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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are determined to remain

#beatingcowdens

We will not be silent!

It’s Complicated…

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

Inspirational Staten Islander 2016

An inspiration provokes a desire in you to be a better human.  An inspiration can be any age, race, gender or creed.  An inspiration speaks to your soul through their actions, and their behaviors.  Words are always secondary to actions.

A role model may be an inspiration, someone you want to emulate, whether they are family, friend, or famous.  Often we put the word “inspirational” to a sports figure, singer, or movie star, but all too often we are disappointed by those high up in positions of fame and fortune.

Inspirational people, the ones who change lives, tend to be regular people who we interface with often.  Coaches come quickly to mind as inspirational.  Teammates who are there to lift us up and share our shining moments and disappointments come to mind as well.  In some cases teachers can inspire us, by lighting a fire, or a love of learning, or a passion about a topic or a zest for knowledge.

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I am fortunate to know many inspirational people.  Most of them would be confused if I named them.  They are typically the people out in the world doing their jobs, living their lives, and passionately giving their all to whatever task is theirs.

So many of you who read these words on a regular basis, inspire us to remain #beatingcowdens.

Last week I was notified that Meghan was nominated as “Inspirational Staten Islander of 2016.”  This nomination was connected to her selection as “Staten Islander of the Month”  in February 2016.  There was quite a list of remarkable, inspirational, every-day people on that list.  I read the article top to bottom and was truly, inspired.

Inspirational Islander Poll

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But, Meghan is MY inspiration.  She is MY reason, my WHY.  I would not lie and ever say she or I are PERFECT, because no one is.  But we do pretty well together, supporting each other.  And, when I’m about done pushing, one look at her face inspires me to keep on keeping on.

There was a week of voting, by people who clearly felt a particular nominee was the most inspirational.  It was a week of watching the polls as family and friends voted alongside. By Monday she had a significant lead.  We were humbled.  By Tuesday afternoon as we sat in an MRI for her knee in Manhattan, she was behind.  Roller Coaster.  It was hard to react with the knowledge that each nominee indeed was inspirational. And,  winning or losing, would not increase or decrease the value of the other nominees inspirational acts.

Voting was to close at noon Wednesday.  I sat up Tuesday night to vote for MY inspiration, as often as I was allowed.  But, at some point I became very anxious, and I stopped and I prayed.  I asked for guidance as to when it was time to just walk away.  I asked for a clear sign.

At about 2:15 AM on Wednesday the 11th, I received a Facebook Message from Destinee Moe.  This young lady was running the poll right behind Meghan and I just wasn’t sure how it was going to end.  This is a text of the message.

Hello Mrs.Ortega I’m Destinee Moe one of the nominees for Inspirational Islander Of 2016. I just want you and your daughter to know how truly inspiring she is! I could never be as strong as Meghan 😊she going through a lot and still manages to smile! It’s truly an honor to be able to run against someone so strong 🙂 I wouldn’t want anyone else to win this race 💯 she truly inspires me to be a strong young adult ! Best of luck to both of you and hope everything is well with Meghan ❤️ keeping her in my prayers.

And I cried.  Right there in front of my computer screen.  There was the sign I had prayed for.  There was a soul so inspiring she was looking for the good in others she was racing against.  There was a meaningful inspiration.

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I responded to her as best I could.

It’s funny I would catch your message at this hour, as years of parenting a sick little one, have left me able to function on not too much rest. I really appreciate your message, as everything I have read about you indicates you are of the same strength of character as my daughter. It is inspiring to me when young women like the two of you show leadership qualities at such a young age. This whole experience, win or lose, has been an incredible journey for her. Today she learned to balance her morning swim, with an honors schedule, and then a 2 hour MRI for the knee that caused her 6 surgeries and still gives her grief, followed by 2 more hours in traffic, significant homework, and keeping a close eye on the voting in between. This young lady I have is truly my inspiration, as her early diagnosis indeed saved my life. However, each story I read was inspirational and it renews my faith in people, and Staten Island. All the best to you as well. It will be behind us all in just a few hours. I have no doubt yours will be a name of influence to look for in the coming years. Stay true. All the best, Lori

She replied once more and I went to bed soon after.  When I woke the next day, Meghan held onto a lead into the noon cut-off.

By 12:45 there was a congratulatory message from Destinee:

Congratulations ❤️ I really hope this pushes her even more to be the strong Inspiring young lady she is. Have a bless day , Destinee

Meghan won the popular vote as “Inspirational Staten Islander of 2016,” and we all got a clearer sense that inspiration is all around us, sometimes coming out from the most unlikely places.

