More Challenges

I don’t know what it is, but I like to challenge myself often. I remember my therapist’s words on the last day of my physical therapy, “Never stop challenging your balance”. I find myself challenging more than just my balance though. I like to test the limits of my now limited physical abilities, my new normal.

SCUBA Diving Class

Last year I took up SCUBA diving. It is something that I have always wanted to try, but for some reason just never did. I have found that since my surgery I have a greater sense of urgency when it comes to experiencing life. No longer do I say, “well maybe next year”. There is no next year. By the time they discovered my tumor, it had grown so large and had pushed my brain stem over so much that I very likely could have died. I could very well die in a car accident tomorrow. Life is too short and precious to not live everyday as if it were your last.

So I took up SCUBA diving because again, it is something that I have always wanted to do; and because many people said I could not do it. I have to admit though, I was pretty nervous doing my first ocean dives. This was uncharted territory for me. Would I be able to equalize my ears? If not that would mean hundreds of dollars down the drain and my hopes shattered. You cannot imagine my elation when I felt that first “pop”. And as I drifted further and further down I found myself thinking, “wow, I’m really doing this!!”. Now a whole other world has been opened up to me; and I could not be happier.

I now have 20 dives under my belt, and I hope to double that in the coming year. I have also dived as deep as 80 feet, and perhaps will dive as deep as 100 feet someday. My current certification, Advanced Open Water, allows me to go down to 130 feet. There really is no need to go down that deep though, most of the really cool stuff to see is in the 40-80 foot range. Some of my dives in the video below were even as shallow as 20 feet.

My last SCUBA diving destination was a liveaboard trip to Catalina Island, CA. A liveaboard trip is exactly what it sounds like, you live on a boat for a set amount of time with other divers. We dived morning and night at several sites all around Catalina Island. It was a great experience, but not without its difficulties. I had never stayed overnight on a boat since my surgery before this trip. Let me tell you that it can be pretty challenging when you have a vestibular disorder. I am just glad that I do not get vertigo like some people do. It was a good challenge for my balance though, and I am happy to say that I did not fall down once.

Night Dive in Monterey, CA

I am excited to see where this new hobby will take me. I already have a trip to Cabo Pulmo Marine Preserve in Mexico planned for later this year, and possibly another liveaboard trip to the Bahamas next year. And who knows, I may take up another hobby that pushes my limits.

Free at Last!!

Free at Last

I awoke on my fifth day

With as uneasy feeling, like my progress had kind of stalled. I really, really wanted to leave, but I had had a steady CSF fluid drip for the last few days. My surgeon said if it continued to leak on Friday they would have to do a lumbar drain. I had been cut into a couple of times already, and I wasn’t looking forward to a third incision. I dreaded him coming in that morning.

The moment of truth had arrived

My surgeon came to see me around ten o’clock and asked how I was doing. “Pretty good”, I said. All the while thinking, “Ok, let’s get this over with”. I really was thinking the worst. I had tried to stay positive during this whole experience, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. I had relinquished all control, that is what the dreams the night before meant. Now my day and possibly the weekend or longer hung on one thing, that damn CSF leak.

He asked me to sit up and lean forward, allowing any liquid in my nose to flow freely. I sat there quietly waiting for it to happen. Several minutes went by, but to my surprise nothing came out. I could not believe it. I had finally passed my final test for release!! He said he was happy that I showed no further sign of a CSF leak and would be released sometime in the afternoon. I. Was. Ecstatic.

Free at Last

Progress, progress, progress

My mom came by shortly afterward and I gave her the good news. She was really happy for me, happy that I was making good progress. And so at just passed two o’clock in afternoon, I gathered all my things and was wheeled out of the hospital. I sat there for some time while my mom went to get the car. There were a lot of people in similar situations as me all around. I wondered to myself what ailments the people around me had. Some of them must have had it worse than me. I felt fortunate to be leaving. Leaving, and hopefully never returning. Free at last.

Happy Mother’s Day!!

