17 Years and Counting!In February 2013, Sissy Hoffman of Whitemarsh Island, Georgia, celebrated 17 years since surgery (extrapleural pneumonectomy) for mesothelioma in her left lung at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
She teaches 8th grade to special education students. She swims when the weather is good and has taken up yoga, which helps with her breathing. She’s about to return to kayaking, which she hasn’t done for years. She glories in time spent with her husband of 34 years, Joe, two grown daughters, and three grandchildren. Dancing is just about the only thing she no longer can do – “I get winded after a couple of minutes.”
An annual checkup, including a CT scan, interpreted locally then sent to Boston for a second review, is her only brush with the clinical side of her disease. She remains diligent about all other preventive health measures – regular mammograms, blood pressure and cholesterol checks, and Pap smears.
Though she doesn’t come to Boston very often, she does serve as a resource for others facing a similar diagnosis. “There’s a video of me on the IMP’s website,” she said, “and I get regular calls from people who are looking for information. I feel as though I have to tell my story – people need to know that there is help available and that they can get through this.” She’s also gotten calls from people who learned about her through Google, YouTube, and Facebook.
What is the secret of her survivor’s success? Hoffman has a few thoughts on that.
One is research. “I remember my doctor telling me ‘I can extend your life, but I can’t cure you.’ My surgery 17 years ago is different than what they do now and that is because of research. Today’s research ends up being tomorrow’s patient care. What was learned about me has helped the IMP team and the patients who have come after me.”
“My surgery 17 years ago is different than what they do now and that is because of research. Today’s research ends up being tomorrow’s patient care. What was learned about me has helped the IMP team and the patients who have come after me.”
Another is teamwork. “Everyone on the team brings their own expertise, which covers all the bases for comprehensive care. But they also bring their sense of commitment. These people were always there when I needed them, and are even now. Their personal and professional commitment has helped me survive.”
A third is what Hoffman calls “the power of one” or the ability to touch lives and make a difference. “The IMP team has saved my life, and I hope I am able to pay it forward,” she said.
Finally, there’s faith and prayer. “When I was diagnosed, there was a massive effort on my behalf – everything from prayer groups to marathons with my name on t-shirts. So many people had prayed for me. So many people had done good things in my name. When I went to Israel in the summer of 2011, I went to the Wailing Wall where people write prayers and stick them in. As I was putting my paper in the wall, I thanked God and all the people who have been part of my survival.”