How to Help a Friend with a Brain Illness

migraineIt’s been nearly two months since I was diagnosed with a nickel-sized lesion in my brain stem.

It’s been a long wait for few answers. While I’ve been told my lesion (not the same as a tumor) is a demylenating lesion (like the insulation coming off a wire and causing inflammation and irritation in the surrounding area), doctors have been unable to provide me with a specific diagnosis, and thus a clear treatment plan.

I’ve undergone brain surgery to obtain a biopsy sample, and I’m doing fairly well, considering the fact that a grape-sized something is stirring up trouble inside my brain stem–pressing on nerves and control centers the monitor everything from my vision and speech to my breathing and walking.

So what should you expect if a loved one or friend is experiencing a brain tumor or lesion similar to mine?

Here are a few of my symptoms. They may not represent everyone’s, but they’ll help you get an idea what life is like.

1. Exhaustion. I tire very quickly. I’m usually asleep by 8:00 at night, and simple tasks like getting up to get a drink of water can feel overwhelming.

2. Emotional outbreaks. I cry very easily, which I’ve learned is very common for those who’ve experienced brain tumors or lesions. I also irritate more easily, partly because simple tasks can seem overwhelming (buttoning buttons, keeping track of my glasses because I take them off 100 times a day because they sit on my incision site).

3. Reduced focus. It’s hard for me to find my clothes in my closet or find a pen on my cluttered desk. I often feel stupid because simple tasks are so much harder for me to do.

4. Pain management. Yes, I can feel the lesion in my head. It’s a weird sense of pressure, but it also causes pain in my face and influences my walking, vision, and other functions. I also struggle with migraines.

5. Mind management. Imagine knowing that you have a sizable “something” (a life-threatening “something,” at that) cuddling up against your brain stem. And it’s taking doctors MONTHS to figure out what it is and what to do with it. It’s a challenge not to micro-analyze every pain and sensation in your body and to focus on details and scenarios that could drive you crazy. My choice is to remain positive and keep moving forward–but it’s a daily choice and battle. And the center of my focus is always the goodness of God–my hope.

So how can you help your friend or loved one?

1. Listen. Don’t feel like you have to provide easy answers or Bible verses. Let emotions roll when they come, and provide comfort and support.

2. Provide safety. Let your loved one know that you’re there for the long haul. You’re not bailing because they’re facing a battle. You’re in it with them. Then show them consistency, compassion, and advocacy when they need your help.

3, Learn. Learn about their illness, it’s treatments, and how you can best provide support along the way. Look for local or online support groups that can help you better understand both your loved one’s illness and your support role.

Have you supported a loved one who fought a battle with brain tumor or brain illness? How were you able to provide support for them? Share your wisdom and experience with us.

Self-Deception and Ripping Off Our Brothers

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Ever get one of those flashes of insight that shows the mucky thoughts you’d rather not let other people see?

I don’t like to admit it, but I this happens to me pretty often. I’m cruising through my day thinking what I’d like to believe are “good Christian thoughts,” when suddenly a subtext of vanity and pride bubbles to the surface.

Judgment.

Condemnation.

Anger.

I seem to discover those thoughts pretty often when I’m in crowds and I slip into an internal slime pit of judgment and condemnation. At a recent conference, I was surrounded by other Christians–people with whom I share a sisterhood and brotherhood at the deepest level: our shared faith in Jesus. Yet I found myself passing judgment every so often based on pure externals.

It was pretty darned ugly. And if we’re honest, we’d have to admit that we’re all familiar with that slime pit.

We all indulge in ageism, sexism, denominationalism, racism, and other forms of judgment and condemnation. We say we believe in loving our neighbor as ourselves, then hurl obscenities on the freeway or scream insults at the ref at the game. We claim we’re committed to showing God’s love to everyone, then insult a telemarketer before we hang up in their ear.

And we can walk around a Christian conference and be more concerned about what people are wearing or whether or not they’re raising their hands than the bond we share in Jesus.

Our self-talk is often a silent seduction. But it is also a valuable tool that reveals our heart and opens the opportunity to spiritual insight, repentance, and a renewed relationship with others through the power of the Holy Spirit.

–Shelly Beach
Author of The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk (Moody Publishers)