HI, I am Karen Hoell, thank you for visiting my blog. I am sharing my journey with Breast Cancer so I can help to bring awareness to this disease that does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter who you are or how healthy you are, what age you are, what your socio-economic background is, If your rich or poor. It can happen to any of us.
Most of you know me as the happy lady that sells Real Estate. While this is true the past six months have been the hardest of my entire life. What we see on Facebook or in real life is not always the whole picture of what’s going on in someone’s life. At first, I wasn’t going to tell a soul about my cancer. I wanted to hide and keep the outside of my life the way it looked- Happy-Healthy-Successful- not have to answer questions or have people feel sorry for me or have pity on me. I was encouraged by several to tell my story in hopes that I can help others and if I can help ONE person then this will all be worth me opening up my soul. It has taken me a while to write as I have had to stop and come back. It has made me face some of the emotions that I have carried and hidden.
A little about me
I am a wife to Jason my wonderful husband of 23 years. I am also a Mom. My son Jacob is 21 and a junior in college. Being a Mom has been the highlight of my life. I love to travel! I like going to the Symphony and while I can play the piano my dream has always been to learn to play the Cello. I am a huge Dallas Cowboys fan! I love most genres of music. I like to read and learn new things. I like to be outside doing anything, especially in the spring, summer, and fall. I have a lot of joy in my heart and wake up daily excited about it. I am a full time, Top Producing Realtor in Bossier City, La. I am very passionate about my career and absolutely love to help people and I think this is why I have decided to open up about my journey with Breast Cancer from beginning to end. This is a very raw, real and descriptive blog about my journey. Uncensored. It was very hard for me to write but has been part of my healing. Welcome to my journey…
Breast Cancer is not new to me. My Mom was diagnosed when she was 48 years old. I always told myself that I would get breast cancer since she had it. My Mom said no I would not that it was a fluke. My Mom was so healthy and I never remember her ever having a simple cold. I held onto her words for many years. She lived with breast cancer for 14 years before it ultimately took her life on June 29, 2006. It devastated me to not have my Mother on earth. I felt so alone when she died. Motherless daughter, that’s what I am. I do know I get a lot of strength from her even though she’s not here. She was tough and not a complainer. Never once did she complain of the pain and suffering she went through especially in her last few months of life. She was a retired Deputy Sheriff. She taught the ladies handgun classes and was head of the DARE program. She also went to all the elementary schools and taught children about stranger danger. Most people would tell you my Mom was known for her whit. She was funny, very charismatic and a beautiful redhead. She was always dressed to the nines and her fingernails painted red. She had a distinct laugh that I will never forget. She had more friends then I could ever imagine having. She was a social butterfly and loved to entertain. She was a model for Mr. Lynns Modeling back in the day. She was a beauty! She died at the young age of 62. I was 33 years old at the time of her passing. Too young to be without my mom.
Everything’s Better in Texas
For the past 15 years, I have been so diligent in getting my mammograms. I even drive three hours to have them done in Texas where they are so much more advanced and have offered 3D digital mammograms for the past twelve years. I have always had dense breast tissue but I honestly never thought much about that.
I started going to a new OBGYN in Frisco Texas, Dr. J Weinstein about three years ago. He said he wanted to start me on a new protocol the same one his wife is on. 3D Diagnostic Mammogram + MRI +Ultrasound. I was so impressed with him. I felt like he really cared about my health. He took so much time with me- I have never met such a caring Doctor. He had me do genetic testing and all kinds of blood work to see if I was susceptible to other cancers. Great News I tested NEGATIVE for the BRCA 1 gene and all the others. But I remembered a Dr telling me that 85% of women that test negative for the gene actually get or have breast cancer. 2017 all my tests were normal! Whew! I could breathe again for another year. I still to this day do not know if my Mom had the BRCA gene.
One year passed and boy was I busy with Real Estate. I hate to take off work and almost didn’t go to this years visit …why? Because I was busy! After complaining about it to my Brother (we work together in Real Estate in the same office so I talk to him frequently about personal and mundane things) he said I really needed to go and get it over with. He was right and I knew he was. I trudged off to my office and made my appts. 1st one with Dr. Weinstein. 2nd one with Dr. Krakos for my mammogram -Ultrasound and then Texas Health for my MRI. I absolutely despise going to the Dr- even the dentist. But knowing I could visit my friends in Dallas, do some shopping and have some “me” time made it better. I love Texas, its one of my favorite places to be so I would make the best of it as I always did.
I went for my mammogram at Sue De Mille in Plano Texas. This is a great place and I absolutely adore the radiologist Dr. Krakos and Karen Bryant her nurse. Typical mammogram and always typical that I have to go in for more scans. After finishing they put me in the little room to look at my images and then onto the ultrasound room. My intuition knew something was not right since they kept me waiting. But I was being calm and collective. Finally got into the room where they do the ultrasounds. I knew when it was Dr. Krakos doing it and not a tech that something was not right but I didn’t say a word and neither did she. She kept looking at one area on the ultrasound with a puzzled look and then she had me go back to the machine for more images. Finally, after several more images, She came in and said there was a suspicious spot and she wanted to do a biopsy. Oh goodness, a biopsy! I had no clue what that entailed but I begged her to get me in asap the next day and asked if they could fit me in somewhere and I would extend my stay in Texas. She said “of course” no way she was gonna send me home and make me wait weeks. At this point I didn’t feel upset, I honestly felt like it was nothing. My breast tissue has always looked like cobwebs so they always have to do a little extra to see through it all. I also wasn’t nervous because I figured they were just being very thorough.
