Invisible Illness – Sometimes We ALL Need Help

The day starts with me laying in my bed, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that it is time to face another day.  I lay there a few moments.  My heart rate begins to rise.  I feel the familiar ache and throb in my legs, and I quickly calculate the number of hours until I can re-visit my bed.

On the days I can move fast enough, I take a quick shower before I undertake the 10-15 minute process of waking Meghan.  Please, save the judgment that she is 14 and should be waking herself.  You’re right.  Except by the time I get to the top of the stairs there are several alarms sounding simultaneously.  She would if she could.

Waking her is no easy task.  Her body, so deeply fatigued by her daily physical and emotional battles, resists breaking those last few moments of cherished rest.  Never enough.  All teens are tired.  I get it.  I don’t know for sure that YOU get looking into the eyes of a 14 year old, bright, compassionate, articulate, and full of promise, as she pleads for it not to be morning.

The two of us together are some pair in the early hours.  My body aches but by the time I get through the shower I can usually shake some off.  I am also 30 years her senior, so living in my mid-forties, I can expect some normal aches to start to take hold.

Like so many things, Meghan’s life is mine amped up.  I was always tired, but didn’t know “train wreck tired” till the attempts to balance my thyroid in my mid-twenties.

She was 10 when that journey began.  It is not right yet, although a competent, sensitive endocrinologist watches closely.  Synthetic anything gives her body a problem.  Always has.

Adding in the synthetic hormones to contend with the suspected start of endometriosis has added a layer we need, but didn’t want.  The pre-cancerous tissue in the uterus is likely to be helped by this step, as well as excruciatingly painful periods, but like all things it is not without cost.

She drags her body down the stairs, walking crookedly to contend with a back, or a hip, inevitably and almost constantly displaced by a full foot size discrepancy.  Bi-monthly chiropractic visits put things back in place, for as long as they last on her 5’8″ frame.

As she travels the two flights down to her bathroom, there is an internal, and audible triage of the aches of the day being sorted.  It’s agonizing to watch and listen to.  You see there is never a day where everything feels well.  There is never a day where she is just tired.  There is never a day that she wakes eager to face even the most exciting events.

 

There is a part of me, a small quiet part of me, that sometimes allows myself to believe that maybe she’s playing games, exaggerating, or trying to make me insane.  And then I think quite simply, why?

Why would she WANT to hurt, or have an upset stomach, or be in pain.  She, who is eager to please her parents, and everyone she meets, would not want to be in internal turmoil or conjure up ailments.

So my mind does it’s thing as well.  “How many days has that been bothering her?”  “Do I need to take her to a doctor?”  “Can they really help anyway?”  “Is anything lasting too long?”  And so on…

And somewhere in the middle of this, as the moments kick past 6, I have to push.  We have to be out the door in order for her to be at her 7:25 period 1, and for me to be in my classroom in time to set up for my 8AM students.  There is really no time to deal with any of it.  We simply need to press through and get out of the house.

We do a lot the night before.  Lunch is packed, swim bags are packed, clothes are picked out.  Homework is always in the backpack.  Mornings are not for things that can be avoided.

I have to admit there are mornings where it has gone very wrong.  There have been mornings where I have not felt well myself, and my patience with the multitude of issues required to just get herself dressed and ready are forgotten temporarily.  I am not proud of the mornings where the clock passes the point of panic and I evolve into a screaming shrew.  But, this is about honesty, and honestly, it happens.

Smooth or not, we find ourselves in the car on the close to 20 minute ride to her school.  And that is where it gets trickiest.

Months ago Meghan was diagnosed with PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, secondary to medical trauma she has endured in her young life.  That PTSD has been exacerbated through the years through a variety of triggers she works to manage.  But, many days it seems her “fight or flight” is broken and she is wound into a high state of awareness, of EVERYTHING.  That means every human interaction, every test, every assignment, every competition, every audition is just amped up.  Sometimes the volume is so loud it can feel almost crippling.

And, yet still, as we work daily, she has to get out of my car and walk into that building alone.  Some days are easier than others.  Some days, I’m tempted to snatch her and drive far away where I can keep her safe and calm.  But, she’s not 4 – she’s 14.  And, she has to go.  She knows it too.  So she does.

