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Personal Essay: My Mom Beat Breast Cancer, and It Changed My Life

The+author%2C+left%2C+with+her+mom%2C+Bridget+Bocchino+Hochstuhl.
The Hochstuhl Family
The author, left, with her mom, Bridget Bocchino Hochstuhl.

I learned all about breast cancer after my mom, Bridget Bocchino Hochstuhl, was diagnosed with the disease in 2010. I was only three years old at the time, but over the years, as I became old enough to understand, I learned that breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women in the United States, second only to skin cancer. I learned that each year in the United States, there are an estimated 240,000 diagnosed cases of breast cancer in women and around 2,100 in men. And I learned that the disease occurs when the DNA in breast cells mutates, creating cancerous cells that destroy the normal ones.

I also learned that while Breast Cancer Awareness Month is October, breast cancer awareness should exist year-round. This is because early detection is key to beating the disease, so it’s critical that women get regular mammograms, X-rays of the breast, according to the guidelines set by their doctors and the American Cancer Society (ACS). Being diagnosed with cancer is not always a death sentence; my mom is living proof of that. And she wanted to share her own story of survival in the hopes of helping others do the same.

It has been 13 years since my mom’s diagnosis. She survived breast cancer, and she’s the strongest person I know. She says she fought to survive in order to raise her kids and be here for her family. I love my mom with my entire heart.”

— Emily Hochstuhl

When my mom was first diagnosed in 2010, she was an otherwise healthy and fit 38-year-old. She had just lost 30 of the 50 pounds she had gained while pregnant with my younger brother, whom she was breastfeeding at the time.

When she first felt the lump in her breast, she thought it was a clogged milk duct. After all, she used to get them when she was breastfeeding her first child, me. At the urging of her coworkers, however, she got a mammogram just to be sure. Luckily, the health insurance company where she worked had a mobile mammogram machine on site to make it easier for employees to get the diagnostic test while at work.

She was officially diagnosed with breast cancer on Aug. 5, 2010, while throwing my brother’s first birthday party. She told my dad and her own mother, my grandmother, about the cancer, but she kept it a secret from most people in her life because she needed privacy and time to process the information.

After the diagnosis, things moved quickly, and my mother had a double mastectomy the following month, on Sept. 15, 2010. The pathology results showed that the cancer had spread to 28 lymph nodes in her armpit, thereby classifying it as a stage IV breast cancer diagnosis.

In the fight to save her life, my mother began the first of what she thought would be 12 rounds of a chemotherapy regimen, which was estimated would take six months to finish. However, the 12 rounds quickly turned into 30, and six months stretched to over one and a half years, due to the anaphylactic reaction she had to the treatment. After the chemotherapy treatments, she underwent 52 rounds of radiation. By the time she had finished all the chemo and radiation, she was in a severely weakened state.

The medical procedures didn’t end there, however. From 2010 to 2023, my mother underwent 18 breast reconstruction surgeries, which included adding and adjusting expanders, then adding and adjusting implants.

Other complications arose during her treatments. For one, the excessive radiation she’d undergone caused her to experience chronic cellulitis. She also suffered from multiple side effects due to staying on a chemo pill that had acted as an estrogen blocker for 10 years. At one point, an oncologist saved my mom’s life when she suffered a pulmonary embolism. At the time, she was estimated to only have about three weeks left to live, but she beat the odds and survived.

It has been 13 years since my mom’s diagnosis. She survived breast cancer, and she’s the strongest person I know. She says she fought to survive in order to raise her kids and be here for her family. I love my mom with my entire heart; she is the kindest, sweetest, most generous person who could ever exist. She puts everyone else above herself, no matter what she is going through.

Ever since I was old enough to do so, I have supported her on her 13-year-long journey toward becoming a survivor of the disease. Breast cancer is a serious issue that often goes unnoticed, which in turn, can cost people their lives. Screening tests in the form of mammograms are the best defense; they can detect cancer early, way before a person has symptoms. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), women should consider starting annual mammograms at age 40, or even earlier if there is a family history of the disease. At age 45, the ACS recommends that all women start getting annual mammograms. People who have cancer in their family can also get genetic testing before this age to see if they carry genes for the disease.

During her breast cancer journey, my mother taught me life lessons that I’ll carry with me always. I learned about being strong, the healing power of love and the importance of protecting my health. I learned about breast cancer prevention strategies, and the importance of getting regular screenings for early detection of the disease. Who knows, from all I’ve learned, I might save my own life one day. All of this is thanks to what I learned from my beloved mom, breast cancer survivor Bridget Bocchino Hochstuhl.

