I don't typically publish notes like this. However, this email from Janet Hanson, the woman who founded 85 Broads, a women's network that I belong to,sent this to all of the members. I am so touched by it that I felt there was no way I could just let it sit in my own inbox. This story needs to be out in the world.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, I sent an email out to the women in the 85 Broads network urging them to get mammograms and sonograms to detect BC, regardless of their age or family history.
I am writing to you today to tell you about my marriage of 19 years to the most wonderful guy on the planet, Jeff Hanson. Jeff and I were married in 1988 and we were blessed with two spectacular children, Meredith, who is now 19, and Christopher, who will be 17 next week.
There are literally thousands of women in 85 Broads who know Jeff as he attended almost every one of our events and from day one, dedicated himself to our mission "to help thousands of women around the globe define success on their own terms." Many of the women whose stories appear in "More Than 85 Broads" were interviewed by Jeff. What many people don't know is that it was Jeff who "ghost wrote" the introductions to all the chapters in the book As I said in the preface of the book, he was, and always will be, my hero. He was smart and funny and generous and as so many of you know, we were inseparable.
After I was operated on for breast cancer, I was told that it would be a wise decision to have my ovaries removed because of the "type" of breast cancer I had. That operation took place less than two months after I had a bilateral mastectomy. When you have your ovaries removed pre-menopausely you are thrown into what is known in the trade as "traumatic menopause." It means your system goes haywire as your body no longer produces estrogen.
Here is where this story takes a tragic turn: throughout my entire life I always felt extremely blessed to have an "upbeat" personality... a vigor that defied my age... to always be excited about everything. I never suspected that my "zest for life" was an illness. Over the years, it was not unusual for my friends to say "Janet, how can you possibly do so many different things at once?!" And I always laughed and thought it was because I had an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion to accomplish bigger and bigger goals in my life.
There are two types of bipolar disease. Bipolar I is extremely easy to diagnose as the individual is clearly and literally out of control. What I have only recently learned is that I suffer from Bipolar II which involves milder episodes of hypomania (one's mood is "elevated" for several days or weeks and doesn't cause any functional "impairment." ) These elevated moods alternate with feeling a little out of sorts, or "blue."
Typically, a Bipolar II sufferer fails to identify their days or weeks of hypomania as anything abnormal. In fact, they often believe that these periods are what makes their lives so fabulous! Dr. Daniel Lieberman: "People with Bipolar II value their hypomanic episodes highly, so it is imperative that physicians don't misdiagnose the illness and prescribe THE WRONG MEDICATION."
And sadly, that is what happened to me. After my body stopped producing estrogen, I went into a fog of bleak depression. My doctor treated my feelings of extreme sadness with anti-depressant medication. Only recently have many in the medical community come to realize that giving anti-depressant medication to someone who suffers (undiagnosed) from Bipolar II can do grievous harm as the effects of the medication cause a dramatic increase in "cycling" -- aka one's mood swings become more and more extreme.
And that's when the wheels came completely off the cart as the combination of anger and sadness that I was experiencing was terrifying. To make matters even worse, the anti-depressant I was taking caused rapid weight gain - in one year I gained over 30 pounds.
And virtually no one, not even close friends and family, knew what was going on. In the 3 years that followed, Jeff and I wrote and edited the book, I went to work for Lehman Brothers and Jeff took a full-time consulting job at C-Bass. I tried harder and harder to stay focused on our two wonderful children who were happily entering their teens.
Then something else started to happen... it became painfully obvious that I had "memory issues." I was always able to find my car keys but I started to repeat myself, often several times in the same hour. At first Jeff and Mer and Criff thought it was pretty funny, but as I became angry and frightened, they started to feel scared and sorry for me. And so in 2006, I added another prescription to my list- I was given Provigil to help me "focus." This was on top of sleeping medication that I took to alleviate insomnia and night sweats. I was now on a full-blown "medication roller coaster."
By the summer of 2006, Jeff had had enough. I had changed so dramatically that he was watching his own quality of life disappear. We had bought a little lake house not far from our home in Bedford and one day, Jeff moved out. I started "mood cycling" faster and faster as I couldn't make sense of what was happening. One day I would be the "nice Janet" and the next day I would be the "abusive Janet." Sometimes I would be both in the same day. Jeff had been the best husband, the best dad, the best partner any person on the entire planet could ever have, but he had had enough.
What would have made this terrible tragedy preventable is that we NEEDED HELP AS A FAMILY. Dr. Galynker, a leading expert in treating Bipolar II, was quoted in an article a month ago in the NY Times - he said: "A third of all spouses of patients with bipolar illness develop serious depression and anxiety themselves and that in turn affects the patient who is in need of a healthy caregiver."
What we didn't realize was that we were in the perfect storm. Everything that could go wrong did. I was misdiagnosed and was put on medication that exacerbated my mood swings-- I learned ONLY YESTERDAY that as a person who suffers from Bipolar II, I needed MOOD STABALIZERS, NOT ANTI-DEPRESSANTS.
I know you are all hoping that this story has a happy ending but that is what is so terribly sad. After a year of trying to figure out which end was up, Jeff asked for a legal separation and is now in a new relationship with a wonderful former girlfriend from his college days. I know they will have a great and happy life together.
As excruciatingly painful as it is for me to write this, if my story gives you insight and allows you to help someone you know and love who might have this illness then I will believe with all my heart that this network is a "safety net" too. Bipolar II is extremely difficult to diagnose and the wrong diagnosis can lead to the wrong medication which can spell disaster. Many of you no doubt wondered how it was possible that I never seemed to come up for air, that I always had my foot on the gas, that I had ten new great ideas at once, that I was always on a mission to save somebody or something.. I had the best life of anyone I know but I should have been smarter -- it's not possible to run an asset management company, a global network of thousands of women, a dedicated team of over a dozen professionals, work on Wall Street, and take care of two kids ALL AT THE SAME TIME. If I hadn't had cancer, if I hadn't had my ovaries removed, if I hadn't subsequently fallen into a black hole of depression and mistakenly been given the wrong medication which exacerbated an undiagnosed illness, I truly believe that Jeff Hanson would still be here today. I know we would have had a long and wonderful life together. I am grateful for the life we had and for our two beautiful children who are, and always will be, my rocks.
Thanks for listening,