Joanie's Journey

Joan, her family, and friends are all so very grateful for your support and prayers.  Please dress casually when you join us on October 20 for a fun-filled, fundraising evening to help Joan as she crushes cancer.

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A note from Joan’s son…

We all have our morning routines. We wake up, contemplate smashing our alarm clocks, begrudgingly decide against it, make our beds, brush our teeth, shower and dress, eat breakfast, and then go about our daily business. Until recently, this summed up my mornings entirely. For the majority of 2018, however, my list has included one extra item. Each morning, before my head rises from my pillow, I hear four painful words that crush me like a hundred tons of bricks, demanding to be carried every second of every day: my mom has cancer.

I'd like to tell you a bit about my mom's recent past.

During the final months of 2017 and the early months of 2018, my mom was sick. Constantly. At first, nothing seemed significant. A couple colds, a few sinus infections, some headaches. Nothing earth shattering. After a while, however, it became impossible to ignore the possibility that these little things might add up to a big thing. Before long, she began feeling a pressure growing behind her right eye. It started tearing on a regular basis and eventually started to visibly protrude from her face. Her antibiotics were replaced with pain medications because nothing provided lasting relief. All lights and sounds began to bother her. The house had to be kept dark. Heat felt good, so she had me microwave a damp washcloth every fifteen minutes. I’d heat the cloth to a point where I could only touch it by lightly pinching it with two fingers, and then to hand it to her so she could apply it directly to her face. Sometimes we could whisper to each other, sometimes conversation was too painful. By this point, her doctor finally agreed that something could be seriously wrong. And so began a month of tests.

The tests began with a CT scan, which identified the presence of a mass within her sinuses. An MRI was scheduled a few weeks later to identify what exactly the mass was. This was where the c-word entered the conversation, but the mass's insignificance still remained a possibility. My mom received bad news on the day of the MRI before she even went to her appointment. When she showed up for work that morning, she was informed that she was being terminated from her position. Although she received her pay and insurance through the end of her contract, the knowledge of her healthcare's expiration date heightened our fears during this time. The MRI took place as scheduled and identified that the mass was indeed cancerous. Instead of providing the information we needed to plan a course of action, the MRI was followed by tests, tests, and more tests. CAT scans, ultrasounds, an excruciating but inconclusive biopsy, then another one followed over the next weeks. It took days to find available appointments for each test to be conducted and then a few more to wait for results. There were so many mornings when we

thought "today we'll know," only to hear that another test was necessary. This lasted until the end of February when we finally received our answer.

It turned out that the mass in her sinuses wasn't insignificant and our fears weren't unwarranted. My mom was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called choriocarcinoma. Choriocarcinoma is a rapidly-spreading disease that is most commonly found in a woman's uterus immediately after a pregnancy. The fact that it was in her sinuses twenty years after last giving birth greatly confused her doctors. We were terrified and devastated but relieved to have an answer. We were also relieved to learn that it was nowhere else in her body. Although we had to brace ourselves for a battle, we were glad to be done wasting precious time.

 

There was no time to adjust to the news before treatment began. My mom was admitted to the main campus of the Cleveland Clinic just hours after being diagnosed to begin chemotherapy. She stayed for nearly a week, receiving chemo five days in a row. A rigorous regiment of treatment was planned for the next twelve weeks. The schedule seemed straightforward on paper, but only because we didn't know what the future entailed. Like most people, we knew to anticipate her nauseousness, vomiting, and hair loss. Other side effects, such as her complications with eating and drinking, digesting food, nosebleeds, and infections were impossible to predict. I was not ready for the day when my rock in this world suddenly needed my help to get up the steps.

Once we put the three months, twenty-eight doses of chemo, and three emergency hospitalizations behind us, we were ready to test the treatment's effectiveness. The oncologist wanted to wait a month for the final doses to run their course before doing the scans. During this month, my mom was able to secure a teaching job and we were finally able to begin thinking about life after her transition from "cancer patient" to "cancer survivor."

 

On June 22, we listened to the words "complete resolution" as tears of joy ran down our faces. It was gone. The battle was over.

We returned to our normal lives with renewed gratitude for each day. We spent the blissful month of July enjoying all of the fun times we'd missed during the previous months. We went for daily walks, read books, and relaxed at my grandparents' cottage in Michigan. She started driving and could once again join us in stores and restaurants. We excitedly watched as her hair started returning and growing each day. We decorated and prepared her new classroom for the upcoming school year and had it ready for her students to walk in. We thanked God out loud and to ourselves so many times each day. I can honestly say that we didn't take a single second for granted. Life was good. Ignorance was bliss.

On August 1, my mom and I returned to the cancer center for a routine follow up appointment. It was supposed to be a quick blood test, a brief check in with her doctor, and nothing more. We had plans to check out some shops in Little Italy after we left. When she was called back to see the doctor, she said "I'll be right out" and then left me in the waiting room. Twenty minutes passed then forty-five, then an hour, then two. I knew what it meant before I was told. Something was wrong. It was back.

I moved to a seat with a clear view of the hallway where she was taken so I'd see her as soon as she emerged. As I expected, she walked out in tears. A nurse stopped her and hugged her in the same spot where we'd embraced after hearing much better news just five weeks earlier.

Upon hearing about her illness, the school at which she was hired was forced to find another teacher. Not being able to return to the new school year was crushing. My mom had dedicated twenty-two years to teaching and administration, and so longed to continue her love of education from the classroom this year. Not only was the loss of not being able to return to the new school year burdensome, but the concern of losing her salary and possibly health insurance became a reality once again.

Her doctors have now deemed it necessary to attack the cancer with a form of high potency chemotherapy. On September 19, she will check herself into the hospital for three days of treatment. These drugs are so severe that they will require her to remain hospitalized for the following three or four weeks. Her bone marrow will have been harvested prior to the hospital stay so that it can be given back to her to help heal. Along with the side effects she faced before, there are new risks involved with this form of chemo. The loss of her hearing is one in particular that is scaring us. When she gets home, she will have a month off before beginning the process over again. Our prayer is that these two hospital stays will rid her body of the cancer once and for all. We are hoping to enjoy a Merry Christmas, celebrate her 50th birthday in a big way, and then kiss the awful 2018 goodbye.

Although we are using thoughts of a happy future to motivate ourselves, the reality is that there are dark and difficult days ahead. We must travel through this tunnel before we can reach the light at its end. Unfortunately, our struggles are currently more than physical and emotional. Just as the intensity of my mom’s treatment has increased, the severity of our financial situation has become more dire. My mom has healthcare through the end of October but has no source of income. Her husband, Brett, is trying but struggling to find work. My brother, Alec, is away for his senior year of college. I am substitute teaching as often as I’m called and continuing my job in retail. It is with great shame that I admit that the household’s income simply isn’t covering the medical bills, rent, and other expenses.

A few weeks ago, two of my mom’s lifelong friends, Kim Newell and Debbie Gillette, reminded her that she isn’t in this alone. They proposed the idea of starting a campaign to seek the help she needs. Several of my mom’s dearest friends quickly jumped on board and have amazed us with the time and talent they have shared. We are humbly asking that you might join us along Joanie’s Journey as she crushes cancer and fights to become the strong, vibrant version of herself that we’re all so anxiously waiting to see again. Cancer may have knocked on our door, but it isn’t here to stay. Every dollar given to Joanie’s Journey brings us one step closer to that light at the end of the tunnel. On behalf of myself, my family, and my mother, I want to thank you in advance for your generosity.

May God bless you all and may God bless my mom.

Gratefully, Taylor Lintz