Discover Hope

Whitney's Story: Pregnant Patient Overcomes Cancer

Jan. 9, 2019

Whitney Hoffer, a 31-year-old mother of two, never thought she’d be adding “cancer survivor” to her accomplishments at such a young age.

But after undergoing chemotherapy—some of which was during pregnancy with her second daughter—and then radiation at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center/UC Health Proton Therapy Center for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that is exactly what she is.

“When I was officially diagnosed, I was 28 weeks pregnant, and I felt like it was God’s way of saying the tough decisions were over,” she says. “I knew my doctors had my care in their hands, and I had God to take care of me; I had to fight for myself. Being a mom was my top priority, and I needed to be there for my babies. It’s just what I had to do.”

Hodgkin’s lymphoma occurs when an infection-fighting cell, called a B cell, develops a mutation in its DNA, causing cells to divide rapidly and outlive their normal lifespan. This causes a large number of oversized, abnormal B cells to accumulate in the lymphatic system, where they crowd out healthy cells and cause the signs and symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, including swollen lymph nodes such as what Hoffer experienced.

Hoffer, who finished chemotherapy Oct. 3, 2016, says she didn’t think she’d have to have radiation, but thankfully, she was able to get the most cutting-edge radiation therapy out there at UC Health.

“(My physicians) weren’t able to do some of the necessary scans when I was pregnant, due to concern for the baby’s health, they wanted to do follow up with radiation as a precaution,” she says. “They decided that I was a good candidate for proton beam radiation therapy.”

Proton therapy is a form of radiation treatment used for a various types of cancers, including lymphoma. A major advantage over traditional forms of radiotherapy is its ability to deliver radiation to a tumor while more effectively limiting the exposure to healthy tissues. This serves to minimize the side effects of radiotherapy both during and long after treatment, particularly important for this young mother of two.

Hoffer began her treatment in November 2016 at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center/UC Health Proton Therapy Center, under the care of Luke Pater, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology at the UC College of Medicine and a radiation oncologist at UC Health. The Proton Therapy Center, which is a facility that treats both pediatric and adult populations, is housed on the Cincinnati Children’s Liberty Campus.

“I had 20 rounds of radiation—daily treatments (for four consecutive weeks)—on my neck and chest area,” she says.

“It’s weird, but I was almost sad to be done because of all of the wonderful relationships I’d formed with the staff at the facility,” she says. “I can’t say enough about how awesome they were.”

Hoffer says she had very few side effects from her treatments, some problems swallowing, skin irritation and fatigue, to which she adds, “But who wouldn’t be tired with two little ones at home?”

As a way to celebrate treatment being in her rearview mirror and her ability and strength to overcome anything, she decided to run the Flying Pig Marathon in spring 2017.

“I wanted to do the half-marathon just to show that cancer wasn’t going to get me, and a group of 20 of us went out and did it,” she says. “It was a great experience, and the further love and support of everyone who stood by me throughout my treatment meant so much.”

Now, with her scans showing no sign of tumor, Hoffer is just happy to return to normal, everyday life.

“When I was undergoing treatment, I always yearned for normalcy,” she says. “Now, I don’t have to be on a schedule anymore, and we have time as a family to do whatever we want.

Hoffer and her family celebrated her healthy daughter Madison’s first birthday June 22, with thankfulness and hope for the future.

“I’m just extremely blessed,” Hoffer says. “The physicians, nurses and staff at UC Health are wonderful; they are truly the best. I never thought about getting a second opinion or going elsewhere for treatment. I knew they were always looking out for my best interest—from biopsy to radiation treatment. They’ve helped me get back to my life.”