"People need to be aware of and take care of...

"People need to be aware of and take care of their health. Take care of what you've been given." - Deborah Holley

Like clockwork, every year, Deborah Holley, 65, underwent breast cancer screening and each time she was in the clear. When the grade-school teacher became a caregiver to her then ailing mother and had to juggle multiple responsibilities, Deborah hit the pause button on her regular check-ups. “A friend told me I needed to take care of myself so I could care for my mother,” recalled the grandmother of three.

Taking the advice to heart, in June 2014, Deborah underwent a mammogram and ultrasound. An abnormal finding prompted doctors to order a needle biopsy of the tumor, which revealed a stage 0 ductal carcinoma insitu of the left breast, an early form of cancer contained in the milk duct that has not spread to the surrounding tissue.

She underwent a lumpectomy in July 2014, but in the OR, when doctors removed the tumor, they found a second tumor in an area beside it that wasn’t visible on the mammogram.

Three months later, Deborah underwent a mastectomy followed by three surgeries to reconstruct the breast. Luckily, doctors determined she did not need chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Deborah says the journey had been overwhelming at times but thanks to her family and friends who stayed by her side and her Christian faith that buoyed her spirits, she felt empowered to move forward. Returning to teaching, a job she says she “loved,” gave her new reasons to smile.

Now cancer-free for seven years, Deborah says she looks at life through a different lens. She volunteers with the Adelphi New York Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program, where she helps staff health fairs and other community events to raise awareness and educate the public about prevention and detection of breast cancer.

She stressed that people of color, especially “need to get checked,” and added that that population has a “higher death rate” from the disease because it’s “often caught too late.”

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