Operation: Life

By Rosie Rosario

I am an independent single mother of a special needs child with ADHD, a 3-time marathoner, a workaholic, a cancer survivor and….yes, there is an “and” – I’m also a 4-time brain aneurysm survivor! Can one human being endure such challenges in life? Yes! And I am thankfully ALIVE and able to talk to you about my experience – what happened, how I’m recovering, my perspective on life before and after this tremendous journey.

Intuition – it is something that I have come to terms with as something that I clearly have and gladly now embrace.

In September 2014, I went to my doctor to figure out why I was so exhausted, especially because I was a pretty good sleeper. I asked him to have my kidneys checked. He humored me and sent me to get an MRI. The results showed that I had small mass. Of course, I was scared, I cried and dashed out of that office. I met up with my friend, Carolina who suggested I seek out another opinion, which I did. In fact, I went to Sloan Kettering and NYU for a second and third opinion. That is where I found my first savior Dr. William Huang, Urologist at NYU. The surgery was a success, and I felt so grateful for receiving a second lease on life! I vowed to be better to myself, take care of myself, and for some time, I did. After weeks of recovery, I took small steps to get better. I returned to work 8-weeks after the surgery only to be downsized not long after, from a job I had for over 14 years. So what did I do with my free time? When not looking for work, I dedicated my time to concentrate on running. I trained for my first TCS NYC Marathon….and it was the best time of my life! I ended up re-entering the workforce after being unemployed for 10 months in late August 2015. I was working full time, training and three months until the marathon. In November 2015, my dream of becoming a marathoner came true! I would love to give you details of how that race meant to me, but I that would require another story…so next time I’ll tell you. Just know that 2015 was a great year!

In 2017, I ran my first Disney Marathon! My 3rd and most joyful race. A few months later, life would hand me another crisis. One morning I woke up in extreme pain – no alarm clock needed. I felt extreme pressure, and I felt as if my life was going to end. Don’t ask me how or why, but my intuition kicked in. I didn’t know what I was experiencing, but I knew I needed to get to a hospital…fast! Like mission impossible I did what only an insane person would do, take an express bus to NYU! I cried and cried, but somehow made it into the city. I got off the bus and then got into a taxi to head to the emergency room. After many questions, they take my vitals, an perform CT scan. The test revealed I had bleeding in my head outside the brain, which was causing the extreme pressure I was feeling. However, they didn’t know where the bleeding was coming from. Enter my second savior in life, neurosurgeon Dr. Jafar Jafar. Dressed in a distinguished jacket, he says, “Hello. I’m Dr. Jafar. I’m a surgeon and I’ve been working here for 20 years. You are in good hands. You have some bleeding on your brain, but we need to conduct an Angiogram to know where the bleeding is coming from. This will go quickly”. That frightened me to death. The test was so painful that I literally saw stars. After the test, Dr. Jafar says, “We have to operate. You have a subarachnoid aneurysm. It has not ruptured, but there is bleeding.”

My first surgery was about 4 hours long. Dr. Jafar called the surgery a success. I don’t remember much during my recovery. I had good days and bad days, but I was blown away by the outpouring of love. The support I received from so many people was immeasurable. While recovering in the ICU, I suffered another setback. A test revealed I had a bubble forming under the clip revealing the neck of my vein was weak, allowing blood flow. After receiving the news, Dr. Jafar cut his vacation short and flew back to New York. Can you all see why I think he’s amazing? When he arrived, all I could say was thank you and hold his hand. He then informs me that another surgery is the best solution, so under the knife I go once more. I was released from the hospital three days later, which ended my 14-day stay at NYU Hospital.

So, one would think that all was resolved, right? Well, not fast. Twenty days later, I wake up and suddenly feel severe pain in my head, much stronger than I’ve ever felt before. I knew all too well that I was once again in danger. Slowly moving back to my bed, I call my friend Carolina and then my brother. I could barely speak, I cried uncontrollably. They drive me to NYU Hospital where I once again undergo a series of tests, which reveal a third brain aneurysm. So insane to believe! This time they discover the cause.

Unfortunately, I have a diseased artery so weak it was susceptible to multiple aneurysms. Dr. Jafar tells me that it would be best to conduct the surgery very early the next day, back I went into the operating room. Although the surgery was successful, I was not out of the woods. I would most likely develop another aneurysm, due to the weak artery. The solution? A pipeline stent! A pipeline stent is a flexible mesh sheath that acts as a sleeve inside the artery and over time stops the blood flow to the aneurysm, shrinking it and making it disappear. As scared as I was, this was the only real solution. Not accepting to do this would have surely put me closer to death’s door.

I spent that Fourth of July watching the fireworks from the hospital in a wheelchair, with my nurse and my brother by my side. For a short moment, I kept my focus on enjoying the Macy’s Fireworks Show. That was a wonderful night. Another angiogram later that week showed that a fourth aneurysm had formed. While small, this proved that the pipeline stent procedure was my only real option. On July 7, 2017, I was once again headed to the operating table. Another successful surgery in the books and a week later I was ready to go home.

It has been over nine months since my first craniotomy and seven since my pipeline stent. I am a miracle. To be able to tell you that I survived kidney cancer in 2014 and four aneurysms in 2017, two of which had me rushed to the hospital. Mine is not a story you hear every day, but I am living proof that it is possible.

What I learned from these trials and tribulations over the past three years are…

  • Follow your intuition. If you feel something is wrong, call a close friend or relative, and go to a doctor or a hospital
  • Have faith. I was born being a catholic, but I must admit, I don’t go to church much, but I do believe and I am very spiritual
  • Friends and family – in times of need they are ever more present. Let them help you and comfort you. They give you more reason to fight and live!
  • Nothing is coincidence. Things happen for a reason. Had I not had my cancer in 2014, I wouldn’t have quickly rushed to NYU Hospital when I started to experience the severe headaches. And I had no doubt in who I would go to for care in the event of an emergency. Thinking quickly and rushing to NYU Hospital was the best decision I ever made.

Although I will remain on a regimen of medication until my brain heals, I am pretty much leading a close to normal life. I work full time, raising my son, and learning to run again. My goals are now to work hard, smartly get better at running, and someday take on the Chicago Marathon for my comeback. But most importantly I intend to live a better, more balanced life, enjoy the little things, enjoy my friends and family who have shown me how much I truly matter to them, and to continually learn to be more grateful, because I truly am grateful to be alive. I want to be able to somehow help others see that life post aneurysm IS POSSIBLE!

Rosie Rosario

Rosie Rosario

Rosie is a full-time working, single mother of one, and marathoner. Rosie has worked over 17 years in the luxury goods industry in various supportive roles. Rosie enjoys running and to date has completed 3 marathons, 28 half marathons and countless shorter distance races. She survived kidney cancer in 2014 and survived 4 brain aneurysms in 2017. Her hope is to be able to train and run not one, but more marathons in her lifetime. Even though she is still recovering, she wants to help others going through the long process of recovery by providing words of wisdom. She firmly believes that with support, love, hope, faith and belief, that things and situations can get better.

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