Seize The Day?

The Latin saying Carpe diem means seize the day or live each day to the fullest.

Do I Carpe diem? If I’m honest, no I don’t. Being a double brain aneurysm survivor, I SHOULD seize each day, but I don’t. Am I grateful? Of course, I am.  Do I wake up each morning and think “I am so grateful and blessed to be here”? No, I do not. I should…but I don’t. And those people who say they DO wake up each morning and actually think about how blessed they are, the skeptic in me thinks, “Really?”

MY first thoughts every morning are that I’m very tired, or my back or head aches, or that I slept far too long on my left side, which is a bad thing because of where my craniotomy is. No, my first thought usually isn’t how grateful I am.

I wish I could live each day to it’s fullest and feel grateful every day. Although I am one of the fortunate ones who still can, I need to work to pay the bills and secure good health insurance. I think more about those things. And I do more work than Carping that diem.

What I DO think about every day is brain aneurysms. How can I not? I think about my own aneurysms and the issues I still face. I think about the paths people’s lives, not just mine, have been forced to take as a result of brain aneurysms.

The parents who has lost a child. The husband who has lost a wife. The child who has lost a mother.  All of those people I have met and they are a part of my life now due to our shared experiences of losing a loved one to a brain aneurysm.

Brain aneurysm survivors are also a part of my life. We share a bond. We share our fears. We share our frustrations and scars with one another.

I’m not crazy about the month of October, so I’m always happy when I make it through the month. It’s VERY stressful at work in October and my family history has many sad occasions and memories that have happened in October. I suppose I should be grateful the month goes by in a snap…suddenly it’s November. It’s cold. All of the colorful leaves have fallen off the trees. One of these years, I WILL get to the mountains of Maine, stay in a hill-top cabin and view the fall foliage. Something I have yet to do since moving here in 2000.

September is the month when I FEEL the most grateful for being alive and being able to share my brain aneurysm story and help anyone I can. It’s the month chosen for our annual walk and run to honor the lives of two beautiful young women taken far too soon by ruptured brain aneurysms.

Then that pesky cynic within me thinks…I’m pretty sure no one I know would have organized a walk or run in MY honor. That’s how loved and adored these two young women were and how many friends they had. I couldn’t even get one person to visit me at home during both of my recovery periods….which were 6 and 3 months respectively. Yeah…I’m pretty sure I would have still remained just part of the statistics had I not survived. Which makes MY survival even more difficult to take. Why did these two young, vibrant, popular women have to die and I’m still here? I guess it’s to share my story and theirs. Lucky me? I’m grateful? Yeah…sometime’s it’s very difficult to feel that.

BEING grateful every day is a given in my case. If I wake up…yeah, that’s good! FEELING grateful is a whole other animal and it hits me at moments, rather than an every day thought.

I remember feeling grateful at the end of October when my devoted husband and I pulled into the driveway after two weeks in the hospital after my rupture in 2006. Although I wouldn’t return to work for another six months, it was a relief to be home. I was grateful to see the inside of the house I had come to love and to pet my kitty cats again.

I was overcome with emotion that following spring when I walked out to my garden for the first time and it hit me that things were starting to come alive again, as they do every year and that I was grateful, lucky, and blessed to be able to see my garden again. To smell the wet soil. Feel the wind on my face. Yes….I WAS grateful and very emotional as a result. It could have all ended in early October for me.

I feel grateful every September during our annual photograph of brain aneurysm survivors at the KAT-Walk & Karo-5k. I am grateful to be alive and to share this photo with other survivors from all over the state of Maine, New England and the country. I FEEL those moments tremendously.

It’s far too easy to assume someone who survived a life-threatening illness or medical emergency is grateful and lives each day to the fullest. Many don’t have the luxury to do so. Many have such horrible deficits that just living each hour is a struggle. Do they have time or the capacity to even THINK about being grateful? I doubt it.

Without even knowing it, I do believe I am grateful on a daily basis. I can rattle off a list of the things I am grateful for. It’s that seizing the day thing I still have to work on. I’m very tired.

 

Always There

At tonight’s brain aneurym support group meeting, I was reminded of the potential peril I may still be in.

My neurosurgeon/interventional radiologist gave a presentation about new treatments of cervix carotid artery brain aneurysms — aneurysms on the carotid artery in the neck. This was very relevant to one survivor in our group who has a 2nd aneurysm that is being watched right now in that sam area.

