You never think someone you know, or even you, will get cancer. And you will never know that fighting it can ruin you financially until you have it. Holly Carter of Fresno is a breast cancer survivor who has defied some incredible odds. She is a fighter who credits her faith and will to live for keeping her going.
Holly Carter owns a communications company and is a single mother of four. She communicates for companies like the Fresno Grizzlies and Cru Winery. Holly helped the Grizzlies lower its lease payments to the City of Fresno and helped the winery acquire the naming rights to the stadium's 600 club.
Back in February 2009 Holly was diagnosed with breast cancer. That's when the worry and the big medical bills became a reality. "My major and my pectoral muscles were both involved. All of my lymph nodes had to be removed. There was cancer in all of them but one."
Her cancer was very aggressive and required six months of chemotherapy and two months of radiation. The day before Thanksgiving she went back to UCLA, where her surgery was performed. It was time to see if her treatment was working. "They told me that in fact that it had not worked and that I was going to die."
Her chances of living were one in a million. Her doctors wanted to do more surgery to slow the growth of her cancer. Holly said no thank you. "When people say I'm not afraid to die, I say have you ever been told you're dying. If they can't answer to me yes then I say you don't understand what you're saying."
Holly and her children celebrated Thanksgiving, each knowing this could be Mom's last. For nine days Holly struggled with her cancer and death. Running has always been her escape. "I ran visualizing that cancer was being killed. Because you oxygenate your body it kills cancer. Cancer cannot co–exist with oxygen."
Reflecting on forty years of life she admits she made some crummy decisions. She pleaded with God for one more chance. "You know God is God and I am not but I really felt, I felt God's grace and I felt the presence of the spirit and I really felt that I was gonna be given another chance. So I began to tell people I was not going to die."
After nine days of being on death watch, Holly Carter was convinced she wasn't dying. She went back to her doctors and ordered them to review her medical charts. "And the phone rings and the doctor says, Holly how are you? And I said I don't know doc how am I? He said you're fine. They made a mistake."
Holly went from terminal to 50–50. Odds Holly says she can live with. Holly had medical insurance but her out of pocket expenses to date teeter on six digits. "I stopped counting this morning when I got to $98,000 out of my pocket. That's not counting the monthly visits to UCLA, the gas, depreciation and the meals. That's not counting garments that you have to wear. Oh insurance costs? Oh my goodness I'm a million dollar baby."
It's taken a small fortune for Holly to fight cancer. Breast cancer's economic burden for the U.S. exceeds $209 billion a year in lost productivity and medical costs.
According to the National Opinion Research Center breast cancer patients with health insurance spend on average $6,553 out of pocket. Holly's medical bills are anything but average.
A lot has changed since she's learned she's not dying. She changed doctors, started up her own business and now pays a steep price for Cobra insurance. She's had more than 20 surgeries to reconstruct her body.
But since her new lease on life Holly says there are no bad days. "I declared war on that sucker and I still do. One of us is gonna die make no mistake and I'm betting it's gonna be you because I plan on living."
Holly has no current signs of active cancer. But doctors tell her she won't be in full remission for 15 years.
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