Bringing hope to cancer patients

Anna Marie Holt has been a beacon of hope for cancer-stricken members of the Mahoning Valley for more than 30 years. Holt, with Dr. Masud Bhatti and with the help of several other Valley doctors from Trumbull Memorial Hospital, was responsible for the opening of the Valley’s first oncology clinic in 1979.

Holt has served the sick and has been touched by cancer personally, losing her own daughter, Brittany, at the age of 13 to a rare form of intestinal cancer, which eventually spread to her liver. Following her loss, she spread empathy, compassion and a helping hand to people in our valley debilitated by cancer.

Holt was drawn to a career in medicine at a very young age. She says that though many members of her family have suffered from cancer, that was not the reason she got into the oncology field.

“My classmates were not eager to care for cancer patients, so I asked my instructor to give them to me whenever possible. I wasn’t afraid to talk to them about how seriously ill they were,” said Holt.

Holt’s list of accomplishments is a long one, starting with organizing the very first Survivor Day, an event at Champion Presbyterian Church aimed at raising cancer awareness. The event celebrated its fourth anniversary in 2013, marking four years of inspiring hope and offering support for those who otherwise have little to be hopeful about. Holt has also been active in the Relay For Life for years, and associates are often surprised by how many attendees know her personally.

According to Holt, there is a certain quality that cancer patients have that draws her to them.

“If you spend time with a cancer patient, you will see how outwardly focused they are. Watching them interact in the [chemotherapy] infusion room, they chat and try to help the ‘other guy,'” Holt said.

This selfless behavior is plainly seen in Holt’s methods and the impact she has on her patients. Holt says the secret behind her “method” is patience.

“My mother said I should treat every patient like a family member. So I think you just don’t give up on them,” Holt said.

Cancer patients know Holt for her personal approach, and it is not uncommon for patients to receive her personal cell phone number if they have an emergency or need a reliable hand to hold. Friends of Holt say this is a perfect representation of her character.

Co-worker and friend Christine Rimar, who co-opened the Hope Center for Cancer Care in Warren with Holt, says her friend Anna Marie is as wonderful a professional associate as she is a friend. Rimar works in the financial wing of the Hope Center.

“She has inspired me to be a more caring and compassionate person both personally and professionally,” said Rimar.

Rimar also said that Holt would often offer to purchase gift cards for patients of her clinic that couldn’t afford gas to drive to appointments to receive their treatment.

Holt has been asked to the hospital rooms of patients nearing the end for comfort and support and, being such a strong person, she is known for encouraging strength in others. Even the loved ones of the patients she treats feel the personal touch she gives, offering a little bit of light into a dark place.

The list of examples of Holt’s selflessness goes on, from never forgetting a patient and waving to many of them at the Relay for Life to coming up with creative ways to provide extra help to those patients who struggle financially. According to Rimar, Holt forms a bond with her patients, which makes it easy to foster a trusting relationship. The better Holt knows and understands her patients, the more impact she can make.

According to Holt, citizens of our Valley can make a huge difference in easing the pain of cancer sufferers. Holt says the most important thing every day citizens can do is to reach out to those who are suffering.

“I would say, ‘Look around.’ Does your neighbor have cancer and are they in need of something anything? Of course they are. Reach out to them. Cancer is not catchy, but helping people should be.”

Due to the loss of her daughter, Holt understands grief, and Rimar explained that that is precisely why she is so effective in her role.

Even to those who do not know Anna Marie have heard of her positive influence in the Valley when it comes to support of cancer patients. Maria Cool of Niles says that she has heard from friends and family of Holt’s altruism. “I’ve heard only great things about Ms. Holt. Everyone says how fortunate the Valley is to have a person like her,” Cool said.