By: Ashley Cooper | Photo by Jenniffer Merida
The story begins in 1946 in the wake of World War II. The holocaust has left Elli Gupp, then just 16 years old, an orphan. Having survived, Elli and her grandmother safely immigrated to Rochester, New York where they were determined to begin a new life. Elli eventually married, gave birth to two children, and became a registered nurse at University of Rochester. She was also heavily involved in her community-part of her deeply-rooted value system that would be passed down to her children. At the age of 41, Ellie was diagnosed with the breast cancer that took her life four years later. Profoundly Adored by friends and family, Elli’s passing proved to be a significant loss for many…especially for her daughter, Marci Hochman.
Strangely enough, Hochman was 40 years old when diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 1998. By December 23rd, she would undergo a lumpectomy. As Hochman’s cancer proved to be graded high, she opted to engage in aggressive chemotherapy. This would mean going in for four rounds of treatment at three weeks apart. She would also endure six weeks of radiation. Hochman recalls this grueling process as being “tortuous.”
“I was totally wiped out and exhausted,” she says, describing her routine. “I did chemo on Thursday, slept all day Friday, was ‘okay’ on Saturday, recovering by Sunday and back to work by Monday.” Luckily, Hochman’s company, now known as ‘Ellucian’ eagerly accommodated her needs. They also respected Hochman’s request to keep her diagnosis private in its initial stages.
Inevitably, Hochman would lose her hair-a side effect of chemotherapy that she could not hide, especially from her two young daughters, Liz and Michelle. Hochman and her husband Robert prepared their children for her breast cancer experience in such a way as not to alarm them. “We did everything we could to make their lives as normal as possible,” says Hochman, “We didn’t want them to be bothered by this.”
Hochman recalls watching the 90’s television drama ‘Providence’ when one of her daughters witnessed a character on the show dying from breast cancer.
“She looked at me and asked, ‘You can die from breast cancer?’ I wanted to call the channel and say, ‘Wait a minute! I didn’t go there with my kids yet!’ There are the things that you don’t tell your kids but they find out in other ways.”
Hochman is known for maintaining her positive, proactive demeanor throughout the duration of the treatment. “I knew I had two kids and I had to be there for them,” she says. “I got through it by not dwelling on it.” She believes that her unwavering spirit is one of the reasons she remains cancer-free today. Hochman says at the time of her diagnosis, her radiologist told her, “I’m looking at you-you’ve got an upbeat attitude-you’re going to fly through this!”
Hochman also credits her friends and family as part of her solid support system; they fueled her enthusiasm for gaining victory over cancer. “My friends were awesome-you know who you are! [My husband] Rob was a trooper. He did everything. He did the laundry, went to Wegmans, picked up the kids, he shaved my head, he changed my bandages; he was really, really wonderful.”
By April of 1999, Hochman completed her treatment and by that August, she was able to remove her wig.
In 2000, Hochman was encouraged to undergo genetic testing. She discovered that she was a carrier of the BRCA2 mutation. Her mother, of Askenazi Jewish descent, also carried the gene. In November of that year, Hochman had a double mastectomy, as well as plastic surgery for reconstructive silicone implants. “That was a good thing,” assures Hochman, “It was hard, but it was good.” Three years later, Hochman’s doctors advised she arrange a preventative oophorectomy, as carriers of the BRCA2 genetic mutation are more likely to develop ovarian cancer.
Hochman, now a ‘Reach for Recovery’ volunteer, has been cancer-free for fourteen years and counting. In light of her treatments and massive surgeries, Hochman says her perspective of life is much different. “I think it’s made me a better person. I’ve learned your good days are good days. Surround yourself with family. I’m a better person- I just sit back and I look in my life, and I love it…I’m very content and happy with what I’ve got.”