Let me introduce myself. My name is Rafael and I hail from the currently too hot for mere mortals state of Texas (it’s not that bad, we actually got a ton of rain yesterday). I am 33 years old, finished my M.S. 2 years ago and am a gainfully employed husband and father to an amazing daughter.
So, I was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm (I laugh that people call it an “annie”, but I think humor is part of the recipe for success here) February 2 of this year. Let’s see… it’s 4mm in the right posterior communicating artery. I saw a neurosurgeon, Dr. Arnold Vardiman, who provided me with his professional opinion and suggested conservative treatment with imaging at 9 month intervals. If that wasn’t enough, he insisted I get a second opinion and saw an interventional radiologist (IR) who explained in tremendous detail what he thought of my aneurysm after looking over my images and exploring my medical and family history. Both the IR and neurosurgeon explained to me the risk of surgery vs. the risk of leaving it alone. They both explained that they would advise me against getting the surgery if it wasn’t absolutely necessary at this time. My wife has been such a blessing, and she has gone with me to all appointments. She asked the IR to explain in detail what the surgical procedure would be like if I opted to go against the advice of two professionals and insist on the surgery. He then explained the coiling procedure, the risk of something going wrong during the surgery (very small, but overall risk would be compacted in those few hours in the OR) and what recovery would look like. After all of that he, too, decided for conservative treatment with imaging at intervals.
So, here I am. For the last few months I have put this out of my mind. Sometimes I would think about it, but didn’t really phase me much—this wasn’t the case in the beginning, after diagnosis, I was a wreck! I have the utmost faith in the doctors that are treating me and I returned to my daily activities, although with some modifications. I don’t smoke, have high blood pressure, family history, none of that. I have taken up less strenuous exercise, I eat much better, meditate when I can (still need to be more consistent about this), and have been seeing a counselor for other things, and have not thought about the annie at all.
That was until this past weekend when I read on an online forum something about brain aneurysms, and the terror came back in earnest. Despite the advice of my doctors I let the uncertainty, the what ifs, get to me. I could not stop researching—I must have gone through every major study I could find on these things, watched webinars, you name it—and this caused a lot of emotional strain. I couldn’t stop thinking about leaving my family behind, of “what if it happens when _____”, of all the questions one could think of as if their mortality was about to become extinguished that very moment… Yet, I realized amidst all of this fear, who a new friend referred to as “a dirty player”, that I have made it 6 months past my diagnosis. Some people never get a warning with this thing, some get a warning and they can do something about it, and everything else in between. We are not promised a tomorrow. This is something I have had to accept, and is a source of victory each day I am grateful to be here with my loved ones.
However, I would not have joined this forum had I just been content with my experience thus far. My renewed curiosity with my condition has invigorated me to seek out other like-minded people—people who have experience with this diagnosis. I’ve often struggled to find my purpose in life, but I feel that purpose is revealing itself through faith. I have not always been faithful, in fact I have struggled throughout my life with it, but I feel the time is right for me to fulfill that purpose. I used to want to control every aspect of my life, every single detail. The diagnosis demonstrated to me that somethings are out of my control. But not everything. In fact, the diagnosis is revealing itself at times to be quite liberating. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be writing to you all today if I wasn’t at some level still a little freaked out about all the research I’ve done the last few days, but the fact that I have reached out, that I have made it six months past diagnosis, that I have survived my marriage nearly imploding, physical therapy for my spine (this is how the incidental finding was revealed), that I have truly excellent care… it’s all demonstrating the blessings presented to me.
But that’s not enough. My strength for me is not enough. I have read these boards the last two days and I have read stories of people who have gone through much, much worse than me. I can’t imagine your strength. I can’t imagine what you have gone through. But, you survived it, and some of you have inspired me to reach out here in the hopes that we can all lift each other up and provide light in each others’ lives. This is what I feel God has been trying to tell me for so long, and I have been ignoring it, and ignoring it and ignoring it. Yes, we all have much to live for. But, we may not be guaranteed tomorrow. Yet, here we are as strangers, but no longer strangers because of our shared experiences. We are all friends, a kind of “soul society” (to borrow a phrase that my brother shared the other day via text and is also a loose interpretation from a song by the power metal band Kamelot).
I don’t know what the future brings. I have my next appointment in a few months and if the aneurysm has grown, then I will deal with what needs to happen then—there is no use in freaking out about something I have been reassured of by people who have actually studied and come face to face with these things.I hope that I am blessed with many more good days, hell, I’ll even take a few bad ones. I’ve struggled with trying to decide whether or not I should just get it operated on or simply wait. I am not sure I could live with the knowledge of it being there forever. Boy, this has been cathartic…
I guess I fit into a different category here as someone currently living with an unruptured aneurysm. There are a lot of survivors here and I hope to find others like me. But, I would welcome the opportunity to make meaningful exchanges with any of you.
Anyway, thank you for reading this.
Your friend from the South,