Holly Bertone was riding in a Metro car during rush hour one hot August afternoon in 2010 when she receieved a call she could barely hear.
It was her 39th birthday, and on the track between Braddock and King streets, the caller's words finally broke through: "You have breast cancer."
“My doctor was actually on vacation, so someone else from her office called me,” Bertone said. “The train was packed and you could barely hear...I’m on my cell phone and a doctor who I’d never talked to before said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, you have breast cancer.”
A few months prior to receiving this news, Bertone said she discovered an unusual lump in her breast in early July and immediately scheduled an appointment with her primary doctor.
Her doctor explained it was common for women under 40 to have “lumpy, fibrous breasts,” but it was best to schedule a mammogram and additional tests to be on the safe side. After taking the mammogram, the doctors told her Bertone needed to be scheduled for a biopsy.
“It was then that I knew that this was bad,” Bertone said. “I didn’t have to wait for the doctor to actually call and tell me. I knew at that point that it was bad.”
When she received the news, Bertone said it was still a shock for it to officially have the words spoken. “I was expecting it, but it’s still a ton of bricks when you get the phone call,” she said.
Two days after receiving the news, Bertone’s boyfriend proposed to her. She said they had been looking at rings and planning, so the proposal wasn’t a complete surprise. Bertone said her boyfriend, Carter — who’s now her husband — “took the news like a champ, and was very supportive.”
“He knows that I like doing things for myself, so during all my treatment he helped me when I needed help, but also let me do things for myself because that’s what I needed to keep my sanity,” Bertone said.
After receiving the breast cancer diagnosis, Bertone underwent a lumpectomy — which she jokingly referred to as “a silly name for something so serious.” She also went through chemotherapy and radiation.
Fortunately, it was a slow-growing tumor and Bertone and her doctors detected it at an early stage.
“It’s one of those things where when you have cancer, you can fight,” Bertone said. “You wake up and you fight every single minute of every single day. You have to do everything that you possibly can to beat it, to get it out of your body and get healthy again.”
Bertone said family members and loved ones can help with things around the house such as meals, but they’re really helpless to the actual situation and it’s sometimes tougher on them. This is what Bertone said was most frustrating to her fiance because he couldn’t make her feel better.
“It's just having to have faith in God, and the doctors and the medicine would take care of it,” Bertone said.
Bertone’s cancer treatments ended March of 2011, and she and Carter were married 10 days later.
“I was pretty sick and bald on our wedding day,” she said, “but it was worth it.”
Bertone said there were days she felt low during and after her treatment, but she wanted to pick herself up as well as help other women who had cancer and felt the same way. To put out a positive message, Bertone created the Coconut Head’s Cancer Survival Guide, a website to help boost women’s self-esteem during cancer treatment.
Kickbox for a Cure
On Saturday, Bertone and other supporters will participate in the Kickbox for a Cure fundraiser event at the Northern Virginia Mixed Martial Arts Gym in Arlington. It begins at noon.
Before moving to Mount Vernon, Bertone often took kickboxing classes at the gym. When she received the email about Kickbox for a Cure, she contacted Chau Bui, co-owner and program director of NOVA MMA Gym, to thank her for hosting the event and to show her support.
Bui said they partnered with Avon Foundation for Women, and the event will recognize October as Breast Cancer Awarenes Month and raise money for the Avon Walk in Washington, D.C. in May 2013.
“We wanted to do a fundraiser, so we thought it was a good idea to partner up with a fundraising organization so we can do something different,” Bui said. “We have a large presence of women at our gym; I thought we could support something like breast cancer research because it’s a good cause.”
During the event, participants will pay $30 for a fun hour-long kickboxing class. There are different times throughout the day when supporters can participate.
“It just like a fun cardio, kickboxing twist,” Bui said. “It’s a full body workout. We have people coming in who have never done kickboxing before, so we’re catering to everyone. The purpose of the event is to have fun, so they don’t really need to know kickboxing to join in on this class.”
Kickbox for a cure has currently raised about $1,600. Bui said for the Avon Walk, one person has to raise at least $1,800, so she hopes Saturday’s event will raise about $2,500 for the cause.