Champions of HOPE

It’s no secret that we have been followers of “The Global Genes Project” since our diagnosis in 2011.  Meghan fell in love immediately with the denim ribbon, and their slogan, “HOPE it’s in our Genes!”  That play on words stuck with her, and the ribbon gave her a good deal of connection at a time when we weren’t sure if we’d ever connect with another soul with “Cowden’s Syndrome.”  The connection with the RARE Community at large carried us through those earliest days.


The end of 2011 and well, 2012, and… well, you get the idea… held some tumultuous times for our family.

Adjusting to the diagnosis was not easy.  Finding balance within the labels, and the risks, and the screenings, and the surgeries, and the appointments was (and sometimes still is) a struggle.  In the months when the diagnosis was at its newest, Meghan’s thyroid was called into question several times.  We discovered nodules we never knew were there and learned the early risks of thyroid cancer were real, and ever-present.

She soon underwent the most horrendous of what would be 4 thyroid biopsies over the next 2 years.  Scarred physically and emotionally, we began to wonder about this beast we were up against.

In February of 2012 Meghan had her 4th knee surgery for an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in her right knee.  Now convinced it’s stubborness could be credited to Cowden’s Syndrome, the fight to control it’s growth took on a whole new meaning, and we were referred for consultation to Boston Children’s Hospital.

While we balanced the screenings for Meghan, I was sent to my own set of initial screenings.  Being 38 and newly diagnosed, I was in the battle full on, and I had had no idea.  All the imminent cancer risks associated with Cowden’s Syndrome – except for the thyroid which often comes earlier – seem to peak right around 40.  No stranger to doctors, I was trying to figure out how the diagnosis helped explain the roadmap that was my own medical history.

In March of 2012, I underwent what was to be a “prophylactic bilateral mastectomy,” to battle the 85% breast cancer risk I had with the PTEN mutation that caused Cowden’s Syndrome, and my own medical history which had already seen 7 increasingly suspicious breast biopsies.  Seven days later, while having my drains removed, my husband and daughter sat in the room as the doctor announce it was a “good thing we moved when we did.”  My left breast, the one that had never seen a scalpel, had 1 centimeter of DCIS, close to the nipple and clear of the chest wall.  I had breast cancer.  They found it by accident.  My aggressive, intelligent surgeon, who I met because of my diagnosis, and really BECAUSE of my daughter had saved my life.  I needed no treatment.


I left the room that day holding the two people I love more than anything.  Unaware of the plans clearly in place for us, I was so filled with gratitude, and so in awe of the reality that if I had never had Meghan, I would have likely never known.  And the surgeon’s words, “If we had waited till July like you had wanted, you would have been in a fight for your life,” still ring in my ears.  Sometimes you have to stop the “what ifs?” and just say “thank you.”

Ten weeks later I was back in the hospital for a complete hysterectomy.  A suspicious uterine polyp, enlarged ovaries, and Cowden’s Syndrome combined again for too great of a risk, and the recommendation was for surgery and quickly.

happy hysterecomy

The shock on my body, the trauma to my family at this point was intense.

I had begun to scour the internet looking for places to go.  I found and its dynamic young moderator, a Cowden’s patient for many years.  I found Facebook, and a beautiful support network there.  I found a yahoo group, and a mom there who has consistently gone above and beyond for me, simply out of goodness. Finally, there were real people I could talk to.

One day that Spring I received a Pandora necklace with a pink ribbons on it.  After years of advocating for my mother, a bilateral breast cancer survivor, holding the pink ribbons that belonged to me felt strange.  Yet, so did the new boobs, smaller, but perkier than the old ones, and all the clothes I was learning no longer would fit quite right.  So, I took comfort in that necklace and I wore it a lot.

pink ribbon pandora

And one day my very obsevant girl, who was 8 at the time, a few months shy of 9, asked me “What stands for me?  The gold ribbon is for childhood cancer, the pink ribbon is for breast cancer, the puzzle piece is for autism.  What about me?  What about people like me who are dealing with this (Rare disease) every day?  I NEED something mom.  Not to have a thing, but for my identity.”

Stunned, as usual.  I realized I had begun to heal myself, to seek comfort for myself, but I was leaving her behind.

