Set Up Surgery on Safari – check

Last Tuesday, on Meghan’s 13th birthday, we woke early and headed to the airport for what has become an annual family vacation.  Disney World is a “happy place” for all of us.  Despite crowds, and heat, we seem to be able to locate so much magic there.  Plus, it’s not here.

I like it here.  In my house, with my family.  But being “here” in a broader sense means doctors and tests, and appointments and procedures.  And traffic, and waiting.  And bills, and phone calls, and all sorts of obligations that often keep me tied to my desk chair.

In Disney someone produces allergy safe meals for us.  In Disney there is no driving.  In Disney there are fireworks and parades and shows.  While we are in Disney Mom watches the dogs and the house.

Those 8 days designed as a respite.  A safety zone.  A doctor free area.  And we look forward to it every year.

This year was even more special because Meghan brought a friend.  She got to bring a kind, compassionate, witty young lady who had been by her side through some ups and downs the past year.  There is not a long list of people who Meghan trusts enough to take into confidence, and I can’t say that I blame her.  But, this young lady has similar loyalty standards, and held her composure as Meghan threw some tough stuff at her.  Meghan is forced to think about things and process things that are not even remotely acceptable to have to deal with at her age.  Most peers are overwhelmed.  Many shy away.  This young lady did not NEED Meghan as a friend, they CHOSE to be friends.  As different as they are, they compliment each other nicely.  So we set off on our adventure this year as a party of 4.  The Ortegas plus one!

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Once we found our groove, (adding a wheelchair takes finding a balance) we were off and running.  Great food, lots of laughs, and the highs and lows you’d expect from two spunky teenagers.

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I was distracted Friday when my cell phone rang, while we were on the Safari at Animal Kingdom.  I should have seen the NY number and known what was coming.  But, I answered quickly.

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It was my plastic surgeon’s office.  The one who had told me they could fix my implant some time in the spring… well, they were offering me a spot on August 19th.

If you don’t have the back story on this I’ll give you the quick version.  After a double mastectomy in March of 2012, I opted for immediate reconstruction.  I was very pleased.  Then in November of 2012 I was in quite a car accident.  I took a good hit to my totaled Hyundai.  The implants were intact, but likely never quite the same.  By the summer of 2015 I had been experiencing some pain and discomfort on the right.  I went back to my plastic surgeon in November of 2015.  She told me the right implant had fallen a bit, and I should have (non-emergency) surgery to pull it back up.  Except, she was no longer accepting my health insurance.  The year that was had Meghan in the OR I believe 5 times.  I struggled to get the courage to call the new plastic surgeon.  I was annoyed to have to do all this again so soon.  The initial estimate on the implants was 15 years.  This was under 5.  I finally got an appointment with the new plastic surgeon a full year later, in July of 2016.  He concurred that a surgical procedure to “tighten things up” was a good idea, and that I could schedule at my convenience.  So, I tried to get it scheduled for the summer.  Then I tried for October when we have a few days off.  Then I tried for December… and before I knew it I was looking at spring break, almost another year of what had transformed from pain, to just an odd sensation, all the time.

I listened as I was told I could have the date one week away.  I looked around at the animals on the African Safari.  I tried to keep my conversation low enough to make sure the girls, and no one else on the vehicle was following along.  I promised to return the call in an hour.

I hung up and managed to share the story with my husband.  Then I called my Mom.  Then I called the plastic surgeon back.  “Let’s do it.”

So the following Monday was spent ducking away to make phone calls to set up pre-operative appointments.  Because the plane was due to land at midnight Tuesday.  I needed blood drawn, and a physical Wednesday in order to hold the spot.

Tuesday we left Disney.  The step count on my FitBit was over 142,000  I had covered over 62 foot miles.  I was tired, but happy.

We did have a great week, and while I was bothered on some level that the surgical planning creeped in, I am skilled at managing many things from my cell phone.  And, the thought of getting all that straightened out months ahead of schedule was exciting.

Tuesday it rained.  In NY and in Florida.  There was lightning.  There were delays.  Lots of them.  Our plane landed well after 1 am.  I hit my bed hard at 3 and was on the bus to NYC for the lab work by 9.  After battling NYC traffic there and back, I went for the physical.  Passed, and papers faxed to the plastic surgeon by 4:00.  Success.

nyc bus

Life moves quickly.  We have to keep up.

The call came Thursday to be at the hospital at 6 AM Friday.  While I am not a morning person, only the surgically experienced would realize that is like hitting the jackpot.  It means you’ve got first case.  And that is a giant win.

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There was little time to share the plan with anyone.

Yesterday morning I had bilateral implant repair between 7:30 and 10 AM.  I slept till 1, had some ginger ale and crackers and was home by 2:45.

Last night I laid in my bed catching up on Email and I caught one from Meghan’s endocrinologist.  The thyroid numbers have gone a bit off again.  He wants to play around before repeating labs in 6 weeks.

Medication readjusted.  Again.  Illogical.  Like so many other things.

Apparently #beatingcowdens involves scheduling surgery on an African Safari and readjusting medications hours post-operatively.

We’ve got this.

Thank goodness for our time in the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

 

 

On Your 13th Birthday…

 

scan0003August 9, 2016

Dear Meghan,

As I sit to write this some time in the middle of the night, I am reminded of the early years, when so many of the middle of the night hours belonged to the two of us.  Yes, Meg, I said YEARS.

lori & meg

You struggled my girl, but your determination was evident early, like the day the NICU nurse called you feisty.  She was right.  And it has proven to be one of your finest and most valuable attributes.

