Holly sat in a daze under the fluorescent lights of the same hospital she had given birth at just three months ago. Her mother grabbed a chair and took a seat beside her, while they anxiously awaited results from her CT scan.
Only hours earlier on Jan. 29, 2016, while giving their 3-month-old and 1-year-old a bath, Holly found herself struggling to speak and think of the words she wanted to say. Troubled by these symptoms, Holly’s mother drove her to the local hospital while her husband Matt — a police officer — worked the night shift.
Concerned that she was having a stroke, the medical team immediately whisked Holly back for testing, where they discovered a tumor on the left side of her brain. Within mere months, Holly went from delivering a baby boy to doctors diagnosing her with a grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma. The emotional rollercoaster left Holly in a state of shock.
“When I originally had the diagnosis and saw the tumor, I thought there is no way I can live with this,” Holly shared. “I have a 3-month-old, and I’m never going to see him turn one. I had this precious little baby that I couldn’t nurse anymore, and I couldn’t have any more babies. I had so much going on mentally that I couldn’t even think about anything else.”
With the support of her family and friends, Holly underwent surgery, a year of chemotherapy by pill, and 30 rounds of radiation.
Event Fundraising Gave Holly Hope
Matt learned about Race for Hope-DC following Holly’s surgery. They formed Team Holly Grace, which raised more than $34,000 in its first year, earning the top fundraising team honor in 2016.
“In the beginning, Race For Hope gave me something to look forward to,” Holly explained. “It was just a big celebration and a lot of fun. It was something that our family really needed at that time, so fresh into a diagnosis.”
Team Holly Grace has raised more than $175,000 since its inception to advance cutting-edge brain tumor research and treatment development.
“This has been pure grassroots fundraising over the last six years,” Matt said. “Just friends and family busting our butts to support scientific research for brain tumors and push for better palliative care.”
Race for Hope is more than a fun event and fundraiser for the Gibbons family. It’s personal.
“This event means more than words can describe to my family and me,” Holly and Matt’s daughter, Zoey, explained. “It gave my mom what I think she truly needed: hope. Hope that she could push through — no matter how brain cancer had affected her or our family — with a purpose and a goal to help not only her own future but the future of others diagnosed with a brain tumor.”
Advocacy Helped Matt’s Voice Be Heard
Because of the likelihood of Holly’s tumor recurring, Matt knew he wanted to do more beyond fundraising. Matt felt that participating in Head to the Hill, NBTS’s signature advocacy event, would give him a voice in influencing public policy.
“My focus was funding research because the recurrence rate for brain tumors is so high,” Matt said. “That second time around, there are fewer options medically. Now is our time to really apply pressure.”
Matt found it uncomfortable initially to tell his story in front of strangers at the 2017 Head to the Hill training, but he took comfort in knowing that the other advocates understood. The day of training prepared Matt for his congressional meetings.
“The next day was still emotional, but also kind of therapeutic to talk about it,” Matt shared. “It was rewarding to get through to the staffer or member about how important the cause is and that there’s real people, real faces behind every story. Watching a member or staffer get emotional hearing a story makes you feel like you’re getting through, and the funding will be there.”
More than 18,000 NBTS advocates like Matt across the country continue to affect change at the local, state, and national levels every year.
A Family United Against Brain Tumors
It is moments like Holly’s celebration with family and friends at the 2022 Race for Hope-DC finish line that epitomizes the love and support she has to help navigate her brain tumor experience while fundraising to accelerate breakthroughs in research and treatments.
“I want to see my son get married,” Holly said. “I want to see my daughter get married. I want to see our oldest daughter graduate college. From the second I was diagnosed, that’s been my biggest fear. I find it so important to try to find a cure.”
Whether they’re participating in Race for Hope-DC or appealing to members of Congress to take action, Matt and Holly are unrelenting in their quest to conquer and cure brain tumors — once and for all.