Sometimes a person needs to be taken out of the game in order to embrace what really matters. At least that was the case for me. As a workaholic, I was out of touch with my body and my family. Although brain cancer took away my job and career (at least for the time being), I eventually came to realize what I gained as a result of being sidelined. Following are some of the ways my life has improved since I finally accepted the diagnosis and my “new normal.”
- I am present for my family. Prior to my diagnosis, I defined myself by work and took my family for granted. Yep, you read that right–my work came first. Sure, I was passionate about the causes I represented as a non-profit professional…but I was also an overachiever who didn’t have solid boundaries and was terrified of failure. Now that I’m more present I’m finally able to be the wife and mother my husband and son need.
- I focus on my blessings. Before everything changed, I was constantly overcompensating at work for not feeling well and that took an incredible amount of energy. Overall, I’m much more content these days. In the evenings instead of ruminating about my work day, I think about the things I’m grateful for. At the top of my gratitude list are family, friends, and our precious animals.
- Our son has a religious foundation. He became a Bar Mitzvah last year. This absolutely would NOT have happened if I had been able to continue down the path I was on (working all of the time). I did not grow up religious but I’ve always been curious about my Jewish faith. Thankfully, just as I was relearning to walk, talk, and move my right side again we found a wonderful reform congregation where we were able to enroll him in Torah study as a fourth grader. It gives me peace of mind to know he now has a religious foundation and a community he can turn to.
- I learned to cook! This may not seem like a big deal, but trust me it is, especially since as a child home-cooked meals were not readily available. By the time I was a teenager, I was already engaged in other things (i.e. playing basketball, skateboarding, boys, and survival). As an adult, I did not have the interest to learn how to cook and I was busy pursuing my career goals. Fortunately, this changed a few years ago when a friend introduced me to a home meal kit delivery service. At first preparing meals was a good exercise for my brain with the added benefit of making my family happy. Having food delivered is also very helpful since I tend to avoid grocery shopping due to the loud sounds and bright lights. Now, a few years later, I won’t exactly say I enjoy cooking—but it has become a nightly habit. I’m even using more than one burner and multiple pots now.
- I practice mindfulness. I am finally able to take in the sunshine, a cool breeze, and birds chirping. I’ve learned that when I am present in the current moment, it is seemingly impossible for me to also think about the past or worry about the future. Click here to read more about my journey with this.
- I began writing. As a professional, I used to avoid writing as much as possible. I relied more on my personality and ability to connect with people. I was outgoing and pretty good at networking. All that changed after my craniotomy. After dealing with aphasia for a few years, I had to learn how to better express myself in other ways. I dedicated myself to obtaining a grant writing certificate, took a class on creative nonfiction writing, started publishing this blog, and am working on a memoir. Thanks to neuroplasticity my aphasia has pretty much resolved itself now. For the most part, I accept that my strengths have shifted and I’m thankful for the writing journey I’m on.
- I am able to listen to my body now. It’s true. It took brain cancer and a craniotomy for me to slow down and listen to the signals my body was sending me. Sometimes, I can’t believe I had so much going on physically and was still able to push through it all to show up for work each day and be productive. Since the craniotomy, I’ve had another major surgery due to a “mystery diagnosis.” It took time, testing, advocacy, and patience to get to the root of what was going on. I had the pain for years, but would not have persisted to find the cause if I was still obsessed with work. Additionally, last year a serious issue was discovered with my esophagus. This too took time to uncover. Yes, there were layers of health issues to work through, but I’m grateful that I have a grasp on it all now and a chance to reverse what I can. I’m also thankful for the good health of my family and friends.
- Reading. When I was working, it was rare that I read for pleasure because I was always reading for work. Since I’ve been out of commission, however, I’ve read all kinds of books–many for entertainment, others for information. Click here to see a list of my recommended reading for survivors.