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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

 

“Super” Man

 

Pop brought a smile, love and humor to our lives.
                       Pop brought a smile, love and humor to our lives.

Superheroes are invincible.  No matter what they always find a way to pull through.  They make complicated tasks look easy.  They make the world a better place just by being there.

Thursday night my family said goodbye to our Superhero.  Pop passed away at the age of 96.

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Now, before you get on about telling me how lucky I am.  I know.  Before you tell me he lived a good life, I know.  Before you tell me, “at least he’s at peace.”  I know that too.  I recognize fully that I am 42 years old and I am saying goodbye to my GRANDFATHER.  I get how epic it is that he got to know and love his great-grandchildren.  I understand all of it.  I am acutely aware of young, tragic stories that pepper this world.  And, my heart breaks for each of them.  But, please don’t think for a moment it will make enduring this loss even the tiniest bit easier.

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For every moment of my 42 years there has been Pop.  There has been the ability to call him, to chat with him, to follow him around, to hear his stories, to receive his hugs, his humor, and his love.  There was Pop to read to me as a young child.  There was Pop to teach me about the basics of a car, and oil changes when I went to college.  There was Pop to dance with me at my wedding.  There was Pop to take his 80-year-old body to my house every day and place my wood trim, piece by piece.  There has always been Pop.  And now there isn’t.

There was Pop and Grandma living upstairs during the years when Mom had to work a lot.  There was Pop to drive me everywhere.  There was Pop to record important events.  There was Pop who NEVER said,”No,” and NEVER made you feel like you were bothering him.  There was Pop who played in his garden, growing lima beans, string beans, cucumbers and tomatoes.  There was Pop who built his own deck, and sided his own house. There was Pop who made everything look easy.  There was Pop who made rocking horses for grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  There was Pop who picked up Meghan from the school bus until about 4 years ago. I could sit here forever and the list would just extend. There has always been Pop.  And now there isn’t.

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I’ve been pretty silent on this blog for a few weeks.  Not because Cowden’s up and left us alone.  But, rather because there were other things that needed attention more.  For a little while.

I got the call on January 13th that he was at the hospital.  He had fallen.  They were testing.  He was discharged a few days later, although he was only home a few days.  Before the rehab could start, he was taken to a different hospital.  Strokes were occurring.  There was an attempt at rehab there, and then a move to the telemetry floor, and finally a move to a local nursing home to try some rehab there.  The strokes had taken away the thing he prided himself on, his mobility.  The right leg wasn’t interested in coming around, despite efforts from several good therapists over many weeks.

Pop was many things to many people, but he was undeniably stubborn.  That tenacity undoubtedly is what had carried him through the months preceding the series of strokes.  He had Grandma, and he was set on taking care of his bride of 70 years, at all costs.  He knew we were losing her to alzheimer’s.  He was aware in so many ways.  Yet, he was unrelenting in his forceful desire to care for her at home, “as long as God gives me breath.”  He took only help from my Mom, and in the very short time preceding his hospitalization there was an aide for a few hours each day.  But he, cooked, cleaned up, did laundry, shopped.  And they lived on the SECOND floor of their home.

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He modeled “in sickness and in health,” and “for better or for worse,” in ways that people do not even comprehend anymore.  He took his vows and his promises so seriously.  I learned what it meant to be married watching them through the years.  They modeled love and respect, and he never ever walked away without kissing her goodbye.

That’s why he pushed so hard.  Just as he had for all of us through the years, he was propelled by love of God and love of family.  He drove his own car, albeit short distances.  He handled the bills, the paperwork, and navigated Email and the internet.  In the weeks before he passed we watched our 96-year-old Pop go from behaving like he was 70, to being 96.  And it was not easy to watch over 25 years catch up with him in those weeks.  It was not easy to watch the frustration, the desire to move, and the pounds slipping away as even eating became a challenge.

 

Grandma now resides in the nursing home Pop passed away in.  And she is incredibly well cared for.  I do think he would approve.  But, her memories are leaving her.  And maybe at this point, maybe that’s just better.  Because to process the loss of Pop is incomprehensible to those of us who have a tight grasp on a lifetime of memories.  Maybe that’s one of the blessings I can find here.  Because I know when it’s time, they will be together.  And I know the time they will spend apart will equate to a small fraction of the life they spent together.

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When Pop first was hospitalized I was quite upset, and I apologized to a friend who had lost her mother at a young age.  She spoke to me so kindly, I will never forget.  “It’s hard for you because you’ve never lived life without him.”  So gracious when she could have chosen to go in so many other directions.

