Richmond County Savings Foundation

If you were with us at “Jeans for Rare Genes” you heard me announce we had received a grant for $2500 from the Richmond County Savings Foundation.

This story Inspirational Staten Islander to host Fund Raiser ran on February 4th.  On February 8th I was contacted by the Richmond County Savings Foundation.  The story had been read, and it was suggested we apply for a grant on behalf of the PTEN Foundation.

We are relatively new to the fundraising thing, but with a lot of help, we got on track and completed the application.  The PTEN Foundation President, Kristen, spoke with them to get the 501c3 papers squared away.   And – about 10 days later we were notified of a $2500 grant, awarded to the PTEN Foundation!

We included the grant money in all our fundraising totals for the event, but today we got to go to the office to receive the check.  We got to meet Mr. Cesar Claro, who noticed Meghan’s story.  We got to meet Ms. DeSapio who helped us so much via phone and Email.

Meghan took the day off from school, because my speaking time is so limited, and because she’s the reason all this happens anyway.  It was just right for her to be there.

We gathered in a conference room with about 10 incredibly inspirational people.  I loved how professional, yet casual the whole experience was.  Amounts of grants were not discussed.  Checks were distributed in sealed envelopes, but first , everyone spoke about why they were there and how the grant was going to help.

Meghan spoke a little about Cowden’s Syndrome, and how we are hoping the PTEN Foundation will be able to inspire research on our disorder.  She did great, as usual.

We got to hear from a teacher, and his school’s work with Habitat for Humanity.  We heard from “Metropolitan Fire” and how the grant would help their organization.

We got to meet Dennis McKeon From Where To Turn, and hear about the work his organization does on Staten Island.

We heard about the Moravian Church garden and their donations of food.

We met E. Randolph Wheagar from 2nd Chance Youth Empowerment Program, and we were inspired by their community work as well.

We met Jennifer Dudley from Staten Island Children’s Museum and learned about their efforts to “spruce up” the museum.

We met a few other incredible folks as well, one whose organization was obtaining deeds to local neglected cemeteries so they could be maintained.  In the absence of pen and paper a few are slipping my mind, but it was a fantastic experience.  It was an intense 45 minutes!

Perhaps the one that touched our hearts most was Mr. Capolongo who spoke of his son Michael with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  If you are not familiar with the genetic disorder, you can get some information here. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy  It is a genetic disorder affecting about 1 in 3,500 boys.  The body lack dystrophin, and without it muscle cells become damaged and weaken.  It is progressive.  Michael is 11.  They have 2 other healthy children.  They are a family like ours.  Dad is a policeman, mom is a nurse and a breast cancer survivor. Yet, they have managed to create a not for profit, Michael’s Cause and have raised a million dollars to help fund research, and hopefully, ultimately a cure.

In the 30 minutes we sat across a table I felt inspired, and connected.  I respect so much the positive outlook, and the awareness that even in strife, others have it worse.  I respected the acknowledgement that every day is a gift, and life can change your perspective quickly.  These are things we identify with in this house.  Those are principles we live by.

Meghan and I often feel a little more “at home” in the presence of others with rare disease.  While they are all so drastically different, the difficulty, the fear, the unknown, the isolation, they all overlap.  And what also overlaps are your decisions in how to handle them.

I was reminded of my own girl, at the age of nine telling NY1 that. “You have a choice, you can get angry or you can DO something.”  And, “I feel like I was put here to DO something.”  Watch this clip and reminisce with me.

Today we were full of gratitude.  Today we were inspired by others.  Today we were reminded of our own mission.  Today was a continuation of an ongoing goal,  and a reminder that it matters.  It all matters.

We remain

#beatingcowdens

“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!”

The Speed of Life

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I am always amazed by the speed of life.

I don’t know why at this point I’m not used to it yet.  But, as I sit here with my leg elevated recovering from a vein stripping on Thursday, I find it hard to imagine it hasn’t been quite a week since “Jeans for Rare Genes” took place.

Rare Disease Day Fundraiser

Acknowledgements have been sent by Email.  Some are waiting for the mail, and others will be delivered to the local businesses that supported us in the next few days.  We wanted everyone to know that what we considered a lofty goal of $10,000 to be donated to the PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome Foundation, and The Global Genes Project has been surpassed.  The checks are still being counted, and the final payment from eventbrite is due any moment.  But it looks like the total will clear $12,000 before we are through.  Not too shabby for the vision of a feisty 11-year-old who has already begun to make tentative plans for what we will do even better “next year.”

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And as I’ve digested the success, and have processed the overwhelming pride of a mother, and expressed our gratitude to family and friends near and far, (like the Yokleys from Colorado!)  I’ve taken some time to reflect.  Standing before a room filled with 150 of our friends and family on a bitter cold February morning left my insides warm and toasty from the love surrounding us.

