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Woman's faith and love of family help her overcome cancer

Published: Sun, December 23, 2012 @ 12:01 a.m.




Living with stage-four lung cancer makes each Christmas more precious for Heather Hynek.

“I don’t know how many Christmases I have left, but the ones I do have will be very special ... filled with family and friends and all the traditional things that I and my husband grew up with,” she said.

The Boardman wife and mother, diagnosed in February 2009 with stage four, non-small cell lung cancer that had spread to her brain, has not given in to the disease.

She is getting on with her life, working out regularly and preparing to parlay her degree from Youngstown State University in environmental studies and geology — completed after her diagnosis — into a “good job.”

And she is determined to be around to see her 3-year-old daughter, Violet Grace, grow up.

Heather was 12 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with cancer, and most of her physicians recommended she abort the pregnancy because of the probability her child would be damaged by the radiation and chemotherapy used to treat the cancer.

Unbeknownst to Heather, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic told her husband, Aaron, that they doubted she would live more than a year.

But, don’t feel sorry for Heather — she doesn’t. And don’t count her out, either.

Heather says she is thankful for her life and her family and is busy preparing for a third holiday season with her daughter and husband, who is a sales representative for Sysco food distributors.

“I don’t want anything for Christmas except to bless my husband and daughter, the two most important people in my life. If something happens, I want Violet Grace to remember her mother,” Heather said.

Three years ago, at 38, life was going smoothly for Heather.

She was married to the man she would describe during the darkest days of her illness as having the “soul of an angel,” and pregnant with their first child.

She had noticed nagging symptoms, such as numbness in her legs, which she brushed off as having done too much competitive dancing as a child and young woman.

However, a grand mal seizure suffered while lying on the couch at home led to extensive tests at Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute and a diagnosis of lung cancer Feb. 7, 2009.

Because of her pregnancy, treating the cancer was more complex than usual.

But once Heather and Aaron decided not to abort, radiation oncologists devised a treatment plan aimed at protecting her unborn daughter as well as attacking the cancer.

The issue with pregnancy and cancer is that usually, in order to be as aggressive as possible with the cancer, various options, one of which is to abort, are discussed. Sometimes that is the only option, said Dr. Samuel T. Chao of the Cleveland Clinic’s Brain Tumor and Neuro-oncology Center and Radiation Oncology Department.

In Heather’s case, there was a little bit of “wiggle room,” he said.

It was a very small lesion in her lung that caused the cancer in her brain, which was life-threatening, and the distance from the brain to the uterus helped, he said.

Chemotherapy for the lung cancer was delayed until Heather’s last trimester to give Violet Grace time to further develop. A lead shield was used to protect her during radiation treatments.

Heather said she was concerned about her baby, but technicians at the hospital told her not to worry. “They were so positive about the whole thing. They were amazing,” she said.

In August 2009, Heather gave birth to a healthy baby girl whom her parents named Violet Grace.

They gave Violet her middle name of Grace “because it’s God’s grace she is here with us. Without Christ in our lives, and the strength we find in him, we would not be able handle this,” Heather said.

Heather said Violet Grace is all she could ask for.

“She is daddy’s girl. She goes out and rakes leaves with him with her little pink rake. She wants to vacuum.

“I just look at her. She is so smart,” said Heather. “She dresses herself and is lot further ahead developmentally than a lot of kids her age. She has definite opinions and tastes. ... She loves spinach salad and oriental food. She’ll try anything,” Heather said.

While pregnant, Heather underwent whole-brain radiation and still receives Gamma Knife radiotherapy treatments for lesions that develop in her brain.

Despite this, Heather is thankful for her life and is getting on with her life.

The 1988 Boardman High School graduate works out regularly, has circulated petitions to get more lights on her street, and testified before the Ohio Legislature in favor of anti-stalking legislation.

She finished her degree at YSU, where her father, Dean Hoops, Ph.D., was a member of the faculty and former chairman of the Special Education Program in the Department of Education. Heather’s mother, Deborah Hoops, is deceased. Her sister, Megan Anderson, lives in Boardman.

Heather said she didn’t get the degree as part of a final to-do list.

“I have worked my whole life ... as a teen at Burger King on U.S. Route 224; as a waitress at Stonebridge Grille & Tavern and Cafe

Capri; and as a dance instructor at Linda Diamond Studios,” where she studied as a child.

“I got the degree so I could get a good job,” she said.

“I just enjoy the moments,” she said of her life with cancer, but which is not defined by cancer.

“Sometimes they are so great I forget I am sick. I take all my pills, and when there is a problem, I address it. My husband has been nothing but supportive. He’s not

ignoring the problems, but he says the way science is working, if we give it some time, maybe they’ll come up with something,” she said.

“Without God and family and friends and the people at Victory Christian Church in Coitsville, I would have crumbled and been a mess,” she said.

“I will be here to watch my daughter grow up. I’m not going anywhere. I firmly believe God will see me through and give me that time with her.”


