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Heart of the Matter: Connie Hopper
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Connie Hopper:
The Road to Recovery

Taking some time off from the road this year was definitely not on Connie Hopper’s to-do list. But as Gloria Gaither often says, “God is in the interruptions” — and a reoccurrence of cancer after 35 years is a very sobering interruption, indeed. Life as she knew it came to a screeching halt as Connie once again faced an enemy she thought had been thoroughly defeated years ago. Thankfully, Connie has now completed all of the treatments required and is firmly on the road to recovery. In a recent phone conversation, the matriarch of the Hopper family shared some of that experience in the hopes that it can encourage others to just, as she puts it, “Take a step of faith and keep on going.”

In August of 2014, Connie’s annual mammogram revealed a small malignancy. After it was successfully removed, Connie was a little startled when her doctor scheduled an appointment with an oncologist. “I didn’t really understand it, because the lymph nodes and the surrounding tissues were clear. So after the oncologist spelled out everything she was planning to do, she asked if I had any questions and I just looked at her and said, ‘Yes. What am I doing here? When I had this before, they took it out and that was it. I did not have to take one treatment.’ And she said, ‘Well, this is a very aggressive form; it’s called triple-negative.’ I didn’t even know what that was, but I soon found out.”

One night while eating supper in her kitchen, something on the “CBS Evening News” caught Connie’s attention. “Scott Pelley came on and said, ‘Tonight we’re going to tell you what’s going on in Iraq, and we’re also going to tell you about the most deadly form of breast cancer.’ I just kept on eating, and next thing I know they’re talking about triple-negative, saying it was the worst kind of breast cancer to have. They said if you had even one cell that detached and went somewhere else, you’d get it again. Well, that shook me up. I was here all by myself, everybody was on the road, and it just really shook me up. I thought, that’s why they’re having me do all these treatments. And I just said, ‘Lord, I don’t know anything about this, but You do. I didn’t see this coming, but You did.’” Connie’s voice breaks as she says, “God knows all of it and that’s the reason I don’t question Him, or say, ‘Why me?’ Instead, I say ‘What can I learn about You through this?’ She pauses for a moment, then adds with a smile, “Sorry if I cry.”

A month after her surgery, Connie started a chemo regimen that lasted from October to the end of December. Then a month after the chemo ended, she began a grueling five-day-a-week series of 33 radiation treatments. “The doctors didn’t want me around crowds of people during treatment because my immune system was compromised,” Connie explains. “So I left the road. And then Kim’s mom got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, so Kim had to get off the road for a while, too. The Hoppers kept going, though; they got some great folks to fill in, and they went right on doing concerts.”

Almost a year to the day that they found out Connie’s cancer had returned, Claude, her beloved husband of 54 years, suffered a stroke while on tour in Frankfort, Kentucky. He was airlifted to a hospital, but after just a few days he was released to go home — miraculously, with 100 percent of his motor skills and brain activity intact. His speech has been slightly affected, but otherwise, as his son Dean happily reports, “He’s still Claude!” It’s now been several months since the stroke, and on any given weekend you can find the head of the Hopper family taking the stage just like he always has. “Claude gets up and sings, and if he has a little trouble finishing his sentences when he talks, he just makes jokes about it,” says Connie. “He doesn’t want anybody feeling sorry for him, because we all know it could have been so much worse.”

Connie’s forced hiatus has had a few unexpected benefits. “This is the most time I’ve spent at home in years,” she confides. “And you know what? I’ve loved it! We live on a farm at the end of a road, and there’s nothing around us but cows and fences. It’s been so restful and relaxing to just be here in my house. I don’t have any expensive art or anything, but all of my pictures come from somewhere and they have a story. Sitting here in my living room, I can see something I bought in Amsterdam, and I got that over there in Israel. I’m also surrounded by books. I need to get rid of some of them — the shelves are simply exploding. I spend time every day reading the Word of God, but I love to read books that have a good testimony or some spiritual insight, too. Reading and listening to music has been a big encouragement to me.

“Let me tell you something I learned the first time I had cancer,” Connie says. “Some people really want to tell you their cancer stories, and some of them are really bad. I believe that kind of stuff gets in your head and the devil uses it against you. My boys were young; I was only 39. I was completely filled with fear, but I wouldn’t tell anybody just how afraid I really was — even Claude. I finally talked to my sister. She was staying with me at the hospital, and she said that in the middle of the night I suddenly spoke out and said, ‘I’m not afraid anymore.’ I don’t remember it at all, but I do remember that when I woke up, it was like a presence had come and somehow removed all of the fear, the doubt and the dread. I knew that whether He chose to take me or whether He chose to leave me, it was going to be all right. And that’s how I lived for the next 35 years.”

She continues, “This time? I didn’t have that fear. When the doctor called and told me it was cancer, I was standing at the kitchen counter and my Bible was sitting there open. I started flipping around at random trying to read, but all I could think about was what I’d just heard. I couldn’t even comprehend anything, until I got to the verse that said, “Not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father knowing about it.” I just started crying and said, ‘Thank you, God.’ Then I closed the Bible, got up and got on with my life.”

Though Connie hasn’t jumped back into the full touring schedule yet, she is performing more and more. “I’m not quite 100 percent,” she tells me. “But I am doing so much better. Years ago, my doctor said that my attitude would have a lot to do with how I got well. I try to pass that on to others, and every night after we sing people come up and say things like, ‘Your determination is an encouragement to me,’ and ‘I get strength from your smile.’ Claude says I can’t take a compliment, but honestly, without trying to be Spiritual Joe or anything, I don’t really think of those things as compliments. That’s just my God using a bad situation for good.”