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Grounded in gratitude

An estimated 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Greta Hoff learned she had breast cancer in January 2021. This is her story in her own words.

Greta Hoff

As the end of 2020 neared, I found myself reflecting on the year. What a year it was! With the immense pain and suffering throughout the world, I was filled with an intense empathy for those so deeply affected by the pandemic and immeasurable gratitude for my many blessings in life. I was surrounded by loving family and friends, all of whom had successfully avoided infection, including my parents and two college-aged sons. I was feeling so very lucky to have made it through the difficult year with all that I had.

On December 29, I nervously went to my six-month mammogram/ultrasound appointment. I had been put on the six-month cycle about two years earlier when the radiologist noticed a change in my imaging. Mammograms have always caused a high level of anxiety for me. My grandmother had breast cancer. And at age 37, at a baseline mammogram I had requested, a biopsy was ordered on a suspicious spot. Thankfully the result was benign. For the next 11 years, my mammograms were frequently followed by further imaging but always ended with a benign diagnosis.

The December 29 appointment was different. This time, after reading my mammogram and ultrasound images, the radiologist ordered a biopsy on the opposite side of my previous one. She was not overly concerned but uncomfortable sending me on my way for six more months. Luckily, I was able to schedule the biopsy for the following day.

On January 4, I received the call I have been dreading and expecting for years. After many difficult images, I always had a gut feeling that it was a matter of when, not if, I would receive a breast cancer diagnosis. The doctor wanted to see me in the office that afternoon. I had cancer. The words are still painful, almost surreal, to utter.

As I sat in the exam room with my husband and my incredibly calming doctor, tears streaming down my face, my mind raced. Dr. Manoj Shah gently and thoroughly explained my diagnosis, reassuringly emphasizing it was stage 0, non-invasive, very early cancer. He drew diagrams, elaborated on the implications of the diagnosis and presented treatment options. I could either have a lumpectomy followed by radiation and five years of a preventative medication or a mastectomy with the possibility of radiation and meds to follow, depending on final pathology. Before making a final decision, I was sent for an MRI that would provide one last look at my breast tissue to make sure there weren’t any larger masses that the mammogram and ultrasound missed.

After a clean MRI (other than the known spot), I opted for the lumpectomy. A mastectomy sounded so scary and intense, especially for stage 0, non-invasive cancer. On February 3, I underwent the lumpectomy, thinking that this would be the day I would once again be cancer-free.

Unfortunately, as cancer journeys frequently go, this was not to be the case. The pathology indicated more stage 0 cancer, not visible on any of my imaging. There was no way to know how much. Another lumpectomy could be attempted but it would be a blind attempt. No images highlighted the additional cancer. Clear margins would not necessarily mean I was cancer-free.

With this, I made the fear-filled decision to undergo a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I was not convinced that my other breast was cancer-free, given the results of the lumpectomy. To say I was terrified is an understatement. But, in my mind, there was not a choice. I had to do this to regain my health.

I am blessed to say I now have a cancer-free date:  March 11, 2021. On this day, I put my faith in my incredible care team at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. I had a bilateral mastectomy and immediately began the reconstruction process. The multifocal stage 0 cancer in my right breast was successfully and completely removed. I am surgically cured with no further treatment needed.

As I continue to heal physically and emotionally, I often search for ways to convey how I feel about my journey. No words can begin to express the level of gratitude I have. Each and every day I am in awe of science and what my medical team was able to do. I am so blessed to have access to top-notch care, family, friends and colleagues whose love has carried me through this battle. My blessings in this life are endless. So, while the past several months have been challenging, I am still one lucky lady.

How you can help

Advocate Lutheran General Hospitals’s breast cancer care, services and survivorship programs are all supported by philanthropy. You can help ensure women like Greta have access to the best cancer care possible by making a gift today.