About the Contributor
Emily Hochstuhl
Emily Hochstuhl, Staff Reporter
Emily Hochstuhl is a junior at RHS and a staff reporter for Rampage.  In her spare time, she loves reading and writing. Emily works part time at Alev Mediterranean Grill, a small family-owned Turkish restaurant in Rockaway, and she volunteers at a local nursing home because it makes her feel closer to her late grandmother. Emily is a dual athlete who plays soccer and softball. She enjoys the challenge of playing two sports and is always striving to become a better athlete.  
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Comments (17)

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  • C

    Cindy BurriniDec 7, 2023 at 4:51 pm

    Emily, what a brave and courageous and heartfelt thing to do, sharing your Mom’s story of her battle with breast cancer. I remember that time well. Your Mom dealt with every complication imaginable as she also dealt with work and her family, especially two babies. Your Mom is a true warrior and an absolute inspiration to anyone going through or who will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer is not a death sentence, and as your Mom says, “Storms always lose to the sun.” YOU and your Mom are rays of sunshine that will always rise above the “storm” I love you guys!

    Reply
  • J

    JeanineDec 6, 2023 at 7:54 pm

    This is incredible Emily.
    I’m so proud of your courage. Your mom is the strongest woman I know, and let me tell you, she fought so hard because of you! Her beautiful family! Thanks for sharing this and acknowledging your mom is a true hero.
    Her words–storms always lose to the sun ☀️
    XOXO Jeanine

    Reply
  • M

    Melissa FerraroDec 6, 2023 at 11:30 am

    Absolutely Beautiful Emily. The love you have for your mother and her strength is inspiring. Your mother is a gift.

    Reply
  • A

    Andrea SeidenDec 5, 2023 at 6:44 pm

    Beautiful story, Emily. Your mom’s strength is an inspiration to all of us. Lovely and engaging writing. Thank you for sharing, Emily!

    Reply
    • E

      EmilyDec 6, 2023 at 10:05 am

      Thank you!!!!!

      Reply
  • D

    Denise ODec 5, 2023 at 6:34 pm

    Beautifully written tribute to your mom, Emily. Great reminder to get your mammogram.

    Reply
  • E

    Erich Guy HochstuhlDec 5, 2023 at 6:18 pm

    Great writing, Emily. I’m proud to be your Dad. I love you.

    Reply
  • M

    Melinda SegerDec 5, 2023 at 5:21 pm

    This is such a touching story of such a great love and admiration between a mother and daughter…absolutely priceless.

    Reply
  • J

    JillDec 5, 2023 at 5:21 pm

    Emily, your Mom is a strong woman. Your story is a tribute to her and your love for her.

    Reply
  • T

    Theresa PuljicDec 5, 2023 at 2:21 pm

    Emily wrote a wonderful piece on her hero, and I’m overwhelmed with admiration and love for this piece. Love to you all, and thank God that Bridget was able to beat this!

    Reply
  • A

    Anna HankinDec 5, 2023 at 11:34 am

    What an amazing, loving daughter! This is absolutely a beautiful story! Mom is a true warrior; her story will encourage others to never give up!!
    Such a beautiful tribute to a wonderful Mom! Thank you for sharing this! Xo

    Reply
  • D

    Danee DeCarloDec 5, 2023 at 10:54 am

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. As a mom with a young baby, it was very informational and thought provoking. Great job of taking the courage to share something so personal. I wish you and your family all the best in all the years to come

    Reply
  • M

    Martha ConteDec 5, 2023 at 10:27 am

    A truly beautiful article Emily. How you articulate the entire journey is so impressive. Keep up the great work!

    Reply
  • B

    Bridget Bocchino HochstuhlDec 5, 2023 at 10:13 am

    My beautiful daughter, my precious gem, such a heartfelt article, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my rock, my strength and one of the rays in my sunshine. You’re a strong woman of substance. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. I love you. Great job on the article. Love, Mom.

    Reply
  • T

    Tina BDec 2, 2023 at 7:56 am

    What an incredible article. The author’s writing created the perfect blend of education and adoration. I could feel the strength her mother had, and the love and gratitude she has for that courage. Well done! Thanks for sharing this very motivational story.

    Reply
    • D

      Dana WallockDec 7, 2023 at 12:25 pm

      Your mom is a true warrior – thank you for sharing her story with your beautiful words! Loved how your reflected on your journey as her daughter.

      Reply
  • L

    Linda VenturiniDec 2, 2023 at 7:41 am

    Thank you for allowing all of us to see what a strong and beautiful Mom you have. Your story of all she has been through is going to help many others to get checked out sooner rather than later. Your Mom is a true warrior but after reading this, so are you. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply