She helped women ‘keep their beauty’ through cancer. Before she died, she had her own wish

Holly Carter, 50, died May 28, 2019, after a battle with breast cancer. Carter, a well-known businesswoman and former Fresno City Council candidate, was open about her battle.
Holly Carter, 50, died May 28, 2019, after a battle with breast cancer. Carter, a well-known businesswoman and former Fresno City Council candidate, was open about her battle. JERRY DUNCAN

One woman got her dream wedding.

Another dreamed of being a model, so she got to walk a mini runway. A third was given a fancy outfit and makeup for a glamorous photo shoot.

All three women were fighting different types of terminal cancer. Their dreams came true thanks to a nonprofit run by Holly Carter, who was fighting her own battle all along.

Ten years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Carter died Tuesday. She was 50.

Throughout her journey, Carter had a goal to not let cancer get in the way of things. Just before her diagnosis she was the chair of the Fresno County Republican Party. Then, with a degree in communications from Fresno State, she went on to establish her own public relations business, Carter & Co. Communications.

She also ran a campaign for Fresno City Council District 6, but lost.

In between, she was raising four children as a single mother.

Her devotion to help others lived through her nonprofit work with The Face of Cancer, which she founded to restore the sense of beauty to women fighting cancer, according to her friends.

Carter was helping women “keep their beauty,” said friend and former councilman Jerry Duncan.

“I’ll tell you what, she gave 100 percent of herself,” Duncan said. “She was fighting right to the end.”

Carter’s cancer treatment had become less and less effective in the last year, Duncan said. Each day brought the growing fear that it would be Carter’s last, he said.

A giver who had made the dreams of other cancer patients possible, Carter had turned to friends for help fulfilling her own wish of making sure her children were taken care of when she was gone. She announced publicly in early May that she was entering hospice and requested the support.

A GoFundMe page set up for Carter raised more than $14,000 for her funeral expenses.

“I simply cannot find the words to say how much this means to me,” Carter wrote on her Facebook page before she died. “How can I ever ask for more in this world?”

Tom Kokoska, who met Carter in public relations work then became a good friend, said Carter was politically adept and a “mover and shaker” with a deep interest in improving the Fresno region.

“She was a tough cookie,” Kokoska said, noting that Carter was often in the presence of male leaders as a woman paving her own path. “She was not all about herself.”

Carter’s professional work as a public relations specialist in Fresno landed her in the middle of some high-profile situations.

She became a voice for a group of Fresno residents demanding clean water after discolored water and corroded pipes were discovered.

Duncan said Carter took particular pride in working with the community group, Fresno Citizens for Clean Water.

“Even though she didn’t get paid for it, she wanted to do it,” Duncan said.

Holly Carter

Born: Sept. 20, 1968

Died: May 28, 2019

Hometown: Fresno

Occupation: Businesswoman

Survivors: Mother Pamela Joan Carter-Mayo and father Thomas Carter; Children Tess Knight, Christian Carlton, Hannah McKay and Hope Birges; Sister Heather Carter and brothers Thomas Carter and Christopher Carter

Services: 11 a.m. June 1, 2019, at The Well Community Church, 4545 N. Palm Avenue, Fresno, CA 93704

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Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado is a general assignment reporter at The Fresno Bee. He grew up in Porterville and has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Fresno State. He is a former student editor at the Fresno State and Fresno City College newspapers. His hobbies include reading, sleeping, running and taking care of his dog.