The ladies told me at Sue De Mille that there was nothing to it (having a biopsy). I am a pretty strong person when it comes to pain so I wasn’t nervous at all. Just wondering what it would feel like. Dr. Krakos is the calmest person and talked to me like I was her daughter- I felt so calm and trusted everything she said and I knew I was in good hands. The protocol was amazing; Dr. Krakos tells the nurses what is about to happen and they all clap once to suggest they are on the same page after saying out loud what breast they are doing etc. Thank goodness since this is my body we are talking about. She puts ice bags on my chest for about five minutes. It is cold but tolerable. Then inserts a needle of numbing medicine. She first finds the spot on the ultrasound and it guides her where to go, then inserts the needle inside this machine that was so loud. I felt it shaking my whole chest and then it would make a sound when it was excising the spot in question. She took several samples. She was pressing on me really hard. But it didn’t hurt. The whole thing lasted maybe ten minutes. She also left a clip inside my breast so it would be noticeable on any upcoming mri’s. It was finally over and I was fine. There was nothing to it. They told me to go to my hotel to rest and keep the incision clean and dry. Rest? Me? No way! I’m in Dallas, I’m hungry and ready to shop. The rest of the day I went shopping. I started to get hungry and needed some comfort food. It was all starting to hit me that evening. I went to the restaurant the Cotton Bowl in Allen and poured all my feelings over a huge bowl of chicken and dumplings. I know I was scared inside because I didn’t really want to go back to my hotel with my thoughts. But I did. I tried not to think about it and I am really good at blocking things out. I am almost too good at it.
June 29, 2018 (The day the world stopped)
I woke up feeling sad-12 years ago to the day we were burying my Mother. I was remembering that hot June Day that seemed so long ago and what I was experiencing here in Plano Texas by myself. I finally got dressed and packed up and started to head back to Bossier City. I missed Jason and work. I had been gone almost a week so I needed to get home. I listen to a lot of talk Radio- mostly Dave Ramsey or Joel Osteen. I was about 30 minutes from home and I got a call from Dr. Krakos. She asked me if I was still traveling home and how much further did I have to go. I told her I was about 30 minutes from home but I wanted her to tell me whatever she needed to. *I don’t like to hear bad news in front of anyone and I knew in her voice I was about to get bad news.
Dr. Krakos said, “Karen your biopsy came back positive for Breast Cancer”. Pause… I was so calm – I don’t know how I was calm but I listened to her every word, took a deep breath and then asked her questions, was she sure? I just couldn’t believe this news. I honestly did not expect it. I wasn’t prepared for it at all. She started saying all these things like, I could do a lumpectomy but I would need radiation and most likely tamoxifen or I could have a mastectomy since I had other questionable spots that showed up on the biopsied breast as well as the left breast. *They only biopsy the most significant spot in question. And that I need to go home and really think through this and consult with as many surgeons as I needed and she recommends one in Plano. I said “oh no”! I know exactly what I am doing- I have had years to think about this. I will have a Double Mastectomy. With my family history, it was a no brainer. She recommended me having the whole breast removed because there were many more spots that showed up on my MRI and didn’t know what they were unless I was willing to come back and do more biopsies. She said I could do a lumpectomy but I would need radiation with it and tamoxifen. The spot that was Biopsied was DCIS SITU Stage 0. I had never heard of Stage 0. She said if one is going to get Breast Cancer this is the one to get. It was treatable. I was lucky. If you can say lucky and Cancer in the same sentence. Stage 0 means it has not spread and is contained in the milk ducts.
My whole life was like a slideshow at that point- I kind of stopped listening and I was still driving….. I let her know we had a trip of a lifetime scheduled, how much time do I really have to think about this? Do I need to cancel my trip to Hawaii? So many questions. I was in a fog and couldn’t really think and I have no clue how I made it to my house. All I could think of is, How good is stage 0 if I need to have radiation and long-term meds? I remember my mother in law going through radiation and it was brutal, to say the least! I told Dr. Krakos I don’t know how I am going to tell my husband this news. How do I tell him? It’s all I could think of. How I was going to tell him I have breast cancer and change his life forever- he didn’t sign up for this. I don’t want to hurt him. Sweetest man that ever lived and I have to break this to him. Then my brothers and sisters…how will I tell them. This is going to hurt my family so bad. It crushes me to think that I am going to hurt someone or change someone’s life because of ME. So many thoughts, so many emotions. She gave me her direct number and said we could call her anytime over the wkd to discuss. She said Jason could call her and she would go over it as many times as need be.
I can tell you exactly where I was on I20 and what I had on the day I got the phone call from Dr. Krakos. A tie-dye shirt that had the word LOVE across my chest. It was rainbow colors and I bought it the day before when I was shopping for Jacob. I loved it. How fitting to have a shirt with the word LOVE on it.
I finally made it home, pulled in the driveway and Jacob was there waiting on me with a big bear hug just like always. I had already pulled myself together to appear “normal” went straight to the bathroom and got a wet washcloth so I could cool my hot face. I was looking down washing my hands and in walks Jason, “Well have you heard anything yet?” I said, “yes I have it”. I don’t know how to say it gently, I am well groomed when it comes to telling people BAD NEWS but this was different. I have never had to utter those words before. I couldn’t bear to say the word CANCER. He stood there in disbelief and had a look on his face that I have never seen. I could tell his world stopped for a few seconds, He came over, asked me a few more questions and I told him I didn’t want to tell Jacob yet. I needed time to let this sink in. It was SO much and so powerful I didn’t know what to do. I had no answers. I was blank and shaking inside. I didn’t want to sit down, didn’t want to do anything but keep moving. I was starving and needed to eat something. I said, “Let’s go eat pizza”. In the meantime, my sister in law texted and wanted to know if I had heard anything. I felt strong enough to call her so I walked outside in the driveway and took a deep breath and dialed her number and said, Tammi, it’s not good and then I broke down. I was so damn mad at myself for losing it on the phone and so hard that I couldn’t even talk. Jason came out and I handed him the phone and he finished talking to her. We got in the car and went to Johnnie’s pizza. My brain needed something else to think about. I am not really sure what else went on that evening. I remember I kept waking up that night and asking myself was this a dream. Was it real? This went on for days and weeks- Was this a dream? When will this bad dream be over? I mean, I didn’t feel sick so I couldn’t process it. I felt suffocated with grief. It felt like a death.
My soul was crushed. Lowest of low. I was numb. Nothing mattered anymore, I had Cancer. I was different. I changed instantly the minute I got that phone call. Someone asked me January 2018 what would my wish be for 2018 if I could have anything. I said “A clear mammogram” it’s like I knew it was going to happen. I have thought of that a lot this year.
