It’s Not Over Yet…

Tonight my search for perspective was harder than it normally is.

Tonight I needed a glass (or two) of wine, some time alone in my office, and plenty of music.

And as the lyrics roll through my head in the eclectic mess that spans, Contemporary Christian, Classic Rock, and some alternative memories from back in the day, I somehow start to find myself again.

I am generally a very positive person.  I am able to find blessings in unlikely and hard to reach places.  I make a point of focusing on these things for so many reasons.  Primarily, I find it is necessary to be positive for my health.  While I don’t believe a positive attitude alone will cure illness, I do firmly believe a negative one, or a constant state of stress and worry can worsen illness.  We certainly don’t need that.

But, lately I’ve been frustrated.  I’m even a little angry.  You see – everything is NOT fine.

And I’ve been avoiding my computer because I’d rather write when my perspective is in its proper place.  One of the reasons I love to blog is because I can get right in my head by the time I’m done.  I can typically work through whatever is gnawing at me.

There are drafts in my folder.  Unpublished, unfinished work.  I’ve tried, but I’m struggling.

Logic leads me to retrace the obvious.

In our house the diagnoses came about five and a half years ago.  I was 38 and Meghan was 8.

In most of the people I’ve interfaced with who have Cowden’s Syndrome, their diagnosis is less than 10 years old.  I know there are others, but this is the majority.

There is a growing group of us who are parents.  Now, in my case, my diagnosis was made BECAUSE of Meghan’s.  But, in many cases the opposite is true.  There comes a point where the signs are either apparent, or subtle, and something prompts the formal diagnosis of PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome, in some form, in our children.

Anecdotally, we are not the only house where the syndrome seems to manifest worse a generation down.  This is a story I have heard many times.

There is a special kind of knot that forms in your stomach and lingers, forever, when you realize that you are somehow responsible, in an unintentional, yet undeniable way.  Your child has this syndrome because, even with a current estimate of a 1 in 200,000 diagnosis it is an autosomal dominant condition, which means that if you have the mutated PTEN gene, 50% of the time, it will pass to your child.

Between us, since Meghan was born in 2003 there have been 30 or more trips to an operating room.  On 18 of those visits I have watched my girl head into surgery.

And I know all the blessings bestowed upon us.  I know the beauty of benign biopsies, and the gratitude of legs that allow for walking when the alternative has certainly been possible.  I know the strength and resilience of my daughter, and the grace of God alone.  I know the grit of a child just out of her 7th knee surgery who understands the recovery process better than any PA she will meet in the surgeon’s office.  I know the feeling of bruises on my knees as I give thanks for my child who is ABLE to recover.  I get it.  I truly do.  I’m grateful.  I am.

But, you know what else?  Sometimes I get angry.  And, that’s OK too.

I’m learning that part of being able to be positive is allowing myself to FEEL and WORK THROUGH ALL the emotions that come my way.  Even the ones that hurt.  Even the ugly ones that don’t have flowers and rainbows attached.

This is reality.  This is our reality.  And I am not about comparisons.  I do not profess to understand anyone else’s reality any more than I could expect them to understand mine.  I do not use words like “worse” or “better” or “harder” or “easier” or “fair” or “unfair.”

What I can tell you about our reality is that 18 is too many surgeries for a 13-year-old girl.

I can also tell you there will be more.  For both of us.

Vigilance, a necessary reality to keep us in front of the astronomical cancer risks associated with Cowden’s Syndrome will lead to more surgery.  And we will hope and pray each is followed by a benign biopsy, or an encouraging word from an orthopedic surgeon trying to preserve a knee damaged by a mischievous AVM.

When I got my diagnosis, I was almost 40.  I was married.  I had a little girl.  I had a home.  A career.

When my girl received her diagnosis she was in 3rd grade.

Swallow that.

It doesn’t taste very good.

Cowden’s Syndrome is isolating.  In addition to numerous food issues, and immunological issues, and significant knee trouble (understatement of the year,)  there are SO MANY doctor’s appointments.  There are countless blood draws.  There are so many days I pick her up at school and we do ANOTHER 4-5 hours round trip in the car, traveling to NYC, sitting in traffic, parking, waiting, sitting in more traffic…

As connected as social media can help you be, there is a lack of connectedness that is inherent with not being there.  Being absent.  Being unable to go on certain trips.  Being unable to do the things kids your age can do…

When I was a child I always “knew” something was wrong with the ridiculous number of surgeries I had, but it was different.  It was not the same as knowing for sure that your genetic mutation was going to guide portions of your life whether you like it or not.

When you have one thing wrong, whether you break an arm, or have your wisdom teeth out, or your tonsils, people seem to know what to say.  When you constantly have something wrong, some type of surgery, or some type of recovery on the agenda, it gets harder for everyone.

People don’t know what to say.  So they don’t…

Cowden’s Syndrome can be very isolating.

What about our children?  What about our children who are being diagnosed younger and younger?  To some extent, yes, “Knowledge is Power,” but at what cost?

We are forced to make the logical choice for necessary screening appointments, and often surgery, while often having to skip social, cultural, or sporting events.

We are forced to say no to social engagements so often, that people forget to keep asking.

Our youngest children at diagnosis may not fully understand the scope of what is now their’s.  But, they will.  If they have a parent with the same syndrome they will watch.  Everything.  If they are the first in the family they will piece it together.  Really there comes a point there is no keeping it from them.  Then what?

I am blessed with a young lady who reads like a book-worm, and has a solid comprehension of people, personalities, and her environment.  I am left only with the option to tell her the truth.

Sometimes the truth gets stuck in your throat, burns a bit, or leaves some nasty reflux.  Yet, still that bitter pill is the only one we’ve got.

I sometimes wonder how different things could have been, if…

But it is my girl who stops me.  Without this diagnosis she knows I would not be here.  My breast cancer was uncovered by her diagnosis and that diagnosis undoubtedly saved my life.  Without Cowden’s Syndrome she knows she would have become someone different.  Someone else.  And that wouldn’t have been right.

