By Denise Dick
Heather Hoffman-Blois was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to a benefit picnic Sunday for her.
“It’s very powerful,” she said.
Hoffman-Blois, 39, a Mahoning Valley native who now lives in a Denver, Colo., suburb, is being treated for peritoneal mesothelioma, a rare form of the disease that occurs in the cell walls surrounding the abdominal cavity. Her mother, Jackie Patton, organized the Sunday benefit at American Legion Post 472. Patton works at the post.
“I keep seeing more and more faces,” Hoffman-Blois said. “There are people from high school, from grade school, more and more people keep coming in.”
After a year of going to doctors, Hoffman-Blois was told last February that she had ovarian cancer, but the surgeon determined her condition was something else.
Her husband, Curt, researched to find doctors who specialized in treating the rare form of cancer and found specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center at Shadyside. She underwent surgery and aggressive chemotherapy treatment June 4, and additional chemo treatments may come later.
Doctors removed some of her organs, scraped away the cancer, replaced them and shook her to distribute the chemotherapy through the affected areas.
Still, Hoffman-Blois says she feels good.
She runs a preschool in Colorado and is an avid snowboarder and snowboard instructor. She and her husband have a daughter, Stori, 7.
While mesothelioma is related to asbestos, the disease isn’t in Hoffman-Blois’ lungs, and she’s never worked in a factory or around asbestos. Many people diagnosed with mesothelioma are eligible for money from settlements with factories where they worked, but Hoffman-Blois isn’t.
Sometimes the idea that she’s ill makes her angry, but she doesn’t let herself stay there.
“I’m not a negative person,” she said, adding that she’s getting the best, most-aggressive treatment available.
Her mother organized the benefit picnic to try to help defray some of her daughter’s medical expenses. She set a goal for 500 people to attend but was too busy to count.
“There were people here waiting at 2,” Patton said, referring to the picnic start time.
By about 3 p.m., the American Legion’s parking lot was full and attendees were parking along a side street and walking to the picnic.
It’s the first benefit at the post since Core 6+ built a new structure with a handicapped-accessible ramp for the veterans. Core 6+, a group of area businessmen, is the same group that built a new home for Joe Kaluza and his family. Kaluza is the former KFC restaurant manager who was shot and paralyzed in a robbery.
Patton was thrilled with Sunday’s turnout.
“I’m so happy,” she said.