Saturday, June 30, 2018
My boys had a mud riding trip planned. Jason wanted to stay home with me but I said NO! I am fine. I need to go to the office and play catch up. And honestly, I am the kind of person that likes to be alone with my thoughts so I can figure things out and deal with it. I’ve always been that way. I love that Jason gives me space and since we’ve been together for 27 years he knows me well. But it was just like him to ask if I needed him to stay with me. I didn’t want to sit around and wallow in self-pity. I didn’t want to sit still. I had work to do since I had been gone the previous week. And I wanted him to go and have fun if he could. I wanted to block all of this out someway, somehow. I wanted my life back from 24 hours ago. I am going to get dressed, go to work and forget about this.
I got in my little convertible- top down. That’s when I am most happy, is when the wind is blowing through my hair it feels so freeing- here I was driving my dream convertible, I am at an all-time high in my career- and then this……I got to the office and I couldn’t really work. I stared at my computer screen for a couple of hours. I cried. I just couldn’t believe this news. Was I going to tell my co-workers? I looked around at all my awards and everything I have accomplished over the years. Thought about how hard I worked to get where I am today. I had absolutely everything I ever wanted in life. It didn’t come easy and I worked my tail off for everything I have. At that moment none of it mattered. I just felt numb- empty. It was the worst feeling I think I have ever felt. My spirit was crushed like never before. My soul was broken. I was in the darkest place I think I have ever been in. My heart ached, I knew I was in for something long and painful emotionally and physically. I can’t believe I really thought I was going to my beautiful office and be able to work. But I felt if I went to a place where something was normal I could. I couldn’t concentrate on anything.
The office was a lonely place to be since no one was there, it was too quiet so I texted my brother Darren so see what he was up to. Told him I was in the convertible (he loves his hair blowing in the wind as much as I do) and I could come to get him and let’s get ice cream. How could he say no to that? I really needed my brother as he has always been there for me good and bad ever since I was a little girl. He has always rescued me- been my rock and my comfort, especially on my darkest days. He texted me back and said He was just about to take a nap and Tammi was out working. He said come get me! Yay! Picked him up, we didn’t say much. Drove to our favorite ice cream place and had a cone. We never mentioned the C word or anything about it. Thank the lord cause I didn’t want to talk about it. We made small talk- I just needed him there with me. No words needed. That’s what I love about him. We hung out at his house and watched a little tv without one word of my new diagnosis and I went home. I was different now and knew it- hard to explain but I wasn’t the same person that I was prior to June 29, 2018. I was in a fog going through the motions of life and trying to be normal. That evening my sister in law Tammi called to check on me and said: “we are gonna find the best surgeons in the world”. Her words always bring great comfort to me. Those words lifted me up, I suddenly felt empowered like I was ready to face this and start my search to find the BEST Doctors to fix me.
I am pretty numb. I still can’t wrap my head around this. Jason and I spent the whole day researching surgeons- Doctors all over the world. We watched so many videos. I had found one that stood out. The Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans. I kept coming back to this one. I called Tammi and sent her all the info for her to check out. Before and Afters etc. I told her I think this is the one and I don’t want to see anyone else. She agreed it looked very promising. The testimonials were outstanding. These Drs are microvascular surgeons and in the top 5% in the world. Today we say that God led me to this website and this center. It was divine intervention.
Below is the intro video to the Breast Center in New Orleans.
Monday, July 2nd, 2018
I needed to make the call to the Breast Center in NOLA. I wasn’t ready to call. The words cancer, that I had it made it SO real. I held off all day. Jason called that afternoon and asked if I had made the call yet. I remember telling Jason that I had a hard time saying those words and it didn’t seem real. Was my mind playing tricks on me? I was having a hard time processing this news. It was like an out of body experience. I felt like it was a dream. This wasn’t me. How can I have cancer when I feel so good! I am not sick. He said ” Karen, you have to make the call” I finally made the call and was set to have a phone conversation with the patient coordinator Liz at 2pm the following day. It was an hour and a half conversation. The previous day I had sent all my paperwork and scans so they had it prior to our call. I cleared my schedule and headed home to wait for Liz to call- I needed privacy with no interruptions and Jason got home as quickly as possible so he could be on the call as well. Liz was a wealth of information and set me up an appt with Dr. Ordoyne the surgical oncologist and Dr. DellaCroce the plastic surgeon. I didn’t have to see them in person as people come from all over the world to see them. I had the option of sending in photos and doing a phone consult with the Drs but I live close enough where I wanted to meet them and see this facility before I committed to something like this. I was blown away with my options from Liz- Nipple, and Skin-sparing mastectomy +Apex Flap these Drs have pioneered and perfected. Who knew this was possible? I thought I would need expanders and implants since that is the standard protocol in my hometown. Not in NOLA!
The link below is the procedure that I had. *This can only be performed by a microvascular plastic surgeon and is the most advanced procedure offered today called the APEX FLAP.
My appt with the two Drs was July 30th a whole month away. It was such a hard time for me emotionally. I didn’t really want to tell anyone. There were a lot of unknowns still. I didn’t know if I would need chemo- how bad my tumor was-what about the other 3-4 spots that I DIDN’T have biopsied- Was it in my lymph nodes? No one really knows until its out and sent to pathology. I didn’t know anything but that I had cancer. I decided to not say a word to my co-workers I wanted to feel normal when I walked into the office. I needed something normal to come to every day. Driving in the car and taking showers is really where I had most of my breakdowns. I was so mad. I remember beating my steering wheel I was so angry. I never felt sorry for myself or said why me? But why now? Life was so good and it took a long time to get good! Jacob was grown and off to college. We had a dream trip to Hawaii planned. I was no longer excited about the trip to Hawaii. How could I when my whole life had just been changed forever. I couldn’t get excited about anything.