While I don’t believe in a God who wants us to suffer, I believe in one who uses that suffering to allow us to become a better version of ourselves.

My girl started Junior High with a broken foot.  During her 3 years there she endured less than perfect social relationships (read, a few very mean children and my child who didn’t always have the patience to contend with teenage normalcy) and 7 surgeries.  SEVEN. Seven recoveries, and pre and post operative visits too.  She did that while holding an average of well over 95% every single marking period.  She did that while making enormous strides as a competitive swimmer.  She did that while learning that she had a the voice of a singer hiding inside.  She did that while performing in several productions, practicing after school for months each year.  She did that while spearheading 3 successful PTEN Fundraisers, essentially putting Cowden’s Syndrome in the vocabulary of our community.  She’s ending Junior High on crutches.  Unfortunate bookends, or a reminder of the strength and resilience of a young lady who refuses to be defined by her disease.

I am sometimes not even sure if she is aware of her accomplishments, as she is so busy pushing onward to stop and notice.

Who sets the example here?

I guess I need to stop hiding from my computer.  Perspective never really leaves.  Sometimes it just needs to be worked through.

This diagnosis stinks.  This syndrome is a real bear to contend with.  It is lonely and isolating and leaves little time to even see family, let alone friends. However, as the saying goes –

And that is probably the real perspective.

And almost as if perfectly timed, I found my title for this blog – as the Pandora radio plays..

“They are inside your head
You got a voice that says
You won’t get past this one
You won’t win your freedom

It’s like a constant war
And you want to settle that score
But you’re bruised and beaten
And you feel defeated

This goes out to the heaviest heart

Oh, to everyone who’s hit their limit
It’s not over yet
It’s not over yet
And even when you think you’re finished
It’s not over yet
It’s not over yet
Keep on fighting
Out of the dark
Into the light
It’s not over
Hope is rising
Never give in
Never give up
It’s not over…”

(It’s Not Over Yet – For King and Country)

#beatingcowdens

AHCA, High Risk Pools, and My Child’s Future

I am angry.  I am hurt.  I am worried.

I have stayed out of politics through the entire tumultuous 2016.  I have serious issues with many politicians.  I am not here to talk about them directly.  I am here to talk about an issue that transcends political party affiliation.  I will not engage in a debate about Democrats or Republicans, or the should have/ would have/ could have game that people like to play with each other.

This is far  more serious, and more important than any of that.  This is about my daughter.  It is about her life.  Her future.  And, it is about the lives of millions of American citizens, myself included.

I will concede that there are problems with health care in America.  I will even agree that healthcare the way it exists today needs change.  However, when I look at a situation that needs change, I think it through carefully.  I work through every detail. I weigh out repercussions and ramifications.

The Bill that passed the House today, in my opinion was put together in an attempt to score a “win” for our President.

When millions lose. No one wins.  That’s not just the math teacher in me.  That’s real.

Three years ago I was in a car accident.  It was a terrible situation, and I was T-boned at an intersection.  I will contend to my dying day that the truck that barreled through me was speeding so fast it never should have made it to me before I cleared the intersection.  I had the stop. I stopped.  He never saw me and it took almost a block, in a school zone, for his truck to finally stop moving.  Because the stop sign was mine, I was assessed with most of the fault for the accident.  It made me furious.  I was told speeding could not be “proven” despite the absence of skid marks.  The other 6 accidents that happened at that intersection in the months preceding were not helpful either.  In the end, I was grateful for my life.  I walked away and took the penalty on my insurance.  I paid that accident penalty for three years.  And, while it did not make me happy, I did it.   The accident penalty was annoying, but affordable, less than $200 a year.

The car accident happened once.  It might happen again, but it will not happen regularly.  I am 25 years driving, with one accident and no moving violations.  I have proven I am not a reckless driver.   I have control over that.  Full control, and I take my driving very seriously.

I also take health very seriously.  Unfortunately, there are aspects of my health I do not have full control over.  My daughter and I have a rare genetic disorder called Cowden’s Syndrome.  She is 30 years my junior, and at 13 and 43 we have seen the inside of an operating room close to 45 times combined.  Cowden’s syndrome causes tumor growth.  It carries with it an astronomically high risk of many cancers, most notable breast, thyroid and uterus.  It carries also significantly elevated risks of kidney, colon, skin, and other cancers.  Many of our tumors are benign.  Some are not.  The only route we have to long term SURVIVAL is constant surveillance.

Many doctors recommend surgery to remove things that are high risk.  Thankfully, that suggestion proved life-saving for me in 2012 when a “prophylactic” bilateral mastectomy revealed stage 1 breast cancer.  I was fortunate.

Two months ago I had surgery to remove a benign tumor from my vocal cords.  It was impairing my ability to breathe and speak.

In 16 days my daughter will undergo the 18th surgery in her young life – the 7th on her right knee.  Cowden’s Syndrome carries a high correlation to vascular malformations like the Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) that grew in that knee.  After 6 embolizations to curtail the blood flow, she now deals with the repercussions of having blood lingering in the knee.  There is wearing away of tissue causing the patella to shift.  There is extreme pain, not just in the knee, but all through her body.  Her right foot stopped growing years ago, but the left one kept at it.  Now a full size apart,  different in length and width, her 5’8″ frame feels the repercussions with every step.  She is regularly at the chiropractor in attempts to minimize pain medication and keep her in alignment.  Pain medication caused such GI distress in 2014 that she spent a week in the hospital.  Cellular changes in the esophagus are not good in anyone.  At 10, with a condition that causes tumor growth, it was certainly another wake up call.  We gladly purchase 2 entirely different shoes every time she needs a new pair.  We are grateful she walks.

That is just the tip of what this child has endured in under 14 years on this earth.  She has had her thyroid removed with 19 nodules and suspicion of malignancy at the age of 10.  We still work to balance levels synthetically.  She had had TWO D&C procedures to eradicate suspicious tissue in her uterus.  She has had a lipoma removed from her back and vascular malformations from each palm.  She has lost her gall bladder.  She fights, stands up.  Moves forward, and gets smacked in the face again.

