Some days I just want my old life back…

Some days I just want my old life back. I know that everything happens for a reason. And while I usually fully embrace this theory, it doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes go kicking and screaming against it.

Emotionally, my bucket runs over. Even though my bravery, courage and strength were challenged by my health, today I have meaningful connections with others, I live my life filled with passion, and I am open to life’s many possibilities.

Physically, I am frustrated where I am. I had a Trans-Ischemic Attack (TIA) two nights ago. We were told that these can occur post- surgeries and they did. I suffered three within the month after my surgeries- and haven’t had one since. Out of the blue on Monday night, I had trouble reading the first sentence of Zack’s book. My face then went numb and then my left side felt heavy. I called Brian who helped me calm down. I think I started panicking which resulted in heart palpitations. I moved to my bed. He handed me a Xanax and I worked at calming down. The slight numbness remains still two days later.

We played the why game…was I dehydrated due to the temperature change? Did I do too much last week between DC advocacy and Girl Scout camping? Was it a blood pressure issue? Were my emotions running to high? Is something majorly wrong?

Post TIA, I feel like I have been hit by a bus. I have been exhausted so have been sleeping whenever I can. I feel dehydrated so I keep drinking water. And I have this headache that won’t fully subside. Even as I write this, it worries me…so I turn to my husband.

Fortunately, Brian is calm and reminds me that the surgeons said this could happen occasionally. I recall how many fellow Moyamoya patients suffer TIAs often (I read on our FB page) but I still didn’t expect myself to have them. I don’t know if it was positive thinking or naiveté but I planned to go TIA and stroke free forever. But that isn’t the case.

Today, I am frustrated. I just saw a photo from two years ago and I miss that Lisa. The Lisa that was physically in the best shape of my life, 25 pounds thinner than I am today. The Lisa that was regularly physically active without fear. The Lisa that had finally figured out a goal with ISurvivor and serving as a National Spokesperson. The Lisa who could parent easily and without worry that I’m scarring my children from my surgeries.

2014

I know it’s okay to wallow at times, and getting it out on paper helps me. So now I try to remember the positives of the 2015 Lisa. The 2015 Lisa didn’t know that her brain was at risk of a stroke. The Lisa who didn’t remember how therapeutic and healing it felt to journal and share her story. The Lisa that fell back into the busy rat race of life and forgot to appreciate the little things. The Lisa that didn’t remember how strong she was until she was forced to find out.

So I need to move forward. I can’t get old Lisa back but can work to gain the parts I want. I just hate that I’m physically scared to move forward with exercise, diet, etc. I want to get it back but can’t seem to get past that fear. Fortunately, I am an ever evolving project.

As always, thanks to those of you who read this and support me.

Two Decades

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.

My son on his First Communion Day

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.

Lisa’s college graduation.

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.

Our family today.

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!

 

Heart Month Special Heart & Stroke Survivor Stories

February is American Heart Month: a month dedicated to raising awareness of heart disease and stroke. Heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds.

I know facts and statistics are important- even imperative to funding research, educating the public and developing drugs to assist patients. Yet, my primary interest and what I like to share is the people who are effected by cardiovascular disease. And sadly, there are plenty of them.

Since personal health stories are most impactful, I’m thrilled to announce an exciting initiative for my ISurvivor Lisa Deck Facebook page this month.

Thirty days of Heart & Stroke Survival Stories to inspire, educate and get you engaged in the conversation during Heart Month!

I’m continuously amazed at the strength, resiliency and passion of cardiovascular and stroke survivors and caregivers. Clearly, with incidence numbers so high, there are many people affected by these diseases…I’m fortunate to know an army of the most dedicated ones.

Serving as a longtime volunteer with the American Heart Association, I have made meaningful connections with many volunteers and advocates, and have ultimately learned that I am not alone. I’ve lost much from four strokes, two brain surgeries and a rare disease diagnosis, but gained even more: perspective, inner strength, a deep faith, unconditional family & friends and a network of peers who have overcome similar obstacles. I’m thrilled to introduce you to some of these incredible people over the next month. Please check out www.facebook.com/ISurvivorLisaDeck daily in February!

