A few years ago, right about this time of year, I was living in Chicago and went to an event celebrating Saint Mary’s College with my sister. It was a gathering of alums and families who are especially connected with and supportive of the college. We were seated at a table with a woman who had caught my eye the moment we walked in, because of her striking beauty and her magnetic smile.
During our conversation over dinner, Hollye asked everyone at the table who our most inspiring teacher was. Mine was an English teacher at Saint Mary’s, a memory that led me to mention that I wanted to pursue my writing more fully, and how I was thinking of leaving my job and going to culinary school in San Francisco. It was the first time I’d really said anything to anyone outside the family about the plans that were starting to take shape. You absolutely have to do this!, Hollye said, you’re going to go for it and it’s going to be so great! At the end of the meal we had a table toast, which included Hollye saying to me: here’s to new beginnings.
She and her family were just getting ready to move to California themselves, to Santa Barbara. I kept tabs on Hollye here and there, as we tend to do when we connect with our invariably cool fellow alumnae from SMC (I always tell my mom: Saint Mary’s was the gift that keeps on giving).
It was a bright moment in time, looking ahead to new beginnings. So it was such a shock, such troubling news when Peg told me that Hollye had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s writing a blog about it, Peg said, and you’ve got to check it out.
Which I did, immediately. I had just finished culinary school and was getting set to launch Rose Water & Orange Blossoms. I was interested in seeing how Hollye was doing hers, and once I went online and started reading . . . and reading . . . and reading, I just wanted to keep reading the installments like the page-turner story that it was.
What I found on The Silver Pen blog was such honesty, and beauty, and humor, and vulnerability. Hollye was not only writing her way through her experience (why must we call it a “battle” that we win or lose?, she asks) of breast cancer, treatment, and recovery as a nurse-turned-patient, but also delving deep in every direction of her interests like literature, philanthropy, fashion, travel, family…and nourishing food—I’ve contributed a post or two to The Silver Pen’s Friday’s Fixins–and giving us all kinds of inspiration.
All of this is infused with Hollye’s emphasis on finding the silver linings in life. In other words: the more aware of and grateful we are for the good things that always do surround us even in the midst of adversity and pain, the stronger, more joyous, and hopeful we are.
Hollye’s experience brought to mind Ruth, my brother’s wife who had cancer not long before, but who had passed away with two young children at home (hers was non-smoker’s lung cancer).
And my own mother, who had breast cancer in the slow-moving wake of my father’s death. A silver lining there was that my mama takes on these things from a place of calm, from a place of what can only be described as faith. The other huge silver lining: Mom didn’t need any treatment other than the (difficult, painful) mastectomy.
Also to mind: the new, state-of-the-art cancer center that my brother Chris and his neurosurgery partners are opening in East Lansing soon. So proud walking through with him for a little tour recently (and also thinking: I hope this is the only reason I ever need to come in here, for a tour…).
The silver linings and everything else Hollye’s been writing about on her blog have sparked a huge interest in readers like me (and you). So much so that she wrote a book that is hot off the presses this week: The Silver Lining, a Supportive and Insightful Guide to Breast Cancer.
Hollye’s co-author is the amazing photographer Elizabeth Messina, whose gorgeous photos together with Hollye’s words of support and wisdom (not to mention checklists of what to do at every step of the way if you have breast cancer, or love someone who does) create a treasure of a book that inspires me to keep going with my own dreams. It’s a book that reminds me of my mama, because it comes to us from a place calm, from a place of faith and hope, a place where new beginnings are possible.