Five cancer diagnoses, other health problems have created mountain of medical bills for Farmington woman

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FARMINGTON — Dianne Holgate was diagnosed with her first form of cancer — melanoma — at age 27.

Since then, the 51-year-old Farmington woman has battled five different types of cancer and faced other serious health issues. She was hospitalized in 2009 with septic pneumonia, and doctors amputated both of her legs below the knees, forcing her to spend four weeks in intensive care.

“You cannot recover from that kind of financial stuff,” Holgate said.

Today, her health problems are far from over. Holgate is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and a malignant tumor called liposarcoma. Earlier this year, she also learned she has Lynch Syndrome, a disorder that can increase a person’s risks for many kinds of cancers over a lifetime.

To help Holgate with her medical bills, many of her friends and relatives have organized a fundraiser. Called Hugs for Dee, the event on Oct. 10 at Kiwanis Park will feature games, a book sale and live music. Holgate’s daughter also set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the cause. Funds raised with help both Holgate and one of her sisters, who has also been diagnosed with cancer.

Despite her earlier diagnoses, Holgate said she didn’t suspect anything unusual until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April. At that point – which was before doctors told her about the liposarcoma – she began to wonder if she had a genetic predisposition to cancer.

“I’ve never met anybody who’s had four kinds of cancer,” she said.

But genetic testing came back negative for genes linked to the types of cancers she has battled – breast, ovarian and uterine cancers and lyposarcoma and melanoma. Doctors told her she had bad luck, but Holgate said she was suspicious.

“I knew inside myself it was not luck – unluck,” Holgate said.

So she pursued additional testing in Salt Lake City, which revealed she has Lynch Syndrome. She learned the disorder likely came from her maternal side – her mother and aunt both had cancer and one of her sisters was diagnosed with colon cancer this year.

Holgate also knows she passed on the syndrome to the youngest of her three daughters, who will now need to go through annual screenings and doctor appointments.

Still, Holgate did have some luck on her side. Each time she was diagnosed with cancer, it was stage one.

“She’s been the poster child for early detection,” said one of her sisters, Andra Stradling.

Holgate is a strong advocate for catching cancer early on. She said if she hadn’t gotten a screening in April, her aggressive breast cancer could have been much worse. A year later, she could have been facing Stage Four cancer.

“You have to know your body,” Holgate said.

She also stressed finding medical professionals who listen to their patients.

“They don’t know your body,” she said. “They’re only going by the information that you’re giving.”

Before her breast cancer diagnosis, Holgate kept busy with three jobs. She was a professional baker, picked up shifts as a substitute teacher and worked at a clothing store.

In May, her health forced her to quit all three, though she still manages to continue teaching Sunday school at her church. Because chemotherapy has weakened her immune system, all of her students get a squirt of hand sanitizer before entering the classroom, Stradling said.

“They call it ‘a squirt for Sister Holgate,’” Holgate added.

Currently, Holgate has one more round of chemotherapy in a four-round bout. In addition to losing her hair, she has also undergone a double mastectomy. And the chemotherapy has caused her skin to blister and peal.

“It basically burns from the inside out,” she said.

Physical symptoms aside, Holgate acknowledges her health problem have taken an emotional toll. She said she has accepted she may not "live to be a little old grandma.”

“You come to a point when you can face your own mortality,” she said.

Despite that, she said she is coming to terms with her new reality.

“I want more time with my family, so I’m willing to go through this crap – these side effects and things,” she said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

If you go

What: Hugs for Dee fundraiser

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 10

Where: Kiwanis Park, 3540 E. 30th St., Farmington

Cost: Admission is $1.

More info: Call 505-320-0160. Go to gofundme.com/deedees for donate.

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