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Life Lessons

What Brain Surgery Taught Me About Life

Being confronted by death is a lesson in how uncertain life is and what matters most.
What Brain Surgery Taught Me About Life
Image credit: alvarez | Getty Images
VIP Contributor
Founder and CEO of Financially Wise Women
11 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I recently underwent elective brain surgery to put a pipeline in a brain aneurysm my doctors discovered in December.

Because brain aneurysms run in my family, I was advised years ago to get a scan to test for them. But I put it off until, at a meditation retreat last October, I finally realized that I was allowing fear to hold me back from taking care of myself. So for the last six months I’ve been on this journey -- and I am so grateful for everything it has taught me.

As public as I am with my business and career, a lot of my life is very private -- I choose to keep it this way. But after this life-changing experience, I am sharing my story in an effort to inspire others. While the life lessons are still unfolding, here are nine things I’ve learned, or have been reminded of, about life...

Give to receive

When you are alert, present and shining your love and light in the world, it’s like a magnet that attracts the best in others. I am very fortunate to have found a spiritual teacher and community, and through their teachings, I have learned the power of love. They say when you give, you receive tenfold, and I have always loved giving to others. It is such a big part of my life that I am constantly working on how to give more and more of myself. After all, at the end of life, only love goes with you. Nothing else -- not your body, money, work, material possessions -- none of it. Only love and the moments of love. That’s why it’s so important to give as much love as you can in your lifetime.

Throughout this experience, I’ve also learned how enjoyable it is receive love, and that one cannot truly give unless one can equally receive. When I receive, I allow someone else to give to me. That’s the circle of the energy. If I block it, it doesn't feel good for anyone. So give to others, and gracefully receive what comes back.

Related: Why Google, Facebook and Twitter Execs Are Meeting With a Monk

Surround yourself with angels

Throughout my life, I have been supported by my loved ones, who are angels in my life. When I discovered the brain aneurysm, a dear friend dropped everything to be with me -- I sobbed in her arms. From that moment on, my community held me close, especially when I felt I couldn't handle the emotional roller coaster of it all. From connecting me to the best neurosurgeons to driving me to doctor’s appointments to being with me as I filled out medical forms and legal documents, love was constantly poured into me. My troops were behind me the whole way as I battled my deepest fears. The day of the surgery, so many of my loved ones were in the lobby at the hospital that the nursing staff actually got annoyed. (Ha! They didn’t know I was such a party girl.)

The surgery was successful, thanks to my amazing neurosurgeon. However, less than 12 hours later it was followed by a horrible hematoma in my groin where the doctors entered my leg artery to insert the pipeline device in my brain (medical technology is truly remarkable!). To stop the bleeding, a doctor and two other male medical professionals pushed down on the hematoma with all their strength -- for an hour. Even though I hated them in the moment, they were angels who knew what to do. My ICU nurse, Norma, another angel, sat by my bed the entire day afterward to make sure there was no more bleeding. For the next 24 hours, I had to lie flat in bed to make sure my body absorbed the blood and began to heal. Then, after five days in the hospital, I was finally ready to head home to finish healing.

Always surround yourself with angels. They will truly save your life.

Related: 3 Ways to Transform Yourself Into the Entrepreneur You Want to Be

Practice meditation

Meditation helped keep me present throughout my journey to feel all the feelings that came along. Meditation connects me to something beyond my physical self so I can channel energy that is beyond me, even when I was experiencing the horrific pain of the hematoma. I had moments during that hour-long ordeal of excruciating pain when I rose above the pain by connecting to my higher self. I felt how strong I truly am, physically and mentally. The power of meditation and everything I had learned up to that point got me through by connecting me to something bigger than myself.

The pain was something I never planned for, but my spiritual practice allowed me to witness the event as it was happening. All the meditation I’ve been doing for the last five years or so had built up to get me through this event. 

I urge you to meditate, even if you start with just 10 minutes each morning. Build your way up to a more and more meditative life. It helps you enjoy your day-to-day moments and overcome stress and anxiety, but also strengthens you for the bigger life experiences.

Related: I Tried This Oprah Meditation Hack Every Day for Two Weeks. Here Are My 5 Takeaways.

Surrender

Anger, sadness, pain, fear of death -- a lot happens when you face a life-threatening medical diagnoses. The emotional journey is difficult. My loved ones and spiritual community listened to my fears and stood by me when I sobbed. They reminded me that I would get through this. I felt more and more powerful every time I found the courage to face death and surrender to the unknown. I trusted in something bigger than myself all the way up to the operating table and afterward. It taught me that surrendering really is key to life. I had to accept and feel the emotions that come with it. Surrender wasn’t always easy, but flowing with what is, no matter what it is, is beautiful and joyful.

