Joy Gaetano: Joy’s story is one of great patience, perseverance, determination, and friendship.

 

 

                   Joy Gaetano is a woman of many friends. She has made good friends and kept them close during each period of her life and cherishes these friendships dearly. Every year at Christmas time, she sends out over 200 Christmas cards to her friends around the world – friends from childhood, high school, college, her jobs, and different neighborhoods. Each friendship represents a different chapter in her life and Joy enjoys honoring each friendship at Christmas time. When Joy was diagnosed with a meningioma in September of 2011, she made her sister promise that if anything were to happen to her, her Christmas cards would still be sent out to her friend group with a simple explanation.

                      About 18 months ago, as she was just settling into a new human resource position she took with her local school district, Joy found herself experiencing constant congestion and balance issues. She thought she had some type of middle ear infection, and decided to seek out the professional opinion of a local ENT. The ENT was not able to find any inner ear deficit and Joy was bounced around from different primary care physicians, ENTs and endrocrinolgists in the hope of finding what was causing these balance issues. Joy was relieved when the endocrinologist ran a scan and saw that there was something wrong with her thyroid and needed to get a parathyroidectomy. In a “comedy of errors” as Joy describes it, she underwent a CT exam to prepare for her parathyroidectomy and a shadow was noticed in her brain. She was quickly recommended to a local neurosurgeon, who confirmed that she had a mass in her brain.

                      Joy decided it would be best to travel to Baltimore, Maryland to be close to her sister for the surgery. She knew that Johns Hopkins Hospital was located in Baltimore, Maryland and was so relieved when she did a simple Google search of JHU Neurology and Neurosurgery— they were # 1 in the country. She asked her local neurosurgeon in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania for a recommendation at JHMI and he suggested Dr. Alfredo Quinones. When Joy called JHMI to make an appointment, she specifically asked to be a patient of Dr. Q, which she knew was the best decision when she first met Dr. Q.

                     The diagnosis was a benign meningioma about 4 inches in diameter that was involved with 4 nerves, the IVth, Vth, VIth and VIIth nerves. On September 30th, 2011, Joy underwent a 12-hour surgery that successfully removed about 50% of the tumor. Unfortunately, Joy was not expecting the level of debilitation that would follow the surgery.

                     Bravely, Joy worked hard, day and night in rehabilitation, to regain functions that most people take for granted. Her goal was to leave Baltimore by the end of December so that she would be able to host her annual NYE party for her neighborhood friends. With that goal in mind, Joy relearned how to talk and walk. This experience was extremely draining but Joy kept positive by making small goals and trying to achieve these goals. One of her goals was to work so that her eyelid would close again, and after much work, this goal became a reality.

                     Thankfully, Joy was able to host her NYE party AND was able to send out her own Christmas cards in December of 2011, with a message asking each of her friends to donate $5 to Dr. Q’s brain cancer research.

                     When asked how her outlook on life has changed after the surgery, Joy responded that she truly believes that each day is a gift and you never know what the day is going to bring. She wants to fill her days with enriching events that bring her happiness and enjoyment. She has recently had a fun night at the symphony, visited her friend in Boston and continues to host dinner parties for her friends that bring her much happiness. She believes that God brought her to Dr. Q and that Jesus walked her through her trials and the spirit helped heal her.

                     To those who are going through a similar experience, Joy offers the advice to “Do what you need to do to survive but still appreciate life and the blessings it gives.”

                     Joy has truly taken to heart the advice Dr. Q gave her during her rehabilitation “Do a little bit more every day.” Since her surgery, Joy has become an active supporter of brain cancer research, successfully ran in a 5K on the 1 year anniversary of her surgery, and has continued to develop and enrich her life with friendships. She is an incredibly strong, compassionate humanitarian who has overcome incredible odds to regain her independence and strength after her brain tumor. The world is a better place with women like Joy in it.

                     Written by Alexandra Larsen