As a palliative care nurse, Hollye Jacobs is trained to help the sick but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, she was forced to quickly switch roles. In her first book The Silver Lining, co-written and photographed by Elizabeth Messina, Jacobs documents her personal journey to healing in the most honest and insightful way (with a bit of humor to boot). Below, Hollye chats with DuJour about what women with breast cancer can expect, one patient’s resilience and life’s most real lesson.
As both a healthcare professional and a cancer survivor, what’s been your greatest lesson?
I learned that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Cancer doesn’t happen in isolation, it happens to an individual, her family, her friends and her community. Each person wants to identify his or her role in the diagnosis and treatment. One of my friends assumed the role of food organizer to ensure that my family was fed—even if I couldn’t eat! Another friend was my emotional picker-upper. She would literally put on her flannel snowman pajamas and climb into bed with me and watch television. Another friend helped with childcare, school pickup and drop off and play dates.
What surprised you most about the entire process?
I wish that I had known how long and challenging recovery was going to be. As a patient, I thought that after treatment was done I would feel better, but the reality is that healing from the collateral damage from treatment takes an incredibly long time.
In your book, you talk about a patient who was particularly inspiring to you.
A patient did inspire my own resilience. When I was a hospice nurse, I vividly remember caring for a woman with breast cancer. She was in her late 40s with two young daughters. I remember playing with her girls feeling utterly helpless because I didn’t know what to say or do with them. After all, I was in my late 20s. I wasn’t yet a mother and I hadn’t been trained in talking with children. Yet, somehow this woman—this dying woman—put the staff at ease by talking about all of the positive things in her life, the things that brought her joy like watching her children play, the smell of food cooking—even if she couldn’t eat it—having a day without pain. She taught the staff—and more importantly her daughters—about resilience and finding silver linings, seeing the light—even a sliver—in the darkest circumstances.
Which leads us to the name of your book.
The title stems from the fact that from the time of my diagnosis, throughout treatment and recovery, I found hope by looking for silver linings, even on the darkest days when I was suffering from the collateral damage of treatment. Now here’s the thing about silver linings: unfortunately, they don’t take away the anxiety, nausea, hot flashes or insomnia that can come with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, but they do provide balance and perspective.
How are you doing now?
I am fantastic, thanks, though I still deal with fatigue which never seems to go away.
You were diagnosed at 39 years old, but this year marks your 44th birthday. How will you celebrate?
Taking a long hike in the morning, having lunch with girlfriends and dinner with my family. Cancer taught me to enjoy the simple things in life.
The Silver Lining is currently available for pre-order. It will be released March 18th.