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The Brain Surgery Story

The Buddha said, “When one is truly ready for something, it puts in its appearance.” I can only say that this wisdom keeps me getting up in the morning because it speaks to the journey and not the destination of life. When I was ready for a brain tumor in my unfolding mystery story, it showed up. The way that I have moved from surviving this experience to thriving again has been forgiveness. Thank God, forgiveness was in my personal and professional healing toolbox before I went into the operating room.

The process of creation and the unfolding of wisdom in our lives are not lineal journeys that bring us to a concrete destination. I have found that wisdom or knowledge brings the awareness that there is more to discover. The movement between the dark and the light of the Taoist symbol of yin and yang, this never-ending spinning from consciousness to unconsciousness, is what I experience daily in my quest for the divine in my life. This humbling, of moving from the known to the unknown, keeps me in the state of innocence described in the Christian teachings “that I must be like the child to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

For me to write on forgiveness as a path of peace is to write my own story. I am unable to separate my self from my beliefs and worldview. Never is it more profound than when trying to explain my perspective. It is “in my face.” This colloquialism is the metaphor for my personal healing story and forgiveness process. Writing is a confrontational experience as I must face my knowing and try to put words to what I trust is miraculous awe. My perspective can never be completely yours, nor yours mine. We have all been given the gift of our own unique point of view. However, there is a place that we can meet and it is compassion. Witnessing my wounds and forgiveness as I witness others’ shows that we all have the similar challenges. This ends the separation of us. It can be enriching with inspiration and instruction. Choosing to move this inspiration to action becomes our point of empowerment. Courage is our reward. Courage is not given but earned by our willingness to face our fears and go beyond them.

In the three years since my own health crisis, life continues to fill me with awe, wonder, and miracles. My recovery period has been a very arduous and mourn-filled epoch of my life. Without forgiving God and myself I would be incapable of functioning within the parameters of a post-modern society. Without forgiving myself for the damages to my ego, my beauty, my communication, my facial function, my hearing, and my short-term memory, I would not have the simple joy of living. This joy somehow eventually creeps into my heart no matter how difficult the days became. The light invariably would shine through the darkness and I would be renewed with hope.

Apparently, it is necessary for me to tell the story of my healing in order to be free of it. To be free of something, to let it go, to give it to God, is to forgive it. I must forgive my story now so that I can begin again. As I finish this cycle of growth, it is obvious there is a ‘new life’ emerging. There is another saying in Buddhism that “We must empty the vessel to fill it up again.” Whenever I have needed to let something go, or taught someone else about letting go, I remind him or her of this simple Buddhist common sense. And indeed, something else always follows.

The realizations of truth that have come to me usually come this way; not in the storm of the emotions but sometime later. The wisdom is through the storm waiting quietly on the other side. These moments bring me back to the center of my being. The new center of consciousness is usually larger than the last center because it unites the wisdom of the past with the new wisdom of the lesson learned. Of course, my assumption is that the center of my being is my divinely connected heart. Coming back to this center reminds me that I have survived something serious. These moments remind me that I have had to recover my life. I have had to establish a new level of self-confidence. I have had to rewrite my regulations, rules, and standards for what qualifies as self-esteem. I have had to learn how to walk, how to talk, how to listen, how to blink, how to smile, and how to love myself again. These lessons have not come like lightning but like the tree in my yard that suddenly is taller than I remember. It was growing every day, and suddenly, I am aware that change has happened.

Consciously working for change does not make it happen in the moment that I will it to happen. Magic is much more mysterious than simply pronouncing it so, and then witnessing it unfold. Time, I have learned, is the power that gives the most in healing. Time combined with Love is omnipotent. These qualities partnered give us the courage to endure. I will get through this healing because I know these things. I know these virtues because I am a person of faith. I have wondered often since my brain surgery, What do people without faith do? How do they endure? I know the only prayer for me when I witness struggle for others now is “Please show them the way.” Again, and again, and again, and again, I have been shown a good way. If it has happened for me, it can happen for others. I must tell my story to show others a good way they also could chose for we all deserve to have peace.