Life moves quickly.  For all of us for different reasons.  But, with this syndrome x2 life seems to be literally swallowed by doctors, and tests and surgeries, with every spare moment trying to shove “normal” into the cracks.  We miss stuff.  A lot.  We miss friends, and gatherings and social events, and celebrations, and ordinary get-togethers.  We are absent more than we are present.  Our friends and extended family are often neglected as immediate family has to occupy any moment that isn’t already full.  I don’t actually remember the last time we had friends for pizza, or a casual summer gathering on the deck by the pool.

And I think about the pure innocence and wisdom of Meghan and Connor, as they finally met.  Two friends from miles apart, with a life altering syndrome in common.  Two bright, funny kids who have seen more than their fair share.  Two kids who get compassion, and understanding, and life.  Two sets of parents, immediately at ease with each other because we understand.  And sometimes that’s all you need.  And if you missed the two articulate, wise beyond their years, kids talking to the local news – click here.

I think about Georgia, a world away in Australia, and how she and Meghan have hit it off in a way only girls who share such a bond ever could.  I think how wonderful it will be one day to get them together too.

And I think about Ashton, older than Meghan, but a girl on a mission all the same.  And I think of all she has to offer the world, as she endures her 14th procedure on a stubborn AV fistula in her brain this week.  I think about all the prayers we say, and all the questions Meghan asks.  And her Mom.  My peer.  A Cowden’s patient too.  A school teacher turned full-time mother later in life.  Because it was meant to be.  I think about the hours spent texting and messaging.  And how I already feel so comfortable…

And I know that the room was full for them too.

I am grateful beyond measure for the ones who understand.  Who don’t give up on us.  Who stand with us, beside us, behind us, or just about wherever we need them to be.

help from my friends

I will resolve to try to reach out more.  I just don’t know how many more hours I can squeeze out of a week.  But I will try.  Because the speed of life is astounding.

Sunday some of my college friends were delayed to the fundraiser.  They were in the hospital with one, as her father was very ill.  Yet, they found the balance.  They stayed with her, and then came to us.

Thursday as I came out of I think my 7th vascular procedure I got the texts on my phone that things weren’t good.  Her Dad passed away Thursday morning.  My heart hurt.  It was ironic really, as I had felt my own Dad ever-present as I got checked in and prepped.  I got to thinking that out of 5 of us from college that I really stay in touch with, three had already lost a father, and one a mother and a brother.  How did we get to this stage?  How did life move so fast?  And although my own recovery will keep me from making it to her side tomorrow, – I know she will feel the love in my heart.

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We have to try to slow things down.  Sometimes.

But, I’m not sure when.  Or how.  Because yesterday I sat in the back seat with my heavily bandaged leg, and we made the trek to Cohen’s Children’s Hospital on Long Island.  And we saw an orthopedist about Meghan’s knee.  Her vascular surgeon suggested we go – before the next embolization procedure in her knee.

Her MRI shows some damage to the knee structure.  “Blood is a terrible irritant, even in small quantities…” And I would imagine that this AVM, probably active since birth, has been slowly eroding the knee.  So there is swelling in the bone marrow, and issues with the patella, and all sorts of explanations as to why it keeps hurting.  There is no real solution, but a synnovectomy will get him in the knee.  He can “clean out” some of the scar tissue, and we can pray that gives relief and doesn’t provoke a “hyper healing” Cowden’s type response.  But we have to try.  They have to see.  It’s time to get a real baseline.

So they will present her case next week.  And we will hope that the recommendation is for the vascular surgeon to do his work on the AVM at the same time the orthopedist does his work.  Because the recovery from the embolizations is tough.  This one promises to be outright nasty.  “At least a week on crutches.  Minimum 4-6 week recovery.  PT to build back the strength in the thigh muscle.”  They will fill the knee with saline to get a clear view…

So he asked about her activities, and approved of swimming.  Almost relieved when she told him she had given up soccer and dance because they hurt too much.  He asked what strokes in swimming, almost tentatively, as if he was hoping for the answer he got.

“Butterfly is my favorite!”

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And he looked relieved as he explained to Felix and I that butterfly kick was best on the knees.  Meghan chimed in, “because you kick from your hips!”

We were once again impressed by her instincts and her depth of knowledge of her own body.  She gravitated to a stroke most hate because it probably hurt her the least.  We got the nod to let her continue freestyle and backstroke.  But breaststroke is off-limits.  Probably forever.  Ironically – she never like that one much anyway…

We asked about the timing of the procedure.  He thought before he spoke and told us he wanted to hear what his colleagues had to say.

We pressed him for early May.  The tail end of the CYO season.  The week after her first play, “Hairspray” at school.  He told us to take it very easy.  And if she doesn’t have another bleed before then, that’s probably a reasonable time frame.

“If… Probably…”

We should be used to all this by now.  But, I think you never get used to watching your child get beat up over and over again.  That’s why we pushed to try to plan… to try to squeeze in all the normal we can.  Because she can’t keep having the fun taken away for the medical.  It’s not ok.  But, we plan very tentatively.

The speed of life can be overwhelming.

Thankfully we have so many of you along for the ride.

Next Saturday, February 28th is World Rare Disease Day.

Next Sunday, March 1st is Meghan’s first championship swim meet.  Silvers.  For the 100 butterfly – naturally.

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