So I happened to be retelling the story at lunch.  And my teacher friend, whose husband is a jeweler, and who has a son with autism, really “got it” on so many levels.  She told me she’d talk to her husband and see what was around.  So I gave her a denim ribbon sticker from the Global Genes Project, and they were on a hunt.  Which turned up nothing.  There seemed to be no piece of jewelry worldwide to symbolize those with Rare Genetic Disorders.  And, with there being over 7,000 RARE dieseases, accounting for almost 10% of the population, to us this was silly.

So my friend’s husband offered to make one.  For Meghan.  Because if she wanted a piece for her “identity” she should have one.  So he did.  It took months.  And it was perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  And he was so generous in the donation of his time, all to light up my girl’s world.


August 2012
August 2012


Typical Meghan, no less that 5 minutes after she put it on, she started with, “Wouldn’t it be great Mom, if these were available all over the world, and then we could see them when we went places, and we would know the people who have, or love people with RARE diseases?’  And the conversation continued to include asking me to reach out to The Global Genes Project to try and make it a reality.

Well two years have gone by.  Felix and I each wear one too.  Only 3 ever made.  Until recently.

There have been lots of EMails exchanged.  Lots of conversations.  Lots of people.  Ultimately they did decide to have the necklace made, and while the decision thrilled me, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed that they couldn’t use our friend, the jeweler.  But, business decisions are what they are, and this one was not in my control.  And, despite that disappointment, Meghan’s dream, her vision, is becoming reality.  We received 2 samples this week, and a “THANK YOU” from the team at Global Genes!  The necklaces will be on sale through in the fall!

denim ribbon necklace 1

denim ribbon necklace 2

Two years have gone by.

I have developed deeper, closer “long distance” relationships with some “kindred spirits” in the Cowden’s Community – globally!

My girl has some of her own friends with Cowden’s now, spread across the world.  She will be 11 soon, and is quite the young lady.  She understands life on levels deeper than she should.  Most impressively she understands that despite our struggles, there are many in the world who struggle in heart, mind, body, and soul.  She knows that “Everyone has SOMETHING!”

This past year she organized an assembly at our school.  She worked with Student Council to arrange an evening fund raiser.  She partnered with a friend in her own class who has a RARE Disease.  We sold T-Shirts.  We received intense support from faculty, and parents and students.  Every child got a denim ribbon to wear for RARE Disease Day.  We sent thousands of dollars to The Global Genes Project.

She has already begun to plan for next year, and wants a much bigger fund raiser.  “At a place Mom.”  We can really get the word out and raise money.  For The Global Genes Project, and for the newly founded PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome Foundation, another organization close to our hearts.

She has a mind that never stops.  She has the heart and voice of an advocate.  And this year, she was nominated for the TEEN Advocacy Award at The Global Genes Project.  (If you scroll down, the teens are close to the bottom.)

Meghan 2014 Nominee
Meghan 2014 Nominee

Champions of HOPE indeed.  So proud of her.  So proud to see her name with all the others who have decided to “Do Something.”


“HOPE it’s in our Genes!”



“Hope” is the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

Emily Dickinson

Lots of talk about HOPE this month, as RARE DISEASE DAY approaches.  The phrase “Hope, It’s in our Genes” has become one my family relies on when we struggle.  Hope is complicated.  Or its simple.  I guess it depends on how you look at it.  Regardless, its necessary- for all people at all times.

hope its in our genes

I can not imagine living my own life devoid of HOPE.  FAITH and HOPE work hand in hand here, and at our most desperate hours one is always there to shine a light in the darkness.  I am convinced HOPE is there, even in the darkest hours.  When we look.  Here’s what HOPE looks like at our house.


HOPE is the kiss of a dog when the tears just won’t stop.

HOPE is a hug, or an,” I love you.”

HOPE is an EMail or a text, or a phone call at just the right time, from the person you’d never expect.

HOPE is believing that it’s all going to be OK.  Somehow – some way.

HOPE is pain relief, even if it’s fleeting.

HOPE is quality Physical Therapy.

HOPE is the friends, (and the people we barely know) who “Care about RARE” because of us.

HOPE is an answered letter from someone you’ve never met, whose willing to help – just because.