My courage was profound when I walked into the surgery room at California Pacific Medical Center in the early morning of September 8, 1998. At midnight I had stopped having any foods or fluid. At 5:20 am I walked the Labyrinth out in front of the hospital. My mother sat on the meditation bench and waited for me as I ceremonially moved with conscious prayer toward the center of the maze chanting to myself, I let go of my fear of dying. On the way out of the labyrinth my prayer was Love is my way. The courage also included profound ignorance of what I would undergo. I thought I knew about healing and then I found out there was much more to learn.

In the years since the day of my brain surgery to remove an Acoustic Neuroma, a benign tumor on the auditory nerve, I have questioned what God gave me. The proverbial “they say God never gives us more than we can handle” has been put to the test. It sure didn’t seem that I could handle my share! I have been humbled again and again. My intuition was that I would survive the surgery but possibly not survive the recovery. My intuition was right on. This prediction gave me some comfort as I was thrown into the deepest depression I could imagine. I had been pre-warned that it would be the tough part of the experience. Coupled with the depression was the physical damage to my body. The ignorance of what I would need to heal was perhaps a blessing. It was obviously the next step on my spiritual path or it would not have been what was happening. I had to persevere. What healing was to come first, I did not know. My fundamental understanding is that the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual are all connected. My recovery then had to happen as well on all levels.

Love is what got me through, the love of my family, the love of my friends, the love of my clients, even the love of strangers. The love of life that lives within me, my eternal faith in something greater than me, and the presence of love from all of these souls supported me through such a difficult journey back to balance. I am not saying the journey is over. I think we are always in healing whether or not we have a health crisis, illness, or injury in the body. Life to me in synonymous with the ever-present quest for something greater. That quest ultimately is love, and yet, it is where we all originate from to start. This is my assumption and I do not know how I came to this worldview. It is just how I see life.

The brain surgery story is not where forgiveness begins in my life. As a child who also experienced sexual abuse the wounds in my life are very deep. In a therapy session at 29 years old, I remembered deciding at 7 years old that I could no longer be the person who had had so many wounds so young. I had as that child intentionally forgotten much of my story. I disassociated myself from my pain and memories. It began to come back to me simultaneously as my tumor symptoms also began to appear. This synchronicity is not mystical. It is logical and another perfect example of the need to expand the conceptions of the inter-relationship between the dimensions of being. There is no need to separate body, emotions, mind, and soul for they are all ultimately one.

The tumor for me is where I stored those memories, fears, and angers of my early wounds to my body, heart, and being. It made perfect sense to store them until later. When they surfaced I had to integrate their presence into my understanding of me in this world. My first sexual abuse memory came when I was 27 years old. It was devastation to the false self that I had built around me to adapt to the world I lived in. This transformation occurred once I created a family of friends and a support system that would hold me when my internal world collapsed. The memories surfaced to conscious awareness when I was ready, just like the presence of the tumor. When I was ready, it surfaced to conscious awareness.

The knowledge of the presence of the tumor came at the moment when I needed a purpose to my life. Every crisis comes in the perfect moment to serve the process of awakening our spirits to heal more of the wholeness we have forgotten. The tumor was a symbol for how much I wanted to change, to heal. The physical symptoms of my tumor had been present for at least 15 years before a MRI confirmed its presence in my head. The diagnosis came in the perfect moment to receive the wisdom and healing for not only myself but also for my family, friends, and clients. Though it was physically in my body I learned, only by going through the painful experience of the diagnosis, surgery, and long recovery, that I was not the only person who had the brain tumor. I was never alone in the process, the healing, and the transformation of the pain. Not only was God my constant companion, so were all of the people in my life. I truly learned how arrogant it is to say, “I am alone.” We are never alone, ever!

By November of 1997 the dizziness, balance problems walking at night, the babbling in my sleep, the numb right bottom lip, and the deep fatigue had escalated. I had noticed maybe 6 months before that I no longer chewed food on the right side of my mouth. It was just an observation but no mental light bulb or emotional warning bell had gone off with the discovery. The most common symptom of my tumor was someone saying to me, “Sally, you have food on your lip.” I was on my way to Switzerland to work and visit friends. I had been traveling there since 1995 and looking forward to being with people that I loved and admired. I stopped in Chicago on my way to see clients and family. While there I was very triggered regarding my issues with men and left for Switzerland in a strange mood.