Mothers Day

Today is a special day for many of us. It’s a day for us to celebrate the most important person in our lives. I’m of course talking about Mother’s Day. I owe so much to my Mom, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pay her back. My Mom gave me life, fed and clothed me, gave me all the love and support that she could. She has also been my biggest supporter during my AN journey. She was the first person I called after I got my diagnosis. She lent me a shoulder to cry on as I told her the news. My Mom even took out a personal loan because I didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford surgery. She was with me everyday while I was in the hospital. She helped me stand for the first time post-op; and she was by my side as I took my first wobbly steps. Watching with pride as I’m sure she did when I took my first steps as a toddler. She even took time off of work to care for me while I was in recovery.

Happy Mother's Day

We would take daily walks together, each day choosing to walk in a different direction, to walk on a different terrain. We would make the drive to Stanford Hospital and Clinics each week for my physical and occupational therapy sessions. Having to re-learn the most basic tasks was extremely frustrating, but humbling as well. Those days were hard, it was a struggle, progress was painstakingly slow. My Mom was supportive through it all though, always there with kind words of encouragement.

It’s been 3 years, 8 months and 26 days since my surgery. Sometimes my life feels like a roller coaster, stepping higher and higher, or spiraling out of control. The one constant through it all has been my Mothers’ unwavering love and support. I simply do no know how I could have gone through all of this without her. This day is a special day for us all, but when you really think about it, everyday is Mother’s Day.

ANAwareness Week 2016!!

ANAwareness Week 2016

ANAwareness Week is almost upon us!! Every year we have our own week in the spotlight as part of Brain Tumor Awareness Month. It runs the 2nd week in May, from Sunday the 8th until Saturday the 14th this year. Brain Tumor Awareness Month is well under way with several events having already taken place. It’s not too late however to get involved. Head on over to the Acoustic Neuroma Association website’s ANAwareness page and look for an event in your area. There you can also find treatment options, how you can donate, learn about support groups in your area, or even how to get press coverage on your Acoustic Neuroma experience.

ANA_iCanMay is also Better Hearing and Speech Month. Many of us with an Acoustic Neuroma suffer from hearing and speech issues. Now is the time to take action!! Educate those around you on the importance of early intervention into speech and/or hearing issues. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you need any help finding information, I strongly urge you to visit one of the websites listed below. You can also leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Resources for Acoustic Neuroma:

Acoustic Neuroma Association
National Brain Tumor Society
Vestibular Disorders Association
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
American Academy of Audiology
American Tinnitus Association

P.S. – If you know of any other good professional resources, please leave them in the comments and I’ll update!!

Looking Back

Looking Back

I cannot believe it has been 3 years already since I made this video. Given that it is brain tumor awareness month, I feel the need to share it again. Many people are diagnosed with an Acoustic Neuroma every year. Many who are newly diagnosed are scared of having to face this challenge alone, afraid of the outcome, thinking that life will never get better. Well I think that I am a good example of how good things can turn out. Sure I now have single-sided deafness. Yes, sometimes my balance is a little shaky. You know, sometimes I have a hard time finding the energy to get out of bed. And every once in awhile, I have a bad day. Through it all though I remember to smile, and be thankful that I am alive. To not get caught up on the things that were taken from me, but instead, to focus on all that I have. I don’t have any disabilities, I only have challenges.

Sleepy Days Ahead


The next couple of days in the hospital are a blur. Sure I remember seeing my family, friends, Dr.’s, therapists, going for walks, eating; but I slept like I had never slept before, or since. And it wasn’t restful, peaceful sleep either. It was rather unpredictable, a few hours here and there, wide awake at 1:00 AM and out like a light at 3:00 PM. I had incredibly vivid dreams as well, like I was falling through the sky, through clouds; with no end in site…Then I would literally feel myself falling out of my bed, only to be jarred awake when I hit the guard rails. I would spring up in a flash not knowing where I was. The room was dark and dead silent. And then I felt the all too familiar tug of the IV’s in my arms. Suddenly, it all came back to me, and I fell back to my pillow and let out a long sigh.

