Brain Surgery: How I Survived my Emotional Journey
“I survived brain surgery” was my first thought when I woke up in the post-op recovery room. The decision to have a brain surgery biopsy came with major mental anguish and a long 19 month medical scare turned into a nightmare. Strong mental mindset was critical to walking into the hospital the morning of my brain surgery. The risks of this procedure were very scary. This blog is longer than usual because I share my story and all of the Tidbits that helped me survive it all so that you too can manage any stress and chaos in your life.
Brain Surgery and Mental Health
- Too many people are suffering, many in silence.
- My mental health was significantly affected by this journey and therapy was a huge outlet.
- You are not alone and we need to talk more about this.
BEFORE Brain Surgery Selfie
AFTER “I survived Brain Surgery“
Brain Surgery “How I got here”
My full time job is Fitness. I workout regularly, my diet is on point and looking from the outside, you could not tell I was “dealing with a disease or illness”. My life is fitness, nutrition, health and a strong mindset. I won #1 Fitness Instructor Specialist in Canada for 2016. Um… I can’t get sick ?
Emotional trauma, grief and long standing stress plays a role in your health. You can’t see the damage of emotional stress on the outside but inside is a completely different story.
Stress Triggers & Mindset
I believe stress can trigger anything. To be healthy and happy from the inside out, you must deal with your emotional baggage from childhood, abuse, divorce, lost relationships, work stress and anything else haunting you. Instead of “dealing with feelings and emotions”, we abuse:
- Bury the feelings deep down causing serious damage
- Insert tons of “distractions” and never deal with anything properly
Why do we do this?
It’s much easier than dealing with issues “head on”. We keep pushing forward and that’s what the thousands of clients I have coached since 1999 do. I’ve done the same many times – “survival mode is my favourite go to”. Your life can change in an instant. Mine did in October 2017. I share this to empower you to make a change and take control of your life irrespective of what you are dealing with – whether it is medical, personal or professional.
“Life Changes Overnight”
How I got here is a long story. Once my diagnosis is crystal clear, treatment is underway and I crush this disease, I will share fully. Here’s a quickie glimpse of what transpired.
- My stressful event occurred in October 2017 and new medical symptoms happened “overnight”.
- I was healthy and then I wasn’t.
- The details of the event are not important but the emotions that surfaced are.
- You have to deal with your stress head on or it manifests in other ways.
After the stress, I could not “power through or protect myself from the emotional trauma” like I had done in the past. The stress impacted my physical and emotional health in a negative way.
This “event” is not directly to blame for the cause my disease, illness or surgery. Our bodies can only handle so much and we stress it to the max daily and expect it to just keep going. Think of the last really stressful situation you had:
- How did you cope?
- Did you reach for a distraction instead of dealing?
- Walking away from your problems will only bring them to the next situation.
“Pushing forward works for a while and then it doesn’t.”
19 month medical scare
Diagnosing disease is complicated and to me, it felt like a medical nightmare with:
- Lots of physical symptoms, one in particular has been awful
- Constant appointments sometimes 4 to 5 a week
- Many medical tests
- Too many CT & MRI scans and dye injections resulting in an allergic reaction to the gadolinium dye because I was exposed to it so much
- Mammograms, ultrasounds, x-rays, heart & lung tests and more
- A lot of blood work and needles – my poor veins got so sore
- Referrals to new Doctors, the Juravinski Cancer Centre JCC, Oncology Hematology, Neurology, Opthomalogy, Rheumatology, doctors around the world and every natural doctor that I could find
- Several invasive tests including three lumbar punctures *giant needles in your back aka spinal tap
All tests came back with a partial “clue” and maybe “this or that disease”, possible cancer, lymphoma, CNS lymphoma, tumours, multiple sclerosis, sarcoidosis, etc. They could not confirm a diagnosis. I am so grateful for my health care but it took a major toll on my mental health and body. Not having a diagnosis and waiting constantly for results feels awful and adds major stress to the body and mind.
What were we left with:
The best Team of Doctors trying to confirm a diagnosis and agreeing that I “needed treatment asap because my quality of life was significantly being affected“.
A disease taking over my body.