The trip itself was strange. When I landed at Charles Degaull Airport in Paris I was to layover for 2 hours for a direct plane into Bern. It is the center of the Swiss government so there is a small airport that I usually flew into. The Bern airport, however, this morning was fogged in. I was flown to Zurich and given a train pass to Bern. The airline announced that a special customer service agent would be at the gate waiting for all of the passengers that had been rerouted. Because I was the last off the plane, the person with a broken leg ahead of me slowed my departure; I missed the group going to the train station. Cross Air then did not know who was supposed to help me. Needless to say, I was very tired by the time I was on the train headed to Bern. I had been traveling all night. I was emotionally hung-over. Still, with all the chaos, I knew something new was being born.

During that week I had a dream: My soul mate was with me standing in the doorway to a blues club in Chicago. He was standing right behind me with his chin resting on the top of my head. We were looking for my sister whom we were to meet at the club. When I awoke I had the sense that I would meet a man very soon. That very week in Bern I became involved with a client I had done phone work with and within days we were together. He proposed almost immediately sweeping me off my feet in the most romantic tale ever….dancing me in the moonlight under a canopy of trees in the castle gardens at Lake Thun, ahhh!…or so I thought in the moment. During that same time, I damaged the cornea in my right eye. It was quite painful and it triggered some deep healing on the issues with men in my life. It all seemed perfect and in divine order.

When I returned to Chicago to spend Christmas with my family, I was quite in love and very ungrounded, to say the least. My sister was now concerned and insistent that my numb lip should not be ignored. I ignored it anyway and went on with my plans to move to Zurich and be with Lukas for the rest of my life. As with most passionate encounters, this fire did not have adequate fuel to keep it going. By April the relationship came to a very painful crash-and-burn kind of ending. Being the eternal optimist and the woman who bought all the lines, I was convinced that if I just kept being the good girl, Lukas would come around. By the end of June, I left Switzerland devastated.

It was now July 1998 and my sister Karen insisted that I had to see her friend because of my emotional state and a neurologist because of my numb lip. Thank God for my sister Karen! She connected me with a woman in Chicago who was a psychotherapist in private practice and who also worked at Northwestern University Hospital. Cathy was impressed with my professional practice as a healer and wanted to do trade work. Her feeling was that God had sent me as her next teacher. Cathy was ready to embrace a deeper understanding of her faith and take her traditional psychotherapy practice to a more spiritual dimension and our connection was another miracle on my healing path.

My days began with tears about Lukas. My days ended with tears about Lukas. I was working on a manuscript for a book called The 44 Faces of God. My Chicago-land clients didn’t know I was there and I could not get myself organized to tell them. My parents moved July 10th so I became their personal assistant. They lived about 2 hours from the Chicago Loop in a rural area. I was driving back and forth from the city to the country. Another miracle manifested for this to happen by my Uncle giving me a car to drive while I was home. His rental fee was that I came to visit him, which of course I obliged. We were taking care of each other in the ways that we could. The neurologist that I decided to see was a small town doctor in the area that my parents had just bought their retirement duplex. Angela was another one of those angels along the way. She gave me the standard tests, had me stand on one foot at a time, walk a straight line, checked to see if both eyes tracked together, and prescribed an MRI ‘just to rule out’ anything major.

It was already the 12th of August before I had the MRI scheduled. I had explained to Angela that the symptoms had come and gone for years. I was absolutely convinced they were psychosomatic. It was the trauma of the break-up and I was going to be fine. After seeing Angela the first time, over the following weekend, I traveled to Dore County Wisconsin to perform a wedding that had been scheduled for a year for Chicago clients. It was a very large affair with 200 guests and an emotional challenge to facilitate after my recent Lukas incident. The day before the MRI I even bought a plane ticket to attend another wedding of a good friend in Cape Cod in early September. I was acting ‘as if’, as they say in Alcoholic’s Anonymous. I was just depressed and despondent over my heartbreak, but someday I would recover. Since my heart has been broken before, my healing affirmation was: My heart is bigger. Breaking it means my heart is now open, larger, and has even more space to love and be loved.