This report was originally given to neuro-medical doctors and was quite detailed with highly-medical terminology.  As explicit as it was, one was able to get the gist of it: they’re doing some pretty amazing things these days and saving lives.

The report was also funded by a research grant sponsored by our Maine Brain Aneurysm Awareness Committe, and Dr. Ecker explained how the money we gave was being used to purchase the detailed imagery needed for this paper. We are thrilled to be able to do it.

This presentation was about 30 minutes interspersed with questions from our group and Dr. Ecker giving us great explanations. Then a second, 10-15 minute presentation was given regarding his use of the pipeline procedure which is saving many, many lives and used more and more. I only wish it could be used with my case.

It was humbling of Dr. Ecker to admit that there are some aneurysms that are just trouble makers and that they can only do so much in some cases. Meaning, they’re still only human and one of their biggest challenges is the interaction between metallic fixtures and human biology with in the brain.

Some people just have such funky arteries due to vascular disease that the doctors can try and try to do everything they feel is right but due to the physical makeup of their arteries, it’s a challenge. I’m pretty sure I’m one of those challenges with my larger1st aneurysm.

Dr. Kwan, my doctor at the time in 2006, did the best he could at that time to fix my 1/2″ diameter brain aneurysm and save my life.  It worked…for five years until the 16 platinum coils inserted into the aneurysm started to compact and blood started to get back into the aneurysm.

Enter Dr. Ecker and the stent and four additional coils he added to my metal repertoire. This procedure went very well and everything looked great. Until more blood started getting into the neck of the aneurysm again and we are now watching it.

Because I already have a stent in that artery directing blood flow past the neck of the aneurysm, it’s highly unlikely and not recommended that using the pipeline will, or CAN be used to keep blood from getting back into the aneurysm.  And the research and reported procedures on putting a stent inside of another stent with similar conditions is non-existent. Hence…more waiting.

In the meantime, I live my life one day at the time hoping more blood isn’t getting into the neck and forming a bulge there that may, or may not rupture. I don’t have high blood pressure, I have never smoked, but I do have a highly stressful job for about 3-4 months of the year and I am not eating that great or exercising. From what I see, even if you ARE in great shape…if your arteries are “funky”, they’ll do what the want to – aneurysms really don’t discriminate.

Dr. Ecker and I have previously discussed options and they’re quite limited at the moment, but seeing the groundbreaking procedures that are being done in our very own state is giving me hope that a solution is in sight. I’d prefer NOT to be one of those challenges, but my arteries have other ideas.

I don’t think about it everyday, but certainly after a session like this, it’s the topmost thing on my mind and knowing there are doctors and a great staff here in the state of Maine is a comfort. I KNOW they’ll do their best and I KNOW they’ll give me the best advice and recommendations at their disposal. We are blessed to have such talented doctors in our state who are taking such good care of us. THANK YOU!

 

Happy 10th Annie-versary to Me!

Brain Aneurysm Survivor
My story in bullet points.

10 years ago today, my life changed when an 11mm (almost 1/2″ in size) brain aneurysm ruptured around 4:30 in the morning. Happy 10th Annie-versary to Me! That’s what brain aneurysm survivors call the anniversary of the day they found out they had a brain aneurysm, the day they had their surgery, or the day it ruptured. Each year a survivor is alive is a celebration and one that should be marked in some fashion. After losing my sister and my husband’s niece to sudden ruptured, and undetected brain aneurysms, I know all too well the horrific, and sudden toll this silent killer can take on families.

Last week I was lucky enough to take part in a brain aneurysm survivor’s breakfast in New York City leading up to the Cerebral Affair Gala that same night. Both events were hosted by two of the biggest players in the brain aneurysm awareness community: The Lisa Colagrossi Foundation and The Joe Niekro Foundation. As with our support group in Portland each month, the stories survivors tell are remarkable, heartbreaking, and inspiring all at the same time. Everyone’s story is different. Everyone’s brain aneurysm is different. And everyone’s struggle is different. However, we all share the same fears and anxiety that come with surviving. Why did I survive when countless other’s did not? Is the headache I have right now a symptom of another rupture? If I had one aneurysm, is it a certainty I’ll get another one?

Fellow Survivors & their Family Members
Some of the survivors & their family members who attended the survivors round-table and breakfast.