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After all she endures on a regular basis, my Meghan’s one goal was to further awareness of Rare and Genetic Diseases, while getting the word out for her upcoming fundraiser.  Multi-tasking is necessary to follow her schedule.

2017 Event Flyer

2017 Event Flyer

Meghan remains humbled by the gravity of the congratulatory messages coming her way.  Just as she was touched deeply by the message from the nominee closest to her in the polls.

There are so many life lessons, so many inspirational people, so many teachable moments – if only we look.

Meghan attained the title of “Inspirational Staten Islander 2016” and she will use it as best she can to raise awareness of Cowden’s Syndrome, PTEN Mutations and other Rare Diseases.  She will also walk away with a few valuable life lessons.

We remain

#BeatingCowdens!

Click HERE to read the ARTICLE! (It’s a really good article! 😉 )

 

 

 

To Do Lists, Digital Footorints and Random Thoughts

I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions.  I don’t believe in waiting for a specific day to make changes.  If they are needed, wanted, or warranted – we make them.  Right then.  Otherwise, I’m all about just being your best you- every day.

Parenting a teenager is tough stuff.  Even when your teen is just a good soul, a hard -worker, a good student, and a compassionate human.

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There are people who would challenge me that we have it easy.  They give me the default model, that raising one child has to be easier than raising 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or more…  And maybe they are right.  I will never know.  But, they won’t either.  That’s the point.

Raising our children, or living our lives is not meant to be a discussion of “harder” or “easier.”  There are challenges present in every single scenario that comes to mind when I think of EVERY family I know.  In this house we  talk a lot.  My girl and I, we talk about those other lives we know, and their battles.  And we send love and prayers and warm wishes, as they do for us.  It’s not a contest,  it’s real life.

2016 saw the results of two uterine biopsies of my then 12 and 13 year old, with results that left us uneasy, and in a perpetual state of “cautious waiting.”  It also saw me back in surgery, replacing less than 5 year old silicone implants because one had “fallen”  And then, it saw my clumsiness as I spent 6 weeks booted with a broken toe.

2016 saw loss in my family, as we mourn Pop, and are readjusting with Grandma in her new living space.

Yet, we made it.  We came out with a few bumps and bruises, but we made it.

2016 ended with 8th graders we know taking High School entrance and Scholarship Exams.  The next weeks will bring jubilation, laughter, and tears.

Yet, we WILL make it- all of us.

The “To Do” list on the yellow pad to my right is busy.  The fundraiser is about a month away and there is lots to be done.

There is also an MRI, a vascular surgeon, an orthopedist, an endocrinologist, and a gastroenterologist for Meghan, as well as Pre-surgical testing, a tentative surgery date, and a breast surgeon follow-up, an oncologist, and an endocrinologist for me.  All before February 22.  That’s IF no one requires additional testing for anything…

We will fit in the “regular” stuff too, like swimming, and meets, and school projects, and drama… well you know what I mean.

We are working hard to fit Cowden’s Syndrome into our lives, and not to let it RUN our lives.  It’s a subtle difference on paper, but a HUGE one in practice.

And when the thought of running a house that contains TWO people with a rare genetic disorder becomes overwhelming – we try to step back and count our blessings.  Because at the end of all days, regardless of our struggles, it is good for us, and those around us, if we can remain positive.  I’m not saying we’re perfect at it – far from it actually, but it is a goal, and an on-going work in progress.

It came up this week when we were preparing for the fundraiser and talking about social media.  Actually, it has come up a bunch of times since the iPhone became attached to her hand almost 3 years ago…

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Digital footprint – how are you presented on the internet?  What if someone “googled’ your name?  Now?  5 years from now?  8 years from now before your job interview?  The whole concept of this blog has been discussed in depth.  Meghan, whether she likes it or not, at the age of 13 has an identity that is connected to her rare disease.  Now, don’t misunderstand me for a minute – a close read would CLEARLY indicate, she is NOT her disease, but she will never have the opportunity to deny the diagnosis.  That’s forever, and its important.

What she does with it, well that’s ongoing.  She’s made some pretty dynamic choices to date.  Sometimes she feels a bit like she has something to prove- so she does.

She’s been asking me for “snapchat” lately, and eventually I’ll give in.  But, I’m one of the mean moms who makes her wait.  Instagram is plenty to manage for now.

This week Meghan was nominated as “Inspirational Staten Islander of 2016.”

It prompted me to “google” my daughter.  So when I type in her name connected to our home town, these are the first links to surface…

How Meghan Ortega saved her Mother’s Life

12 Year Old With Rare Genetic Disorder Chosen as Inspirational Islander

Staten Island 9 Year Old and Her Mom are on a Mission….

