Serendipity: Meeting Holly Berry

Written By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD
The Face of America Project

“Serendipity. Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for.”  Lawrence Block

I drove into the parking lot of Luzerne Lumber shortly after noon on an unseasonably warm January day.  My mission was simple. I was looking for a package of roofing nails. I needed them to make a temporary repair to a section of our roof that was damaged during the fall storms that devastated parts of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Why did I wait so long, you ask?

The answer is too long and too complicated to relate here, but I will tell you that my responsibilities as a caregiver for my wife who was battling cancer at the time had something to do with the delays. Faulty work by a contractor who promised us the world and left us holding the bag had a great deal more to do with it.

That was yesterday.  On this day my course was charted and I was determined to get the work done before real January weather arrived.

As I made my way across the parking lot to the store, I thought to myself, there are more cars in this lot than I have ever seen.

When I opened the door, an overflow crowd occupied virtually every square foot of space. Most of these people were not there to shop. They were there to celebrate the birthday of an employee, Holly Berry, who had just learned that her treatment for breast cancer was officially over.

It was a moment that rivaled any of the best Hollywood crescendo moments, and wouldn’t you know, I was without my digital camera. A 20-minute return trip corrected that.

When I returned to the store many of the guests had left, but it was my good fortune that Holly Berry, two of her children and her father were on the premises.  They agreed to visit with me so I could take some pictures and talk with them about the event.

Holly is the mother of four children.  Her dad is a distinguished looking man whose face bears the scars left by the premature loss of his wife to breast cancer and the anxiety ridden months of his daughter’s battle with breast cancer.

Holly works at Luzerne Lumber. She has taken it upon herself to inform everyone who will listen about the danger of breast cancer. The owners of the store have been very supportive of Holly.  Her friends, family and coworkers spearheaded a fundraising campaign. The pink angels customers purchase to honor loved ones who have battled the disease are displayed in a prominent place in the store. They give testimony to the success of the campaign.

During a previous visit to the store, I purchased an angel for Kitch.

Holly Berry is a woman of dignity and class. She conducts herself in a very impressive way. When she talks about her situation, she speaks from her heart. She knows the disease as a caregiver for her mother and as a patient, and she is quick to point out that it is more difficult to be a caregiver.

The most important lesson she learned from her experience is not to take life for granted, and to use time wisely.

She has kind words for Dr. Dan Kopen who was wonderful to her mother when she was his patient.  They were students at Wilkes College, and they knew one another during their college years.

Holly was equally positive about her experience at Fox Chase where she decided to have her treatments.

When I asked Holly what she intends to do with the rest of her life, she did not hesitate:

“I intend to live each day as a gift.”

Holly Berry is a face of America on its best day.  She personifies the kind of courage, determination and value based-leadership that cancer patients need to survive. She is optimistic about her future, and she is going to make the best of whatever she will encounter. She is not angry.  She does not feel sorry for herself, and she does not lament what has happened to her.

Everyone should have a neighbor or friend like Holly Berry, and everyone should have employers like the people who own and operate Luzerne Lumber. 

In that store on that day, it was serendipitous that I saw America at its best. It is an image and a memory that will last forever.

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