I thought I was doing ok. I thought I’d processed my BC well enough so that I wouldn’t find myself in total PTSD Land here in late December 2021. Nope. Instead, I’ve been spending the last part of 2021 remembering.
Surgery postponed to tomorrow
CaringBridge Post Dec 27, 2011 7:53am
I was going to send out a few more announcements about my cancer diagnosis last week, but with getting ready for Christmas, visiting doctors and doing pre-op, time slipped away. So if you are getting my news for the first time, please read my first journal entry from December 19. I think that sums up my general state of mind on this whole situation. According to my sister-in-law, Nicole, I have my “big girl pants” on about this. Maybe I do. I’m trying to keep a positive attitude, gather support, deal with the situation at hand and keep living my life with limited moments of freaking out and panic. But don’t get me wrong, there ARE moments! 🙂
Anyway, my parents and sister, Barb, arrived yesterday morning from Michigan to be with us, which is awesome! They came in time for surgery which was scheduled for today, but now that surgery has been postponed ’til tomorrow, we’ll be able to play tourists.
My first ever mammogram on November 16, 2011, less than two months shy of my 44th birthday and half-way through our five year New Orleans adventure, turned out to be suspicious and so on December 1st I returned for a follow-up mammogram–a diagnostic mammogram this time where a radiologist reads the mammogram immediately–and an ultrasound. I will always remember the mammogram technician being kind throughout the test, but the ultrasound technician was as cold and unsupportive as the room we were in for that test. However, when she left to consult with the radiologist and then returned, she was the one who had to tell me that I needed to go across the street immediately and see my primary care physician for the results. Suddenly, she’s nice, which doubly sucked–I knew it was bad because of her switch up and I was still vexed with her for being a b%#@*.
I remember going across the street on that beautiful, sunny, December afternoon in NOLA and being immediately taken into a consult room at Dr. Garrett’s office, but waiting forever to see Dr. Garrett, herself, which was completely unnerving. However, when Dr. Garrett was able to see me, she was frankly the most gracious, knowledgeable, helpful and kind doctor that could have ever given me the news that based on these preliminary examinations that I’d had done across the street, it looked like I had breast cancer in my right breast. We talked about the fact that I would need a biopsy to confirm cancer and allowed me the possibility that maybe these were multiple cysts rather than cancer. She recommended Dr. Joseph Uddo, who she had trained under in New Orleans as my surgeon, East Jefferson Hospital for my care, and gave me the number to call to be put under the guidance of a nurse navigator, Shawn Neeley, who would be there to guide me throughout the whole process. I called Shawn the next day and she got everything rolling.
The next two weeks are a blur. I remember going with Terry to meet Dr. Uddo and have an exam, with an ultrasound guided biopsy at the hospital a few days later, which was super painful and left intense bruising, but no one really got me to understand that direct pressure (like a tight athletic bra or an ace bandage wrapped around my body) would have been helpful. I remember feeling so out of sorts in regards to school, my students, and my colleagues. Work and Terry were ‘my people’–but hardly anyone…Terry at home, only a couple of people at work (both my principal and assistant principal) knew what I was going through or actually up against. It may have been odd to my students that I was missing a couple of days or leaving school early to go to appointments, but they had enough of their own teenage driven drama going on to recognize that my life was being upended. I remember people doing their best to calm me down, though, trying to be supportive and how appreciative I was for the distraction of an IB (International Baccalaureate) Conference 5 or 6 of my colleagues and I were able to attend in the midst of everything going on. I still remember with resentment that I had a fellow teacher tell me about how she used ‘positive imagery’ and prayer to deal with a cancer scare of her own and because it ‘worked’ for her, of course it would work for me. Yep, if only I could have prayed hard enough, my cancer would not exist! Whatever.
One of the best things I did during this time, however, was do my research. As a trained historian, I know how to dig for knowledge and I did. I read all of the brochures that my expanding medical team gave us. I went online. I also reached out to 3 medical doctors in my extended world to gain their insight.
And then, the results were in. Friday, December 16, 2011 and I couldn’t run anymore. Dr. Uddo called me when I got home from school, just as we were heading off on my school’s Winter Break. It was breast cancer, and I couldn’t hide from the reality that indeed, my 3 tumors were malignant.
From CaringBridge on Monday, December 19, 2011:
Well, I wrapped up 5 months of pretty intense teaching and almost a month of health limbo land Friday to find that:
1) I definitely have breast cancer in my right breast
2) The masses and calcifications are regional in nature so we’re looking at a mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy
3) If I don’t go with chemo first, I could be in for outpatient (OUTPATIENT!!!!!) surgery as early as the week between Christmas and New Years–and driving a car myself as early as 7 days post surgery
4) I see an oncologist and a radiologist this next week
5) Surgeon feels this is very treatable
6) Won’t know stage of cancer until surgery…nor whether I will need chemo for sure, but it is probable. So much for the hair coloring I had last month…
7) Surgeon claims that pain/discomfort of today’s version of a mastectomy is not much worse than the stereotactic/mammogram guided biopsy I had on Tuesday…I don’t quite believe him on this…
8) Apparently reconstruction is actually more painful and intense than the mastectomy. I’m leaning towards waiting for reconstruction until after I get the cancer evicted from my body. However, it’s been awhile, since I had to pad my bras…
9) Weird to be considered ‘young’ for anything these days, but I am for breast cancer
10) I’m very relieved that I got AFLAC cancer coverage this year
11) Terry is being awesomely supportive
12) My cancer team will be out of East Jefferson Hospital which is affiliated with MD Anderson in Houston
13) My parents and sister plan to come down to be with us whenever surgery gets finalized so Terry doesn’t have to do all of the care giving
14) Surprised at how this whole thing takes over your life.
