Holt, above, managed a smile for the camera during a chemo treatment in St. Thomas.
When Brian Holt awoke one day in April with severe pain in his abdomen, he had no idea the next six months would send him in a whirlwind of doctors, oncologists, chemo therapy and surgery.
While his ordeal is one of community and personal support and determination, Holt is now trying to make sure the help he received from the American Cancer Society is available to others who must grapple with the reality of cancer.
Holt is part of the committee which is organizing the first ever St. John Relay for Life American Cancer Society fundraiser, set for Saturday, February 19, at the Winston Wells ball field. By sharing his story, Holt hoped to send home the message that cancer can affect anyone out there.
When the St. John hospitality manager went to see a doctor about his pain in April, he was immediately sent to St. Thomas for an ultrasound.
“I was on the ferry that afternoon to St. Thomas,” said Holt. “They told me I had to go see a urologist on St. Croix immediately. I was on a flight to St. Croix that Thursday and he admitted me to the hospital that night.”
“He told me, ‘you have cancer until proven otherwise, but you’ve got it,’” Holt said. “I told my girlfriend of six months that I had cancer and the next morning I had an orchiectomy.”
A biopsy eventually revealed that Holt did indeed have testicular cancer. Three CT scans later, Holt was also told that the cancer had spread to his abdomen.
“Right after I got back from St. Croix, I went for three CT scans — pelvis, abdomen and chest — to see if it had spread,” he said. “I had to send the disc to my urologist on St. Croix and that is when we found out it had spread to my abdomen.”
In early June, Holt flew to New York to meet with surgeons at Memorial Sloane Kittering, where he was planning to have the surgery to remove the cancer from his abdomen.
“I met with the surgeon and oncologist and they spelled out the plan,” said Holt. “I had Stage 2B Testicular Cancer, which means it had metastasized from its original location to my abdomen.”
Holt returned to St. John and underwent four cycles of chemotherapy over a three month period at Charlotte Kimmelman Cancer Center on St. Thomas.
“I would go for five hours a day, five days a week and then take off for two weeks,” said Holt about his chemo treatments. “They wanted me to stay in New York, but I wanted to come back to St. John. I was still working at the time.”
As Holt managed through his chemo treatments, a bout of neutropenia landed him in the hospital for several days.
“At one point, my white blood cell counts got so low I was in isolation in the hospital for three days,” he said. “But the facility on St. Thomas was great. My girlfriend would take me over on the 8:30 a.m. barge and we’d try to back on the 3:30 or 4:30 p.m. boat.”
The local chapter of the American Cancer Society covered the cost of Holt’s transportation to St. Thomas for treatments, he added.
“I couldn’t take the ferry because I was in pain and I couldn’t be around that many people with my white blood cell levels so low,” said Holt. “The American Cancer Society reimbursed me for the travelling expenses, which was a really big help.”
After working out a payment plan with the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, Holt traveled to Indianapolis for a surgery to remove the cancer from his abdomen on September 29.
“I couldn’t believe how amazing everyone was,” said Holt. “The people in the waiting room, the nurses, the doctors, the guy who wheeled me out — everyone was amazing.”
Once again the American Cancer Society helped out by covering the cost of Holt and his girlfriend’s round-trip plane tickets.
Following successful surgery, Holt was released from the hospital less than 72 hours later. He spent a month recuperating in North Carolina and flew back to St. John on Halloween. While he still faces CT scans, blood work and X-ray exams every few months, Holt went from diagnosis to remission in a half a year.
“It was a total of six months,” he said. “I was diagnosed on April 28 and I had my surgery on September 29. It was a hell of a six months.”
Since his return, Holt has been helping to organize the first ever St. John Relay for Life, helping to recruit teams and plan a knock out survivor’s dinner. His motivation is simple — to make sure others in his position are able to get the kind of help he did from the American Cancer Society.
“Going through this, you kind of start realizing this is bigger than just you,” said Holt. “Anything you can do to help the fight against cancer is important. I lost my mother to cancer when I was 12.”
“I fought it for me and for her,” Holt said. “I continue to fight and try to keep giving back.”
All of the funds raised at the St. John Relay for Life are for the local American Cancer Society chapter, and the funds remain in the St. Thomas/St. John District, Holt added.
“One of the big things about the Relay for Life is that all the money is staying right here,” he said. “I know everyone has been touched by cancer in one way or another. If you haven’t been touched recently, you will be soon.”
Organizers of the first St. John Relay for Life are still looking for sponsors and teams. For more information about the event or to donate, call event chair Mary Bartolucci at 642-1629.