12 Surgeries in 11 Years- Living with Cowdens Syndrome

Meghan Ortega- NYS Senate

I’ll take that top five any day.

And just for good measure, I switched to an image search.  These 5 were on the first page…

Meghan in her elementary school with one of her idols- Borough President James Oddo

Meghan in her elementary school with one of her idols- Borough President James Oddo

An old one - when Meghan was named "Hero of the Month" by Child Life after an early surgery

An old one – when Meghan was named “Hero of the Month” by Child Life after an early surgery

SI Children's Museum Achievement Luncheon Award

SI Children’s Museum Achievement Luncheon Award

Rare Disease shirts from the PTEN Foundation

Rare Disease shirts from the PTEN Foundation

One of my most proud - NYS Woman of Distinction, nominated by Senator Lanza in May 2016

One of my most proud – NYS Woman of Distinction, nominated by Senator Lanza in May 2016

And, just to be sure, I even tried Youtube.com, only to find a video made in February 2016

Apparently she has listened, carefully.  I don’t know what the future holds for my bright eyed activist.  I know she’ll continue to take heat from a few along the way.  I also know she’ll find the strength to rise above and press on.  Because, that is what we do.

Would she like it is she were named “Inspirational Staten Islander of 2016”?  Sure.  Will it break her spirit one way or another, absolutely not.  Her focus is, “If I win, we could get publicity to help raise money at the fundraiser…”

2017 Event Flyer

                                                                       2017 Event Flyer

If you’ve read this far I’ll tell you what I know about the poll I’ve linked you to below.  The voting takes place like a reality TV show.  I’m not sure how valid it all is, but there is a week of lots of voting.  It ends January 11th at noon.  Apparently you can vote many times before it stops you.  And then you can vote every hour.  So pretty much, if it crosses your mind, and you find Meghan inspirational, save the link and vote whenever it crosses your mind, until your device tells you to stop.

Regardless of the outcome, life will go on.  And we will continue on the same missions we’re on right now.

#BeatingCowdens together

Inspirational Staten Islander Poll – Vote all the way at the bottom

Choose Positive….

The day after Christmas in our house is reserved for a blissful amount of peaceful rest.  A few loads of laundry, a simple meal, late sleeping, playing with some new “toys,” recovery, and reflection fill the hours.  It is a wonderful, necessary day to pause and recharge.

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I am awestruck by how fast days blend into weeks, and months, and even years.  My girl is now a young lady.  A young lady of 13 years old with the fall devoted to High School Applications, academic honors, hours of swimming, and some drama (class) thrown in for good measure.  It was a crazy season, but a remarkable, beautiful time of transformation.

I don’t get time to write as much as I used to.  But, truthfully, you don’t need to hear from me all that often to follow along.  The writing remains my way to sort out life.  I feel fortunate that so many of you come along for the ride.

So much of our journey #beatingcowdens is couched in perspective.  We talk so much about the realities of everyone’s life.  We talk about the things people endure that we can not fathom, and we talk about how hard it is to have some of the conversations necessary in the life of my 13-year-old.  We talk.  Often.  And perhaps that is the first of many blessing I have.

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My girl has become a young woman through a path that is different from most her age.  Notice, I deliberately chose the word “different” as we are careful not to measure things in “better” or “worse.”  The medical drama unfolded at a fast, furious pace, most concentrated in the years from 8 to 12.  And we held fast through each one, but then, slowly, the dramas began to slow down.

At first we didn’t want to say anything.  There is the fear of “jinxing” the situation.  When medical drama is your “normal” you don’t really know how to live any other way.  It sounds bizarre.  You want so desperately to be rid of it, but the relief of losing it would be so intense, that to relax and then have it hit you again could be crushing.  So you stay on your guard.  All the time.  But sometimes when you do that you can get a little… I don’t know, isolated, alone, rough?

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There is a security connected to living in a state of medical drama.  At least you know what to expect.

But, it’s not a place to hang out when you don’t need to.

Meghan’s last biopsy was in July.  The follow-up is this week.  My last surgery was in August.  And, in a turn of events here, I have spent the last few months in vocal therapy sorting out ways to work around the tumor that desires to strip me of my ability to communicate.  We’ve had some success, and last week even amidst a terrible head cold, my voice made it with me all the way to Friday.

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And it was on that very Friday morning, as I drove Meghan to a 5:30 AM swim practice, with my head-splitting and my nose running, that I told her how lucky I felt.  She may have checked me for fever, to see if I had totally lost it.  But I explained – a year ago facing Christmas break without her having been knocked down at least once by something major was an impossible dream.  This year, she had done more than ever before, and seems to be getting stronger.  That morning I was grateful that I was able to get my butt out of bed, to take her to the place she loves, so she could work on the sport she loves.