By that time Cathy and I had done several therapy sessions and I was getting myself back together. I had managed after the very first session in July to produce a mailing to my mid-western clients that I was in Illinois and available for healing appointments. I designed, printed, produced labels, stamped, and mailed about 220 post cards in approximately 24 hours after my first appointment with Cathy. I arranged with my best friend from college, Jane, to use her psychotherapy office in downtown Chicago. I was feeling better though my sister reminded me recently that I was not eating a lot at that time. I do not remember this detail at all. I knew my clothes were fitting well but not aware that my appetite was diminished enough for her to remember this fact years later.

The day of the MRI, I was in the country again. The test was done in Peru, Illinois, and the town next to where my parents now lived. The small town hospital had a traveling MRI unit that made the rounds of local hospitals in central Illinois. My appointment was a week after Angela had first examined me. My parents and I decided that after the test we would road trip to my older sister’s in Bettendorf, Iowa for dinner. We planned a shopping trip as well to find a dress for the black tie wedding that I was going to attend on the East Coast. We were all continuing to be brave and act as if there was no problem. Bettendorf is just 1.5 hours away, and it seemed to be a good distraction.

When I lay down and my body was slid into the tight tube of the MRI machine, immediately I began to feel panicked. I had been told it was claustrophobic, but I was not prepared for the sense of compression that went to the core of my being. Immediately I began to pray and talk to my spirit guides. I began to take controlled breathes in through my nose and out though my mouth. This focused breathing is what I use in my rebirthing work and teach in my meditation classes. I called out mentally to my alchemist guide, Wu Lon, who helps me with healing others and myself. I practiced my deep breathing to calm down. Quickly, Wu Lon came into my present vision and showed me a future vision.

The future vision was: I am wearing a green hospital gown, laying on my left side and having the hair on the right side of the back of my head shaved off. Wu Lon explained that the MRI would show a growth in my head, that I was to go back to California to have surgery, and that I was going to be fine. Well, I was not so fine in that moment! I was clear that I would not be able to stay in this noisy, painfully loud, test for 45 more minutes if I was in a panic attack. This is the kind of news that can be disturbing at a minimum. I knew it was not just my fantasy and imagination going wild. I told Wu Lon that he had better show me what happens after the surgery or I would not stay in the machine. The technicians had already told me that they would take me out of the MRI machine if I freaked out. The next picture that came into my vision calmed my spirit: I am very pregnant on a beach in a floral dress with red, pink, and fuchsia flowers looking at the ocean with my hair being blown by the breeze. A man comes up from behind me and puts his arms around my big belly. It is the heart of all of my dreams, my own family.

Surprisingly, after Wu Lon presented me with these insights, I relaxed totally. The rest of the noisy, disturbing, MRI went very quickly. The first moments had seemed like hours and the last half-hour seemed like moments. When I saw my Mom in the hospital waiting room, I said nothing about my visions. We went to the mall and she bought me a lovely black beaded gown to wear at the wedding. The dinner at my sister’s house was delightful but with an undercurrent of fear from all of us. The optimism was harder for me to hold, or actually the denial was harder to be in, as the evening progressed.

That night while at my sister’s, Angela left a message for me to call her in the morning regarding the results of my MRI. By the sound of Angela’s voice, we all knew the results were not good. At 5:30 am on August 13, my parents, already up and about having coffee, awakened me. They were supposed to travel to Madison, Wisconsin, that day for their own doctor’s appointments. My mother had recovered from bladder cancer two years earlier. My father had a heart attack the year before. I insisted that they go on to their appointments. They did not want to, but I assured them that if there was something wrong it would not have to be solved that morning. I needed them to just go on with the day that they had planned. Their doctor’s appointments were difficult to schedule. It was important to me that they took care of their own needs, especially, if I might need them to go to California with me soon.

At 8 am they had left the house and I sat down to meditate. Once again Wu Lon came into my vision and repeated the information that he had shared the day before. He also instructed me not to return Angela’s call till 9 am and to remain in prayer and meditation until that time. Exactly at 9 am the phone rang and it was Angela. She was not happy that I was without transportation to come into her office right away. Angela did not want to tell me the results of the MRI over the phone, but I insisted, and she obliged. “Yes,” she said, “there is a growth on your auditory nerve.” It was like being suspended in a dream and yet being very centered at the same time.

