14 Years ago this morning…. this was me.

One day I was teaching an indoor cycling class, lifting heavy weights to prepare for a bodybuilding show, enjoying a sunny and fun Memorial Day weekend.  The next day I was at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.  I knew that I had an aneurysm in my brain.  I was told by a doctor at a local hospital that it was small and nothing to be concerned about.  I was instructed I could go back to my life as  normal.  Thankfully, I was told to make an appointment at Jefferson to establish a connection and baseline for when and if I needed to have surgery.  When I arrived that sunny Tuesday morning with my father for my appointment all hell broke lose within minutes of my arrival.

One thing being healthy and fit has blessed me with is the ability to discern when something isn’t quite right in my body.  Some may call it intuition or a gut feeling, for me being a believer in Christ and as healthy as I possible can be – I knew that the headaches I was experiencing, especially after doing cardiovascular exercise weren’t normal.  I mentioned this to Dr. Robert Rosenwasser, one of the world’s leading Neurovascular Surgeons, who I was fortunate enough to have my appointment with.   What I thought was going to be a routine appointment turned into my life being altered forever.  I was admitted within the hour and prepped for my first of two life threatening procedures that afternoon.  He wasn’t comfortable letting me go home and make arrangements for my kids, work and life.  His quick decision saved my life.

After the first procedure it was determined that not only did I have an extremely irregular aneurysm, what they term a “wide-necked,” it was also highly unstable and very irritated.  What does that mean?  IT WAS READY TO RUPTURE.  Had I done one more workout, taught one more class, exerted too much effort as a single mom just one more time, the outcome would have been catastrophic.  My aneurysm is located at a junction where three vessels come into the brain. I would not have survived had it ruptured.  The next morning I was prepped for open brain surgery, termed a Craniotomy, which is a procedure where they surgically open the brain and place a titanium clip on the aneurysm to prevent it from rupturing.

I could share the many details of what happened during this season of my life, how my will was faxed to the ICU nurses station at 9:30 pm the night before my operation, how I was visited at my bedside by an angel named Mallory Siegfreid (who just one year before this, at the age of 12 died from an inoperable brain tumor), how my very young children called me to say good night and I feared I was saying goodbye.  How I didn’t know it at the time but there were prayer requests being sent all over the world for me.  How my family rallied by my side to help me and take care of my kids.  How a woman who adopted me as a “spiritual momma” the year before when my mother suddenly died would help nurse me back to health.  How my 12 year old daughter would step in and help me with the daily activities of bathing and getting dressed.  The community of Wyomissing prepared meals, took care of my house, laundry and so much more…

Yes – all of this is real and there are so many more revelations to share but for this blog post I feel compelled to share this nugget of wisdom.  It was absolutely the way that I took care of myself BEFORE I ever arrived at Jefferson that was the difference in my recovery and survival.  I had been eating clean for a decade and I was very active for my entire life.  In the 16 months prior to this event I was what I call “spiritually woken up from my slumber!”  I was on a journey of growing in my emotional and mental health as I endured three life changing events, divorce, death of my mother and my brain surgery in less than a year and a half.  Looking back it is a miracle that I was able to walk through all of this and not just survive, but thrive.  I returned to my job at Body Zone Sports and Wellness and was teaching classes 3 months after my surgery – unheard of considering the scope of the procedure I went through.  My full recovery took a year but I was so thankful to be alive that I wanted to get back to normalcy in life by serving others and share how important it is we commit to taking better care of ourselves.

As we approach the ending in many areas of our Quarantine from Covid-19, I see a wonderful opportunity to share this story of hope and also the motivation of what it means to take care of ourselves.  It isn’t just workouts in the gym!   It isn’t worrying about what the number on the scale is telling us.  It isn’t whether or not you are a size 6, 8 or 12!  It isn’t that the gray hair may be peeking through because we haven’t been able to get to the salon!  It isn’t the few wrinkles that have been earned through aging that are appearing on our face!  It isn’t what anyone else thinks about us, what size house we live in, what kind of car we drive or how much money we have in the bank!!!

At the end of the day – the lessons I learned from my illness and recovery is that my relationship with God is the priority of my life because it was His grace that allowed me the gift of my life and 14 more years.  It is my children and family that I love unconditionally and am willing to lay everything down for their well-being.  It is the friendships, clients and work that allows me to serve everyone with kindness, joy, love, honor and respect.

It is taking a full spectrum approach to my health.  I balance my hard workouts with recovery such as golf, hiking, walking and yoga.  I eat clean 85-90% of the time and enjoy pleasures such as dessert and a glass of wine or a beer occasionally.  I attempt to stay connected with my friends as much as I can.  I nurture my spirit and emotional & mental health.  I attend church regularly and pray consistently.  Do I do all of the above with perfection – absolutely not!  But when I miss the mark, I dust myself off, get back on the wagon and certainly don’t shame myself for not being consistent.

My life isn’t picture perfect.  I have unanswered prayers, hopes and dreams, a few extra pounds that have found their way on my frame since I haven’t been able to get to the gym and have found myself cooking cuisine that is comforting and not clean while isolated.  I am going to be okay and I will get back to my routine soon.  In the meantime, I am hoping that this will encourage you to take a deep breath and realize all the wealth that is in your life that you can’t place a price tag on.  Why not embrace your body for the amazing machine it is and take the pressure off yourself in striving for perfection.  Instead open yourself up to a life filled with a wellness mindset, meaning that you will take one area I’ve mentioned in this post that tugs at your heart and work on finding balance and stability.  Then work on another area.. and before you know it – joy and a feeling of self love and gratitude will rise up and with that comes acceptance, peace and rest.  I have found that is the recipe for ultimate health in the body and a sunny disposition on the outside!

In health and happiness,

Stacy