My Next Uphill Climb: Brain Surgery

I am having brain surgery.

I have a aneurysm in one of the major arteries connecting to my brain.  Not technically inside my brain but right in the center-right beneath my brain in a major artery connecting to my brain.  What's an aneurysm? Simply put it’s a piece of an artery that balloons/bubbles out and can rupture, which is not good.

How I Found Out

A few months back my mother had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, an aneurysm rupturing inside her head.  On December 31, 2016 my mother had emergency brain surgery to save her life.  I thank God everyday, that the surgery saved my mother's life... but if you know my mom her life has been saved already.

Cuddles with grandma, as she recovered.

Cuddles with grandma, as she recovered.

In the days following my mom's surgery, my family spent our days and night at my moms side helping her recover.  During one of my questioning sessions to the medical personnel, it was suggested that I should get checked out because my mom "had quite a bit of aneurysms.”

I took note of that but all I wanted was my mom to get healthy.  To the doctors amazement my mother had barely any complications from such a massive surgery and was released a from the hospital almost three weeks later.

In February I got an MRI, which was a strange experience because they stuck my head in a box and a giant machine scanned my head while making extremely loud noises.  A few days later, I got a message from my doctor that they found a small saccular aneurysm in my internal carotid artery.  My doctor refers me to a "traditional" Neurosurgeon (someone who cuts open the skull) but my appointment isn't for another month so I did not think there was anything urgent or life threatening. I'm just thinking its one of those aneurysms that we just monitor.

Say hello to my little friend, my aneurysm.

Say hello to my little friend, my aneurysm.

The day before my appointment I'm referred to an aneurysm specialist and a few phone calls later I'm speaking to my new specialist doctor about what going on in my brain.  The next day I'm over-nighting my MRI video to him and a few days later, I'm sitting in the doctors office listening to my doctor explaining everything I heard from my moms nurses and doctors....endovascular surgery, coiling, clipping, etc.

My head is kind of spinning, I see the image of my actual aneurysm and it's bigger than what I thought and the aneurysm is actually bigger than the artery it's connected too.  I felt like I needed to panic and then get over it, like Kate from the TV show "Lost" where she's hiding in a tree from the Smoke Monster counting to 5.

I'm listening to all the options of what can be done while having flashbacks of my mom in the hospital.  Now I'm the one that can't talk, so my husband starts asking questions and all I want to do is take a picture of my aneurysm and say "It's not a tumor!", in the voice of Arnold Schwartzneggar ala Kindergarten Cop. I like to break tension with jokes, but I didn't say it.  I just thought about it and made me smile.

Then I started my barrage of questions and I knew what had to be done as I asked my questions.  I felt "good" leaving my doctors office, and almost immediately after I left the doctors office my husband and I were on the same page about proceeding with the surgery.  I was kind of in a blur the rest of the morning but the second I saw my kids I felt better.  They keep me grounded.

Exploring with my three.

Exploring with my three.

So What's Next?

I made a list of questions that are floating around in your head and I've decided to answer them for you.

  1. When, where and how long is the surgery?
    As of right now it's May 16th but things might change to due test results, insurance, etc.  My surgery will be in a hospital in San Francisco.  If you are a personal friend of mine, send me a text or message and I'll tell you where.  The surgery should be 4 hours long.
  2. Are you in pain?
    No.  I don't have pain in my brain, other than my normal hormonal migraines I occasionally get.  Ever since finding out the location of it, I feel like I'm more sensitive about so I'm more paranoid any pain twinge in that area.  I do get a little scared though when I get migraines knowing now that I have ananeurysm that can rupture at any moment.
  3. What is Endovascular Angiogram/Coiling? 
    The doctors have less invasive and more precise procedure where they will go through the artery near my groin to the base of my brain, they can view the aneurysm in detail and see if there are any more. Depending on the structure of the aneurysm they will shoot platinum coils into the aneurysm or stent the artery wall. For more specific details on it you can read about it HERE.
  4. What are some possible side-effects from the surgery?
    All the normal risks of going under anesthesia are there. Plus possibility of losing some vision in my right eye due to the location of the aneurysm.  Apparently my aneurysm decided to grow right next to, or is connected to, the main artery that brings blood supply to my right eye.  The good news is that even if they blocked off all the blood supply from that specific blood vessel my eye can still get oxygen from other smaller blood vessels, so there is a small chance of vision loss but there is still a chance.  My aneurysm can also bleed during the surgery as well but it's safer for it to bleed during the surgery rather bleeding at some point in my life.
  5. What does your recovery look like?  What happens afterwards?
    This surgery requires an overnight stay in the hospital (if there are no complications) and somewhat "bed rest" at home for five days.  The bed rest is primarily for the angiogram incision near my groin, and not the metal coils in my brain.  Then I can return to my "normal" activities.  I didn't even get fives days of bed rest after giving birth so we will see how this will go with three kids in the house.  Thankfully, I have lots of family around me that are willing to help. After I have recovered, I will have more angiograms to make sure everything is going well inside my brain for about a year or two and to make sure more aneurysms aren't growing.  Once everything is settled down then I'll have routine MRI's instead of surgical angiograms.
  6. Can you still do outdoor activities in the meantime?
    The only thing my doctor has told me not to do is weightlifting and smoke.  I don't know how long I've had my aneurysm, so I've been hiking, biking, running, climbing, etc with this issue in my brain for a while now with my active lifestyle.  The two main things that can cause the rupture is high blood pressure/hypertension and smoking, I don't have high blood pressure and I have never smoked.
  7. Are aneurysms genetic or hereditary?  Is this why you have so many migraines?
    There is no genetic link or direct link to it being hereditary, but if there family history of brain aneurysms then there is a higher chance of getting them.  My mother is the first in our family and I am the second.  My aneurysm is not causing my currenty migraines because if it did it would be the worst migraine I've ever had, which probably meant it ruptured.  My migraines are primarily hormonal migraines.
  8. Do your kids know?
    Yes, we let them know on the day we found out.  They are still pretty young but they saw my mother in the hospital and understood that my mom had a "big owie" in her brain.  We explained that I had a smaller "owie" in my brain and the doctors were going to use some tiny robots to fix mommy's brain.  They all got really excited that robots were going into my brain and mommy was going to become a robot....yeah not really kids.  Kids are naturally selfish so they won't really get it and I understand.  Maybe I should put a band-aid on my forehead after my surgery so they can get it a little more.

