Breast cancer: Those left behind

A family's fight after breast cancer

Author: Mary Baer, Anchor, mbaer@wjxt.com
Jodi Mohrmann, Managing editor of special projects, jmohrmann@wjxt.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 03:48:24 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 11 2013 10:10:00 PM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

While Breast Cancer Awareness Month is over, it's important to note, the quest for a cure goes on all year, and the lives of families who have lost loved ones to breast cancer, must go on.

Mike Holm's wife, Mary Holm died from breast cancer this past April. He spoke with us about his beautiful children he's now raising on his own.

"They occasionally say things like Mr. Mom .. or mom's in heaven, stuff like that.  But, they're doing good, they're very resilient," said Mike.

In 2012, Mary Holm shared her story with Channel 4 as she was being treated for her breast cancer.  She was still stunned over the loss of her sister Debbie to the same disease.  Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was pregnant with her third child and that's when Mary found out that she too carried the BRCA-1 breast cancer gene.

"She was tested for the gene and found out she was positive for it when her sister was going through treatment," explained Mike.

Mary and Mike had one child so far, Christopher.

"At that time, we decided we wanted another child, hopefully a girl, and we had Katelyn."

Just like her sister Debbie, for Mary (pictured below), family came first.

"We decided that, after she was done breastfeeding Katelyn that we'd go ahead and do a double mastectomy and do everything else that we should do.  You  know, but God's plan was to have Amelia," he explained.

Mike says after Amelia arrived, and Mary was breastfeeding, that's when she noticed changes like swelling and some redness in her right breast.  It was cancer.

Mary and Debbie's mom and dad, Barbara and Tom Russo were heartbroken.

"We never expected that it could happen a second time," said Barbara. 

They had to bury both their daughters after the same disease took them away. But through the sorrow, they are still so proud of how their girls stood up to the aggressive cancer that runs in Tom's side of the family.

Tom and Barbara described their daughter Debbie.

"She was very strong, she fought like crazy, I'm proud of her and I'm glad I was there every minute," said Tom.

"But then I had Mary to mourn with, you know, because Mary and I mourned together. We'd laugh, and then we'd cry and then we'd laugh again. So I had her to go through it with," said Barbara. "Basically for me, it's been harder losing Mary."

Debbie and Mary were best friends. Through their lives they did everything together.  But now, both are buried just around the corner from their childhood home.  It's a place for their loved ones to find some peace and reflect.

"I can't imagine losing two daughters. I can't imagine losing one daughter, but two is certainly devastating," said Mike.

He says his in-laws, Barbara and Tom, are the strongest people he knows and credits their unyielding faith.

RELATED: Survivors, researchers battle to end breast cancer

At the same time, Barbara and Tom admire their son-in-law's strength adding that comments on Facebook have helped with the healing.

Tom read to us from Facebook, "Michael Holm posted a photo to Mary Russo Holm's, says I love you. If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever."

We asked Mike what his hope was for the future and for his daughters' future.

"With Katelyn and Amelia so young, you know finding a cure or a genetic solution so that they don't have to go through this with their families would be my ultimate goal, quest," he said.

As for anyone debating whether to be tested for the gene, he said, ""I would go and get tested. At least you can make an informed decision, and not always wonder 'what if?'

Mike does want his daughters to know the truth about their mom's health when they are old enough to understand.

"I'll be able to tell them their mother's story and let them make the decision," he said. "Who knows what kind of technology will be available then? That's 10, 15 years away. Who knows what might be out there?"

In the meantime, his daughters are a constant reminder of the love of his life.  They look so much like Mary.

"It's a little tough, Mike said emotionally. "It makes it special...I mean it's her daughters, they're. so much like her...She's here with them, so that's good."

Mike told us the family is hopeful that his wife's story doesn't die with her,  that it helps another family make a plan.

He and Mary Holm's family and friends have created a foundation in her name to help families of breast cancer patients.  It actually was Mike and Mary's idea when her sister Debbie died of breast cancer.  They had planned to create the foundation in Debbie's name but those plans changed with Mary's prognosis.

The first event is a Low Country Boil & BBQ for all ages Saturday, November 16th at the Mandarin Country Club from 5:30pm - 10:30pm.  Ticket prices are $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 6 to 10.  Kids 5 and under are free.  All proceeds benefit the Mary E. Holm Foundation.  You can register at maryholm.eventbrite.com.

If you would like to make a donation, you can make checks payable to Mar E. Holm Foundation.  Please put attention Terri Bowman.  You can send the donation to 3901 Carmichael Avenue, Jacksonville, Florida 32207.  For questions you can call (904) 813-6369.