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What I learned from a Brain Tumor

Three years ago tomorrow, Joe had his brain tumor surgery.  I can remember that year like it was yesterday, and yet it feels as if it never actually happened. And today is his birthday. So every year my timehop memories pop up with a flood of birthdays and scars.

I remember vividly the night Joe called me from the ER telling me the doctors found “something” on his CT scan. He’d fell playing basketball at work that day and when the head ache hadn’t dissipated by the afternoon, I urged him to go to the ER to have it checked.  With no one to watch the kids, I stayed home. Until I got his call.

When a doctor tells you they “found something,” let’s just admit it….your mind can do the nastiest things.  I easily slipped into the rabbit hole of doubts, fears, worries, “what if’s”, and “holy crap we haven’t got life insurance yet’s.”  It’s one single phone call that can send your mind on tailwind of thoughts into the abyss of my life is forever changed from this moment forward. After that call, I scrambled to get someone to watch the kids and drove the longest 20 minutes to the hospital (ok, maybe it wasn’t longer than the 20 minutes when we drove while I was in labor…but still).

The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.

I repeated this over and over. Throughout the months following that night.  The world around me felt like it was caving in around us. Everyone we encountered offered not only their own condolences but they also brought with them their own fears. And while I appreciated all the prayers, each time someone said “we’re praying for you guys” it was a reminder of the gravity of what we were walking through.

I had to be strong.

I felt like I had to be so strong because everyone around me was scared out of their minds.  I had to be strong because we had 2 young kids and had literally just found out we were pregnant with our third. I felt like I had to be strong because the world does not stop.  Kids still need to go to school.  The mortgage still needs to be paid.  Dinner still has to be made.  And I wanted Joe to feel safe, secure, and confident. So I held that with him. I held his hand. I prayed with him. I believed all would be ok. But deep down…I was scared too.  I shoved all my fears and worries aside. I stifled them and let myself believe that I wasn’t worried.  I truly thought I was being honest when someone would ask us how we were doing and I’d say “good.” But the person I was being least honest to was myself.

It’s what we often times do as moms, as women.  We hold hands. We catch tears and provide supportive shoulders.  We kiss the kids goodbye. While inside….we’re crumbling. We don’t allow ourselves to even feel because if we do….we are sure we won’t be happy with what we see. Or we’re scared of what we might find.

So we carry on.

We place a smile across our face, we post happy pictures on instagram, We aren’t intentionally lying to the world. We just don’t stop long enough to allow ourselves to actually feel. We’re constantly bombarded by the list of things to do. The person we’re lying to is ourselves.

I waited in the lobby of the waiting room for nearly 4 hours by myself before the neurosurgeon came to give me report. And while he reported all was well, there was more bleeding then they’d hoped for. I’m a medical professional. I work with patients who’ve experienced brain bleeds. I know what to expect. And my heart sank the moment I saw him.  Because there staring back at me was one of my fears….facial droop.  One of the possible outcomes…paralysis, stroke, bleed….it was there.

That is the moment that it hit me. That was the moment that ALL the feelings of the last few months hit. That was when the reality of my future sank in.

My mind began to swirl….if he’s in rehab, how will I work? If I can’t work how will we pay for the house? Are we going to have to move? Who’s going to watch the kids while I’m helping him? Holy crap (although I’m sure crap wasn’t the word I used), I’m pregnant! How am I going to do this?

Can I just interject and say God is gracious, merciful and the almighty healer?

Five days later, Joe left the hospital with no deficits in motor skills, speech, or cognition! Yes, the facial droop was amazingly healed.

I’d like to tell you that life went back to normal.  That this tumor was just a blip in our life,  like a speed bump that makes you slow for just a moment and then resume driving just like you were before the speed bump. But that’s not the case.

It wasn’t more than 3 months later I was awoken in the middle of the night with Joe having a tonic-clonic seizure.  And if you don’t know what that means….that means it was a full body seizure in what most people picture when someone has a seizure.  It was a balance between panic, cursing, and running through the motions.

Make sure the space around him is clear.

Where is my phone? I’ve got to call 911.

Shit, he’s falling off the bed. I can’t hold him.

Ok, how long has this lasted? I have to get him on his side.

Frick!!! what is going on?

In walks my 5 year old….in the calmest of mom voices “hunny, I need you to go to the front door, unlock it, turn on the light, and let the firemen in. Mommy has to stay right here and hold daddy.”

If you’ve ever been in a situation like that you understand when I say that you are in fight or flight mode, pure adrenaline.  And it wasn’t until the firemen arrived that I felt my body again. Shaking. Heart racing. Sweating.

“Sir, can you tell us your name?” No response.

“Sir, can you tell us your birthday?” Nothing.

“Sir, can you tell us where you are?” Joe shakes his head.

What the hell is happening??? This is not my life.  This is not reality.  Literally, I stepped into someone else’s world. These things don’t happen in my life.  Other people go through this, not me.

But it is my life.  It is happening to me.  And now each time he has a seizure, it reinforces that yes, this is my life.  This is a part of my story. And while it’s scary and unknown, I’m committed to going forward allowing myself to feel all the feels.  The person I want to be the most authentic with is myself. But oh can it get ugly.

This is the thing I’ve learned.

When we hide those thoughts and feelings…they fester.  They grow. We don’t even notice them.  We don’t notice the pessimism, shame, self-doubt, fears, worries that can begin to overtake our life. Try as we might to ignore them. To stifle them.  Pretend that we don’t feel the pain. But it doesn’t work.  Regardless if we acknowledge them  or not, they are there.  And they keep us from stepping out or going after our dreams.  They keep us safe. I mean that’s their job. To keep you safe. And safe doesn’t give you a life you love.

My challenge to you is to let yourself feel all the feels.

Allow yourself to be uncomfortable and sit with pain and worry.  Feel the fears. But you can’t stop there.  You have to sit with them, acknowledge them, and then……you have to release them.  You can’t deny they are there. We’re human. It’s apart of human nature. But you CAN let them go. You can make a conscious decision that they do not serve you.  They are no longer needed. And when you do that….you set yourself up to live the life you were meant to live.

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