2016 in Review

For the first time in my 23 years, I have decided that a year was worth remembering. Due in equal parts to my health and my blog, I have kept records of 2016 in ways I never have in years past. I learned a lot and I became a person I never expected to be proud of. I entered 2016 as an unrecognizable version of the person I am today and I could not be happier with the results. 2016 was one hell of a ride so sit back, buckle up, and keep reading for the recap of what this year had to offer.

Choosing to Seek Help

On January 7th I had my first visit with a neurologist after having been bounced around from doctor to doctor for about a week. I had been having severe migraines for as long as I could remember, but the addition of hallucinations along with a lack of response to medication had gradually become alarming. I met with a neurologist in the morning who sent me to the vision center and the hospital for testing. The vision center found scar tissue in my right eye. Later that afternoon I was admitted to the hospital where I was given an MRI that later diagnosed me with a brain tumor. I waited 4 days to hear back on the results of my MRI, and by the time the phone rang I had already accepted the news. Regardless of the benign diagnosis, I knew that ultimately there was something in my head that could very well change it’s mind and decide to kill me at any time. I was given aggressive medication to treat it but nowhere in my mind did I actually have faith in my ability to fight. They way I saw it, what was in my head would be there until I gave it the opportunity to kill me.

Choosing to Travel

After much dreaming (which ultimately turned into much convincing from my best friend)  I made the decision to take advantage of an opportunity to travel.  On May 8th I committed to a 67 day 10,000 mile tour of the Eastern United States. In part, I was hoping it would settle his heart, allow him to believe I was trying to believe I could get better. In reality, I was living with a cloud above my head that was attempting to convince me I would die somewhere along the way and never return home. I wanted to see the world, but I also was stuck in a place where I truly believed I had seen and done everything I needed before I died. My symptoms were getting worse and while my doctor kept insisting that my tumor was still benign the prescription for my medication kept getting more aggressive. I was tired, angry, and ready to give up.

Choosing to Fight 

On July 8th, 33 days into our trip and in the pouring rain in the middle of South Carolina, something magical happened. Maybe it was the high winds, or the adrenalin, or the way pouring rain at just the right temperature can make a person fall in love, but at that moment something changed within my heart. Standing in a parking lot in South Carolina something clicked and suddenly I wanted to live more than I had ever wanted anything in my entire life. As I got in the truck next to my best friend, clothes soaked through, tears in my eyes, he reached over, grabbed my hand, and I promised him I would do whatever it took to fight until my brain tumor was gone.

I didn’t expect the words “I want to fight” to be as hard to say or as freeing as they were, but they felt right. In that moment I had no idea the worst of my illness was yet to come. Without a clue that in less than two weeks my best friend would transition into my full-time caretaker was something I wasn’t prepared to handle. Yet he stood by me in ways I never imagined a person could. Had I known there would be days ahead when I suffered from amnesia so terrible I would become incapable of remembering my own name I may have never agreed to fight. However, even on the darkest nights, the nights when I would be too scared to be alone, or when I would wander out of the apartment into the freezing weather without my shoes or any recollection of who I was, he was there for me. On the nights when I couldn’t remind myself to reaffirm my fight, he did it for me.

Choosing to Fall in Love

Upon returning from our trip it became obvious there was more to our friendship than either of us wanted to admit. He had spent the summer carrying for me while I spent the summer trying to help him catch the girl of his dreams. We returned home more broken than we planned to admit, and the bickering that ensued pushed my heart onto my sleeve. I never wanted to love him, to feel as though I was taking him from the possibility of one day being with the girl he had chased with such enthusiasm. However when you know someone as well as we do it becomes obvious when someone is lying. On October 20th my best friend told me that it was okay to fall in love.I knew then that while I was firmly trying to lock myself in a world where I wasn’t ready to be with anyone;  I couldn’t keep my heart chained up anymore or I would slowly begin to strangle it to death.

I never expected anything to come from me opening my heart. I assumed anything I felt was a torturous one-sided emotion I would be forced to struggle with indefinitely. There was no indication that one day the person who had protected me when I was most vulnerable would care about me the way I had begun to care for him. Yet on October 25th, just 5 days after telling me it was okay for me to let my heart feel, he asked me to be his girlfriend; and I said yes.

Choosing to Heal

On December 9th I returned to the hospital for my 3rd MRI. At this point, I was approaching the one year mark and had long since defined myself by the thing inside my head. What had once seemed so morbid had become a humorous accessory to my daily life.  While it was never the introductory fact in front of new acquaintances my brain tumor had quickly become a member of my circle of friends. When I returned to the hospital on December 9th my symptoms were significantly diminished, but still lingering. I assumed slight improvement would have been made, but that ultimately I had a long road ahead. I was admitted to the hospital, sent to imaging, and administered and MRI. The MRI that would soon tell me my brain tumor was gone.

When I received the news I was in more shock than when I had been given the diagnosis in the first place. Clearly, improvement had been made. I was assured that the symptoms which were still persisting in my daily life would soon diminish as my brain continued to heal from the foreign object that had since left a void inside my skull. I was better, I was well on my way to healthy, and I was crushed. I had spent close to a year defined by my illness and suddenly the thing I had been fighting for had happened. It felt as if I had conquered all and instead of celebrating I was desperately searching for anything else to fight for. After several hours of grasping for anything to define myself by it hit me. No longer was I in need of defining myself by what I choose to fight for, but rather what I choose to conquer, because what I had chosen to conquer I had won.

This past year was one I had to fight with all my strength to make it through. I fought tooth and nail to finish the year standing yet the rewards I am leaving with are so much greater than I ever could have anticipated. I expected I would leave this year part way through. However, as 2016 draws to a close I am proud to say that I choose to find a way to stick around. Because This year I chose to live, I chose to fight, and I chose to fall in love. But most importantly, this year I chose to let myself win.

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