Overcoming obstacles with Optimism

Posts tagged ‘brain surgery’


Event Announcement – Featured Speaker

Featured Speaker

Its Name Is Stroke

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.” Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym

There is an old American idiom, “kick butt and take names”. I had to make a choice. I understood what had happened. I understood my body was not going to patiently wait for a response. It was by no means a conscious immediate choice to face this challenge. Yet, the choice was mine and mine alone: Learn to fight for what I lost and use -to the fullest- what I had remaining. No one else could make my leg and arm work. Not even the most specialized doctors could fix the areas of my brain the stroke took away.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. I want people to know that strokes affect everyone differently. Where the damage hits the brain, and how severely it hits, will change the possible outcome. This reality should be neither misunderstood nor denied. Everyone has to have hope. Healing will come in different forms and at different speeds. But, no one should deny that the spirit and tenacity with which brain injuries are fought will also alter the recovery outcome.

There was a chance I would not walk again without assistive devices. There was a chance I would not see again. There was a lot unknown. The brain surgery and following stroke tried to kick my butt. However, I am too stubborn and way too competitive to allow this.

I still do not have any left peripheral eyesight. I also have several remaining disabilities you can’t see. People look at me and assume I have a completely able body and mind. The key is I face my challenges. They do limit what I am able to do, but I never stop fighting against those limitation and daring to have hope of where I believe I can be. Below is the picture from a walking tracker I use every morning when I go out for walks. These numbers represent what I have done during the month of May. The doctors were right; I will never get back my eyesight. The doctors were sort of wrong… I can walk independently again, but I cannot run – yet.

I will fight to create my destiny with an immense amount of gratitude. The stroke came at me. It attacked my brain. It left me with a brain injury. I accepted the challenge and fought back. In the end of this struggle I want it to be known, I kicked the stroke’s butt and I am eager to share its name!


“Challenges in life can either enrich you or poison you. You are the one who decides.” Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience


Not running yet, but I am on my way. Never give up!

Happy Anniversary or Should I Say Happy Birthday?

                Ten years ago I found myself facing challenges I never could have imagined.  Ten years ago this week I woke from brain surgery learning I had a stroke during the operation.  I was twenty-seven.  What was it that allowed me to embrace the challenges faced while recovering from this event?  Where does that inner strength and determination come from?  I really can’t answer these questions.  Whatever it was, wherever it came from, is unknown, yet I am fiercely grateful for this drive.  I can walk independently now.  I can speak clearly without slurring my words.  I celebrate doing simple things in life most people take for granted.  I do all these things which, not so long ago, would have been unthinkable accomplishments if I had allowed myself to accept the speculated dismal outcomes predicted.

Each year I ask myself if the 25th of June should be celebrated as an anniversary or as a birthday.  Anniversaries are happy days set up to celebrate the joining of two lives.  Some might not understand why the date of my stroke would be considered a happy day.  It is though.  I have always believed it is only when life knocks you down beyond where you could have imagined that you really learn to appreciate all the beauty life delivers.  When you climb the mountain of challenges placed in front of you, this is really when you appreciate the beautiful gifts of life.  My life before was happy.  And, though it is different in so many ways, the life I live now is also joyfully celebrated.  So, rightfully, happy anniversary to me for the day which taught me the true potential to change, grow and appreciate the gift of living.  Each year is a happy celebration of joining my life as it is today and the years that helped mold the strength which allowed me to overcome challenges.

Or, should I say Happy Birthday to me?  No, it is not my true birthday in the traditional sense of the word.  However, the stroke changed who I am.  I know I am not the same person I was before my stroke.  I accept that.  I even rejoice this.  I recognize I am a different person in some ways.  I am stronger.  I have more empathy for the difficulties people face.  I am more attentive to the gifts life offers.  I am more grateful for each and every day I have.  Life now is never taken for granted.    Similar to an infant in many ways, the stroke forced me to learn developmental tasks once again.  I learned how to walk and tie my shoes.  I learned how to catch a ball, hold a pencil and hold my beautiful babies in my arms.  I learned these early lessons again with the coordination of an inexperienced toddler, yet having the eyes of an experienced adult.  In this perspective, happy birthday to me.

                Tuesday, the night of my ten year anniversary/birthday ended with my youngest, an eleven year-old, making a tent and sleeping in my room.  She was sleeping near my bed, and I reached out my arm to rub her back.  She turned over and grabbed my hand.  She was rubbing my arm up and down, up and down.  Constant repetitive touches on my left arm and leg have been painful since I had my stroke.  I asked her to stop and reminded her rubbing me like that hurts.  She said, “Give me your other hand then.”  I gave her my right hand.  She didn’t question it.  This is her norm.  This is just how her mom is.  On this night, we fell asleep with her holding my right hand.  I can only hope in the next ten years of our lives we can continue to grow and create as many happy memories of success stories as we’ve discovered this past decade.