Soon after our diagnoses in 2011, another mom told me Cowden’s Syndrome requires vigilance.  I got it.  I am on it.  All the time.  And with the GRACE of God alone, we are walking the path the best way we can.

We average between 6 and 10 appointments a month between us.  The copays and travel costs are often daunting.  But, we are fortunate.  We have two good jobs my husband and I tell ourselves.  We have good insurance.

We are careful with every morsel of food that enters her body.  We eat largely organic and non-GMO to let her body use all its energy to stay healthy instead of fighting contaminants.  Even at that she is acutely sensitive to almost all gluten, dairy and soy.

We treat as naturally as we can, often incurring bills, as these treatments are rarely covered.  Yet, still we prioritize health because we realize its value.  And we remember how fortunate we are.  We have good insurance.  We have two good jobs.

My daughter is awesome.  And, not just because she is my daughter.  She is a respectful, kind-hearted young lady.  She has the voice of an angel.  She acts in the plays at school.  She reads for fun.  She swims passionately.  She is an honor student.  She talks about her future, and what she will do with her life.  I have no doubt she has the capability to make a real difference in this world, regardless of her career path.  Today however, I am left to wonder.  Will any job ever be enough?

If the AHCA passes the Senate, we will likely be placed in an unregulated “high-risk pool.”  This is not like my car accident.  This is not a minor inconvenience.  This has the potential to decide the course she will have to take with her adult life, as her health issues will not go away.  We have this genetic mutation with all its risks and ramifications for life.  Lifetime caps, potentially re-instituted will likely be met in her 20s, if not before.

There is no way at all to prove where the mutation came from.  I’d ask you to indulge in a theory with me a moment.  My father, a Vietnam Veteran was heavily exposed to Agent Orange as a Marine in 1967-1968.  My mutation was traced to my father.  He never manifested with Cowden’s Syndrome, but somehow passed that mutation on to me.  Wouldn’t it be ironic, if that toxic exposure in the jungles of Vietnam, in an attempt to fight for his country, ultimately led to this condition in his daughter and granddaughter?  Dad died in 2013, pancreatic cancer that may or may not have been Agent Orange related.  I’m glad he is not here to see the reality that our government may be on the cusp of turning it’s back on his family.

I was raised a proud American.  In addition to my Dad, I have three Grandfathers who were World War II Veterans.  I value the principles this country was founded on.  I am grateful for the freedoms I have in this country.

I have not been raised to use the phrase, “that’s not fair,” but I will ask you to consider a few things.

Last night as I watched the news my head spun as I heard elected officials allege that people with pre-existing conditions have not led good lives.  I am not here to compare, but I will tell you our “pre-existing” condition has NOTHING to do with lifestyle choices.  And if you do not like the site this link came from – scroll to the video.  Hear it from his mouth.

http://www.politicususa.com/2017/05/01/gop-congressman-people-pre-existing-conditions-bad-people-pay.html

I can name dozens of people off the top of my head, as close as within my own family, that would be grossly negatively affected by the establishment of “high risk” pools.

Should a cancer survivor, an MS patient, a diabetic, a person with a brain tumor, a rare heart condition,  a genetic mutation, or countless other conditions be forced to make decision on the path their life should take because they are too expensive?  Are they less valuable?  Do they matter less?

Should we be asked to decide whether or not to keep critical screening appointments, or have access to necessary medication blocked by cost?

We have two good jobs, and this whole thing terrifies me.  But, I will not be controlled by that terror.

This post will reach my Senators today.  Social media can be used for good.   I have a voice.  I will not be quiet about this.

Tell your story.  And if you can’t find your own words, share mine.  Let our Senators know that we are real.  We are not numbers.  We are not a cost-cutting measure.  We have faces, and names.  We matter.  We all matter.

We are determined to remain

#beatingcowdens

We will not be silent!

It’s Complicated…

I was in the stairwell close to the 5th floor of the nursing home where my grandmother resides when the phone rang.  I paused, startled by the ring, and trying to suppress my slightly out of shape panting before I … Continue reading

Punched in the Stomach…

…over and over and over again.

punched

Sometimes that’s the best way I can think to describe it.  There are days, so many days, when it’s like a sucker punch that takes your breath away.  It’s not going to knock you to the floor.  You’re stronger than that.  But, man, it knocks the wind out of you.

First, it’s the drive.  The traffic.  The hours spent headed to the appointment.

Then it’s the “hurry up and wait,” as you strive to be there for your 2PM appointment that COULD NOT be changed to later.  Only to wait until after 3 in the waiting room.

hurry-up-and-wait

After that it’s the news.  No matter what the appointment is, a Cowden’s Syndrome appointment rarely ends with overwhelming optimism.  Well, because they are all so unsure.  So they are afraid.  And I get it.  But, then they tell you the parts they DO know, and you sometimes just want to sit in the corner and bang your head.

THEN after all that GOOD fun, is the drive home.

Usually all in all about 5 hours roundtrip.  Whether it’s Manhattan or Long Island it doesn’t really matter.  It’s 5 hours at a clip that you’ll never see again.  Plus hours and hours analyzing…

About the only GOOD thing that comes from all these is the time spent chatting in the car.  Because my kid is pretty cool, and I enjoy her company.  I just wish we had more time to be together, at the beach, or a concert, or somewhere fun…

mother-daughter-2

Today it was the orthopedist.  He operated on Meghan’s knee in May of 2015.  It was the 6th surgery on that knee, all ramifications of a pesky AVM (arteriovenous malformation) wedged somewhere under the meniscus.  After the surgery there was PT, then a 6 month follow-up.

In November he released her from PT, and asked for another 6 months.  In April he was so bothered by what he saw he brought us back in 2 months.  He was troubled by her muscle spasms, and her generally being unwell.  The conversation that day led us back to the hormone she was on after the December d&c, the one with the precancerous cellular changes.  The medicine that was supposed to help keep the uterus in check.  The medicine that seemed to come up an awful lot in April as the source of many problems.  We labored over the decision and consulted almost every doctor, but ultimately decided to ditch the medicine and hope for the best.

