The pool is one of the last places where you can disconnect from the world- no interruptions, distractions or status updates. It's a place for just you, your thoughts and the lapping water.
For JoAnn Grana, add cancer to that list. She used the pool as her safe haven. Every day after her radiation treatment, she jumped into the Bethlehem Community Center pool.
"It was like a Buddhist garden," she says. "My meditation zone...just me, the water and a peace of mind."
JoAnn's cancer journey began in 2013. A mammogram at Easton Hospital revealed a changing calcium deposit. After a stereotactic biopsy came back benign, JoAnn was in the clear.
But six months later, a follow-up mammogram led to an ultrasound. The results weren't clear, so Susan Schubach, MD, a fellowship trained in breast imaging, performed an ultrasound-guided biopsy. The tests didn't have JoAnn concerned.
"I was benign the last time," she says. "So I wasn't worried."
Then she saw a pink notebook on the desk. Easton Hospital surgeon Laura Borgos M.D., a member of the medical staff, told her it was cancer.
Rather than cry or fret, JoAnn got right down to business. "I remember saying to Dr. Borgos, 'Let's get it out of me,'" says JoAnn.
Easton Hospital caught the cancer early- a small stage 1 tumor. JoAnn wouldn't need chemotherapy.
She moved through the typical steps: lab work, EKG, MRI, nutrition consultation...all of which prepared her for surgery. Gregory Schubach, M.D., chairman of the Department of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine and a member of the medical staff, successfully located the sentinel node, and Dr. Borgos performed a lumpectomy.
Next came 33 radiation treatments- one a day, five days a week, over the course of six weeks. Following each treatment, JoAnn hit the pool.
Many doctors will tell cancer patients not to be exposed to chlorine. But JoAnn is not most patients.
Years ago she began swimming and treading water as ways to loose weight and ease joint pain. Her routine had her in the water an hour a day, five days a week.
"I couldn't let cancer take that away from me," she says.
She got a special swimsuit, and before each swim, she coated the area with Aquaphor, a viscous ointment that forms a barrier to help protect and heal the skin.
"Sometimes radiation therapy can cause skin redness, so it was refreshing to jump into the pool after treatment," JoAnn says.
Too fatigued for lap swimming, she instead treaded water.
"One of things that was difficult for me in treatment were the noises- the sound of machines, the noises during procedures, the clicking of the Geiger counter," she says. "They could make me quite anxious."
The pool took that all away. "It was a cocoon," JoAnn says. "I want other cancer survivors to know that they too can take advantage of this sacred space."
Her treatments ended in August, and she is feeling grateful for her care. "It's important to have caregivers who can do their job and enjoy their work," she says. "But they need to have something else inside them."
"Easton Hospital is the friendliest place for medical treatment," she says. "Everyone has so much TLC and goes above and beyond."
It the same feeling she gets at the Bethlehem Community Center. "The people here are like family," she says.
JoAnn is not much for support groups. While she had great support in her journey from her husband, son, mother and aunt, she is more interested in supporting others.
"I want to tell my story and help others visit the pool and show them how to do it," she says. "They can find the same peace of mind in the water."
It's funny to hear from a woman who never graduated from tadpoles. But her lesson is clear: "I'm never going to win any races, but I can swim to save my own life."
Swimming helped soothe her soul during her journey with breast cancer.
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Easton, PA 18042-3892