Everyone knows that when you’re planning a wedding, something will go wrong on or before the big day, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. But rarely is the unavoidable wedding-day disaster as catastrophic and life-changing as cancer. Holly Hollis and her fiancé, Mark Stars, certainly weren’t expecting anything quite this drastic.
In May, about six months before her big day, the 34-year-old attorney went for an annual well-woman checkup with her doctor. That’s when things took an unexpected turn.
“I went for my annual checkup, and my doctor felt a lump, so my doctor sent me to get a mammogram,” Holly recalls. “They scanned it, and I could just tell in that moment. The doctors all got really uneasy, and one of them even had tears in her eyes.”
Holly was diagnosed with breast cancer, but that wasn’t even the worst of the news. It was triple-negative breast cancer, which is particularly aggressive and hard to treat, and it had already metastasized to other areas of her body. The disease had already progressed to stage IV before it was discovered.
Doctors told Holly that she only had about a 50-50 chance of surviving a year. But she wasn’t about to let that stop her and her fiancé from having their dream wedding and living out Holly’s final days together as a married couple. They continued planning their wedding and sought out the best treatment they could find.
Holly ended up seeing an oncologist who specialized in triple-negative breast cancer and underwent five types of chemotherapy at the same time to knock out her cancer. However, the intense treatment soon proved to be too much for her, and plans had to be reevaluated.
“I asked to do the highest level of treatment because I just wanted to knock it out as fast as I could. I mean, I was on the Long Island iced tea of chemo,” Holly says. “But after a few treatments, I started getting so sick that I realized I was going to have to take a slower, more spread out treatment plan.”
Because an extended treatment plan messed with their wedding plans, Holly and Mark decided to throw together a last-minute wedding much sooner than they’d anticipated so that they could get back to focusing on Holly’s health. With the help of some quick-working vendors and a dressmaker, the pair were able to put together a beautiful wedding on June 18th in New Orleans.
After the wedding, Holly returned to her chemo and radiation treatments, using a cold cap to help her keep most of her hair and leaning on the love and support of friends and family to get her through it. Some of her friends and family even wore cold caps with her in solidarity.
The following January, Holly had surgery to remove a cancerous golf-ball-sized mass in her chest. The scans that followed showed no evidence of cancer. Holly is still at high risk for cancer recurrence and goes back for checkups regularly, but for now, she’s cancer-free and living her best life! She has shared her experiences on TikTok and her personal blog, and she hopes that her story will help someone else in a similar situation.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?