Today the muscle spasms were gone.  Evidence that they were caused by the hormone.

But, there was another pile of information to digest.

Sometimes it’s so hard, because you ask questions, and you just don’t always get the answers you want.

questions.jpg

What about that right leg, will it ever match the left in strength?  Do you think the foot will catch up?

No, it’s not likely.

Impact activities, even walking over a half mile, cause knee pain.  Will this ever resolve?  Can she do anything to help it resolve?

No.

So, what do we do when we have to walk far distances?

A wheelchair.

And the conversation continued like that.  He is actually quite well spoken, but today his words hurt.

He is a good doctor, a good surgeon too.  But, he is honest.  Necessary,  And painful.

We got some suggestions for strengthening.  And a script for a refresher with our favorite PT.  Progress will happen.  It will just be slower.  It will take longer, and harder work than any of her peers.

We don’t use the word fair anymore.  It’s all relative.  Nothing is really “fair.”  But, some days it’s harder to find the bright side than others.

Some days, even when the doctor tells you it’s not right that someone your age should have so many limitations, it doesn’t make it any easier to hear.

Because the reality is what it is.  There is both gratitude and pain in the mobility she has.  Her drive, her focus, extends beyond limitations.  She wants to be free.

break-the-chains.jpg

Yet, somehow even on the toughest days, I have solace that there is a plan.  And it will continue to unfold for both of us.

Tonight we recover from a few sucker punches with chocolate cookies and coconut milk ice cream.  Tonight is not for the bright side.

Tomorrow will be different.  Tomorrow is school.  Full of people who do not know, or who are virtually unaffected by the realities of Cowden’s Syndrome.  And tomorrow is drama.  And tomorrow is swimming.  Tomorrow will be too busy not to press on.

Tomorrow will be for working on ways to keep moving forward.

Tonight will be for resting.

Tomorrow is for

#Beatingcowdens

N.O.S.E. an Acronym that Makes Sense!

So many things in life make no sense at all.  I don’t need to fill in those blanks for you.  No doubt you have a bunch of your own things in mind.

The illogical is part of our existence here.  What we do with it is what defines us.

making the best 1

Meghan’s right foot stopped growing a few years ago.  I didn’t notice for a little while.  She was already wearing a size 9 in the 5th grade.

She had had 5 surgeries to embolize an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in her right knee.  At some point they theorize that by slowing the blood flow to the AVM, the blood flow to her lower leg and foot also slowed, stunting its growth.

Now, on the surface that may not sound like a big deal, and I guess for a while it wasn’t.  Most people have feet that are slightly different sizes, many a half-size off.  Most people are still able to fit them into one pair of shoes.

But the left foot kept growing.  Right now it’s stalled at a 10.  We can’t be sure it it’s done.

The ramifications of this began to have far-reaching effects. The different foot size adjusted her entire stride.  The smaller foot is weaker, and naturally over pronates.  There began to be back and shoulder pain…

pain 1

There was one more knee surgery last May – to clean out some residual blood and quarterize a few spots in the knee-joint.  That proved to make the knee even a little weaker.

There came a point where each foot needed its own pair of shoes.

Keeping her in a pair too big would compromise the weaker AVM leg.  Putting her in a pair that was too small was just impractical.  So we began to buy shoes in a 9 AND a 10.

Now we consider ourselves fortunate to be able to buy two pairs of shoes at a clip.  We have only one child, and I find good shoes to be a wise financial investment.  Buying the two pairs is never what bothered me.

making the best 2

My trouble came with what to do with the other shoe.

I threw some away, but that didn’t feel right.

People, not thinking it through, directed me to odd shoe websites.  But, the odds of me finding a perfect match were slim to none.  It didn’t make sense for us.

So, the shoes began to stack up in the basement.

Some internet searching brought me to National Odd Shoe Exchange (N.O.S.E,)  And a million bells and whistles went off.  Here was a real, 501c3 charity that accepts “in kind,” or actual SINGLE SHOE donations.  They pair them with actual people.  They work with amputees.  They work with real people, registered in their database, and they send them shoes!     History of NOSE

And, since they are a registered 501c3, our donation, as well as any postage, are fully tax- deductible.  An added, unexpected bonus.

So, today I mailed a box to Arizona.

IMG_7204


IMG_7223

In it were three “pairs” of shoes.  10s for the right, 9s for the left, just the opposite of my girl.

And somebody, somewhere, or maybe even several “somebodies” will benefit from Meghan’s adversity.

It seems almost ironic that as I write tonight we are nursing a left shoulder that “froze” today,  more than likely the result of the
“off sides” stride.

It locked up in the pool.  During the last practice before the big meet this weekend.  She has trained so hard.  She fights every obstacle head on.

pain 3

Feisty.  Tenacious.  And in pain.

Tomorrow there will be more ice.  More stretching.  More anti- inflammatories.

There is no pause for this young lady.  Life keeps careening from one obstacle to another.  Yet, she walks straight and tall and with her head high through it all.  Counting her blessings.  Growing up too fast.

So many things make no sense at all.

But for us, tonight, the knowledge that in a few days time 3 “pairs” of brand new shoes will be available to someone…

Well for us, that is a bittersweet way to find some sense in this big mess.

