Survival story highlights importance of breast cancer awareness events

by Rebecca Burylo
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

10/3/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- The finish line in sight, she pushed beyond all mental hurdles, forcing her legs to extend the last few yards of the excruciating 26-mile race.

Diane Holtam celebrated the triumphal finish of her first full marathon, a milestone of personal fitness spurred on by her father's death to a rare blood cancer, multiple myeloma.

Six weeks later, she would start another race that would again test her strength both mentally and physically: her own eight-month journey to becoming cancer free.

This too, she finished triumphantly and will share her victory with other women and visitors at Maxwell's Breast Cancer Awareness luncheon at 11 a.m. Oct. 24 inside the Maxwell Club ballroom hosted by the Federal Women's Program.

FWP representative Theresa Osborne says sharing victories brings strength to those who may also be struggling.

"The biggest thing is just awareness and being in the game. Even if you are not a breast cancer survivor, it takes everyone," said Osborne.

This year's luncheon is themed "Beyond the Shock: the Road to Recovery" where Holtam will depict the rigorous measures she took in living a healthy lifestyle inevitably unable to shield her from the cancer inside her.

"I felt confident that cancer would not touch me. I worked out six days a week, ate healthy and just finished my first full marathon six weeks earlier," Holtam said.

Smaller "obstacles" were overcome earlier this month at the first annual pink and purple walk where Col. Marina Ray, commander of the 42nd Medical Group, encouraged participants to stomp out breast cancer.

"I think all of us know of someone who has been impacted by breast cancer," said Ray. "This is our chance to take a stand to support breast cancer research to make sure that in the future we'll be able to stomp out breast cancer."

Holtam's father, who retired from the Army as a chief warrant officer 4 after fighting in the Vietnam War contracted cancer from the orange agent toxin used there.

Holtam was 38 when she lost her father to cancer. His death was a turning point in her life which forced her to make drastic life-style decisions. She began running often, lifting weights and eating cleaner which would later help her stay active during her battle with cancer.

However, those decisions could not prevent the shock on the day she found a lump in her breast Jan. 22, 2010. She was 43 years old.

Visiting her gynecologist and the Montgomery Breast Center, tests revealed Holtam had stage-3 breast cancer, aggressive and rapidly growing inside her breast and lymph nodes.

The next week she began chemo treatments that would last the next 4 months.

"I felt very nauseated, however, teaching third grade at the time did not allow me to stop and think of any discomfort," Holtam said. "My work did not suffer, because I was too busy to think of the cancer."

After the surgery which followed, Hotlam was scheduled for daily radiation treatments over seven weeks which were successful in eradicating the cancer.

With the support from military friends, fellow-teachers, her students, doctors, family and especially her husband, Robert, Holtam joins the 2.9 million others who have overcome the hurdles of a long and strenuous race against breast cancer.

Holtam is now a three year survivor and looks forward to sharing her story for years to come, contributing her success to a higher authority.

"I contribute God's powerful and miraculous healing first and foremost to my successful recovery," Holtam said. "Keeping a positive attitude helped a great deal and having a body that was truly in the best shape that I've ever had made treatments a bit easier."

According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in women, will reach 232,240 new cases in females and 2,240 new cases in males this year.

To attend the luncheon and hear more of Holtam's story of victory, call Osborne at 416-4725 or Carla Martin at 953-4220. Menu items will include a chef salad or a deluxe club sandwich for $13.15 for non-members and $11.15 for club members each with choices of iced tea, coffee or water.