REGGIE HAYES: Local runner Peg Hoffman battles cancer to go from bedridden to Boston Marathon

Peg Hoffman after a recent field trip to the Jorgensen YMCA with her son. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Peg Hoffman during a run. (Courtesy photo)
Peg Hoffman and daughter Mazie before running a 5K. (Courtesy photo)
Local runner Peg Hoffman and her family: From left, Mazie, Peg, Alex and Luke. (Courtesy photo)

Last fall, Fort Wayne’s Peg Hoffman couldn’t climb the stairs at her home to tuck her kids into bed. Monday, she’ll run the Boston Marathon.

She’s quite a story of determination, persistence and positive attitude.

Due to breast cancer and subsequent complications last summer, she underwent four surgeries in a month’s time, had an extended fever and could barely move.

“I was expecting to be down for a little bit, but I was down for at least two months,” she said. “I couldn’t even sit up in bed by myself. Thinking about running the Boston Marathon? It seemed kind of impossible.”

Hoffman is a 40-year-old wife and mother of two who took up running because she values a healthy lifestyle and, to be honest, it gave her some quiet refuge to recharge as a stay-at-home mom. Naturally inclined to take on challenges, she began running marathons. As she learned how to tackle the 26.2-mile race, she realized she could make the Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3 hours, 45 minutes for 40-and-over women.

Hoffman ran a qualifying time of 3:41.03 at the Monumental Marathon in November 2016, and set her sights on the 2018 Boston Marathon. She even ran another marathon in Houston in January 2017.

Six months later, the best-laid plans went awry.

Dealing with complications

Hoffman was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was caught in the early stages, but she underwent a double mastectomy last July 21. She chose the surgeon’s option for immediate breast reconstruction.

“I went into it very carefree, I never felt like I was fighting for my life,” Hoffman said. “But it got scary. I had a number of issues, infections, skin dying, and I had to go back for three more surgeries to try to fix these.”

She had the four surgeries from July 21 to Aug. 21.

“It was a really, really tough summer,” her husband Alex said. “It was like she would get pummeled by a school bus basically and a day later start to get back up. Then she’d get pummeled again. She’s really tough. It’s absolutely unbelievable how tough she is and what a great role model for our kids.”

Finally, doctors recommended that Hoffman take another step to try to regain her health.

“The last surgery, they said I just needed to give up on the reconstruction for now,” Peg Hoffman said. “They took out the expanders and sewed me up so nothing was in there. Then it was just time to heal.”

Small steps first

As she healed, she began to return to her normal self. At one point, she could finally scale the stairs at bedtime for her children Mazie, 8, and Luke, 6.

“They’d get at the top of the stairs and start to cheer me on like it was this monstrous feat,” Hoffman said. “To be able to make it up the stairs was a big deal.”

Hoffman pointed to the help of her family, including Alex, her parents Bob and Wendy Brickman, her mother-in-law Sandra Hoffman and her sister Katie Brickman during the period when she was down and out with fever and complications.

As the healing took place, there was still no indication Hoffman would be up to the task of running a marathon. She found it difficult at first to even do yoga for post-mastectomy patients.

“The first thing you do is raise your arms up,” she said. “I couldn’t do that. I remember bawling and being so upset. ‘I can’t even do the thing you supposedly need to do for post-mastectomies. I just decided to put the same dedication toward that that I did toward running.”

By October, Hoffman had ventured back out for short runs, slowing reintroducing her body to distance running.

“I didn’t know if it would be physically possible to run Boston at that point in time,” she said. “A lot of friends said, ‘You can go and walk it,’ which I could, but I don’t know if I’d have the same feeling walking it. I wanted to be able to run.”

Her husband supported her return to running, but he didn’t expect Boston to be a reality. “I thought there was no way,” he said.

Boston comes back into view

She eased back into the running world and started to regain her stride. Then, her doctor talked to her about the possibility of undergoing another reconstructive surgery, which would require some significant healing time and the surrender of running the Boston Marathon.

It would be nearly a year-long series of procedures, she said.

“It wasn’t until January, after meeting with the doctor that I thought, all those plans just to get breasts again,” Hoffman said. “I thought, no, I’ll pass for now and work toward my goal of running Boston. I just had a shirt made, ‘Boston over boobs,” with little pink ribbons for the O’s.”

She decided to run and will be there along with some running friends, including Jamie Frazier, Cari Hardin and Megan Campbell.

Hoffman ran 20 miles on her March 3 birthday, her husband said.

“I’m not as fast as I was,” she said. “I’m not going to be in the same time range but I think I can run a respectable race.”

Better yet, running in the race will put a period on the tough stretch of her life. Her mother fought breast cancer (and is now cancer-free) and her maternal grandmother died of breast cancer at age 42.

Hoffman’s cancer was caught during a regular medical checkup and caught early enough to attack. It wasn’t easy, but she came through it tougher and more resilient.

“When I was sick, I felt like there was nothing I could do about it, that it was out of my control,” Hoffman said. “You have to put your trust in doctors and everyone else. Other than praying, there’s not a lot you can do.

“Now I feel like I have the options and control to get myself healthy and better after the cancer was out,” she said. “It’s something I’ve worked for and to prove to myself and set an example for my children to live a healthy lifestyle and show that this didn’t slow me down. I’m mostly back.”

What’s next after Boston? Hoffman hasn’t ruled out an ultra-marathon. Cancer, as insidious as it is, can’t keep a good runner down.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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