Gloria Glickman from Clifton, New Jersey remembers the day in 2000 when her 28-year-old daughter, Jennifer called her on the telephone to tell her she felt a lump in her left breast.
YOU’LL BE FINE
Gloria’s first reaction was to tell her not to worry about it, that she was sure it was fine, but to still be sure to get it checked by a doctor. Her daughter took her mother’s advice. But like most people waiting for results of a biopsy, she worried.
When she called her mom about her anxiety, Gloria recalls reminding her daughter that she herself had once had a cyst and it turned out to be nothing, so she reassured her daughter that everything would be okay.
MOM, IT’S MALIGNANT
One week later, Gloria was at home with her husband, Don and heard the words from her daughter that a mother never imagines she’ll hear in her lifetime. Her athletic, healthy, beautiful, full of energy daughter, Jennifer calling to say, “Mom it’s malignant. I have breast cancer.”
Jennifer was athletic and ate well and was in very good shape. This was more of a genetic predisposition to breast cancer than anything else. The only reason she even went in to have a mammogram was because of the lump she felt in her left breast. She otherwise wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Even with a family history, she never thought it would affect her. Jennifer’s grandmother on her father’s side had breast cancer, as well as several aunts.
But she still saw breast cancer as something far removed from her own life. She was healthy. She never once imagined it would strike her, especially not in her twenties. She was too young. She was too active. She was too fit. She took good care of herself and took pride in eating right and exercising regularly.
Gloria could barely hold the telephone in her hand. She remembers wanting to run as far away as she could from what the voice on the other end of the telephone, but her body was frozen in time. Her heart seemed to stop.
Gloria held her breathe and fought back the tears while listening to her daughter’s courageous words:
“Mom, I want you to be brave because I’m going to fight this.” Gloria could hardly believe how calm her daughter was at this moment. Their roles were suddenly reversed. Instead of a mother offering solace to a child, it was the other way around. Jennifer was comforting her mother. Jennifer reminded her mother that she was a fighter and she wouldn’t allow anything change her optimistic outlook on life. She intended to live a long and happy life.
LIFE GOES ON
That life included being engaged to be married just three months after her diagnosis. This meant she was faced with not only telling her mother, but telling her fiance about the news. How do you tell your prospective husband that you may die. That question, that life — that future flashed before Gloria’s eyes as she hung up the phone. Her hands shook uncontrollably and shared the news with her husband, Don who knew from the look on her face that something was terribly wrong. Her husband was supportive and told her, “We’ll get through this together.”
Next, Gloria called her own mother, who was in her seventies to say, “Mom I just got a call from Jen and we have to be strong and support her.” Gloria’s mom, Ann Tausk, a Holocaust survivor was used to surviving the worst in life without letting it affect her spirit. This time, she didn’t know if she had it in her to fight. Her own mother told Gloria she didn’t know if she could handle it.
Meanwhile, Jennifer was faced with telling her fiance. Upon being told, he reaffirmed his soon-to-be wife and was extremely supportive and offered to take care of her. Gloria thought he could have ran and said he didn’t want anything to do with her, but he stayed by her daughter’s side.
Back at the hospital, the doctors wanted to remove lymph nodes to find out if the breast cancer had spread.
They were relieved to learn the cancer was just contained in her one breast. After careful consideration, Jennifer then decided to have a mastectomy and have the breast removed. She also reduced the other breast, so it would not be that drastically noticeable. Jennifer wanted to remove the cancerous breast and had the most aggressive chemotherapy to get it out of her body.
She was told she would lose her hair, but she desperately wanted the disease out of her body. Jennifer had a full head of long, curly hair down to the middle of her back. She knew chemotherapy would mean sacrificing a part of her external looks at a time when she wanted to look her best — her wedding day.
Gloria remembers asking her daughter when she would take her wedding photos knowing she would lose her hair. Jennifer didn’t care. She said she’d make a turban since she would be completely bald. Jennifer did just that. Even though she was completely bald on her wedding day, she was a radiant, beautiful bride.
So beautiful that she was featured in the January 2001 issue of MAMM Magazine, Women Cancer and Community. The title of the article was fitting. It was called, “Bald is Beautiful” and it featured many women
IN HER OWN WORDS
In the magazine, Jennifer was quoted saying, “On March 30, 2000 at age twenty-eight, I was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma. My fiance and I had been planning our wedding for nearly a year. People were traveling from all over the country and as far away as Australia and I was going to be in the middle of chemotherapy. My hair started to fall out a month before the wedding. After trying wig after wig, I gave up. I was afraid that without hair, I’d be an ugly bride. But I looked and felt beautiful. With the love of the people around me and the strength I had inside, we went through with the wedding.”
Jennifer was in the middle of her chemotherapy, and took a few weeks break from it so she wouldn’t feel nauseas during the wedding.
She got married and finished her chemotherapy two months following the wedding. And then she continued doing what she had to following doctor’s orders. She was on tamoxofin, her hair grew back and she kept it short. Yet, her hair wasn’t the only thing that would be short.
