Super Survivor Faces Loss of Loved Ones During Breast Cancer Recovery

Kristen Becker Hoffman

Kristan Becker Hoffman

Kristan Becker Hoffman learned that the lump in her breast was cancer. It was a hard-hitting confirmation that would change her life and her family’s, but she was prepared to face it and seek the treatment to put her on the path to beat the disease.

She was 38 when she received her diagnosis in May 2012. What she couldn’t know was that two unimaginable losses would confront her in less than four months as she went through her treatment.

First, her father, Loren Becker of Jacksonville, would die of heart failure in August. About five weeks later, her husband, Bobby Hoffman, would die from a stroke.

They were a big part of her foundation as she went through treatment, and that foundation “was literally pulled out from under us.”

Kristan, of Jacksonville, is one of three women who were randomly chosen as Super Survivors to be honored at this year’s Memorial’s Be Aware Women’s Fair. The fourth annual event will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, in the Orr Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

Super Survivors are women whose breast cancer journeys have been an inspiration to others. Their unique stories will be shared with fair-goers when the Super Survivors reveal their makeovers courtesy of BJ Grand Salon and Spa and their new outfits.

A vice president at The Farmers State Bank and Trust Company in Jacksonville, Kristan began her journey when she found a lump by accident when her youngest daughter, Kolby, now 4, wanted to cuddle with her. The next day, she scheduled a doctor’s appointment to have it checked out. She had no history of breast cancer in her family. She had her first mammogram a few years earlier when she was 35, and those results were clear.

After a mammogram, ultrasound and breast biopsy, she met with a local surgeon by the end of the week. The test results showed Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma or, in layman’s terms, breast cancer. The lump was 4 centimeters wide. Stage 4 is the most severe.

Armed with this information, Kristan decided to seek a second opinion to explore her options. That’s how she connected with another doctor who suggested a genetic test to see if she carried a mutated gene that could increase her likelihood of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

It was the same type of genetic testing that actress Angelina Jolie would announce almost a year later that she had taken. Her positive test results led the actress to have a preventative double mastectomy.

Kristan’s results, which she learned in June 2012, were negative, which was good news on two fronts. She had more options on how to treat her cancer, and this meant that her daughters and sister didn’t carry the gene either.

Kristan went forward with a single mastectomy, which also included the removal of 23 lymph nodes.  Three lymph nodes, including a sentinel lymph node, were positive for cancer. The next step was to start chemo, which lasted from August to February, followed by radiation therapy, which she completed in April.

It was during that time that she lost her father and then her husband. They were on a family vacation in Michigan, and her father, Loren, hadn’t been feeling well and died during the trip. It was overwhelming, Kristan recalled. “We were all rallying around my mom” while Kristan was having her port put in to begin her chemo.

Knowing that she would soon lose her hair, Kristan decided she was going to take control of it. “I made the decision that when my hair started to fall out, I was going to let my girls cut my hair off.”

She and her husband, Bobby, celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary on Aug. 30, and a few days later on Sept. 3, she and her

Kolby, Kristan, Leah & Bobby (left to right)

Kolby, Kristan, Leah & Bobby (left to right)

girls cut off her hair. She wanted her oldest daughter, 8-year-old Leah, who was just starting to think about fashion, to understand that hair may seem like a big deal, but it’s not. “It’s just hair,” she said.

The next day, Bobby shaved his head as well, which he had always intended to do to show Kristan his love for her and support for her fight.

About a week later, Bobby suffered a stroke on Sept. 11. He had seemed in perfect health, and there had been no warning signs. He was airlifted to a Peoria hospital, but he died on Sept. 14. He was 41.

For Kristan, her daughters were her top priority. “My breast cancer took a back seat,” she recalled. “I was a mom first, a widow next and a breast cancer survivor third at that moment.”

Continuing on her breast cancer journey seemed impossible without Bobby, Kristan said, “but my family and his family pulled together and helped me through it and helped my girls through it.”

Kristan and daughters Leah, 8, and Kolby, 4

Kristan and daughters Leah, 8, and Kolby, 4

Today, Kristan’s hair is growing back, and she is trying to live every day to the fullest. Her cancer is estrogen-receptor positive, which means it can feed off the estrogen her body produces.  She will take Tamoxifen for 10 years to help suppress her estrogen and lessen the chance of her cancer recurring. She recently completed her treatment for breast reconstruction surgery.

It’s a challenge, however, to transition to a life where you don’t have to worry that the cancer is going to spread after spending so many months fighting the disease.

Kristan’s message to young women is to take charge of their health. With more women diagnosed at a younger age, it’s important to remember that breast cancer is a preventable and curable disease and to administer self-breast exams. “If you find something that’s not right, you have to be reactive to that. No one is going to be your savior. You are your only savior.”

She also recommends seeking second opinions. When she did, she learned about other options that she wouldn’t have known about had she settled for a single opinion. “Learn what your options are,” Kristan said. “You need to look out for your own health.”