HOPE is laughter.

HOPE is medicine that works.

HOPE is butterfly kisses.


HOPE is the internet, and connections to old and new friends.

HOPE is family.

HOPE is knowing you’re not alone – ever.

HOPE is when that special thing you thought was lost forever… shows up out of nowhere.

HOPE is believing that the surgeon will have the right answer.

HOPE is confidence that you are doing the best you can.

HOPE is real.

HOPE is love.

HOPE – It’s in our Genes!


WHAT IS HOPE to you?

Give Thanks…

I like fall.  I prefer the optimism and new beginnings that come with spring, but I do love fall.  I like the sweatshirt jacket weather, and the pumpkins and apples, and the beautiful fall leaves.  I like basking in the mystery and wonder of the beautiful colors as they fall through the branches to the ground, and blow through the air with the brisk wind.  But, this year I almost missed it.

I sat on the steps Saturday as my husband frantically gathered leaves into bags so they could stop blowing all over our neighbors lawns.  And, in our haste I almost didn’t notice, or even take a minute to appreciate the beauty of what was before us.

fall leaves 2

A testimony on life, and a sad one.

We, like so many others, are busy.  We are painfully busy at points.  There is school, and work, and homework.  There are Physical Therapy appointments, and swim practices.  There are lessons to plan.  There is a house to maintain, laundry to do, dogs to clean, floors to wash, and marathon grocery shopping every few weeks to keep my allergy girl well-fed.  There is mail to sort – regular junk to be shredded, bills to pay now and bills to pay later.  And that’s just here.

There are family members grossly under-visited.  There are people we love so much that live right close to us – who we never see.  There are friends short distances away we haven’t seen in years.

And yet, usually we find a few minutes in the fall.  A few minutes to toss some leaves around.  A few minutes to giggle.  So many thoughts flooded my mind as the last of the leaves hit the bag for this week.  One more clean up and the trees will be bare for winter.  And I looked up at that bright red tree above my doorway and took a minute to give thanks.

I needed to give thanks for the tree, above the new roof on the place we call our home.  I needed to give thanks for my husband and the family and friends that helped it happen 13 years ago.

The fall leaves, like so many things that happen each year, are a beautiful reminder to give thanks – for beauty, for love, for hugs, for smiles…

fall leaves

Meghan got new glasses this week.  She got her first pair in 2009, and her eyes have worsened steadily.  As we picked them up, and she said, “WOW,” and “THANKS!”  all at the same time – I was reminded of the little girl, who is now a young lady.  I am struck by the genuine gratitude as her sight is restored.  I am thankful for my vision, and the doctors who are able to help her have clear vision.

Meg Glasses 2009
Meg Glasses 2009
Meg Glasses 2011
Meg Glasses 2011
Meg glasses 2013
Meg glasses 2013

“Oh how the years go by…”

I have a friend or two who have given thanks every day this month, and I enjoy reading their thoughts and thankfulness each day.

For me I am thankful – but it’s more like a flow chart.  One thing, one blessing, one bizarre set of circumstances leads to me being reminded of how many reasons I have to be thankful.

Tomorrow we go for that brain MRI.  The one that will confirm that the suffering endured these last few months by my 10 year old who has seen so much, is “probably” migraines.  Brain MRIs really suck.  The only part to really be thankful for there is the part when they tell you they didn’t find anything.

These have been some difficult weeks.  My heart is heavy, and worn.  But I am thankful:

  1. For my daughter, and her unfailing determined spirit.
  2. For my husband, and his loving sense of humor, and his unending patience.
  3. For my parents and grandparents, and the blessings of having them.
  4. For my siblings, as we grow and experience life at different stages and paces.
  5. For nephews of all ages and stages.
  6. For my cousins and aunts and uncles all over the country – and for Facebook for helping me connect with so many.
  7. For the friends who refuse to give up on me, even as I am not available – again.  I take solace in knowing they will be there when I am.
  8. For those I love who are sick in mind, body and spirit.  Their strength inspires me.
  9. For the doctors who care.  Whether they get it right or wrong, my heart is open wide for the ones who care.
  10. For Meghan’s teachers – past and present – school and church, and their ability to instill a love of learning.
  11. For Internet friends – who support when other’s can’t.
  12. For dogs, and their unending loyalty.
  13. For two secure jobs in our home.
  14. For giggling, and tickling and fake hand-made flowers.
  15. For those of you who take the time to follow our journey.