A Treasure Today and Gift For Tomorrow

Last fall, I had the great fortune to be introduced to a documentary filmmaker, Kevin Kelley, and director/producer, David Gould, from the University of Iowa.   These men currently have a powerful short film being played in film festivals across America.   Two Sides of the Moon is a true story dealing with the tragedy of honor crimes.

To fully explain my life’s events, I offered them a paper* explaining why I felt my story could have impact on others.  Upon learning my life’s events, they offered me a true gift.  They offered me the gift of filming an interview about my experiences.  They donated their equipment, knowledge and time to help me share this story.  This is the final product they created for me:

Maybe someday it will help lead to a book deal.  Maybe someday I will be lucky enough to be invited into a speaking circuit, but as for today…. I consider this video a treasure.  Later, as my children grow older, I will share it with them.  In their eyes today, I am only a mom who sometimes stumbles as I walk and can never identify their teachers.  In the first essay of the school year they described me as a “mom that stays home and cleans and is really good at cooking but likes to clean a lot”. Someday my children will ask why I go and speak for groups of people and why I used a cane and had my head shaved in their early pictures.  This video captures the answers I can offer.  Most of all though, it leaves them knowing I always had hope.  Hope is the strength I will pass on forevermore.  Thank you Dave and Kevin for this treasure today I will pass along as a gift tomorrow.

*The paper offered to Mr. Gould:

Some people never forget a face. I will never remember one.

I look into a mirror and see a stranger. My children come to the breakfast table, and I don’t recognize them.

I have prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. I can see a face, the same as anyone else does. But I have no ability to remember it. To me, the world is a sea of unfamiliar faces.

At 27, I suffered a stroke during surgery to cure my epilepsy. At that point, I lost the ability to recognize people – even those I know best. In addition, I had to relearn how to walk. Fear, uncertainty, sadness and hope filled me as I took my first steps and faced unimaginable obstacles associated with face blindness.

Emotions brought on by prosopagnosia are conflicted, but I find humor. During a trip to the mall, I became annoyed with a woman who was walking too close to me. She followed me step for step. She came too close; I moved away. Several feet later, she brushed against my shoulder. When I reached up to push her away, my hand hit a mirror. I realized that the lady walking too close to me was … me.  Another time, I was mad at my husband for an entire day when he sent me a photo of him dining with a woman. It was a picture of us.

Of course, there are painful moments. For months, I watched my daughters rehearse for their dance recital. When the big performance day arrived, all the girls had on make-up, tight ponytails and identical costumes. I could no longer distinguish which girls were mine. After the show, they ran to me, sparkling with excitement and pride, wanting to know how they did. How do you tell your daughters you were never able to identify who they were or watch them perform what they practiced so hard to accomplish? How do you tell your children they are beautiful when they understand you do not remember what they look like? You don’t have the heart to burden your children with these sad realities, but sometimes you can’t help but cry.

I lost the ability to recognize faces, but developed tremendous resilience. My young daughter, just learning to walk, gave me strength as we took our first steps side by side. Her steps were guided by the helping hands of an adult; I was aided by the support of a gait belt. I was once the person leading her, and now I was following her. I did not have time to dwell in bed with pity. I was determined to lead her once again.

I had to start anew, and for that, I am a more patient parent. I will never forget the challenges that came with learning daily skills I took for granted. Getting dressed, washing my hair and tying my shoes seemed impossible. Now, I try to never assume simple tasks young people learn are so simple for them or anyone else.

I gained coping techniques that help me overcome countless challenges. I pay more attention to body language. I observe more details of facial expressions. I take comfort in routines. Questions I have learned to ask offer more information than the faces I can see. Prosopagnosia may take away your ability to recognize faces, but it does not take away your ability to find kindness in strangers or develop lasting, true friendships.

Today I am 36, and I am eager to share my unique story. I have started telling my story to an audience through my blog. I’m looking for a thoughtful, talented writer to help me reach a greater audience with a book. My hope is that others will find it informative, entertaining, and even inspirational. Through anecdotes, we can offer laughter and share tears. Most importantly, we will explore the inner strength derived from hope.

The story will appeal in particular to the 2 percent of the population that suffers from some level of prosopagnosia, because information on coping with a world of strangers is scarce. But the broader message – finding hope in a seemingly hopeless situation – will resonate with anyone with problems, simple or severe.

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