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11Alive's Valerie Hoff's battle against breast cancer

6:49 AM, May 1, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- The route Valerie Hoff drives to get her boys at their after-school program is one she has done hundreds of times.

The routine is the same. But for Valerie, it all feels different now.

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"I have a lot more ups and downs than I did in the beginning," she said.

She keeps doing the normal things, as a mother, as a television anchor, but it's always there, the realization she has breast cancer.

"It was almost unreal. Kind of like an out of body experience," she said. "I didn't get all shaky or say 'Oh my God,' I was just like, 'Really?'"

This is a woman who has spent more than half her life in front of a camera. And she hasn't been shy about sharing personal journeys, blogging about her over-40 pregnancy with Nicholas, sharing her and her husband Derrick's trip to Russia to adopt their second son, Jhenya.

But this is different. Valerie doesn't know how this journey will end.

"It's really scary. When you think about, I have this potentially fatal disease. Then it's not just a little lump being taken out. It becomes a bigger deal," she said.

Valerie found the lump in her left breast just three months after she had a clean mammogram.

"I was just getting into the shower one morning and I was like what the heck is this?" she said.

What she thought would be a routine follow-up exam was not routine.

Valerie remembers when the doctor told her, "I'm just going to tell you point blank, I'm pretty sure you have cancer."

Derrick was getting the boys ready for a baseball game that day and Valerie was late getting home.

"I got a text, and then she calls, and then I talk to her and I'm like, 'What just happened?'" Derrick said.

Derrick and Valerie have confronted health issues before. He's recovering from knee surgery. Two years ago, Valerie underwent major spinal surgery, a four-level cervical fusion.

And they always looked at the bright side.

"The underlying statement was, at least it's not cancer," Derrick says. "And then, it's cancer."

Doctors say Valerie's cancer is Stage 2. They recommended a lumpectomy. Soon after she found out, she made the announcement on air.

The reaction to her announcement showed her she had to keep sharing this journey publicly.

"I have heard back from hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other women who are overdue for their mammograms or who haven't done self exams, and that part of it is so gratifying," Valerie said.

Derrick and Valerie told their boys. They reassured Nicholas and Jhenya that Mommy will be fine. But for Valerie, it's not that easy.

"Everyone in the medical community or people that I meet, when I tell them that I have two small children that are 6 and 8 -- everyone is like, 'Oh no.' A lot of the studies are 'The five-year survival rate is 80 percent' and things like that, and I'm like five years? What's the 20-year survival rate?" Valerie said.

On the day before her surgery, she savors every hug, every moment with her three men.

The next morning at The Women's Center at Northside Hospital, it's five hours of prep before surgery. Valerie and her doctor learned the cancer had spread.

"If those lymph nodes are negative I close you back up and we're done," Dr. Brenda Simpson said.

"I hope that's what happens," Valerie said. "I hope so too," the doctor replied.

The lymph nodes were removed during surgery. They were negative for cancer -- a huge relief.

"Obviously, getting lots of good news along the way that helps. We can fight this," Derrick said.

Eight hours after she arrived, Valerie headed home. Cancer treatment begins soon -- an unwanted journey, but one she is facing head-on.

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