• After life’s many challenges, Holley Hightower remains optimistic.
by Christina Whiting
Holley Hightower is known for her warmth, humor and tenacity, which inspire her coworkers and her friends. She also inspires others with her ability to find joy in life, despite significant personal loss and challenges.
“I’ve never allowed loss to overwhelm me for long,” she shared. “I refuse to let challenges hold me back.”
At the age of 23, Hightower was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer.
“The doctors thought I was going to die,” she shared. “I had two tumors. One was eight pounds and one was 23 pounds. They told me I had a 20 percent chance of survival.”
Hightower and Wayne, her boyfriend of 18 months, married the weekend before she started chemotherapy. She was in the hospital for 63 days due to multiple surgeries and complications, but emerged cancer-free three years later, after intensive surgeries, complications and chemotherapy.
Moving forward, Hightower returned to school to complete her science degree and earned a medical lab tech license. She worked as a generalist scientist and histologist during the week, working in the areas of hematology, chemistry and blood banking. She worked weekends as a microbiologist to further her knowledge in the laboratory science field.
This year, she celebrates 10 years working at South Peninsula Hospital lab as a clinical laboratory scientist.
“Part of being a lab tech is being a phlebotomist, or the one who draws the blood,” she said. “People think I just draw blood, but actually, the lab staff performs a variety of testing.”
Hightower is also a Steward for the Teamster’s Local 959 and is currently involved in contract negotiations.
In 2003, after living in Texas for 35 years and having visited Alaska three summers in a row, Holley and Wayne wanted to make Alaska their home.
“We loved fishing and kept coming back to Seward to fish,” she said. “We also enjoyed meeting locals and learning more about the state and the towns.”
When they announced to family their plan to move to Seward, an uncle who had lived in Alaska suggested they might like Homer. On his recommendation, they were Homer bound.
“The 5,000-mile drive from Texas to Alaska was spectacular,” Hightower shared. “This was our first time driving through the Midwest. The topography and natural wonders were constantly visible and we were thrilled by the amazing scenery of Alaska.”
The Hightowers had been told of the beauty of the Kenai Peninsula, and were eager to experience it for themselves.
“When we got to Soldotna, it was cloudy over the Inlet and all we saw were acres and acres of dead spruce trees,” she said. “I thought this was the worst place I’d ever been and was going to call my uncle and say, ‘what’s wrong with you? All that’s here are dead trees. There are no mountains, no water…’”
The fog lifted as they neared Homer and the view welcomed them home. Wayne worked construction and Holley worked full-time at the hospital.
“We were very happy,” she said. “We loved Homer.”
After 9/11 and some relatives in the military were shipped overseas, the Hightowers didn’t hesitate to take emergency custody of a niece and nephew. Over the next 20 years, their family grew even more.
“We helped raise eight kids,” she said. “Six were family members and two were foster kids. We weren’t able to have kids of our own, so we thoroughly enjoyed being involved in these children’s lives.”
In 2009, while working and raising their extended family together, Wayne suffered a brain aneurysm and died at the age of 40. Hightower recalls the outpouring of community support she received, from snowplowing to meal preparation, as she grieved,
“This loss was almost unbearable,” she shared. “Had it not been for the kindness of coworkers and friends, I may not have been able to cope as well.”
Two years later, as life was returning to normal, Hightower was again diagnosed with cancer. This time, the diagnosis was Hodgkin’s disease, and while going through nine months of chemotherapy and four radiation treatments, she bonded with Kevin Lloyd, a coworker she’d been a friend with for several years.
“Kevin and I became best friends,” she shared. “We hung out on his deck and watched the World Series, talked about our years growing up and solved the world’s problems. We let life be casual with no expectations and no issues.”
In June 2012, doctors told Hightower she was again cancer free. Her community of friends, family and coworkers gathered around her to help her celebrate. Their friendship deepening, Holley and Kevin were married in August.
Hightower refuses to allow challenges to hold her back. She believes her challenges have been blessings in disguise, and her warmth, humor and tenacity inspire her coworkers and her friends.
“Someone once told me that I had a sad life,” she said. “But I learned a lot from cancer and death. More than anything, I learned how to live and how to truly love.”
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