It’s not about the people anymore.  Although it was for a few years.  Now, thankfully, it’s not.  The people are kind.  They students are friendly, and while no one is friends with everyone, she is after only about 20 days, building positive relationships with peers, her swim team, and many adults.

So why?  I’m not sure.  And I’m not totally sure she is either.  That’s why we’re working on it.

But, there are theories.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not rare.  But, Cowden’s Syndrome is.  And in my child the two are intermingled.  The relationship between chronic medical issues, 18 surgeries, tests, scans, hospitals, isolation, heightened anxiety, the need to self-advocate, a lack of trust for the many medical professionals who have handled things wrong, and the isolation and overwhelming feelings this can cause is just the tip.  Coupled with generally feeling off, having a super sensitive stomach, relentless seasonal allergies, and being an athlete who simultaneously loves her teams and fears competition can create consternation.  This is the very tip of what I know to be a Titanic sized iceberg we are working on melting.

She likes her school.  She likes the people.  She likes the environment.  And yet there are days it is a struggle, a moment by moment struggle to make it.  She hurts.  She pushes.  She is stubborn.  She is strong-willed.  And for as many times as those characteristics cause me to want to bang my head repeatedly against a brick wall, are as many times as I thank God she is that way.

She likes to swim too.  She likes to swim for her school.  She likes to swim for her 12 month team.  She enjoys feeling strong, and having a body that reflects her hours of training. I am grateful that she is an athlete.  But, the battle to get into the pool when every piece of you just hurts, and you want nothing more than to be in your bed is a battle her coaches or her teammates do not fully see.  I mean they see the performance anxiety, which is WAY deeper than what it seems to be, but the rest, the full deal is carefully and intricately hidden like so much else.  No wonder she is tired.

 

We are working on it.

Every day is a battle to get through the day.  Sometimes physically, and other times mentally and emotionally.  Yet, day after day, it gets done with a grace that often blows me away.

Every house holds secrets.  Private, messy moments that are not shared with the world.  We are not the only ones, and we are not oblivious to the moments others must hold close to themselves.

Collectively, we all need to stop judging.  We must stop imagining their life is perfect because it looks so on facebook, or instagram, or snapchat.  We need to be kind.  We need to go back to the basic rule that “If you have nothing nice to say – don’t say anything at all.”

We need to not profess that we can fix others problems, or make ourselves feel better by offering “quick” solutions.  It is hard to watch others in pain.  It is not easy to accept that sometimes there is nothing we can do besides be a friend.  We need to acknowledge pain, and struggle as real without giving in.

In this house weekends are still about survival.  They are about recovery.  They are about storing up a ‘spoon’ or two so that we can use them in the coming week.

One day I’d like us to have a social calendar.  I’d like to get out as a family and make some memories on a sunny October day.  But, today was not that day.  Today was swim practice and vocal lessons.  That is what we could do.  Today.

The evening winds down and we are faced with the reality that sleep will need to happen again.  Sleep is tough times.  Not for lack of fatigue, but for a teenagers over worked mind.  We are working out a system.  We are seeing some progress.  The struggle is real.

We are working on it.

This week we contracted with a company for a Service Dog to assist with the PTSD.  It will be one of many interventions we will use.  We have sent a deposit.  The process has begun and can take up to a year.  We are hoping it will be sooner.

If you have read this far, and you have real suggestions for grants we can apply for to assist in raising the cost of this dog, your assistance is valuable.

We are not looking for an analysis, or reasons why we Meghan might NOT need a Service Dog.  We have medical professionals encouraging this.  We will deal with logistics as the dog’s arrival looms.  In the mean time, we are working purely on fundraising.

The organization we are connected to is http://www.medicalmutts.com  They are an accredited business that we researched extensively.  When the dog is ready we will need to spend a week in Indiana picking it up.

The decision to make this move was based on many factors, but it was guided by Meghan.  She has researched.  She has thought.  She has read.  Her father and I have learned to trust her instincts.  Undoubtedly, that is one of the reasons we have come so far.

Looking forward to hearing your encouraging, helpful comments –

We remain

#Beatingcowdens

The Comeback…

“…There is no mountain you can’t face

There is no giant you can’t take

All of your tears were not a waste

You’re one step away…” Danny Gokey

We listen to a good deal of Contemporary Christian music.  There are other tastes among us, but often, especially in the car – we listen to this.  It’s been a few years since we’ve had a church where we all felt comfortable and at home, although we possess strong, deeply rooted faith.  This music helps keep us focused when things can otherwise seem blurry.

