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On the sidelines of her son’s flag football game at Fort Knox, Holly Cusimano coaches the Packers cheerleaders, which include her daughter Mia.
“Can’t hear you,” she shouts to the girls, directing their moves by performing the cheer with them.
Between cheers, Cusimano, 33, answers her cell phone.
The Vine Grove resident and mother of five has a full plate. Each of her children has special needs, and she makes time to be active in their lives.
Her husband, Jeffrey, is a wounded warrior who works on post.
A five-time cancer survivor, Cusimano was diagnosed with lupus in 1999.
As she coaches the cheerleaders, she wears a smile and exudes energy. There’s irony in her coaching the cheerleading squad.
“I am the worst person to give a pep talk,” Cusimano said. “I can cheer other people up, but when it comes to me, I just tell myself to remember to laugh.”
The busy evening is par for course for Cusimano and part of her way of coping.
“I suffer from depression, and the busy schedule I keep helps to manage things for me,” she said. “I refuse to allow myself to feel sorry for myself, and keeping busy actually helps me.”
When she was 16, Cusimano was diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer. At that age, she said, it was very scary to receive such news, especially considering she had lost her father to an 18-month battle with cancer just three years earlier.
With support from her mother and sister, Cusimano got through the procedure to remove the cancer, but in the following years, she fought cancer again and again.
“Well, this last time was time No. 5. Having lost my mother to cancer in 2001, I made the call that I would not take part in chemo or other treatments, that if they could not remove it then so be it,” she said.
Cusimano and her husband sat down and talked to their children about her decision. That was the hardest part, she said.
The cancer did not return, and Cusimano has been cancer free for almost a year and a half.
During her battles with cancer she also received the diagnosis of lupus, a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body and can range in severity from mild to life-threatening.
“It was four days after my daughter Hannah was born,” Cusimano recalled. Her husband was out of the state undergoing military training.
The disease, Cusimano said, has been the biggest challenge of her life. She entered a program for trial study medicine to help the disease, but the lupus actually got worse.
“If I get sick right now, even with a simple cold, that could eventually kill me,” she said.
The overwhelming fear made it hard to be strong, but Cusimano has kept up that strength for her family, and it’s another reason she maintains such a busy schedule.
That busy schedule includes involvement with her children and their activities. Hannah,13, who has grade 2 and grade 3 kidney reflux and a shrinking left kidney, was team sister for Mia's cheer squad and plays the clarinet in band.
Jeffrey Jr., 11, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance disorder. He plays tackle football.
Gavin, 9, has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, and plays flag football.
Twins Aiden and Mia, 7, both play soccer, and Mia is a cheerleader for Gavin’s team. Mia has a tumor on her brain and a growth hormone deficiency. Aiden has Asperger syndrome, seizures, muscular dystrophy in his upper body and Chiari malformation, a condition which results in his brain stem being in his spinal column, causing fluid-filled sacks to form on his spine.
“Jeffrey Jr, Gavin and Aiden also do Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, while I am the Girl Scout leader for Hannah and Mia,” Cusimano said.
Her husband and children are a source of pride for her.
Having been deployed three times while on active duty, her husband suffered a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Though she does not know what lies in store for her, Cusimano plans to face her challenges with a positive attitude.
“I guess you can call it my motto: laugh at least three times a day,” she said. “It releases stress and helps you forget your worries safely.”
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or email@example.com.
MORE ABOUT HOLLY CUSIMANO:
City of birth: Martin, Tenn.
City of residence: Vine Grove.
Favorite music: “I love classical, but anything with a beat will work, that way I can dance with my younger three kids.”
Favorite authors: Nora Roberts and Charlene Harris.
Favorite movie: “Labyrinth.”
Favorite TV shows: “CSI,” “The Mentalist,” “Bones” and “Saturday Night Live” “You have to have the laugh factor," she said.
Hobbies: "I love to do crafty type things, like right now I am painting a Christmas village. I have found out that doing craft projects helps when things get crazy."