I learned many things when I had brain surgery in 2001 and again in 2004. You can read about these experiences here and/or here (#3).
First, I learned the wonders of modern medicine. It is truly amazing what doctors and medicine can do. I think my surgeons walk on water. There are a lot of medical areas that need a lot of improvement, a lot of cures that need to be discovered. In this instance, for me, though, I got exactly what I needed.
The second thing I learned was how to say no to the things I NEEDED to say no to more frequently. I was the queen of saying yes to people. I was overcommitted in volunteering for a variety of organizations and clubs. I was frequently not at home because I was at a board meeting or a planning meeting or a book review or this or that. I couldn't do it anymore. Not just because I was not physically able during my recovery, but because it was sucking the life out of me. I have managed to keep this somewhat under control over the years, but frequently have to check myself and make cutbacks.
I think the most important thing I learned, though, was how to say yes to the things I NEEDED to say yes to. Prior to the surgery, I was saying no to the wrong things - offers to help, friends and family wanting to give me some relief - physically, mentally, emotionally. I almost always said no. I didn't want to be "dependent" on anyone, I was perfectly capable of doing things myself. Once I started planning my surgery and realizing what a toll this was going to take on myself and my family, I had no choice but to say yes to those who wanted to help. I couldn't do it alone and it was a bitter pill to swallow. During my recovery, I learned to say YES to almost anyone that offered help - delivering meals, offers to come sit with me when my husband needed to run an errand or run into work, offers to run errands or grocery shop, offers from my mom to sleep with me at the hospital so my husband could go home and I didn't have to be there alone. (This was a HUGE one for me and my mom. She has only slept away from my dad about five times in their 45+ years of marriage - all but one of those times have been to help me!). I even said yes to my MIL who offered to have me receive healing touch therapy moments before going into surgery and for the days after. Both surgeries.
I couldn't have done it without all of the help. And I learned to say yes more often. I learned that people WANT to help. That accepting help does not make you dependent. That people providing the help feel as much reward for their offerings as I felt thankful for their caring. That it is OK to say YES. And it is OK to say no to the right things. Be careful what you offer to do for me now, because I will likely take you up on your offer and say "YES!" I am even able to ASK for help now, which is also new over the recent years.
A similar lesson I learned recently not related to my surgery is from a friend who lost her ten year old daughter to brain cancer. I learned that offering to help IS an unbelievable gift. And that sometimes, asking your loved one "What can I do? What do you need?" is not enough. Many times, the person in pain, no matter what kind of pain it is, often can't determine what it is they need. So I have learned not necessarily to OFFER to do something, but to JUST DO IT. Just show up with a meal and leave it on the front porch if they don't want to see anyone, offer to go for a walk with them, go through their cupboards and fridge to make a grocery list and shop for them, decorate their house for the holidays. Or just sit with them. Even if it is not exactly what the person needs, it will be much appreciated. Not just because you did something nice, but because they didn't have to think about it. You may provide something your loved one didn't even realize they needed.