This particular song surfaced a few weeks ago.  Meghan was battling to make a comeback from knee surgery 7, and seven was NOT a lucky number.

When you’ve been through the operating room 18 times and it’s still a week before your 14th birthday – you can call yourself somewhat of a professional at recovery.

We left the hospital with our list of directions.  We went to the surgical follow-up.  We scheduled PT.  We even held an extra week before restarting swim.  There were crutches for a very long time – used responsibly.  So, when she had done everything right, and her body decided to push back – hard, she was understandably angry and very frustrated.

No one really had a solid explanation for the fluid that overtook that knee almost 5 weeks post operatively.  But, there never really is a solid explanation.  I’d like to say we’re used to it.  But, I don’t like to lie.

There were more crutches, and more PT with the BEST PT in the whole wide world.  (We LOVE Dr. Jill – because she works on the WHOLE kid.  She gets that they are more than the body part giving them trouble. I know of NONE quite like her.)  There was increase in strength and range of motion.  There was a return to (half) swim practices.

There has been diligent icing after swim.  There has been stretching and strengthening because, quite frankly, she WANTS to feel better.

We joked around during the month of June, how nice it would be if we could make July a “doctor- free” month.  We longingly imagine the same scenario every year.  What if summer could be time to relax?  What if we could take day trips?  What if we could come and go, and rejuvenate?

I just counted 20 medical appointments between us over the last 31 days.  There are 2 more tomorrow.

Chronic illness is a real drag at any age.  When it happens to a child or a teen it makes everything that is already hard about growing up – even more of a challenge.

When you are in an almost constant state of recovery, you can find yourself tired.  Fighting so hard just to get back to where you were can make you feel like a hamster stuck in a wheel.

Chronic illness, constant pain, surgical recovery, ongoing surveillance, and all the other “fun” things that accompany Cowden’s Syndrome – or any other “it’s sticking around FOREVER” illness can leave you wiped out.

It’s hard to build relationships, friendships, or even a social group when you aren’t able to do so many of the things people take for granted every day.  There are days you quite simply run out of “spoons.”

https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

But, in life there are more times than not that we have choices.  I try to model for my daughter, but so often she models for me.  You can choose to sit alone.  You can choose to let pain, fear, anxiety and frustration take hold.  You can choose to be sad.  You can choose to be mad.  Or you can realize that life is hard.  Everyone’s life is hard.  Life is also full of blessings.

When you realize that this is your life, and you decide you’re going to make the best of it- that’s when you dig in. You climb up that mountain, one step at a time…

I admire many things about my daughter.  She is not perfect – neither am I.  But in her soul, there is a “Never Give Up” attitude that permeates all things.  There is a constant quest for equity and justice, not just for her, but for all she interfaces with.  There is a compassionate need to help others.  There is a desire to be successful in spite of her circumstances – not because of them.

She always says she loves to swim because regardless – she has to meet the same time standards as everyone else.  Somehow it makes each comeback a little sweeter.

No one else would likely know, or realize, or remember.  But, we know.

First year on the high school team.  The season starts right after school.  She’ll be ready.

That’s why we will always remain

#beatingcowdens

 

“…There is no mountain you can’t face

There is no giant you can’t take

All of your tears were not a waste

You’re one step away…” Danny Gokey

This video is worth your time…

 

Danny Gokey – The Comeback 
After a season of nightfalls and pushbacks
After the heartache of wrong turns and sidetracks
Just when they think they’ve got you game, set, match
Here comes the comeback
Just cause you laid low, got up slow, unsteady
Don’t mean you blacked out or bought out you’re ready
Just when they think there’s nothing left running on empty
Here comes the comeback
(chorus)
This is your time, your moment 
The fire, the fight, you’re golden
You’ve come so far keep going
Here comes the comeback, comeback
You feel the lightning, the thunder, your soul shakes
Under the roar of the heaven, the tide breaks
And from the ashes you will take your place
Here comes the comeback
(chorus)
This is your time, your moment 
The fire, the fight, you’re golden
You’ve come so far keep going
Here comes the comeback, comeback
There is no mountain you can’t face
There is no giant you can’t take
All of your tears were not a waste
You’re one step away
Just when they think they’ve got you game, set, match
Here comes the comeback
(chorus)
This is your time, your moment 
The fire, the fight, you’re golden
You’ve come so far keep going
Here comes the comeback, comeback

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

5 Years and “Sag-less” in my 40s

5-years

March 5th. 2012

One of those dates that will stick with me forever.