When I look back on pictures of those early years, it doesn’t seem all that bad.  I guess I never had time or desire to photograph some of those tear-stained days.  And maybe. if it wasn’t for the colicky cry seared into my brain, I might have even come to forget that you considered sleep optional, crying and screaming mandatory, and that carrier pouch a requirement for all things.  At one point we had even taken to calling you a kangaroo baby…

You and your tired Mommy!

                               You and your tired Mommy!

But, I look at the babies in those pouches,  And I think to those mother’s “enjoy it.”  You might find this hard to believe my dear, but there is not a single minute I would change or do over.  Every step along this journey with you has BEEN the journey.  And I have the deepest gratitude that God selected me to be your mother.

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The path hasn’t been easy.  Sometimes it’s been rocky, and a little unsettled.  Other times its been like traveling through fire. On a bicycle.  With no handlebars.  Backwards. But, I think we’ve all found pieces of ourselves we never knew existed, and there is a family bond between you, and me and Daddy that so many envy.  Not for what we’ve done or where we’ve been, but rather the fact that we have done, and continue to do it all together.

At eight years old, you were tossed a diagnosis of a Rare Disorder, a 1 in 200,000 PTEN Mutation called Cowden’s Syndrome, that has leveled many grown adults.  But, by eight years old, you were already seasoned at doctors, OT, PT, and speech.  You’d been there, and were still doing dome of that.  At 8 you were intimately aware of what it meant to spend hours waiting for doctors, and you had a clearer visual of an operating room than anyone should ever have.  So really, in reality, that diagnosis just pushed us in the right direction to continue to help you become who you were meant to be.

It’s rotten to be the “unusual one”  the one with all the risks and the need for that “hyper-vigilant” surveillance.  But, I’m thankful.

See without Dr. Jill to push us to your diagnosis, without all those things falling into place, it’s likely I wouldn’t be here to write this. Your diagnosis led to mine,  and while I am intimately connected with the reality there is no guarantee of tomorrow on this earth for any of us, my heart is sure that you, my angel, my gift, you my dear saved my life.

I watch you with each passing year, and the challenges pile on top of themselves.   And we both sometimes want to stop the presses and scream, “IT’S NOT FAIR” and the top of our lungs.  but then we laugh.  “Fair” is just a silly word anyway.   It’s not the perspective we use.  It’s not worth our time.

You approach this birthday with 17 operating room trips under your belt, and too may ER visits and, tests, and hospitalizations to count. You have had to make decisions, and think thoughts that are beyond the scope of what you should contend with.  But with grace and dignity you proceed, because none of that is what defines who you are.

Grace,. Poise. Strength under pressure.

               Grace. Poise. Strength under pressure.

 

Despite unimaginable pain, you press on.  Your body would not allow for dancing school or soccer.  But the competitor in you was not to be silenced.  Running was out of the question, so now you “fly,” in the water, 11 months a year 4-5 days a week for hours.  You pull energy out of the crevices of your toes to push through when most would curl up and give up.

First season swimming, a few weeks in. Spring 2013

             First season swimming, a few weeks in. Spring 2013

2016 Working on her "fly"

                              2016 Working on your “fly”

You press on in the community, focused to raise the necessary founds the PTEN foundation will need to create our patient database.  But, you will not turn your back on the charity where you began, Global Genes, “for the babies who can’t speak for themselves,” you tell me.  You make flyers, select venues, advertise and collect raffles.   You speak at schools and organizations across the Island who will have you, to raise awareness that rare diseases are everywhere.  For the last 2 Februaries we have celebrated Rare Disease Day with almost 200 people, gathered because you have a mission.

Youngest “Woman of Distinction” recognized in Albany by Senator Lanza in May.  Proudest parents.

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I watch you talk to people and I swell with pride.  When you’re intermittently stuck in that wheelchair you hate, you decided to help the doubters, the starers and those passing judgment.  A simple business card with a phrase you helped create “Cowden’s Syndrome – Rare. Invisible. Real.”  It starts a conversation, or it ends the behavior.  Either way you manage with grace to rise above.

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You take the high road so many times a day.  I know it’s not easy.  And I know there are people in your path every minute determined not to make it easy.  But, truth be told, as we are learning, there are others out there.  There are real people, at swimming, at youth group, at SICTA.  There are real people who are finally recognizing that you are pretty spectacular. And I don’t mean that in a ‘who is better than who’ way.  I mean it in it’s best sense.  Everyone is spectacular in some way.  You just learned it a little early.

As you turn 13 this week, I wish you so many things, from the depths of my heart and soul;

*Never lose the magic.  Ever.

ALWAYS remember THAT feeling.

                                        ALWAYS remember THAT feeling.

*Never compromise yourself for anyone.  Remember that doesn’t mean to be brick wall stubborn.  It means to keep those morals.  Rise above.

*Always remember no matter how wild and crazy the world gets, you’ve got two parents who will love you regardless… and that is a PROMISE.

*Smile, sing, laugh, act, dance, be sarcastic, and sensitive, and guarded and silly, with a healthy touch of humor thrown in.  Do it all always with respect.

*Continue to constantly take every obstacle tossed at you, and it toss it back, or walk past it and move on. When they tell you you can’t, find a way to show them you can.

*Never let anyone make you feel less than.  You, you are enough.  You are always enough.  God said so, and He is smarter.  Trust.

*”Be the change you wish to see in the word.” – Ghandi

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Your teenage years will be a giant path of self-discovery.  It won’t always be smooth.  But nothing is.

Be you, and it will fall into place.  And in the off chance that none of that works, I’m not going anywhere.

I love you from the bottom of my heart.  You truly are the child I was meant to have, and there is NO ONE I’d rather be #beatingcowdens with, than YOU!

Happy 13th Birthday!  You will always remain, “My Most Thankful Thing!”

I love you ALWAYS,

Mom

Thanks for bringing out the best in me. I love you more than you know.

