This past Sunday was a momentous anniversary for me- the 20th year anniversary of my first stroke. TWO DECADES!! It’s wild.
While it was heavy on my mind, I didn’t focus on my personal situation on Sunday since it was my son’s First Communion. I couldn’t think of a better celebration/distraction than his special day. And it was lovely- a beautiful day of faith, hope, grace and love. And in that way, as I look back, this dreaded day twenty years ago was also filled with faith, hope, grace and love.
I still think about May 7, 1997 with a myriad of emotions… sadness, regret, unrealized dreams, and lost opportunities but also gratefulness, appreciation for life, deep emotional connections and continuous hope.
I have been mentally dwelling on this anniversary for the past few months. Mostly because I wanted to have a book written by this date…but that was just an arbitrary date set…and I am happy to report that I am working on a book, so hope it comes to fruition soon. (Add inspiring author onto my resume!)
I look back at that day the week before college graduation when I heard the words, “You’ve had a stroke.” I see my frazzled Mom arriving in my Washington, DC hospital room after an emergency rushed flight from Rhode Island. I remember all the friends who stopped by the hospital to bid me well even as they were on their way to our Booze Cruise Senior Week celebration, which I was supposed to be attending. I recall walking into the tan, sterile Emergency Room alone and noticing the sign listing the stroke symptoms- and realizing that I had all of them. I remember the friends who dropped me at the hospital and sat with me through the procedures and terrifying news. Mostly, I recall the fear of a stroke diagnosis, the throbbing pain of my headache and numbness of my left side, and the awful spinal tap (performed by a student doctor who had never done one before and missed my spine three times!) which diagnosed my stroke.
I also embarrassingly remember how naïve and optimistic I was about my life before that day and still struggle with that sense of loss. Until that point in my life, I had always worked hard to be an overachiever. I always gave it my all in sports, studied hard and received almost straight A’s in school and worked throughout school to be financially sound. I even worked really hard at having fun in college. I didn’t have a passion or purpose but know I was set up for success. I was ready to jump into the business world and give it my all. I literally had a start date ready at Andersen Consulting. I even had a tentative life plan…work a little while at Andersen Consulting (hopefully traveling to see the country) and then go get my MBA. I had California in my mind for that. I assumed I would get married one day and have a family. I never planned to be a stay-at-home Mom but I would be a good Mom. I just had this plan that I was ready to tackle life and have fun.
I didn’t even know it at the time but those dreams went out the window on May 7, 1997 with my stroke diagnosis. I mourn this loss- still to this day. I do a lot of wondering what could have been, should have been or might have been. However, I am older and wiser so I know that life happens while you’re busy planning. God had a different plan for me and despite kicking and screaming against it, I am living His wonderful, perfect plan.
I have learned that I am exactly where I am supposed to me. My life is just what it is supposed to be. I am married to an amazing husband and have two kids who literally make my heart burst (with joy most of the time…;) I don’t have a career but I have a fulfilling, passion filled life that I have created despite my limitations. My life of advocacy and volunteerism has more meaning than I could ever have dreamed of. I am here for my children; I help other survivors and patients; my story inspires others facing adversity; and I most importantly, I am here.
Twenty years ago I never would have believed you if you told me that I would go on to have four strokes, two brain surgeries, two rare disease diagnosis, chemo, menopause, trouble speaking, occupational therapy and many TIAs …but also a wonderful, loving family of my own, a safe nice home and fun beach house with my parents, a “job” where I get to speak to hundreds of people, a blog, a non-profit organization, life experiences through travel and the best friends and family I can ask for.
I don’t say this all to brag, but to remind myself that life is good. I mourn the loss I experienced twenty years ago yet appreciate the ride that life has given me. It hasn’t gone as planned but with acceptance and patience, I am living God’s will and cautiously celebrating twenty years of overcoming!