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Hi I’m Deanna! I am a wife, mother, daughter, writer and business owner and as of October 2016 I am a future breast cancer survivor living in Southern California with my husband of 22 years, Wayne. I am the mother of a smart and sweet daughter, Hannah who is a full time college student and Emergency Medical technician. I am a child of divorce, victim of molestation at the hands of my paternal grandfather, wife of a veteran suffering from PTSD, carrier of PCOS and have partial blindness, had three pre-cancerous tumors and now breast cancer at the age of 47. My father died in August 2016 of a suspicious death and I work tirelessly to find the answers related to his death.

One Step Woman is a gathering place for women to share life stories and experiences with one another, inspire other women to achieve their goals and connect to support each other. This is my story….

After my only daughter left for college in the Fall 2014, I felt empty and prayed that I could find a direction to lead the rest of my life now that me and my husband Wayne were empty-nesters. My day was filled with errands and tasks and busyness handling the running of our two businesses, but I felt as if I had another mission in life and I was determined to find it.

In January, 2015, I got a wake-up call from my daughter’s college dorm that my daughter, Hannah, had been taken to the emergency room. She had been suffering from severe breathing problems and an ambulance had transported her to a local hospital. I packed an overnight bag and headed to San Diego on what was a 2 and a half hour drive. In transit, I received a call that she had a possible blood clot in her lung. Because my husband had appointments and I didn’t want to alarm him, I prayed by myself the whole drive that she would recover. After multiple tests in the hospital, she was released from the hospital and we holed up in a hotel room so that I could take care of her for a few days until she felt well enough to return to school.  Thankfully, no blood clot was found. They could not determine what had caused her breathing problems, but I suspected mold poisoning. I bought a couple of mold test kits at the home improvement store and my instincts were correct when the kits started showing mold within hours.  My daughter returned to her dorm after clean-up and continued with school, but for me, I was shaken to my core. I felt relieved Hannah did not have a life threatening condition, but I questioned why we were spared. I knew I had to find some answers to what my purpose was in life.

In March, 2015 I scheduled a trip to Indiana to take care of my mother after she had knee surgery. My stepfather had been ill for years and was home-bound.  My parents needed me for a week to help take care of them and I was willing to travel the 2,000 miles. I booked a flight and was scheduled to leave at the end of March.

On March 5, 2015 I sat down to watch a little television with my husband. As I watched the screen with the “breaking news”, I noticed the letters were jumbled together on the screen as well as the graphic on the bottom of the screen was strangely wavy. For a brief second I thought maybe the news channel  had made the graphic wavy so that it would stand out on the screen. I asked my husband why the screen would look so strange. He gave me an odd look and he looked at the television screen and said to me “there is nothing wrong with the letters on the screen”. I chuckled and replied “But the bottom of the screen is wavy”. He said “there is nothing wrong with the screen. Maybe you should go to bed and get some rest. Your eyes could be bothering you and you just need rest”. I was bothered and annoyed that he thought I was just tired, but I agreed that he could be right about my eyes and I went to bed hoping all would be well in the morning.

I had forgotten about the incident on the screen from the night before when I got onto my computer the next morning. I looked at my computer monitor and the words were jumbled and overlapping. I decided I needed to see my optometrist to get a new prescription. I also considered that I was just stressed from the events of the last few months and I just needed to rest. I scheduled my appointment with the eye doctor for the next week and tried to resume life as normal without too much discussion with Wayne or Hannah about my increasing sight troubles.

By the time my appointment with the eye doctor I was really struggling with driving and “seeing” on the television and computer screen. My optometrist dilated my eyes and gave me the usual eye check-up. He immediately sent me to an eye specialist fearful that I could have a detached retina. I drove myself (yes, with dilated eyes) to the eye specialist immediately after I left the optometrist office. My optometrist recommended I go while my eyes were still dilated so that the specialist could see the back of my eyes. I struggled to drive and when I arrived at the eye specialist, they flat out turned me down and told me to make an appointment. Unfortunately,  the next available appointment was more than two weeks in the future so I would have to see the eye specialist when I returned from Indiana.

I struggled quite a bit with my eyesight while in Indiana, but I knew that I was the only source of transportation for my parents, so I kept quiet and helped with their care. My stepfather’s health was rapidly declining and I stayed for two weeks while we arranged for hospice to come and help care for him after I left and for when my Mom’s return to work. While in Indiana I got the call from the eye doctor with the approval from my insurance company to get an appointment to be seen by a specialist. I couldn’t wait to find out what was wrong with my eyesight.

