Patient StoryNov | 14 | 2019
Maryann Fitzgerald and Dr. Justin Jordan
The Cancer Center’s Story Project is an effort to capture stories from our community of patients, friends, family, clinicians, and staff who have been affected by cancer in some way. This is Maryann and Dr. Jordan's story.
- Maryann was diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor on December 26th, 2018, and has faced her diagnosis head-on each day since with humor and grace.
- “I know when [Dr. Jordan] talks about others who have gone through this, he knows we are all different…. He treats me as an individual, as if I’m the first person to ever have a brain tumor. He thinks about me.”
How your life has changed after your diagnosis?
Maryann: "I was diagnosed the day after Christmas 2018. I had no symptoms, no anything. It threw me for a loop, it truly was a whirlwind. I had the tumor taken out when I was up in Maine on vacation. A couple of our friends knew of Mass General and recommended it to me. We set up an appointment here and at Dana Farber. When they put that bracelet on it was the first time it really hit me that I was sick. I was acting kind of shy, it was a lot to take in, and Dr. Jordan came in and he looked at me and said 'I’m going to call you Fitzy.' He was honest with me, He said ‘you have 13 months to 2 years, but I have patients who have lived longer. And you’ve got all the check marks. I have faith we can do this together.’ He made me feel very relaxed. I did get a second opinion at Dana Farber, but as soon as I walked in the door, I knew that I had to stay at MGH. The doc at the Farber was very nice, but Dr. Jordan made me feel like I was the only patient he had, that he’s got me, that I can trust him. He’s got an awesome team that works well together with him."
"I call him JJ. If he’s calling me Fitzy then I’m calling him JJ. That’s the kind of relationship we have. We get business done at the appointments, my entourage writes everything down. He’s always coming up with something new. I feel like I’m the only patient he has. He’s never in a hurry. Someone from his team calls me back within an hour. I drive from Springfield and it’s worth it."
Dr. Justin Jordan: "Maryann has such an amazing take on life and her disease. It’s really been a positive experience for me to work with her through this. She has more side effects than a lot of the patients I see, which I hate, so we work strategically each appointment to make it better and better for her. From the beginning we talked about the importance of keeping quality of life as the focus. That’s from the gardening and the yard work, to working at her job when she can. It’s been the center point for us. She keeps us in stitches. She has plenty of antics."
On your first day of radiation therapy, tell me what happened?
Dr. Justin Jordan: "It started with a phone call on her first day. You’re supposed to take your chemo pill an hour before treatment, and she has her pill in a plastic bag and the capsule had opened up in the bag, and so she licked up the powder from the inside of the bag."
Maryann: "I mean they tell you you have to get all the milligrams. So the teacher in me, I made sure I got in all the milligrams!"
Dr. Justin Jordan: "Then she calls after to confess, to make sure she got all the milligrams in."
Maryann: "My sisters had sold me out. They called JJ. And I knew I was in trouble then."
Dr. Justin Jordan: "She has a very unique relationship with her tumor. But she’s got such a positive attitude. It helps with longevity."
As far as your attitude and outlook, have you always been able to take things in stride?
Maryann: "I trust that Dr. Jordan can only do so much. What happened, happened. It happened to me for some reason. I can’t change it so why not live and go from there. I’m an Assistant Principal at a middle school. I bring the hammer. I have a big support system. All the teachers at my school, my friends who come to the appointments, my family. I want to travel. After all of this, I’d like to go to Japan. I am a black belt in Japanese Sword Fighting."
Dr. Justin Jordan: "Your medical team is happy to come with you in your travels."
What advice would you give yourself or someone going through this?
Maryann: "I would tell them to find a doctor they trust and get along with. I don’t mind coming here because I like my team. You can’t dwell on it. It happened to you. Work through it, find that person you trust who will help you with it. My college friends here with me, they’re the best. The waiting room here is inviting. It’s not sickly. It’s welcoming."
"Joelle, Christina, the nurses all call me back within an hour. They call me even if I don’t call them. I joke I’m his only patient. I truly believe when he’s at home that he’s thinking about me always: ‘how can I help Maryann?’ I truly believe that. When he’s reading the paper, ‘would this trial help Maryann?’"
"I get nervous every time the MRI comes in. I know I hound him. But I do believe it’s growing. It’s a fast growing tumor. It’s already stage 4. I come from a health and physical education background. I know the side effects. I know with the chemo what you get. When I was having seizures I would call them a few hours later. The seizure I had after Christmas was what got me to call the doc. I’ve always been healthy. It was a wake up call."
Dr. Justin Jordan: "What’s important for all my patients is that I’m always going to be 100% truthful, I hope it alleviates the anxiety. There’s uncertainty that comes with oncology care. I believe you deserve to know everything that’s going on with your body."
Maryann: "I know when he talks about others who have gone through this, he knows we are all different. When I go into the office he’s never treated me as a cookie cutter. He treats me as an individual, as if I’m the first person to ever have a brain tumor. He thinks about ME."
Dr. Justin Jordan: "You’re an individual. I tell her that all the time."
Outside of work and your visits here, what do you keep yourself busy with?
Maryann: "School, training, and working out all keep me busy. I used to do that all the time. I want to get back to working out more. As an athlete I get frustrated with myself because I think ‘I used to be able to do 50 push ups and now I can only do 5’. It angers me. My baseline is high. Work has been keeping me busy."
Dr. Justin Jordan: "She had insisted on working every day after her radiation treatment. I always encourage people to take those 6 weeks off. It’s not medically dangerous, but it helps."
Maryann: "I get more tired from sitting in a chair. My Springfield College friends are all active."
Dr. Justin Jordan: "Positive attitude goes a heck of a long way. You’re not supposed to have favorites but since she is my only patient, it’s easy to have a favorite."
I know when [Dr. Jordan] talks about others who have gone through this, he knows we are all different…. He treats me as an individual, as if I’m the first person to ever have a brain tumor. He thinks about me.
This interview was conducted on July 17th, 2019 and has been edited for clarity.
- Clinical Director, MGH Pappas Center for Neuro-Oncology
- Director, Family Center for Neurofibromatosis
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