#BEATINGCOWDENS

#ONESTEPATATIME

 

This is Our Reality

Alone, in a crowded room.

alone in a crowded room

As I look around frantically trying to figure out exactly where, or how I fit, with anyone, my mind wanders.  I can’t seem to make conversation, or to pass the time socially as easily as others.  I watch.  I retreat as soon as I can.  I can’t quiet my head.  And, knowing the whole line of thinking that occupies my mind some days makes everyone uncomfortable, I step back into myself to cycle through reality.

occupied mind

“Those hormones?  Are they causing her headaches?  Or is it something more sinister?  How would I even know?  Do we need to use another MRI?  What if it is the hormones?  What choice do we have?  The doctor said she has to stay on them to stop the development of those “irregular cells” in the uterus they found in December.  They’ve already begun to schedule another D & C for July.  “You have to make sure…”  The uterus is a prime site for malignancy in Cowden’s Syndrome.  I got to keep mine until Meghan was 8.  Will she get to keep hers?  Will she have the chance to make the choice whether she wants to bear her own children?  And, even if we save the uterus and she wants to, will it be viable after 15, 18, 20 years of hormone treatment?  And at what cost to the rest of her body?  What about the breast cancer threat that looms large to a young woman whose Cowden’s Syndrome alone puts her at an 85% lifetime risk.  That coupled with a mother and grandmother who have had breast cancer… sigh…why is it even a topic of conversation when she’s 12?  It seems so unjust.  This issue shouldn’t have to be addressed now, well not ever really, but especially not now.  And when she has the headaches I have to give her something.  What about the headache medicine?  What about that esophagus we are trying to heal?

 

Is it those medicines that caused the horrendous reflux after Easter, or was it her MINOR indulgence into a few SAFE sweets?  Why should a slight indulgence cause such discomfort and vomiting?  Why does she have to be so careful all the time about everything?  No wonder she is so serious.  And what if it is the headache medicine?  What am I supposed to do to help her?  Tell her she has to deal with it?  I can’t imagine “toughing out” a blinding headache.  

 

The knee.  Oh the knee.  She tries not to complain about it, but I see when she struggles.  The AVM is finally stable, but the leg takes a lot of work to develop.  She works hard on it too.  But, the stamina isn’t there.  Hours in a pool yes, on land, no way.  Standing too long, walking the mall, or for a short walk, things we take for granted cause such pain.  And pain causes fatigue.  And on the occasions she relents and allows the wheelchair into use, she struggles.  Not for the need to use it temporarily, but for fear of insulting those who have to use it all the time.  She is proud.  She is frequently humbled.  She is conflicted.

 

And who wouldn’t be?  16 surgeries before the 13th birthday.  The need to be tough all the time, while you feel weak.  The desire to be stronger.  Having to fight, hard, for physical accomplishments.  Having to accept the ones that will never be.  Never giving up.  Pushing to be better.  To make the world better.  

 

She’s not perfect.  Never has been.  And oh, there are DAYS…  But she is good, in her heart.  She means well.  She has no spite or malice, and I can pray it remains that way.  I can pray that the children who don’t get it, one day come to understand her, just a little better.  That one day they can accept her,  for the good in her.

 

I scheduled 3 doctors appointments for the next three weeks.  Dermatology, orthopedics, and endocrinology.  The first is a screening.  Cowden’s Syndrome, melanoma risks.  Her father’s increased risk of melanoma on another unrelated genetic disorder.  Her grandmother’s melanoma this summer.  Every 6 months they told me.  Bring her every six months.  The others will work on long-term plans.  Spring break.  Every holiday, every vacation.  Every day off.  Doctors.  Not the mall, or a friend’s house.  Doctors.  For what?  And I’ve toned down the list quite a bit.

 

There are two bills of my desk.  One for her and one for me.  Both a battle.   Always a battle.  If it’s not the reality, or the appointments, it’s the bills.  And we are so fortunate to have insurance.  But, the hours.  Oh my goodness, the hours…”

 

I try to shake it off.  To stay focused on the good.  On the positive.  On the blessings, and they do abound.  But, so often it’s just me, and my head.  Working to get out of my own way.

I miss my Pop.  I miss my Grandma even though she’s still here.  I miss their goodness.  I miss my Dad.  I miss his listening ears.

I quiet the voices a little and try to follow the conversation around me.  I smile politely and nod.  I stay quiet.  “It’s good.”  “We’re good.”  That’s about all they can handle anyway.  Even the ones who genuinely do care.  Why drag someone to a place where there is absolutely nothing they can do or say?

cheshire cat

This is our reality.  This is Cowden’s Syndrome.  This is every day.  As long as we have breath, and strength, and stamina to shake off the pain, place the smile firmly where it goes and press on, we will.

Because the real reality is that every person in the room may have a similar string of thoughts in their head.  The reality remains that EVERYONE HAS SOMETHING…

been through something

I booked dinners for our Disney trip today.  I like to plan ahead.  Plus, Disney gives me a little extra strength, so that we can remain always,

#BEATINGCOWDENS!

 

Onward…

“Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before…”  That was one of Pop’s favorite hymns growing up in our Lutheran Church.  He sang it loud.  He lived it softly, but meaningfully…

It’s been a long time since I have written and I am sorry.

Writing is my therapy.  It’s free and easy.  When there is a few minutes to do it.

writing

And that, well that has been the problem these last few weeks.

I know it’s hard to imagine life getting so crazy that I wouldn’t have an hour or two a week to get my thoughts together, but it’s true.

Time to catch you all up –

On Sunday, February 21, 2016 the Second Annual “Genes for Rare Genes” fundraiser took place at the Hilton Garden Inn on Staten Island.  We had www.yeehahbob.com  Bob Jackson from Walt Disney World at the piano entertaining the masses.  We had generously donated raffles galore.  We had 178 friends and family with us, raising money and awareness for Rare Diseases.  We had Meghan, hosting, and giving her speech and showing her video.  https://beatingcowdens.com/2016/02/21/meghans-rare-disease-day-video-and-speech-2016/  We had Borough President Oddo stop by to continue to support Meghan in her desire to raise awareness and funds.  We had Charlie Balloons entertaining the children and the adults too.

My Everything

My Everything

 

Bob Jackson - Our Disney Friend

Bob Jackson – Our Disney Friend

It was a perfect day, and a month later I can tell you the total funds raised were $13,045.40 to be exact!  A large portion of that money has been sent to the PTEN Foundation and will have a significant impact on helping people like us with PTEN Mutations.  The balance of the money is soon to be on it’s way to the Global Genes Project They will always be near and dear to Meghan.  We identified first with the denim ribbon, and the logo “Hope, It’s in our Genes.”  And that is the site we learned first about Rare Diseases, and that we in fact are among the lucky ones.  These are lessons we will never forget.

