(Living) “In Prep for the Climb” – PTEN Awareness Day 10/23/18

I’m aware of Breast Cancer.  As a survivor now of 6 years and the daughter of a 21 year survivor, I am aware as I dry from my shower facing my mastectomy scars every morning, that breast cancer is reality.  As my Facebook feed and my memory are both too full of those we have lost and those who still face this disease, we are aware.  What I wonder, is how much help is the awareness?  It is a topic that could be debated forever, but I’ll change gears first.

Something else I am very aware of is the PTEN gene located on chromosome 10q23, and the perils its associated mutations can cause.  So when the PTEN Foundation let us know that 10/23 was designated PTEN Awareness Day, we were all in.

This blog has, for years been designated to the ups and downs of this mother- daughter duo dealing with Cowden’s Syndrome, the diagnosis we both received in late 2011 after a PTEN mutation was first diagnosed in Meghan, and weeks later in me.

The few years following were an absolute whirlwind of appointments, scans, screenings and surgeries.  We worked to keep our heads above water and just exist.  We considered keeping my job, and maintaining honors status in her school quite the accomplishment.

We were told things over and over, like “don’t let it define you…”

I’ve got some news for you.  You can only walk so far into the fire without retaining the scars.

True awareness of PTEN for us comes with comprehension of the gravity that you have to remain in a vigilant stance of preparation, awaiting attack from your own body at all times.  PTEN patients have ridiculous cancer risks pretty much all throughout, and the VIGILANCE required to stay ahead is utterly grueling.

We are faced with choices to keep the most high risk organs, or remove them prophylactic ally.  We are asked to play the odds.  With our bodies. All the time.

With Meghan the AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation) in her right knee, though quiet now, has caused damage she will deal with forever.  She is 15.  God willing she will walk on those legs another 80 years, each day aware of the pain, and of the symmetry removed from her body forever.

When you have to be vigilant, you have to plan.  There are trades.  You have to decide if you’ll miss school with friends and fall behind in classes or give up the breaks designed to recharge you.

There are no breaks.  February – months away has 3/5 of its break and 2 other days devoted to appointments.  Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.  Yep – that one too.  Don’t worry, the brain MRI is scheduled for April break….

You have to pick and choose.  And the decisions are hard.  You want to give it all to everything, but HOURS of your world are wasted in bumper to bumper traffic, waiting for the hopeful news that you have another 6 months before you come back.  And if, in fact you don’t get that news the schedule is tossed and it’s game on for scans, analysis and biopsies.

The pain.  No one can really tell us yet from why, but it seems to exist throughout.  The fatigue.  Maybe the thyroid issues, maybe some immunological stuff.  Maybe some connection yet to be determined.  But it’s real.

It’s as real as the number of times we had to decline invitations before most people stopped asking.

We’re not blowing you off.  We’re holding it together – by a shoestring.

Chronic Illness is hard to live, and we get that it’s difficult to watch.  But, it’s real.  And short of a cure, it will never “run it’s course.”  It will not BE us, but it will be PART of us – FOREVER.

“You don’t look sick…”

“You don’t look anxious…”

No, as a matter of fact she looks strong and determined.  She’s been practicing for quite some time.

Sometimes I have to bite my tongue to keep from replying, “You don’t LOOK ignorant either – but at least you can fix that if you WANT to…”

Our rare disease journey has opened our eyes to not only PTEN disorders, but “Lhermitte-Duclos disease,” “Nail-Patella Syndrome,” “Lynch Syndrome,” “Spinal Muscular Atrophy,” “Muscular Dystrophy,” “Neimann- Pic Disease,” ” Neurofibromatosis,” “Acute Myeloid Leukemia” to name just the very tip of the iceberg.  I am more aware than every that everyone struggles.

I’m also a big fan of real pure awareness, for the sake of learning something about other humans I share the planet with.

One of the humans I share my home with has grown up in a totally different direction courtesy of this disease.  And while I am grateful for her diagnosis, as it surely saved my own life, I am sad that she has had to see so much, and manage so much already in her life.

So today, on 10/23, if you’re not living with it yourself, direct yourself to http://www.PTENFoundation.org, or the PTEN Facebook Page and learn an little more about PTEN.

My own girl is working every day to make herself better, physically, mentally and emotionally.  When I have down days, or I just don’t feel well, she reminds me to forgive myself.  “You have it too Mom.”  Indeed I do, and it’s quite a ride…

“Prep for the Climb” Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Together we prepare for the climb each day – and seek out that ‘One Perfect Moment’

For as much as this disease has taken, I am grateful that she is starting to take back control, and is finding her voice as an advocate for herself and others.  (And I love listening to her sing too…)

#Beatingcowdens

Bring It On the Musical – One Perfect Moment Lyrics
2012 Broadway
Bring It On the Musical – One Perfect Moment Lyrics
I’m not freaking out, I’m really okay
I’m totally chill or I will be someday
‘Cause I’m so near the top but there’s so many mountains to climb
There are plans to be planned, drills to be drilled
‘Cause this dream that I’ve dreamed is becoming fulfilled
And I plan to enjoy it but right now, I don’t have the timeFade in on Campbell, an average teenager almost grown
Close-up on average grades from the average life she’s known
Now zoom in the lens on the rest of her friends as she stay alone
Doing the work, getting it right