The month of July I poured over the MRI scans and pathology from my biopsy as they started trickling in trying to figure out what it all meant. I could barely read it. I would shake reading it. Were these reports about me? I would have Tammi look at it so she could confirm this had my name on it! I still couldn’t process it. We highlighted things so I could ask the oncologist. We were all scared. That Monday at work I went to My brother and told him I had to prepare for all of this especially with my Real Estate business. I needed to get ready and be prepared. He said I didn’t have to worry about that he and Tammi would help me, He then broke down and it killed me- he said he wished it was him and not me. I have never seen him cry like he did, we shut the door as we were at the office- He was angry- he was sorry that his baby sister had to face such an ugly monster. That’s what I hate about this. The thought of making someone sad makes me feel terrible. I then realized this was not only my diagnosis but my whole families diagnosis.
Jason to this day has not broken down in front of me or shown an ounce of fear. I am sure he does when I am not around but he is always so strong. This may be the hardest thing yet that we have to face. But I have no doubt he will stand beside me and help me through this. We have been through a lot since we married in 1995. We had no idea as youngsters the pain and suffering we would have to endure as a couple. But we are still standing- Still love each other and still like each other. I would marry him all over again.
A few days later I decided to text a couple of my closest friends and I asked them to please not put anything on Facebook. My brother really encouraged me to tell everyone. He said I was gonna need all the love I could get and to not push people away. He was right but I wasn’t ready. I had nothing to give as I felt like I was still processing it all. I felt like a 6-month-old baby. It was all I could do to keep my Real Estate Business going -get all my houses closed and keep my brave face on and keep living and breathing. I don’t know how I did it. I kept a smile on my face and all the while I felt so empty inside. Numb is more like it.
July 30, 2018
My date had finally come to meet the Doctors. I was hoping I would have enough strength to walk through the doors and talk about all of this. I didn’t know it but these Drs are famous! I walked into the clinic and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the most beautiful clinic I had ever seen. Spa music playing in the background. Comfy velvet sofas and chairs. Was this really a clinic? The people there were so caring and thoughtful. I finally got whisked into a room and met Dr. Ordoyne- gentle-soft-smart and wow! He blew me away with his knowledge and what I needed- what would be best for me. I felt a million times better after meeting with him. He said with my pathology report it was a slim chance that I would need any further tx as far as my cancer was concerned but I had a lot going on so we really wouldn’t know until after my surgery. But I was comforted by him. Next up was Dr. DellaCroce hes the artist and who would transform my body. I handpicked Dr. D! He is one of the founders of the center and I just knew he was the right surgeon for me. His calm demeanor, his surgical skills and his care towards me as his patient. *He speaks all over the country about these procedures they have pioneered at the center. He made me feel almost excited about this surgery. I was going to have a skin/nipple sparing Double mastectomy + DIEP with immediate reconstruction. My surgery was scheduled for Sept 5th. Then I would have Phase 2 Surgery the end of November.
Video below is the History of the Breast Center also known as the House that Katrina built.
August- My Birthday Month
We had a trip planned to Hawaii and I could keep the trip plans since my surgery was scheduled for Sept 5th. I wasn’t really excited about this trip anymore. I was concerned now with taking so much time off of work. I finally decided that hey I needed this time before my surgery and it was ok to take it. Jason and I needed this time alone. I almost felt like my life was gonna be over after this surgery. I don’t know why. It dawned on me that it was ok for me to take a trip and a break from life, especially with everything going on in our life. It was the first trip I ever took that I was completely off work with Jason. I was determined to have a good trip and soak up every minute. Our trip ended up being a fiasco with the hurricane! That’s a whole other blog! We celebrated my 49th Birthday August 16th, 2018 in Oahu. I never dreamed I would get to go to Hawaii much less celebrate my Birthday there. It was an adventure and I’ve never seen beauty like I saw in Hawaii. I hope to go back one day.
We had about two weeks once we got home from Hawaii before we had to go to NOLA for my surgery.
During this month and prior to leaving for Hawaii I started ordering things like a shower chair- (I still cringe when I see it) when stuff would come in I would put it in the closet in the guest room. I didn’t want to look at it. Tammi bought me a real pretty snap hospital gown, she knew I would have limited ability with my arms -this is when it hit me that Yes! I am going to have surgery and yes! something is very wrong…..I really didn’t know what to say. We were standing in the parking lot at work. It was such a thoughtful gift- it took everything in me to hold back my tears. I tried to NOT think about it and live normal but it was all starting to get real. I started joining different facebook sites and it was overwhelming with info and what I needed to prepare for this surgery. I still mentally was in a fog of disbelief.
I will never forget the day Tammi came into my office and telling me she was going to be there for me -she wouldn’t let my hair or my body be dirty. I never realized that I might not be able to take care of myself until she said this. She would cook for me and come to NOLA and be there for all of it- we were not alone and I didn’t have to face this alone. Her voice was quivering I could tell this was hard for her. I knew she meant it. None of this “call me if you need anything business” Of course, I bawled. Her words meant so much to me. Again when she says things she means it and stands by her word. My sister in law is so busy and this is the last thing she has time for. At that moment I felt her love for me. I knew she meant every word. I trust her completely. I knew if she and Darren were on board for this journey then Jason and I would be able to do this. Jason and I couldn’t have done this alone. We aren’t the type of people to ask for help so it was a blessing that they stepped up and said they were with us no matter what.
It finally came the time where I needed to tell my Co-Workers what was going on with me. You see I had plans for us to go to this Real Estate convention and it just happened to fall on my surgery date. I kinda felt like a fraud keeping a secret of this magnitude for two months! They would know something was up when I wasn’t at the convention and when I didn’t come into work for a while so I needed to tell them. I wanted to tell everyone at our staff meeting but I knew I would break down and I just didn’t have the emotional capacity to do it so I sent an email. I was still at the point if I talked about it I would get emotional and cry. I hate crying at the office! I got Tammi to proofread it and push send. I was nervous- I hated to share this news. I didn’t want anyone to pity me, be sad, look at me differently. I just absolutely hated to tell anyone. I am always the happy one, lifting everyone up. It was tough to share this news and be the one that needed help. I needed help, love, and support more than ever. I was so surprised at the love I received from that email. I should have not expected anything less given the people I work with.
