Reflections On A Year Gone By

Posted: February 12, 2012 in Resolutions

I decided to make this blog about a very personal and emotional time in my life as a way for me to reflect on that time, make peace with it and look to the here and now for all that life has blessed me with. If we want to have clarity and perspective in our life then we need to resolve whatever may be getting in the way of our happiness and moving forward.  Remember that our emotional health is a huge component of our over-all health and it can then impact our physical health.

Please bear with me on this blog.  It was my way of putting this past year to rest.  I have learned from it, appreciated all that it taught me, but it is time to move on!  Writing this has helped me to do just that.  Future blogs won’t be this long – promise!!!

Exactly one year ago today (2/11/11), I received a phone call that rocked me to the core.  I still remember the exact words spoken on the other end of the line… “Joanne.  It is a good thing we went ahead and did the MRI because we did find something.” 

Rewind to the beautiful weekend of January 29th of 2011 and my husband and I are away for an amazing marriage retreat hosted by very dear friends on the serene island of Kiawah, SC.  It had been the first time in countless years that Craig and I were actually able to be away together.  When the opportunity arose we jumped on it and didn’t care about the expense or the fact that we had no one at the time to watch our son.  We just knew we had to go.  That decision was to be a monumental one that we didn’t even know at the time and on that weekend one simple conversation would then become one that would forever change me.  See it had been a couple of years since we had moved down to NC, and I never researched any family physicians.  I had all my other doctors, but not a general practitioner.  I knew that I was due for a physical and having  just turned 40 was another factor.  It was then that a simple statement from one of the other women on our trip would ignite my life-changing journey.  She was making small talk about how she had just been to her doctor and it was when she proclaimed how much she absolutely loved him that my ears started to perk up.  Next thing I knew, a few others began to chime in as to the fact that they go to him as well and love him too.  With that, I got the name of this beloved doctor and was determined to make that phone call when we got home.  And I did just that!

Craig and I had the most incredible time on that weekend and wanted to make it last so we decided on the way home to stop in Charleston, SC.  It was a beautiful 70 degree day in SC in January and we took that opportunity to walk all over town.  It was in downtown Charleston that I found this great hat store.  For some odd reason, I had all of a sudden developed an affinity for hats.  Now, in all my 40 years, hats were never really part of my wardrobe, but now I had to look at them whenever I saw them.  This will have more bearing as my story continues.

February 7, 2011 – my appointment.  That morning I met the most amazing, caring doctor – Dr. Alexanian.  He listened to everything I said and never once did I feel he was rushing my appointment just to get to the next person.  During the course of our discussion, I had mentioned to him that I had been having headaches on a daily basis for well over a month.  So of course the usual suspects were mentioned – hormones (I did just turn 40), lack of sleep, stress…but it was when I mentioned that come to think of it I had been noticing difficulty with expressing my thoughts into words – that Dr. A. looked up from his note-taking and said that he would feel more comfortable if we just scheduled an MRI to rule out anything.  Yet again – a decision that would take my life on a very different course.

February 11, 2011 – my MRI appointment.  At the time I had been working full-time including Saturday mornings and Fridays were my day off.  I had been at this job for over two years and rarely ever – if at all – filled in for anyone on Fridays.  That day was my coveted day off!  But that day a friend was in a bind and called on me to help her out. I was hesitant due to the fact that I had my MRI appointment in the early morning and wasn’t sure that I would be able to make it there on time and, of course, because it was my day off.  I decided to cover for her anyway.  Yet another decision that seemed so insignificant at the time in the scheme of things, but one that played an important role.  It was towards the end of my duties for that day that I got the call; the news that they had found something on my MRI – the news that would bring me to my knees.  Somehow in the midst of the shock and disbelief I was able to utter the words of what was wrong to my friends at work.  Right then and there I had my first built-in support team.  That decision to go to work that day provided me with the comfort of being surrounded by friends.  On any given Friday I would have been home – alone- trying to catch-up on house detail.  But not this day.  I think back to what I would have done if I were all alone or out running an errand by myself. 

In the days leading up to my surgery which was scheduled for March 4th, I drifted in and out of a whole host of emotions, but the overwhelming response from family and friends kept me going. Our church group dropped everything on Valentine’s Day to be with us in our initial stages of shock; family headed into town; and emails, cards, and food flooded our home – even from people we didn’t know.  We were so thankful for each and every touching gesture!  But ultimately no person, no card, etc. could give me all the strength I needed to face this head on.  I had to decide that for myself.  And so I made the decision to keep living my life as I normally would which included working out and be conscious of my food choices.  Oh how easy it would have been to throw in the towel, wave the white flag and surrender to every comfort food know to man – but I didn’t!

