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Unbroken: The ravages of disease can’t touch Holly LeBlanc

Holly LeBlanc climbed to the top of the pyramid formed by her fellow cheerleaders. Cheering on her team, her Holland High pride was in full effect. Little did she know, her typical American teen experience would become anything but typical before she turned 20.

  Holly LeBlanc attended Taylor University during her freshman year of college. Following her freshman year, Taylor University offered her an opportunity to study abroad in Singapore. LeBlanc decided to take the opportunity and away she went. During her travels, LeBlanc fell ill. Very ill. She came back to the states weighing only 75 pounds. She arrived at the University of Michigan hospital trying to find out what was wrong with her. The doctors were able to cure her, but to LeBlanc’s surprise, the doctors found something else. It took multiple years and multiple diagnosis’ to correctly identify what they found.

 

Friedreich’s Ataxia.

 

A disease Holly and the rest of the LeBlanc family new nothing about.

 

One of the first facts they learned: there is no cure.

 

The news hit the Leblanc family like a semi colliding into a smart car. The baby of the family, the cheerleader, the varsity athlete, had just been told she was slowly dying and that her nervous system was progressively becoming damaged as time goes on.

  LeBlanc’s dreams, shattered. That yellow house with a white picket fence in Tennessee with kids running around, gone. Her life as she knew it, as she planned it, as she worked for it, destroyed.

  At first, LeBlanc was mad at the world. Why her? Why was she given this terrible disease? It took a while before LeBlanc resurfaced to her happy old self. But she was never physically the same.

   LeBlanc’s post-diagnosis life began at Central Wesleyan Church. What was supposed to be a temporary job turned into LeBlanc’s passion. After returning to college, LeBlanc used her degree to get a counseling job at the church. During her tenure at the church, years passed. She got a service dog named Delsie to help her around the house and to do tasks that her disease restricted her from doing. Delsie worked for 11 years before she retired in 2012; LeBlanc then got a second service dog named Barkley in order to help around the house due to Delsie’s old age.

  LeBlanc moved on from the church in 2016 and hasn’t looked back. “I love it,” LeBlanc said, “I retired at the right time. It’s perfect timing.” A couple short months after retiring, LeBlanc decided she wanted to make a change. LeBlanc started her own nonprofit: It Takes Hope. She has gained a huge following on Facebook. She holds weekly Facebook live sessions, talks to college kids, and tries to impact every person she possibly can in a positive way.

 It Takes Hope focuses on providing a message of hope to those who need it. Anybody needing assistance can be helped by It Takes Hope, one doesn’t have to face medical problems to receive help from the organization. It Takes Hope is her baby; things were looking up for LeBlanc. Little did she know, her life was about to change drastically.

Again.

 

Cancer, this time.

 

Diagnosed on January 9, 2017, 25 years after falling ill with Friedreich’s Ataxia, Holly LeBlanc was told she had stage four breast cancer. She was told she had less than a year to live. Trying to extend her life, LeBlanc immediately started chemotherapy in February. If the chemo worked, LeBlanc could possibly get a few more years; unfortunately, chemo takes a toll on the human body. “I was so sick,” LeBlanc said. “It was ridiculous, my life revolved around chemo… I knew what was going to happen. My doctors had told me that I was going to die within a couple years if I did chemo or one year if I didn’t do chemo. The fact of the matter is, I am going to die. And if the next couple of years were going to be filled with me feeling like crap? No, I would much rather six months to a year without feeling the way chemo made me feel.”

 

  LeBlanc’s life is ending much faster than she anticipated, but that hasn’t stopped her. She has continued to battle through to make the last six to twelve months worth it. She’s created a bucket list, attempting to pick off as many as possible before her time comes. Items on that list include riding a motorcycle, visiting California, going on a cruise. Not only is she living the last few months checking off items on her list, she is continuing to roll out her nonprofit and tell her story, hoping to inspire hope and faith to as many people as she possibly can touch.

 Dying hasn’t stopped her. “The fact that I am going to die isn’t the scary thing. I know I am going to die. I’ve known this ever since I was diagnosed with FA.  It’s a terminal illness,” LeBlanc said. Adopting the phrase #Battleready, LeBlanc took cancer head on. LeBlanc’s family is still struggling to comprehend what is about to happen to their beloved aunt/sister/daughter, but they are all so proud of what she has done to inspire others. Holly LeBlanc was dealt a terrible hand, but she has been able to make the most out of it and inspires more and more people every day.

     

  “But..but the thing that scares me isn’t dying. It’s… It’s… it’s leaving my family that scares me the most,” LeBlanc said. “ Like my biggest fear is being the forgotten dead aunt in the family. Like I understand that life must move on but, I’m scared of being forgotten,” LeBlanc said.

  Being forgotten is the last thing that’s going to happen.  Although inspiring, Holly LeBlanc won’t be remembered for her non-profit. Her laugh, her smile, her blond curly afro, the little jokes she makes that can get a whole auditorium on their knees, that is what she will be remembered for. She won’t be remembered for what she did, she will be remembered for who she was. What made her, her.  Her legacy may live on through It Takes Hope and her story, but Holly LeBlanc will always be remembered for who and what made Holly, Holly.  

To watch one of her talks, click on the link below:

https://vimeo.com/217927897

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