TEXARKANA -- Life took a frightening and unexpected turn for Holly and Billy Smith this spring when Holly was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor called glioblastoma.
"The doctor said he thought it was a tumor, possibly cancer, and we just fell apart," Billy Smith said.
Nine months later, the couple -- both Texarkana police officers who met on the job -- are trying to put their lives back together and look toward the future.
Holly, 37, can only walk a few steps on her own, and she needs a cane and Billy's help to do that.
But with two brain surgeries, six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and a lot of rehab under her belt, Holly has fought hard for those slow, tentative steps and knows each one is moving her closer to where she wants to be.
Her voice has been affected by the tumor, but she has Billy's help for that, also.
"She has a story to tell, and I told her if you can't tell it, I will stand beside you and tell it for you," Billy said.
The couple has been by each other's side since 2006, when Billy bought Holly a 25-cent can of coke one night at work to try to get to know her better.
"There was a coke machine in College Hill that sold 25-cent cokes. I snuck down there one night and got one for her," Billy said.
They married in 2008. Billy and Holly each had a child from a previous marriage who are now 18 and 19. Together, they have a 7-year-old son, Ian.
Billy, who is from Gurdon, is a corporal in the department's patrol division and Holly, a Liberty-Eylau, Texas, native, has been a detective, primarily working domestic-abuse cases.
The couple was preparing for a vacation in March when Holly realized something was wrong.
"We have three kids, but we have always made sure to make time together. We were getting ready for a trip when she came downstairs and said her right foot was numb," Billy said.
By the next night, Holly was numb on her entire right side.
One doctor suspected multiple sclerosis but it was ruled out. Holly's regular doctor was afraid it was a tumor and sent her to Little Rock to see a neurologist. That's when the devastating diagnosis was made.
It came in April after a 4½-hour surgery. The tumor on her left side was affecting the right side of her body.
"She heard the diagnosis but had not been out of surgery long. I don't think she processed it," Billy said. "But I processed it."
He said "A strong faith in God" helped them through.
Grade 4 glioblastoma is a very aggressive tumor. A second surgery was done on April 30.
Holly came out of the surgery paralyzed on her right side. And the pain from the surgery was severe.
She spent 14 days at St. Vincent's Hospital in Sherwood, and then 21 days in a rehabilitation unit.
"On day two of rehab, they stood her up and she was falling in 30 seconds. She couldn't stand on her own," Billy said.
The couple, along with Ian, moved into a hotel in Little Rock and lived there 6½ weeks until August while Holly underwent radiation every day. She also had chemotherapy in which she took a pill for several days every 28 days.
After the treatments were complete, an MRI showed the tumor was gone.
"The radiation did its job. The chemo did its job. She's tumor-free now," Billy said.
"Finally," Holly added.
The support of fellow officers and other Texarkana residents was overwhelming to the couple. Pink Behind the Thin Blue Line, a nonprofit law enforcement support group composed of officers' families and community members, also helped.
Billy has been back at work since August. Holly is continuing outpatient therapy at Encompass Health, and just a little over a week ago she started walking with a cane.
Having to rely on others has been very hard for Holly, who has always been very independent. She is happy to take on daily chores such as washing dishes or getting clothes out of the drier.
"It makes me feel better; it feels normal," she said.
Recently, she tied her shoes with one hand, and the couple posted the video on Facebook.
"It's a good day," Holly said.
Metro on 12/26/2019