Erika Holt was compassionate, positive, and full of life. According to her sister, Bridget, she was also hysterically funny. She really liked to make people laugh.
One year, after Erika moved into a new apartment, she invited her sister Bridget and her husband for a “gourmet meal” in honor of the new apartment. They came and of course knew they’d have a great time that evening—because Erika was nothing if not fun, and after all, it was about being together. And as the enjoyable night wore on, Bridget began to notice there was no meal prep, and the kitchen was not disturbed at all. But they kept talking and were having a fantastic time. A little while later, Erika went into the kitchen and pulled taquitos out of the freezer to a chorus of laughter. “She couldn’t cook,” Bridget says. “She had no plans to make a gourmet meal.” The gourmet part was a joke. But the togetherness was not.
Above all, says Bridget, Erika was born to be someone who cared for kids. She was an amazing mother to her son Houston, and a wonderful stepmother to Bryce and Braden. Per Bridget, she was equally loving as an aunt, and the family has so many fun stories of her with her nephews and nieces. Additionally, her work as an educator was important to her. She had just finished the classes that would allow her to work as a guidance counselor, which would enable her to be closer to her students and to help and protect those who needed it. She enjoyed and loved all kids—she had a tolerance for them that few people do.
Erika—and her memorable laughter and love—passed away on November 15, 2022, at the age of 45, of complications from melanoma, including sepsis and pneumonia.
A graduate of Northern Illinois University, Erika lived in a small town in Alabama with her husband Mike, Houston, Bryce, and Braden. She was a biological sciences teacher and soon-to-be counselor for a small private high school. She was looking forward to her new role. She loved country music, Kenny Chesney especially. She was a Cubs fan.
Erika’s melanoma journey began in 2014 when Mike mentioned that she had a spot on her back that she should get looked at. She did, and the biopsy came back with a melanoma diagnosis, Stage I. She had a wide local excision, and her lymph nodes were clear.
Five years later in 2019, she had a strange cough, which turned out to be related to a melanoma mass in her lung. After surgery, she began immunotherapy and dealt with a number of serious side effects. Then she had a pain in her lower back—more melanoma—for which she had radiation. Then liver and other tumors appeared. In the fall of 2021, she took a BRAF targeted therapy that wiped out some of the tumors and gave her very few side effects. In retrospect, that next year was a good one, with high-quality time for Erika and her family. She felt well and the treatment was working on her tumors.
Unfortunately, by the end of the summer in 2022 tumors reappeared in multiple places. By October, she was taken off the BRAF medication. In November, she picked up an infection in her lungs and bloodstream, entered the hospital, and died shortly thereafter.
Erika’s family is incredibly motivated to do something positive in Erika’s memory. They want to help their community learn about the importance of prevention, early detection, and research in melanoma.
Erika’s mom Deb and her sister Nicole are the co-chairs of the 2023 BLOCK MELANOMA walk and fun run in Waukesha, WI. Erika is the honoree.
Deb and Nicole have been extremely successful in rallying help and donations from area businesses. They’ve sent countless emails. They’ve met with the now-retired previous coordinators from Ann’s Hope (the former Block Melanoma coordinators, who retired and asked AIM to continue hosting the walk) to get ideas. They’re speaking at the University of Wisconsin, Carbone Cancer Center/AIM symposium to invite more attendees. And they’re planning on doing it all again next year!
Erika’s family hopes that the event will gather patients, caregivers, and families of survivors, as well as families and loved ones of those who have lost someone to melanoma. They hope this community of people will celebrate and remember together, all the while raising funds for research and prevention awareness so that fewer families have to experience a loss as they have.
Bridget says it’s hard to glean silver linings when you lose someone so loving and so fiercely loved. But the family is experiencing some positives, nonetheless. Perhaps the most important thing she sees is the increased closeness of the rest of the family. “We’re appreciating how precious life is with our loved ones,” Bridget says. “What are your priorities? Where are you spending time? If Erika taught us anything, it’s to enjoy our lives with the people we love.”
Erika had been looking forward to a trip to Disneyland in California with her son Houston and his cousins and aunts. She had really wanted to bring Houston. As she got sicker, the trip became even more important. It was scheduled for the weekend she entered the hospital. She—and they—did not get to go on the trip. But Bridget is determined to get Houston to Disneyland. A new trip is planned for June.
If you are in the Waukesha area on June 11, we hope you’ll attend AIM’s BLOCK MELANOMA walk and fun run. And wherever you are on June 15, smile a bit, knowing that Houston will visit Disneyland as his mom so very much wanted him to, and he, his cousins, and his aunts will joyfully remember Erika all the while.