This fall we have successfully removed 2 stomach medications that were previously necessary for survival.  And, we are well on our way to eliminating a third.  There is nutrition, exercise, and natural alternatives in their place.  And it is working.

She came home a few weeks ago with a perfect attendance certificate for the month of October.  I save everything.  I think that may have been her first.  These are the things that keep us in perspective.

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We have a “doctor cycle” among us now.  The knee needs to be checked again, MRI, and two knee doctors.  There are clinical exams, GI follow-up and endocrinology.  The afternoons these next 6 weeks will be swallowed up with trips to NYC.  I’ll add in some appointments of my own, as I prepare for vocal cord surgery, tentatively set, but not yet confirmed.  We’ll keep swimming, literally and figuratively.  We’ll hold each other up, and we will do something a little different.  We will, instead of fitting out lives into the doctors, we will fit the doctors into us.

Raising kids, one, two, three, four, or more- regardless of gender, or age combination each holds unique rewards and challenges.  We have our moments, my girl and I, when we challenge each other to the best we can be.  Sometimes its deep conversation. Sometimes it’s a little less pretty.  But, we do it.  We learn and we grow together.

I find myself often, missing relatives who are not here with us anymore.  I miss conversations, deep and thoughtful.  I miss shared laughs, and the pride they felt and showed.  I understand, and comprehend their lives are changed, their eternal lives are more beautiful than I can imagine.  But, I still miss them.

I sometimes shuffle around a bit in circles in my mind, feeling a little lonely, a little unsteady, and a little unsure of how to break the cycle.

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And even at those loneliest points I take solace at the people in my life who are there.  Their own lives keep us from day-to-day interface, but they are there, forming that net that will catch me, or us, if we were to fall.  They weave a web through our lives that give us such confidence and gratitude, that I can only hope they feel the same way about us.

As we begin to get heavy into the preparations for Jeans for Rare Genes 3,  it is a time to get focused.  I am not a huge fan of New Year’s Resolutions.  A wise friend recently reminded me a calendar is not necessary to begin change.

Choose positive.  That is my simple focus.  I will not be perfect at it.  But, I will work tirelessly.  I will be positive, hopefully not to the point of irritating, but when given the opportunity to face a new situation, I will work to find the positive.

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Cowden’s Syndrome will toss us curve balls for the rest of our days.  I’ve never been much of a baseball player, but I plan to practice my swing.  And just in case- I’ll keep a helmet on as well.

May the culmination of 2016 lead us to gratitude for all the positives it brought, and gratitude for the negatives as well.  May it leave us with the reminders of the blessings in our lives.  Only in appreciation of al of it can we ever move forward.  And really, forward is the only direction I choose to travel.

#beatingcowdens

#everysingleday

#perspective

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Default to Kindness

spirit-swim

Meghan loves to swim.  I mean, athletically it wasn’t where she started, but the knees.  Six surgeries on the right knee, and there was to be no more soccer, and no more dance.  After the 6th one, there was to be even no more breaststroke.  There is no gym class in school.  There is limited walking.  There is one foot, a size bigger than the other.  The “off sides” that that creates in her body can be quite painful.  But, the pool…

Oh, how my girl loves the pool.  She is an athlete.  She is a competitor.  And the pool allows her to be both of those things to the best of her ability.

For the 3rd time in the 4th year since joining swimming, this September brought a new coach for her, and a new group of teammates.  There was anxiety about the switch on so many levels.  But, as we always say, life has a funny way of working out.

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This coach is a perfect fit for her.  They practice hard, and often.  He is structured, and firm.  But he is compassionate, and constructive.  He watches.  There are sometimes 50 or more swimmers in the pool when he coaches, and I swear he does his best to make some comment to each of them every practice.  And, after they compete, his feedback always connects to practice.

And practice, for Meghan, has not been a problem.  While maintaining a “Pupil Path” account that no one could ever critique, and planning a major fundraiser, and looking for high schools, and managing doctors appointments, and a mom who doesn’t feel quite herself, this girl has, most weeks, attended practice, Monday, Thursday and Friday afternoon, as well as Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday morning.  Quite literally, swimming is good for her health.

Swimming can be a very solitary sport.  It takes a good deal of mental toughness to stare at a black line for hours.  Interactions with teammates on deck or during dryland (out of water training) are cherished.

swim6

Even then, as the “new kid” in the group, you can sometimes wonder about the relationships.  Meghan has been very careful not to share too much of her Cowden’s story with these swimmers.  She wants to be viewed as one of them, and she is doing a good job holding her own, all by herself.

