MCA Patient: Sunny Hoffman
Survivor Since: April 2017
Diagnosis: Breast Cancer
Medical Oncologist: Mark Vellek, M.D.
Chemotherapy Care Team:
- Amy Boyle, RN
- Danielle Kleithermes, RN
- Denise Huff, RN
- Erin Korman, RN
- Johanna Joes, RN
- Lindsay Hendrix, RN
- Mung Chin, RN
When Sunny Hoffman was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2017, the independent triathlete suddenly found herself on the receiving end of the same help she’d so often extended to others. It was a hard transition, she says, but also her greatest lesson. “You cannot deny people the opportunity to love you,” she says.
Sunny Hoffman had always thought of herself as an independent person. For most of her adult life, the now 41-year-old triathlete and mother has been a problem solver — the one you could count on to get things done and the first to step up and help when someone needed it. But cancer has a way of changing things, and with her own breast cancer diagnosis in April 2017, Sunny suddenly found herself on the receiving end of the same support she’d so often extended to others. Through the trying months to come, she says, that was the source of her greatest lesson.
“When you’re faced with something like this, you want to be a warrior and put on your armor and just attack it and not come across as someone who needs help,” Sunny says of the days following her diagnosis.
“But, when you go through something like this, your friends want to reach out and help you because that’s how they love you. And I learned that you cannot deny people the opportunity to love you.”
‘It was a relief we found it early’
Sunny’s cancer was discovered through a routine mammogram during her annual physical. With a family history of breast cancer, she’d always been diligent about her yearly exam, but when the phone call came a few days after her mammogram asking her to come in for an ultrasound, it still felt like a shock. Sunny had her ultrasound on a Friday, and then came the long weekend wait. On Monday, Dr. Mark Vellek, medical oncologist and hematologist at Missouri Cancer Associates and a close friend of the Hoffman family, called Sunny with the results. Sunny had breast cancer, and her battle was about to start.
“There were lots of tears when Dr. Vellek called,” Sunny says, “but on the other hand, I had suspected that it would come back positive because of a familial history, so I was also finding that inner strength to handle the diagnosis and face the next several months of treatment.
“I always suspected I could get it,” she continues, “but it was a relief that we found it early. And I knew I had the best doctor on my side to get me through it.”
Sunny had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor in her breast, but when the margins didn’t come back clear, she had to go back for a second procedure. When the second lumpectomy did come back clear, it was time for the next step in treatment: four rounds of AC chemotherapy, followed by 30 rounds of radiation.
“I lost my hair, of course, and was sick,” she says.
It was then that Sunny and her husband, Dusty, realized that, in order to win the fight against cancer, they would need to drop some walls and allow people in.
“That was very emotional for us, just being able to be in a place where we could receive support from close friends — and even friends who weren’t close or who hardly knew us,” Sunny says. “It was amazing, and it turned out to be a big blessing in our lives.”
‘I appreciate the little things’
Almost two years since her diagnosis, Sunny — who is now cancer-free — says her outlook and approach are forever changed by her journey back to health. She’s still the first to jump in and help, and she’s still independent but no longer at the cost of letting people in.
“I will say that I am much calmer; little things don’t rile me up any more,” she says. “I don’t really get nervous about what people think of me or what I do because there are so many bigger things in life that are important.”
Her family, she adds, grew through the experience, too.
“I learned how strong I was — I am — and how strong my family is,” she says. “To have my kids watch me go through that and see the strength that it took, it’s really brought us a lot closer together. And I don’t notice them being scared to try new things anymore.
“I know Dusty and I now appreciate the little things even more,” she continues. “Just time together, just simple things. We’ve placed a bigger importance now on doing things together as a family, even if it’s just an afternoon, because life is short.”
The American Cancer Society recommends these cancer screening guidelines for most adults. Screening tests are used to find cancer before a person has any symptoms.
- Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
- Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
- Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
- All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening.
Women should also know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to a health care provider right away.
Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is very small.) Talk with a health care provider about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.
Schedule your next mammogram by calling Boone Hospital Center at 573.815.8150.
For news about Harris Breast Center and patient stories, check out MyBooneHealth Blog.
Learn more about breast health in our Health Library.