I reached out to my friends and network of people involved in the “Heart World” and am thrilled at so many quick and enthusiastic responses. Please learn about these heart heroes and the difference they are making. I truly believe in the harnessing of positive energy through shared connections. These heroes are just living their lives but ultimately making our communities better by sharing their challenges and victories.

Happy Heart Month! Please don’t forget to Wear Red & Raise Your Voice on National Wear Red Day – Friday, February 3, 2017. Please use the hashtag #GoRedWearRed and tag me (@ISurvivorLisaDeck) in your pictures.

Like I did last year, I hope to make a collage of all the people who are going red and making a difference!

 

A simple question that isn’t so simple

For me, it’s a loaded question that I have struggled with for many years. Mostly because I am a four time stroke survivor who most recently underwent two brain surgeries within a week on the West coast. I struggled between being the positive, happy person that I usually am and stating the truth of my hardships. I soon learned how to handle it especially once I recovered.

This question can be trickier when tough times happen during the holidays.

Three weeks ago, all was well with me and my family. We had a wonderful fall and were excitedly awaiting the Christmas holiday and vacation. When asked that questions, I was able to say “I’m doing well. I’m back to feeling like myself. I’m busy with Christmas prep but all is well.”

However, in the past three weeks, my life is more like a bad movie. My son was very ill with stomach pains, a fever, and nausea which led to a diagnosis of acute appendicitis. Within a day, we went from a doctor’s appointment to an Emergency Room visit to an ambulance ride to Mass General Hospital for an emergency appendectomy at 11:30pm that night. At each of the first two locations, doctors suspected constipation but our aggressive advocating for Zack led us to the correct diagnosis. Thank goodness we didn’t go home and just watch him. Twenty-four hours later we were home with a recovering, brave boy who now needed to avoid all physical activity (sports, gym and recess) for a month. But he was well and recovering.

At the same time, my husband found a suspicious lump in his groin. On the same day as Zack’s surgery, Brian had an appointment with the primary care doctor. (He thankfully insisted on keeping the appointment.) Within the next three days, Brian underwent an ultrasound that questioned cancer. We then saw two urologists who eased our mind a bit. We scheduled surgery four days later to remove the mass a week later. Surgery went smoothly but Brian still had to recover. Immediately post-surgery, the renowned surgeon and expert pathologists didn’t think the mass looked malignant. Despite an uncomfortable recovery, we had a lovely albeit low key Christmas.

Two days after Christmas, Brian went to his post-op follow up appointment in Boston (alone as we didn’t suspect anything) and heard some shocking news. The pathology report indicated that there were cancerous cells and Brian was advised to make an appointment with an oncologist.

We were shocked and terrified. We did everything that we shouldn’t….We googled. We stalked medical studies. We stayed in and spent time alone as a family (that we should do!)

I cried a ton as I was truly worried that he would die. What we read didn’t say this but it was hard not to go to worst case scenario. It was a terrible week!!

When people asked me how I was doing that week, I could barely answer. Terrified. About to cry. Worrying about what life would be without my husband. Wondering why we have to face more adversity. (Yet thankful that I am well enough to do so.) Unable to focus on anything. Angry that our family may need help again. Pleading with God for a good outcome.

I never thought we would come out of our Tuesday oncologist appointment feeling relieved that Brian has lymphoma. Yes, he has Extranodal Marginal Zone Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s a shock to both of us that he has cancer. Fortunately we were relieved this lymphoma is highly treatable and generally non-life threatening. Whew! We rode home from Boston anxious to hug our kids and relieved that he would live.

However, now that we basically know what he has, we are faced with the yucky reality that he will need to undergo further testing (at the least) and possibly more treatment and/or lifetime surveillance (at the worst.)

I’m journaling here are Target and have run into a couple people I know. I’ve gotten the casual “How are you?” question. I smiled and said “fine” to one person but opted to explain to a couple others.

I know this can be much worse but it still stinks. Zack has recovered and is back (earlier than expected) to physical activities. Brian is recovering from his surgery and will undergo a PET/CT scan as well as more labs next week followed by another oncologist appointment. My husband has cancer. Yes, it’s treatable and generally not life threatening, but it’s a new reality for us.

How are you?

I’m a bit overwhelmed, relieved and anxious for what the next couple of weeks will bring.