Those are the words that give me comfort.  Those are the words that tell me it’s ok to grieve.  It’s ok to feel like I’ve got a 600 pound boulder on my chest, suffocating me.  Those are the words that tell me that 42 years is a long time to have someone in your life and then lose them.

December 2015
                                                        December 2015

 

Pop was sharp.  He was up on all of us, and all of our lives.  He knew specifics, and questioned and followed along.  Meghan always said she was in awe of how he defied his calendar age.  She, like the rest of us, was enamored.  And as he was at the second hospital having a scan, and he educated the lab technician on Cowden’s Syndrome, I had to laugh in spite of myself.  He was always learning, and he wanted to make sure others were too.

 

I walked through their house yesterday, as I have done so many times before, but this time I stopped and looked at the Bible, held together by tape from constant use.  I looked at the devotional set to January 12th, the day before he fell, and I smiled.  He was, above all things, devoted to God.

The first great grandchildren - Luke and Meghan
                           The first great-grandchildren – Luke and Meghan

His memorial service will take place next Saturday, at the church I grew up in, at the church he helped build and maintain for so many years.  I have some time to get my thoughts together before I speak that day.  Pray that I may find a way to honor my grandfather, where words just don’t seem significant enough.

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Right now we look for the promises of Spring, and new life.  We look forward to my sister’s wedding.  We press on, not because we are not broken, but because there is no choice.

Our hearts are torn, because there is never ever enough time.  That’s what I tried to get at on my Facebook page.

I am convinced there is never enough time with those who love us so deeply, and those we love beyond measure or words. We are so devastated at the loss of Pop, who was the anchor of our family through every storm, the wind to our sails, and the bridge under our feet. He was so much to all of us, and through our different relationships he somehow made us all feel like we were incredibly important. He lived through deeds, not words. His actions spoke volumes of his character, and were so telling of who he was. He lived his life in service to God and his country, while loving his family immensely. Rest easy and celebrate with the angels Pop. We will miss you every day. Until we meet again…”

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The Story of the Girl and Her Mom

once upon a time

So, four years ago they diagnosed this girl with a rare genetic disorder called “Cowden’s Syndrome.”  Soon after they diagnosed her, they diagnosed her mom too.

And the mom and the girl read everything they could find, which really wasn’t very much.

And they asked a lot of questions.  Some from the doctors, but mostly from people on the internet who had this Rare Disease too.

They learned a lot.  They also learned there was a lot to learn.

They learned about cancer risks, and how very high they are.

They learned about screening tests.

They met lots of new doctors.  Some were super awesome, and others were super awful.

They fired the awful ones, and kept the awesome ones.

The doctors sent them for tests, and screenings, and blood draws, and all sorts of poking and prodding.

At the beginning it was pretty much all they had time for.

the girl who is always there

The girl had lots of surgeries, and lost her thyroid, and then they called her a “previvor” because they said she got it out just in time before it was cancer.

The mom, she had a bunch of surgeries too.  In one they found cancer.  But she was called a “survivor” because it was all gone.  (Thanks to the girl who got diagnosed first and saved her life.)

The girl and her mom ran from doctor to doctor.  They sat in traffic for forever.  They stayed in hospitals and had surgeries, and tests.  Everyone treated them kind of strange.  Like they were aliens or something.  Their condition was so rare that hardly any doctors even understood what they were supposed to do.

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Over time the girl and her mom got a better idea of what really mattered and what didn’t.  They started to be more assertive about doctors, and schedules and planning.  They started to say, “not right now,” sometimes, knowing that a few weeks wouldn’t matter, but a few months might.

The girl and her mom talked a lot about Cowden’s Syndrome.  They talked a lot about Rare Diseases.  Sometimes they were really angry.  Sometimes they were sad, and other times they were grateful.  They saw what some other people with Rare Diseases went through.

The girl and her mom had LOTS of long talks, real talks about tumors, and tests, and cancer, and life.

They worked on some things separately and some things together.  But they agreed to get busy living.

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That didn’t mean they could ignore the seemingly endless doctors appointments.  They all had to be done.  It meant they could schedule smarter.  It meant they would talk about what symptoms had to be addressed right now and which ones could wait.  It meant they had to get really good at communicating.

This isn’t always so easy since the girl is almost a teenager, but they are getting pretty good at it.

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The girl had 4 surgeries this year, some more major than others, but she spent lots of time recovering.  And she learned that she liked to be busy.  She likes to sleep too, but she likes to be busy.  With kids.  Often.  She also likes to be active.  A lot.