Angela arranged for her nurse to come and pick me up so that we could review the results together. I hung up with her and immediately went into total fear. I called my sister Karen to tell her the news and burst into tears as I relayed Angela’s diagnosis. The emotional waves were intense and yet my mind seemed to be crystal clear. Karen told me she loved me and that we would get through this together. I had to suddenly go to the bathroom. The toilet has always been a great spot for me to talk to God. I had my first real conversation with God regarding this situation right at that moment.

It was necessary for me to take an inventory. I reviewed my life as follows:

  • I have adventured, discovered, and explored as much of the world as I have been able.
  • I have been in service to many, many, people in many places who are seeking a better way to live.
  • I have created by poetry, art, imagination, and writing, gifts that I have brought to life.
  • I have loved, been loved, and participated in life with many of people.
  • My presence and influence had been experienced and felt by others.
  • I had forgiven my family, my sexual assailants, and those who scarred me in such deep and profound ways.
  • I had been a model to others and myself to trust in the Divine.
  • I taught A Course in Miracles to the best of my ability, understanding that always being a student kept me humble, honest, and open to chose love over fear as often as possible.
  • I believed the Course’s teaching, “Love created me like Itself.”
  • I had been able to let go of material wealth as my comfort and ecurity.
  • Safety was in my relationship to God.

Then it occurred to me (please remember I am still sitting on the toilet) that I had still not created my own husband, children, and therefore, my own family. So, I let God know in prayer that there was no possible way I done with my life as Sally Aderton. I had to live!

Calmly, I explained to God that I was a free agent working on God’s behalf in a world that was desperate for value. I explained to God that because I was an independent working without specific doctrines except “love is the way” that I was needed on the planet more than in spirit. Since my greatest dream had not been realized, I intended to get through this challenge to experience my own heart’s desire. Now, I was by myself, at my folks, in the middle of cornfields, in the middle of Illinois, in the middle of the United States, in the middle of summer, in the mists of a crisis, however, I never once felt alone. I knew that I was going to be all right no matter what happened. What I did not know is how hard it was going to be to heal myself.

The phone was ringing so I finished my business in the bathroom and went to answer it. Angela was calling back to tell me she was on her way to fetch me. Her 10 am appointment was a no-show. Angela decided to pick me up herself and go to the hospital to get the MRI films and report. This is not the kind of behavior of a neurologist hat I would expect; it was above the call of duty. Angela was acting out of kindness, generosity, and compassion. She had called a neurosurgeon who rotated through the small towns in the area and who “happened” to be in Peru that day. He could see us after 11 am. Wow! That to me is another miracle in the story. These are the proofs I need that there is a divine plan in action. We are not victims to life; when we are in the flow, it is so obvious it is hard to not be in gratitude. I was even smiling when I got off the phone knowing the Angel Angela was on her way to carry me into the next scene of this unfolding drama.

The neurosurgeon was quite casual about the whole thing. He told me it was probably benign, it had been in my head a very long time, and I could go to Cape Cod. The surgery could wait till my schedule was free. It was “elective” so I should go to California to have it done where my insurance would better cover the costs. My anxiety and fears were beginning again. I could feel the heaviness of the situation begin to grow. It was like walking through deep water with all my clothes on, but Angela was right there with me the whole time. Angela then took me to a Bagel shop for coffee and comfort and we talked about my options for healing. She was in favor of me returning to California but felt that it was important to get different opinions. This included my general practitioner Dr. Lockyer’s opinion, before making any decisions.

When Angela dropped me off at my folks, I immediately called Switzerland. Lukas had known that I was having the MRI and wanted to know the results. I reached him at home since there was a 9-hour time difference and for him it was nearing 10 PM. Lukas’s first response to my news was “I am reminded of Stuart.” How amazing: my latest heart breaker, Lukas, bringing to my attention, my first heart breaker, Stuart. Stuart was my first love who died of a brain tumor when I was 28 years old. Wow, again! Lukas had said to me that I was not capable of loving him because of my fears around losing someone. For him my behavior was too controlling because of my fear that every man would leave. Of course, the fear came from my direct experience of my first love Stuart who did leave, permanently.

