Thriving After Breast Cancer

When Colleen Hofmeister learned she had breast cancer, it was already in her bones. Six years later, she’s thriving.

By
Kathleen Engel

When Colleen Hofmeister visited her doctor complaining of odd pains in her hand and back, breast cancer was the last thing on her mind. “I went each and every year for a mammogram, and the tests never picked up a thing,” Colleen says. Her doctor requested an MRI. “It showed that my bones were full of holes that appeared to be metastatic cancer,” says Colleen. “A breast MRI finally found a mass in my breast.”

At the same time, Colleen learned she had extensive cancerous cells in her lymph nodes. “I was 44 years old when I was told, ‘You have Stage IV breast cancer. It is treatable, but not curable. Your life is about to change forever.’”

Life, her way 
Since her 2007 diagnosis, Colleen has switched her treatment from a nearby cancer center to a cancer treatment facility a few states away—a place, she says, that provides “hugs with her drugs.” She recommends it highly. She fights cancer, she says, using both conventional therapy and meditation, prayer, massage, counseling and laughter therapy. She keeps busy raising two teenagers, fund-raising for cancer research, and writing and speaking about what it’s like to live with Stage IV cancer. And as if that weren’t enough on her plate, Colleen has returned to work at the Suffolk County parks department, where she is the contracts manager. Time, she points out, when she’s not thinking about her health. “When the time comes that I can no longer work full-time, I intend to find something I can do to keep all of my thoughts from being entrenched in cancer.”

Here, a few of Colleen’s thoughts about living well with late-stage cancer:

  • Do not go to any tests/treatments alone. “After my initial diagnosis, I found it hard to ask friends and relatives to donate a few hours of their time to attend a test or appointment with me. I now realize all of our loved ones feel so darned helpless when seeing someone they care about deal with cancer, they are happy to drive me somewhere or sit with me in a waiting room.”
     
  • Speak up immediately about side effects.After receiving chemotherapy, I developed painful sores in my mouth. Figuring I would ‘tough it out,’ I said nothing until days later. It’s bad enough we are jousting with cancer. We don’t need to be physically or emotionally uncomfortable while doing it!”
     
  • Read uplifting books. “I found the writings of Bernie Siegel [a retired pediatric surgeon who writes about the importance of psychosocial support to individuals with life-threatening illnesses] to be extremely helpful after my initial diagnosis. On any given day, I have a pile of books I am reading…from religious quotes and inspirational stories to cancer-fighting tomes and everything in between.”

Published
January 2012