Going through cancer is a physically and emotionally grueling process, and Holly Wallace has endured it several times over. The former senior executive of a footwear design company is a three-time cancer survivor — a cancer-killing goddess if there ever was one. Though she transferred to Nashville for her corporate job of 21 years, the pandemic shut down the business for good, leaving Holly to question her next move. Instead of wallowing, the dynamo turned her unfortunate circumstances into a career path, creating Cancer Killing Goddess, a program designed to guide and mentor women surviving cancer.
Holly has her own story of survival. Diagnosed with cervical cancer and undergoing a complete hysterectomy at 41, then beating unrelated breast cancer at 43, she is a bright light and a force to be reckoned with. Please welcome our newest FACE of Nashville, Holly Wallace.
Where does your story begin?
I had an interesting childhood because my first experience with cancer was at the age of five. I was sick a lot, and I had an eight-pound tumor removed. It was malignant, so I went through chemo and radiation. Most of my childhood — those early years, especially — revolved around that. I’m from Southern Illinois, and my dad was in the music business, so I grew up around it, which was fun and interesting. We traveled a lot with him and got to meet amazing people. I definitely had a different childhood than most people in my tiny little town of 3,000 people, where it was mostly farmers.
What prompted you to start Cancer Killing Goddess?
I’ve always felt the tug to help women or young girls going through cancer. As a kid, I remember going door to door with my little envelope and raising money for the American Cancer Society, and I’ve always volunteered. There’s an amazing camp for kids with cancer called Sunrise, and I volunteered and raised money for them for years. Sunrise probably sparked most of the ideas for me because when I volunteered for them, I usually helped the teenagers that were going through body image issues because of their scars. I can relate to that so much, so that was a fulfilling thing for me to do. It never really occurred to me to have it as a job until I lost my job. Then, I reached out to a few different business coaches, and I was like, “I don’t think I want to be in footwear anymore, but I don’t know what I want to do when I ‘grow up!’” All the ideas just kept leading to wanting to help women with cancer.
Can you tell us about your coaching?
My coaching helps women after cancer, so it’s a little bit different. A lot of coaches help people through the process. As an adult, I had cervical cancer and breast cancer, and I found that after they said, “Okay, there’s no evidence detected; you’re good,” that was when I needed more help emotionally. So, that’s where I’m focusing. I created a program called Rebuild and Thrive, and the program takes you through seven steps to get your mindset right after cancer — getting used to this tiredness that you have, but still trying to work out and eat healthily and survive and thrive in the best way. When you’re going through treatments and surgeries, everything is on autopilot — at least it was for me. During those times, I was lucky enough to have help. People would cook food and take the kids to cheerleading. When you’re cured, all of that kind of stops, but I really felt like I still needed it. It’s a big shift.
As a three-time cancer survivor, what would you say is the biggest challenge you’ve endured?
Through all of it, I would say the hardest part was infertility because of the chemo, radiation, and drugs. I had an ovary and a fallopian tube removed when I was little, so I wasn’t prepared for the infertility piece. I think my mom tried to prepare me; she always talked about adoption. She definitely planted those seeds, but a lot of my struggles were in my 30s when I had miscarriage after miscarriage. Finally, I kept a pregnancy to 25 weeks, and then my water broke, and I had a stillborn daughter. All of that was really, really hard. I ended up going the route of adoption for my first daughter, and that was very hard, too. I thought I was taking the easy way out, and it wasn’t really that easy! It’s all of the aftermaths that you don’t think about and that the doctors don’t necessarily prepare you for. All of that is what hurt me and what I struggled with the most. That’s why helping in the aftermath is important to me. I want to call to light that cancer doesn’t get to “go away” because of all of the different things [that come after it].
What is the most important piece of advice you can offer to someone who’s just gone through cancer?
It really helps to be open about the issues that you’re still going through, so my biggest piece of advice is to be open and talk. So many of my clients say, “I don’t want to be a burden still.” After you’ve gone through it, especially if you’re a mom or working, you feel like people have bent over backward for you for however long. You think, Now I’ve got to be strong. I’ve got to be the survivor. We’re warriors and survivors, but my advice is that you don’t always have to be. You’re allowed to say that it’s still not okay. That’s freeing once people can do that.
What do you do for balance and self-preservation?
I love to meditate, and I can’t live without it. I have to have some alone and introspective time, and I didn’t give myself that time for many years. After the two cancers that I had back to back — the cervical and breast cancers — I was like, “I need a minute, and I should be able to take it.” So, that meditation time is important. I need that to ground myself, or if I’ve had a crazy day where I over-scheduled myself. People share very intimate, personal things, and I get affected by them because I can relate. If I need to sit in my closet for five minutes and do a little meditation, I do.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
To jump in and follow my dream. It changed my life and made me so happy. It was a big leap because I was the breadwinner of our family. It was a big change to go from that to, ”Okay, now I’m going to make zero, but I’m going to be really fulfilled.”
Outside of faith, family, and friends, what are three things that you cannot live without?
Chocolate, travel, and books.
Thanks, Holly. To learn more about Cancer Killing Goddess, visit cancerkillinggoddess.com.
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