So, that is it in a nutshell. Terry has had a friend in town this weekend so we’ve been doing some entertaining and the weather has been gorgeous.
So, it was decided that I would have my surgery between Christmas and New Years. Originally scheduled for December 27th, it was bumped back to December 28th. My parents and sister, Barb, spent Christmas morning with Barb’s family and then left for New Orleans. And then it was done.
Cannot Believe Surgery Was Outpatient!!!!!
From CaringBridge on Thursday, December 29, 2011 2:35pm
Thanks so much for the great messages!!!
They mean so much to me!
Just a quick update today, before I go out in the backyard to relax on a cozy lawn chair. It’s about 70 degrees here in NOLA today and just beautiful.
Yes, I am home from the hospital–got home at 10 last night actually, so it was truly an outpatient surgery. Dr. Udoo, my surgeon, was pleased with the surgery itself and the fact that the sentinel lymph node did not show any signs of cancer. We won’t have the newest pathology reports back until Tuesday or Wednesday, however. Always something to wait on!
Another thing that went well is that I only had a tiny bit of nausea after surgery–which was taken care of with some crackers. Because I was pretty miserable after ACL surgery 3 years ago, I mentioned this to my aneshesiologist and she prescribed 2 medicines for me to take at the hospital as well as an anti-nausea behind my left ear. It worked! Apparently women experience more nausea after surgery than men do–so ladies, if you are going into surgery see if you can meet the anesthesiologist ahead of time and ask for anti-nausea meds–they work!
Today’s recovery is going well. The vicodin is making me sleepy, but I’ve been up moving around. Terry, my parents and my sister have created a great recovery team and are spoiling me rotten.
Again, thanks for all of the messages! Fantabulous!
And then, after 6 weeks leading up to surgery, I spent the next six weeks physically healing from the surgery that removed a body part, my right breast, as well as the cancer. I found out that Dr. Uddo had gotten my margins during the mastectomy and so I would not need radiation. My oncologist, Dr. Gurtler, had an Oncotype test done for me and those results showed that chemotherapy was not recommended. Want to talk about a great Valentine’s Day gift? And by Mardi Gras, it was as if nothing had happened and so we had a houseful of guests to celebrate. I almost went back to living my new normal as if nothing had changed–not my body, not my perspective, not my relationships, not the amount of time I still had to spend with my medical team–and was in shock when I went into a funk in the fall and needed to start counseling.
I’m not sure why this 10th cancerversary has hit me so hard. It might be the historian in me that cares about significant dates OR, most probably, it’s that this year has been so intense with COVID–and with the denial that it is still playing a significant role in all of our lives after nearly 2 years.
I have drawn a number of similarities between my experience with cancer and COVID and I think this correlation continues for me:
•How this first semester of the 2021-22 school year has been super stressful with returning to classroom instruction while everyone has acted as if nothing big happened in the prior 18 months–or that we learned anything about teaching effectively in a pandemic. Same thing happened with my experience with breast cancer and returning to school–I jumped back in as if nothing had happened.
•That COVID is no longer an issue in our world–at the same time students, family members, and colleagues have gotten sick from COVID. Same thing with the past ten years with breast cancer. While my own breast cancer care has taken a back seat in my life, people I know and care about have been diagnosed with cancer and too many that I know have died.
•That while my experience with COVID–like my experience with breast cancer–has been mild, I have lost people who I care about either directly from COVID or because COVID impacted their accessing medical care for other medical issues. In the past 2 months, I’ve attended 2 funerals of people I care about. One person died because of their breast cancer metastasizing and the other because of COVID. It’s not easy.
Other similarities? Coping with hard times by heading outside to walk and take photos (especially near water!)–which I’ve done and will share in a later post. The other commonality is recognizing that writing can truly help me process the drama and help draw me out of my PTSD. Thank you so much for reading. And as 2021 and this post draw to an end, here is an oldie–my last post from 2011:
Wrapping up 2011
From CaringBridge on Dec 31, 2011 6:07pm
Happy New Year’s Eve!!
No news is good news in JoAnn’s recovery world. After relying heavily on Vicadin on Thursday, I have been sticking to extra strength Tylenol yesterday and today for discomfort–which has actually been infrequent. I’m not feeling severe pain (nothing like the pain after ACL surgery), but I do still feel mildly achy at different points.
Per doctor’s orders, I am moving around and gradually adding more activity. Yesterday’s big adventures were washing my hair and taking a sponge bath (with help!) and playing dominoes, while today’s were going to the airport to drop off Barb with my parents and World Market to do some after-Christmas shopping. Glad that things are going well enough that Barb was able to go home to be with her family, but I am definitely missing her company! 🙂
I took a long nap this afternoon while my parents caught up on their shows with Netflix and Terry went to watch football with some friends. We’re staying at home tonight–nothing too wild and crazy! 🙂
Wishing everyone much peace, love, happiness–and good health in 2012!!!!!
And thanks again for all of the messages!!!!
Peace, love, happiness, and good health to you and Terry in 2022! I’m glad writing helps you. I sure enjoy reading it! XOX
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JoAnn, I don’t know if there is an end date for PTSD, especially after what you have been through, then add a pandemic on top of that. Um, that is a ton of stuff to process. And school sucks ass. I have been trying to unwind this break by doing home repairs (I am bad at caulking without a caulk gun…) and watching lots of scooby doo movies with Daniel. One day we will see each other again!
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You are such a wonderful writer JoAnn! You bring this all back in such a meaningful way. I’m glad it is cathartic for you. It was certainly a stressful time for all of us but also filled with much love and bonding. That’s when dad and I got really close to Zoe. She finally excepted us after walking her daily. We also fell in love with New Orleans at that time. We were all so fortunate to be there with you. As always dad and I are very proud of you!