        Thanks for bringing out the best in me. I love you more than you know.

I have nodules WHERE???

It took me over a week to actually wrap my head around this one.

The summer is not just time for Meghan to get checked and cleaned up, it’s time for me too.  And this summer I tracked down a new doctor.

Sometime around the end of April my voice started to bother me.  I was getting hoarse easily.  I explained it away as allergies, season change, dust, “I must be getting sick,” and everything else I could think of.  Except it bothered me.  And that creepy voice that sneaks in sometimes to remind me that my body has already betrayed itself once, started to take hold.

hoarse

After almost 20 years of teaching, and never ever struggling to use my “teacher voice,”  I couldn’t project.  Simultaneously with the pain in my right implant, and the nodule being watched on the remnants of my thyroid, it started to get in my head.

I went to my primary doctor, and wasted several hours to get nothing that resembled an answer.  They suggested a thyroid sonogram.  I never went back.

I started researching ENTs locally.  I found very few who took my insurance, and fewer who seemed to have any voice experience.

I turned to the internet and found a voice specialist at a facility I trust in NYC.

I don’t really know what I expected from the exam.  I filled out the preliminary papers, and gave the basic Cowden’s rundown.  They did a few tests externally with a microphone, and another with a camera in my nose.  Not pleasant, but incredibly informative.

And there on the screen was a “benign appearing” nodule on the side of my vocal cords, causing them to briefly lock together when I make certain sounds.  Fascinating.  But bothersome all the same.

Not mine, but they looked a lot loke this.

Not mine, but they looked a lot like this.

They reassured me several times that the nodules were “benign appearing.”  I appreciated that, but reminded them many of my scars are from “benign, and benign appearing” growths.  I asked about the prevalence, and if it was linked to my Cowden’s Syndrome.  I got a very definitive, “Maybe, or maybe not.”  These nodules occur in the general population, they can be caused by overuse, but what had me perplexed was the problem seemed to start when I did the LEAST amount of teaching for the year.  I was out of my program for quite an extended time between spring testing and other professional obligations.  So, why now?

And, what to do?  September is looming, and my life will be in the classroom many hours a day.  I need my silly voice, my sing-song voice, my stern voice, my loud voice, my quiet voice, and my serious voice.  Elementary school students expect, and deserve nothing less.

I was given a number for a “voice therapist.”  And as of now my voice is getting a workout leaving messages for her.  I asked the doctor what are the chances this “voice therapy” could control the nodules.  He told me it “couldn’t hurt.”  I asked if this was like giving me compression hose for my horrendous veins?  Is it going to be a situation where voice therapy delays an inevitable surgery?  Because any scar tissue on my vocal cords seems scarier than the painful legs I’ve contended with for years.

voice

The answer is, there is none.  I will persist and connect with this voice therapist.  I will hear her out and try my best.  And in 4 months or so I will follow-up with the doctor to evaluate.  That is assuming the fall semester goes off without incident, and all my new students can hear me loudly and clearly.

For now, I’m using mostly the quiet voice.  Often mumbling to myself.  Because whether this is Cowden’s related or not, the whole “growing things” in my body is incredibly old.

Watch.  Wait.  Check.  Recheck. Remove if necessary.  That’s how we roll.

#beatingcowdens

Body Betrayed

The first time I felt the pain it was last summer.  It was under my right implant, and from my armpit a bit down my side.  The pain lasted a few days and then eased itself into a chronic state of discomfort.  I went from almost 4 years of barely noticing, and sometimes forgetting the silicone implants that had replaced the breasts in their earliest stages of cancer in March of 2012 to thinking about them all the time.

Now I knew the right one was there.  And it was bothering me.  For physical, and deeply psychological reasons.  It was getting in my head.  Messing with my focus.

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I went to see my plastic surgeon in November of last year.  I adored her.  I wanted her to make it better.  Her words were reassuring to a point.  The implant was intact.  There was some minor movement.  I should get it taken care of but it wasn’t an emergency.

Then there was the bombshell.  She was no longer accepting my health insurance.  I definitely cried right there in the office.  She cried too as she apologized, handed me the name of the doctor I needed to see and scurried out of the office.  I still adore her.  But, I’m sure I’ll never see her again.

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So, faced with the reality that I needed to start over, on a journey I wanted to forget ever happened, I did the logical thing.  Nothing.

I lived in a state of denial for months.  And slowly I started to restrict the activities I would do with my right arm.  Certain basic tasks would make it bothersome.  Fitness-wise, push ups, planks, weight lifting, and even the elliptical were out.  I no longer trusted my own body weight on that arm.

denial

One day in December I mustered up the courage to call the office of the new doctor.  It took a lot.  I trembled.  I had my calendar set up for January and February.  I was ready to schedule that consult.

“Late March…”

I heard nothing past that.  After I was told the earliest appointment I could get for a consult was late March.  I hung up the phone and did what I do when excessively frustrated.  I cried.

When I saw my breast surgeon for our annual check up in February, she noticed the subtle problem.  She asked who was looking at it.  She also proclaimed it, ‘not urgent.’  I told her about my experience trying to get an appointment with apparently the only plastic surgeon that does breasts and takes my insurance left at this hospital.  She vowed to have her scheduler help me get in.

I met with the scheduler.

I never heard from her again.

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March came and went.  Life was busy.  Meghan was in and out of surgery, Pop had been so sick, Grandma was struggling, we had the fundraiser…I found a reason not to call every single day.

Then I really wanted to work out my arms again.  Walking was getting boring.  I mustered up the courage in April to call.

July 18th.

I had to take it.  I cried again.  I tend to cry most in my life when I am frustrated.