The girl and her mom still have this Cowden’s  Syndrome, and sometimes for reasons no one understands, they hurt a lot.  Sometimes the pain makes it hard for one of them to push on.  Sometimes the tired almost feels like they can’t go on.

But the girl and her mom, they push each other.  They push each other to press on because laying down and giving up is not an option.

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Their days are long.  The mom works full-time.  The girl goes to 7th grade and makes high honor roll.

Their afternoons are full of drama club, the girl’s love of theatre, and lots of swim practice.  The days are often 13 hours or more of constant motion.

The girl and her mom, they decided that they might have a Rare Disease, but it definitely wasn’t going to “have” them.

So they decided that whatever comes their way, they are going to be active, healthy, strong, fueled with nutritious food, and built of muscle.  This way if Cowden’s punches, they will punch back harder.

Sometimes the mom wonders if life would have been different without the girl.  The mom wonders if alone she would have been able to push on.

But she doesn’t have to wonder.  Because they have each other.  And, because this weekend they spent 3 days at a swim meet.  And the girl knocked major time off her events.

And, when they came home, the daddy, who is the glue that holds them together, had warm chicken, and rice and vegetables, the healthy fuel  – all ready.

And the mom and the girl were so grateful.  For each other.  For the desire to fight.  For the strength from good food, and faith, and the love of a dad who backs them up every step of the way.

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And as the mom drove the girl to youth group at their church, they talked, about the swimming.  And about the fundraiser they are planning. So that Rare Diseases scarier than theirs get some attention.  “For the Babies,” and so that there can be research for this Cowden’s Syndrome.  So that maybe it can get stopped in its tracks.

And as the mom walked home enjoying the fresh crisp air of Fall she was filled with gratitude.

For this story of BEATINGCOWDENS has only just begun.  And each chapter holds more promise than the next…

“She’s so unusual…” and Other Ironies

This is quite a garble of thoughts… good luck!

** This blog was written over 2 days.  The BLUE type was written today, Sunday July 19th, and the BLACK type is from Saturday, July 18th.**

I’ve been asked by people who read this blog, several lately, “How do you stay so UP, all the time?”  Sometimes I find that question to be the biggest irony.  I struggle often, and deeply.  The whole purpose of this blog is a candid description of our journey with this beast called “Cowden’s Syndrome.” Let none of you ever imagine for a minute that we are “UP” all the time, cause it’s just not true.

But, as difficult of a road as this is, I have tried always to remain acutely aware of the connections we have to others, and the never-ending reality that “everyone has something.”

everyone you meet

So often my writing is where I work it out.  I type.  I think.  I read and reread.  And, cheaper than a therapy session, I am able to tease away the negativity and find the focus I need.  And when I am unsure, and it just doesn’t sound right.  I wait.  Just like I advise people to think before they speak, “Is it true? Is it kind?  Is it necessary?”  I try to think before I publish.  So last night I sat wrestling with this.  And I never hit publish.

From “Corner of the Sky,” Pippin soundtrack

Everything has its season
Everything has its time
Show me a reason and I’ll soon show you a rhyme
Cats fit on the windowsill
Children fit in the snow
So why do I feel I don’t fit in anywhere I go?

So again we hear, “That’s really unusual.”  “I’ve never seen that before.”  “Typically…”  And I chuckle, in frustration and in the irony of it all.

This time it was at the dentist.  Meghan felt something in the back of her mouth.  An X-ray revealed an impacted wisdom tooth.  She’ll be 12 next month.  The consult with the oral surgeon is on the 29th, two days after she meets with the hand surgeon (again) to discuss the vascular lesion on her palm.  Her abdominal sonogram to screen for Cowden’s related issues is on July 31st.

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This week someone will call me with the name of a foot and ankle surgeon, suggested by the orthopedist who did her knee surgery based on her foot pain and size discrepancy.  Who really knows where that will lead?

I’ve got a bone density test set for Monday, to determine if 30 years of thyroid medication, and early menopause forced on by a hysterectomy at 38, has depleted my bone density.  My next phone call needs to be to the vascular surgeon.  He had some success with the right leg in February.  The left leg is in dire need now.  That is as soon as I can settle the errors on the anesthesia bill.

The number for the “Skin Cancer Screening Clinic” at NYU sits on my desk.  Meghan and I both need to be scheduled.

I just finished completing the papers for her medication for the 2015-2016 school year.  They are copied, one is filed, and one is set to be mailed Monday.

We’ve started to discuss, the two of us, dates for the 2016 “Jeans for Rare Genes” fundraiser.  We’ve got some neat ideas.  It passes the time.

