By Cathee Cao
Before I begin my story, I want to take you back to the year 2012, when it all started.
On Valentine’s Day 2012, I lost my first husband due to heart problems. I was living in San Jose, CA and decided to move back to Long Beach, CA so I can be surrounded by friends and family. He left behind a beautiful daughter who is now 15 years old. A year after moving back I reunited with a high school sweetheart and 3 years later he proposed to me! We got married on October 15, 2016 and it was truly a fairytale story.
On the morning of April 23rd, 2017, my husband went mountain biking and never came home. We started searching the trails with no luck. A day later, the choppers found him in a remote area. No trauma sustained. The autopsy showed nothing wrong. We think it was a cardiac arrest due to dehydration and being disoriented because he was lost. The hills were covered in weeds about 10ft high so visibility was unthinkable. Everything happened so fast, I did not have time to mourn his death. So much preparation had to be done and after a week I went back to work. Staying busy was my way of dealing with the pain.
Fast forward to a year later. Two weeks prior to the first anniversary of his death, I was under a lot of stress. My job at the time was very demanding. I was an electronic component broker and picked up some major accounts within the month of April. I worked 10 hours a day, ran 4 miles during my lunch, commuted over an hour to work and when I got home, I would go straight to the garage and hit upper body workout for an hour. Shower, eat and got back on my laptop until 1:00am. This was my routine for two weeks prior to the aneurysm.
After my runs I would get headaches. I’ve had headaches for as long as I could remember and the only thing that helps is Excedrin. One pill is all it takes on a bad day. The following day, April 24th, 2018, the same thing happened. I thought maybe I didn’t drink enough water so I didn’t think much of it. That evening when I got home, I was in the garage working out and what felt like a sharp stabbing pain to the head. It was probably one of the worst headaches I’d ever had. I immediately stopped and went in the house. I took an Excedrin hoping that it would go away but as the hour passed, the pain got even worse. I asked my mom to sleep with me that night in case something happens. Of course, my parents went into panic mode and asked me a hundred questions to which I didn’t have the energy to answer. I lay in bed in a fetal position, hoping and praying it would go away. Fifteen minutes went by and I couldn’t take it anymore. The throbbing pain was unbearable. At 8:00pm, I asked my dad to rush me to the hospital. Luckily, we live 10 mins from Long Beach Memorial. Upon arrival, I could barely walk through the ER entrance and the staff had to help me into a wheelchair. During the diagnostic period I was vomiting and extremely sensitive to the light. They Immediately took me inside and gave me a bed. This is rare since the normal wait time to be seen is usually over eight hours!
The first doctor who helped me ordered a CT scan to be done. After getting the results he indicated to my mom I can go home since it’s just a migraine. I was in denial and refused to leave. I said something is wrong, I can feel it. They ordered additional tests (CTA, MRI) and realized I had a 5mm aneurysm on the left side. Everything that happened after was a blur and I can’t remember much. The following day I had three neurosurgeons visit me in the morning. I barely had any sleep due to constant routine blood test and visitors. The doctors spoke to my family and friends since I was in and out of it. As I lay in the hospital bed wondering what was going on, everyone had a look of fear in their faces. The doctors discussed coiling and clipping and said we had to make a decision quick but before we do, he wanted to perform some additional testing. They did an angiogram and spinal tab and sure enough the liquid they extracted was pink.
The following morning April 26, at 7:00am I was taken into surgery for clipping. I did not want to live with the fear of having a coil in my head so I opted for clipping. After surgery I was in a coma for three days. As I regained consciousness, I saw my late husband sitting on my bedside. It appeared as if he was sitting on a throne watching over me. I don’t remember much but the room was filled with family and friends. I can hear chattering and crying as I slowly opened my eyes. I recall nurses asking me the same questions—what’s my name, birthdate and why I am in the hospital. I stayed in the intensive care unit (ICU) for two weeks before going home.
The doctors, though amazed, don’t tend to speak in spiritual terms. They don’t refer to my recovery as a miracle but note how “lucky” I was to survive and recover so well. I had been a healthy five foot four 135 pound 40 year old, who lived an active life. Unfortunately, all these preventative measures cannot overcome what we are born with, but they have been acknowledged as playing a big part in my subsequent survival and recovery.
Unfortunately, the last 8 months of recovery were far from easy. I suffered from PTSD, anxiety and constant headaches. Every day is filled with mixed emotions. Was this another battle I had to fight? For months I was filled with anxiety, depression, fear, anger, self-doubt and low self-esteem. Everything was hurting me emotionally, mentally and physically! But, as scary as it was, I took a stand and put up a serious fight for my soul, my health, my spirit and everything that matters in this life! I acknowledged my struggles, and then I immediately made an appointment to see a therapist. Seeking help was not a sign of weakness; it was a sign of strength.
I was hesitant to get on medication so instead I started journaling, meditating and exercising.
Because of my commitment to my healing, I feel a different kind of love for myself. I now see my will, determination, resilience, and that I’m a fighter and a survivor. Although I am still healing, I believe that because of my own experience, I am able to connect with people on a deeper level.
Cathee likes to keep fit by practicing yoga, running, and going on hikes. She also enjoys cooking and considers herself a “foodie.” More recently, Cathee developed an interest in volunteer work as another meaningful way to serve people in need. She has a 15 year old daughter who is also her best friend.