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After 15 Years of Clean Breast Cancer Scans, My Cancer Came Back. Now, I’m Fighting for My Life a Second Time

My name is Nancy Hofmann, and I am 73 years old. I live in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, and this is my breast cancer story.

My first bout with breast cancer was 15 years ago when it appeared on a mammogram. I had no symptoms. Even my treating doctor at that time couldn't feel a lump – only a biopsy confirmed it. I had surgery and also was treated with radiation implants. For the next 10 years, I had yearly mammograms and yearly MRIs to monitor myself. After 10 years, the MRIs were discontinued, but I still had yearly mammograms.

Skip to Jan. 31, 2022, when I had another annual mammogram. I was so confident that I'd just have my usual good news. Instead, I was shocked and very deflated when the tech said the radiologist wanted to see me. The radiologist showed me the prior year's mammogram and compared it to the one from 2022. He showed me the dark "spot" that hadn't been there the previous year in my left breast. He explained to me that it had ragged edges that were more indicative of a cancerous tumor than a benign.

At that point, my memory is a little foggy. I was totally shaken, but the staff in the office had already heard the news and were very kind and gentle with me when I reached the outer office to schedule whatever needed to be done next. Fortunately, the kind office staff immediately connected me with an incredible surgical oncologist, Chand Rohatgi, MD. Again, someone had my back – and Dr. Rohatgi had a cancellation that very afternoon if I wanted to come back at 3 p.m. Indeed, I did.

During the appointment, Dr. Rohatgi explained the next step: a biopsy. His secretary helped me schedule it at Breast Health Services at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest about a week and a half later.

At my biopsy, everyone was so nice, caring and empathetic. I was a nervous wreck before and afterward, but they calmed me down with soothing sounds of the beach and tender care. One held my hand during the biopsy, which turned out to be a simple process. A follow-up visit with them was scheduled to review my results.

Soon after, I returned to Breast Health Services for the official biopsy results and a tentative overview of the next steps. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time (it was not a recurrence of the first breast cancer – instead it was a new diagnosis) and would need to undergo a mastectomy.

I was given options of different surgeons to go with, but I decided to stay with Dr. Rohatgi. We got right down to business a few days later, and my surgery was scheduled the following week. From the day of my mammogram to the day of my surgery, it was only 23 days. My care team was on it.

The surgery went well, and the staff was tremendous. My next step was to meet with radiation oncologist Jeanette Blauth, MD, who is so knowledgeable and empathetic. She explained why I needed radiation treatments, and I had utmost confidence in her. I underwent my therapy at LVH–Hecktown Oaks.

Radiation went well. Again, the staff was excellent. I was greeted by name every morning by the outer desk staff. I was always greeted by the radiation therapists and treated with the greatest respect and kindness. I got to know the other patients in our "patient only" waiting room. We shared our concerns and progress, and we cheered each other when one of us "graduated."

During the time after surgery, I also was receiving occupational therapy through Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) at Rehabilitation Services–1621 N. Cedar Crest. Again, I received excellent care from kind and friendly staff. I met oncologist Rachel Kinney, DO, who gave me a very detailed explanation of my type of cancer, and why or why not chemo would be advised. She told me what the long-term treatment would be and answered all my questions. I am now taking a medication called Arimidex for five to 10 years, and my care team is keeping their eyes on me. I already have next year's mammogram scheduled.

In all, I couldn't have asked for better, nicer staff and treatment during one of the worst times in my life. The staff understands that we patients are terrified, and we are treated with such gentle and understanding care. For me, the quiet atmosphere at LVH–Hecktown Oaks helped me get through the whole process. My visits at LVHN’s main campus at LVH–Cedar Crest (with convenient parking) and LVH–Muhlenberg were equally positive. I have no other words of inspiration other than for others to trust these wonderful, competent doctors and staff. They will get you through this. They are why I am currently enjoying time at the beach in Delaware, enjoying the rest of my life!

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

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