As soon as I arrived home I called my Dad , who lived in California, to check in. I had previously let him know about my eye struggles. He asked when my eye appointment was and made arrangements to drive to our house and accompany me to my eye specialist appointment.

My fears were confirmed that I had a detached retina. We were immediately sent to another specialist about a 45 minute drive away to do further testing. This was the beginning of many. many tests and  a rapid decline of my eyesight. I was fortunate to be seen by a wonderful, smart doctor who diagnosed me with Myopic Degeneration, detached retina, and a macular hole. A triple whammy. I was blessed  to be under the care of an awesome doctor who took special attention to my case given my age was young for Myopic Degeneration. I was told I could no longer drive. This was the beginning of a journey that would last until the present time.

A few days after my diagnosis, I received a call from my distraught Mom that my stepfather had just passed away at home. Fortunately, my stepsister and stepbrother had been at home with both of them when he passed. I knew I needed to call my daughter and catch a flight to Indiana to be with them. Hannah came home from school and we flew out the next morning. It had only been a week since I had left Indiana. I would have to set aside my eye issues for two weeks while I was helping my Mom and attending my stepfather’s funeral.  I was starting to see what God was setting before me. I knew I needed to take care of myself and take care of my parents. I hoped God would guide me to share my story with others regarding my loss of eyesight. I was sure all of this was happening for a reason.

I kept all of my retina specialist appointments and they continued to test my eyes. My first eye surgery was scheduled in June 2015. My Dad drove to be with me, Wayne, and Hannah. I didn’t know what to expect with having eye surgery, but I knew surgery was imperative for me to get my sight back and live a normal life. The surgery was successful with respect to attaching my retina. However, even after another surgery to close the macular hole in my right eye, it was unsuccessful and I will live with  the hole for the rest of my life. I was able to regain part of my vision I had lost, but I required two more surgeries in my left eye to prevent a macular hole from forming and to repair the Myopic Degeneration that had occurred in my left eye. I had a total of four surgeries and I have monthly visits to my Retina Specialist to monitor my eye disease. My last eye surgery was in November 2015 ( a week before Thanksgiving).

I was so grateful to start a new year in 2016. My Mom had spent a month with us over the holidays and was headed home to Indiana. My Dad had made the decision to move back to Southern California  to be closer to us. He owned a home about two miles from where we lived and I was relieved he was moving closer. I was very happy that both of my parents were alive and getting along well in their lives. I was happy that life had settled down and I was on the road to recover and living a new “normal” life. My relief and happiness was short-lived though when I began having pain in my right side. Sometimes it was an ache and sometimes a more severe pain. In January 2016 I made an appointment with my family doctor. (I tell the story of Endometrial Hyperplasia  and my subsequent hysterectomy HERE). I was very shocked and upset about losing part of my eyesight, my stepfather dying and now dealing with the pain on my right side was pushing me to the edge of my stress load.

In January, after my Dad moved back alone to our hometown (his wife chose to stay in Northern California for a time), I was able to relax a bit and find a new normal. I had my final eye surgery in February 2016. I was glad my Dad was able to help offer support and help my family through the surgeries. I was so fortunate to have him so close by and enjoy a close relationship. So close in fact, that in March I got a call from him that he needed to speak to me about something. I initially thought  he was planning to divorce his wife because we had spoken about it several times,  but when he pulled into my driveway with her in his truck, I was worried it was far worse.

I greeted them at the door and gave them both a hug. My Dad didn’t say anything, but handed me his phone. He was very nervous and silent. I grabbed his phone and looked at a text message from a woman in Florida. This woman claimed that her mother had told her that my Dad was her father. My first instinct was this girl is out for something. I couldn’t imagine reaching out to my Dad after 46 years. My Dad recalled speaking with this girl in 1988. He knows whom her mother is, but he felt the same way as he did in 1988….That this woman could not possibly be his daughter because the timeline did not add up. My Dad was very bothered with this information. We talked at length and I did convince him that he should at least reach out to her to see if he could answer any of her questions. That is what he did.

As Spring approached I noticed my Dad was not thinking clearly, seemed agitated and somewhat mean and rude at times and acted paranoid. As a diabetic, he wasn’t taking care of his health by checking his blood sugar or eating healthily. His skin was dry and wrinkled and he suffered from dehydration. I alerted his wife as to his health condition and hoped she could help if she moved back to Southern California.