How am I handling this?

This is the first question I normally get asked.  I physically feel fine other than my random migraines.  I'm trying not to stress about it but sometimes when I know I have a little ticking time-bomb it feels a little overwhelming, but then again no one is guaranteed to live another day.  It seems kind of morbid but that is the truth.  I remember a college biology class where I learned that all it takes for something to go haywire in your body is ONE wrong cell division, which made me realize what a miracle it is to be alive everyday.

My professional career has always been in the financial world, first in the government then in the private sector.  I'm a very logical, "black and white", factual person which lends me to be a very worrisome.  I need to know "The Plan" in everything I do, I need to know 10 steps ahead of what I'm doing.  It's part of my personality and part of it is just the nature of my profession, which is my biggest struggle over my life.  Slowly but surely God has showed me how breakaway from my "worrisome" life through growing my relationship with God, motherhood, marriage etc.  I view my current health issue as taken another step further away from a worrisome life and a closer step to God.

The reason I LOVE to be outdoors is not because it's "the thing" to do right now, but because that is the place where I can see God's glory.  The outdoors is the place I spend time with God and I can physically see the Bible come to life.  Many times through my life I have felt God's presence in the outdoors because it is His creation:

  • During a rough time in my family's life, I remember my family spending lots of time in the redwoods near the Santa Cruz mountains.  My mom would freely smile, my dad would take lots of pictures and I loved watching my little brothers run around freely.  We felt comforted there.
  • The morning my mom was admitted in the hospital for her aneurysms, I was praying on the way to the hospital.  I started to break down, pleading God to keep my mother alive long enough so I could see her.  When I opened my eyes, there was a huge rainbow in the direction where the hospital she was at.  I knew at that moment that God was talking to me through his creation and I felt peace.
  • Flowers and birds, remind me to not worry not because they a have a simple life but because of one of my favorite bible verse, well more like favorite Bible section:
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. ~ Luke 12:22-31

I might lose my vision, I might have complications from the surgery, I might die but I know that whatever happens I will be fine.  My life and my trust is in Jesus and the sacrifice He's done for me. 

This is what has been handed to me in life and I have a decision to be anxious, worried, and live in a bubble or to embrace it, live my life and trust in God. Not that "everything will be fine" but that I know what God is doing in my life.  That everything in my life is used to glorify Him.

If you are inclined to pray for me, I ask that you pray for the following:

  1. Pray for my husband Jesse and my parents.  That they can feel surrounded by love, support and not feel stressed out, especially during the surgery.  My mom is still in fragile state, so anything stressful like this could affect her.
  2. Pray for my children.  I know they don't totally get it, but they do understand especially my daughter Sophia.  Pray that during the few days I'm in the hospital kids can sleep through the night, eat their meals, etc so they won't be cranky for those who are taking care of them.
  3. Pray for the medical team that will conducting the surgery.  Sometimes I look at what they do and it blows me away!  The science and technology that they have to save peoples lives is amazing. 
  4. I would ask that you pray for me.  Pray that when I feel overwhelmed I can look to God even more.  Pray that I can "get things done" before my surgery and not stress about it.  Pray that my aneurysm doesn't explode from now until my surgery.  Pray for my emotional status not that I can be happy all day long, that I learn to deal with my emotions in a healthy constructive way.  Pray that my recovery is quick and fast so I can get back to playing with my kids.
  5. Lastly but most importantly, I ask that you pray that in all of this God will be glorified.

You can also join in on my Social Media, which is updated daily with outdoor activities. Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment below!