Multiple Cancer Diagnoses Present Challengesfor Broadway Actor and His Family Meet Tony Award Winner Christian Hoff
The year was 2003, and veteran Broadway entertainer Christian Hoff had a life-changing, miraculous, moment. This divorced, single father of two, working to get his life back together, met a Christian actress named Melissa. Hoff credits, “This wonderful woman and her family” to helping him to see the love of Christ clearly. What was at one point broken and overwhelming, suddenly became fixable and whole again. Becoming a Christian would be a defining moment in Hoff’s life and within a three year span he married, began a family, and experienced his life-long dream of earning a Tony Award.
Hoff won the award for his performance of Tommy Divito in the smash hit musical Jersey Boys, the story of the musical group The Four Seasons. Originating the role on Broadway, Hoff’s acceptance speech thanked his late Papa for immigrating to America from Sweden in 1961 when The Four Season’s hit song Sherry broke.
Fast-forward almost a decade later, Hoff and his wife are parents to three daughters, Elizabeth (9), Evelyn (6), and Ella (4), and this past November marked the ten year anniversary celebration of Jersey Boys in New York City. Hoff and several of the original cast members are currently touring across the nation as The Midtown Men singing hit songs from the 1960’s with a seven-piece Big Band.
But it hasn’t been all bliss for the Hoff household. This past year might have been their most trying yet. In February their youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia and two months later Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer. Risen sat down with the family to learn more about how they are fighting disease and clinging to their faith.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: Melissa, as you cuddle your daughter in your arms, why don’t you start and walk us through Ella’s diagnosis?
Melissa Hoff: Ella was diagnosed with leukemia in February of this year  and started treatment the very next day. Thankfully [her body] responded very well for about fifteen days. She then had a very rigorous six-month chemo treatment. In the maintenance phase, she does chemo every day at home and once a month we will go into the clinic to get a push, the drugs can be given quickly through the catheter right from a syringe over a few minutes, for the next three years.
RM: How did you identify it was cancer? What were Ella’s symptoms?
MH: She had a fever that wouldn’t break. We thought it was probably just one of those bugs that was taking its time to work through her system, but then she started to jaundice. Kids aren’t supposed to jaundice, babies can have this early on, but at that point we knew something was wrong so we took her to Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego and they admitted her right away.
RM: So as you and Christian are wrapping your heads around the fact that your daughter has cancer, another surprising blow occurs. What did you find out a couple months later?
MH: It was April 21st, Christian’s birthday, and I got the diagnosis that I had breast cancer. I thought to myself, “No way! Not this, not now!” About a month later I had a radical mastectomy and the prognosis looks good at this point. I have to say that it [facing the realities of cancer] shapes your outlook so much in life. It really reinforces what is important and what are the priorities for your family. Each day is a gift. I was tempted to ask, “Why me? Why anyone?” But I know that it is just the world we live in. We have seen so many blessings that have come out of this. We have seen such kindness from people and such love from friends and family. It has been amazing. We’ve seen God’s hand working in areas that we would not have seen Him without this happening.
RM: Christian, being on the road when you have a family cannot be easy. Couple that with the fact that both your wife and daughter receive a cancer diagnosis, how did you handle the news?
Christian Hoff: Being away is hard, especially when my family needs me. I am fully supporting the family and just loving on them. But it’s also reassuring to know that I can go and work and do what I am called to do. From the beginning Melissa has been so supportive and encouraging for me to do what I’m supposed to do, and that is performing.
RM: How did your other children respond to the news of both their sister and their mom battling cancer?
CH: News about the cancer was tough from the beginning. It immediately affected how we care for each other as a family. I think all of us understand how much we shape one another’s response to most any news, encouraging or challenging. With our kids it has been no different. Now as parents, we process the cancer stuff as it comes, then we share with the kids as we go. Sometimes with tears or laughter. Sometimes with prayer and praise.
I had tocome to therealization that Iam not in control oftheir outcomes andthis outlook has given me a greatdeal of faith.
RM: What did the conversation look like between the two of you to keep touring versus staying at home with family during this time?
CH: We love being together so much that it’s been tough being split by cancer surgeries and treatment and my traveling for work. Melissa gave me the confidence right away that when I’m supposed to be home or away, we will be led to the right decision. Hard times have shaped our perspective on things and cemented our faith.