Easter came and my Dad and his wife came to dinner. She was down to visit from Northern California. The dinner was tense and my Dad was rude and hateful. He looked terrible and I could tell he felt even worse. We managed through the afternoon dealing with his comments and after they left I turned to Wayne and in tears told him I needed space from my Dad. (I would later learn that symptoms of decreased blood flow to the heart and brain can cause changes in a person’s demeanor. I wish I would have taken action on those signs.) I waited until his wife left and wrote him a note telling him I loved him, but we needed to take a break from one another and give each other some space. He never responded to my note. He never called to apologize. His wife  did not reach out either. In fact, she turned what was a situation privately between me and my Dad into a “family” situation. I would later realize how extreme it had gotten when my Dad went into the hospital.

When setting boundaries means you are out of the family

On July 11 2016, my phone rang and it was my middle brother calling to see what was wrong with my Dad. I had not shared with anyone about the separation from my Dad. He told me that he and my youngest brother along with several other people had received a text from my Dad’s wife that my Dad had suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. I provided details of his life and death HERE, HERE and HERE. I continue to look for answers and will fight tirelessly to promote the use of Advance Directives and Last Will and Testaments. It COULD save a life.

I had exploratory surgery in May 2016 to locate the tumor in my abdomen. My Mom came to visit and help to take care of me after surgery. My recovery was pretty easy and I was up and moving about 10 days after surgery. I was finally able to see the future and relax a little until my next surgery which was scheduled for August 5, 2016. I had no interaction with my Dad until he went into the hospital in July. His last words to me were “I Love You” as I was leaving his room to go home the night before his open heart surgery.

My hysterectomy surgery was successful and I spent a few days in the hospital. I received a few texts from my Dad’s wife, but they were only self-serving texts related to my Dad’s bank account. I was told by her that my Dad’s time was limited and he would pass away soon. Of course this news hindered my outlook and all I wanted to do was just go home. Two days after I was released from the hospital, my Dad was disconnected from life support by his wife without me and my brothers knowing or with our consent. We did not have a chance to come to hospital to say goodbye. The worst day of my life.

I struggled to find the meaning in everything I had been dealing with since the Fall of 2014. The changes in our lives with sending our daughter to college, Wayne’s cancer scare in October 2014, a road rage incident and then the beginning of 2015 with its challenges had brought me to my knees. Literally. All I could do was pray for peace within. I went from asking God to show me my purpose to asking Him to send me calm and complacency.

My Mom was still staying with us in August when we looked out the window to see a huge billow of smoke coming from the ground and clouding the sky.  Living in the desert, I knew that a big fire was active. Little did I know that this fire would result in over 82,000 people being evacuated from their homes. We were one of the families told to evacuate. I had only been home from the hospital for eight days and moving around was difficult. We packed the essentials and drove to a friend’s house to stay and was only released to return to our home three days later. We were so fortunate that he only damage we suffered was a smoky smell in the house and ash outside of the house which easily washed off with a power washer.

My Mom called me one day after she had flew back home to Indiana to tell me she wanted to make the move to California. We talk everyday and I had thought the day would come when she would make that decision.  She had only been home in Indiana for just a short time after helping me with my hysterectomy surgery recovery. I was still feeling a bit of pain only having the surgery about three weeks earlier, but we started making plans to sell her house and make the move to California.

In September, I flew to Indiana to help pack and have a yard sale of many, many items we weren’t taking with us. It was while I was at my Mom’s house that I received a letter from a lawyer representing my Dad ‘s wife telling me I was not entitled to get a copy of my Dad’s medical records or an accounting of my Dad’s probate because I was not ( according to my Dad’s wife) not a biological or adopted child of my Dad’s and that I was in violation of HIPAA laws by asking for this information. Wait, what? My emotions ran the gamut of crying, being angry and being disgusted at the absurdity of this statement. I sent a copy of my birth certificate to her lawyer.  Me and my brothers had sought legal advice from a lawyer regarding my father’s estate and were investigating the wrongful death of my Dad, so I sent a copy of the letter to our lawyer. I was broken inside. That brokenness though, quickly turned into resolve. I was resolute in my mission to find out what really happened to my Dad that resulted in his death, resolute in my mission to clear my Mom’s name from statements related to her faithfulness to my Dad and resolute in my mission to preserve the memories of my close relationship with him.

In October 2016, our bags were packed into the moving van and me, Wayne, Hannah and my Mom and nephew set out on our cross country trip. We decided to take our time and enjoy the beautiful sights while we were travelling. It was at the beginning of our trip that I felt the lump in my breast.

And so I start another path towards breast cancer survival.

I share my testimony with you because I now know what my purpose is. I KNOW I am travelling through these obstacles so that I can help other women who may be facing obstacles like the ones I have shared. Each one of us is unique and special. Not one woman is made alike. another woman. I want you to embrace the woman that you are. I hope to teach and share and learn and encourage and connect. I hope you’ll join me!