I was in and out of sleep for the rest of the night again. Until morning arrived and my routine started again. At this point I was starting to get, well…tired of being in the hospital. I was bored, I was tired, I needed a shower…For some reason or another they always talk about people getting sponge baths in hospitals…Well I never got one. Then there was constant checking of my staples and stitches in my abdomen. I remember that on one particular day, the nurse who checked my staples resecured the bandage on my head rather tightly. Within minutes I had a mind-splitting headache that rendered me incapable of doing much of anything. My mom must have picked up on my discomfort as she asked me if I was alright. I guess maybe she had noticed that the nurse had wrapped the bandage on my head a little too snuggly as well. I shook my head “no”, and she asked if my bandage needed to be loosened, and I nodded “yes”. That’s really all I could do at the moment. So she loosened it for me, and the pain slowly started to recede.

One thing was hindering my progress, one thing was standing between me and freedom; a possible cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak. See CSF surrounds the brain and spinal cord, and during surgery a hole is cut into the membrane (dura) that surrounds the brain. If the dura does not heal adequately, CSF will continue to leak out and the pressure around the brain drops. So everyday my doctor would visit me, and everyday he would walk me through certain tasks. Among them was I had to lean forward and see if any fluid would come out of my nose. Some fluid during the initial days post-op was normal, but beyond a certain point it was determined that you had a CSF leak. I was going on four days in the hospital and three days of steady leakage, not a good sign…

Continuing Challenges

One of the things my journey with an Acoustic Neuroma has taught me is to experience life as much as I can, because you never know when it will be taken from you. For me a large part of that experience is traveling, immersing myself in a culture, meeting new people and…the food!!

So I’m going to take a little break from my story to talk about my recent travels. Early last year I flew to Mexico City to visit a friend. I spent a few wonderful days there taking in the sites and eating everything in sight. I ate tacos, so many tacos; tacos with carne asada, chorizo, pollo, carnitas, camerones, even escamoles and cuitlacoche. I ate steaks, tostadas, fajitas, pozole, and churros with different fillings. I also had several different kinds of Mexican beer, margaritas and some fine brandy as well. Honestly it’s a culinary dream in Mexico City. It’s probably best I only spent five days there or I may have come back a bit heftier.

And the sites and activities, there is so much to do there!! I visited Antigua Basilica de Guadalupe which is the central place of worship for their patron saint, Pyramides de Teotihuacan (Mesoamerican pyramids built in pre-Columbian Americas), the Plaza Centro Coyoacan, which is an outdoor shopping mall with cafes, taquerias, etc. I also visited Castillo de Chapultepec, which is the only royal castle in North America that was actually used as the residence of a sovereign, the Zocalo, which is part of the Centro Historico de la Cuidad de Mexico and is the largest plaza in Latin America. It also contains the Palacio Nacional (Office of the President), the Cathedral metropolitan, the Templo Mayor, and the Nacional Monte de Piedad building.

While the entire trip was a great experience,  I want to take a moment to talk about touring Teotihuacan and climbing both of the pyramids. There is the Temple of the Sun, which is actually the third largest pyramid in the world. Then there is the Temple of the Moon, not quite as large but still a demanding climb for any of us with a vestibular disorder. There are also many smaller pyramids such as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, that are not as challenging if you don’t think you can manage the bigger pyramids. The pyramids, while in good condition, have decayed in places. This can make the climb a bit precarious, especially once you get past the base and the incline gets pretty steep. It’s even worse on the way down with many steps being different heights and widths. There are soft rails to help make the climb easier, but many people still find it difficult and they stop to sit down and rest. One of the things that gave me trouble was the number of people and the inconsistent climbing pace. I find it easier to manage steps if I am moving in one direction and moving at a good pace. Stopping suddenly or changing direction mid-step can kind of throw me off a bit. I was able to climb both pyramids without too much trouble, but they were both pretty challenging.

So there you have it. I would highly recommend paying Teotihuacan a visit, not just for the challenge, but once you reach the top of the Temple of the Sun there are some breathtaking views. You can see for miles with a 360° view of the entire city and surrounding areas.