But I am also blessed by a strong and determined husband, a close loving family, awesome friends and a positive mindset. #TeamLisaAndCrew

 

 

5 lessons learned; Reflections a Year After Brain Surgery

Today is a day of reflection. It marks the end of May (which was stroke awareness month) and leads into tomorrow which is the first anniversary of my first brain surgery!

I’ve looked back at the notes, messages and support from last year at this time and I’m just overwhelmed with emotion. I thought I would take a moment to review what I’ve learned during this past year. I hope my reflection serves as a Thank You to all of you who supported me AND reminds you to reflect on such lessons in your own life.

Strength

I have learned that I am braver than I thought. When faced with the tough decision of undergoing two brain surgeries, I made the decision firmly and with determination….and a little help from my friends and family. I was terrified but knew this is what I needed. Now, a year later, I see that it was the right decision.

Support

I don’t have the right words to adequately express how much and meaningful support I received this past year. My family, friends, community, old classmates, old teammates, my kids’ school, Brian’s work, American Heart Association colleagues…the list goes on and on.  I truly think that I had the biggest army of supporters ever 😉 I could write a book about ways to help somebody going through a tough time only because I experienced such amazing acts of kindness firsthand. Thank you #teamLisa. I will never forget what you did for me and my family.

Anxiety

I learned what anxiety feels like and how challenging it is to live with. Pre-surgery, I was fiercely optimistic but had many anxious thoughts and what ifs about dying. Post surgery, I was afraid to get back to life and didn’t have trust in my body. Losing my speech and suffering from TIAs were super scary. I felt nervous and anxious to do simple things like school pick up. I still have some anxious thoughts but I have come along way. I have gained a new understanding of people who suffer with anxiety on a regular basis and have become more empathetic.

New purpose

I have been a volunteer for the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association for years but this past year has given me a new story to share with others.  In just the past few months, I have been positively rewarded with various opportunities to use my experience for good.  I served as a keynote speaker at the Go Red for Women luncheon in Boston and even filled in as a Passion Speaker at the Providence Go Red for Women luncheon. I flew to Atlanta to be part of the #StrokeHero campaign photo shoot and I was featured as the face of Alex and Ani’s Wings of Change stroke awareness bracelet.

I also became involved with a new cause, my new disease, Moyamoya disease. Never have I seen such a devoted group of patients,caregivers and doctors as I have found in the Moyamoya Facebook community. I was honored to represent this disease population when I attended Rare Disease Week in Washington DC.  I have lobbied at the State Level to increase awareness of Moyamoya Day and also hosted a small party for other local patients. Being able to take part in these activities and giveback has given me a new sense of purpose and a reminder of how amazing I feel when helping others.

Love

The most important lesson I have learned is recognizing what is important…which is love. I am blessed with tremendous, unwavering love from my family and friends.  I didn’t need to test that strength…but life-threatening illness will remind you how important you are to someone.  May each of you find such deep, thoughtful and compassionate love and friendship in your life like I have.

May is #strokemonth

I had my first stroke at age 21 on May 7, 1997. I was sitting at Georgetown University Hospital’s Emergency room when I spotted a banner hung up on the wall. “May is Stroke Awareness month. Do you know the warning signs?”

As I looked at the symptoms listed, I was suffering from most of them. I had no idea that stroke could happen to anyone. I soon learned that stroke doesn’t discriminate. Since that moment, I have become a huge advocate for creating awareness of stroke symptoms.

stroke month
I suffered the same symptoms a year ago which brought me to Rhode Island Hospital. As you likely know, this began my Moyamoya journey. Through my diagnosis with a rare brain disease and bilateral brain bypass surgeries across the country, I accidentally provided much inspiration to many of you. This month, I plan to honor my goal to educate you about stroke and Moyamoya.  Please read this information provided by the American Stroke Association carefully!

THINK YOU ARE HAVING A STROKE? CALL 9-1-1 IMMEDIATELY!

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you’ll know that you need to call 9-1-1 for help right away. F.A.S.T. is:

Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?

Face Drooping

Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Arm Weakness

Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

Speech difficulty

Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Time to call 911

This information is taken from the American Stroke Association’s Stroke Hero campaign.  Fortunately, I was asked to be a part of the stroke hero campaign….so stay tuned this week for more information.