I brought Mom with me to this appointment.  I never need another pair of ears.  I did this day.  I was a wreck.

The doctor was wonderful.  Kind.  Sensitive.  Funny.  Everything I feared he would not be.  I exhaled.  He said it was again, not an emergency.  But, he saw my issue, understood my discomfort and agreed at my convenience he’d try to fix it.  He ordered one test for a sensitive spot under my arm, and asked me to try some physical therapy when I could.

I talked it out with my mom.  I talked it out with my husband.  After waiting almost a year, I was ready to get it done and stop favoring my dominant arm.

e cars schedule

I called to make the appointment for the test.  Except it had to be done in the hospital.  And it needed insurance pre-authorization.  And I tried for one solid week to get in touch with this doctor’s office staff.  Three Emails, 2 phone messages and several canceled appointments, I finally got a human.

I got them moving quickly, and they got the insurance authorization immediately.  I scheduled the test, and it was fine.

Then I called to schedule the surgery.  I was thinking I could still make August.  I was wrong.

What about September?

UGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I took out the calendar once again.  We have 4 days off in October…  No luck there.  No, he doesn’t work December the week I’m off.  And in February we have the fundraiser…

Looks like once I calm down I’ll schedule for Spring 2017.

When the time came to have the double mastectomy I opted for the quickest route.  I was out of the hospital with reconstruction complete in 28 hours.  I wanted this done.  I was so incredibly fortunate not to need treatment.  I was grateful.  More energy to focus where it mattered.

Except once cancer has lived inside of you there is this uneasy feeling that can not be explained.  There is this knowledge that somewhere in your body those cells did what they were not supposed to.  There is this feeling that you were violated and betrayed by your own body, from the inside out.  It damages trust deeply.  It’s hard not to trust your body.  It can really mess with your mind.  So understandably, I was interested in functioning without that thought process.  I had become adept at ignoring my scars and “nipple-free” implants.

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Until I started to feel them.  Every damn day.

This is minor.  This can be fixed.  And it will be.  Just not in a time-table anywhere close to my liking.

I picked up the free weights again today.  Really light.  In my chair.  What’s the worst that happens?  Really?  If it becomes an emergency they have to move faster.

Otherwise, I’ll balance that full-time job, that beautiful, active 8th grader, and a boatload of afterschool activities.  I’ll try to get out of my own head.

But, no matter how vigilant, or how confident…  thoughts of the potential renegade cell, lurking like a thief in the night never quite go away.

#beatingcowdens is a full-time job

Pathology…

About an hour ago I got off the phone with Meghan’s gynecologist.  It seems we dodged another bullet.

Mostly.

Once again we got to spend about 45 seconds in a deep breath as we were told there was no evidence of malignancy in the uterine biopsy from last Friday.

BUT…

There is always a “BUT…”  I’ve come to expect it now.  After she spoke, she paused.

I asked her why she sounded happy and hesitant at the same time.

“Well I just got off the phone with the pathologist…”  and her voice trailed off.

So much was what she expected when she spoke to us Friday.  But, it was still bothering her that there are polyps.  And more than one.

“It just shouldn’t be…”

Sigh.

We’ve heard this so many times before.  “It just shouldn’t be…”  But, in fact it is.

So the polyps were benign.  The tissue sampling was benign.  This is a good thing.  A very good thing.

Digitally generated My brain has too many tabs open

But, this whole situation.  The whole scenario that causes all sorts of conversations a 12 or 13, or even a 19 or 20 year old for that matter, should NEVER have to have, is just not ok.

There are thoughts, decisions, trade-offs, conversations, risks and benefits that make deciding on a high school seem trivial.  Strange that THAT will be the toughest thing most girls her age have to do this year.

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And as I look at her, it kills me inside the things she has to go through, and the thoughts she needs to think.  All I can do is thank GOD, that He trusted me with this beautiful, dynamic, witty, young lady.  And I promise to take good care of her until the rest of the world figures her out.

 (and really, for FOREVER. as we remain #BEATINGCOWDENS together!)

Counting… Our 400th Post!

“Count your many blessings, name them one by one…”  Grandma used to sing years ago when we would complain about nonsense.  She was a little tough sometimes my Grandma, and maybe that’s where I got it from.  But, many times she was right, whether we listened or not.  (Maybe that’s where I got that from too? ;-))

Count your Blessings 1-03

I like numbers.  They are logical.  They are what they are.  In a world that often makes no sense at all, I find order in numbers.

Except sometimes I’m faced with the question of what to do when numbers become overwhelming in and of themselves.

This marks the 400th post on this blog.  While it’s by no means a masterpiece, when I sometimes poke through old posts I remember so much of where we’ve been.  It’s a definite roadmap of our journey, and Meghan and I take great pleasure when people from around the world reach out to us and cite the blog as a source of comfort and strength.

Cowden’s Syndrome is rare enough that it can be a lonely diagnosis.  Being able to reach people the world over has been a victory for us, and them.

With over 170,000 hits on various posts I know we are getting the word out.  Slowly.

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I might have wanted to celebrate this post.  I might have wanted to make it really special.  But, I’m counting something else today.

Today was the 17th time I’ve gotten off the phone with the nurse, giving me pre-operative directions for my daughter.  Today, I listened as I always do, reciting the directions in my mind before she spoke.  Really my only interest was the time.  The rest is routine.  I want to stop counting.  I want to just go with it.  I can’t give you an exact count on mine anymore – because once you’re a mom, well, you just focus more on what’s important.  And you become less important.  And that is a gift, denied to many, cherished and appreciated.

seventeen

Somehow though,  if I stop counting for her, it makes her struggle feel less valid.  The numbers give her strength.  A badge of courage.  Something concrete in this world of abstract.

