At 66, Hilda is an incredible picture of health and style. Matched with her grace and confidence, one can’t help but be enamored with her. Her breast cancer journey is one of inspiration, proving that out of an unfortunate diagnosis can come incredible moments of life changing clarity.
Given that her mother passed of breast cancer, Hilda was diligent about her mammograms at Emerson Hospital in Concord, MA. In 1999 her doctors found a lump that resulted in a lumpectomy. After doctors determined the margins were not clean, she went in for a second lumpectomy, only to receive disappointing news again- doctors couldn’t guarantee clean margins. It was then that Hilda reached out to a friend and doctor at Dana Farber for a second opinion. Two more lumpectomies later (now a total of four!) and the choice was clear: continue to receive lumpectomies with little clarity, or opt for a mastectomy. At the age of 44, Hilda underwent a single mastectomy and reconstruction. A few months later, she had surgery on her other breast to create a more even appearance.
The entire experience was a shock and Hilda notes that she could not have done it without her husband’s support. He was in attendance at every doctors visit and was the essential second pair of ears on every piece of advice she received. While it’s easy to slip into the “why me” mentality, her husband’s support helped fuel her will to remain positive. Her other motivation? Her two children. Her diagnosis came when her daughters were just 11 and 14 and they remained her most important focus, as she was determined to be their mom for years to come. Lastly, it was the support of her close friends that rounded out the village it took to keep life going during her diagnosis. Friends, including Cande Achtmeyer (for whom Runway was created in honor of), created meal trains, drove her daughters to activities and sporting events and generally, made Hilda feel supported and loved during such an uncertain time. Hilda notes that public battles of breast cancer, supportive networks and connective organizations did not really exist during that time as readily as today, so the support of her close group was the key to her success.
After surgery, Hilda was lucky in that she did not require chemo or radiation. She found herself yearning for the once active lifestyle she had prior to her diagnosis. An avid tennis player and golfer, Hilda decided she wanted to merge her love of an active lifestyle, while also finding a way to give back to a community affected by breast cancer. She became a personal trainer and began working with the YMCA of Boston’s Pink Program. The program, started by Hilda’s own surgeon, Dr. Caroline Kaelin (whom herself passed from breast cancer in 2015), is a small-group exercise and peer-support program for individuals who are currently undergoing or have undergone treatment for breast cancer. Particular attention is paid to supporting recovery from the various breast cancer surgeries and treatments by focusing on increasing strength and range of motion. It was the perfect way to melt Hilda’s incredible passion for fitness with a community she could connect with on a personal level.
Hilda notes that post-diagnosis, her love of fitness grew, but she also became more passionate around being aware of what goes in your body: “mind, body, spirit. If you can make that connection somehow, that’s the key. You have to remain positive.” To those who were recently diagnosed, she stresses the importance of networking, whether for the best medical care, or a support group who can help you take on the various challenges a diagnosis brings: “Use your network, don’t be afraid to tell your friends- they are going to be there for you, your family and children. Listen to what people are telling you and stay on top of keeping your body healthy- it can be as simple as walking, light weights or yoga. Anything that can make you feel good.”
An attendee of the very first ever Runway for Recovery 15 years ago, this will be Hilda’s first time dancing our Runway to not only celebrate of her journey of survivorship, but also honor her friend Cande Achtmeyer’s memory.