Please learn these symptoms and take action quickly if you ever experience them! Learn more about stroke at www.strokeassociation.com.

Flashback…What would the angiogram show?

A year ago today was a huge emotional day in my journey through brain surgeries. Before this day, I hadn’t even entertained the idea of surgery. I knew the angiogram would be revealing but never expected it to tell me what it did…

I laid on my stretcher at Rhode Island Hospital waiting for my cerebral angiogram. I had been laying there for three hours since my procedure was running late due to some complications of another patient’s procedure. My nerves were on fire and I was very thirsty, hungry and impatient.

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Peter, the goofy male nurse, tried to joke with me to keep the atmosphere light but all I wanted to scream at him was “Give me the meds!” I knew that the two medications the doctors planned to administer would take the edge off and deliver me to a “happy place” 😉 These medications would allow the doctors to perform the angiogram procedure which was what had me very worried.

Deep down, I knew the procedure was relatively routine yet even the worry about the possible complications consistently brought me to tears as I thought of my children. “What if something goes wrong and I can’t be there for them when they need me? “God forbid, what if I die and am gone?”

My husband and my Mom were at the hospital but couldn’t be with me during this wait. Alone, I struggled with keeping my mind off of the negative feelings. Luckily, I was a distracted by the constant poking, tucking, covering and positioning that the nurses kept doing in preparation for my procedure. Eventually I was wheeled into the operating room since it was almost time for my procedure.

The neuro-interventional radiologist who would be performing my upcoming procedure, Dr. Jayaraman, appeared out of seemingly nowhere. I often compare his quick appearing ability to the butler in the movie Mr. Deeds…”Sneaky, sneaky.” I knew he was coming to discuss my old MRI films with me.

I still have a collection of the big yellow and white envelopes filled with my black and white MRI films from 2001-2009. Many hospital staff members commented on the films as I walked through the hospital with them. Today, MRI results on CDs or flash drives. I truly looked like a dinosaur walking through the hospital with the big envelopes.

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Dr. Jayaraman jumps right into his analysis of the films…”So, you have Moyamoya. It’s apparent on your films that you’ve had Moyamoya for a long time. Your first infarct happened prior your new stroke which isn’t consistent with Vasculitis….” He continued but I stopped listening there. It was 1:00pm. I had just been told after 18 years that I have a new disease. I have never been so shocked- EVER!

Fortunately, I had been administered my medications already which helped my reaction. But I immediately started giving myself a pep talk in my head: “Ok, Lisa, you knew an additional diagnosis was a possibility. Heck, you’ve heard the word Moyamoya mentioned before. However, he sure does sound confident of that diagnosis. I know this angiogram will determine it for sure.”

Since I battled health problems for over half of my life, I had begun quite adept at focusing on the positive. I continued my attempt at positive thinking. “But wait, I am okay with this. It is definitely shocking. I probably didn’t need to go through chemotherapy and prednisone for years… but I did and that’s my life. Without my CNSV diagnosis and three strokes, I would not have the life I have today. There is no way Brian would be my husband and my kids certainly wouldn’t be my kids. I hate that I had to go through it all that to arrive here again. But, I feel fortunate about where I am today. I truly believe that.”

I looked up at the clock and it was 1:15pm. I was staring at this random orange light bulb thing above my bed. I kept hoping that I would soon drift off to sleep when I felt the doctors beginning to work on my leg.”

Angiogram machine

That’s all I remembered until I woke up alone in the recovery area about 1.5 hours later.

I woke up thirsty- extremely thirsty. “May I have some water?” I whispered. One nurse finally brought me a glass of water. However, since the patient next to me was obviously suffering from complications, I was relatively ignored. I drifted in and out of sleep.

“Oh my…That diagnosis. Didn’t Dr. Jayaraman tell me I had Moyamoya disease? Was that a dream?” My thoughts started to plague me again.

I was also inundated with mundane thoughts such as the location of my husband and Mom, and how thirsty I still felt. I was contemplating my ability to move my leg again when Dr. Jayaraman did another an appearing out of no-where act (Sneaky, Sneaky!)

Mr. DeedsHe jumped right into an explanation which I couldn’t focus on since I was worried about someone being with me to hear all this. Somehow, Brian sensed my need and appeared to listen to this life-changing news.