My post last night was about “Patience”

The Waiting Place…

And as I poked around the blog this morning I was taken back years, through so many similar posts.

Blessings… and patience

“The Waiting Place…”

Hurry up… and waiting rooms…

Losing Count…

Their similarities are uncanny.  I guess the story doesn’t change much.  Hurry up, wait, surgery, wait, recovery, wait, follow up, wait…

So I’ll leave this 400th post as unremarkable.  Nothing has changed.  Nothing will change.  And that’s the precise reason we keep counting, and keep telling our story.

Tomorrow, surgery number 17.  9:15 arrival.  As usual, prayers always appreciated.

#beatingcowdens 400th post!

400

The Waiting Place…

A quick Google search brings the definition below when the word “patience” is entered.
pa·tience
ˈpāSHəns/
noun
 
1. the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
I’ve been thinking a lot about patience these last few weeks.  It’s something we work on from a very young age, yet I’m not quite sure it can ever be attained in its purest form.  At least not by me.  Not if I’m honest.
patience 5
And I tend to be honest right here.  Which some might think is an odd place to make that choice, but that’s for another conversation.
We work on patience when we are young.  Waiting for play time.  Waiting for school to end.  Waiting for a party.  Waiting to get there.  Waiting for the game to finish. (Waiting at ‘the waiting place’ like Dr. Seuss in “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”)
We learn that patience will help us get things faster.  If we are patient our parents are more likely to bend.  If we do what we’re told and wait, things are more likely to go our way.  That ice cream cone has a better chance of landing in our hand if we’ve exercised patience than if we’ve badgered.
When we get a little older there are less overt rewards for patience, yet it’s still a necessary virtue to master.  Those without patience are deemed immature.  If we are overly demanding it endears us to no one.
patience 2
I know this.  I know all of this.  And generally I am a pretty patient person.  But, I must tell you I have thought long and hard about the amount of patience required to navigate Cowden’s Syndrome and its ramifications, and it seems to be an inordinate amount.
I get it.  I’ll say it a thousand times to anyone who will listen.  Of all the “rare disease” cards to draw, this is by far among the better ones.  I know of the suffering of so many who are diagnosed with torturous terminal diseases.  I know of so many who would trade places with us in an instant.
If the PTEN mutation causing Cowden Syndrome is found early, a lifetime of vigilance can often ensure longevity.
It’s just that with that vigilance, you need to much darn patience.  So with my gratitude, I sometimes battle frustration.  Which is ok.  Because I am human.
patience1-1
In the last 21 days I’ve been to Manhattan 4 times for doctor’s appointments, and another 2 to Long Island.  The average roundtrip for these appointments is about 5 hours.  5 hours to travel in insane traffic regardless of the hour.  To Manhattan the distance is only 13 miles and I can not tell you how many times 2 hours hasn’t been enough time to be on time.
But, I should never worry, because they are rarely, if ever on time.  And while I understand the myriad of reasons doctors run late, still the patience sometimes runs thin.  Especially when we are anticipating another traffic filled journey home.
The patience wanes when I call offices and 2 days lapse without returned calls.  I struggle when I have to spend hours explaining what test I need insurance authorization for, only to have the person speaking to me become hysterical with laughter, presumably because they are being told a joke.  I’m not against laughter.  I actually like it.  But, when I have to now cancel the test ordered by the doctor I never wanted to see in the first place, sometimes I just can’t find it funny.
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When I call for an appointment and I’m given a 3 month wait time.  And an appointment smack in the middle of the work day.  I lose patience.  I don’t expect special treatment.  And its a good thing I don’t.  But its sometimes hard to stay patient when you’re juggling over a dozen specialists (each) and a full-time job, and academic honors.
So in the summer I try to be even more patient.  But by default I have to get a lot of things done in the summer.  We are actively trying to shove in some fun, in between a boatload of appointments.  I try to squeeze in time in pockets of my day to regroup and relax.  I try not to cringe when my Facebook news feed is full of play dates and day trips.  Why shouldn’t it be?  I don’t WANT anyone else to have to sort through this mess.
Friday is Meghan’s second uterine biopsy.  PTEN mutations tend to cause most of their cancers, although not exclusively, in the thyroid, breast and uterus.  The fact that she hasn’t hit her 13th birthday yet, and this will be her 17th round of operating room, general anesthesia procedures is taxing.  But, we will be patient.  We will be patient tomorrow when we wait for the time of Friday’s procedure.  And we will be patient on Friday as there are often delays.  We know.

time concept, selective focus point, special toned photo f/x

We will be patient over the weekend as she adjusts to the discomfort and pain from the procedure.
We will be patient while we wait.  And wait.  For the critical pathology report.
We will be patient while she heals enough to return to the pool.  Her happy place.
Patiently we will continue to navigate the road of vigilance, peppered with mines that need to be avoided at all costs.
We will pretend, each time we meet a new doctor, that they are the most important.  We will not even try to explain the full complexity of the scheduling of life.  They have their own problems.  They don’t need to hear about ours.
When we each face our own lives we know the challenges presented to us.  I don’t want any of yours.  At least I understand the task at hand here.
I have gratitude that I am given the opportunity to allow my vigilance to matter.  I am patient.  Mostly.
pa·tience
ˈpāSHəns/
noun
1. the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
Usually I take a deep breath.  A bunch of times.  I’ve learned patience gets you farther.
So if some days are harder than others, I ask you to have patience.