RM: What does your schedule look like so you can do what you love, but also still be with the ones you love?
CH: It’s like playing the major leagues, but they’re all away games, unfortunately. But at least every game is a win!
RM: How many days a week or month are you on the road?
CH: I’ve been on the road for six years now with The Midtown Men almost half the time, perhaps, and before that, we were in New York on Broadway in Jersey Boys with eight shows a week for three years. Show business is like that. Either a sprint or a marathon, but it keeps you running toward a goal. Goals and dreams are a great assurance along the way. Circumstances are not what you choose and the journey is a tough one. Nothing that I’d ever imagine having to face, let alone in a six-month time frame, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to come together; to find our faith foundation. We get through the day, whether it’s going to school, or swimming, or gymnastics, or if we have to go to a treatment. When you start looking at your life in percentages or the care for your child or wife in percentages of survivability, there is a responsibility that comes with making decisions. I had to come to the realization that I am not in control of their outcomes and this outlook has given me a great deal of faith. We do all the needed research together to make sure we’re prepared, but then we pray about it and give our decision over to God.
RM: Speaking of your faith deepening, how are you both relying on the Lord more?
CH: This journey has given me a great faith; God has a plan. You need to let God reign. Hard times can pull families apart and we are grateful that that hasn’t happened and we work hard to make sure it won’t happen. Ella’s diagnosis and Melissa’s surgery, as well as the treatment only draw us closer to one another. The reason this is true is because of our shared faith. We are all focused on being obedient and just knowing that God has a plan for this. Yes, we are praying for an outcome, and yes, we are praying for comfort along the way, but we are finding rest in whatever the outcome is. We are finding comfort in the journey knowing that God is always on the throne. He has helped me as a dad, and as a husband especially when I struggle with not being able to fix things or change things.
RM: As a parent, what is the hardest aspect to seeing your daughter fight her disease?
MH: The hardest thing is that I see how she struggles when she is in pain. Ella’s not really afraid – she’s pretty fearless – but just knowing that she’s struggling at any given time breaks my heart.
CH: The anticipation of knowing what will be coming the next day [is really hard]. There is going to be another set of stairs and she’s going to get tired, or when the anesthesiologist puts her to sleep for the treatments. The treatments; those never get easy. But at the same time when Ella comes out of it, she’s just her sweet self, and her smile comes back. The conversation picks up, and is normal banter about what we’re going to have for lunch, or what movie do you like and it’s just as if everything is okay. And it is. It is okay.
RM: It is incredible what doctors can do these days, but on some level I’m sure it was an adjustment to not being able to care for your daughter at the level the medial team can. Did you struggle with that at all?
MH: We want to make sure our kids have everything they need and give them every opportunity. I remember the first time at the hospital when there was this team of people caring for my daughter and I was just sitting there and I couldn’t do anything! As a mom, you want to do whatever you can to make everything right for your kids and immediately. You know you want to give them the best food, the best of everything, and when they are sticking my baby with needles, and doing things that I would never do to her, I just had to step back and remember, “There’s nothing I can do. God, this is your child. She is completely in Your capable hands.”
RM: Through every hardship there are lessons to be gleaned. What do you feel like you have learned and what in turn would you tell a family that might be facing a similar situation?
CH: I would say that we have learned and are to be reminded that our children belong to God first. In all of the challenges that Melissa and I have faced with our children, God loves them and us more than we can love. It is humbling to know that God loves us so amazingly. That has been our comfort.
MH: As for families that are dealing with a new diagnosis, I think research and education is number one. That is something that you can do as a mom and dad, grandma or grandpa, or even as a sibling. Learn everything you can about the disease and the treatment. Ask questions. Immerse yourself in it and be an educated advocate.
RM: What keeps you pushing forward?
CH: No one ever enters a race to not finish; there is always a goal to cross the finish line. We are grateful that our circumstances aren’t terminal, because that would change the dynamics of our race. We pray for favorable outcomes, but we are praying for whatever God has planned, with whatever circumstances He brings us. We want to love Him more and look to Him for comfort. And for those families who have lost children, we have known several, our heart and prayers go out to them. Only God has the answers.
You can check out the book written specifically for Ella called, The Littlest Daffodil. The book is written by Leah “Lele” Stevens and proceeds from the book go to the charity www.KICKcancERMovement.com.
Find out where you can catch Christian next at: www.ChristianHoff.com