I was skiing in knee-deep powder one week, then suddenly undergoing brain surgery the next. The news was shocking to family and friends.
I know what you’re thinking…this is going to be a story about pain, misery, sadness and struggle. No way! Happy to say it’s about facing adversity, chasing joy, building resilience, and spreading kindness.
What started on April 5th 2014 wasn’t on the agenda. I woke up to crippling pain in my head—so bad it felt like someone violently shook my head like a snow globe creating intense confusion and chaos to my thoughts and vital functions.
From the ER, to ambulance to the Twin Cities’ Brain trauma center, I heard, “Elaine you have a mass in your head… It’s the size of a tennis ball and we have to operate pronto.”
I remember thinking, “Dang, I was really hoping to avoid brain surgery in my life.” And I think I even said to the doc, Any chance we can leave it in there?” Nobody listened.
I had a 50/50 chance of making it through the 10-hour surgery with a big question mark around what functions might remain when I woke up.
The 26-letter diagnosis? A malignant, Grade 3 Anaplastic, oligo astrocytoma. In retrospect, I shortened it to 4-letters: G-I-F-T gift.
The impact of the tumor impacted my spacial perception of everything…my communication skills, attention, short-term memory, handwriting and reasoning. I also had a condition called left neglect where my brain ignored that side of my world. It still lingers a bit, but I’ll admit…That was a trip!
Needless to say I spent 25 days in hospital rehabilitation where I spent full days working with therapists— PT, OT, Speech, and Neuropsychologists to, in a way, start over again. I miss them and boy do I miss the room service ☺
From there it was go home, heal from surgery and pile on more cognitive challenge with cancer treatment. The game plan? A year of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation and a year and a half of rehabilitation therapy.
I’m lucky to have made it this far only because of the healing tips, and uplifting actions from special people along my journey. They taught me 6 caring insights that can help you or anyone rebound from life’s curve balls.
#1 Don’t let adversity define you. A radiologist I met in the hospital said, “Elaine, embrace the journey and don’t let your brain tumor be the topic of every conversation and define you.
#2 Revel in resilience. A priest did a mass outside at my neighbor’s house on the lakeshore. He said when you hit the highest of lows, when waters are rough, you will find peace & insight.
We aren’t born with a set amount of resilience. It’s a muscle like our brain that you build. And to help build it, you have to have gratitude. It could have been worse for me. I could have had a stroke, a heart attack or simply just died in surgery. I’m grateful I didn’t and thankfully built up my reservoir of resilience so I can draw on it whenever I need it.
#3 Invest in your friendships. My friends taught me how to be a better friend and help make any challenge bearable. They never asked me the question “Is there anything I can do?” I don’t ask that question now because when you’re in the midst of a crisis, you can’t answer that. Decisions use energy you don’t have. Plus, you have no idea what you need. Friends just showed up and did… tireless acts of kindness that made me feel like I was flying on a magic carpet.
I’m almost 50 and see how real divorce, death, loss, cancer, unemployment…and all of life’s problems are. Over invest in your friendships now before tragedy occurs in your lives because believe me, during your lowest of low times you’ll need them to help you heal like I did.
#4 Don’t wait for joy, make it.
My occupational Therapist Brie taught me so much including a twist on calendar management. My requirements? Schedule 3 moments of joy each day and note them in red. All the have-to-dos (laundry, groceries, bills) list them in black. What did red mean? Replenish energy. Black meant deplete. I learned how important replenishment is to your health & well being.
Besides planning moments of joy, you also need to recognize it…that great coffee, awesome sunset, hilarious joke or walk with the dog. Joy doesn’t just give us happiness, it gives us strength too. My calendar thanks to Brie, continues to light up in red.
#5 Believe in the power of Hallmark. Some of the most uplifting moments during my journey came from the mailbox. To see personalized handwriting, a stamp, return address, and the words of encouragement meant instant sunshine to me. It was that element of surprise that was so fun and appreciated.
#6: Choose to have an awesome attitude. You may have heard that saying, “Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.
I was never mad or sad about what happened to me. In fact, I didn’t spend time thinking about it. Even my husband and two boys displayed life as usual. No breakdowns or anger…just life as usual and a lot of love and humor! I’m thankful.
I believe It’s the days that challenge you to the core that determine who you are. My brain tumor gave me many gifts including new strength and a renewed commitment to live the best life I can.
I thank the people who helped get me here today—my family, friends near and far, and my stellar medical team. I hope that what I shared will help YOU—or at least help you help others heal remarkably like I did!
Remember to schedule your 3 moments of joy each day!