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For the second year in a row, Meghan was nominated for the Global Genes Project “Teen Advocacy Award,”  and although she did not win, it is an incredible honor to be making a noticeable difference at such a young age.  One day we will take her to California for the Global Genes Advocacy Summit.  One day her vision of a denim ribbon necklace will come to fruition.  One day.  But not this year.  Because this year I am trying to schedule vascular surgery that weekend.  Because we have to prioritize.  Right?

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I have set some fitness goals this summer.  I am setting a 10,000 step a day minimum.  I am aiming for at least 5 miles a day.  My dog is in the cross-fire of this goal.  She is my walking partner.  Because she likes to walk – but maybe not quite that far- and she can’t really say no.

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I am always struck by the ironies in life.  I am stronger than I have been in years.  In many ways I am healthier.  I have found Isagenix, and I feel better.  Stronger.  More resilient. More able to cope with life’s obstacles.

Which is good.  Because life has a tendency to be really isolating.

I suppose we all feel that way sometimes.  And many of us feel that way most of the time.  But, sometimes that is little consolation.

I am grateful not to fit in with the Moms of really sick kids.  I don’t envy them at all.

But, I can’t find a spot with the Moms of mostly healthy kids either.  Unless I don’t talk much.

Cause talking about a “healthy sick kid” is confusing, and frankly more than most people can, or choose to process.

I want to spend time with people my own age.  I have lots and lots of people I like, but not too many friends to get together with.  Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to just get together.  And chat.  Maybe over lunch, or dinner, or drinks.  Or maybe have a barbecue, or even a night with other couples.  Where everyone socializes.  And no one is overly worried about anything.  But we end up declining the few invitation we get because something always seems to be in the way.

This life is isolating.  The constant doctor’s appointments, surgeries, food allergies, medical bills, prescription drug battles, mobility restrictions, have made us difficult to “hang out” with.  And I get it.  And it doesn’t make me mad.  Because it is what it needs to be right now.  And there are friends I talk to and text with.

Do not misinterpret this as a need or a desire for pity, or sympathy, because it couldn’t be farther from that.  What I write here is a simple representation of facts that are.  They just are.  And maybe one day they won’t be.  But, I have already learned not to wish life away, not even the uncomfortable parts.

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But on nights like tonight, when two decks on my block are lit up with social gatherings, I find that I long for summer days of freedom.  I crave careless, schedule free days.  I dream of getting up one morning, and hopping in the car with Meghan and just going somewhere far away from doctors and hospitals.

Just like the curly haired people who wonder about straight hair, I wonder. But, even as I wonder, in my heart I know this journey is taking us somewhere.  Somewhere with an end I can not see.  There are stops along the way to make us stronger, wiser, and more patient.  There are lessons on empathy and compassion to be learned.  There are experiences that will turn us into the people we were meant to be.  The road is long and winding.  Sometimes the climb is tough.  But, but the view, when you really stop and look, is amazing…

Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free
Got to find my corner of the sky…

I ended last night feeling lonely, and lost.  The song from Pippin had been in my head all day, resurrected from memories of ages ago.  Yet, I couldn’t shake it.  Where do I go?

This morning Meghan was well.  She woke up well, and early enough to make a two-hour morning swim practice, which she completed.  I had time to walk a few miles near the pool.  The sun was beautiful, and the air wasn’t quite that warm yet.  There were birds singing happily, and flowers to appreciate.

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After swim we made it to church.  It had been a few weeks since we were able to get ourselves there.

And in the bulletin I was met with a quote,

“I know I cannot enter all you feel

nor bear with you the burden of your pain

I can but offer what my love does give – 

The strength of caring, the warmth of one who seeks to understand.

This I do in quiet ways – that on your lonely path you may not walk alone.” – Howard Thurman

There was a basket of rocks where we were instructed to take one to represent us.  The rocks were placed in a bowl, and water would surround those rocks symbolizing the love of Christ.  Stories were told, personal and biblical, about love and caring for the physically, and emotionally wounded.  

We were invited to choose other rocks, to represent people we loved, who had needs weighing heavy on our hearts.  As I chose mine my eyes were full of tears.  Not of sadness for those people, but of the promise that they are also enveloped in the love of God.  My hand was full, I must admit, and I took a few moments to say a prayer over each rock as I placed it in the water.  And then, tears of pride, as I saw my daughter had selected her own “rocks” to pray over.

The closing hymn (words and music by Marty Haugen, 1987) began like this;

“Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear and hope beyond our sorrow… You who know our fears and sadness, grace us with your peace and gladness, spirit of all comfort fill our hearts…”

And the idea that we are here to “Bear one another’s burdens,” permeated my heart.