On March 5th of 2012, I made my way early in the morning to the 10th floor of NYU.  I signed all the papers with my husband by my side.  I shook.  I prayed.  I was terrified.  But, I had strong resolve, and there was no turning back.

Several months prior, my daughter, and then I had been diagnosed with the PTEN mutation that causes Cowden’s Syndrome.  This mutation is responsible for increased tumor growth, both benign and malignant.  It causes polyps, hamartomas, vascular malformations, and a whole bunch of other messy things.  After our diagnoses, we began aggressive and age-appropriate screening.

img_9376

Meghan was 8.  I was 38.

They started with her thyroid.  And immediately found issues.

At exactly the same time I was being sent through screening for the highest risk in my age group.  Breast cancer.

I already had a mom- a 15 year survivor of bilateral beast cancer.  (She does not have the PTEN mutation.)  I had already had several surgical breast biopsies through the years, with increasingly foreboding pathology.  But, I could not have been prepared for the surgeon I met in NYU Clinical Cancer Center in January of 2012.  She introduced herself to me, having already torn through my previously received medical record, and said we should set a date.  When I asked for what, she said quite simply, “For your prophylactic bilateral mastectomy.”

A little stunned, I caught my breath and asked why?  “It’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN you’ll get cancer,” she said very definitively.  “We need to get at it first.”

She sent me to her scheduler, who coordinated with the plastic surgeon.  The date they came up with was March 5th.  I asked why I couldn’t wait until the summer, and I was told that she thought that would be a huge mistake.

I called my husband, shaking.  “Do what they say,” he calmly asserted.

So I left that January day with a script for a bilateral breast MRI – just to make sure there was no cancer- and a surgical date.

The MRI was negative.  I am still amazed by that.  Five weeks prior to the surgery there was NO FINDING on the MRI.

I met with the plastic surgeon, and much to her chagrin, I opted for immediate reconstruction, deciding to forgo the preferred method of tissue expanders.  She reminded me that the results would be “imperfect.”  I knew I could not delay my recovery by months.  I had a daughter, a family, and a job to return to.

storm

The surgery was uneventful.

I vomited repeatedly as I left the house that morning.  I cried as I walked into the OR.  My surgeon called me “brave.”  I woke up with a strange feeling of empowerment.

I left the hospital 28 hours later.  There were drains and wrappings, but there were things to do.  I met on the refinance of our mortgage and managed parent teacher conferences with my daughter’s third grade teacher all before the drains were removed.

The day we went to have the drains removed, for whatever reason both Meghan and Felix were there.  The plastic surgeon was the first to mention how lucky we were we caught “it” early.  I was confused.  She said, “The cancer.  It was very early and far away from your chest wall.”

There was silence in the room as we all processed the word “cancer.”

cancer-changes-us

She realized then she was the first to share the news.  Our next stop was the surgeon.  I pored over the pathology report and kept getting stuck.

I went from being a woman “getting ahead of things” with a “prophylactic bilateral mastectomy” to a “cancer survivor” in a moment.

I was told had I pushed the surgery to the summer, I would have been in a “fight for my life.”

I’ll always know I am more fortunate than any of the women who needed, chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments to keep their cancer at bay.  I have not traveled the road as they did.  I will forever admire them.  But, we are kindred spirits living with the daily knowledge that cancer cells once lived inside of us.  That is a feeling, and knowledge that can not be explained.  You either know it, or you don’t.

every-wound

My implants lasted less than 5 years.  The life expectancy is 15.  This past summer they were replaced.  Scarring was severe on the right side, and the scars needed to be broken up.  A new pair replaced the old.  Nothing flashy.  Quick surgery, quick recovery.  No big deal.  Just a reminder of the reality that will follow me forever.

 

Today I celebrate that reality.

5 years officially Cancer-free.

Five years – and by the grace of God, countless more to go.

Five years- the first of many with sag-less silicone, size small shirts, and the ability to go bra-less without being noticed.

I celebrate my Mom – 20 years a survivor this year – my role model.  My motivation.

