I’ve wanted to talk to you ever since you rudely introduced yourself to my family in 2011. Actually it wasn’t even a proper introduction. It was more like, “I’m here. I’m staying. What are you going to do about it?” In hindsight, you’ve probably been with me from the very beginning, an explanation for the years spent in surgery for random growths all over my body. And you know what? I could have kept quiet about things. I could have plodded along removing lumps and bumps as they surfaced, praying they remained benign. But, you crossed a line. You messed with my girl.
I went all those years not knowing. I never understood why I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in doctor’s offices, generally being made to feel like an idiot for things they could not explain and did not understand. But, I’m a mother now, and mothers get over those things because nothing is more important to them than the health of their children.
So when my then 8 year-old was introduced to you at an incredibly tender age, the mother beast in me came alive. Before I could even contend with your existence I had to run damage control and get out in front of the storms you were plotting and planning. I had to read and research and learn, because with an occurrence rate of 1 in 200,000, I typically knew more than any doctor we met. And with our PTEN (tumor suppressor) gene officially listed as broken, the words cancer, cancer risk, and potential malignancy became part of our every day vocabulary.
That entire first year I was sure we had lost our very existence to the routine screenings you require. A doctor for every body part, and a pediatric and an adult version of each no less. Scheduling was a nightmare. It’s a wonder I kept my job and my sanity. And my girl, almost like a deer in headlights, tired of being poked and prodded and treated like a pincushion was getting plenty annoyed. She’d already had 8 surgeries, and a ridiculous number of biopsies and MRIs before we met you. Now there was this road ahead that was just flat out exhausting. There were worries heaped upon worries. And it got old real fast.
Our friends have tried to hang with us. And they are an incredible lot. But, it gets tiresome to hear that things just keep on coming, and that nothing here is “all better.” Understandably, many of them have had to pull back. Their own lives are busy. Things continue, and just because you want to have your way with us, the world can’t stop spinning. We miss socializing. We miss casual get-togethers. It’s hard enough to even visit properly with our family in between appointments, and hospital stays and the few activities you haven’t taken from my daughter.
Let’s talk about that for a minute. Let’s talk about the pain. The unforgiving knee pain that affects every aspect of her life. Let’s talk about having to quit soccer in 1st grade, and dance 2 years later. Let’s talk about her desire to run track that can never ever be. Let’s talk about my girl, born with the heart of an athlete who keeps getting the rules changed on her.
The knee! The right knee. The one that has hurt since birth. The one where the AVM (arteriovenous malformation) was supposed to be resolved in or or two embolizations. Until they learned of you. You would be the reason it continues to plague her, change the course of her life, and cause her undue agony on a daily basis. You would be the reason the 5th attempt to fix it in November after 50ccs of blood leaked into her knee joint essentially failed. You would be the reason we are awaiting a 6th surgery on the knee. This one with the orthopedist and the interventional cardiologist at the same time. One will assess the damage from all this blood, and the other will have another go at this AVM.
The AVM. The likely reason the feet are now a size and a half apart. Continuing to make life easy for my girl aren’t you?
And while we’re at it, let’s talk about the thyroid. The 19 nodules you allowed to grow there, until “precancerous” prompted complete excision. We beat you. We got it out in time. But, it was real close, and I didn’t like it one bit. And as payback, 13 months later, the synthetic hormones still leave her chronically wiped out, and running on raw nerve. The endocrinologist is confused. He offers no explanation as to why it’s not ok. They offer me no answers about the effects on the body. Because they don’t know. You’ve kept them confused, and it’s wearing on my nerves.
But, you know what? You won’t win. Not here. Not in this house. Not with my daughter and I fighting you every step of the way. We like to call ourselves “Beatingcowdens,” because we are. And we will continue to.
See, you messed with the wrong women here.
After we dusted ourselves off and learned to schedule the screenings and tests and surgeries on OUR time, we started to breathe a little. There are so many. But, they don’t OWN us. Plus, I went on ahead of you and got some things removed. That “prophylactic mastectomy” that turned into “thank goodness she got that DCIS we didn’t know was there out in time…” well, that was a HUGE win. And the hysterectomy before the uterine polyp could change its mind from benign to malignant. Winning.
My daughter has decided to become an advocate for rare diseases. Her work has begun small, out of a need to educate the people who judged her for sometimes needing a wheelchair to contend with that knee. It started with some business cards that explain what Cowden’s Syndrome is. It blossomed into assemblies at school, newspaper articles, and a friendship with our Borough President.
She took to the Global Genes Project, and their logo, “Hope, It’s in our genes.” She had a friend make a denim ribbon necklace. And “identity piece” for her. She learned about all the rare diseases she could, and how so many of the babies who can’t speak for themselves need our help.
She embraced the creation of the PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome foundation in 2013. She carries hope that one day their work will affect change directly in our lives.
She met up with friends through my online connections. She corresponds with Colorado and Australia.
In February, with only guidance from me, she organized a “Jeans for Rare Genes” fundraising breakfast that generated $12,200 for her two favorite charities. Over 150 people attended that event. Community support was overwhelming.
Oh, and the heart of an athlete you tried to take from her… you lost there too. She is a swimmer now. And this year she qualified for Silver Championships in the 100 butterfly for her age group.
So, despite what you may have tried to do to our lives, you are losing terribly. You are something we will have to deal with for the rest of our lives, but you will NEVER own us. You may try to be pushy. You may be downright rude, hurtful and insensitive at times. But, that’s OK. We’ve handled worse than you, and we’ve come out just fine.
As a matter of fact, maybe I should say thank you. Thank you for lighting the fire in our bellies. Thank you for helping us find our self-confidence. Thank you for giving us the fight that forces us to never ever give up. Thank you for teaching us that we can make a difference. Thank you for empowering my beautiful young lady with a forceful strength that WILL change the world.
You’re not the boss of us.
Forever we remain,
Lori & Meghan