JoAnn Hertshten

Written by JoAnn Hertshten - March, 2017

It started exactly 2 years ago when I was 64 years old. At some point I had decided that I wanted the be a healthy old person so I have been careful about my diet and have exercised regularly; I had been feeling absolutely fine. One day I started feeling an excruciating pain in my lower right abdomen. I wasn’t particularly alarmed as I decided it must be appendicitis which I had thought was easily treatable. However, when I had it checked there were no other symptoms to confirm appendicitis. My physician sent me for an ultrasound; the results were inconclusive. By the time that I was able to schedule an abdominal CT scan I was feeling completely back to normal. When the results came back I had actually forgotten that I was waiting for results. That’s when my physician told me to report immediately to the emergency room at my local hospital. I definitely didn’t understand what he was telling me and didn’t take him too seriously because I was really feeling fine.

To this day I cannot get over my amazingly good fortune even as it was my bad fortune to encounter Psuedomyxoma Peritonei. My local hospital happens to be the center in Israel for treating this disease and two of the surgeons working there have extensive experience in performing cytoreductive surgery and HIPEC. When I was told what my condition was and what procedures I would be needing I still didn’t comprehend. But the surgery was scheduled just a few days later. It was only, much later, as I was recovering that I began to understand this disease, how horrible it can be and how lucky I was to get it diagnosed and treated so accurately and quickly. To those of you have undergone this procedure, I don’t need to say more. If you are still recovering or about to undergo it, I wish you excellent care, strength, patience, and a complete recovery.

The recovery was slow, painful and arduous. I was aware of and appreciated every little improvement. I was always looking back and noted how I had been the week or month before and how much better I presently was. Today…….not even two years later I am back at the top of my game……..and even better.

Last month I succeeded in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was part of a group raising money for an institution in Jerusalem which provides services for special needs children and their families. Climbing the Kilimanjaro had never been a dream or ambition for me but when I had the opportunity to be a part of this challenge, I decided that was what I wanted to do and needed to do to put my medical ordeal behind me.Starting out I was not overly confident; I have never been great on up hills and I had heard how cold and wet the climb can be.

I hadn’t even taken into account sleeping in a two person tent and the rather basic food. I was the oldest one in the group. I didn’t share my medical background with most of the other hikers. After the first day; just 4 hours of walking up through the Tanzanian rain forest I was thinking: I don’t know, maybe this is more than I can handle. After the first night, when I was so cold and uncomfortable, I thought that I didn’t need to get to the summit, I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. But also, it was so special, such a challenge, such an opportunity and then in my heart and my head I became totally focused. It took us a week to complete our climb. I kept remembering the lesson that I had learned during my recovery. I never thought: look how much more you have still to climb but I would look down and be astounded at how far I had come; how high I had climbed and the beauty of where I was. Little by little, step by step , slowly, slowly I reached Uhuru Peak 5,895 meters – 19,341 feet above sea level. Above the clouds! The climb wasn’t easy for any of us but it wasn’t harder for me. I think that it might even have been easier for me, especially mentally, because of what I had so recently been through.

I am sharing my story with my fellow PMP family because I want you to know that hopefully, what you are going through now is just a temporary setback and that soon you will be back to your normal lives and will even have benefited from this experience. I want to give you hope and the belief that this whole ordeal will one day be completely behind you and truly just a foggy memory.

P.S. Yesterday I had a checkup with my surgeon. After seeing the current CT scan, blood tests and checking my abdomen, he told me to come back in six months. He was thrilled with my triumph!