One year after brain surgery.
It has been awhile since I posted anything on this blog pertaining to my road to recovery following my brain surgery last November. In many ways, that is a resounding testament to the success of the operation. I’ve been feeling better a little bit at a time, and getting to enjoy life with my family. Again, I have to thank my surgeons, nurses and everyone at Mass. General Hospital for their amazing care. Also, my family and friends. Without my wife Jen being there to not only hold my hand, but also take care of our infant son, I would have never been able to get through the ordeal that is getting your head split open and sewed back together. My extended family who were all there to greet me when I woke up, thank you for all of your support of Jen and I. Lastly, all of our friends. Thank you so much for all the words of support, positive messages, and meals during the recovery.
So in the event that you’re reading this and are going to be undergoing brain surgery or removal of a tumor, that was hint number one; have plenty of family and friends there to help and support you. No matter how tough you are, and prepared for surgery, you will need help. Especially after brain surgery where you find yourself given only the finest drugs and being in the highest levels of pain, confusion and humility. That is not written to scare you, but to remind you that this will be a major ordeal and you will need help with everything for at least a month. Yes that probably means help just putting on socks, or going to the bathroom.
To say that one year after having a brain tumor removed, I have many stories and emotions to express would be understating it a tad. For those of you that are preparing or currently in process of surgical recovery, it is crucial to find some humor in the humble moments where help is needed, while trying to look forward to “normalcy”. For some that could mean deficits the surgery or tumor caused. Either way, set small goals for every day and try to segment your days. I.e. “today I just want to walk up the stairs at least two times, brush my teeth without too much pain, and watch a good movie”. Every day will need to be something different or find some way to add to what you’ve already done. It is totally normal to experience setbacks and frustrations. One year later I can honestly say that there are no setbacks from that time period that aren’t now looked back on as steps in the recovery rather than traumatic events. It might be hard to think that way during, but that is the beauty of time, right?
Looking back at the past year, my first instinct is to give the age-old cliché of be thankful for every day, YOLO!!, carpe diem, etc. etc. That is completely true, and I now look at my wife and son with more of a smile and I am thankful for every minute I get with them. However, the year following brain surgery sucks and there isn’t a way to sugar coat. After the immediate effects of anesthesia, pain meds, hospital bed pans, cold rooms, and stingy gowns is removed, there are more challenges awaiting at home. Stairs, showering without getting your head wet, nausea, digestive issues (won’t go into details further), PAIN, and sleepless nights being propped up in a chair. Those slowly go away with time, and thus why I always remind others in a similar situation to set smaller goals and not get frustrated (Really have to thank my fellow brain tumor sensei James for that advice, which I then ran with). It seemed like that was the longest period of my life (first 4 weeks after the surgery), and are also the biggest blur. I’ve noted before about the steroids and then the subsequent withdrawals, so that is part of it. Get through this period and your annoyances will hopefully start to lessen as you go as they did in my case. I.E. suture removals (which almost made me pass out) and follow-up MRI scans. I tried to keep reminding myself through each phase in the past year, that each setback was a step towards where I wanted to be.
The other major part of the last year was the good stuff! Again, setting goals for yourself makes this even better. For me it was visualizing doing activities that I love, seeing myself doing something and being really happy. Then when the time came where I was able to do that thing, it was all the more special. Early on in the process it was just standing up in the kitchen on my own cooking a Sunday pasta sauce, listening to music, and eating a full meal with my family. When the day finally came that I felt good enough to cook and stand on my own, the meal was one of the best I’ve ever had for obvious reasons. Longer term goals for me tended to be physical in nature. What started as walking up stairs turned to walking the block. Later on it was being able to work out (although that one I admittedly don’t love as much). I was very disappointed as my surgery occurred the day after Thanksgiving last year, and my hardest part of the recovery took place in winter. While that was great for getting out of shoveling during one of the worst winters on record in Boston, it meant I missed an entire year of skiing. I’m happy to report however that the wait was worth it as now a little over a year after the brain tumor was removed, I am going to be going on a helicopter skiing trip in the Canadian Rockies in early December! Have to say, that would be sweet no matter if I had surgery or not, but the saying that the sour makes the rest sweeter couldn’t be more spot on.
It has been a roller coaster year for me, and everyone around me. There was pain, setbacks, successes, and everything in between. It is a period in my life that will be impossible to forget, and one that has changed me forever. I hope that one year later others who know me can say with honesty that it is change for the better. Regardless, I hope others who are dealing with brain tumors, or major surgery can find their own methods to get them through it with as much determination as possible.