A woman who endured four misdiagnoses and a slew of dismissive doctors before being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer has once again defied the odds.
It has been six years since Gina Hollenbeck learned she had lung cancer, news that came as a shock to the then 38-year-old mom, triathlete, and never-smoker.Read More
Like many women, Hollenbeck found herself struggling to find a doctor who could identify the reason for her nagging cough, sore throat, and shoulder pain.
Her first attempt led to a misdiagnosis of allergies, her second gastric reflux. She then endured two more misdiagnoses and cycled through several pointless prescriptions that did nothing to alleviate her pain.
So Hollenbeck took matters into her own hands. She used the connections she had as the manager of two medical clinics at the time to call in a favor and get an X-ray done herself.
That is how Hollenbeck effectively diagnosed herself with lung cancer.
Those doctors who wrote off her stage IV cancer as minor conditions then changed their tune when presented with this new information.
“Doctors weren’t really sure you know how long I would have to live,” Hollenbeck tells ABC 24. “I got some doctors saying I would only live ten months, other doctors saying you have four years to live. Well, now it’s six years later, and I’m still here.”
Hollenbeck downplays her dogged determination’s role in getting her to this point and instead credits her faith with keeping her going through all the highs and lows.
“I had this hope that one, god truly loved me and two that his plan for me was better than my plan for me,” says Hollenbeck.
It also did not hurt that she had a nursing degree to fall back on when demanding more from her doctors.
One thing Hollenbeck did not push back on, though, was her prognosis, accepting the fact that she might have just ten months to live and choosing to spend that time being present and productive rather than lamenting her lack of luck.
“I thought you know I have these young children, I’m a mother, I’m a nurse; what am I going to do with these ten months?” recalled Hollenbeck. “The truth is I just thought I better live.”
She has done just that ever since. Six years after her diagnosis, she had helped raise over $1 million for cancer-related causes and research while also taking a position on the executive board of ALK Positive.
Hollenbeck is also dealing with a brain tumor that she has managed to keep under control through constant monitoring.
She has named it Richard.
Mental Health Resources for Cancer Warriors
Gina Hollenbeck remains strong – both physically and mentally – during her cancer battle.
This news often prompts a fight or flight or freeze response, with freeze being the typical reaction in her estimation.
However, Kelly noted that it was just as difficult for these patients because they immediately started getting a lot of new information. There are several reasons for this, beginning with most people’s shock after learning they have cancer. The belief that their life depends on their ability to instantly process this detailed information contributes to that response.
This is where social workers, in particular, can provide an invaluable service.
“Your mind can go completely blank,” said Kelly. “If we think of fight or flight or freeze, freeze is a big one that happens where people feel like ‘Oh my God, I have no idea what to do.’ We can help people figure that out.”
Social workers are not only there to help with mental health issues either and can also help with financial problems that may arise or find childcare options for parents undergoing treatment.
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Mental Healing After Cancer Battle
The mental and emotional weight of a cancer battle is often difficult for family members and children.
Evelyn Reyes-Beato knows that well. She is a colon cancer survivor from a culture where people seldom discuss cancer and health in a public forum. That made dealing with her emotional and mental pain difficult until she realized that holding in her feelings made her physical pain worse.
“You have to let it out,” Reyes-Beato previously told SurvivorNet. “Your mental and your emotional help your physical get in line. If you keep all of the emotions in, the way I see it is that stuff is going to eat you up inside, and it’s not going to let you heal.”
Emotional and Mental Healing After Cancer Battle