Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ann Nicocelli Part II: What I have learned...and wish I had known before brain surgery

Today we have part deux of Ann Nicocelli's amazing story and blog. She has twenty points and tips about what she has learned and wished she had known before having brain surgery just over a year ago for a brain aneurysm. She says above all, the most important guidance she has to give is to stay positive and maintain a sense of humor through it all. Plus I've added some shameless Outdoor Mindset plugs along the way in green that tie into her words of wisdom. :)

Here she goes:

1. Your body can only take care of you at the level and quality that you take care of it. The phrase “your body is your temple” gains new meaning. If you take care of yourself, your mind and body will give back to you x100…and you will need it.

2. Everyone taking care of you – from the people in the hospital, your doctors, your family and friends – is human. Although you are the focus, they also have and need their own support networks and friends. It is important to be respectful and appreciative.

3. There is such a thing as too much information at most stages of this process. We live in a world of information frenzy. There are pros and cons to our access as you gather information for a medical procedure. In advance of my surgery, when I went online and looked for similar stories about what to expect, they were hard to find…but there were plenty of scary anecdotes that were not relevant to my situation that were emotionally exhausting to process.
(So instead you should just go to right from the start and sign up to be a traveler and connect with someone who has experience with a similar diagnosis or neurological experience!)

4. It is ok to protect yourself mentally as you go through the diagnosis, surgery and healing stages. You need your mental strength. It is important to stay strong and keep positive people around you.

5. There is no perfect way to prepare yourself, your family or your friends for your brain surgery. Everyone is different. Do what feels right and is personalized to you. Make sure you have the legal and financial components covered…and from there, it is creative sailing.

6. If your family is involved in the process with you, they may change and your relationship with them may change. This is an intense process and you are not the only one who will be affected. Relationships became much more open, honest and deep. This isnt necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t always easy at every step. (Have your friends and family sign up to be a part of Outdoor Mindset as well, as a Supporter!)

7. If you have children, they will likely be resilient, but not impervious to what is happening around them. They will take cues from you. Make sure that there is a plan that directly responds to their needs at every stage – before, during, and after surgery. There should to be someone other than just yourself that is sensitive to your children at all stages. The outcome to you surgery is unpredictable, so there should be a plan that can adapt to a variety of foreseeable scenarios. It is important to set this up in advance.

8. Your quality of healthcare and surgical care matters…a lot. Get as creative as you can to get the best surgeons and doctors to help you navigate your journey. Additionally, although your comfort with the lead surgeon is critical, the comprehensive quality of the whole team and all the services of the hospital is very important as well.

9. The way you try to fix your aneurysm the first go around is critical. This is your brain – once a surgeon enters your brain, it will affect your options moving forward – so choosing wisely the first time matters.

10. The surgeons and doctors you talk to will generally give you a solution based on what they know how to do. If they are a specialist in clipping…they will most likely give you a clipping solution. If they coil…they will likely tell you coiling is the best. Remember, medicine is a business. Try to find doctors who can truly give you an assessment of all the options available.

11. Coming out of this you may not be the same or look at life in the same way. This is a daunting statement as it can mean many things. Know that it does not necessarily have to be bad…it can actually be a wonderful thing. Events like this, if internalized, can make you realize what a blessing life is, how to appreciate the small things, and that all those challenges that used to interrupt you from enjoying life, aren’t that significant.

12. If you are single...your social life won't end after brain surgery. I am not sure if it is because you come out more relaxed or if there is some curiosity out there about people who have gone through brain surgery…but there are still plenty of people out there who seem to not really care that you have a scar in your head. It's actually kind of cute. I love my scar, I am proud of it. :-)

13. Most of the healing process is very personal and internal to you. Others are heavily involved, but most of the fight to recover is within yourself.

14. There are many likely scenarios where you can come out of surgery and this process stronger than you went in. Stay strong, remain hopeful, and continue to dream BIG.

15. Lessons Learned about Going Back to Work: Take it slow…if you don’t, your body will make you – there is a reality of how hard you can push yourself, and the limit you had previously is diminished. It will come back, it just takes time.

16. Time has a new horizon. Healing and evolving past brain surgery is not about taking days or weeks, it is about taking months and years. The days matter a lot, but how I handle the months matters too. You may have higher expectations of yourself than others do around you. It is ok to take it slow, don’t be hard on yourself. Give yourself time.

17. No matter what you feel about your life, you will likely feel like you need to go through an entire life assessment…because what happened during surgery was just “that” big. You may end up staying in exactly what you are doing…or you may completely change…it is less about the change than the need to assess and make sure that what you are doing is worthwhile in your own mind.

18. My own personal experience was that I needed to go back to the same job just to prove to myself that I could do it. It became a way to compare and judge if I was any different on any skill. If I would have done something different right away, I would have never truly known or had a way to assess nuanced capabilities.

19. When you are digging deep in racing or training, you will pull from places of strength that were discovered in the brain surgery process. This is a wonderful feeling and makes the process poetic.

20. ...And at one year - I still have the post surgery euphoria. Life is an amazing thing and there is really not much I am afraid of at this point. You learn to deal with phenomenal adversity and see the strength of human character from the front row....or maybe even the stage. (Like Outdoor Mindset always like to say - KEEP LIVING BIG!)

- Ann Nicocelli

Amazing words of wisdom and insight for all of us, especially those going through a challenging neurological journey.
Thanks so much Ann!


  1. Fantastic words of experience & wisdom. Thanks for sharing, Ann. Best wishes for continued recovery & good health!
    The Martins

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