1LoveWins(35 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Good story, but the headline seems so odd...

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2charms(228 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

This warm and fuzzy story has such a harsh edge:

"Heather was 12 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with cancer, and most of her physicians recommended she abort the pregnancy because of the probability her child would be damaged by the radiation and chemotherapy used to treat the cancer."

Why did the doctors recommend an abortion? Because Violet Grace might be "damaged."

We have reached the point in our society where children are mere "possessions," to be tossed out if they somehow don't meet some standard of "rightness."

Violet Grace, in our "Frankenstine world" was just a pawn to those doctors - to be sacrificed on the altar of hedonism.

And Heather was the potential executioner - allowed by a societal indifference to God's law forbidding killing - to extinguish her precious daughter - if she so desired.

This suggestion was not made by degenerate criminals in the darkness of prison - but by perhaps the most respected people in our culture: doctors!

May God forgive them for suggesting this killing - and may Violet Grace's life be a beacon of light in the fight for the right to life.

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3Education_Voter(1033 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

God bless you Heather. Each of our lives is really just a moment in terms of eternity. So enjoy the moment.

Charms...no. The doctors at the Clinic are not like that. They just didn't want their treatments to cause Grace a lifetime of struggling with disfigurement and pain. They didn't want Grace to be stillborn. They valued Heather's life as well as Grace's. It was a dilemma worthy of Solomon.

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4charms(228 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago


NO, the doctors at the Clinic wanted to play God. They did not value Violet Grace's life at all. She was just a thing, a trinket to be toyed with.

You can hide all this evil in the mumbo jumbo "white coat" balony, but the facts don't lie - they would have killed Violet Grace like putting down a dog - if Heather had given the ok.

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5peacelover(831 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

I just knew once I read this article that someone like charms was going to zero in on this angle. Education Voter said it right. I have had cancer too and have met many doctors and nurses who are the most compassionate and caring individuals you'd ever want to meet. charms' assertion that the baby was just a thing, a trinket to be played with, is extremely unfounded. But charms thinks he/she can speak for people that he/she has never met in a situation he/she has never been. I wish all the best for this couple and their child and for a long life full of love and happiness and good health.

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6msweetwood(176 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Not Gilligans Ginger:

You are also not a media expert. Your uninformed notions on news are apparently fostered by a TV that you might want to turn off every now and then. There is no attempt to sensationalize here; just a sensational story that we wanted to tell in time for Christmas. Quit being naughty or you will wind up with coal on Tuesday morning...

The headline here does not match the headline in print, LoveWins. You are right: It seems odd and we will address it ASAP.

Mark Sweetwood
Managing Editor

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7Education_Voter(1033 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Mr. Sweetwood,
Unnecessarily sharp tone toward a reader. You might want to delete your own post.
I feel that Gilligan's Ginger was only defending my opinion and the reputation of oncologists, against posters who would turn every possible story into an opportunity to push their own political agenda.

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8msweetwood(176 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago


I could have been more gracious given the season, but I cannot tolerate someone defending others while attacking the folks who brought the story in the first place. Completely ridiculous.

Mark Sweetwood
Managing Editor

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9najjjj(106 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Can nothing be taken at face value any more? Must every article be taken as an opportunity to promote one's own agenda. This is a story or one family's journey through ongoing illness and their trials and triumphs. A wonderful, uplifting account......offering hope to others struggling with illness. I'm so very tired of people who take something positive, turn it upside down and inside out, in order to shove their religious and political beliefs down others throats.

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10joannemhyn(1 comment)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

As Heathers mother-in-law I have walked this journey with her. The endless trips from Boardman to Cleveland for radiation, MRI's, gamma knife procedures, more MRI's and more procedures. Without our faith in God and Jesus Christ, we would have lost hope. It is our own personal belief. We have no agenda. And would never force it down anyone's throat! For USDA, God has been our comfort and our guide.
Sadly many folks face the battle of cancer without Him. We chose the higher road and God has been faithful to see us through! All the Glory is His And His alone.
I can't imagine doing it any other way!
Thank You Vindicator for a lovely front page story!
I remain humbly in Christ,
Joanne Hynek
Two Rivers, Wisconsin

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11Ytownnative(1121 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

I hope we see a story a year for many years to come on how good she is doing.

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12charms(228 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago


"I'm so very tired of people who take something positive, turn it upside down and inside out, in order to shove their religious and political beliefs down others throat."

My point was an editorial comment on our death-culture society, where abortion masquerades as legitimate health care. NOT a criticism of Heather's heroic journey.

And is being pro-life a religious belief? Yes. It only has been politicized because this crime has been made legal.

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13justsayin(42 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Charms, please take your medicine and go back to the main ward with the rest of the patients. "Death culture society, Frankenstein world, executioner"?? REALLY??? Whatever paranoia you harbor does not belong with the comments on an uplifting and beautiful story. Shame on you.

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