Bear-Ye

I am not “UP” by my doing at all.  I treat my body well.  I treat my mind well.  And I allow my soul to be cared for.

My peace comes from the knowledge, the belief, the conviction that we are guided by a loving God.  That all things are not mine to know, and that through His grace alone we have the strength to remain,

“BEATINGCOWDENS!”

Appreciating the Rainbow AND the Storm

Let’s be real.  Plain.  Honest.  Real.

Sometimes we all want to throw our hands up.  Sometimes we want to quit.  Sometimes we want to hide in the closet or under the table alone.  For a long time.  Because EVERYONE HAS SOMETHING….

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No one’s life is easy.  The trick for me is realizing that and moving on.

Yep, some days I throw a fit right here in my house.  Some days I am sad and overwhelmed.  Some days I even cry, like here (http://wp.me/p2qi4v-10g)

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But, the rule is about 15 minutes.  I am allowed to have a pity party for about 15 minutes.  (Sometimes that 15 minutes happens again, and again – but not usually.)  Because then, I have to put on my big girl panties and make it work.

e card big girl panties

We play a lot of games of perspective here.  We work on looking at things another way.  “Flipping it…”  so to speak, to try to get through.

The end of school is a crazy time for us.  It’s supposed to be a time to rest, and unwind.  But, really,  it’s just shifting gears. Most of our doctors keep us on a “Six month leash,” so we do our best to schedule one round the very beginning of July.  This way if anyone needs anything else there is time before school starts again.  The other cycle is distributed around February vacation and school holidays.  The only problem with this is it grossly limits the number of ACTUAL holidays there are in our lives.  There is a good deal of “Go, go, go…”

perspective

Despite our occasional “preteen issues”  my daughter is insanely easy to please.  She wants to swim.  She wants to act.  She wants to read.  She wants to watch tv.  She wants to socialize with children  preteens who are nice to be around.  She wants to eat good, safe food, (cooked by her father not me!)

What she’d prefer not to do is sit.  In the car.  On the BQE.  On the LIE.  In the waiting room.  In the exam room.  Over, and over and over.  Yet, still she handles it gracefully.  She packs her own bag with a variety of things to occupy her time, and some snacks too.  She really does not complain. (Except maybe if there’s a needle…)

What I try to do is spare her some appointments any chance I get.  So when mine come up I try to leave her behind, and that’s what I did yesterday and today.

See, between us, there will be 15 appointments in two weeks, ending this Thursday.

This morning I made my 3rd trip to Manhattan in the last 7 days, but yesterday and today I drove alone.  Meghan was tucked away at camp.  Happy as could be.

I sat in the car, alone.  The 20 or so miles never take less than an hour, so the luxury of satellite radio, and my green tea, (plus and e+Shot when I need it) are all mine to savor as we inch along.

Gratitude-Appreciate-The-Rainbow-The-Storm

I noticed today I was very calm.  This life, this Cowden’s Syndrome life, is overwhelming, monotonous, and sometimes very stressful.  But, it’s our life. Not glad by any means, but grateful that this load has been bearable thus far.

Some of our doctors could stand to be replaced, but many are stellar.

We are looked at so carefully all the time, that the chances of us missing something important have drastically decreased.

We have real life conversations, about real life problems, and we handle them with A LOT of humor.

We have a home that is full of love, and a witty, intelligent, young lady growing here.

We have two steady jobs.

We are able to vacation, and enjoy a few extras along the way.

gratitude-happiness-2

We have become adept at navigating the bumpy road as a unit, not just Meghan and I, but her Dad as well.  We are a team of three.

We have found nutritional products that keep us energized and strong as we brave the storms.

We are often dubbed the “healthiest looking sick people.”  A comment that always makes me smile.

Some people like to use the word “blessed.”  I have some trouble with that.  If you are the person amidst terrible tragedy, are you then to feel you are not “blessed?” I may have a few questions for God, but the God I believe in doesn’t work that way.

Problems

Grateful – feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful

Now I do believe that there is always room for gratitude.  There is ALWAYS something to be thankful for.  For us, there is OFTEN a LOT to be thankful for.

Gratitude is not about always being happy, and life always being perfect.

“Gratitude consists of being more aware of what you have, than what you don’t” – Unknown

Even as we journey daily BEATINGCOWDENS, I am striving for an “attitude of gratitude,”  for myself and my own sanity, but also for my daughter, who watches and learns from breath I take.

