I started out life without many expectations. Graduated from high school as valedictorian, went to business college, got a job, got married, quit to start raising a family. Spent the next several years as a stay-at-home mother to 5 children of my own and 3 of my sister’s. She passed away from cancer at the age of 31, leaving children aged 6, 8 and 10.
Then after most had graduated and started their own journey, I began working as a clerk in a candy and gift store, graduated to manager, then switched careers to work at a bank for the next 22 years. So far, pretty normal.
In 2004, my life changed. In August, I had a mammogram, just like I did every year. Declared clean. In September, the ads begin on TV, talking about Relays For Life, etc. and encouraging us to do self-exams. Even though I just had a clean mammogram, I actually did a self-exam and found a lump. Went to a surgeon who did a biopsy. Was told it wasn’t cancer, but the cells weren’t normal, and encouraged to take Tomoxifin as a precaution. That didn’t satisfy me, so I went to a wonderful breast surgeon who performed another biopsy. Just before Christmas, she called me at work and told me “it’s cancer”. Since my sister had died of breast cancer, of course, I was terrified. And I cried. My boss told me to go home for the day. But then, after talking about the situation with my children, I just felt much better. I didn’t have any fear of dying at all. I knew my surgeon was one of the best, and with her help and advice, I decided to have a bi-lateral mastectomy. That was the best ever decision. When the surgery was performed, a tiny bit of cancer was found in the breast that supposedly was cancer free. After 2 nights in the hospital, I went home with many drains in, continued to heal over 6 weeks and then went back to work. No chemo was necessary, but I did have 36 radiation treatments as a precaution, since the new cancer was found near the edge of the tissue taken. I never had any fears and knew I had many friends praying for me — plus the best surgeon ever!
I continued to have a very pleasant life for the next 2 years. In 2007, my job was eliminated, so I retired and began working part-time at a cosmetic studio. Life was good! Until one day May 13, 2009 I went for my yearly echocardiogram. Thanks to a wonderful technician who was very alert, she found that my descending aorta was dissecting — normally a life-threatening situation. I had absolutely no signs that there was a problem. I was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where many tests were done over the next 6 days. Final decision was that I would need two open-heart surgeries. The first surgery was July 1, 2009, where an aneurysm was repaired and the ascending aorta was replaced. Hospitalized for 8 days and headed home to recuperate. Life gradually got back to normal and I went back to work part-time.
Next surgery was much more complicated and I was told it would need to be done at Cleveland Clinic or a hospital in Houston, TX. Of course, Cleveland is much closer, so that’s what I decided. Surgery was performed November 25, 2009 and descending aorta was completely replaced. Spent 10 days in ICU and another 10 days in regular care. From there 4 weeks at a nursing home for rehab. Recovery from this surgery was much harder, but I have recovered and went back to work part-time March 9. There are many days where my energy level is about zero, but I know it will improve, even though I am facing a possible third open-heart surgery due to a leaking mitral valve! I am a survivor !!!!