My Last Day of Work- Was it Really My Last Day?
The time was finally here. I don’t know why but looking back to this day I really thought and felt like everything was my last. I saw how fast my life changed on June 29th and with this surgery, it could be radically changed even more. I was scared of the future and if I would have one. I remember my last day of work I had four closings. I was so overwhelmed that day with emotion. Sitting there seeing the smiles on my client’s faces and their happiness and how I got to help them get there. They had no clue the hell that was going on in my world. I love seeing people happy. It’s why I get up every day and do what I do. Everything was kinda flashing before me. I felt like my career that I had worked so hard for was coming to a close-this was it?
When Robby (my team leader) hugged and told me bye it was rough but I stayed strong and didn’t break down in front of him. I was pretty much handing him the reins of my real estate business that day. Anyone that knows me knows that I have to have full control of everything, this was hard. Yes! I’m a control freak! I knew I didn’t have control and I had to trust in people that care about me. If I have learned anything through all this it’s how LITTLE control we have.
I tried to see everyone that I could that week. These are people that I adore and I hated to say goodbye. I have never been good at goodbyes. In fact, I hate airports for that reason- I hate saying goodbye. I wrapped everything up at work the best I could.
It was finally time for me to put my emotions aside and get ready for this surgery and being off for the next 6-9 weeks. I was told no driving for 2-3 weeks and recovery 6-9 weeks. I was planning on being off for four weeks only. I needed a set day so I could look forward to it. How on earth can I be away from my dream job for 6-9 weeks? I got everything lined out at work and my team in place.
The following day I went and visited my niece and brand new nephew Reid. Was it my last time to play with Ellis Kaye or ever hold Reid? I felt like my life could possibly be over after Sept 5th. This is a very invasive nine-hour surgery, would I be full of cancer? would I wake up? would my lymph nodes be full of cancer? Can I do this? I have to do this. I have no choice. I wanted to see everyone that I loved before I left. I even got to see Ellis Kaye on my last day of work. It was pure joy getting to see her.
I wrapped everything up at work the best I could. I drove my little convertible as much as I could cause If I made it through this surgery I knew it would be a long time before I could get behind the wheel of it. So I found myself driving a little slower than normal. I soaked up every minute that I could in case it was my last. I wanted to savor every minute of this beautiful life.
I was ready to go to Nola and get this done! I was now mentally prepared for this. I wanted the Cancer out of me and I was so ready to get it all behind me. I actually had a peace about it. I was ready.
Sept 3, 2018
Drove to NOLA on the 3rd as my pre-op was the following day. It was raining so hard we could barely see the road. Jason and I both were pretty lost in our thoughts. Tammi and I were texting about where we would meet for dinner. They were behind us heading to NOLA. I had no idea what was ahead of me. So thankful that I didn’t. Had I known I don’t know if I could do it again. We got to Nola and checked into our air BNB and went walking around the city. Had benights. We had a nice dinner that night. My brother said that I was pretty scattered with my words. I keep so much in and I was so scared of the surgery that was coming up. I needed to be brave for them. I really wasn’t enjoying much as I was pretty scared of what was upon me. I don’t remember ever having to be so mentally strong. I probably should have gotten on some medication because I am not sure how I made it this far without having a complete breakdown.
Photos below are the day before surgery. Enjoying beignets with my tribe.
Sept 4, 2018
Pre Op Day. I walk in the center again. I meet my surgical oncologist- plastic surgeon. I have a Cat Scan to locate my blood vessels as they will be harvesting those the next day. I meet with the pre-op nurse to go over everything, physical therapist and finally the anesthesiologist. I remember the nurse wanting me to take a pregnancy test. I went into the bathroom and about lost it. I wanted to ball up on the floor and cry my eyes out. My emotions were getting to me. I couldn’t believe this day was here. I was about to have major life-changing surgery. I was grieving for my life and my body that was about to change forever. I hate that I have to go through this to essentially save my life. I have to get rid of something that I have lived with for 49 years. I always loved my breasts, they weren’t perfect but they were mine and they were about to be gone. I had about 12 hours of the body that I have lived with for 49 years, I wanted to remember it forever. Mind over matter. Do not breakdown Karen… I pull myself together so I can be strong for Jason. When I met with Dr. DellaCroce he marked me all up with a blue marker. I don’t think I said two words while he was marking me up. He told me to enjoy my evening and I could have a glass of wine if I wanted to. That evening I showed my sister Tammi the drawings on my body. I wanted her to see exactly what they were gonna do. I am pretty modest but knew she was curious and I trusted she wouldn’t judge my body at that point.
We were about to leave to go eat dinner and in walks Tammi and Darren with a handful of gifts. I had no idea what all of it was. I was confused honestly…were we about to have some kind of party? Say goodbye to the ta ta’s? She made several trips in and placed them on the table. My brother said I could go through all of it and read the cards later cause he didn’t want to break down as I am sure he thought I might cry. All of those gifts and cards were from my co-workers. Tammi and Darren brought them to Nola and I opened each one and read every card aloud. I couldn’t believe my eyes. All the love and support. It was just beyond anything I could imagine. This was such a hard time in my life and these people lifted me up in a way that I didn’t know was possible.
We went and had a nice steak dinner at Houston’s. I wasn’t really hungry. I was so ready to get this surgery over with. It consumed my every thought.
That evening one of our good friends sent Jason and me a Text and I will always cherish it because it meant so much to me. Here is what he said:
Sept 4th, 2018:
Father, we love you. I pray tonight for Karen and Jason. I lift them both up to you tonight. Father, I pray you to give them both peace about tomorrows surgery. Let them be still and know you are there! I pray that you would guide the hands of the doctors and nurses, let their moves & thoughts be yours. I pray that you would fill the OR with your love and grace. God be with Jason as he waits, sit with him and place him in your hand, let hours feel like minutes. Father, I pray that Karen’s body will never know cancer after this day! I pray for a speedy recovery and that you will receive all the Glory for it. I pray hurricane Gordon would have no effect on the hospital and the people of New Orleans! Thank you for the blessings you have given to us all. Thank you for this day and forgive where we fall short of your Glory! In Jesus sweet name, Amen!