Autumn-Rainbow-Gratitude

Mortality

Mortality_AF

The awareness that one day we’re not going to walk this earth anymore.

Not exactly dinner conversation, but, for lack of a more gentle way to say it, mortality is everyone’s reality.

We face this reality at different points in our lives.  Some are frighteningly young, and others are blissfully old.  But, eventually, that awareness either creeps in or hits us like a speeding train.  (Figuratively, or course.)

In my opinion, so much of the rest of your life is defined by what you do with that realization, that understanding that there is no promise of tomorrow on this earth.

mortality1

For me, my solace, my comfort, and my focus, come from my faith.  My deeply held belief in God, and that life does not end, merely changes, as we are welcomed into Heaven.

Whatever your own belief, is, your own reality, my hope is that it brings you comfort, solace, and gives your life on this earth purpose.

As a daughter of a cancer survivor (18 years and counting!!) I watched my Mom grapple with her own mortality at an age I consider very young.  (young for her, and for me too!) She got it.  She found clarity, but it was a few tough months.  And even then as close as I was, I knew the significance of what I was watching, but I did not get it, not really.

I like to say my breast cancer was found, “by accident” or “divine intervention,” whichever you prefer.  But, the moment in the surgeon’s office, that day in March of 2012 when I became a “survivor” by default, started my own journey with mortality.  I was 10 years younger than Mom was at the time of her diagnosis.  I had just undergone what I had prepared in my mind to be a “prophylactic” mastectomy to battle astronomical cancer statistics associated with the new diagnosis of a PTEN Mutation called Cowden’s Syndrome, that Meghan and I had received less than 6 months prior.  When the word malignant was read, there it was; laying thick in the air for my husband and 8-year-old child to process with me.

10.30-Refuse-Fear

And there was reality.  Unable to ignore.  Cancer had lived within me.  Could it live again?  Would it?  When?  Why was I going to be OK when so many others were not?  Was I going to really be OK?  What if they missed it, something bigger?

I was fortunate.  Fortunate in the sense that a double mastectomy removed the encapsulated stage 1 cancer.  I needed no treatment, no medication.  But, my status had changed.  In the eyes of the doctors, I was now an even greater risk.  Every single lump and bump would be scrutinized, scanned, poked, prodded, and usually removed.  The loss of my uterus and ovaries weeks later were a testament to this new-found realization that I was a risk.  A significant risk.

Cowden’s Syndrome is one of those diagnoses that forces you to face down your own mortality at sometimes alarmingly young ages.  An internet friend just made a jubilant post today that her youngest was now 10 and cancer free, a title she did not have herself at that tender age.  The things we celebrate…

My Cowden’s Syndrome people are known to me mostly through the internet.  We live across the country and across the globe.  We navigate through different time zones and support each other through scans, scares, surgeries, reconstructions, and cancer.  While this syndrome does not manifest itself the same in each of us, there are alarming similarities that make us kindred spirits.  There is that “Sword of Damocles” hanging above our heads.  There is that constant sense of not knowing, of hyper-vigilance, of bi-annual screenings, and worry.  We stare at our own mortality each time we look in the mirror.

We have an extra bond when it connects to our children.  A universal acceptance of the unfair nature of these young ones even needing to understand a bit of mortality.  We have juggled the questions, inevitable after MRIs, CT scans, and biopsies galore.  We have gently answered questions about family, and future, that have no real answers to date.  We ache for them.  We wish to take it all away.  We have some guilt in the knowledge that in most cases this disorder, (whether we knew it or not) was passed from us.

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Mortality will bind you, and if you’re not careful it can blind you.  That is why there are support groups, for cancer patients, and others who have come close to losing their lives.

This weekend I spent some time in West Virginia with another group of men, bonded by their grapplings with their own mortality some 48 ish years ago in the Vietnam War.

I will protect their privacy here, and tell their story as generically as I can.

I connected with Alan, about 6 weeks after my father died.  Dad had earned a Purple Heart in my mind, for an incident that occurred while he was serving in the United States Marine Corps.  The award was never granted, and I wanted to pursue it on his behalf.  So, I sent some letters to Marines, whose contact information I obtained from a reunion Dad attended in DC in 2006.  I wanted to know who remembered him, and his story.

Alan contacted me first, verified my information, remembered the story, and has been in touch with me since.

My Dad, the "Irish Marine"
My Dad, the “Irish Marine”

 

 

I sent 20 letters out.  EVERY SINGLE MARINE responded to me.  EVERY ONE.  Whether they knew Dad or not, whether they could help or not, they ALL reached out to express their condolences.  Many shared some funny anecdotes.  And as hard as I’m sure it was, they all connected with me.

