Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

The new year is a time when many people make resolutions to reaching goals, being healthier and having a more positive outlook on life.

Holly Brannon is an advocate of the proverbial phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In fact, she’s made lemonade out of two pretty big lemons — having breast cancer … twice.

“We all read and hear that early breast cancer detection saves lives through mammograms,” Brannon said. “And I am proof that this statement is absolutely true.”

Holly, director of residential marketing for The Lodge, was diagnosed with breast cancer two times, 13 years apart, in the same breast. Her first cancer was diagnosed through a screening mammogram, and the second cancer was detected with a diagnostic 3D mammogram more than a decade later.

“My first time having cancer, it was found through a screening mammogram during my annual exam,” she said. “There was a spot in my left breast, and they determined it was early stage 1.” Stage 1 breast cancer means the cancer is small and only in the breast tissue, or it might be in the lymph nodes close to the breast. At the time, Holly was working for a radiology practice.

“Here I was, working for radiologists specializing in mammography,” she said. “I did breast health care seminars, support groups and health fairs encouraging women to get their mammograms, so of course I was aware of the facts about breast cancer, but it was still a shock to hear I had it. It is still very scary to have someone tell you that you have cancer, no matter how much you know or what the circumstances are.”

Through her first battle with cancer, Holly tried her best to stay positive, believing she was going to beat it — and she did.

“I really strived to be mindful and thankful for all the things I have in my life,” Holly said. “The cancer wasn’t my whole life story — it was just a chapter, and I wanted to approach it with as much positivity as possible. I had to make it a priority to take care of myself and listen to my body — rest when I could and needed to, eat right and walk when I could as exercise really helps stimulate the brain.” After 31 sessions of radiation, a lumpectomy and seven years of medication, Brannon was finally cancer-free.

Having now had breast cancer once and knowing she had dense breasts, Holly got diagnostic mammograms each year for her annual exam. Screening mammograms are usually used to detect breast cancer in women who have no apparent symptoms, while diagnostic mammograms allow for more images of the breast tissue from more angles.

“The reason why I say to make sure to schedule your mammogram on time is that I was three months past the time to get my diagnostic mammogram the year I was diagnosed with breast cancer the second time,” Brannon said. “I was beating myself up thinking if maybe I was on time for my mammogram, they would have caught it earlier or I wouldn’t have had to do so many treatments the second time around.” Even though it was a different type of cancer that was found in the same breast, thankfully it was slow growing and still in stage 1.

“I was not going to have cancer in the same breast twice and then risk getting it in the other. Once I finished four months of chemotherapy, the doctors wanted my body to rest about a month, and then I had a double mastectomy. I’m just so proud to say I made it through cancer twice and that I’m a two-time breast cancer survivor.”

In her role at CarDon, Holly enjoys developing relationships with the residents and their families, connecting with the families and following up with them — letting them know she is caring for their loved one.

“That’s the rewarding part of what I do — helping others. And from someone who went through breast cancer more than once, my message is for women to help themselves by getting their mammogram scheduled. If you’re nervous or have concerns, I’ll go with you! Just do it, it’s easy, and it could very well save your life.”