Triple-negative breast cancer survivor participates in research studies to give back
Michelene Holmes was diagnosed with stage IIIA triple-negative breast cancer in January 2014 at 45 years old after she noticed a tightening in her left breast.
“When I heard the news that it was cancer, I felt terribly sad and embarrassed,” says Holmes, who is a program manager in Infectious Diseases at MD Anderson.
Thanks to the support of her family and friends, as well as her MD Anderson colleagues and care team, she came to realize that there was no need to feel embarrassed.
“At first I thought this was a punishment, but then I decided to focus on how we all have our own journey in life and that I had the opportunity to use my cancer journey to make a positive impact,” Holmes says.
Now out of treatment, Holmes participates in research studies to help others facing her same diagnosis and to give back to the institution that she feels saved her life. She’s participated in 13 breast cancer research studies in and outside of MD Anderson.
“I want to give back because I feel that so many people at MD Anderson gave so much of themselves to help me while I was in treatment,” Holmes says. “I want to be an example to other women and especially those in my Black/African American community that when we participate in research, we can help other women and hopefully eradicate breast cancer altogether.”
Overcoming a fear of the unknown after BRCA2 mutation found
After her initial diagnosis, she was diagnosed with the genetic mutation called BRCA2 – giving her a higher chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer in her lifetime. This news combined with the need to have a port for her chemotherapy treatment scared her and she contemplated not pursuing treatment. Her team members and teenage daughter provided her with support as she processed her diagnosis and managed anxiety about treatment and the future.
“The fear of the unknown can get a hold on you like no other,” she says.
She began the first of 16 rounds of chemotherapy in February 2014, followed by a bilateral mastectomy that same year in July and then two months after her surgery began 30 days of radiation.
She credits her ability to get through treatment to her care team. In particular her breast medical oncologist Daniel Booser, M.D., as well as the faculty member she supports in her program manager role – Victor Mulanovich, M.D., chair ad interim for Infectious Diseases.
“They all let me cry, process my emotions and calmed my fearful questions,” she says.
Life after treatment has been an ongoing adjustment.
“So much has changed – my body and my outlook on life,” Holmes says. “But it also has helped me to seize each day and make the most of it. I know now that your entire life can change in a matter of hours.”
The importance of connections
Over the course of her 16 years at MD Anderson, Holmes has made countless connections across the institution and beyond. Aside from supporting faculty and physician assistants in Infectious Diseases, Holmes provides one-on-one support to cancer patients and caregivers through our myCancerConnection cancer support community.
Since completing treatment, she’s been an active myCancerConnection volunteer for six years.
“I’ve spoken to women all over the world,” she says. “After coming through something so personally and emotionally challenging, I’m glad that I can be a source of comfort for others. I’m here for anyone who has been touched by cancer – no matter the diagnosis.”
She also co-chairs MD Anderson’s Cancer in the Workplace Employee Network.
“When I share my experience with people who are newly diagnosed, survivors or caregivers, I couldn’t ask for a more meaningful connection,” Holmes says.