40 years

I turned 40 last week and it wasn’t so bad.  I am thinner and stronger, and more determined than I was in high school – albeit a lot more gray.

  • I guess that makes me thankful for hair dye.
  • And for boobs that don’t sag, and no need for a mammogram.
  • For size “small” – cause who knew people wear that?
  • For the Isagenix that taught me to eat nutrient rich food.
  • For the prayers of friends, and the strength and stamina to endure.

MRI tomorrow.  Results to follow.  Then, we will give thanks even for the torture of migraines, with the knowledge it beats the alternatives.

MOSTLY I AM THANKFUL FOR HOPE, as the Global Genes Project says – “It’s in our genes!”

rare meg

Give Thanks!

Raising Awareness – One Card at a Time

I am going to brag.

Brace yourself.  It might be a long one.

A short time before we headed to Disney, I wrote about taking out Meghan’s push chair for an appointment in Manhattan.  She was terribly bothered by the rude stares that greeted us that day.

As a result we talked, a lot.  And, like she always does – she comes through those conversations blowing my mind with her introspective maturity.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I sometimes worry that my 10 year old is such a deep thinker.  I am acutely aware that she has way more on her plate than she should, and she handles with grace and poise a life that would leave many adults weeping under their covers.  I wish she told me everything.  I know she doesn’t.  My heart often breaks for the burdens she carries.

Yet, she is just so amazing.

After we spoke about the rude “starers” she talked about wanting to have a way to let them know about Cowden’s Syndrome.  She wanted to raise awareness.

This card was created out of her need to "teach" others about Cowden's Syndrome.
This card was created out of her need to “teach” others about Cowden’s Syndrome.

So she gave her ideas to Daddy and he created this card.  We used the logo from the “Global Genes Project,” an organization that has been dear to Meghan since her diagnosis.

Meghan wears proudly the denim ribbon created for her by a family friend when she expressed a desire to have a ribbon. something she could wear that would represent her.

A denim cause ribbon, crafted after the Global Genes Project's slogan, "Hope it's in our Genes!"
A denim cause ribbon, crafted after the Global Genes Project’s slogan, “Hope it’s in our Genes!”

She dreams of one day seeing another child wearing this symbol.  She wants it to become as common as the “pink ribbon.”  Because, there are about 7,000 rare diseases, and 1 in every 10 people is affected by one.  Many of these diseases are genetic.  As we learn more about other rare diseases, Meghan understands the need for the rare disease community to unite.  So little research is done on so many of these diseases that they remain poorly understood and under funded.

As we packed for the trip – Meghan asked if we could print some of the business cards for her to bring to Disney.  She wanted to be able to hand them out.  She knew people from all over the world visit Disney, so it would be a great place to spread the word.  500 cards later, I made sure she had all the tools she needed.

What happened next was just another example of how easy it is to be proud to be her mother.

Meghan decided that instead of getting an autograph book this year, she would take pictures with the Disney characters with her cards.

She also spontaneously struck up conversations with complete strangers all over the parks.   She would approach cast members, wait staff, photographers, and guests.  She spoke to people from the US and well beyond.

And every time she spoke my heart smiled.

She is an incredibly articulate young lady.  She explained Cowden’s Syndrome through the eyes of a ten year old to almost 200 people.

Some of the most memorable included a man and his wife and their service dog on the bus to Downtown Disney, and a helpful cast member from Puerto Rico outside the fitting room as she tried on her Merida dress, and a Disney Photopass photographer whose genuine hug was so heartwarming.

Those were just a few.  She spoke to so many people over the course of our 9 day trip that I have no doubt there is a greater awareness of Cowden’s Syndrome in the world than there was just 2 weeks ago.

She will tell you she is not a public speaker.

She might even try to tell you she is shy.

I will tell you she is flat out amazing, and that she is going to do already doing great things.

This child will make the world more aware – one card, and one conversation at a time.

These are Just a few who learned something new this week!

