In 2021, I discovered that I had an acoustic neuroma, a non-cancerous tumor, growing on my left-side hearing and balance nerves. The growth rate was alarming, and my doctors recommended removal. I had a successful surgery in January and gratefully, seem to be in the clear at this time. However, for someone who is normally “healthy as a horse”, my surgery and recovery were a huge learning experience. Here are five important lessons that individuals in all states of health will benefit from.
Look for friends and you’ll find them. Over the course of this experience, I was amazed by the outpouring of love and kindness I received from friends, neighbors, casual acquaintances, my family, and even my teenagers (LOL). These generous people sent cards and gifts, offered rides, texted to check in on me, and cooked my favorite meals. Their small kindnesses buoyed me when I felt low and weak.
The experience renewed my faith in humankind. It has also left me more committed to seeking ways I can help and support others. Here’s one easy idea I’ve been practicing lately – displaying a smile and kind voice (even when I’m irritated) for a stressed-out customer service representative, to make their day a little better.
Invite others in so they can help you. This is a tough one for me. I have always prided myself on being independent and capable. I find it hard to ask for help and when it’s offered, will often say “no need for you to bother” or “oh, that’s so kind of you, but I can handle it.” However, during my surgical recovery, I needed a lot of help. Sadly, there were many things I couldn’t do for myself!
In the middle of my resistance one day, a friend said, “Renee, why do you prevent me from helping you? Let me be a blessing to you.” Hearing those words made me think of all the times I have helped others and experienced a flush of joy over being able to do so. Why would I deny that experience to the people around me?
As an added bonus, my relationship with this friend deepened due to the outreach and my acceptance. We became real friends, not just acquaintances, because I opened up and shared what I was experiencing and let him really contribute to me.
Treat your health with care. It is a gift! Before I had my surgery, I was in a good rhythm with my health. I was working out 2-3 times a week and paying attention to my diet. I was functionally strong, able to work all day in the garden or go for a long walk with friends. Looking back, I was in the best shape of my life.
Now that I’m past my surgery, I’m so grateful that I went in feeling strong and well. My healthy state and strength contributed positively to my recovery and healing. As I add back exercise, I’m making progress in my return to full health and strength.
It’s easy to deprioritize self-care activities like exercise and healthy eating, especially at busy times of year or in certain stages of life. But in addition to increasing feelings of wellness and capability in the moment, self-care is “insurance” against the bumps in the road ahead for you and me, and it must remain a priority.
Display empathy and caring around the health challenges of others. During my trips into the hospital for my surgery and follow-up, I encountered people who are obviously dealing with much more than me. Being sick is a physical, mental, and emotional challenge that includes not only illness but also the logistics of managing doctor’s appointments, the conflicting nature of doctor’s orders, necessary and complicated decisions for care, financial impacts, and more. My own struggle provided me with a new understanding for what others are experiencing.
As I shared in an earlier blog called Coaching Requires Compassion, it can be easy to dismiss others when they share their personal struggles. However, after my experience, I am re-committed to showing up as compassionate, supportive, and truly caring in the face of the medical challenges of others.
Be open to finding the “message” in the ups and downs of life. At numerous points during my recovery, I pitied myself for having to go on this journey. But without it, I wouldn’t have gained these five insights and been able to share them with you. I am a stronger individual based on both wins AND losses, because both offer messages for me to discover.
To find the lessons inside of life, I find it helpful to remember that the cycle of ups and downs is a normal occurrence. I can ask myself, “While I don’t like where I am right now, what am I learning or gaining through this experience? How am I transforming?” In addition to processing these ideas on my own, I find it helpful to share my insights with others. My family, friends, and wonderful team members have been great sounding boards and resonators of the important messages coming my way. And I’m especially lucky to have the chance to process them with you as well.
I love this quote by Peter Marshall, author, on being shaped by both the positive and negative events of our life.
“When we long for life without difficulty, remind us that oaks grow strong under contrary winds
and diamonds are made under pressure.”
P.S. Many thanks to my wonderfully supportive team, my loving family, my capable doctors, and most of all, my primary caregiver and sister-in-law, Jenny. Getting well is a team sport!