by Lara Hoffman
Lara Hoffman is married to our co-founder Nishad Chande. They live in Los Angeles with their son Remi. We asked Lara to share a story for Father's Day, and she responded with two essays that overwhelmed us.
Yesterday we presented Part One (you can read it here if you missed it!), and today we're so happy to publish Part Two of this beautiful family story.
“I’m so sorry, but you have cancer,” are never easy words to hear, especially not as the parent of a young child. When I heard my doctor say them to me last December, I initially felt only shock and disbelief. “This can’t be happening to me…. I feel completely healthy!” Then, as her words sunk in, feelings of terror took over. When I became aware of my surroundings and looked at my husband Nishad, who was sitting next to me and holding my hand, tears were silently rolling down his cheeks.
Several weeks before, I felt a lump in my left breast. Work had been unusually quiet, so I went to get it looked at quickly---not at all typical for me. Up to that point, my general practice had been to ignore all but the most pressing of medical problems and just get on with life. I remember feeling embarrassed when I asked my doctor to check the lump out, believing she would think I was some kind of hypochondriac. But instead, she referred me for a mammogram and ultrasound the next week, and then three biopsies the week after.
My daily life completely changed after my diagnosis. The following days were filled with MRI’s, PET scans, CAT scans, genetic testing, additional biopsies, and hours of meetings with a team of surgeons and oncologists. Nobody asked me whether I could make it to doctors’ appointments anymore. Instead, they were scheduled as soon as possible and I was simply told when to be there. It was a whirlwind, but Nishad managed to come to every appointment with me.
The tests showed that there were either several tumors---or else one very large tumor---growing in my left breast, and cancer in at least one of my nearby lymph nodes. My doctors quickly scheduled a double mastectomy---with chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy to follow.
During this time, Nishad couldn’t have been more supportive---balancing his often emotional responses to my test results with practicality. But equally important, he focused on supporting our six year old son Remi, who easily could have felt lost in the mix. As Nishad and I struggled to process the medical appointments and results I received each day, he kept our family running smoothly. Nishad kept Remi on his school and activity schedule, planned playdates, and came home early from work to do homework and put Remi to bed. Each night while I researched breast cancer treatment options, consulted doctors I knew, and spoke to friends of friends who had already gone through treatment, Nishad distracted Remi with adventurous bedtime stories about “The Three Ninja Birds” that he invented, which mesmerized our ninja-obsessed son.
At first it was hard to know what to say to Remi about my cancer and upcoming surgery. But Nishad helped to normalize it for him using Twigtale language. We knew he understood us when, a couple days after our talk, Remi pointed to my breast and said, very matter-of-fact, “That’s where your cancer is, Mama. But the doctors are going to take it out soon to make you better.” Nishad also organized some special early Christmas presents to help keep Remi busy building Lego Star Wars kits with his grandmas during the days that I was recovering in the hospital. When I arrived back home on Christmas afternoon, Remi was proudly piecing the final Legos together to complete a giant “Ewok Village.” Although he missed me while I was gone, Remi didn’t seem worried. Instead he told me all the fun things he had done with his aunt and grandmas.
I can’t say that the next months were easy on me, Nishad, and Remi. They were tough. Recovery from surgery, months of chemotherapy, and now daily radiation have taken their toll---both physically and emotionally. But I do think that struggling through my cancer battle together has made us stronger as a family. I have been lucky to have had incredible doctors. And we have been lucky to have had tremendous support from our mothers, siblings, extended family, and friends. In particular, though, I feel so lucky to have had Nishad---the best husband and father I know---by my side.