_DSC0037_DSC0087_DSC0383_DSC0387_DSC0401_DSC0419 - Copy_DSC0443 - Copyiphone felix (132)lori (21)

_DSC0028lori (14)

The Circle of Three

circle of three

My heart and soul.  My circle of strength.

A few weeks ago Felix mentioned he might like to have a denim ribbon pendant to wear.

They are modeled off the Global Genes Project logo, “Hope it’s in our genes!”

He wanted to be able to show his support for Meghan and I all the time.

So, we had another one made and I gave it to him for our anniversary.

I didn’t imagine the effect it would have on me.

What a magical thing to see the ones you love most joined with a symbol of support.

Symbols are just symbols I know – but what they symbolize can still be powerful.

watch me

Felix gives us the motivation, the strength, and the courage to say “I can.”

He makes us laugh.  He holds our hands.

He is as much a part of this Cowden’s Syndrome journey as we are.

We are three but we are one.

Now, near or far we remain connected.

There are no “superpowers” in these denim ribbons…

Well, unless you count LOVE, GRATITUDE, COURAGE, STRENGTH, and HOPE!

Grateful for my circle of three!
Grateful for my circle of three!


After a ton of work uploading the video of Meghan’s speech on “Rare Disease Day,” we got it to the Facebook page – Beating Cowdens. She spoke for all those who suffer from rare diseases, with poise – and HOPE.

It is about 5 minutes, but the proud Mom in me couldn’t resist.

Tonight though I have to send you backwards to Facebook to view it.

And, while you are there, if you are a Facebook user – “like” our page.

“Next Year…”

We left the house today with only the normal jitters.  We even had time for a few family photos.

rare meg

Rare Meg and Felix

rare mom and meg

I have been teaching for 16 years.

I have addressed hundreds of students, if not thousands through the years.

I pride myself on being able to get their attention with minimal effort, and keeping it in most cases.

Sometimes it can be a bit more trying – like a full auditorium, as opposed to a closed classroom, but with the right presence and message, it can be done.

I did not get to hear Meghan’s speech today first hand.  I was thrilled to see her happy smile when I picked her up.  I knew she felt it had gone well, and that was most of the battle won.

While she was doing her homework I watched the recording her para had kindly made for me.  I was awestruck.

Not only was I impressed with my little girl, and the clam, confident way she spoke, I was AMAZED by the quiet in the auditorium.

Now I know they are taught good manners, but this went beyond that.  She HAD them.  They cared about what she was saying.  They were interested to learn about Cowden’s Syndrome.  They were hanging on her words. The applause at the end confirmed it.   She nailed it.  Public speaking is not an issue for my girl.

The day followed with a Skype call to her friend Connor in Colorado.  They struggled with the video feed, but they had audio and will try again next week for the video.

I know its only the US, but “Rare Disorders without Borders” here we come!

Rare disease logo 2013

HUGE smile.  Giant fatigue.  Her day was a success.  And now, tomorrow, she will give her speech all over again to the 4th and 5th graders – her peers.  May it run just as smoothly!

Meanwhile, back at my school – the ribbons were distributed.  The jeans were on.  The kids were charged.

Many of them even decorated their doors with the Global Genes Project – denim ribbons.  This was a huge school spirit event.  I received cards, letters, and even a pack of thank you notes from one class.  It was beyond touching to see my colleagues, supervisor, and students, all in their jeans with their denim ribbons.

rare door 3

rare door 2

Rare door

“Hope it’s in our Genes”

We clearly are not alone.

My Mom and I
My Mom and I

All day long the photos came in.  My Facebook page was hopping.

My nephew’s PreK staff on Long Island, my friend’s Catholic School on Staten Island, a few ribbons to a local HS, junior class at another school wearing theirs to support a family member.  My sister had hers at work, and so did some dear friends.

“Next year…”

Next year can we do a fund raiser too?

Next year can we involve more schools? Maybe all of Staten Island?

Next year…

I got tons of requests, and offers of help.  We know LOTS of really great people.

Next year, maybe we will help raise awareness even more.


But this year, tonight.  I am tired.

I am grateful.

We are smiling.  We are blessed.

Right now, Tylenol for her pain.  TLC for her nerves.

There will be time to plan for next year…