Love y’all…..Jason Mason
The last night before surgery Jason just held me in his arms until I fell asleep. I knew it would be a long time before I got to lay my head on his chest or feel his warmth next to me. He’s always been so tender. I didn’t know what the future held but I was certain of the love he had for me and that we would survive this. I thanked God for giving me a husband that loved me so much. Patient-Kind-Loving Man that’s what Jason is.
Sept 5, 2018 (Surgery Day)
I slept pretty well. They gave me a 5-milligram Valium to take that night and the morning of surgery. My first time to take a Valium. It took all the fear away so I was grateful for it. I remember taking a shower -shaving my legs and getting ready like I was going to the prom. I didn’t know how long until my next one and this girl doesn’t like to be dirty. I washed- dried my hair and even curled it. I mean if I am gonna be asleep I need my hair to be pretty and I wasn’t sure when it would be washed again. We got to the center and I checked in. My brother and sister came in right after us. They took me to get my IV started. Then they could come back with me. All the Drs came and talked to me prior and met my family. They made me take my gold wedding band off. I never take it off. I handed it to Jason. I told them I was ready to go. I hugged and kissed Jason. Hugged and kissed my brother and sister and they wheeled me away. This is the first time I ever saw my sister like this. I hated that I was making them hurt inside but I know it was all out of love and fear of this surgery. I hated the looks on their faces as they wheeled me back to the OR. The last thing I remember is the big mask going over my mouth. My surgery was nine hours long. It was a little longer than anticipated because my blood vessels were weak and Dr. DellaCroce had to harvest more than he thought. Also, Dr. Ordoyne said I worked him hard with my breast tissue. It was much more than he thought. They tested my lymph nodes during surgery and they were clear. Praise God! I was wheeled into my room where my family was waiting. Tammi asked me who the president was, my birthday and street address. I had anesthesia going through my brain for nine solid hours so she wanted to make sure I was with it. I also asked her to check and make sure he got my belly button straight because I got a brand new belly button. My brother fed me ice chips. I was so thirsty. My throat was scratchy. I know it was hard for Jason to see me like this. He was sitting in a chair taking it all in. I had a pain pump that I was in control of. That night the nurse came in every hour to check my flaps. They hooked them up to the Doppler to listen for blood flow every hour. It was loud. I had four drains-catheter. I was a site for sore eyes.
The next day they wanted me to get up out of bed. This was the hardest day for me. I remember walking to the chair and to sit was the hardest thing ever. I not only had a double mastectomy I was also cut from hip to hip. My stomach fat was now my new breasts with complete blood flow. To see my breasts you would never know they weren’t my originals. I was in so much pain. The nurse said I had only had half of my pain med. I was so out of it I couldn’t push the button as much as I needed to on my pain pump. This day I felt like I had one foot in the grave. I seriously wanted to die. I have a high pain tolerance and it was too much. I then started to run a fever. My brother and sister were halfway home when I started to turn for the worst. My pain was uncontrolled- my blood pressure was through the roof and I had a fever. The PA came in and changed my meds- I had a breathing treatment -put on a lighter weight gown-wet washcloth. I prayed that God would take me. I couldn’t handle this. I wanted to die. I have never felt pain like this in my life. I told Jason I hoped he never had to experience this type of pain because there is no way he could know what it felt like to be me at that point. It was horrible. He never left my side. I went to sleep and the next day I was better. The change in meds made a difference. I had a fever off and on for whatever reason. I took my first shower. The nurse was with me and showed Jason and me how to shower properly. I loved that shower chair. I was too weak to stand up. I remember the water falling over me and it was pure heaven.
The following Saturday I was discharged to go back to our Air BNB. We had to stay in Nola until I was completely discharged to go home the following Thursday. The week that I was there was uneventful but many firsts with drains, Jason having to do so much for me. I felt so helpless. I have always been fiercely independent and this was the first time in our marriage that I needed him in a way that I never dreamed I would. Simple things like taking a shower were so hard! I had drains hanging off me. I couldn’t lift my arms. I have enough hair on my head for two people- to wash it was a chore. I had to teach him how to put my hair in a ponytail. I was taking so much medicine around the clock. I could barely watch tv- couldn’t focus on anything. Mostly because of the anesthesia and meds. Jason had to strip my drains twice a day-change my bandages. I wanted to shield him from all of it. I hated this for us. He would come to check on me frequently-I slept a lot the first week. He would catch me crying…it was just so overwhelming- just getting out of bed or going to the bathroom- I was on so much medicine- I was dizzy and nauseous- had to breath through this thing to keep my lungs open and if that weren’t enough these HUGE things that wrapped around my legs and pump up and down to keep me from getting blood clots. I felt like a semi truck had run over me several times. It was crushing to even get up and try to walk. I decided on day three I wouldn’t take any more pain meds, I couldn’t take the side effects. I took Tylenol- Flexural and another one for nausea. I could manage the pain at that point. I don’t know how but I did.
September 11, 2018
This day will forever be a day I will never forget. It was lunchtime and I was craving mac n cheese (My favorite food). Jason ran to the store to get some milk. My phone rang. It was Dr. Ordoyne, my surgical oncologist. He said he was pleased with my pathology. ( I was waiting on the BUT-or the bad news at the end) all of my pathologies came back clear and I was cancer free and he got 100% clear margins. I couldn’t believe my ears. I thanked him and hung up. I bawled my eyes out as I was stirring my mac n cheese. I waited for Jason to get back and told him the good news. I was cancer free! They got it all. My tumor had grown to the size of a quarter by the time I had my surgery so I am glad I didn’t wait any longer cause once it’s out of the milk ducts it isn’t good. Thank you, Jesus, you have answered my prayers!
Cancer Free! Hooray!
Those long months of worry were over. Now I could concentrate on healing and getting my life back. Jason was so happy and immediately called our family and friends with the news. Karen is Cancer free!
