It’s just Life. After all if it were easy, everyone would do it. The it is to live life no matter what…to know that whatever the challenge is, you are facing it head on, finding the courage to overcome, feeling the hope which is contagious and in doing so providing inspiration for others around you. Everyone has a story, but you can inspire others by sharing yours.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (61): Eat the Damn Cookie
For Joy Freedman it’s been all about the animals. For nearly two decades Joy has worked as a dog behaviorist. Much like a dog whisperer, Joy helps pets and their families to live in perfect harmony, maybe training the families as much as she has helped the canines to whom she has come in contact. Joy knows about love and caring, after all anyone who has worked with dogs this long has come to learn the magic of unconditional love that a canine can provide.
But humans can step up and provide that same love, especially when the chips are down, especially when the hand you are dealt is sudden and swift and much like the puppies you helped to train you are left wide-eyed and bewildered about what might happen next.
For Joy it all started with a stomach bug. “I am a health freak”, says Joy. “I was overweight at one time, but I dropped 60 pounds about eight years ago and never looked back. I played sports all my life. I play basketball a few times a month, I go to the gym and work with a personal trainer, my body fat is at 16.9%. But in the middle of January I got what I thought was a stomach bug. I didn’t think anything more. My doctor told me to go get tested. At first those who read the test results said it looked like focalized colitis. The treatment…a liquid diet for a week, some strong medication and to sit it out until all calmed down.”
But it wasn’t working, the pain persisted, especially after Joy, starving after two rounds of similar treatment for the issue, decided to eat. The pain following that was intense. Another CT scan, more x-rays, but the diagnosis didn’t change, until finally the recommendation did – get a colonoscopy. Joy did and that’s when life changed.
“It’s that shock”, says Joy. “It’s like the whole world stops. It’s a shock when you hear that word cancer and your body just shakes. There is no way to prepare you for that. And then you need to get a plan, and you need to get strong.”
Within a few days of the colonoscopy and the diagnosis, Joy was in surgery. The mass found during the procedure needed to come out as soon as possible. It was only about two inches in diameter, and the surgeons got most of it, but not all of it. Some of the tumor cells had spread into the tissue around it. There are now titanium clips marking the places where radiation treatments will be focused, in the hopes of eradicating any traces of the cancer. It’s only about six weeks into this chapter of Joy’s journey, but the overriding theme is to be positive. After all one of the best techniques used by a dog whisperer in correcting canine behavior issues is to use a positive attitude. The power of being positive can change the course of your day, help you face challenges and even beat back the beast – cancer.
Says Joy: “I will beat it no matter what. Actually what I mean to say is I AM beating it. I am beating it now. I’m in the positive. I’m in the now, right now.”
And make no mistake, it’s not easy. At the time of this interview, just yesterday, Joy was battling flu-like symptoms, a nasty virus which has kept her down for days, even forcing her to miss the fundraiser in her honor, held just the night before at the Green Turtle in Hunt Valley. Joy was just too sick to attend. She has been feeling weak, tired, dizzy, feverish, yet she mustered the strength, courage and conviction to speak and share her story. Plus, there is that knowing feeling… Joy knows she has the support to get her through this next chapter in her book of life.
“The support has been unbelievable,” says Joy. “I am the most blessed person alive. The outpouring has been beyond phenomenal, I am beyond humbled, shocked, its been unbelievable. My core group, my warrior group, including my wife Lisa of course, also Leigh Forbes, Lisa Poland, Bari Fore, Sharon Schmidt, Karen Geppi and my ex-wife Jocelyn Stone, who is my son’s other mother, that’s my core. My neighbors, Erin Wilson, Carrie King and Kim Brackeen, they have just been great.”
Joy’s warriors have brought her food, helped to comfort her, come to walk with her as she has tried to get back up and active following surgery, and basically have been helping to run her life.
And it’s not an easy task for Joy. Her wife Lisa still lives in Philadelphia and will for some time, until both of Lisa’s sons are out of the house and in college (one is now). So Lisa can only come down to Maryland to be with Joy a few days a week. And Joy’s own son Cole only lives with her every other week, but it’s Cole who is Joy’s hero.
Not five seconds into Joy talking about her son, who will become a bar mitzvah just next week, the tears started to flow: “I don’t need a bar mitzvah to know he is a man,” says Joy. “He has taken care of me, he does the laundry, he makes dinner, he does the dishes, he makes breakfast, he gets himself up and out for school. Whatever I need him to do he’ll do before I even ask him to do it. He is the most amazing, incredible young man. I’m so proud of Cole, he is my world. He has taken care of his mother without any question. He is amazing, he never asks for anything.” Joy’s tears now coming uncontrollably: “I think the hardest part is I haven’t been able to take care of him and do all the things I wanted to do before his bar mitzvah. I feel like I haven’t been there for him.”
But when the tables are turned in life, it’s the unconditional love Joy has experienced so many times in the work that is her passion and fills her life, that she is now experiencing as she faces one of the greatest challenges within her journey. Her young son taking on the role as a responsible caretaker, her friends providing unwavering support and encouragement. A shoulder to lean on, someone to talk to and the positive energy to make it through the next stage in the battle plan.
In two weeks Joy will begin chemotherapy treatments, six rounds of folfox, two times a month, a take-home treatment program. At some point, either in the middle, or post-chemo, radiation treatments will begin, all with the goal of killing whatever cells might remain. Amazingly, all of this is beginning in what is recognized as Colon Cancer Awareness Month – a time for awareness and education about the disease and Joy is learning so much, especially about the timing of a colonoscopy.
Currently most insurances only cover the “routine” colonoscopy starting at age 50. But Joy says this is much too late: “I’m part of a colon cancer awareness group on Facebook and the majority of women I have come in contact with are diagnosed in their 40’s. The same is happening with men. I don’t know for sure, but if I had a colonoscopy at age 40, they might have seen polyps, an early warning sign for cancer. I just joined the colon cancer awareness coalition, (http://www.ccalliance.org/). I haven’t done much yet but seek advice, but I plan to become an advocate for them when I am stronger and healthier.” Turn adversity into advantage for other people.
When you visit the website for the CCalliance, at the top of the page there is a quote, part of the lyrics to a new song from singer/songwriter Wade Hayes. Less than four years ago Hayes waged his own fierce battle against colon cancer, one that nearly claimed his life. The quote reads: “Go live your life. Go chase your dreams. We have no way of knowing what tomorrow brings.” (http://www.goliveyourlife.com/)
Joy feels exactly the same. When asked what lesson she has learned so far, even this early into the journey of her own battle against the beast, it’s this: “Really I’ll tell you, eat the damn cookie. I spent so much of my life being so concerned about everything I eat and everything I do. Eat the cookie, take the day off work, be spontaneous, that’s what I would tell, that is my lesson. Just eat the damn cookie.”
Until next time, thanks for taking the time
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Speaker, Emmy-Award Winner, Financial Services
The #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
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