Meghan addressing a crowded room

Meghan addressing a crowded room

 

Just a handful of our many raffles

Just a handful of our many raffles

Finally, I THINK, (and I apologize if we forgot anyone) all the thank you notes have been written or Emailed.  When I finally settled down to do it, there were over 80.  Meg helped, but I just flat out write faster.  Now, we rest on that a bit, while we consider what changes and what remains the same for next year.

But, life did not even pause while we planned this event.  My grandfather, my 96 year old grandfather, who was still living on the second floor of the two family home my mother grew up in, caring for my grandma, his bride of 70 years, fell on January 13th.  This set of a tirade of events of the next few weeks that brought us all through an emotional roller coaster.  My grandparents were the center of my world for much of my life, and even though I am blessed to have had them for 42 years, it is hard to imagine navigating life without them.   Pop visited two hospitals, had mutliple strokes, and ultimately ended up in the nursing home for rehabilitation.  The rehab was not meant to be, and on March 3rd he passed away peacefully, after some tumultuous days.

Pop - So much to so many

Pop – So much to so many

Grandma, now resides in that same nursing home.  Alzheimer’s has robbed her of much of her memory, but she is well cared for by kind, patient people.  She is safe.  She is calmer.  This is a good thing.  And, in one of many ironies, perhaps her disease has been a blessing.  There was no need for her to say goodbye to Pop, as he always seems to be just “across the room” when we visit.  They were never meant to be apart any way.

Always together...

Always together…

We celebrated Pop’s life at a beautiful service on March 12th.  My conscious mind, the rational one, is grateful he is at peace, and thrilled to know he is Home in Heaven.  The little girl in me, the one who adores her grandfather is sad.  Just very sad, and not looking forward to the series of “firsts” in front of us as reality sets in.

I planted the seedlings for my garden, just as my Pop showed me.  I am tending to them on the kitchen table with plenty of sunlight.  They have begun to sprout.

image

And those seedlings, and signs of new life remind me of why Pop loved the garden so.  It is refreshing to see growth, new life, and new promise each day.

We celebrated Kathi’s bridal shower, as she and Jon will marry April 15th.  All things new.

Time keeps passing.

time passes

In the interim there have been regular Mommy things to do, like swim practice, and doctor’s appointments, and household stuff.  Thankfully in this house we have a very, very helpful Daddy, and we do a lot of team work.  Thanks to him, all those weeks I was out of commission cherishing every moment with Pop, he was here, keeping it all going.

Last week we went dress shopping for some of the events coming quickly.

This week it was shoe shopping.  Shopping for shoes is never as much fun, because it is hard to find a shoe that is 12 years old, and supports those feet, knees and legs.  The right knee, the site of 6 surgeries targeting that AVM, has residual damage.  The muscles are not formed as well, obvious only to Meghan when she puts on a pair of jeans.  The foot is over one full size smaller than the other, and it is skinnier too.  So, we buy two pairs of shoes to make one “pair.”  We are careful.  Frugal when we can be as it’s all x2, but focus is always on fit, style and comfort combined.  No easy task.  But, we did it.

Meghan left the store apologizing for the bill.  I told her how grateful I am that we can pay for shoes, and other things.  We had a long talk about the phrase, “I cried because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet.”  It fits nicely with the perspective talks we have all the time.

image

Tonight I was thrilled to find a website that will allow me to donate her “other” shoes to amputees.  She was excited too.  Something that will make us both feel better.

This week I scheduled some more appointments.  I was waiting.

Friday we head to the gyn for the 3 month follow up.  The hormones are a nightmare, but that’s for another post.  The next biopsy is supposed to be in June…

The dermatologist 6 month will be during spring break.  So will the orthopedist.

Cowden’s wasn’t gone.  Heck, it wasn’t even resting.  I was just using a big stick to hold it at bay for a few weeks.  I’m sure I left some stuff out.  It’ll come up if it was all that important.  Just know-

We are still #BEATINGCOWDENS!

Onward…

 

The Best You Can…

Friday we met a good doctor.  A new endocrinologist.  He is young.  He is friendly.  He is smart.  He is ready to be a doctor to Meghan.  I am grateful.

Friday Mom got her second cataract done and checked before the storm.  So necessary for more than visual acuity.  It just needed to be done.  I am thankful.

I was about to say today was one of those days where you have to focus on your perspective, and it will define your outcome.  But, really that’s every day, isn’t it?

We woke up under about 30 inches of snow here in NYC.  Now the thing about living in NYC is that you have to learn, as the Marines say, to “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.”  Because nothing really stops.  At least not for long.

improvise adapt overcome

Yesterday there were travel bans.  Yesterday we were to stay off the roads.  Today we are told that the City’s 1 million school children will report to school tomorrow, and with them, their thousands of teachers and support staff will report as well.

In many boroughs this is not such a big deal.  Public transportation is at the ready.  Moving around is easy.

Not the case here on Staten Island.  Almost everyone travels by car.

Yesterday Felix tried to keep on top of the snow.  It was fruitless.

Last night an ambulance got stuck in front of my house.  My husband and a neighbor dug them back to a main road.  We said a prayer for the person they were headed to, and continued on our night.


This morning, we woke early got the shovels and the snowblower.  He started at one end, and I at the other.  But in the front of the house I was met by my neighbors.  We groaned a bit, and pleasant conversation ensued as we gave each other a hand.

At one point the conversation turned to Meghan’s footwear.  Somehow.  And as I explained that she has 2 different sized feet, and we buy 2 different shoes and toss the opposites, she seemed stunned.  And I said soon after we toss the opposites we sit for a moment in gratitude for 2 working feet, and a financial situation that allows us to pay our credit card bills.  She smiled.  She gets it.  She’s had life struggles of her own.