I am discharged from the hospital. I get to come home. My sister in law hired her friend that has a private plane to take me home. It’s only an hour if one flies private from Nola to Shreveport versus a five and half hour drive. Jason drove the car home. Several offered to bring it home so he could be with me. I think he needed that drive to cry his eyes out or decompress. I will never know but I know he needed some time alone to reflect. He had been nursing me back to life 24/7 for ten solid days.
My brother shows up with the pilot. I am still very weak. I don’t really like to fly but I was excited to get home. I was homesick. I have been gone for almost two weeks. My brother got out of the plane. Jason got in the plane and hooked up my DVT compression’s as the Dr had instructed. He kissed me goodbye and waved to us as we took off. Darren was sitting across from me. We talked- I told him I couldn’t believe all of this. He then moved across the seat next to me and put his arm around me and held me. He had tears in his eyes. He has always been there for me in the hardest times of my life. I hated to see him cry. Him holding me and wiping my tears is something I will never forget as long as I live. I know he was so happy to be bringing me home and I was well. I only needed to heal at this point. We talked about the holidays. All I could do is look out onto the clouds. I was lost in my thoughts… It’s at that time that everything really hit me. This was over!… I was going home- I can breathe now…I am alive. The nightmare is over!
It’s like I had been holding my breath for the past two months. It felt so good to be on that plane in the clouds.
Darren and I land. I thank lil Joe for being so gracious to come to get me in NOLA. Darren and I get in his truck. We go to Chic file-pull over and eat our food. I told him that chicken nuggets never tasted so good. Just the time that we got to share at that moment was awesome- no words-no rush- just eating and being together. I told him I would never forget what he and Tammi have done for us. We finally made it to my house and Darren got all my stuff inside and settled. I told him it was okay to leave me as Jacob was there. I realized when I walked into my house that I felt so different and so alive. When I left I had left with such a HUGE burden on my shoulders and now walking in it was GONE. Those agonizing months of hell were gone, it was over. What a relief. I was home I was cancer free and I survived the surgery. I was going to live. I walked around my house and I have never been more thankful for my life, my house-my family just everything. I would never take this life for granted as long as I live. It can change in an instant.
The following two weeks were just sleeping and healing. I have never watched so much tv in my life. I didn’t think I would ever feel normal again physically-my chest still hurt down the center where they remove a rib (cartilage to anchor the blood vessels) it felt like I had a steel bra on. Metal in my chest. My right arm felt like someone burned it on the tender underneath side. Side effect from having lymph nodes removed. I had over 3,000 stitches.
My family and friends brought dinner each night. This was my first meal train and it was so nice to not have to worry about food. I could concentrate on sleeping and healing while Jason took care of me-worked and played catch up. He was exhausted mentally and physically from taking care of me for the past two weeks. My co-workers and neighbors were so wonderful for cooking our meals. A simple cooked meal was so amazing in our time of need. I will never forget it. I will never forget the visits, calls, texts, flowers, and prayers.
Back to Work- Week FOUR
I was finally feeling human again. I was ready to look at the calendar and decide what day I wanted to go back to work. My Mind was ready! But was my body? ….I looked at the calendar and said to myself I am going to the office on this day. I texted Jason and everyone else on my team. They said it was too soon. Tammi was not happy that I came back at week four when it was a 6-9 week recovery but I knew I could go home if I needed to. I went to the office 3-4 days that week. I was so happy to get dressed and go to the office and drive- I hadn’t driven in almost a month! I drove like a little old lady. I was so scared someone would hit me. I was pretty fragile. I was back at the office on week four of my recovery.
It was so good for my mind to get back to work. I love what I do. I couldn’t wait to see my co-workers. I had several clients that were waiting for me to get back to work so I could list their homes. I told them I had surgery and if they wanted to wait for me that was great and they did! I was so elated to get back to doing what I do best and that’s to sell Real Estate. I got to see everyone and they welcomed me back with open arms. It was such a chore to get dressed each day. Showering, doing my hair- I was limited in my range of motion with my arms so drying my hair was pretty hard and very tiring. My body was shaped so different and I still had to wear pads around incisions etc. It was challenging. But I was determined to get back to normal as quick as possible.
Fast Forward to 11 weeks post Op- I am doing well! I have healed completely. I have zero pain in my body. My surgeons in Nola were incredible. I do have scars. It is a daily reminder of what was taken from me. But I am so grateful as I know it could have been far worse. Now I need to face my last surgery. There is a Phase 1 and a Phase 2.
November 25, 2018
As I sit and type this I am happy that my journey with breast cancer is almost over. You see, I have to have one more surgery. I will leave for NOLA on Tuesday. This surgery is not as invasive. They will remove the wires in my breast that was left there. I will also have a reduction as they had to make them larger at first to establish good blood flow-scar revision and fat grafting. I hate I have to do another surgery and I pray It’s not nearly as bad as the first one. It’s a five-hour surgery versus nine.
November 29, 2018
Phase 2 Surgery Day- For some reason, I wasn’t as nervous about this surgery. In fact, I didn’t even take a Valium. I kinda felt like a warrior. That I could do it and I was gonna get to completely move on with my life. The night before we (Me-Jason-Darren & Tammi) had the nicest dinner at Emerils. I felt like myself. We laughed – shared good conversation and I even had a glass of wine. I had my family with me and knew I could face the last surgery in the morning. I felt inside that everything was going to be OK.
The morning of surgery I did the same routine- washed my hair-curled it and moisturized my face and did a face mask too! Got to the center and got prepped with my IV and everything else. Hugged Jason, Darren and Tammi bye as they wheeled me to the OR. Everyone was much more relaxed this go round. The cancer was gone and this was basically making everything look better from a cosmetic standpoint. This time I remember seeing the OR- I wanted to try to remember all of it. I remember speaking with Dr. DellaCroce about what he was gonna do and then the anesthesiologist pumping my IV with the relaxing stuff and then the mask that went over my nose and mouth. Five-hour surgery and I was in recovery for two and a half hours. Jason said he got a little concerned because it was taking so long for me in recovery but I guess I just needed to sleep a little longer. I remember them taking me to my room after surgery (I was still out of it) and I felt a sudden urge to bawl my eyes out, I heard Tammi’s voice, but I didn’t know if maybe it was the anesthesia making me so emotional or what. I do remember saying to myself. It’s all OVER. You are DONE. You have WON this fight. It’s ok to cry. But I didn’t. I haven’t yet. I know I will at some point. As I sit here and type I am in a lot of pain but I know it will pass. I know this is over so I can focus on the future now.