‘Cause I know we’ll have to be practically perfect
So I’ll go above and beyond and pull through, this I can do
All that I’m asking is one perfect moment in time

I’m seventeen, there are so many things that I can’t control
If I start to freak, or feel weak, I focus on just one goal
Turn down the panic, attack this routine like it owns my soul
Turn up the music so loud that it swallows us whole
And then there we are, we burn like a star
We’re safe inside the world we know
Then suddenly I’m in prep for the climb and here I go
High in the air, there is a moment just before you start to fall
Live in that one moment

I know that if I can just stick the landing
Then I’ll know that somehow my life will be fine
And I’ll go through the rest of my life understanding
What it feels like to shine
The future’s full of mysteries
So please let this be mine
My one perfect moment in time

DO SOMETHING!

Do-Something-Today

The story of how a New York City girl got the ear of a West Virginia Congressman is a long windy one that involves the depth of love and dedication the United States Marines hold for their own.  That loyalty and brotherhood extends through generations in ways that would be difficult to explain in words.

marines__28871.1392307537.1280.1280

That, will be the story for another day.

For today, what you need to know is one of those Marines, who I hold very dear, heard me when I spoke.  He listened when I told him how my father apologized upon learning Meghan and I had been diagnosed with the PTEN mutation that causes Cowden’s Syndrome.

Once Dad understood the PTEN mutation, he became very sure that he “brought this back from Vietnam.”  Dad was certain that his exposure to Agent Orange in the jungles of Vietnam had changed his body.  He was also sure that the toxin was responsible for what my genetecist deemed a germline (inherited) mutation in Meghan and I.

We know for sure that Meghan got her mutation from me.  What we don’t know with certainty is where mine came from.  My mother and younger (half) sister on my mother’s side tested negative for PTEN.  My father was never tested.  Before I could ask, he passed away from Pancreatic Cancer in December 2013.  However, we do know my mutation was not “de novo,” or spontaneous.  We know it was germline, “most likely passed through the sperm of your father,” my genetecist explained.

So, all we had to go on were Dad’s instincts, which I knew were in no way going to ever prove causative to the US Government.

But I reached out, and I acquired anecdotal evidence from my online support groups where 4 people other than myself indicated a first degree relative with a similar toxic exposure.  In a disorder as rare as Cowden’s Syndrome (1 in 200,000) with group sizes in the low 100s in most cases, these were numbers worth noticing.

Sometimes a theory is all you need.  And when you eliminate the need to “prove” and you focus on the need to “educate” and “raise awareness,” sometimes you can make progress.

Today, the story is about how Congressman David McKinley  (West Virginia) and his staff listened when we spoke about Cowden’s Syndrome.  And they did something.

I was put into contact with Lou Hrkman, the Executive Assistant to Congressman David B. McKinley, P.E. (WV-01). (412 Cannon Building Washington, DC  20515 (202) 225-4172) through that Marine I mentioned earlier.  Alan doesn’t give up.

I shared an explanation with Mr. Hrkman, of Cowden’s Syndrome, and more specifically PTEN Mutations.  I told him about the impact on our lives.  I told him about my father’s instincts.  I talked to him about how, with a syndrome like this, KNOWING SAVES LIVES.  We spoke about veterans and toxic exposure.  We spoke about the thought that exposure could alter genetics.  We talked about RARE DISEASES, and more specifically, RARE GENETIC DISEASES.  We spoke about how if the doctors at the VA were trained to look for these disorders, or to be more aware, or to educate veterans, or to look for these disorders in descendents of veterans, that it is likely LIVES WILL BE SAVED.

This week I was contacted by Mr. Hrkman, on behalf of Congressman McKinley, to draw my attention to the last paragraph on page 47 of the…

IMG_6481

It says…

IMG_6480

And there it was.  In print.  For the VA Hospital System to be held accountable for education.

It is not passed yet.  The specifics of the bill need to be debated in Congress, but he is confident.

We who are so anxious to be heard, to be noticed, to be recognized, this is a huge first step.  And while I realize many of you are not relatives of Veterans, I feel it is SO important that we take this opportunity to raise awareness NOW!

I asked Mr. Hrkman what people can do.

Here was his reply…

It sounds quaint, but writing or meeting with your congressman is the best thing you can do.  Members take notice when their constituents are interested, especially on a personal basis versus a mass mailing or robo call thing. If you write your member, specifically reference the document I sent you (Military Construction, Veteran’s Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2017) and the page number. (Page 47)  I would also contact Vietnam Veterans and other Vet groups, but Vietnam Vets are especially affected.

PLEASE, right now, my American Friends, contact your representative in Congress.  Let’s make them HEAR US.  ALL OF US.  This could be the start…

PLEASE, share this post far and wide.  Tag anyone who you think might help.

It’s time for us to DO SOMETHING…

“Do Something” by Matthew West

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

We are the salt of the earth
We are a city on a hill (shine shine, shine shine)
But we’re never gonna change the world
By standing still
No we won’t stand still
No we won’t stand still
No we won’t stand still

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something [x3]