The survivor’s breakfast was a profound reminder of just how important it is that survivors tell their stories again and again to everyone and anyone who will listen. You never now when YOUR story will resonate with one person and one life could be saved.

I HAD heard the terms “brain aneurysm” prior to my rupture in 2006, but I had no idea it could be hereditary in some cases and I had no idea the damage it could do. I vaguely remember the ER doctor coming in and asking me if anyone in my family has a brain aneurysm. I THINK I may have said “yes” because my cousin Debbie had just gone through coiling a few years prior and I know my cousin Tim had suffered a rupture.

When the doctor said I had a ruptured brain aneurysm that was bleeding, I remember thinking “Well, that can’t be good.” I’m one of the lucky ones to even have any knowledge and memory of those events and discussions. For many, the damage with the initial rupture is too great to overcome. I am still able to work the job I left for six months to recover back in 2006. I am still able to drive. Many are not.

My deficits are embarrassingly minor compared to others. Fatigue lasted a LONG time. Maybe years. I was lucky enough to NOT have major headaches for long periods of time after my rupture but bending over at certain angles still causes discomfort. I can’t say it’s pain, but it isn’t pleasant. And coughing still causes discomfort and my brain can get easily over stimulated with visual or vocal clutter.

Because my rupture was coiled, I didn’t have any outward indication of surviving a brain injury unlike the craniotomy I endured in 2014 for a second un-ruptured brain aneurysm. I think that’s why people can assume you’re fine. Outwardly, you DO look fine, but inwardly, we are suffering and struggling and only another survivor can understand that.

The 2nd brain aneurysm I had was clipped and after my last angiogram, it appears to have completely gone away. The first one that ruptured 10 years ago this morning, is STILL giving me issues. The 16 platinum coils inserted into it started to compact after five years, then four more coils were added and a stent was inserted to allow the blood to flow PAST the aneurysm instead of into it. However, there is still a little remnant of blood between the neck and the stent. It’s the annie that won’t go away.

This is my BrainSome days I still struggle with the not knowing. I truly hate the “watch and wait” option. Been there, still doing that. But this bugger is not an “easy fix” at this point. If it starts to enlarge or change shape, more coils could be in order. Sure, why not! Let’s load me up with more metal. 20 coils, a stent, and a clip. My Brain Bling!

As I was reminded during the survivor’s breakfast last week in NYC, I need to remember how blessed I am and that I should continue to be grateful. I AM grateful and I know I am blessed, but I have also been devastated by brain aneurysms in losing my sister, leaving a 15-year old son behind. I’m devastated by Dave’s niece Kim dying at the far-too young age of 32 and being found by her mother. No one should have to endure that and it broke my heart.

If my long, often soap-boxy blog can help just one person and educate anyone about brain aneurysms, then I am doing something right. I am doing something positive and I am doing SOMETHING to help shed light on the deadly consequences of ignoring symptoms that could kill you or a loved one.

I suppose God left ME here to be one of the voices for those who aren’t with us anymore. It is my honor to do so.

Me! Brain Aneurysm Survivor

Thank you to all of those people who supported me during that time I was in the hospital 10 years ago and the following months of initial recovery. I couldn’t have done any of it without my Maine man, however. He’s my rock, my chauffeur, my nurse, my sounding board, and my love. I am blessed to have had him in my life 10 years ago to help save me.

Learn about brain aneurysms and spread the word! Symptoms of a Brain Aneurysm

Life. Support. Music.

At last month’s brain aneurysm support group, we watched a documentary about a musician from New York City who, against all odds, survived a ruptured AVM. Through the amazing support group around him including family and friends, he was able to not only recover, but prove most of the doctors wrong with their devastating diagnosis’.  Watch a brief follow-up online about the documentary with Jason and his sister HERE.

Tonight, we were able to meet Jason Crigler in person, hear his story first hand, and ask him questions. There truly aren’t enough descriptive adjectives to convey what one feels after hearing and seeing Jason’s story.

In 2005, soon after he returned home from a year-long stay in the hospital, Jason's family (his daughter, wife and father) take him for a walk in the woods.

He is a soft-spoken, warm, and funny man. If you didn’t know his story, one would never know the extent of the struggles he and his young family have had to endure.

