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Imagine receiving two pieces of life-altering news in a matter of three days. One survivor not only experienced this, but came out the other side with a positive outlook and a humorous book, too.
Eleven years ago, Stephanie Hosford received two pieces of life-changing news within the span of three days: she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer and she found out she was pregnant — all while also adopting another child at the same time.
In an interview with CURE, Hosford shares her story and explains how her book, titled “Bald, Fat and Crazy” came to help others through their own cancer journey.
CURE: So, you received two pieces of life-changing news in a matter of three days: a triple negative breast cancer diagnosis and finding out you were pregnant. What was running through your head when finding all of this out?
Hosford: Total confusion and disbelief. I couldn’t believe everything was happening at once. But, overwhelming fear really was the overriding emotion because I had no idea what was going to become of me or the pregnancy. So, that was my initial reaction.
Can you tell us about your treatment options, and ultimately, how shared decision making with Dr. Paz led you to the treatment you received?
My treatment options, I didn’t really know at first what would happen. I didn’t know what stage I was, or type, if I’d have to go through chemo or anything. Before meeting with Dr. Paz, my husband and I had met with three other (oncologists) and they told me my treatment options were surgery and chemo and possibly radiation, but that I should not continue with the pregnancy. So, knowing that I had to go through all of that because (of my) triple-negative diagnosis and being only 37, they really wanted to put me through all of the treatment available.
So, we went to Dr. Paz at City of Hope. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to hear for a fourth time what I’d have to go through and having to terminate my pregnancy. But I went, and when I went to see Dr. Paz he told me that I would need chemotherapy and surgery — so he agreed with the treatment plan – but the difference was that he said I could keep going with the pregnancy, that they knew how to treat me while I was pregnant.
What kind of a relief was that for you?
That’s what I wanted to hear. I just wasn’t hearing it from the other doctors. Something in me was telling me that this can be done. I had done a little bit of research on it, and I knew that it had been done before, it’s just that it wasn’t necessarily recommended. And this was also a while ago, and there wasn’t as much evidence that it could be done. There were no studies on it. You can’t really treat people, or that this was an ok thing to do. So, I think most doctors were afraid of taking all of that on. But City of Hope was not. Once Dr. Paz told me they would do treatment, and that they’ve done this before and they could do it for me, it made all of the difference. Going in there completely devastated to that appointment, I actually came out with hope and a smile finally. That night I took my first prenatal vitamin. It changed everything. I had pretty much given up on the pregnancy. I regained my hope in medicine and myself.
And how is your health today?
I’ve been totally cleared and what they say is cured. It’s been 11 years, and I feel fine. My daughter is 10 years old, and everything is fine. She gets straight A’s, and she is like a totally kick-ass soccer player.
We often talk about the new normal, after receiving a cancer diagnosis and about to be a mom of three, how did you approach finding your new normal?
Cancer definitely changes you, your outlook, your physical body and such. I’ve come back from everything as much as I possibly can. I would say the new normal is more of an emotional one, especially this far down the line. My family changed. Things got a little crazy — although they are always crazy, I have three kids. What family with three kids isn’t a little crazy? As far as emotionally, it’s always going to be different. If people come to me with issues, as far as cancer is concerned, for advice or something, I think that I would tell them to put things in to perspective. That’s actually very true. You need to try not to worry about those little things. Some days it’s hard because it’s been so long that it’s hard to remember what life was like before all of this. Eleven years is a long time to have the new normal. I accepted the new normal a long time ago.
Why my new normal was a little different was because it wasn’t just cancer. It was the pregnancy, the adoption, too. It was all rolled in to one new normal. There was a huge change as far as our family went, but it’s hard to separate out what was cancer-related and what was just associated with our family growing by two more kids really quickly. If that happened without cancer, that would still be a crazy new normal, right?
The cancer part is a little different. There is a before and after cancer mentality. It is hard to remember what it was before, other than the fact that I never really thought about cancer. I used to think, “Oh, that doesn’t happen to me. That happens to other people.” So, it sort of breaks the seal on that whole idea that things can happen to you, and you tend to be more alert. That’s true of any cancer survivor: You realize it can happen to you.
You wrote a book, Bald, Fat and Crazy — can you tell us more about the book?
It’s just about my story. The bald part, of course, being the cancer and chemo part. The fat part was the pregnancy. And the crazy was just all of it together. The reason I wrote it is because, when I was going through all of the cancer treatment, it was really hard to find a book that wasn’t super clinical or just wasn’t very positive, or was a little too irreverent of cancer. It’s still a serious disease. So, I just wanted people who are going through anything, any rough time. But cancer, people can relate to it. It helps them just to have someone else to relate to, and also it has a lot of humor believe it or not. It has a lot of humorous parts where people can relate, and it’s helped people from what I’ve heard. If it helps people get through a rough patch with cancer, then that is great.
What are you hoping the book does for others going through their own cancer experience?
I really want people to read an honest account of a cancer story. I want to leave them with hope that there are successful stories out there, and there is no reason why they can’t have a positive outcome. I hope to keep people hopeful and to be able to share a little bit, and that they’ll appreciate honesty. That’s what I’ve heard mostly when people read it. I really appreciate that. I didn’t hold back on some things. I didn’t get overly clinical. I wanted to make them smile.
Looking back, what would you say is the biggest thing you take away from your journey?
I think it changed my perspective: Everyone is going through something. You never know on the surface what people are going through, so we should cut people some slack. I was very private when I was going through (my journey), so I covered that up for a long time because I was so confused myself about what was happening. Give people some space, and realize that everyone goes through their own journey.