I’m not going to say that I don’t shake a little bit every time I know I have to have a mammogram. But it’s not one of those things that’s stopped me dead in my tracks, and I haven’t decided to let life just stall because of it. “
Holliday-Guy, who lives in Fuquay Varina, works in Cary and was born in Coats—all in North Carolina—said she has a “great support network” here of family, friends, coworkers and her church family.
On Oct. 15, for the third year running, she will lead Team Xerox in the American Cancer Society’s 10th Annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. She said her team usually includes about a dozen family members and 100-200 Xerox employees. To join Team Xerox, CLICK HERE.
Duke Cancer Institute is local presenting sponsor at the walk, which will be held on Saturday, Oct. 15, at North Hills Mall in Raleigh, North Carolina. Team Duke Cancer Institute will be led by oncology breast surgeon and honorary team captain Shelley Hwang, MD. CLICK HERE to donate or join this team.
The Duke Women’s Cancer Care Raleigh team for Making Strides is led by Holliday-Guy’s oncologist, Michael Spiritos, MD, with oncology patient navigator Sandy Sonnessa, MSN, MBA, as co-captain. CLICK HERE to donate or join this team.