I had heard about the Brotherhood of the Marine Corps.  I could not have fathomed the depth of that bond.  One after another, they all left me with the same heartfelt sentiment.  “You are the daughter of our brother.  We will help you always in whatever you need.”

marine

Now, I knew, or at least I could infer that their lives had not been any type of peaches and cream, on the island of Vietnam, or when they returned.  My Dad battled his own demons for many years before our relationship began to form.  But the offers of these Marines were sincere, and genuine.

Alan proved that to me through regular conversations, and almost heroic efforts to get someone to listen to the story of my Dad’s injuries.  In the end, we lost the battle on a technicality.  Although “The statements provided clearly establish that your father was injured as a direct result of enemy action, the available information fails to establish that your father was treated by a medical officer…Wounds not requiring treatment by a medical officer at the time of injury do not qualify for the Purple Heart Medal.”  The letter was cold.  The case was closed.

We lost the Purple Heart but gained so much more.
We lost the Purple Heart but gained so much more.

I was sad, mad, angry and disappointed.  But I was so grateful for the Marines who wrote letters of support.  I was grieving the fact that my Dad had carried this close to him for so many years, and lived with chronic pain as a result.  I wanted this for him, because he never fought for it himself.

And as things go, it was not to be, but Alan did as he promised and remained in constant contact with me.  He heard my sobs as I glanced at Dad’s headstone for the first time. His were the comforting words that started my healing.

So, this weekend I headed to West Virginia to thank him myself.  I met a group of Vietnam Era Marines, several of whom had served with my father.  I watched them together, in awe an amazement.  I was welcomed into their group with instant acceptance.  And as I sat and watched them laughing together, I noticed the war stories were sparse, and funny when they were told.  Surely a contrast to the realities they had faced as young men years ago.  But, the bond between them was unbreakable.  There indeed was the Brotherhood of the Marines, but there was something else.

Mortality.

They faced it in the most horrendous of ways.  They lived it daily.  They buried their brothers.  They knew their return home was not a guarantee.

And once you’ve faced that kind of life altering lesson in mortality together, you are bonded for life.  As Alan said to me, “If you weren’t there, there are no words to describe it, and if you were, there are no words needed.”

I was among a group of people who had faced their own mortality almost a half century ago.  And they have a bond that can not be explained.  It is amazing.

marine loyalty

And among the most amazing to me was the woman I met.  She was not local either, but she, like I, had traveled for this celebration.  It was not her first time.  She had been around for almost 10 years.  About 10 years ago the woman, who was an infant when her father died a hero in Vietnam, met the men he served with.  She had never met her father, but here were father figures galore ready to embrace her.  And they did.

A bit ago her father’s diary surfaced from his time in Vietnam.  She shared it with me and the last entry written before he died was about the thought that so many of them must have had daily.  His diary ends with, “When will it be me?”

marine brother

Once you have looked your own mortality square in the eye, you can not walk away the same person.

But, it is up to you what you do with the rest of your life.

As for me, I choose bonding with people who “get it,” be they old friends or new.

I choose focusing on what we can do, not what we can’t.

I will not choose reckless living, but I will daily live with the knowledge that there is no guarantee of tomorrow on this earth.

Whether facing your mortality is something you endured, something you will live with daily, or something you are yet to face, how it changes you is really up to you.

As for us, in this house, we choose to remain focused on

BEATINGCOWDENS,

WHILE CELEBRATING ALONG THE WAY.

 

Reflections on Mother’s Day – from a “Rare Disease” perspective

Dates, numbers, anniversaries, addresses, and all sorts of other numbers crowd my brain.  I’ve said this before, and I will say again, it is a blessing and a curse.  It is a good thing to celebrate accomplishments, and the anniversaries of such things.  It is dangerous territory to recall to be caught up in the negative aspects of any day.  By doing so you give it power.  And, if you are not careful you give it power over you.

beautifu;

It is a dangerous road to walk.  I have done many miles on it.  And my brain does not differentiate the “good” dates and the “bad” ones.  I remember them all.  The problem is, some fill my heart with gratitude and joy, while others seem to provoke anxiety unceasing – warranted or not.

I have never been a fan of “Hallmark” holidays.  Valentine’s Day, even after I found the love of my life, has never held any appeal.  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day don’t do much for me either.  Before you jump on me for not loving my parents, I want to share part of an interesting article I read on the history of Mother’s Day.