That evening of my surgery was a big day in Football. My Dallas Cowboys were playing the Saints. The chef came in and asked what I wanted to eat and I said grits and toast. My sister Tammi fixed it all up for me, She never left my side that evening. I remember her pulling a chair right up beside my bed. She put my hair in a ponytail and made sure I was OK. I love having her by me. She brings so much comfort and love to me. Jason and Darren talked about the game and who had the most comfortable chair in the room. They were taking turns. I remember they just kept talking and laughing.
That night in the hospital Jason ended up taking my phone with him. He was afraid I would work- I had a Big Real Estate deal going and some things had come up and it didn’t sit well with him that I just had surgery and I was trying to talk to a client. So there went my phone…….Ugh! I finally fell asleep and then about 11:30 pm I woke up and immediately turned the TV on. I was dying to see who won the game and what the score was. I couldn’t believe my eyes! COWBOYS won! I could only imagine the solemn faces I would see come morning…I mean, I am in New Orleans and everything is The Saints. Not to mention my husband who is OBSESSED with the Saints. I couldn’t wait to hear what happened during the game to make them lose.
The nurses were in and out all night. I didn’t sleep very well. The next day they removed the catheter and iv lines. I had to get up and make the walk to the chair. I was so weak and could barely make my legs move. Jason held me on one side and the nurse on the other. My legs were like noodles. It’s crazy how the surgery will make you feel like you can’t walk. My blood pressure was up so I had to lay back down and rest. Dr. DellaCroce came in. I thanked him for making me whole again and for caring so much and how much I adored the Center that he owned. I will tell everyone about his hospital and the care that I received. He is a remarkable man, one that Jason and I both connected with and will be forever grateful for. They finally discharged me to go to my air bnb. I was ready to go. I slept that whole wkd. Jason cooked for me and did my drains, shower all that stuff. This time was different though. We weren’t near as freaked out. The following Monday we went to see the PA to get the final ok to make the drive home. I had to wear electric compression’s all the way home. I had four drains and I was swollen! I felt extremely weak and light headed. This phase has been hard physically. It’s been hard to get my stamina back. It’s almost Christmas and there’s so much I want to do. I don’t remember ever having a Christmas where I didn’t have a wreath on my front door or outside decorations. It is my favorite time of the year. As of today I still have no wreath on my door or any Christmas decorations out. I am sure my neighbors that don’t know are wondering why we are being such Grinch’s this year. However, I put my tree up and got most presents wrapped before my surgery knowing I wouldn’t feel like doing any of that afterward. We had our annual work Christmas party coming up and I didn’t know if I would be able to go. I was going to wait until the day to see how I felt. I was so tired of missing out on all the fun stuff. I was still pretty sore and weak but did it! I got all dressed and did my hair. I couldn’t wait to see everyone. Everyone was surprised to see me. Heck, I was surprised I could go. I still feel pretty weak but I know in the coming weeks I will get better. The following day I stayed in bed all day long. I really shouldn’t have gone so I paid for it the next day. It did feel good to get out if only for a few hours.
I am excited about the future and the happiness that I have always had in my soul and it has finally returned. I feel so good about all of my decisions. A huge burden that I have carried for over 20 years has been lifted. I realize this has all been a blessing in disguise. I know something GOOD will come from this. I don’t know what it is yet but I know God will use me for his good somehow and someway.
There is no other surgeon like Dr. DellaCroce. What an amazing human being he is. I am so lucky and fortunate to have him as my Doctor.
I have to say I would never ever have chosen this journey but I am glad that I got the chance to know how much people in my life love me and care about me. I knew Jason loved me. But I didn’t know how much until we went through this. He has carried me when I couldn’t walk- looks at me and my scars like I am the most beautiful human being. He has been so strong and courageous for me! I knew my brother loved me but I didn’t know the extent until this.
My sister in law Tammi. There are no words to describe the love I have for her. She has been my angel. When my spirit was crushed she would lift me from the pits. When my wings were broken she helped me to fly. She has been there for me emotionally and physically from day one. She has seen me at my worst and at my best. All the drives to Nola. All the ugly cries. All of it. I can’t wait to get back to traveling and having fun together…My sister- my best friend- I am so lucky and blessed to have such a wonderful sister in law. I love her more than she will ever know.
The End of this Journey…….
This has forever changed me. I thought I was strong before but know that I am even stronger today. I feel brave. I can do anything. Fear is a liar. When I sit still and just think of everything my mind and body have gone through over the past six months I just can’t hardly believe it. It’s been some of the hardest days of my entire life. I have evaluated so many things in my life. I know the people that love me for me and have stood by me and helped me when I was down. My spirit has been renewed and I am so very thankful for this life that I have. I hope with my testimony it will bring awareness. For you ladies please get your mammograms. Please get tested for the gene. The treatments available today are so much more than even ten years ago. Don’t feel you have to stay local and get the standard of care where there’s ONE protocol when a mastectomy is needed. We only have ONE body so don’t trust it to just anyone. Be your own advocate. You deserve the best care! You are worth it! As women, we always put ourselves last. Don’t gamble with this- I was so lucky to have been given a second chance at life. Get your mammogram!
I will soon be 50 years old this coming year and I plan on living MY BEST LIFE!
The photo above is my last day in NOLA. I am going home! All my surgeries are complete and I am whole again. Not broken. Not Scared. Not Fearful. I am Cancer Free! I can do anything! I have a lot of healing to do physically and emotionally and I will get there and be better than ever! This has changed me forever!
Much love to all…..Karen Hoell