Staying Positive with a Brain Aneurysm: Inspirational Blogger Reveals her Secret to Getting Through Hard Times
Geelong resident, Kirsten Macdonald is mother of three, wife, sister, daughter, friend and entrepreneur. She is also someone with an inoperable brain aneurysm.
“unflinching, honest [and] profoundly thoughtful” by the author of the Tomorrow When The War Began series, John Marsden
One and a half months after doctors told Kirsten Macdonald they had discovered – by chance – a brain aneurysm during a routine scan, she was lying on a surgery bed in the Alfred Hospital waiting to be “chopped, sawn open, stitched [and] repaired…”.
But even after a long three months recovering in hospital, and despite being left scarred, temporarily blind and unable to walk, Kirsten whispered ‘challenge accepted’ to every obstacle that she was presented with. During this time, she recalls a doctor admitting that she was the most inspiring person he’d ever met, and a psychologist asking what her secret to remaining positive was, after all that she’d been through.
“I was just being me; I didn’t know I was behaving differently to anybody else in a similar situation. Every single day, positive things were happening to my body. I could feel and see improvement, and I was surrounded by the best care and the most loving people. I did have dark days, but I told myself during those periods that I also had so much to feel grateful for.”
Getting through hard times by adjusting to the new ‘normal’ wasn’t easy for Kirsten initially. In fact, she describes this time as “definitely the biggest battle of [her] life”.
“In the beginning I had some intense moments of fear, especially around not being able to see. Before all my other sense stepped up and kicked in, I walked into lots of walls – I had a BRICK PRINT on my forehead for a time! – tripped down stairs, stumbled into the clothesline, and because salt and sugar sachets felt exactly the same, I sipped my way through many a salty coffee!” says Kirsten. “I also accidentally learnt that green tea and lemonade go really well together!”
Kirsten says she had only just started to feel like herself again – her body was healthy and she was excited to step into the rest of the life still ahead of her – when she received a phone call that left her “in a heap on the floor”. Doctors had found another brain aneurysm. Only this time, it was inoperable.
“It’s one thing to have faith, and it’s one thing to have positive ideals and optimism. But it’s another thing to have every single one of those things tested to the enth degree, and to have to embrace those things as tools to propel you through this kind of journey is something completely different. It went from what I was taught, to what I know,” says Kirsten. “When you think you’ve been pushed in the worst situation, only to learn there’s still more to come, everything gets stripped away. You need to work out how to get through it, and I’ve learnt that humour and joy help to heal in even the most diverse situations. Laughter is the best medicine!”
As a creative soul and a passionate writer, Kirsten felt inspired to share her story through The Ponderings of Kirsten – a uniquely unusual account of her thoughts, experiences and challenges, expressed with raw emotions and humour – and has since been given the reputation of “inspirational blogger”.
“When you get presented with a difficult situation, you have two choices. You can either let the situation swallow you up and fall into a pit that’s difficult to climb out of, or you can surround yourself with the right people, remember to breathe, and deliberately infuse more joy and laughter into your life,” says Kirsten. “Humour is a remedy for so much; it makesstaying positive easier.”
To subscribe to Kirsten’s blog, visit www.ponderingsofkirsten.com or find her at The Ponderings of Kirsten on Facebook.
The Ponderings of Kirsten – meditations of the possibly dying but mostly living girl – has been described as “unflinching, honest [and] profoundly thoughtful” by the author of the Tomorrow When The War Began series, John Marsden. It’s an inspiring, raw and uniquely funny account of Kirsten Macdonald’s life, a woman who recovered from brain aneurysm surgery that left her temporarily blind, bald and unable to walk, only to be told of a second aneurysm – this one inoperable.
The Ponderings of Kirsten is an unusual blog in the way that it weaves humour, sadness, joy, fear and confusion seamlessly, and reveals and confronts challenging thoughts and situations gently to create the space for mindfulness, inspiration and gratitude. Kirsten’s blog takes readers through a journey of tears, laughter, breathlessness and heart smiles, into a world of reflection and evaluation.
“… unflinching, honest, [and] profoundly thoughtful.” – author John Marsden, Tomorrow When The War Began series
Aneurysm mum-of-three Kirsten Macdonald grabs her second chance at life
- GEELONG ADVERTISER
- DECEMBER 07, 2014
WHEN Kirsten Macdonald was lying alone in her hospital bed, waiting to be rolled into surgery to have a lifesaving brain operation, the only thing she wanted to do was get up and run.