From:  Mother’s Day Turns 100: Its Surprisingly Dark History

“For Jarvis it was a day where you’d go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she did,” West Virginia Wesleyan’s Antolini, who wrote “Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Defense of Her Mother’s Day” as her Ph.D. dissertation, said in a previous interview.

“It wasn’t to celebrate all mothers. It was to celebrate the best mother you’ve ever known—your mother—as a son or a daughter.” That’s why Jarvis stressed the singular “Mother’s Day,” rather than the plural “Mothers’ Day,” Antolini explained.

But Jarvis’s success soon turned to failure, at least in her own eyes.

self love

Even Anna Jarvis did not intend the holiday as it has become.

I have epic amounts to be grateful for.  And I am.  Every day.  I think that’s why the pressure of having it all jammed into one day confuses me and stresses me out a bit.

In church we were taught, “Honor thy father and thy mother…”  I believe the meaning was every day.

So yesterday I needed to do some soul-searching.  And I think I figured a lot out.

I have a tough as nails mother.  She is the strongest woman I know.  Not a day of my life goes by that I am not grateful to her, and for her.  And I try not to let too many days go by without telling her so.  Life has taught some tough lessons, and sent some reminders about how fleeting it can be.

One of the many lessons I learned from Mom
One of the many lessons I learned from Mom

I have two grandmothers on this earth.  One I had the privilege to grow up with, and even though the recent years have been cruel to her memory, my memories of her, and of her love, penetrate my soul.

I have another grandmother, a gift to me 27 years ago, who inherited me as a teenager and allowed herself to love me.  I am so grateful for that love.

And my grandmother Gen who left for heaven in October, whose smile I can see, and whose laughter I can hear… her memory warms my heart.

I am so very thankful I did not wait to acknowledge them only once a year.

happy life

My girl is recovering from surgery.  On my couch.  In pain.  Feisty.  Looking to move.  Bored.  There would be no grand family celebrations yesterday.  My husband was fixing our deck that is literally falling apart.  A labor of love – and safety.  I stopped in for a quick visit to Mom and one Grandma.

I reflected about Mother’s Day a year ago.  Spent in the pediatric unit at RUMC.  Scared out of my mind.  Not knowing what we were up against.

Then I thought about Mother’s Day 2008.  A few days after the tonsils and adenoids came out.

Or Mother’s Day 2012, as I awaited my hysterectomy, a few weeks after my double mastectomy.

Then I thought about my friends.  The ones who have lost their moms way too early.

And the others, whose hearts yearn to be a mother, or those who ache to have larger families than they do.

My heart aches for those who have lived through the unthinkable, and have lost their own children.

Why so much pressure put on one day?

Wouldn’t it just be easier if we celebrated our Moms every day?  Instead of waiting for one day?

I know I may have an unpopular idea here, but so many unconventional things work for us.

I would never claim our lives to be “harder” or “easier” than anyone else’s.  I’m not that kind of fool.  But I will dare to say that maybe raising a chronically ill child makes it “different.”  Maybe facing life with two rare genetic diseases in the family makes me think of things in a slightly unorthodox way.

yesterday

I stick a note in my 6th grader’s lunch just about every day.  And I will until she tells me to stop.  I will remind her in as many ways as I can, of my love for her every day.

Life is scary.  Our lives are scary.  Wednesday some machines, and a very smart doctor breathed for her, for over 2 hours.  This is not a rare occurrence.  This is something that goes on regularly, for one of us.  But, they told me she was, “stable and strong,” and in those words were the best gift I could ask for.

Mother’s Day is every day.  From mother to child, and child to mother, and aunt to niece and grandparent to grandchild.  Not in the, “buy me lavish gifts or send me to the spa” sense.  But, in the, “I’m really lucky to have you.  Right now.  Today.  and thanks.  For that thing you do.  For that smile.  For that hug.  For calling me.  For calling me out. For driving me to the store.  To school.  To practice.  For driving me insane.  For making a mess.  For sometimes cleaning it up.  For sitting by my hospital bed.  For getting me ginger ale.  For helping me walk.  For making me laugh.  For never giving up on me.  For understanding I won’t be here forever.  For being my cheerleader.  For supporting me.  For listening to me.  For shutting up.  For saying just the right thing. For explaining the math.  For butterfly kisses.”

never lose hope

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Mother’s Day in our house may be low on pomp and circumstance, but it’s high on all things that matter.  Right now we’re nursing a recovery.  And it’s coming along, thank you very much.  We are incredibly proficient at this.

And as Mother’s Day 2015 drew to a close, and as we ate our gluten-free pancakes for dinner together, I was struck with the thought that I would not have it any other way.

survival