I celebrate inside my own quiet- unable to speak as my voice heals.  I celebrate even through miles of survivors guilt.  I celebrate despite my broken heart as so many around me are taken by cancer.  I celebrate because that is what they would want most.

Once you’ve been there.  Lived it.  Watched it.  Seen it.  You get a deeper sense of how precious life is.  And you celebrate what you have each day. It’s not easy.  Life can be messy.  But, we do our best.

I celebrate to honor those who’ve been taken, those who work so hard every day to smile through, and for those whose diagnoses are yet to come.

Every day is a gift. As my friends at #stupidcancer would say – Get Busy Living!

#beatingcowdens

cancer-free-zone

 

 

A REAL Love Story

love

I’m not one for Valentine’s Day.  Never was.  It didn’t matter to me if I was dating or single, it just never made sense.  The “Hallmark Holiday” seemed determined to bleed money out of people who shouldn’t have to work so hard to prove themselves one day a year.

If you love someone, prove it every day.  It’s not about the big things.  It’s about the things that matter.

Picking up someone else’s mess, doing someone’s laundry, a random hug, an “I love you” that’s real and spontaneous, treating each other respectfully all the time… and so on…

My husband and I decided years ago to exchange only cards on Valentine’s Day.  I already know how much he loves me.  We do what we can to get a little something for our girl, well, just because.  And we, we try to get organized and celebrate our anniversary.  The day we stood before God and our families and friends and pledged our “for better or for worse,” and “in sickness and in health.”  Because those vows – they matter so much.

Tomorrow I will head to Manhattan for three of my annual appointments, carefully timed to cost me exactly one day off of work.  I will see the oncologist, the breast surgeon, and the endocrine surgeon, with some blood work thrown in for good measure, and the results of a sonogram from Saturday checking on that bumpy spleen of mine.

I will return in time to have parent conferences at my daughter’s school.

Not a “romantic” day by any means.

I will wear a red shirt that says “Strong” and I will make it work with a smile.

Because, I will be thinking of this heart.

img_6210Last year in January, my Grandfather fell.  It was after a trip to the grocery store.  We later found there was stroke activity, and that January day began a slippery slope that ended with his passing on March 3rd.  If you know me personally at all, you know my grandparents were larger than life to me.  That’s it.  They were 70 years married, and even though Alzheimer’s had largely robbed Grandma of much of her memory, my Pop loved her with his whole heart.

Last year, coincidentally, my grandparents spent Valentine’s Day in the nursing home at the same time.  And, although I’m not totally sure either was aware of the date at the time, we were.

A few days after Pop passed, my uncle sent the picture above.  He was cleaning out the linen closet and tucked in between some things was this heart.  By every rational account it must have been purchased by Pop, for his love, on that day in January when he made his last shopping trip alone.

My Pop was a man that planned ahead.  He was a man who always thought of his wife, and lived every day loving her with his whole heart. And my Grandma, well, she’s pretty special herself, and she’s always been quite fond of chocolate.

Nothing flashy, nothing fancy.  But he saw the hearts early, and thought of her.  That’s how he rolled.  Always kissing her hello and goodbye, clipping roses from their rosebush, and doing what he could, even when there was nothing more he could do.

My newsfeed, and my heart have been full lately, of people struggling and suffering.  The prayer list is long.  There is pain and sadness and worry.  But within, there is also love, and gratitude and compassion.

Life is about balance.

I’d rather spread out the love to last all year.  I’ve got plenty to share.

For it is with love alone that we hold each other up.

Love for those around us, and those who’ve gone before, motivates us.

Grandma is still “here” but many of you understand when I say I miss my grandparents.  The love though, the love and the example they set is imprinted forever in my soul.

It is with Love and Gratitude that we find the strength to remain

#beatingcowdens!

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Overlap and Regrowth – Living with Cowden’s

So, the night I was recovering from my breast surgery on August 19th, I haphazardly checked my Email.

There sat an Email from Meghan’s endocrinologist that shook me out of my anesthesia recovery pretty quickly.  There is no time “in between” because there is usually SOMETHING going on.  Overlap is a way of life.

Meghan had had lab work drawn the 3rd of August.  Routine thyroid labs, and some tests from the gyn worked in.  On the 18th the EMail from the gyn told me she was suspicious of a few lingering “issues” and we would address them at her late fall appointment.

bloodwork

The endocrinologist’s EMail said he was concerned about the resurgence of her “thyroglobulin” levels.  He wanted to now treat her as a “high risk” thyroid cancer patient.