Despite being super invasive and scary, the brain surgery biopsy was our last resort.
Brain Surgery Biopsy Decision
You will never “feel great” about Brain Surgery is what every doctor and my closest friend told me. Hole drilled into your skull to access your brain? No problem, I’ve got this! When my Neurosurgeon said how far he had to travel through my brain with a needle to get to the temporal lobe and said “I have to hit it in the right spot”, I panicked.
Brain Surgery Biopsy Risks:
- Minor or major brain bleed
- Potential of speech affected because it’s in the temporal lobe
- Possibly needing “open brain surgery” to fix the bleed
- All the risks of any surgery
It felt impossible to process, my body was screaming but I consented anyway.
Brain Surgery Biopsy possible outcomes:
- We could get a diagnosis
- A “partial diagnosis” could rule out a few things
- No diagnosis at all *this one was the highest probability in their opinions
The doctors kept stressing “there is a great possibility the brain biopsy will not get us a diagnosis but we need to do it anyway.” When your entire medical team and family thinks you must do it, you put your fear aside and change your mindset.
“I couldn’t take it anymore”
Things that helped my difficult decision:
It’s easier to avoid and not deal with things head on. Changing your thoughts is the most important thing in any difficult decision. Practice the “what if positive outcome” instead of our natural negative go to:
- Avoiding is not an option: Deal with it head on. Getting treatment without a diagnosis wasn’t possible.
- Diagnosis needed: It was our last attempt at a diagnosis for a disease that was progressing.
- Acceptance: Fully accepting that I had a Disease which was rare. Surrender and accept where you are.
- Positive “what if”: Thinking what if “positive thought” instead of what if “negative thought”. What if I come out of surgery like a champ with no complications and a diagnosis?
- Team of Doctors: My entire medical team and every other doctor consulted agreed they needed a diagnosis ASAP.
- Symptoms: Progressing and new ones appearing.
- My family and closest friends: We had been through torture and needed to know *I will write another blog on my journey, how it started, progressed, diagnosis and treatment.
- Exhaustion and emotions: 19 months of extensive medical investigation and uncertainty was not the life I wanted.
Tidbits that help manage any kind of stress:
Try some of these strategies, I practice them in every situation big or small.
- Train your Brain: Choose better words to say to yourself, feel and process pain then focus on solutions and more positive thinking.
- Workout: Walk and workout regularly *somedays it was simply getting out of bed for me, other days it was any of these workouts.
- Food: Fuel your body from the inside out with healthy recipes – I will be posting tons of recipes that I’m eating for my recovery
- Therapy: Seek an outside counsellor to work through deep emotional stress.
- Meditate: Start with 5 minutes a day in silence, just you and your thoughts. Dump thoughts on paper, it’s not pretty but it’s healing *I do this everyday, my Top 3.
- Support & Smiles: Lean on family, friends and smile even when you don’t want to. My husband was my rock.
“Pushing forward works for a while and then it doesn’t”
I wrote about How to have a Strong Mind and Body. I’ve mentally survived this by “choosing what I think”. Instead of the “what if negative disaster” scenarios you make up in your head, choose to say “what if, positive statements instead”.
Instead of being scared of a brain bleed, speech impairment, going through the surgery and getting no results, I chose to say “what if I make it through this surgery? What if the biopsy gives the answer that we so desperately need? The biopsy is going to give me answers, END OF STORY.“
Brain Surgery Day “Morning of”
I treated my surgery and post hospital recovery like I train for any workout or run. Did it ever work! The anxiety of doing the procedure was rough. I let myself have bad days, cry, get angry and then I pushed myself into a decision I didn’t want to make. There was a lot of “F” words leading up to my surgery, none of them were Fit4Females.
Pre-Surgery: My Husband is my #1 Supporter
How I managed the morning of:
In any situation, it’s all about what you tell yourself. Feed your brain the right words because it will believe it whether it’s real or not:
- Walk: Family outdoor power walk to get the endorphins rolling.
- Hospital Registration: Replaced anxiety with thinking “I’m picking up my race kit tools for my 5k run”.
- Toxic injection for Brain CT scan: Your body needs this “super kryptonite to survive and proceed safely on this run”.