Her new marriage did not survive. Relatives and friends noticed Jennifer was nervous and unhappy. They didn’t know if it was the cancer or the marriage. Jennifer seemed irritable. Everyone assumed she wasn’t happy because of the illness.
FIVE YEARS LATER
In 2005, when she passed her five year milestone of being “clean”…it was called NED…No Evidence of Disease…a common term within the cancer community, Gloria received another call that made her heart skip a beat. Jennifer called to say, “I just reached my five year milestone AND my marriage isn’t working. I’m getting divorced”
She was married five years and had been cancer-free for five years. Jennifer told her mom that she needed to move on. Since she had begun therapy at this time, she realized that she was unhappy in the marriage. Jennifer felt she would live another fifty years and she wanted them to be happy and healthy. She went through marriage counseling, but had the courage to leave a marriage that wasn’t right for her despite everything else she had gone through.
Gloria, her husband Don, and the family, including her step-siblings Howard and Jennifer all supported her in her decision. Her daughter also decided to change jobs. She switched careers and went from computer graphics for another engineering firm to work in marketing for an engineering firm instead. She said she would rather be alone than not be happy within the marriage. Gloria wasn’t a stranger to divorce since she had been divorced from Jennifer’s father when Jennifer was four- years- old.
Soon after her divorce, Jennifer met Greg Hoffmann who was to be her second husband. Jennifer also decided to get active in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. She met her future husband through participating in this foundation, and he would become the love of her life. They fell in love and Jennifer was happier than she had ever been.
THE CANCER RETURNS
Two years later, in 2007, Gloria received another dreaded call. Gloria was in the South Pacific with her husband and she hadn’t spoken to her daughter for three weeks because they had been vacationing on a freighter. Jennifer said she wanted to wait to tell Gloria the latest news until she got home, but couldn’t. The breast cancer was back but this time in the liver and ovaries. Gloria wanted to die. Jennifer told her not to worry, they were going to zap it and get rid of it. Gloria got off the phone and felt paralyzed. She remembers sobbing. Again.
BACK TO LIVING
That same year, Jennifer was planning to climb Mt. Whitney in California to put up a banner flag for cancer and she did it in between radiation treatments. Her new job was going well. She never missed a day of work. She got promoted and was thriving professionally. Greg was as courageous as Jennifer. His sense of humor helped. Jennifer felt supported, happy, in love and that she could conquer the world.
Jennifer started writing a blog in December of 2007 called, http://www.laceupyourgloves.blogspot.com where she gave a day by day description of her experience. So many people wrote on it when she passed away in 2009. Jennifer came up with the name for the blog because that was her motto: “Time to lace up my gloves and keep fighting” when she got diagnosed.
Again, Jennifer surprised her mother by announcing that in April 2008 she and Greg planned to go to Sante Fe and marry in a Chapel there. Just the two of them. Gloria supported her decision, even though she would have loved to have been there.
Jennifer had MRI’s every three months. In November 2008, she would learn that the breast cancer had gone to her brain. She had to have radiation. Jennifer told her mother they would zap it. Gloria couldn’t believe the news once again. Jennifer had the radiation and went for another MRI in the beginning of 2009 and she was told they got most of the cancer by zapping it with the radiation.
Gloria remembers going from New Jersey to Phoenix, Arizona to see her daughter in February 2009. She just wanted to hug her daughter and be with her in person. Gloria saw that her daughter was fine on the surface, but also knew that Jennifer was good at hiding any weakness. At this time, Jennifer only confided in her husband and didn’t want her mom to worry, so she put up a brave front during her visit. Gloria saw a vibrant daughter and returned to New Jersey feeling good about her daughter’s health and future.
Two months later, on the evening of Friday, April 10, 2009, Gloria would get a call from Greg saying that it was urgent that she and Don come to Phoenix because Jennifer was in the hospital. Gloria, and her husband, Don dropped everything and flew to Phoenix, as did Jennifer’s siblings, Howard and Jennifer and their significant others.
There were no flights going west that same night due to the lateness of the hour and Gloria was so frustrated that she couldn’t teleport herself there. When Gloria arrived at the hospital, she saw her daughter hooked up to a lot of machines and on painkiller drugs. Jennifer asked her mom why she was there and that she was going to be okay and didn’t know why her mother had traveled there.
Jennifer’s oncologist told Jennifer and her husband Greg that there was not much they could do. Jennifer’s response was that she wasn’t ready to slip on the banana peel just yet, and she would be alright. Jennifer didn’t want to hear anything negative.
The doctor spoke to Jennifer in front of the whole family. The doctors wanted to do a spinal tap to see if there was cancer there, but it was risky and against odds. They tried it, but they didn’t find what they were looking for. They wanted to do it again, but then Greg, Gloria and Don made the decision that there was nothing to be gained to do it again.
