When Don Hoffman learned the startling news that he had breast cancer, his doctor asked if he needed a referral for an oncologist.
Hoffman declined the offer. “I’m going to City of Hope,” he said.
Hoffman, now 74, had been involved with City of Hope ever since he was a teenager volunteering at its fundraising events. “It was the charity of choice for my parents so it was the charity of choice for me,” recalled Hoffman, a resident of Northridge, Calif.
His father, Irving, a production manager in the garment industry, served as president of the Merchants’ Club (now the Apparel Industries Guild) and also created table decorations for its events. He recruited Hoffman and his sister to staff registration tables.
During Hoffman’s career in the furniture industry, manufacturers donated furniture each year for sales that benefitted City of Hope. Hoffman volunteered to run those sales.
He escalated his involvement over the years, serving on City of Hope’s Board of Governors and then on its Board of Directors. In 2004, he joined the Ambassador Leadership Council, where he helped retool City of Hope’s 2007 convention and re-energize City of Hope’s fund-raising chapters.
One of their best-received initiatives was the Tour of Hope, in which doctors and staff, as well as patients whose lives had been saved at City of Hope, traveled to chapters around the country to tell their stories in person.
Back in December 2010, when his internist confirmed that the areola on Hoffman’s left breast was suspiciously flat, he underwent a mammogram and needle biopsy, revealing a Stage One nodule so tiny (1.6 centimeters – the size of a thumbnail) that he says his doctor was amazed he discovered it.
Today, aside from occasional side effects such as night sweats and hot flashes (which he says endears him to women), he is doing well.
From the start, Hoffman has been open about his illness. After his diagnosis, he e-mailed fellow males on City of Hope’s Board of Governors, suggesting that they man up about their health. “…As a man, you have to realize you are vulnerable, as well. Whatever is bothering you, take care of it.”
A number of colleagues later told him he had prompted them to seek medical treatment for conditions they had been ignoring.
He makes a practice to wear one of City of Hope’s pink breast cancer awareness pins on the collar of his golf shirt and welcomes questions from the curious, be they male or female. “It’s amazing how many people will say, ‘Isn’t that a breast cancer pin? Why are you wearing that?’”
“I get the opportunity to say that I’m one of the one half of one percent of diagnosed breast cancers per year that are men.” The American Cancer Society estimates that 2,240 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men this year.
Though Hoffman retired 22 years ago, the father of three eschews idle moments. Instead, he makes his time count, dividing his hours between his family, his work on behalf of City of Hope, and a hobby he has relished for decades: square dancing.
He and his wife, Lois, started taking square dance classes back in 1968 when she told him she was tired of watching “Get Smart” reruns on Saturday nights. These days, the duo often can be found traveling the country to participate in both square and “round” (ballroom) dance festivals.
Because cancer runs in his family, and because he is of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, Hoffman underwent genetic testing at City of Hope for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutation to determine whether his children and grandchildren would require testing. He did not have the mutation.
Hoffman returned yet again to City of Hope for the Centennial Convention, where he led campus tours for conventioneers from across the U.S., and introduced them to researchers in the laboratories.
One of those laboratory researchers was his granddaughter, Lauren Hoffman, who represents the fourth-generation of the Hoffman family committed to City of Hope.