We got the cars free.  We set ourselves up to hope for the best for tomorrow.

Then Felix headed with Ken to shovel out my grandparents.

Grandma, when memory came easier to her, used to sing, ” Count your many blessings, count them one by one…”

Grandma is 95 and Pop is 96.  Life is more challenging for them than it ever was before.  Yet there are so many blessings.  They have neighbors that help clear pathways when we can’t get to them.  They have a tenant who is a friend, who looks in on them and keeps us posted.  They are really special, and we are grateful for the kindness of those they interface with daily.

When he got home, my husband stole a quick meal and headed out to make an igloo and a snowman with Meghan, after a romp in the snow with the dogs.  He is a good husband, and a good Dad.  A really good man.
   
Some time this afternoon my phone rang.  It was an internet friend looking for some reassurance.  I think I was able to give it.  Keep your heart and mind focused.  Stay physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy.  Do the best you can with what you have, where you are.  Always.

Tomorrow Meghan will see the knee surgeon.  Time to follow-up on a less than stellar MRI/MRA experience the week before last.  Time to check on the status of the AVM.  Holding my breath that it’s behaving.  Tomorrow I will hope all the main roads from here to NYC are plowed well, and I will gratefully pay to park in an overpriced lot.  Perspective.

We are actively engaged in “Jeans for Rare Genes 2,”  working on everything from ticket sales to journal ads to raffles.  My Meghan is ready to channel this week’s pain into a focused goal.  Meghan wants the PTEN foundation to have the money they need to create a patient database.  Vision.

JFRGflyer7

Every day we are given a choice.  Many choices.  Life is not all peaches and cream.  Not for any of us.  Some days I struggle.  Most days I know which side of the bus the sit on.

everyday-u-make-a-choice1

Here’s to hoping for an easy safe parking spot at work tomorrow, a mind eased from the worry of loved ones, and a smooth trip to NYC.

 

It’s Complicated…

complicated

I just ended a 30 minute conversation with Meghan’s adolescent gynecologist.  The fact that she spends 30 minutes on the phone with me speaks to a rare spark of passion for her field, and a genuine desire to help.  These are things we clutch because they are uncommon, and, when they come at all, they are fleeting.

The long and the short of the pathology, which arrived earlier than planned, was that there was no malignant finding.  Yes, you read that right.  No malignant finding. (Insert Happy Dance here…)

happy dance

And the gratitude for the prayers and positive energy was lifted up.  We truly are always aware of the potential alternatives, regardless of our situation.

But, as is always the case with Meghan, I encourage you to keep reading.  Nothing is ever really simple.  And, as the years go by it seems to get progressively more complicated.

While in fact there was no malignant finding, there was not a purely benign pathology either.  She had “the best type of hyperplasia you’d want to find.”

Except when pressed, the gynecologist admitted that there is no type of hyperplasia that you’d ever want to find in a 12-year-old, and that there should be nothing but normal cells there.

Hmmm.  Hyperplasia. Medicine.net says…. “Hyperplasia: An increase in the number of normal cells in a tissue or an organ. Hyperplasia can represent a precancerous condition.”  And various other sites say the same.  The doctor agreed.  The pathology finding was not “normal,” and therefore it must be treated.

See, hyperplasia, specifically endometrial hyperplasia might be detected in women 3-4 times her age.  It might even be expected in women 5 or 6 times her age.  But, her age is 12.  And none of this is ok.

think_outside_the_box

I pushed her about thinking outside the box, and she reminded me that the entire biopsy WAS thinking outside the box.  Any other teen would have been treated for months or more on hormones.  That could have had epic consequences.

In the short-haul, she gets to heal from an invasive procedure.  In the next week more hormones will be introduced to her body in an attempt to keep the hyperplasia at bay, and most importantly to keep it from progressing.  But, hormones, although commonly used to regulate bleeding, require special care in the case of a young lady with no thyroid, a difficult time balancing the endocrine hormones, an extremely elevated risk of uterine and breast cancer, thanks to the PTEN mutation, AND TWO first degree relatives, with estrogen fed breast cancer.

For now, she keeps her uterus.  And we hold our breath.  We hope that over the next few months things will start to calm down.  And some time in the next 6 months the invasive biopsy will be repeated over again to make sure the hyperplasia is gone or behaving itself.

repetition

To Meghan this mimics the process that took place at the beginning of the end of thyroid removal.  We had about 3 years of progressive biopsies before they decided to pull the plug and take it out.  She knows, and agrees, that we will all fight longer and harder for her uterus.  For so many reasons.  But the similarities can’t be overlooked.  Nor can the distressing notion that another body part is misbehaving.

When we were diagnosed in 2011 we were told there would be screenings and monitoring.  We even figured on a few doctors every 6 months.  At one point we dreamed of getting them all into a week in August and a week in February and living a somewhat normal life the rest of the year.

Instead, in Meghan’s life alone there have been 5 surgical procedures in the last 13 months.  Digest that for a minute, because it’s hard to keep track of.

Currently we are monitoring her thyroid levels through blood every 6-8 weeks, visits twice a year, and annual ultrasound to monitor potential regrowth.

We are monitoring her knee where the AVM resides, through twice a year visits to the interventional radiologist and twice a year visits to the orthopedist.  There is an annual MRI.  And two of those procedures in the last 13 months have been for the knee.  Add in surgical follow-up visits, and Physical Therapy.

The dermatologist needs to see her twice a year.  Not because anything has been found on her, but because in addition to me passing the PTEN gene to her, apparently her father and I BOTH have Dysplastic Nevus, a “precancerous” condition where moles have a tendency to become malignant.  Couple that with the almost 10 % melanoma risk Cowden’s patients carry, and in addition to the sunscreen, there are necessary scannings.

There is the gastroenterologist, who became necessary almost two years ago when the use of Celebrex to control the knee AVM started to rot out the GI tract.

And the ENT who was added so he could monitor the larynx to avoid unnecessary endoscopy but gauge improvement from the scary state she was in in May of 2014.