Jason’s story was documented by a friend who video taped much of his early recovery and made it into a critically-acclaimed documentary called LIFE. SUPPORT. MUSIC. It’s painful to watch, especially as a survivor of a brain injury myself. He could be me…I could be him. The uphill battles are all very similar, but Jason was very motivate to recover with a new-born baby girl, a budding music career in New York City and a family that sacrificed their own lives and comfort to care for him on an hourly basis.

Tonight was very special and it’s a damn shame more people (even from our own groups) could not attend this widely publicized event. The old adage, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, held true tonight I guess. You get what you give…and some people give more than they have to give, but receive very little in return. It’s a damn shame.

Jason’s story is a story that needs to be heard and obsorbed. I only wish I could speak as eloquently and effectively as Jason does, or I’d take my little stent, coil & clip show on the road too. But who the hell would show up to listen to me? Probably only just a few. I know my story isn’t nearly as compelling. We can’t even get an article written about our group.

There was one article written a couple of years ago. About a woman who only came to our meetings maybe two times. She was certainly very attractive & photogenic and lived in an influential area, so that right there was two up on me. Even the one small TV spot we DID have ended up being shared by a completely un-related disease, so we couldn’t even get a full 2-minute spot for ourselves. Really? What DO we have to do????

But…even if we did…would it make any difference? We met a few new people tonight and we welcomed them with open arms as we always do. I hope we see them again and that they spread the word about our group and our efforts to raise brain aneurysm awareness in the state. Exposure could save lives….WE could save lives.

I think you’d be hard pressed to find a group like ours (or at least that one special person) that gives such personal attention to those who have reached out to us. I don’t think the president of many organizations would send personalized emails complete with moving letters and related photos to someone who writes and donates and expressed great regret they’ll be unable to attend this year’s event after having attended all of the other previous ones. I think it’s the personal touch that sets us apart from other groups. The behind-the-scenes workings are amazing and the hard work that goes into every event, every email, every newsletter, and meeting follow up, is more than most are doing. Does it matter?

People need to DO more. They are not and it could mean lives of people are being lost as a result. Picking up food for an event will feed the volunteers and participants. For one day out of YOUR life, you could help an event run smoothly and make it a success, meaning those who attended and those who heard about it and read our materials will remember what the event was about and LEARN….and potentially save a life of the next person who has the “worst headache of my life”.

(stepping down off my soap-box now)……back to Jason Crigler.

Jason’s positive & simple attitude about his AVM and recovery is truly inspirational. Many things he spoke about tonight touched me deeply and certainly would have touched a lot more people if they had taken the long hour and a half out of their busy lives.

One thing he said was that there is “strength & power in thought”. We can choose to think we’re failing or think we’re succeeding and it can truly effect the rest of your body. He admits to bad days and depression and despair just like the rest of us, but it’s reminding yourself of the struggles you HAVE overcome and how far you have come that one needs to be reminded of. We all have struggles on a day-to-day basis, but it’s how you deal with, and think about them, that can lead you to a path of strength and power.

I needed to hear those words tonight. My 10-year Annie-versary of my ruptured brain aneurysm is coming up on Oct. 4th. I’m lucky to be here. I know that. I also know others haven’t been so lucky and if sharing my story can save one life, I’m going to do it. If complaining about a lack of support can garner a little bit more, then I’m going to do it.

My sister died from a ruptured brain aneurysm. I had to see her lying in a hospital bed completely unresponsive on a ventilator, with her head shaved, with wires in her open skull and a drain relieving blood from her brain. She was basically gone at that point but we held out hope for a miracle. It never came. I may have failed saving my own sister in educating her enough on the signs and symptoms, but I MAY be able to save one other person. I MAY be able to help one person recognize the symptoms and get them to a hospital in time.

I have to hold on to that…otherwise, why was I saved and Dori wasn’t and why was I saved and Dave’s beautiful 32-year old niece Kim wasn’t? Two beautiful, sweet, funny souls who did nothing but good for others. I’m not nearly as beautiful or sweet, so I have funny going for me…and a chance to DO something in this world and get the word out and share my story.

I may not have friends who care enough about me to film a  documentary, come to our events and support me, tour the country and make money from it, but I DO know I am blessed to be here still.

THANK YOU Jason, for sharing your story, answering our questions, and driving all the way up to Portland to meet with us. And thank you for making people aware of the struggles people with brain injuries can endure…and more importantly, can overcome. You’re a true inspiration!