A Beautiful Fall Day in Colorado – My Stroke, One Year Later by Keri Mahe
November 3, 2016 began as any other ordinary day for me. I woke up before my family as usual and attended my daily 5:30am spin class. I then began the typical morning routine of rushing to get the kids to school and preschool then hurrying to start my own workday. After I dropped the kids off, I made a stop at our local coffee shop for a pumpkin spice latte.
It was a beautiful fall day in Colorado. As the barista handed me my latte, I was surprised I could not feel the warmth of the cup against my hand. I continued on however, grabbed a table and opened my laptop to check email and begin my day. As I began to sip and type away, the left side of my face started tingling. I stopped typing and took a deep breath.
Up until that point in my life, I had never had a health issue. The only trips to the hospital were to have my two beautiful children. But... I knew something was very wrong and instinctively knew it was neurological. I texted my husband, "I think I am having a stroke" and then went to the nearest hospital as fast as I could.
I was right. I suffered a stroke in my brainstem. The stroke was caused by a cavernous malformation that had bled. Weeks later it bled again. Another stroke. Then a decision to have brain surgery to remove the cavernous malformation.
I prepared for surgery and recovered from stroke #1 and #2 at the same time.
On March 15, 2017 I underwent a craniotomy at Weill Cornell/NY Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. My surgery was 100% successful. My recovery ... long. I could not walk, had double vision, balance issues, tinnitus, jaw tightness, and pain. I lost facial movement in the right side of my face and the neurofatigue was and still is sometimes paralyzing. But I am a survivor. I am recovering and learning.
Here are the 4 most important things I learned from surviving stroke and brain surgery.
There was more love around me than I ever knew existed before.
I had incredible support from my husband and my family. They carried me through the entire process. I was amazed, however, at the people who I hadn’t heard from in years, or just people who knew my family that sent their thoughts strength and love. Meal deliveries would come, flowers, hugs and calls. Prayer groups formed and letters from people I didn’t even know would come to me. Just recently I got a note from my 3rd grade teacher whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in over 30 years - since the 3rd grade! She was my most favorite teacher of all. She made me feel I could do great things in life and I held on to those feelings long after I left her classroom. She had heard my story and wrote to tell me how inspired she was by my courage and bravery. I was stunned to hear from her. This note is one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.
I needed support.
I also began to realize I needed the company of others who had been through what I was going through and how important and healing those conversations were to me. I joined support groups and met others and listened to their stories. I shared mine. This was invaluable and a critical turning point in my healing process.
Even with all this love coming my way … it was (and is) very, very hard. As recovery went on and I finally went back home to Colorado, I had to learn how to ask for help, how to speak up when I knew I was pushing it physically and mentally and how to say no to a lot of things I wanted to do but simply was not ready to do. It was hard especially when I could not be there for my children like I wanted to. It was also a greater lesson in life ... to keep my own peace and pace and to love myself through patience and kindness.
I am much stronger than I ever believed.
I had to learn to literally put one foot in front of the other after brain surgery. As a runner, I was humbled by having to use a walker just to leave my bedroom those initial weeks. Every morning I would wake and the walker was the first thing I would see. I think I actually cursed at it one morning. I was determined to move on from the walker. I am now running 3-5 miles a few times a week. My goals in life are larger now than before because I know what to do in order to reach them.
This whole experience is a blessing.
Yes, I just wrote that. I am 41 years old and I feel like I have been given a second and third chance at life with a long runway to make things even better than they were before. I have seen the very best in my family and friends through this experience and I have seen the best in myself. I know the importance of self-care and that everything has a process to it. I am empowered to give back to organizations and groups that support and help women who are recovering from stroke. This experience, while heavily traumatic, was a blessing in so many ways. One in which I will carry with a loving, supportive heart and a determined mind for the rest of my life. My 3rd grade teacher will be proud.