And then there was today.  We were at a meet and she was scheduled to swim the 200 yard butterfly.  If you swim, no explanation is needed.  If you don’t let me give you a frame of reference.  For the group she swam with today, 72 girls swam the 100 yard freestyle.  10 signed up to swim the 200 yard butterfly.  It is not an event for the faint of heart.

Meghan feared disappointing, herself, her coach. me.  She was scared out of her mind.  So scared that it was out of character.  Out of character for a child that has had 17 surgeries, and countless tests. ER visits, and hospitalizations.  She was that scared.

And as the race approached I watched helplessly from the stands as she began to unravel.  And I watched with a grateful heart as teammates picked her up and put her back together again.

persistence3

The one who I can only say was acting as my angel, talked her right onto the block.  It only took a second of my attempt to video the race to see that something was terribly wrong.  There sat her goggles, first mid face, then in her mouth occluding her breathing.  In butterfly you can not break stroke.  At the end of the first 50 she stopped.  She was done.

My heart sank, and ached for her.  I wanted to pick her up and hug her, and take her back to the rocking chair I used to use when she was a baby.  But she’s 13 now – so I could only watch.

swim5

The official came to her and asked if she wanted to try again in the next heat.  There were 2 lanes open.  She said yes.  And as they placed her in one heat, her friend, my angel, came to the official and asked if Meghan could swim, “in the lane next to me.”  She said yes, and as Meghan barely got settled on the block, another teammate flagged the official to wait a moment.  Meghan’s goggles were still not on.

The start went fine this time.  The goggles stayed on.  And she did it.  The whole thing.

By the time she got to her last 2 laps, most of the other girls were finishing.  But, then there was more magic.  There was cheering, from her teammates and strangers alike.  There was a push for her to get finished, to press on, and to make it.  So, she did.

I think I cried the last two laps.  I was struck by this child of mine, her life, the adversity, and the stubbornness.  The ability to not give up.  The desire to be normal, and to succeed. And as she touched the wall her team mate, that same angel, swam right into her lane and gave her the biggest, most genuine hug.

She did it.

Not too shabby for the first time.  And more than one teammate whom she respects greatly told her they gave her credit for getting up and trying it again.  So did her coach.

Meghan isn’t the “cool” kid.  She sometimes struggles a little.  But, she remains true to herself at all times.

Today, she got to see the kindness in others.  It was pure.  It was genuine.  It was unsolicited.  It was the best kind.

13-18 year olds can be a tough group.  But these kids showed today that when they are left at their “default” setting, when they are alone and see soemone hurting, they will choose kindness and compassion.

She is asleep.  Tomorrow is another day of swimming.  But, those events won’t cause this angst.

Gratitude fills my heart, that once again even at the toughest moment, good shines through.

And as she said goodnight, she told me, “Next month, when I swim the 200 fly…”

swimming

Endurance.  Persistence.  Stamina.

#beatingcowdens

 

Punched in the Stomach…

…over and over and over again.

punched

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

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

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

hurry-up-and-wait

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

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

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

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

mother-daughter-2

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

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

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

But, there was another pile of information to digest.

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

questions.jpg

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

No, it’s not likely.

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

No.

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

A wheelchair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

break-the-chains.jpg

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

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

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

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

Tonight will be for resting.

Tomorrow is for

#Beatingcowdens

N.O.S.E. an Acronym that Makes Sense!

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

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

making the best 1

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

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

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

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

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

pain 1

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

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

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

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

making the best 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, today I mailed a box to Arizona.

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

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

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

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

pain 3

Feisty.  Tenacious.  And in pain.

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

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

So many things make no sense at all.

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

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

#BEATINGCOWDENS

#ONESTEPATATIME

 

This is Our Reality

Alone, in a crowded room.

alone in a crowded room

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

occupied mind

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

cheshire cat

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

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

been through something

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

#BEATINGCOWDENS!

 

Onward…

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

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

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

writing

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

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

Time to catch you all up –

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

My Everything

My Everything

 

Bob Jackson - Our Disney Friend

Bob Jackson – Our Disney Friend

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

Meghan addressing a crowded room

Meghan addressing a crowded room

 

Just a handful of our many raffles

Just a handful of our many raffles

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

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

Pop - So much to so many

Pop – So much to so many

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

Always together...

Always together…

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

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

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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.

time passes

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

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

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

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

image

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

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

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

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

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

We are still #BEATINGCOWDENS!

Onward…