Not so long ago, Holly Caster worked in hospitality at Beaumont Hospital in her Michigan hometown, coming up with creative ways to make patients’ stays more comfortable.
There was the flash mob she planned for a high school senior who’d been hospitalized and couldn’t go to prom. There was the laptop, CDs and company-keeping for a young pregnant woman confined to bed rest whose family lived 50 miles away. She gave cancer patients afghans in their favorite color. She planned in-hospital celebrations for weddings, anniversaries, and new babies, all to help people cope as best they could when life dished up the unexpected. Then the unexpected happened to her.
First, an auto accident left painful after-effects that required her to quit the job she loved. And then, at 34-years-old, Holly was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, an uncommon form of oral cancer. The resulting surgery removed 70 percent of her left parotid or salivary gland and stripped the facial nerve, where a 2.4-centimeter tumor had been attached. Suddenly, the tables were turned, and she found herself on the receiving end of a health care system she once worked for.
At the beginning of her treatment, which was a combination of chemotherapy and proton therapy, Holly shared, “I’m trying to remember that happiness gets you through it.” She arrived at Provision CARES Proton Therapy Knoxville with her two daughters, sister Kimberly, and her mother. Their family was able to settle into a rental house nearby to face eight daunting weeks of treatment together. Holly’s partner Richard stayed home in Michigan to work, take care of the pets, as well as the girls during the last part of Holly’s Knoxville stay.
“It was hard,” said Holly. There were nights she recalled sleeping in the bathroom, her sister waking her up every two hours to make sure she got something in her stomach that was rebelling from chemo, when she didn’t think she could take one more treatment. But she did. Thanks to her family, a cadre of friends to whom she turned to throughout for support (one of whom set up a GoFundMe page to help with expenses) and the staff at Provision, who Holly admitted lived up to her high standards for hospitality.
“Everyone is so wonderful at Provision,” Holly said. “It just doesn’t feel like a cancer treatment center.”
But there’s no place like home, and that just where Holly is now. She was welcomed by her kids, Richard, a cake and a new gazebo, decorated with Welcome Home posters from hometown friends, as her immune system was still too fragile for them to greet her in person. “My dog is very happy I’m home, and for the first week the cat just stared at me in disbelief,” she said. “Just being with my family right now makes me happy.”