Dr. Jayaraman reiterated that I have Moyamoya Disease. (Still shocking to hear!) He proceeded to discuss next steps which included a meeting during rounds on Monday to discuss my case with my neurologist and a neurosurgeon since it’s so rare. He explained what Moyamoya is and how it’s very rare. He also mentioned the possibility of sending my films to Stanford where the premier Moyaymoya surgeon can review. He explained that he did his residency at Stanford in the Moyamoya Center- which is why he easily recognized this rare disease.

He delivered one final shocking blow: “I think you are a good candidate for a brain bypass.” Brian and I were in complete and utter shock. What?? Brain surgery?!

“A brain bypass could alleviate your symptoms but also increase a healthy blood flow to your brain which will be good. It will also prevent the risk of bleed due to your small vessels.”

Dr. Jayaraman was convincing and reassuring.  Surprisingly I was left with a feeling of calm determination. Yes, brain surgery is scary but if it can lead to a better brain, why not? He also explained the risks and how it will make sense to do one more test before surgery.

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There was more information that we listened to but somehow I felt relief. Yes, I was petrified about what the future help but Dr. Jayaraman’s confidence despite delivering me a shocking diagnosis left me feeling calm. I was relieved to know and have a plan to move forward. These results weren’t what I expected coming into my angiogram. But thankfully, I had experience in knowing how to stay strong despite scary, unexpected news. This is something I would need to rely upon going forward.

Flashback…Feelings during the wait for a plan

This is what I am happy to share…some of my writing from last year that really gets to the heart of my situation. My journal, while my life line last year, is enlightening to look back on…

At this point last year, I was out of the hospital and having various appointments to follow up on my fourth stroke. I had reassuring appointments with two doctors but was still having the heaviness in my left arm and leg without an explanation. Those doctors reiterated that I was a complicated case and that it was possible that I would never find out what was causing my symptoms to show up again. I was laying low until my scheduled angiogram on April 7th that I hoped would show insight. Here’s what I was thinking at the time…

Deep Thoughts photo

“Why won’t my left side come back? I need it to “un-numb.” The frustrating fact of illness is that positive thinking can’t make it better. Working your hardest doesn’t guarantee anything. Isn’t that the kicker in life?? I think so! Generally speaking, hard work and perseverance pays off. That isn’t always the case with illness. I can’t stand that my left side is numb. It is also frustrating that it’s a total subjective feeling at this time. The docs certainly believe me especially given my pass but it’s not obvious…to them, to others and even to the basic medical tests.

I’m not like everyone else; this is a difficult and a tough lesson to learn. Not in the sense that I am comparing my accomplishments or looks or any of the things that women often do (but shouldn’t)…but in that my body isn’t the same as most people. I think I have gone so long feeling well and not having any issues that I started to forget that I’m unique.

I’ve only heard of a few other people in my life who have this feeling of left sided heaviness/numbness/ache. I think many stroke survivors have this feeling yet it’s amplified and renders their limb unusable. Some MS patients have this feeling intermittently.

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Then there’s me…CNS Vasculitis patient whose symptoms mirror Moyamoya disease. Still a rare disease and one that every single doctor I meet questions. Yet, I have gone 14 years without major symptoms. So, I started to think I was like everyone else. I dove back into life with a passion to do it all. After all, I seemed fine. I look like everyone else, I have a similar family to many, I enjoy doing the same things as my friends. BUT I AM DIFFERENT. My body reacts to stress, medications, exercise, food, etc. differently then others. My left side goes numb when I do too much.”

I was still resting at this time, so grateful for all the support of meals, cards, etc…and hugging my kids super tight since I didn’t know what the future would hold.  What a rollercoaster of emotions!

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We had an amazing vacation thanks to Memories of Love!

To travel is to liveI love to travel. I love to visit other places and think I love it even more now after my surgeries. I always feel most alive seeing a new place!

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to travel much in my life. However, my fun travel has been limited this past year due to my health.

Thankfully, we just came back from an amazingly special vacation! Ironically, it’s similar to the one we took last March, but this is so much more meaningful.