Gloria believed in her daughter and that she would live a long time. Gloria never said goodbye. Instead, she told her daughter, “I am so blessed to be your mother. You have shown so much courage and inspired so many people. Thank God I have a daughter like you.”
Her daughter told her the past five years had been her best ever. She said she had such a wonderful, blessed life. Gloria said, “I love you, Jen.” and Jennifer replied, “I love you too, Mom.”
That was the last conversation they had.
The day before, Don called Gloria’s sisters to tell them to tell Jennifer’s grandmother that Jennifer was in the hospital and the prognosis was not good. Gloria asked her sisters and her mother to come to Phoenix to see Jennifer. At 82-years-old, Gloria’s mother arrived and told Jennifer, “We’re survivors in our family. You have to be strong.”
Four days later, Greg in consultation with Gloria and Don agreed that allowing Jennifer her dignity was paramount at this time and they made the decision to stop aggressive treatment and transfer Jennifer to a hospice.
Once they brought her to hospice, Jennifer was in a coma. Even though she wasn’t conscious, Gloria felt her daughter knew she was there sleeping by her side 24/7 every night. Gloria whispered to her that it was okay to let go.
The last day, the hospice nurse said she could tell by Jennifer’s labored breathing that it would be 24-hours before she would pass away. Jennifer had her entire family there. Jennifer’s family and Jennifer’s husband’s family were there when she passed away.
Greg stood by the bed and Jennifer tightened his hand, kicked her foot and then she was gone. Gloria feels so blessed that her daughter allowed her to be in the room for her last breath. Her love of her life was there. April 21, 2009 next week is the one year anniversary of her passing.
Today, Gloria continues to keep her daughter’s memory alive. Jennifer’s husband, Greg is a crusader for cancer and started the Desert Cancer Foundation of Arizona, which raises money for The Banner Desert Medical Center and Mobile On-Site Mammography, a mobile way for women to get their mammograms.
The On-Site Mobile Mammography is funded by The Jennifer Hoffmann Memorial, the charity set up by Jennifer’s parents, husband, friends and family specifically for women who can not afford mammograms.
On April 10, 2009, they had a screening and 45 women who signed up were given free mammograms. These are women who do not have medical insurance.
Jennifer wanted to be cremated and have her ashes scattered at the Grand Canyon because she loved going there to hike with her husband, who followed her wishes. He did so alone.
Her husband, Greg Hoffmann is going there on Wednesday, April 21, to commemorate Jennifer’s passing.
He plans to continue Jennifer’s fight for a cure.
Greg is now on the board of the Foundation. Each November, his team, THRIVR, walks in the Three Day Walk for Susan G. Komen Walk for Cancer, as do other members of Jennifer’s family.
Despite her diagnosis, Jennifer went on with her life. A life that meant divorce, marriage, work, family, friends. She continued to live. The message she gives is that illness does not have to prevent someone from living as if they would live forever.
After Jennifer passed away, Gloria received so many letters telling her what an inspiration Jennifer was to them during this time.
Jennifer’s friend is a photographer named Jill Stafford in California has made an exhibit with Jennifer’s sayings from her blog and she gifted the photograph with the saying to Gloria. The saying reads:
“…and then we go on with the business of living whether or not the scenery has changed. We have no choice in what we are dealt, but we have a choice in how we deal with it.”
That saying keeps Gloria going. It also keeps Jennifer’s husband going. He wrote the following tribute.
In memory of Jen…
On April 21, 2009, the world lost one of the good ones to breast cancer. My wife, Jen Hoffmann, after a 9-year battle with the beast, elegantly unlaced her gloves and did what all of us should aspire to do — she left the world a better place.
Much more than just a survivor, I called her my “thriver.” Literally and figuratively, she climbed mountains, and while doing so, she inspired thousands, courageously fighting a disease that just wouldn’t let go, reminding us all what a precious gift it is just to be alive. Never a woman dying of cancer, she was always a woman living with cancer — and oh how she lived.
She was a five-time participant in the Arizona Breast Cancer 3-Day, and the team she founded, Team THRIVR, will once again hit the pavement in November 2009, determined more than ever to raise money to find the cure.
We’ll walk with heavy hearts, and we’ll walk with the sweetest memories of a life well-lived. We’ll walk, because everyone deserves a lifetime — and because far too often, not everyone gets one.
Godspeed, beautiful girl. Thrive on.
Gloria Glickman and Greg Hoffmann want to keep her daughter’s spirit, courage and message alive. They encourage women to get regular mammograms. All women are at risk of breast cancer with advancing age, regardless of their age.
But like her young daughter, Jennifer — if your family does have a history of breast cancer in the family, she wants you to make sure you schedule an appointment and if you don’t have health insurance, she wants you to know there is someone you can contact.
The Mobile Mammography Screening was set up in honor of her daughter, Jennifer to help others who may not be able to afford early detection. Gloria Gickman continues to this day to raise awareness about breast cancer in her daughter’s honor, which is exactly what Jennifer would want.