I have found that part of being able to claim joy in life is accepting that there is a close working relationship between all events, “good” and “bad,” and noticing how they support one another throughout the constant flow of time. I love looking at my life through this lens and thinking about all of the wonderful pieces that wouldn’t have fallen into place if both the “good” AND “bad” events hadn’t occurred EXACTLY when and how they did, in my own life and in others’. I am not usually viewing events in my life through this lens at the moment that I’m living them, but as time passes and I look back, I see more and more significance in each of my experiences. Usually I think of “flow” and “alignment” as natural, fortunate sequences of events guiding a person to cultivate something excitingly “positive” in their lives, but I am fascinated by seeing the incredibly powerful flow and alignment that led me to (and most importantly through) this “negative” experience of a brain tumor diagnosis.
As I look back at the sequence of events before I even knew that I had a brain tumor, I’m kind of in awe/ in love with the path that was laid out. As I mentioned in my introductory post of this blog, my husband and I went to Croatia to celebrate my 40th birthday this past summer. It had been a difficult decision to go away without the kids for the first time in 14 years, and we were originally planning a family trip, but in the end we felt like it was the right time and place to go just the two of us. It turned out to be the most idyllic 2 1/2 weeks of my life. Every single day we were in awe, and every experience we had stacked up to make it the most glorious trip of my life. (Yes, I definitely missed my kids too.)
I can now see so much extra value in our having had the opportunity to take that trip right then…just one month before I found out about my brain tumor. I was given this deeply nourishing, soul-filling experience just before I was to learn that my soul would need more strength than it has ever needed before. When I lay blissfully on my yellow raft on that crystal clear sea, having my first truly relaxing moments in 14 years, I had no idea that the mindfulness I was absorbing was later going to serve me in a whole different, critically important way; it would become the foundation of my ability to cope with the brain tumor I did not yet know I had. (How wild that that inflatable raft was there to support me at my highest of highs AND my lowest of lows! That really was the best $8 we have EVER spent. Read this post if you need further explanation about the raft.)
My husband and I typically lead overly busy lives, so to have had that beautiful, free, peaceful adventure together to truly connect and to reinforce our relationship just before my diagnosis, allowed us to still be holding on to that stronger-than-ever love through the darkness that followed. To add to the value of this powerful timing, while we were away our kids stayed with my mom and step-dad for the whole 2 1/2 weeks, and we were worried about how they would handle being away from us for so long for the first time, but they stepped up their willingness to get along with each other, strengthened their relationship with their grandparents, and proved that they could be independent and flexible. It was a meaningful experience for all of them, and we had no idea how extensively that long visit would prepare them all for what was to come; the kids needed to be more independent and responsible with getting ready for school on their own while I was “out of commission;” they needed to be conscientious and flexible about changes in routine and having different people driving them everyday; they needed to be understanding that my husband and I were away and focused on something else, and they needed to be comfortable having my mom stay at our house for the two weeks after my surgery.
Once I was diagnosed and I made some of the difficult decisions about what to let go of with regards to my work, I was thankful for the “perfect” timing, to have several therapeutic pre-op weeks to be free as a bird during our most beautiful season in Santa Cruz. I was able to enjoy peaceful, long walks and runs on the beach with incredible weather (and without the tourist crowds we normally see in the summer). Once I was home from the hospital I was able to soak up the warm, energizing sunshine on my deck and start to practice my walking the rural neighborhood under uplifting blue skies. To then be able to enjoy a slow pace of life indoors through the eventual colder weather and usually-busy holidays was another major blessing, and all of it was exactly what my body and soul needed, when I needed it.
I am also feeling especially thankful that, even though this tumor had been growing an estimated fifteen years, the timing of my surgery coincided with this specific short period in my 40-years of life, when I have been more dedicated than ever before to living a healthy lifestyle, from nutrition to fitness. This stretch only began a few years ago, and I feel that the generally healthy state I was in contributed significantly to the success of my surgery and recovery.
This same period goes hand-in-hand with my having sought guidance from my amazing integrative medicine practitioner a few years ago, Beth Dorsey, who originally diagnosed “something pressing on my cranial nerves” before I even had my MRI. I also benefited from having her guide me through my whole journey from then-on, with both nutritional counseling and acupuncture.
I feel like this tumor waited for truly the “right” time to make itself known; looking across the board, even down to where I was with my work commitments and the exact ages of my kids, every bit of emotional and physical support leading up to this unknown event in my life was exactly what I needed and came exactly when I needed it.
While the universe was definitely flowing with beautiful and timely support before, during and after, I am still awed by the support that rushed in from our community of friends and family as well. I really don’t know how I can ever express my gratitude adequately. I know that no one expects anything in return; I still just so want them to know how life-saving it felt to have them lifting my spirits and stepping up in so many different ways through this whole period. I’m sure there were times in the past when I was too busy to be of much service to some of them when they were in need of help, but now I know how emotionally and physically impactful it feels to be on the receiving end, and I want to be first in line to help when the time comes again. We absolutely could not have gotten through this as well as we did without their love and kindness.
Given the powerful alignment that formed around this major life event, I have to wonder if others notice this in their lives too? Is this good karma I’m experiencing? (I’d like to think I earned it in my lifetime.) Is it just a positive outlook? I feel like everything I didn’t even know I needed has been flowing along all my life without my being aware of its significance, and that it ALL just came in beautifully like the tide for this event. I can’t be anything but grateful for the outcome. Despite having “a particularly hard” case and a 14-hour surgery that was expected to be completed in 8 hours, AND a “stroke” at my brain stem, I made it through “with flying colors,” according to my physical and speech therapists. I had no dizziness, no nausea, no fatigue, no headaches, no CSF leak, nor did I have any of the many, many other possible common issues surrounding brain stem trauma. My energy and stamina were much better than anyone expected. All of the remaining common issues I do have (facial paralysis/eye dryness and right-sided sensitivity) are expected to fully recover. My balance and coordination came back steadily. I never needed pain meds stronger than Tylenol once I left the hospital. I take credit for this healthy outcome in giving the doctors a healthy body to work on, and I give them credit for their tremendously skilled work and thoughtful care. I give the universe credit for impeccable timing and the unbelievable beauty it brought with everything else.
I know it sounds funny to say, “I’m grateful for having had a brain tumor,” but honestly, I kind of am. The vulnerability I had to expose, the strength I gained from walking through this fire, the opportunity I’ve had to share with others and model for my kids, the discovery of a new pace of life, the love and connection that came from near and far, the new path in my life that I’m forging — yes, I honestly AM grateful for that brain tumor. Is a brain tumor still a “bad” thing? This is why I have a hard time using the words “good” and “bad” to describe things. (Aaaaaaand I really, really, really can’t pass up this opportunity to revisit one of my favorite songs from high school and make all of my old friends smile, but all readers are welcome to tune in here and enjoy the message.)
I have reinforced for myself once again, that by focusing on gratitude and making the best of all of my life’s adventures, I am able to carry happiness with me everyday, rather than waiting for time to pass or expecting to find it at some other destination. While heading out on, and in the midst of, the scariest passage of my life, there were moments along the way when I could actually feel pure joy through my appreciation for what I saw and felt happening around me. I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that I was happy at all times through this experience, but I always tried to find (and always could) at least one little flashlight beam of light in the darkness. As each day after my diagnosis led me forward (sometimes with a walker!) down that dark path to my unknown future, I held on with a death grip to those narrow beams until they eventually led me to out into the sunshine again.
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson