Perspectives

Our group held its second brain aneurysm support meeting tonight since the start of the pandemic. Held outside, with proper spacing, and all wearing masks, we enjoyed a stunning, summer evening in Portland.

July brain aneurysm support group meeting

There are regulars who attend the meetings every month and there are those who try to attend when they can. So, we never know who is going to attend each month. Sixteen people attended tonight with two new survivors and a neuro nurse who brought a unique perspective to the group.

At last month’s meeting, our first since February, our group facilitator asked us to find something positive that has happened during the pandemic instead of trying to focus on all the negatives…because there certainly are a lot. It was a wonderful idea and gave us a chance to catch up with one another. I don’t believe the words “brain aneurysm” were even mentioned that evening. We left feeling “good” and grateful for those positives we were able to mention no matter how small they might have been.

Tonight we were asked to share something we have done this summer that has allowed us to get away from the chaos and uncertainty. We also went around the “room” and shared our brain aneurysm stories again. With new people in the group it can put them at ease to hear other’s stories, know they’re not alone, and it allows us a chance to offer advice and comfort if needed.

After 14 of us shared our relationship to brain aneurysms and added our “summer story”, we then met Elizabeth who has been a neuro nurse for over 30 years and who currently works at Maine Medical Center. It was fitting she was the last in the group to share HER story after listening to all of OUR stories.

She was not a brain aneurysm survivor and didn’t have a relative who had a brain aneurysm, but because of the field she is in, Elizabeth has seen the effects that a brain aneurysm can have on patients and their families at their most vulnerable stages: admittance to the hospital and during emergency and elective medical procedures.

What she does NOT see is how those patients fair once they leave her care and guidance in the neuro ward. So, tonight it was an eye-opening and rewarding experience for her to hear from survivors themselves, how they’re coping, how they’re surviving and thriving after their first, second, and sometime’s third experiences with brain aneurysms.

Elizabeth eloquently shared her feelings regarding our group and the survivors who shared their stories and how it gave her a new perspective and insight into healing and recovery. A perspective she never would have got had she not joined us tonight.

It also dawned on all of the survivors that, of course, a nurse who cares for these patients for a brief period during the ugliest parts of the patients experience would wonder how is that patient doing now? How is their family coping with this trauma? Did they regain their memory? Were they able to walk again? One forgets they must see patient after patient and not really get any kind of resolution or closure because THEY aren’t the ones who meet us during our followup appointments at the neurosurgeon’s office.

Elizabeth also shared that they don’t really remember the type of brain aneurysm we had, or its location, but they DO remember the family and the people around the patients and perhaps their initial struggles. She remembers the patient…not the medical condition.

What an eye opening perspective for us all to hear. We thanked HER for sharing that perspective and she thanked US for allowing her to hear our stories about our lives and healing after our initial brain aneurysm experiences. She also realized that the healing and PROGRESS can occur well after one or two years.

Many survivors are told they’ll be healed and back to “normal” in a year or two or that after two years, you got what you got. Many survivors also know this is NOT the case. You may look normal, but your brain can still be struggling with many, many different smaller deficits that, in time, WILL and can get better. But it takes time…lots of time.

I am so glad Elizabeth and the new survivors joined us tonight and shared their stories. It’s a good reminder of how fragile life is and those stories continue to inject new perspectives on SURVIVING and THRIVING with brain aneurysms.

Love & Peace

Pitch to the Head

Six years after my craniotomy to clip my 2nd brain aneurysm, I discovered it can still cause me pain.

Although I still generally try to stay away from the area where my bone flap was reattached to my skull, I certainly never expected adjusting a baseball cap on my head would subject me to a stabbing pain!

Such was the case when I went to curve the bill of a relatively new baseball cap today. It was much more rigid than I was expecting and when I tried to curve it with my hand, a large chunk of it hit that dent where my bone flap sits.

The dent

One forgets, or certainly doesn’t anticipate, that area of your skull could potentially still be tender six years after that fact. Oh, I can safely it IS…at least in my case.

A dull ache in that area has remained the rest of the day and I’m sure I’ll feel it a tick as I try to sleep tonight. Laying on that side is always a little iffy. I just never expected to have that kind of pain this many years out. Maybe I’ll put some ice on it and see if that helps. It’s bad enough the bone flat recessed slightly and there is a dent now, but to still have it feeling like this is a bit discerning.

Words from the Past

I have been de-cluttering lately. Throwing out, or donating things that I haven’t used or looked at in years. If it doesn’t hold a strong, personal attachment, why keep it? The person who will have to clean up after I’m gone, won’t know if it was meaningful or not…or even care. If it’s taking up space and there is no sentimental value…get rid of it. Quite liberating.

