Thursday, June 4, 2015

GRATEFUL: the hardest and best year of my life

Seriously. This past year has probably been the hardest year of my life.

On June 4th, 2014, I woke up with a terrible headache and started vomiting from the pain. My whole body hurt and my vision was blurry.

This ended up lasting all summer. It wasn't until August 14th that I was diagnosed with a large Oligastrocytoma brain tumor. August 18th was my surgery, and I focused all my efforts on "recovery," even though I had no clue what that was supposed to look like.

I celebrated each accomplishment, no matter how small: washing my hair with normal shampoo, walking around Target without being overwhelmed, moving back to my apartment after 4.5 months of staying with my parents, etc.

I was obsessed with returning to work. I loved my job. It was so hard to spend an entire summer trying to get better from a misdiagnosed ailment and not knowing when I could work again. 

On October 13th, just two months after brain surgery, I returned to work part time. It was exhausting. I focused all my energy on making it through each day. I maintained a positive attitude, because I was SO grateful to be back. I had a renewed sense of purpose and asked my work to start including my mother's maiden name. I started to really own my Latina identity.

By December 1st, I was back to full-time at work and by mid-December, I was promoted. This was surreal. Every moment was still a struggle, but I started to become more confident that I was going to be okay. Physically, I was struggling to cope with the terrible side effects of the many medications that I was on. I lost a lot of weight and was vomitting most mornings when I woke up.

It was also in December that I finally joined Young Latino Professionals and met some of the people who would become my friends and greatest supporters. Thank you so much for not treating me differently because of my surgery. I love you guys.

In January, after having recovered from some spinal procedures, I had a partial seizure and found out that I would need to be on medication to prevent seizures and that I wouldn't be able to drive for six months. My work rewrote my job description to accommodate me (thank you!), and I found ways to get around.

On February 1st, I had a full seizure while I was waiting for lunch with my parents. I blacked out and was rushed away in an ambulance. A week later, on February 7th, I hosted my #practicegratitude party to celebrate six months of surgery recovery, as well as my 29th birthday. I still have everyone's contributions hanging up in my house. Thank you.

During this time, I started realizing that I had been going through some personality changes. I was no longer shy or afraid. I enjoyed being social. I had to re-learn how to not speak everything that was on my mind. This is quite scary for someone who has been a shy, reserved for 28+ years. Thank you to my friends, family, and co-workers who helped point out my innappropriate comments and temporary loss of filter.

This year has been so challenging. I've had to deal with the unknown on a regular basis. Would I die in surgery? Would I be permanently disabled? Would the tumor grow back? Almost every day I am faced with a new challenge. But I have learned to focus on what I can control: my attitude. I cannot control what has happened to me.

Why would I want to be bitter and angry for all the pain I've gone through? That would only hurt me and hurt those around me. Instead, I've chosen to #practicegratitude and to focus on giving thanks to the Lord for giving me the strength that I've needed to make it through each challenge (and to survive every moment of everyday).

I've learned that it is okay to not be okay. Our society really pushes individualism and glorifies the image of people who "have it all together." But this is not reality. Everyone is struggling and needs help. I hope that we can become more open about this. We would become a much more healthy society and there would be less stigma attached to people asking for help.

I've learned to take care of myself. I used to just give, give, give. But now I acknowledge that it's healthy for me to have friends and to not spend every single moment serving the community. It's okay for me to have fun. I've finally reached a healthy weight, and I'm exercising on a regular basis. This is so important. If I want to be effective in giving to others, I must be healthy: physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally.

I've learned the power of vulnerability. As I share my story with others, people thank me and say they are encouraged. All I'm doing is being honest. Life is hard and can be extremely painful. But there is hope in Jesus. And I want to share that with everyone I meet.

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