Related: 6 Steps to Build the Emotional Fitness Necessary to Succeed

Get your legal documents in order

Having the important conversations about who will make decisions for you and take care of your things if anything happens brings up a lot of emotions, but you don’t avoid it. Even though I thought I would never have to deal with an aneurysm (and everything that comes with it) at this stage of my life, I did. You just never know what could happen.

Fortunately, I already had great medical, disability and life insurance policies in place, so all I needed to do was update my legal documents. Doing so was very emotional, but at the same time, I felt so close to those special individuals I had chosen for their given roles.

So, don't procrastinate. Get your plans in place now, and encourage your family and friends to do so, as well. As scary as it is, it creates a more intimate connection between you and your loved ones.

Related: The 10 Key Legal Documents for Your Business

Money is for living your ideal life

Fortunately, I’ve built a business that allows me flexibility. Taking the time I needed to go to all my doctor’s appointments and heal after surgery was never an issue. I also had a healthy cash cushion, which allowed me the freedom to take time off to recover.

The people who told me how lucky I am didn’t realize that I created my business to work this way. I’ve been working since I was 16 years old and, especially during the last five years of being a business owner, I’ve worked my butt off to build a business that gives me lifestyle flexibility.

This experience allowed me to see that all that hard work and effort is actually my reality, and it inspires me to keep building my life by design. You can do the same. Think about what kind of lifestyle you want, then use your money to create it for yourself.

Related: The Dream Job Is a Myth. Focus Instead on Living Your Best Life.

Love yourself

After the surgery, I was completely dependent again. While I’m only 33 years old, this gave me a taste of what aging must feel like. Allowing others to take care of me was a whole new experience for me. It’s very vulnerable, raw and intimate. I cherish the times I had with each special person who was there with me, soothing my fears and helping me become a new version of myself. Each day was a new surprise. like when I was able to walk again, or shower again, or listen to music or laugh without pain. Each moment was so sweet and precious. The trauma of the surgery and unbearable pain of the hematoma after it helped me see how strong I am. I now know how the mind and spirit can heal the body and shine a light in the darkest times.

A big part of how fast I’ve healed is that I’ve done the work and learned to take care of myself. Now I cherish my beloved body more than ever, and want to honor and respect it in new ways. Take good care of your mind, body and soul. Eat healthy, work out, practice meditation, find a spiritual path, express your emotions and love yourself enough to put yourself first. It all matters. You are so precious.

Related: The Self-Esteem Movement: Why Marketers Want You to Love Yourself (and How They Sometimes Fail)

You are never alone

 Being with myself in the ICU taught me so many lessons. At the end of the day, it really is just you and the moment, whatever it may be. But at the same time, we are all connected -- all one, alone. Even when my ego wanted to make me suffer, deep down I knew I was safely surrounded by love and light the whole time. Friends and family were with me for the five days I was in the hospital and the weeks after. They came to feed me, bathe me, help me walk, dress me, clean my house, stock my fridge and love on me. These gestures helped me heal old, false beliefs that I had to do everything alone. When I opened my heart to let others in, they flocked to be with me.

They say love heals, and that really is true. Day after day, I had so many angels visit, call and send messages. Every single ounce of love given to me healed me and nursed me back to independence. So even when you feel alone, remember that we’re always all connected.

Related: 7 Amazing Things That Happen When You Spend Time Alone

Life is so precious

After emerging from a hospital stay, anyone can tell you how enjoyable even the simple things are again -- the birds singing, the blue sky, the laughter, the movement of cars on the street...this world truly is a beautiful place. Smiling, dancing and listening to music became ecstasy for me. I remembered that life is all about relaxing and delighting in the moments I’m given. In this realm, we can change, grow, work through our karmic roles and begin anew again in each moment. Each moment is enough, and each moment is so utterly precious. The timeless wisdom of “enjoy the moment” is truly where the magic lies. Take time each morning to remember this. I’m doing the same -- we can be “life is precious” partners.

While the life-affirming lessons are still unfolding from this adventure, I am grateful for everything up to now. May this story be a reminder to keep going, and to love as much as you can. You never know who you may save by opening your heart and extending your love. I promise to shine love into myself and others.

If you or a loved one has gone through a life-threatening illness or surgery, I just want to tell you that I am with you. I admire you for looking the tiger in the eye and being courageous enough to take on such a tough experience. I send all my love and honor you and your journey, and I would love to connect. Feel free to email your story or comments to brittney@financiallywisewomen.com.

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