Here forgiveness of what has been creates another way to my self-healing. I had tried for years since Stuart’s death to enter healthy love relationships with men. They never worked. Now, Lukas was pointing out one of the obvious reasons why. Though I had addressed these issues many times in therapy, never did the therapy impact me in the way Lukas’s words did that day. The diagnosis of the tumor, the epiphany of having my dream-come-true vision during the MRI exam, and the wisdom of my fear, the men I love leave me, all collided together in that conversation. This is the way consciousness evolves. It is truly the ongoing journey and not the arrival at a destination where the story of our lives are written. The destination is not even our death when one believes as I do in reincarnation. I believe that God knew about recycling before the invention of newspapers, aluminum cans, and plastic. Lukas and my brain surgery were already serving the purpose of creating the changes in me by showing me what I needed to forgive to be that woman on the beach barefoot, pregnant, and partnered.

From the moment of the diagnosis, I was forced to make decisions and choices to change my life to save my life. I came back to California. My family came to California. Letters were sent to 1200 people in the United States and 200 people in Europe to pray for me during the surgery. Apple computer donated a laptop computer for me to use. Miracles happened and are still happening everyday. The only way for these miracles to occur has been for me to trust, to stay in faith, and to change. I could no longer live the same life. Although I have greatly mourned its passing, I also know that it is the only way for me to survive. Survival, however, is not enough; I want to thrive.

The deepest wound was to my confidence in my Self. I still trusted God, but I no longer trusted my body or my choices. I needed a reason to get up in the morning. I chose graduate school to be that reason and it worked! Now, I want to live love even more fully than BBS, Before Brain Surgery. Like I said before, I want to thrive! In this epoch that is now dubbed ABS, After Brain Surgery, I have truly been reborn. My first waking thought in the Intensive Care Unit was powerful: I have this body to teach people about God! This first imprint into my mind, after a 12-hour operation, violently sick from morphine, and physical pain, which I hope never to experience again, was about my life purpose. I have no doubt why I am alive. I have no doubt that each one of us is here on this planet for our own unique reason. God has given us all lives to love and be loved or we would not be.

In the recovery of my smile, literally and figuratively, I have used the principles of my own 5 Steps of Forgiveness which I began teaching in my healing practice in 1995. Ownership, Empathy, Release, Understanding and Change are the steps to freedom from pain. I have walked my own talk! This outlined path brought authentic forgiveness and resurrection. I had to own my shame, my hatred, my ignorance, my blame, my arrogance, my anger, my victimization, my hopelessness, my sorrow, my judgement, and mostly, my humanity. I believe that I am well because I faced myself and fell in love with myself by seeing again that innocent child of God.

The most difficult part of my forgiveness has been to myself that I came out of the brain surgery with a new face. The 7th cranial facial nerve became the major focus of trauma physically and metaphorically. The miracle of my nerve regeneration is the power of faith in action. It was the same nerve that had caused my lip to numb as the tumor grew the nerve was stretched. When the tumor was removed, the nerve died. When I woke from the surgery the right side of my face was totally frozen, my hearing was gone, but I was alive.

One year after the surgery I still had only 3% of function to motivate the right side of my face. A respected doctor at Stanford told me, “Sally you will NEVER have any function on your face.” I realized that he did not have the power to heal me nor was I willing to take on his diagnosis as my truth. In my meditation that evening I heard God tell me specific things I needed to do if I wanted my face to function again. I had already been giving myself daily acupuncture sessions but there was more commitment necessary. Following my guidance, being courageous, and the blessing of tenacity have brought the nerve back to life. I am receiving the best benefit possible as my face changes. I am smiling again inside and out!

Thank God I am never alone. Thank God love is real, available, and now in each day. Thank God when the pain comes I know that there is more to forgive which lightens the burdens of being alive on planet Earth. Thank God I am able to speak my truth. Thank God I have the ability to embrace my humanity. Thank God I have a job to do. Thank God I am willing to do it. Thank God that there are those who want to listen to my story. Thank God there are those who show me ways to heal myself. Thank God that it is possible to be reborn. Thank God that we are all given the same gifts of love and free will. Thank God that by changing ourselves we do change the world. Thank God I am facing the future again with hope as the story continues forever. Thank God eternity is a very, very long time to love and be loved. Thank God for miracles. Thank God I am headed to that beach for it will happen when I am truly ready.

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