#beatingcowdens can be exhausting.

persistence

“We’re All in this Together…”

High School Musical – We’re All In This Together

“…Everyone is special in their own way
We make each other strong
We’re not the same
We’re different in a good way
Together’s where we belong
We’re all in this together
Once we know
That we are
We’re all-stars
And we see that
We’re all in this together
And it shows
When we stand
Hand in hand
Make our dreams come true…”
The news is filled with horror stories.  Local and abroad, young and old.  Lives lost through senseless acts.  Cries for unity, and division sometimes drown each other out.  From the grand scale, to stories closer to home, we seem collectively to be lacking the notion that, for lack of a better phrase, “We’re all in this together…”
As Rare Disease patients, one of the statistics that blew Meghan and I away early in the game, was the one that said 1 in 10 Americans suffers from a Rare Disease.  If all of these people got together, they would make the world’s THIRD most populated country.
  • 30 million people in the United States are living with rare diseases. This equates to 1 in 10 Americans or 10% of the U.S. population.
  • If all of the people with rare diseases lived in one country,  it would be the world’s 3rd most populous country.
  • Source https://globalgenes.org/rare-diseases-facts-statistics/

We have wondered through the years what good could come of uniting forces for the benefit of all Rare Disease Patients.  And slowly we are starting to see charities connect for the betterment of the big picture.  The PTEN foundation has teamed with a patient with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, to raise funds to benefit both causes, and for those that remain undiagnosed.

Please consider supporting this cause.  There is important work being done for all.

(FROM THE PTEN FOUNDATION FACEBOOK PAGE) Exciting News!!! We have a team of 12 sponsored cyclists that will support Ride4Gabe getting the word out about ‪#‎Duchenne‬ Muscular Dystrophy,‪#‎PTEN‬, and all Rare Genetic Illnesses with unmet medical needs. This is huge. You can help, please share this and our team go fund me link often. 1/2 of all proceeds will go to our PTEN Foundation. 

HTTPS://www.gofundme.com/wesupportride4gabe

THEY GET IT!  They understand, “We’re all in this together…”

I was never a huge fan on Disney’s High School Musical.  I’m not really sure I ever sat down to watch, and I likely judged without thinking.  But I’ll be the first to tell you first impressions can be flawed.  And I’ll also tell you that I ‘get it’ on a much more grand scale after last night.

For us it started with a friendship that bloomed between Meghan and one of the most compassionate young ladies I have ever met.  They’ve known each other forever, but only in recent times have they come to know each other as “friend.”  They spent time on stage together through middle school productions, and it was through this young lady we learned of a Summer Theater opportunity offered.

Meghan's "Sisters" not by birth, but through love, heart and choice.

Meghan’s “Sisters” not by birth, but through love, heart and choice.

Welcome to the

Staten Island Children’s Theatre Association

We are a self-sustaining program sponsored by the Staten Island Mental Health Society whose mission is to promote positive mental health through the arts.  We are currently celebrating our 52nd Season of bringing live theater to children and families. 

Looking for a summer change of pace, and not knowing at all what to expect, I dropped Meghan off to the Snug Harbor dance theater where these forty-five or so 9-18 year olds would spend the next 8 days generating a full “junior” production.  I walked into the back of the room for the parent meeting at the end of the first day, and I watched the children, and young adults, attentive on the floor.  This was July.  There were a lot of them.  Their respect had already been earned by the staff.  This was a “no-nonsense” set up.  We received out parent information and as we left to head home, my girl said very little about the day.  She told me she liked it though, and this was a big win.

Some of the children in the program were new, like she was.  Others had been in the program for years.  And somehow it seemed to not matter.  Ages, genders, styles, personal interests, there seemed to be very few alienating factors.  Everything seemed to be joining them together.

Each day pick up was a little smoother.  Names were a little more familiar.  Identities seemed a bit more well-established.  By the time we came home last Friday, it was hard to imagine they had only spent a bit more than 24 hours together.

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10-4 for eight days they sang, they learned, they laughed and they grew.  They focused and learned that they needed to keep …

 “Just keep ya head in the game
Just keep ya head in the game

And don’t be afraid
To shoot the outside “J”
Just keep ya head in the game…”

They became a team.  They became a group of high energy youth, who each possess their own strengths.  Instead of trying to outshine each other, they learned they would shine best together.

Last night before we got into the theater I looked around.  I saw photos from the dress rehearsal, parents and children I knew from other walks of life, and family and friends there to support my girl.  I am an over-thinker.  I always will be.  It was hard not to think one week from then she’d be, God-willing, on my couch recovering from another biopsy.  But, that was not about tonight.  Tonight was about #beatingcowdens by being part of a group, by being one of “them,” and by being on that stage in a very present way.  So I cleared my head, and I watched.

Sneaking in a Proud Mommy Moment🙂

I watched a play about finding your own identity, supporting each other, not being linked into your “label,” following your passions, learning trust, and forgiveness and so much more.

I never was a fan of “High School Musical,” until last night.  Last night I realized that there was such a timely, deeper meaning.

Truly, “We’re all in this together…”  and in the words of Ben Franklin, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately…” It’s time.

HSMo

It’s time we stop seeing labels, and who we think people are.  It’s time we start learning who they really are.  It’s time to start celebrating the good.  Because there is much good to be celebrated.

On an island knee-deep in a very real drug crisis, hitting every single walk of life, I am filled with gratitude for SICTA, for giving children something to focus on, and for instilling a positive message of self-worth and deeper meaning.  I can not name all the adults who touched my girl’s life this week for fear of leaving someone out, but YOU, YOU are leading by example.  I  am full of gratitude.

Life #beatingcowdens is riddled with twists and turns.  You gave us a brief respite.

And, as the lovely young lady took Meghan from the steps of the theater and invited her to the diner “with the cast,” so many things came together.

“We’re All in This Together,”  indeed.  THANK YOU #SICTA

“1,2,3…BRAVA!”

