Mattapoisett resident and wellness advocate Dr. Mia Holland has spent her entire life driven to succeed at anything she put her mind to accomplishing. At an early age she was questioning her parents, asking the proverbial “why” when confronted with something she didn’t quite understand, and responding “no” when achievement was denied.
“I was never a follower,” said Holland. “I was very bossy. I was independent and controlling,” she confessed during a talk she gave at the Mattapoisett Library on November 24 titled “The Journey to Health, Happiness, & Well-Being: Thank you, Cancer.”
Holland admitted that the title might seem odd, but she explained – in sometimes explicit detail – how she found her way through the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis, to secure her health, and even found love. “Good can come from bad,” she said.
Up until two days before Christmas in 2016, Holland’s life had been on a very steep upward trajectory. She admitted to being a Type-A personality, in constant competition with herself to achieve success. By the time she was 30, she had earned a doctoral degree in psychology, was a certified personal trainer, and a realtor.
“I was teaching in a university setting,” said Holland. “I thought… ‘this is it.’”
Holland had always taken exceptionally good care of her body, eating a diet low in saturated fats with a heavy emphasis on plants and grains. She worked out daily and, admittedly, became a bit “self-righteous” about healthy lifestyles. “But the universe was about to tell me everything wasn’t alright.”
Going about her daily activities, she was surprised to find a small lump deep within the side of her breast. It surprised her more than alarmed her; after all, she was healthy, had just had her annual check-up – everything was just as it should be. She ignored the first warning shot of what would become her greatest challenge.
When she noticed the lump was still there two months later, she went back to her doctor. Here, Holland cautioned women to be vigilant.
“Tumors can be very hidden,” she said.
In the doctor’s office, the tumor could not be found. Eventually, and with much insistence, she received immediate diagnostic imaging; an ultrasound found the tumor.
In telling this part of her journey, Holland urged all to advocate on their own behalf. She said appointments for specialized testing are available – waiting days or even weeks isn’t absolutely necessary, but pushing the limits is often required.
“I told them I wasn’t leaving without an immediate appointment,” said Holland.
There was that ultrasound, the mandatory needle biopsy, and then the wait.
“I wasn’t prepared for how things were turning out,” Holland said.
Holland and her partner were in shock during those weeks as they attempted to process what was happening and what next steps to take. She said she tried to distance herself from what was happening, saying, “My body had failed me.”
The follow-up appointment with the oncologist was Holland’s next challenge.
“The doctor told me I wasn’t going to die,” said Holland, but the standard protocol wasn’t one that Holland was willing to accept. “She told me that after surgery there would be 30 rounds of radiation and then five years of Tamoxifen,” and possible side effects that included ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, and stroke. For her, that was unacceptable. Holland agreed to surgery but insisted on following a holistic approach thereafter.
Holland had already been using holistic methods in her health regimen. Her announcement that she was saying “No” to chemotherapy and radiation didn’t sit well with the Boston medical team.
“They tried to scare me into it,” she said. “[I was told] ‘You will die if you don’t do what we say.’” Holding steadfast in her opinion that her pathway would not be their protocol, she had the surgery and returned home.
Today, Holland is cancer-free. For her, a holistic approach to health such as massage, chiropractic treatments, and detoxing from head to toe worked for her, although she knows not everyone would select these methods. She reflected on how a cancer diagnosis can feel as though one is separated from everyone around them.
“It’s the loneliest place you’ll ever be,” she said. “…The cancer bubble.”
Even with support, she said, she still felt alone.
Throughout her cancer journey, Holland gave credit to the loving support of her “sweetheart” with whom she traveled from the dark side of the initial diagnosis to the relief of receiving blood test results that announced “no evidence of disease.” His gentle presence eventually eroded her mantra of “never getting married,” but, “One thing had been missing: a loving relationship,” said Holland.
“The positives have outweighed the negatives,” Holland concluded of her journey thus far. Today, with the belief that future blood tests will continue to confirm that her health is intact, she is sharing her experiences, but she said, “I’m not disparaging the medical community.” However, with rising cancer rates, she is concerned there isn’t enough being done to prevent cancer.
Ultimately, Holland’s message is one of hope, regardless of the medical decisions someone may make.
“There are multiple medical choices and they are all respected, but this was my choice.“ In the end Holland discovered that “there is good in every bad,” and to never say ‘never’ when love comes knocking.
By Marilou Newell