Oh, and the doctor who prescribes the digestive enzymes because they work, and no one else will.

And the pediatrician who doesn’t like to go more than 3 weeks without examining Meghan, who also keeps her on Acyclovir, prophylactically for chronic HSV that recurs on her face.

And, don’t forget the hand surgeon, who we love, (who doesn’t have a hand surgeon on the team?)  who has twice in 3 years removed vascular lesions, one from each palm.  And those surgical follow ups.

vomit emoji

Nothing is neat and clean.  Nothing is contained.  Nothing ever fit into those 2 weeks we once dreamed about.  This disease has projectile vomited all over our lives.  And it’s everywhere.  And it’s messy and gross, and we just want to take a hot shower and move on.

Because we haven’t even discussed fitting in MY appointments…

And a full-time job….

And an honor student….

Who is a swimmer….

And a theater buff….

And a community activist in the making…

All after work, and school, into the city, in traffic, and expensive parking lots, in hopes of getting back local in time for practice.

Last week I told Meghan over the Christmas Vacation we would need to see her gyn, and do her knee MRI, and my abdominal sonogram.  She was less than impressed.  The general sentiment is that we don’t get vacations, we get days off from school to go to the doctor.  I can’t argue.

overscheduled

The physical, mental, and social ramifications of this under-funded, “orphan disease” are having a profound effect on the life of my girl, and her mom and dad too.

That is one of the main reasons we work so hard to raise funds and awareness.  Maybe one day…

So tonight, we are grateful.  We are on our knees in gratitude, for the prayers that were lifted on her behalf.  We are thrilled to hear the words, “It’s not malignant,” but we are painfully aware the journey of monitoring another body part has just begun.

So if we are not shouting from the rooftops, please don’t think us ungrateful.  We are not.  We are relieved.  We took our first deep breath in weeks.  But, we did ask Santa for some new body armor, polished and ready for the new challenges PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome, (Cowden’s Syndrome) are actively placing in our way.

We ask that you continue your prayers, and continue to educate yourself about genetic cancers, orphan diseases and people like us, left to be our own advocates, in a world that isn’t overly concerned with how our story shakes out.

While we are in transit, to and from a lot of places we’d rather not be, we talk a lot.  Most of it is complicated.  But some of it, is quite simply about how a 12-year-old with a vision is going to change the world.

life goes on

 

Come join us on FEBRUARY 21st as we try to draw attention to Rare and Genetic Diseases! Beating Cowden’s Fundraiser LINK – PLEASE HELP US SPREAD THE WORD!

Time with "BOB" our favorite entertainer...

Time with “BOB” our favorite entertainer…

Making the Most of It All…

Sunday night, coming home from a swim meet, Meghan outlined her goals.  Among them included, “no surgery for a whole year.”  To someone who hasn’t had 4 surgeries in the last 12 months, that may not seem quite that important, but to Meghan it was at the tip-top of the list.

Over the last several years she has spent more time living in “recovery” than just living.

Your Recovery Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

She dropped 16 seconds total off her event times at this month’s meet, and 17 last month.  Insanity.  Except to a young lady who is now growing into herself, and her abilities.

 

She wants to swim.  Hard and often.

O22lQ

She wants to soar academically – no average under a 95 will do for her.

She wants to act, and sing, and be on stage.

She wants to participate in her youth group, and retreats, and live her faith.

She wants to raise community awareness of Cowden’s Syndrome and rare diseases.

She is on the move all the time.  I know, because I am with her.  Or helping her stay organized.  Or transporting her at least.

This weekend we drove 200 miles.  Today at least another 60.  LOTS of time for car chat.  Lots of time to get to know each other well.

onthego

Sometimes she drives me crazy.  Sometimes I frustrate her so badly she wants to scream.  Sometimes she does homework, reads, or works on projects.  But, lots of other times we talk.  About anything and everything.  And as much as I hate traffic, and long distances, I’ve learned to make the most of our time in the car.  I’ve learned to appreciate my captive audience, with the realization she won’t be in my back seat forever.

Captive Audience words on a ransom note in cut out letters in a message to forced or trapped customers or people

As a matter of fact after today’s appointment, she could easily be in the front seat.  All the time.  At a very trim waistline, and a height of almost 5 foot 7, she presents as YEARS older than she is.  Which I sometimes have to remind myself when I am busy expecting her to have it all together.  Sometimes she still needs me to help her along.

Today was the knee surgeon.  Six month follow-up.  He sees the shift in the patella.  He feels the scar tissue, and the clicking.  But, he said, she can wait.  She can wait until she’s ready before he cleans it out again.  With Cowden’s it’s a fine line.  How much pain can you deal with?  Because every surgery will lead to an overgrowth of scar tissue which carries its own issues.  Drag your feet.  Know when enough is enough.

Next we will have an MRI to check on the AVM.  As long as that’s stable, we should have a bit of time.  A bit of time to do some things besides recover.  A bit of time to be a bit more like a “normal” busy 12-year-old.  Well, like a “normal” 12-year-old planning a fund-raiser for more than 150 people with her favorite Disney entertainer… But, hey, she dreams big.

This kid. My stength. My motivation. My hero.

This kid. My strength. My motivation. My hero.

Tomorrow she goes to another doctor.  And about this one I just pray.  A lot.

In two weeks I get to remind myself I have Cowden’s with an unplanned visit to my plastic surgeon to question a poorly behaving painful prosthesis.

Plenty to preoccupy the mind.  In our immediate and extended family.

One day, one event, one obstacle at a time.

I did start my Christmas shopping.  After 2 years of holiday sadness, I am craving joy, and celebration.  I am craving the anticipation of the birth of the baby Jesus.  I am determined to remove myself from the holiday hustle and bustle.  I am determined to set my mind right.  Because none of us ever know.  Really.  And there is no promise of tomorrow.  Really.

But organization makes me happy.  And it’s about being happy.  And making the most of it all.  All the time.

organize