 

Justifying Our Existence

There was a post that showed up in my news feed this week from http://www.themighty.com.  Read The Secrets of People with Chronic Illness here

I can’t seem to shake some of the thoughts from my head.

chronic illness

As I write, school ended for the summer 9 days ago.  In those 9 days we have seen 4 doctors between us.  There are 9 more SCHEDULED in the month of July, including a biopsy for Meghan on the 22nd.

And, while I did take some time over the weekend to reconnect with some dear friends, and I have accomplished a few mundane tasks like routine car maintenance, the vast majority of every moment of those 9 days has been spent justifying my existence.

Fortunately, I have enrolled Meghan in a theater camp where she is from 10-4, spending some time with kids her age.  Of course, the wear and tear on her body, even after only 3 days is evident.  She struggles with pain so badly.  On her feet, determined to fit in.  Determined for me not to say too much.  Sometimes I have to let her go.  I have to let her try.  I have to let her decide.  But, it hurts.  It hurts her, and it destroys me to watch her battle with her body.  I watch her put that game face on in the AM, and not take it off until after swim practice follows camp.  No one will ever tell me she is anything but driven.  But, no one would ever know to watch her…

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Usually by this point in the summer my work bag is unpacked, washed and tucked away.  Often my lesson plans for September are mostly framed out.  I am yet to take the list I frantically formed as I packed my room the last day of school out of the bag.

Instead, the yellow legal pad sits near my computer.  I write, and cross out, and rewrite, as I call, obtain records, set appointments, and clarify tests required by various doctors.  I rearrange schedules to allow for coverage for Meghan as I trek to my own appointments at the most inconvenient times.

On the 18th I will meet a new plastic surgeon, as the old one no longer accepts our insurance.  I never imagined needing a new plastic surgeon only 4and 1/2 years post op from the mastectomy, but it seems I do.  I’ll wait until I meet him to elaborate on that…  Sometimes, although not often, I do feel like this…

chronic illness3

I can often count on 4 hours minimum round trip for the 10 mile trek.  Never mind the cost.  We just don’t even add it up.  Instead, we thank God for our jobs and the insurance we do have.

I received a phone call yesterday from a lab that was running insurance information to obtain testing for Meghan requested by one of her doctors.  Except it’s not covered at all.  $16,000 they said.  I, who denies my child nothing politely said, “we’ll find another way”.  And we will.  Because that is just insane.

I’ve sent 3 emails to the office manager of the office doing her procedure on the 22nd.  I simply want to know what date to leave free for the follow-up.  I know there will be one, and I want to plan a few summer adventures in the time that my fish will have to be out of water.  I also asked for the pathology from her December procedure.  For about the 8th time.  Just keep adding checks and dates to the list.

When things get really bad, like with the bills I’m fighting in collections, they get a folder of their own.  The SUPER troubling places, like the mail-order pharmacy, have a notebook.

We do our best to stay upbeat.  We count our blessings regularly.  We know it could be worse.  We know the anguish others suffer far surpasses our daily struggles.  But, no matter how much we focus on a positive attitude, and believe me we do, it does not decrease the pain, both physical and emotional.  The struggle is real.  Whether we like to admit it or not.

chronic illness4

I reached out to our genetecist this week.  Darling man said he would always help, and didn’t want us to waste a trip on him.  I told him I was having trouble with my voice.  I’ve been getting very hoarse for 8 weeks or so.  No infection.  Three allergy meds on board.  But, I do have Cowden’s Syndrome, that tumor growing thing I sometimes forget belongs to me too.  And I have a history in the neck.  A 3.5 pound lipoma in 1988, and multinodular goiter on the thyroid in 1993.  Both removed.  Both benign. But…

He referred me to a head and neck surgeon.  I finally mustered up the courage to block out at least one more day of summer, and call for an appointment.  I was met with the inquisition on the phone.  I never got past the receptionist.

“This doctor is a head and neck SURGEON.”

“Yes, I know he’s a surgeon, I was referred for consulation.”

“Well, he doesn’t just SEE people, you need a diagnosis and a referring doctor.”

“I have both.  C-O-W-D-E-N Syndrome.  A mutation on the PTEN gene that causes benign and malignant tumor growth.  I was referred by my genetecist, also a doctor at your hospital.”

“Well, what tests do you have?  He will want a report, a CD, something…”

Sigh.  I just don’t have the fight in me today. “Ok, you win.   I’ll find someone else.”

“Come back to him when you have a diagnosis.”

 

Whatever.  Just whatever.  Sometimes I get a little tired.

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Thats when I shake it off with a quick walk.

I emailed the genetecist back.  I’ll wait.  Again.

I have this pool in my backyard.  And plenty of people I’d like to reconnect with.  And some lessons I’d like off my plate.  And a book I’d like to read.

I’ll get there.  In the mean time, I’ll be at my computer.  Emailing.  Arguing.  Advocating. Communicating.  Researching.  Justifying my existence, and

 

#Beatingcowdens with whatever it takes.

“Stay Alert! Delays are Possible!”

stay_alert

I saw the sign Friday, somewhere along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  I laughed, in spite of myself.

We were headed on a 400 mile road trip to West Virginia, a trip I was making for the second time, and Meghan for the first.  Last weekend in June to celebrate Alan’s birthday.

As we traveled through the hills of PA, I became somewhat accustomed to shrieks of joy, as the landscape at times was utterly breathtaking.  And, there were cows.  Overwhelming for a young city girl, not given too many opportunities to travel out of a small radius.  The camera barely stopped.


I was thinking about the list of things creeping into the month of July already.  There are 8 appointments and a surgery for Meg already scheduled.  I am annoyed, not so much at the surgery, as I am about the time constantly taken to try to stay on top of this cancer -causing, tumor-provoking, life altering nightmare called Cowden’s Syndrome.

