Patient story: Iris Holliday’s unshakable faith

Iris Holliday finds support from her friends, family, church and her dog, Jada.

Just days before she posed for the photograph that would appear in the summer 2010 issue of Providence Together magazine, Iris Holliday had learned something that she had shared only with her family and close friends. The cancerous tumor in her chest was causing her heart to fail. Without a last-ditch treatment, her doctors worried that she might not survive two weeks.

The former gospel singer had difficulty breathing, and her once powerful voice had been reduced to shallow gasps. Still, she wanted the picture. She sat on a small stool and smiled broadly into the light. In that instant, the camera captured what the naked eye couldn’t: an expression not merely of faith, but of knowing.

“I believe in medicine and I believe in God,” she says. “Between the both of them everything was going to be OK.”

Fifteen months later, Holliday’s trust seems well placed. Powerful radiation treatments at Providence Cancer Center – the only therapy her fragile condition could tolerate – shrank the tumor threatening her heart. She could breathe easier and once again walk without feeling faint.

With support from her church, and friends who invited her to recover at their home in Camas, Wash., Holliday has slowly regained her independence. Last November, she felt well enough to move into a small apartment in North Portland, and later to adopt a dog she’s named Jada.

The rare thymoma that 45-year-old Holliday has battled since 2006 persists. She’s now undergoing chemotherapy to treat new tumors and blogging about her experience. But her spirit – captured in that photograph – remains as steadfastly optimistic as ever.

“I try to focus on the positive,” she says. “And to find peace, joy and happiness in the small things.”