During the entire time between my diagnosis date and my surgery date – I had one small headache.  ONE!  Why now did my headaches mysteriously go away when I had been having them everyday for a month or so leading up to my diagnosis?  My brain surgeon said that he didn’t even think that the tumor had anything to do with the headaches because of where it was positioned on my brain.  Hmmm….call it what you want, but without those headaches occurring on a daily basis I might not have even made the doctor’s appointment as soon as I did.  You know – life gets in the way!

March 4, 2011 – day of surgery.  That day I felt a sense of calmness come over me.  Friends stopped by to pray with us before we headed out to the hospital and our pastor met us there to be at my side.  Amazing people!  Post surgery, as the anesthesia was wearing off, I remember being asked if I knew where I was to which I replied – “Club Med?!”  I remember the nurses on the intensive care unit telling me that I was the healthiest person on the floor that day.  I am so thankful that my determination to eat right and exercise played a major role in my quick recovery.  I did allow myself to indulge in the peanut butter bars that were specially made and delivered to my bedside from wonderful friends of ours.  I am told that I actually demanded them!  I’m claiming lots and lots of pain medicine as my reason for not clearly remembering that fact.

The pathology report on the tumor had come back with another twist.  There were atypical cells and the tumor was rare and aggressive.  That meant 6 straight weeks of radiation was the next course of action.  My brain surgeon was able to spare my hair during the surgery, but it would be the radiation that would take a great deal of it away.   Enter the hat obsession!  There was a definitive reason now why I was prompted into my little hat buying spree. 

Another thing that made me go hmmm….Months before my diagnosis I had met with a friend who recommended a book called My Stroke of Insight.  It was written about a woman who had a stroke and needed to learn how to use the other side of her brain and appreciate its differences.  In retrospect, I found it so fascinating that of all the topics out there, my friend had suggested a book about the brain and issues with the brain.

February 7, 2012 – annual visit with Dr. A.  I hadn’t seen Dr. A since last year and we were recalling all of the events.  He asked me if my recovery was difficult and I told him that considering someone had just sawed into my skull and messed with my brain – it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.  He confirmed what I already knew – that my relatively quick recovery was due to my good state of health prior to the surgery.  He also said that if I had gone into that surgery with other health issues to contend with that it would have been a different story. Things could have been more difficult if I had been a diabetic, had blood pressure issues, etc.  So on those days when I said no to treats that were calling my name or when I didn’t feel like exercising but did anyway – I now know why.

We all make decisions every day – some significant and others mundane – and most times we don’t give them a second thought.  We may never know the impact that some of those decisions have had, but one thing is for sure…every decision you make concerning your health will affect you in one way or the other.  But sometimes the effects will not be seen for some time.  I knew that my decisions to eat right and exercise were the right ones despite how hard they may have seemed at the time, but I had no idea the scope of the bearing they would have on my surgery and recovery.  I could not have prepared for the news that day from an emotional stand-point, but my physical health (aside from that thing called a brain tumor) was in the best condition that it could have possibly been. 

Thank you for coming on this journey with me!  Please take a moment to be thankful for all that you have and make a promise to yourself to try to change one thing that is negatively influencing your health.  It is never too late to change and your body will thank you for it, and I am sure your loved ones will too!  You just have to decide to do it!

  1. maureen magnani says:

    Amazing story. Thank you for sharing. Our body is a gift and we must take care of it.

  2. Suzanne Lawn says:

    Beautifully written, beautifully said, and quite an amazing story that I just sat here for a few minutes staring at this screen. love you

  3. JOHN says:

    I’m SO happy to know that you are doing well Jo. Many blessings upon you and your family.
    Much love,

  4. Barbara says:

    I feel so lucky to have know you and so pleased that all went so well for you!! Love you Joanne! Barbara

  5. Maria says:

    Joanne, I am so proud of your strength and wisdom. You have always been an inspiration to me. Love You

  6. Jo Collura says:


    I am so happy that all went well and yes all things happen for a reason..When we look back on situations we realize that the pieces of the puzzle all fit into place..”That is God speaking to us”.. Our prayers were answered..God Bless you and your family..

    Jo Collura

  7. Thank you for sharing Joanne! Inspirational! Grateful you are well! NJ misses you.

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