At 50, Linda Hollerbach was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent chemotherapy, radiation, a mastectomy, and two reconstructive surgeries. Ten years later, melanoma reared its ugly head. It was during this time she discovered the healing power of creativity.
“I make a joke about my birthdays on the aughts,” Hollerbach told Growing Bolder. “At 30, I got gray hair; at 40, I got eyeglasses; at 50, I got breast cancer; and at 60, I got melanoma.”
Now at 62, Hollerbach said she’s not afraid of turning 70.
“I say, ‘Bring it on,’ because whatever comes my way, I’m going to get over it. I’m going to keep on living,” said Hollerbach, co-owner of Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café, a popular German restaurant in Sanford, Florida. She and husband, Theo, turned the daily operations over to their daughter in 2020. Now, the couple have more time for other interests.
An artistic chronicle
One of Linda’s longtime interests is art, which has helped her cope as she discovered the healing power of creativity. A mixed-media art structure that stands in her studio chronicles her journey.
“I started by painting a gray body, because I had a vision of me gray and dying on the morning I woke up for the mastectomy,” Hollerbach recalled. “I drew the marks on the body where my doctor drew on me before the surgery.”
Each addition told her story: a piece of hair that fell out; red and white beads representing the catheter into her chest; beads for chemotherapy treatment, including black ones for what she called the “horrible” doses. She added 36 green beads for the radiation laser treatments.
“I got so sick they couldn’t give me my last two treatments,” she said quietly.
Cards and emails from supporters were attached; other beads represent the lymph nodes that were removed.
“That is when I started beading and making bracelets again,” she said. “I gave out these beaded bracelets I made to whomever asked about it.”
Using her creative powers to heal was an important part of her journey.
“The last piece that went on was the bracelet my friend, Trish, gave back to me on the one-year anniversary of my clear, no-cancer date,” Hollerbach said. “I went around and showed the piece for a while and talked about my journey, but then I didn’t want to think about cancer anymore. The longer you survive, the less you think about it. But it still bugs you every now and then.”
Ten years after her “all clear” from breast cancer, Hollerbach discovered she had melanoma on her upper arm.
“I thought, ‘What? I don’t need that!’ she said. “I already had one round of cancer. I don’t need it again.”
Hollerbach had the melanoma removed and focused on her new life as an artist. She says she is not afraid to die.
“When you die, there’s nothing you can do about it,” she said. “What is sorrowful is what the people that survive go through. That’s the pain you don’t want to inflict on other people.”
Hollerbach looks forward to turning 70. She trusts in the healing power of creativity.
“Whatever 70 throws at me, I am going to get it. I’ll punch it right back,” she said.