Last December, Woodbury Moms on the Mom member Andrea Hitzemann-Johnson suffered a grand mal seizure after a workout with her Moms on the Run team. She woke up in the hospital, only to later learn she had a brain tumor. All of this during a year of a pandemic, no less. It's stories like these that make us grateful for medical professionals and resources, strong bodies and family and friends.
Andrea credits her friends on her Woodbury team for their support in keeping her physically and mentally strong — both on and off the trails.
"As things started to get crazy with Covid and many of us couldn’t always be together as often," recalls Andrea, "it was always great to see my Woodbury MOTR team virtually or on a distanced run. Then I had a personal health situation and this group's support has been absolutely amazing in all things, and brings those smiles and strength back to your day."
Read on for our conversation with Andrea and learn why she's our inspiring member of the month.
Q: How long have you been a member of Woodbury Moms on the Run? Were you a runner before Moms on the Run?
A: I joined in Fall of 2012. I wasn't a "runner." I had on/off gym memberships and used gym treadmills, done short runs before, but never races or any distances.
Q: Please share a little about your health story and what has happened over the last year. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced during this difficult season?
A: 2020 was a rough year. On Dec. 19, I had a grand mal seizure that my boys witnessed following an hour-long puppy training session and MOTR workout. I was walking upstairs to shower, and fell and hit my head between the stairs and piano and continued to seize until the ambulance arrived. The boys rushed to get my husband from downstairs and thankfully, I was home versus driving at the time it happened.
No prior side effects. In hindsight, I had headaches with increasing severity but I had written those off as being due to Covid stress, kids distance learning and being laid off from my prior employee at the end of October 2020. My mom also had a stage 4 stomach cancer diagnosis the prior week to my seizure.
I woke up in Woodwinds Hospital, at dinner time, in the ER with 10 people in a room. This was still during Covid so my family and husband couldn't be there and they wouldn't tell him anything until I woke up. I didn't have any recollection of anything the 5-6 hours prior. After several tests, they moved me to Southdale Hospital where they diagnosed the seizures as being caused by a brain tumor. They scheduled surgery, but then allowed me to be home for Christmas. On Dec. 29th, I had a craniotomy to fully resect the tumor. A few weeks later, and after a Mayo second option, I was to start Proton Beam Radiation Therapy at Mayo clinic. I had atypical meningioma Grade II/III. The radiation was for 30 treatments over six weeks. So I camped four nights in a hotel in Rochester, MN, and weekends back home. The kids' spring break was in that hotel.
My MOTR team definitely gave me so much support during that time with meals, calls, virtual work outs and even a visit from one of my teammates, Mindi. As luck would have it, I had accepted a job the day before the seizure and they've been amazing. I was able to work part time the remainder of the year, which was a nice balance to heal, recover, but also keep mentally professionally engaged.
Due to the medications and side effects of radiation, most of this summer was walking and slower pace jogging. My energy levels definitely weren't up to the prior level where I might have been in a "rat race, working, mothering and running."
It was now difficult to run due to endurance and the meds making my hands/surgery line feel numb. But I still showed up. We even ran a fun 5K this past TC Marathon Weekend, which was the first race post treatment/post Covid and it felt great to be back out there. Kristina and our Woodbury team are amazing and I am ever so grateful for all they did and their endless cheerleading — even when I'd prefer to not be in any spotlights or accepting help.
I had my six-month check last week, and my team of Mayo doctors agree that given no regrowth, I can taper off more meds, which I hope will lift my energy further.
Q: At Moms on the Run, we use the term #MOTRstrong often. It definitely sounds like a word that exemplifies you! What does that word mean to you?
A: MOTRstrong exemplifies always trying to be the best self you can be, and even if it's not your year, showing up and staying healthy, cheering each other on and being grateful for the gifts you have and the fun we share. Being strong (albeit a Covid 10 lbs before seizure) certainly also helped keep me strong through tolerating radiation/surgery.
Q: What has been a highlight for you during your tenure with Moms on the Run?
A: Running the TC 10 Milers and completing a Ragnar with Mindi Dupont, who is stronger than me fighting her own personal battles. Doing that race with her, and then seeing how strong she continues to be after that, has been a blessing to keep me running and inspired. Fall 50s and our other race weekends have been real highlights too.
Q: Please share a little about you personally (family, job, hobbies, etc.)
A: I am a senior leader in Banking for over 20 years. I have three children: Aiden 11, Leo 7, and Emelia 5.