I almost dropped the phone, alone in my dark room.  The last paragraph said he’d be on vacation for two weeks, and we could talk when he returned.  I read.  And I reread.

thyroglobulin

Decoding step by step – “thyroglobulin” is created solely by thyroid tissue.  Someone with a complete thryoidectomy would have non-detectable levels about 3 or so months post operatively.  Only thyroid tissue generates thyroglobulin.  If some was left behind after her surgery a small number would have stabilized early.  But for it to be gone, and then show up…  This meant there had to be regrowth.  And yes, it happens.  Maybe to everyone, but definitely people with Cowden’s Syndrome.  We regrow lymphoid tissue.

superpower

It’s a superpower of sorts.  Except instead of being a really fun, save the world, or generate sunshine and happiness, superpower, it’s more of the – hey let’s add some more worry to your life superpower.

kid-super-power-881x588

While the pathology on the thyroidectomy was totally benign, the mind can play lots of tricks.  Lots of tricks.

I’m not slow.  I am pretty well read.  I’m equipped with the knowledge that having faith and worry are counterintuitive.  Except I’m honest.  And with matter of my girl, worry sometimes overwhelms.  I never claimed to be perfect.

18010-dont-worry-800x600

So I spent the last 6 or 7 weeks retreating.  I barely spoke of this fear, this nagging thought that not only could the thyroid be growing again, but what if… what if all those precancerous things that we took out with it were somehow festering.

I made it my job to access the lab work.  And it was a JOB.  You would have thought what I was asking for just to see a list of messed up thyroid numbers.  We live in a pretty crazy society.  But, finally, after 2 weeks of labor, and getting increasingly vocal, I received 4 copies.  All on different days.  All from different people.  But, I got to look at the numbers.

I am a numbers person, so I took some relief in the thyroglobulin being only 3.  Undetectable was better, but 3 was on the better end of things.  It was clearly well under that “10” I had found.  So I took to waiting and ticking away the days until the next blood test.  There was a thyroid dose change, and 6 weeks.

I broke my toe while recovering from the implant exchange, a few weeks after learning I was suffering not only from a single vocal cord lesion, but vocal atrophy secondary to premature aging, the latter which was likely due to the hysterectomy that became necessary after the breast cancer diagnosis in 2012.

And yes, I meant that to be a run-on.

It all kept me as occupied as I could while I hid in the start up chaos of September.  I hate September.  But, when you’re suffering personal angst and need cover under which to hide – it’s September for the win.  I poured myself into setting up 25 classes, and over 550 students, logistically, and academically.  It took some time.

And I kind of just ducked.  Phone calls, texts… I played along.

“High Risk” thyroid cancer patient… like a recurring nightmare.

One of the reasons I was afraid to talk was the fear that someone would talk to be about thryoid cancer being the “best” cancer.  Please, no one ever do that.  When it comes to my child, a survival rate in the 90%s doesn’t soothe me.  When it comes to my child, I, like every other parent want 100%.  Nothing less.

I was scared.

We got the labs drawn at the hospital on Weds. the 28th.

On the 30th I was exploding.  Every second seemed like an hour.  Every scenario was playing through my head.  So when I got the call that the test wouldn’t be ready till Monday I dissolved into a tiny puddle.

And then I did what every other mother does.  I put on my big girl pants and got through the weekend.

Then Monday there was a brief phone call.

The thyroglobulin has returned to undetectable.

WHAT?  How does that even happen?  I sent out a million questions rapid fire.  Most of them had no answer.

Crisis averted.  Prayers answered.

gratitude

I explained to Meghan why her Mom had been a bit extra on edge.  She’s really growing up because she was grateful to have not traveled that mental journey with me, and appreciated me letting her in when it mattered.

Next blood test November 11.  And we’re going with the theory that the thyroglobulin was a one time deal.  An error.  A miracle.  Whatever.  A win.

We’ve got 6 weeks.  Some Mommy doctors.  Some swim meets.  6 weeks.  Sometimes that feels short.  Right now it’s blissfully long.

On my knees in gratitude, we remain…

#beatingcowdens

thanks-beach

 

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.

photo 23

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

hope_balloons_small2

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.