Today’s wee task was a small basket filled with greeting cards. I remembered they were mostly “Get Well” cards from my craniotomy in 2014, but also forgot it was shortly after the loss of my other sister Rhonda. So, there was a mix of sympathy and get well soon cards. Odd.

Many were from co-workers, distant friends, and relatives who had heard about my surgery. Some were very poignant and meaningful and others were funny and distracting.

One such card was from my own mother. She always found THE best cards. Once card I received while recover in the hospital from my ruptured in 2006, was the perfect card for me. A painting of the sun sitting in a bath tub — one of my favorite pastimes. The writing on the outside simply said “The Sun’s Day off”. I have it framed in my office at home.

The card I stumbled across today from this surgery was so MOM. Funny, unexpected, and unique…just like she was. Even more shocking was the expletive inside. 🙂 But I LOVED it. It made me smile and laugh then, and it did so today when I reread it.

Little did I know that just 9 months later, I would also lose my mom. So, finding these cards is very, very bittersweet, but this one made me smile and laugh out loud! I “had fun” with this card, which is what she always used to tell us. God, I miss her.

Since that time in 2014, two of my co-workers have been lost due to cancer. Both were devastating blows and they were taken far too soon. Seeing their names and words was moving especially knowing how they would both struggled with their battles against the horrible diseases that overtook their bodies. I hope I was able to give them the same kind of support and comfort they gave me.

One such card was a beautifully penned, simple note from our photographer John. My sister Rhonda has just passed away and he had read about it on my brain blog. He comes from a large, loving family and his words about pain, loss and family meant the world to me then…and still do today.

I vividly remember that day like it was yesterday. I came to work and found a small orange envelope sitting on my desk. As I opened it and read John’s words about losing my sister, they hit my like a ton of bricks. After my eyes welled up with tears, I immediately walked over to his cubicle, thanked him for the card, and we hugged, held each other, and cried together.

John was also dealing with his own demons fighting cancer. Knowing how precious the time we have on this earth is, for him to take the time and acknowledge the pain I was going through while he was enduring his own fragility being the father of two young girls, meant even more. I miss him every day at work. He was a special, special human being.

All of these cards gave me strength when I needed it and gave me strength reading them again. Grief and healing went hand-in-hand during that period of my life. Neither were easy. I struggled with proceeding with the brain surgery such a short time (2 weeks) after losing my sister. I didn’t want to put my mother and my niece through anymore worry and pain. THEY were the ones who told me to go forward with the risky surgery. And it turned out it may have saved my life.

I thank those who sent cards. No one visited me at home or in the hospital, but the cards meant a lot and made me feel less alone in the world – even for a short time. THANK YOU!

MRA Results

I have added some new images to my brain photography exhibition after my latest MRA last week to check my vascular health. I haven’t had one in two years, so the scan-xiety built up a little bit the day & evening before. Not that I was nervous about the MRA, I have had plenty of those (see the previous blog post!) but it’s always the results that create that uncertainty.

I was especially worried about this one because I haven’t been taking care of myself the last two years. I’m not exercising, I’m not eating right, and since my last MRA in 2018 I had developed high blood pressure. All three of those things are NOT good for maintaining good blood flow in the brain…or elsewhere for that matter. I take full responsibility…no excuses other than being lazy.

I have been reticent to sign up for all the online medical charts offered by the hospitals lately, but I decided to sign up for the one used by the state. As a result, I could view the initial findings of the MRA online on a Sunday before the doctor’s office ever called me on a Tuesday. I’m still debating whether that is a good thing to have or a bad thing. If the results have come back badly, I’m not sure how I would have handled that.

THANKFULLY, the findings were positive and my doctor’s office confirmed the diagnostic radiologist’s report with his reply and recommendations for follow-up.

Here are the main things that came from the report:

  • There is normal flow within both vertebral arteries. No other aneurysm is identified. There is normal flow within both P1 segments and in the right middle cerebral artery.
  • Stable appearance of the coil embolization and previously clipped left internal carotid artery bifurcation aneurysm. Small amount of flow is unchanged or slightly less apparent in the region of the aneurysm neck that measures between 3 and 4mm in size.

The first point is the best one, indicating no other aneurysm was found. I am at higher risk with my family history and my own history with two already.

The second point was also good news about the bloody remnant (narrow area where blood is starting to creep back into the aneurysm) at the neck of the original brain aneurysm being “unchanged” and that it may be “slightly less apparent”. We have been watching this remnant for several years now and I’m always nervous it will increase in size, or create a weak area and possibly burst.

When the doctor recommended I come back in a year for another MRA, I was surprised it’s not another two year follow-up. So, I have sent in a question asking why.

Celebration Tea

I am blessed to still be here and share my story with others. Keep on living. I am enjoying a celebratory scone with tea to celebrate!