Meghan’s next major procedure is Friday July 22nd.  The pathology on that procedure will determine what, if any, delays are possible in the future.

“Stay Alert! Delays are Possible!”

There wasn’t much traffic on the way to West Virginia.  The trip itself took us a little over 7 hours.  We arrived before 9, and blended right into easy conversation on the porch.  Alan, his family, and some friends, welcomed us warmly.  They greeted Meghan as if they had known her for years, and treated me as if I stopped by every few days.  All of this oddly comforting.  In reality I met them for the very first time last June, and Meghan was meeting them that night.

 

 

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img_7548Yet, we had known each other for longer in ways that matter.  These men, most of them, were Marines that had served with my Dad some 45 years ago in the jungles of Vietnam.  These men knew my father during a brief time in his life that undoubtedly changed and shaped the man I later knew.

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Alan was the first to reach back to me when I sent a letter to Dad’s 1st Amtrac Batallion, 3rd Marine Division brothers.  I was, at the time researching an incident that we felt may have warranted a Purple Heart for Dad.  I sent over 20 letters that week in January 2014.  I heard reply from every living Marine I contacted.  EVERY SINGLE ONE.  They spoke to me, and comforted me.  Those who remembered the incident wrote letters of support.  All told me that as the daughter of a Marine I was one of theirs.  I was to call on them as needed.  It seemed surreal.

But Alan stayed in touch.  Close touch.  We spoke, and still speak via text several times a week, and often by phone at least once a week.  As he worked every angle he could for a Purple Heart that not earned in the technicalities of the USMC, we grew in friendship.  And over time I came to realize that the relationship we had built filled a larger hole than any posthumous medal could have.I do not mean ever to saint my father.  Nor do I mean to make excuses for him.  There were some terribly rocky times in my childhood that can not be repaired.  But, we had time to make peace years before he died, and I started to understand a few things.  A few really important things.

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Now, we were in West Virginia, keeping time with 5 Marines who served with Dad.  They were wounded; physically, emotionally, or both.  They shared stories.  They shared PTSD.  They shared tales of failed relationships, and difficult feelings of guilt.  They verbalized what Dad couldn’t.


And Meghan, oh did they take her in!  One by one, as if helping my father make up for lost time, they spoke and laughed and listened.  They got to know her.  They cared.

Saturday morning Alan’s grandson took time out of his day to teach Meghan to shoot a compound bow.  It was something she had always wanted to do, and circumstances had not allowed.  So, here we were in the hills of West Virginia.  And there was her lesson with the bow.  Arrows on target.  Success.

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A few hours later we were on a farm with the Marines.  We rode a “side by side” through the farm and got to take in views we would not have otherwise seen.  Then, Meghan was invited to shoot a rifle.  With a little hesitation she was guided.  And I watched as her tense face turned into a smile.  There were 4 paper targets 100 yards away.  She fired several times and hit paper repeatedly.  First try, “Oddly relaxing,” and successful.

Maybe because we live in the zone of “Stay alert!  Delays Possible!”  that seizing the opportunities as they present themselves is even easier and more logical.  I didn’t shoot a bow or a rifle, so I can’t be sure.  But, she is clearly not shy about learning new things.

The birthday party ballooned to over 50 people in the driveway and garage of this beautiful home.  There was mingling and talking, mostly with people I barely knew.  Meghan found the time to chat with each of the Marines.  She asked questions.  She got answers.  And, in some cases more questions.  But they each took time to speak, honest, and frank, about their experiences, and about her Grandpa.

I stole away some time to lay on the front lawn and appreciate the flags while enjoying the relative quiet of a “busy” street.


Meghan was met with generosity of tangible items, and generosity of kind spirits.  She now has a money clip and some Vietnamese money from the era.  She also has some special paintings, and a walking stick.  The latter two were gifts from “Uncle Moe,” who was a bit older than the rest.  After 3 tours in Vietnam, and 22 years as a US Marine, he had some tales to tell.


When she  asked what she should know about the Marine Corps., she was told “Brotherhood”.  The simplicity and depth of that answer was playing out over the weekend, and it made sense in concept and in real-time.  These “brothers” trained to never leave a man behind.  And in our case, that included his children and grandchildren.
The weekend went too fast, and before it was time to leave we even sneaked in a visit with some pigs down the road.  City girls have to make the most of things when they are around!

 

Preparing to leave on Sunday was harder than logic says it should have been.  But, we had spent the last 2 days enveloped in a Marine Corps “sandwich” of unconditional love and support.  We know now with these Marines there are no “goodbyes,” only “see you soon!”

As we drove I don’t think either of us spoke for at least 75 miles.  The enormity of it all was tough to digest.

She held the walking stick in one hand and the money clip in the other, wanting to make the weekend longer than it had been.

I cry often.  Meghan, not so much.  Yet, both of us were choking a bit.  It was the kind of experience that changes you.  The simple beauty of just fitting in.  Just because.

“Stay Alert! Delays Possible!”

Not just traffic delays, but real life ones too.  As we began the 400 mile trek home we contemplated Monday’s appointment in Manhattan – a quick toss back into reality.


I pondered whether it was right to show Meghan this world, and then take it from her so fast.  But, I knew it was.  It was a part of her.  A part of her history.  A part of her life.  It was something that I do not fully understand, and yet I needed to expose her too as well.

Dad was not a saint.  But, he loved us. Deeply.  There was never a doubt about that.   Even as he began to heal, he often struggled to find ways to express it.  It was a battle in progress, and he was winning.  But, he was called home before he could quite finish.

So, he left it to his “brothers,” his Marines.

And they did a good job.

This weekend was for the soul.

There’s plenty of time for

#beatingcowdens 

this week.