Cynthia Hall is living her best life after breast cancer

MUSC Health
October 12, 2020
Breast cancer survivor Cynthia Hall

Cynthia Hall feels renewed when immersed in nature. Surrounded entirely by trees is where her soul is content. She has hiked many mountains, reached unimaginable peaks, but none of those tests of endurance and strength would prepare her for the breast cancer diagnosis she received in 2018.

She had been gearing up for a trip to India, a once-in-a-lifetime hike to the Gaumukh Glacier in her sights, when she got the news. Because her family has a history of breast cancer, she is, thankfully, accustomed to routine mammograms. And so she’d gone for one such routine appointment in the spring. At first, she was called back in for more imaging.

"I pretty much always get called back in for an ultrasound because of the density of my breasts,” she says. “But I just remember crying a little bit, wondering, 'Oh my gosh, do I have cancer?' Then when I found out I did, I lost it.”

Her mother and sister accompanied her to see surgeon Andrea Abbott, M.D., at MUSC Health Hollings Cancer Center; they all expected to lose it together, cry even more, but that wasn't the case at all. "Even my mom said, 'Wow, she just made me feel so much better about everything,'" Hall says. "Dr. Abbott made us feel so good that none of us cried and we left feeling so much better about everything, like, 'No, I'm not going to die.'"

Because of that mammogram, the invasive ductal carcinoma was caught early. Abbott recommended surgery and Hall was scheduled to have a lumpectomy, which was successful. Beating cancer was amazing, but what she’s accomplished since that diagnosis is equally extraordinary.

Shortly after surgery, she decided she could also conquer the glacier, and her trip to India went ahead — just a little later than planned. Around the same time, two more dreams came true when she bought a house and got a new job. She’d been teaching with the College of Charleston, which she loved, but new opportunities beckoned and Hall accepted a position as a community coordinator with Science Systems and Applications Inc., contracting with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Hall also spoke with her doctor about factors other than family history that could contribute to getting cancer and soon joined the Survivors’ Fit Club, a wellness program for breast cancer survivors offered by MUSC Wellness Center. What she learned during her time with the program changed her life.

“I’ve actually lost 40 pounds, which is a big deal for me,” she says. “I joined that club and learned how to eat and the importance of exercise.”

Those lessons continue to guide Hall through COVID-19’s stressful time, when self-care has become paramount, particularly for cancer patients and cancer survivors. She says, “My self-care is eating healthy and trying to incorporate more and more fruits and vegetables into my diet, especially those good cancer-kickers, like berries — and working out several times a week.”

For Hall, the healthier habits help her not only physically but also mentally. “It has put me in a different place, mentally,” she says. “Cancer is draining, and the fear of it coming back is there so you have to shift your mindset and come to a different place.”

Like her time with the Survivors’ Fit Club, Hall’s experience at Hollings is something she describes as top notch. She says, “Everyone who I've Interacted with there have been incredible in what they do but also in their support and compassion, because you don't get that from a lot of doctors. You don't get that compassion where you feel like they really care about you, and that's how I've felt with all of the Hollings doctors and staff.”

Hall continues to check in via text with her old Survivors' Fit friends, and, as a cancer survivor, her routine mammogram appointments are done every six months rather than annually. And she still opts outside whenever she gets the chance.

Having gone through the isolation of the pandemic now, getting outside is more important than ever, especially considering her son is a high school senior now. They’ve been doing a lot of local exploration together — walking on the beach, kayaking through the marsh. “Even though we have the city, we still have these places where we can get away from it,” Hall says. “Who knows what’s going to happen when he graduates. I’d better get in as much time with him as I can.”

And her love of hiking? That’s stronger than ever, having traveled more recently to hike, journal, and reflect alone in Utah’s Zion National Park as well as backpack with her cousin in California. Locally, trails in places like Botany Bay give her the restoration she needs. “Hiking is a great way to get out in nature, and for me nature is always something that refreshes my soul,” she says. “It renews me, gives me that positive energy I need in my life.”

Cover of the Hollings Horizons winter 2019 issue

Winter 2019

The Winter 2019 issue of Hollings Horizons

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Keywords: Breast Cancer, Cancer, Patient Story