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Cancer patient shares recipe for happiness

While a Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa care team kept a patient disease-free, a loving husband nurtured her with a daily chocolate milkshake. Pictured, left to right, Rich and Toby Hoffman are reunited with Palliative Care social worker Yve Duran and Dr. Grace Wu.

Toby Hoffman found a lump in her neck in September 2018. After a doctor’s visit followed by a biopsy at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center, Hoffman received the news no one wants to hear: She had an aggressive, fast-growing form of lymphoma.

Fortunately for Hoffman, the diffuse large b-cell lymphoma was in an early stage, and her oncologist Ying “Maggie” Zeng, MD, took immediate action. She recommended Hoffman have 3 rounds of chemotherapy followed by radiation. The treatment worked and Hoffman was declared cancer-free.

However, just a couple of years later Hoffman would find another lump in her chest. Again, Dr. Zeng recommended oral chemotherapy to fight off the disease.

Recipe for happiness

Although the chemotherapy was a lifesaver for Hoffman the first time around, the second time was much harder on her frail body. Hoffman didn’t tolerate the chemo well and was suffering both physically and cognitively.

Her husband of 66 years, Rich, a retired Kaiser Permanente pharmacist, understood the toll the chemotherapy was having on his wife’s body. After noticing Hoffman was barely eating, he decided to whip up a chocolate milkshake for lunch one day with ice cream, protein milk, and chocolate syrup.

It made all the difference.

“I could tolerate it, and it was good, and it made me feel good,” Hoffman said. “I looked forward to it.”

And so that became their lunchtime routine. Hoffman drinking a chocolate milkshake — one of the only foods that made her happy.

Eventually, after Hoffman discussed her long-term prognosis with Dr. Zeng, it was decided that it would be in her best interest to stop treatment.

Hoffman was referred by Dr. Zeng to Palliative Care in 2021 and their team has been helping to manage symptoms, offer support, and focus on her quality of life.

“Many people think of palliative care as end-of-life care, but what we really are is a team that helps people with serious illness live as fully as possible all the way through,” said Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Palliative Care physician Grace Wu, MD. “Nobody is a better example of that than Toby and Rich. Despite all of the challenges they have faced, their love for each other and zest for life have been guiding forces, always making sure to have fun and spread joy along the way. “

Shaking up cancer

Today Hoffman is doing better physically — even getting out for walks — but the comfort her daily chocolate milkshake provided her has not been forgotten. She and Rich wanted to find a way to share the recipe with others fighting cancer and encourage them to stay positive.

They designed and printed T-shirts to hand out to other Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa patients with the milkshake recipe on the back and “A milkshake a day keeps cancer at bay” logo on the front.

They recently got the opportunity to hand out the shirts and reunite with members of the Santa Rosa care team.

The good news for Hoffman is that she is considered disease-free, after a PET scan of her body last November showed no signs of lymphoma. For her and  Rich, that is a testament to the high-quality care and treatment the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa care team has provided her over the years.

“Everybody that we have talked too at Kaiser Permanente has been supportive,” Rich said. “The experience we have had has been really good.”

The “Shake Cancer” Milkshake Recipe

2 scoops ice cream

Overflowing love

1/2 cup milk

Tons of hugs

2 tablespoons chocolate syrup

Endless kisses

Blend all incredients together with kindness, compassion, and understanding. Whipped cream and cherry optional. Serve every day, with lots of smiles, laughter, and fun.


cancerlymphomaSanta Rosaseniors

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