“There is life after cancer, and, for me, it is joy in every moment.”

[A Q&A with ESPN reporter and cancer fighter Holly Rowe]

Holly Rowe

As a Sports Emmy nominee, Holly Rowe has worked at ESPN since 1998 and is the network’s most popular college football sideline reporter. But that’s not all, if you watch college or professional basketball or softball on television, you’ve probably seen Holly Rowe on the sidelines interviewing players and coaches or heard her play-by-play commentating.

With a true passion for her career, Holly hasn’t let anything get in the way of it – not even cancer. In May 2015, Holly was diagnosed with desmoplastic melanoma, a rare, invasive form of cancer. Throughout her battle, she has continued working and traveling for ESPN, which has been a source of inspiration for her.

Holly is still battling stage IV metastatic melanoma. She has a tumor in her lung and is undergoing immunotherapy every 21 days. The ESPN reporter recently discussed cancer survivorship and what keeps her going throughout her cancer journey with the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation.

NCSD: Why do you celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day?
Holly: I celebrate every day that I continue to live despite cancer. It has focused my priorities and helped me focus much better at seeking out the best possible day, each and every day. 

Everyone defines “cancer survivor” in their own way. What does being a survivor mean to you?
Fighter. This is an absolute grind, and it is so easy to get worn down and discouraged. I am constantly giving myself pep talks and finding my inner strength on days I feel down. Getting up and going after the day – every single day – is a challenge, so I keep fighting and finding things to look forward to in life to keep me moving forward. There is so much about cancer I have no control over – my scans, my side effects, my treatments, but I do control my attitude and that is powerful.

Finish this sentence: There is life after cancer, and, for me, it is…
…joy in every moment. I am in wonder at all the time I have wasted in life focusing on and being stressed out over dumb stuff. I am learning to let go and just be joyful in each moment.

What do you think people should know about the realities of cancer survivorship? And do you have any suggestions for ways individuals or society can help?
We need to be talking more about preventing cancer. I am constantly shocked by the number of young people in my oncology and chemo treatment room. We can help survivorship with MUCH more focus on prevention. I am doing all I can to be an advocate and help people avoid getting melanoma. I’m working with AIM at Melanoma and the Melanoma Research Foundation to spread awareness for prevention. 

Also, being patient with those going through treatment… There are so many emotions you go through, it can be stressful, depressing, encouraging, hopeful – this giant swing of feeling. I have learned to really be honest with people when I am struggling or when I need extra care and patience. It helps them know why I am behaving a certain way or how they can help. 

What keeps you going? What inspires you?
Well, this is going to sound so weird and dumb, but I am obsessed with my job. Mostly because I love sports – as in really, really, really, love sports. I finally got a few days off and the first thing I did was go to a basketball game. Every single day I go to work I see people fight to win. I recently covered Oklahoma at UCLA gymnastics. I was tired, not feeling my best, but I showed up for work. It was spectacular. Six perfect 10’s were scored in an epic contest highlighted by a tribute to all the survivors of sexual abuse by Dr. Nasser. These teams came together to support the young women on each team who had been victims. 

I could not quit crying to do the post-meet interviews because I was in awe of the resilience of these young women. I will keep being resilient in my very different challenge. It is absolutely the best therapy I can possibly have to keep me strong and fighting by watching others do it every single day. Also, my family… I have so much more to give in life. I am desperately clinging to my job as a mother and doing it the best I can. I want to enjoy every moment with my son. There is so much I want to give as a mother, daughter, sister, friend and servant to others.

Is there anything you want to say about surviving cancer, or life after cancer, or celebrating it? What one thing do you want people to know? 
I feel funny about the word surviving because I am still so deep in the fight against this disease. I don’t want to jinx myself. But I will choose to be hopeful and pray that I will be a survivor for years to come. I am learning that there are a million little moments of joy in every day. Cancer is teaching me to stop missing the joyful moments. Stop worrying about things that ultimately don’t matter. Choose joy every single day, every moment. It is serving me well. 

I have gotten really specific about doing the things that bring me joy. Some call it a bucket list. I am keeping a joyful moments journal, and it is remarkable when I look back at the entries. It brings such a smile to my heart – simple, easy moments that make up the fabric of a joyful existence. I am not perfect, but I am learning so much about how to be a better, happier person. As hard as going through cancer has been and continues to be, I am so grateful for all I am learning along the way. 

Holly Rowe is an ESPN reporter, desmoplastic melanoma survivor, and inspirational speaker. She has teamed up with the Melanoma Research Foundation to raise awareness of skin cancer. Learn more about Holly on Twitter and Instagram @sportsiren and Facebook @HollyRoweESPN. To book Holly for a speaking gig, contact Michael Sones at (212)265-7711 or email at msones@themontaggroup.com.

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