Luck of the Irish

I was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1980. My alma mater is the University of Notre Dame – go Irish! I married a blue-eyed Irish guy, whose beard when fully grown, is speckled orange, and he owns a legit kilt. So despite my South Texas roots, Hispanic heritage, dark hair and skin, let’s face it, I’m practically Irish.

I know this to be true because I have always had the luck of the Irish on my side. Always. It pretty much started at birth.

My sisters and I were spoiled. We had everything we needed and more. We were perfectly primped and accessorized for every dance recital, band concert, track meet and 4-H meeting, never leaving home without a ribbon in our hair and a matching purse, to boot. But mostly we were rich in time spent together as a family. Cousins were our first best friends, our first two step partners, and our first partners in crime. Holiday gatherings always lingered into the early morning hours, often ending with karaoke and just one more helping of dinner leftovers. When I reflect now about growing up in Texas, some things cannot be understated: the heat and humidity, my dad’s BBQ, Friday Night Lights, the bluebonnets that grow wild in the spring, and our Texas-sized faith. Don’t mess with Texas, y’all; it’s where my story begins.

I traded in my cowgirl boots for a winter coat in 1998, when I left small town Texas for college life under the Golden Dome. It was a time before cell phones, and I was a long way from home, but I gained a new family, my ND family, and our souls are forever connected. The sights and sounds of campus are unforgettable nearly two decades later – the cheers of the crowd at the first football game, the gray skies of the long winter months, the pink and yellow tulips that bloom in the spring, and old school Bon Jovi blaring on the speakers at some of South Bend’s finest establishments. And when we left ND after graduation, our diplomas meant so much more than the completion of our academic requirements. They symbolized our open hearts, our open minds, and the promise we made to God, our country, and Notre Dame to always do right by this world. As the alma mater famously boasts, “And our hearts forever, love thee Notre Dame.”

After ND, I was off to Chicago for my first big girl job in corporate America. There were stressful workdays, unrealistic deadlines, and intimidating clients, but there were also great mentors, happy hours, runs along the sun-kissed Lake Michigan in the summer (not the winter, the lake was frozen), weekend brunch, and my first good pair of winter boots. It was like I was living in a movie, a romantic comedy where the female characters wear fancy shoes and order cosmopolitans at dinner. I had my best girls with me, and we were loving life in the big city, and of course, I got the guy too.

When Ryan and I got married, we moved to Boston. We lived on a cobblestone street, took day trips to the beach, and weekend trips to the mountains. We explored the East Coast and fell in love with Cape Cod, lobster rolls, and fresh oysters on the half shell (who wouldn’t love these things?). We are pretty sure our dog Willie, a true New Englander born on the South Shore, is the first person in our family with a Boston accent. We welcomed two children into this world in 2011 and 2014, and as cliche as it sounds, they are truly our greatest joy. Micki is confident and wicked smart; John is sweet yet oh so mischievous – and my heart is so full.

I’m telling you, the Luck of the Irish has always been on my side. Life has been so good.

Now, yes, of course, we are #soblessed, but this is real life after all and #lifeishard. To balance the highest highs are the lowest lows, career doubts, parenting fails, sleepless nights, misunderstandings among family and friends. We lost Ryan’s mom nearly five years ago, and my dad is a recent cancer survivor. Those days are the hardest of our lives. But the sun rises again, we put one foot in front of the other, and we rely on each other, our families, and our faith to see us through.

Make no mistake that it is a good thing when I will undergo brain surgery, a craniotomy, at the Barrow Neurological Institute, affiliate of St. Joseph’s Hospital, in Phoenix, AZ on July 20, 2017. I am incredibly lucky to have incidentally discovered a lesion on my brain two years ago when I had an MRI for some unexplained hearing loss. This lesion is not a tumor, and it is not cancer – thank God. It is a brain arteriovenous malformation, a brain AVM.

A brain AVM is kind of like it’s better-known cousin, the aneurysm, except is slightly more complicated and rarer but can cause similar outcomes, the worst outcomes, to say the least. In everyday terms, a brain AVM is a tangle of the blood vessels in the brain. The blood within these abnormal vessels does not follow the typical flow process and instead flows much faster than normal, which can weaken the vessels and leave them at risk for rupture. People with AVMs are born with them as they are considered a “congenital defect.” However, most people with AVMs don’t know they have one until they end up in the emergency room with a brain hemorrhage, a rupture of the tangled vessels. An AVM rupture can be (though is not always) a life or death situation.

So I’ll say it, no I’ll shout it, again. I am incredibly lucky! I found out about my AVM (by accident) before it could rupture and hurt me. And now I have the chance to nip this sucker in the bud before it rears its ugly head. I am beyond lucky, and I can’t say it enough.

And it’s me. It’s not my kids – thank God. It’s not my husband, the guy who’s our rock and keeps us steady when we are otherwise losing it. It’s not anyone else I hold near and dear to my heart. It’s me. And I can handle this. I have to. For them.

And how about the fact that I live in Boston, a major city, with some of the best hospitals in the world? And I had a doctor-mom-friend who helped me navigate the land of brain doctors and guided me through those first set of appointments. And the doctors I saw were honest. They weren’t cowboys. When they weren’t able to help me, they gave me names of others. And out of the many doctors I met, I chose the one who will cut open my skull and remove the AVM. And the timing of my surgery – I got to choose that too. It’s almost too good to be true. I must sound like I’m bragging, because I am, but if I have to have brain surgery, this is how I want it to be. On my terms.

And at the ripe old age of 37, I have friends with all kinds of cancer, friends who have suffered from stroke, friends who died of aneurysms, friends with chronic illness. These are friends from school, friends from work, friends from home, friends from church, friends of friends, kids. These people are moms, dads, daughters, sons, parents, professionals, and everything in between. Their diseases caused chaos in their daily lives, emotional disarray and financial burden. While I was busy playing house this past year, not working, doing yoga to mentally prepare myself for brain surgery, coordinating my plan of care with world-class doctors and the greatest support system a girl could ever ask for, people had real issues. Real pain, real heartache, real stress, real loss. I have this so freakin’ easy. It’s almost embarrassing.

My mom, the ever-devout woman, whose faith does not waver (ever), says that it’s not just luck – it is to be blessed. And she’s right. There’s no other way to define or describe it. It is God’s plan and with Him by my side, I will get through brain surgery to have my AVM removed, and back to normal life in no time. It won’t be easy, recovery will seem impossible at times, but I will get through this.

So maybe I’ve never been to Ireland, and I’d take a Dos Equis over a Guinness if I had to choose between the two, but I found my pot of gold along time ago, and I’m never letting go.

Take that, brain surgery. See you in July.

For the full story of my AVM Discovery, start here.