After our family vacation to Florida last March, I ended up in the hospital diagnosed with another stroke. (It had been 14 years since my last stroke.) I was then diagnosed with a rare brain disease, Moyamoya disease. There is no cure for Moyamoya but the recommended treatment is brain surgery. I had to leave my children to fly across the country with my husband to California in June for two brain surgeries a week apart. It was a trying time but I was able to get through it with faith, support, courage, amazing doctors and love.

We returned to California as a family in January for post-op testing and received the amazing news that my surgeries were successful.

Upon our return from testing, my husband and I discussed the possibility of a family vacation. Many of our friends were traveling out of the country which wasn’t an option for us. We weren’t sure what we could/would swing when an amazing opportunity basically fell into our lap.

A fellow Moyamoya patient on my Facebook support group posted about a family trip that she just took thanks to a nonprofit organization called Memories of Love. Their mission is to create joyful memories for children whose parents have a life-threatening illness.

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Created in loving memory of Marty Gottlieb, Memories of Love helps create lasting and loving memories by sending the entire family for five days to Orlando, Florida for a fun-filled vacation which include five nights/six days in a hotel and tickets to Universal Studios and Sea World. (www.memoriesoflove.org)

I was intrigued and soon spoke on the phone with the organization to learn a bit more. The staff was just delightful and so helpful. We were advised to fill out an application for a wish.

We knew our window of opportunity for escaping the New England winter was short and a bit limited due to other obligations. Yet, just two days after submitting the application electronically, we were sent a hotel confirmation for March and instructions for getting our amusement park tickets. This quick turnaround enabled us to make flights to secure our trip.

sea world Universal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are so appreciative of this giving organization. It’s been a rocky year so we were overjoyed for this opportunity. Relaxing by the pool and experiencing the fun of the amusement parks created amazing memories for all of us. We were treated so well the entire time- I can’t sufficiently compliment his generous and loving organization! I probably took 300 photos but here are a few of the highlights.

Visiting Springfield, Home of the Simpsons, at Universal Studios
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Enjoying a Butter Beer at Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure
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Family smiles at Sea World
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The Shamu Show at Sea World
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Enjoying the pool at our beautiful hotel!
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Meeting Shamu at Sea World

A huge THANK YOU to Memories of Love for giving us this opportunity.

Again and again, I feel so blessed.

Flashback: My life before everything happened…

I look back at the photos of my life last March and it seems like a lifetime ago. I was leading a very full and extremely busy lifestyle.

Happy familySure, I was probably doing too much (a lesson I’ve learned this past year) but I was loving life. I was serving as a National Go Red for Women Spokeswomen for the American Heart Association, serving as Vice President of the Parent Teacher Organization, leading a Girl Scout troop of 24 girls, playing tennis twice a week, doing my kids’ library twice a week, being a room parent, and driving my kids to/from multiple activities each day. I was busy but satisfied. A few key events that happened in early 2015 were our annual family vacation and an amazing heart month in February while serving as a National Spokeswomen.

Being selected as a National Go Red for Women Real Women in September 2014 was such a cool experience. I was asked to share my personal stroke story with a national audience along with eight other ladies (my heart sisters!) We were flown out to Los Angles for training and photo/video shoot. We were treated like the “talent” and didn’t feel like a bunch of survivors but rather old friends with something very special in common. I still giggle at my serious photo that was used nationally for awareness. So funny considering I smile most of the time.

Official Go Red photoFebruary was the busy month starting with a trip to New York City for the Go Red Fashion Show during NYC’s Fashion Week and culminating with the local GRFW luncheons. My heart sisters and I were also treated like celebrities during these events where we raised awareness and had a ton of fun. Some of the highlights are captured in the photos below.

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Our annual family vacation also took place in early March. I traveled with my husband, kids and my parents to Orlando. We laid by the pool, relaxed, went to Universal Studios where we rode every exhilarating ride, ate out tons and just had a blast together! You can see the pure joy in our family photos.

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Another highlight from last March was a friend’s 40th birthday party. Held locally, it was a fun mixture of some of my closest friends and some school acquaintances. The party was a great crowd with yummy appetizers, plenty of drinks and old school music. I may have even hit the dance floor 😉 It was a fun, carefree night that I often look back at as my last hurrah!

My last hurrah!