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That’s What Friends Are For

by Katharine Hoffmann

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When I was 12 years old, my father passed away. Eight years later, I lost my mother. So there I was, 20 years old, a junior in college, and my life had fallen apart. How do you move on after that?

I had no choice but to pick up the broken pieces and finish school. It was the hardest thing I have ever done … until now. I graduated college and landed a job as a paralegal in Philadelphia. I packed my bags and moved 300 miles away from home. It was time to leave my past behind.

But just when life seemed a little too easy, I received a phone call from my doctor. She said the results from my Pap smear came back abnormal, but not to worry, “it’s probably just nothing,” she reassured me. The samples were sent to the lab for further testing, and a few hours later, I got another phone call. “You have Stage IIA cervical cancer,” my doctor told me.

I was shocked and angry. How did this happen? It had to be a mistake. But it wasn’t. I had contracted HPV, and it had progressed into cervical cancer.

I had so many questions and very few answers. I didn’t know much about HPV, except that people get it by having sex. I always thought this couldn’t happen to me. We all think it can’t happen to us, but then it does, and it changes our lives forever.

With everything I have been through, she has been the one who has supported me.

I underwent eight months of external radiation therapy. My oncologist didn’t see much of a change, but I didn’t want to give up hope. I didn’t want to give up on one day having children.

I saw a therapist during treatment, and I learned that half of my road to recovery is how I approach my cancer. So I started thinking positively. I dug deeper within to find the hope and faith I needed to beat this thing. I soon realized that it wasn’t just about having hope and faith, it was about having a support system, a support system I had lost years ago – my parents.

But I recognized that even though I had lost my parents, I hadn’t lost the love, care, and friendship of my best friend of 13 years – Priscilla. With everything I have been through in my life, she has been the one person who has supported me. She was there for me when my mother passed away, and she has been with me during my battle with cancer.

One year after my diagnosis, Priscilla created an organization to help raise awareness for cervical cancer – Run 2 Inspire. She did it for me and all the other women who have faced this disease. She is the definition of a best friend, and I’m lucky to have someone like her in my life. It has been three years since my diagnosis, and I am finally on the path to getting my life back.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Katharine Hoffmann, a Pittsburgh native, currently resides in Philadelphia, working as a paralegal and attending law school. A strong advocate for HPV and cervical cancer, she currently serves as the executive director for Run 2 Inspire and the director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC).

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2010.