Positivity prevails despite cancer diagnosis
Cancer. A six-letter word that can initiate a rollercoaster of emotions for many.
Holly Unruh was diagnosed in February with stage-four metastatic breast cancer and says she has tried to remain positive since.
“I consider it a blessing in some ways, not a curse,” she said. “You don’t ever learn to really live unless you’re told you’re dying.”
Unruh, 42, a former Peabody resident and mother of two, lives in Cedar Vale with her longtime boyfriend, Marvin Smith, and 10 year-old daughter, Payton. Her son, Trevor Angwin, 19, lives in El Dorado and visits frequently. Unruh, a 1994 Peabody-Burns High School graduate, moved out of Peabody a few years after she graduated, but visits family and friends often.
Payton has been staying with her aunt, Stephanie Hurst, in Peabody while Unruh undergoes treatment.
While it is common for Payton to spend time here during the summer, Unruh is thankful she doesn’t have to watch her struggle through treatments.
It is a nightly routine for Payton to call her mom and check in.
After discovering a lump in her breast on Christmas day, Unruh was diagnosed Feb. 13.
“They said it was fast moving,” she said. “Then I found out it had already gone to my brain and lungs, too.”
Unruh’s boyfriend, who often travels to do ground work for wind farms, has been off since her diagnosis. Soon, he will return to work.
“He’s been the one here 24/7,” she said. “He cooks, cleans, and takes care of me. He also sees everything. Neither one of us are ready for him to go back, but he has to. I mean, how is he supposed to work on the road while he knows the love of his life is back home fighting for her life?”
Unruh wants others to learn from her positivity as she faces cancer.
“Why fuss about something you have no control over?” she asked. “You can fight it or just lay down, and especially with kids, you stand up and you fight --if not for yourself, for them.”
Unruh attributes her ability to remain optimistic to overwhelming support she has received.
Friends organized a benefit in Cedar Vale. Another group of family members and friends have planned another here.
“Help Holly Heal,” will be 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Peabody American Legion. It will feature a barbecue dinner for $10 per adult and $5 for children 9 and younger. Items including a handmade quilt will be raffled.
Unruh says it was hard to wrap her head around her diagnosis.
“At first I didn’t realize where that put me. I was kind of oblivious,” she said. “I thought I would fight it and it would be OK. Then a friend explained to me that I would never really be in remission. I was in shock.”
Unruh could feel the lump in her breast growing between discovery and diagnosis.
“When I took a shower that day (Christmas), it was the size of a grape,” she explained. “By the time I was diagnosed, it was the size of a mandarin orange.”
Unruh underwent her fifth round of chemotherapy Friday. The plan is to complete six rounds total.
“It really hasn’t been too bad until recently,” she said. “The fourth one really affected me. I have a constant sheen; my head is constantly shining.”
Unruh’s hair began falling out in clumps between her first and second treatments, yet she still finds an encouraging aspect to her journey of fighting a fatal disease.
“It’s too hot to wear anything on this bald head of mine right now,” she said. “But the sweat just drips off of you without hair or eyebrows. I’ve been having cold sweats and an upset stomach pretty bad. But I feel so fortunate because I didn’t have any symptoms until now.”
Unruh also has had to sacrifice professional dreams. After owning McDonalds Used Books in Arkansas City for several years, she faced a tough decision.
“When I got the bookstore, it was given to me,” she said. “I wanted to do the same for somebody else and pay it forward. I felt that’s what my heart needed to do.”
Unruh gave the store to a regular who came in often.
“She’s one of the best,” Unruh said.
Unruh offers advice for those with ailing loved ones.
“Some people haven’t came around at all because they don’t want to see me sick,” she said. “My advice to anyone who has a sick loved one is always make sure to be there for them, even if you think staying away will make it hurt less. You could eventually regret the time you didn’t get with them.”
Comforting goes both ways.
“A lot of times I try to comfort them more then they comfort me,” she said.
Although resilient in many areas, Unruh gets choked up and struggles through tears when she talks about her children.
“I just want my kids to continue to grow up having a loving family,” she said. “All I can ask is that they’re constantly reminded of me and never forget.
“I think of my daughter graduating from high school and on her wedding day. I’m so thankful I have sisters and family that will continue to support her no matter what happens.”
Unruh will continue to remind people to express how they feel about those they care about.
“It’s so important to tell the people you love that you love them,” she said. “That’s how I would want everyone to remember me, full of love.”
If Unruh needs confirmation that she has been instilling these qualities in her children, all she needs to do is ask.
“She’s one of a kind,” Payton said. “And I know she loves me.”