- Meditate: Listen to guided meditation and tons of deep breaths to manage stress and anxiety.
- Mindset Reminders: “I’m going to come out a survivor and with a diagnosis“, repeat the positive, replace the negative.
- Songs: I listened to the song “Overcomer” by Mandisa over and over again “stay in the fight until the final round, don’t quit, don’t give in, you’re an overcomer”.
- Support: Prayers, hugs and tons of support from my amazing husband, family and friends.
Brain Surgery Pre-op
I had a big support team that joined me at the hospital, along with my 3 closest friends. The universe aligned everything and my positive thinking was coming to fruition. Firstly, one of my Fit4Females clients did my CT Scan and secondly, another was my OR nurse who bossed everyone around and treated me like Royal VIP. “I’m so lucky” is all I thought. My OR nurse, Angela, was my angel. She cared, comforted and told me “you’ve got this” and reminded me how much I positively impacted her life at Fit4Females. A great reminder to fight through this medical nightmare.
My Nurse was amazing in Pre-op
Brain Surgery Operating Room
Angela rolled me into operating room #6 (coincidentally my lucky number). We joked with the entire OR Team, she introduced me and I told them I was pretending I was on “Grey’s Anatomy and Amelia was doing my brain biopsy”. I made everyone laugh with a funny story and then said this is going to be an EPIC day. Being strapped down and breathing the medication to fall asleep, I kept repeating:
“Today I’m coming out with an answer”
“I’m a champ”
“There will be no complications”
Most importantly, I repeated that until I fell asleep with the anesthetic while Angela played the Sara Bareilles song “I Choose You” for me. I fought to stare into her eyes to draw out my super mindset powers and feel her love for me. She told me later in post-op I really resisted falling asleep ? Secretly it was because she is gorgeous to look at.
Post Surgery Recovery
Apparently post-op I was funny and crushed my cousin’s hand to the point she said “how could you be that strong right after surgery?” I don’t remember any of that. What I do remember saying in my head: “the worst part is over, you survived, you are healing and I could process everything so my brain must have been good! I felt like I won a medal for first place in my 5k run. What else can you expect:
- A long road to recovery of course
- Major stress, anesthetic, the contrast injection from the CT scan and the mixed cocktail of medication given makes you feel yucky to say the least
- Despite feeling sick, swollen, in pain and disoriented, I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be alive
Surgery went well:
- I had a small brain bleed that the Neurosurgeon thought would heal on its own
- There were no complications
- My Neurosurgeon said I was a champ and surprisingly he got five samples from my brain – Yipee! He was a SUPER CHAMP
- My family was updated and my healing began
- I’m at home recovering now, mindset, fitness and food is where it’s at
Final Brain Surgery Tidbits
I’ve had no complications and am recovering like a champ. I will share the entire story, treatment and diagnosis when I have all of the details. I “choose” to believe that I will come out of this and I know that it’s already made me stronger. This was a curse and a blessing at the same time. Below are my Tidbits for how to recover. Put any of these steps into action when you are dealing with stress, injury, loss and feeling the chaos of life. It works.
Finally we have a diagnosis. I have decided not to share it with anyone right now as my family and I are processing through this difficult time. When I do share, I hope to become a spokesperson for this disease and help others kick it in the butt. Whatever you are going through, mental health is so important.
Tidbits to heal instead of “powering through”
- Move: Get your body moving daily, it is scientifically proven to battle stress and boost your brain.
- Fuel: Eat right for your body, give it what it wants, cut sugar, alcohol and any foods that make you feel tired or bloated. I will be posting recipes weekly of what I am eating for my recovery here.
- Feel it: Feel every emotion, cry, let go of blame, it promotes healing.
- Stop: Sit in silence daily and listen to what your body and emotions are telling you.
- Surrender: Let go of all expectations and the thought that you can just power through.
- Sleep: You cannot heal without sleep. Commit to a regular bed time click here for 4 Sleep Tidbits.
You too are a champ, I believe in you. I wrote this to help you manage any difficulties in your life. Please implement even one thing from my Tidbit lists. Thanks for reading, this was a long one and thanks for your thoughts and prayers during this journey. I will read all of your comments below. xo Trina