The cutting-edge surgery would see doctors insert a tiny metal rod into her groin and thread it through a maze of arteries until it was lodged precisely beside a massive aneurism that was threatening to explode in her brain.
It was the best chance the Leopold mother of three had of prolonging her life beyond Christmas.
There was also a very real possibility that she would die.
“The fear probably didn’t really hit me until then and I was lying there all by myself,” Ms Macdonald said.
“I’m looking up around at everything thinking, ‘I really don’t want to do this. I want to get off this bed and just run.’
“I think that it’s a survival mechanism.
“It’s weird because you know they’re trying to save your life but you know that there’s a chance that you won’t come out of there.
“Your instincts make you want to run, but your logical mind says, ‘No you have to lay here because they’re going to fix you.’
“It’s a very odd situation.”
The surgery involved attaching a tiny metal rod to the end of a microscopic wire and threading it through the body and into the brain to divert blood flow away from the aneurism.
The surgery, known as flow diverting stent remodelling, has been performed only for the past six years.
Only a few experts in Victoria, including Dr Anoop Madan at The Alfred hospital, are trained to complete it.
Despite his incredible skill the list of risks was long and Ms Macdonald was in no doubt that her recovery was not guaranteed.
“The biggest risk was that I would die on the table,” she said. “That was a very real possibility.
“The aneurism could rupture, I could have a stroke during or after, or paralysis down one side of my body, brain damage, blindness.
“At the same time, though, Anoop is remarkable at what he does and there was a lot of confidence. Talking to the nurses and talking to the other specialists you could see that they had a lot of confidence so I knew I had the right guy doing it.”
The surgery was supposed to take two hours but it took almost seven for the tiny rod to be inserted in place.
It was an agonising wait for more than 20 family members who were outside in the hospital waiting room.
Thankfully the surgery went well and five days later Ms Macdonald was allowed to go home.
She was ordered to rest and wait for another scan just before Christmas to determine whether the surgery had been successful in diverting blood flow away from the aneurism.
But in the meantime she lives with the fear that things could still go wrong.
The aneurism could still rupture.
Incredibly, this is not the biggest surgery Ms Macdonald, 38, has been through.
Three years ago surgeons removed part of her skull in order to clip a separate aneurism that was also on the verge of bursting.
Her skull bone was reconstructed with titanium plates and screws and when Ms Macdonald woke up she was confronted with a gruelling rehabilitation.
She spent three months in hospital, four months without vision and six months learning how to walk again.
Ironically, she had only just started “feeling fantastic again” a couple of months before a routine scan picked up the second aneurism.
She had not displayed any symptoms.
Having come through brain surgery once before — and completing the painstaking rehabilitation — she felt like the odds were stacked against her to recover from it again.
But when doctors told her they needed to operate within 10 days she was forced to make a quick decision and two days later she agreed to go under the knife.
“They were using words like miraculous the first time and you think, ‘I’ve already had one miracle, am I greedy enough, am I going to get another one’?” she said.
“On the one hand I could go and enjoy a couple of good quality months with my family and maybe last until Christmas.
“Or take all of that accumulated risk and put it all into a week’s time.
“At one stage it was like you could have three months to live or a week. Which one do you want?
“I’m looking at my kids and I just thought, ‘You have to do this. You’ve been offered hope. You’ve been offered an opportunity to be here, you can’t just not take it.’
“Something kicks in where you think, ‘It’s going to be OK. Whatever happens it’s going to be OK’.”
Throughout it all Ms Macdonald has managed to retain an incredible sense of positivity, drawing strength from the way her extended family and friends rallied around her.
She said the experience forced her to look at everything in her life from a new perspective and taught her some valuable lessons.
She quit her job as a bookkeeper and turned her hobby, making candles, into a full-time business.
Angel Sent Candles are now stocked in 13 stores around Geelong and the Surf Coast and Ms Macdonald’s workshop also manufactures aromatherapy candles for other brand names.
“It just all sounds really cliched but it’s true,” she said. “You’ve got to do the things that are important to you, that drive you, don’t sweat the little stuff. Just concentrate on day-to-day enjoying your family.
“Just to be able to go for a walk, to make a cup of tea without having to ask someone to do it for you, or just being able to look at your children or read them a story at bedtime.
“I had all of those things taken away from me, which thank goodness have been restored again, but it pulls everything into perspective very quickly.”