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 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 were worried. Attendance was at an all-time low. We had picked a bad weekend, but it was too late to change it.
We took the event off “eventbrite” this year, looking to take the fees they collect and get them to the PTEN Foundation.
It took a whole lot of record keeping, but it was worth it.
We had an “Early Bird Special” and free T-shirts. We opted for a new venue, a deluxe buffet brunch, and beer, wine and sangria for the grown ups.
After months of planning, of soliciting donations, of advertising, Emailing, and distributing flyers, we had exhausted every avenue we knew.
We received so many generous donations that were accompanied by, “I wish I could, but..”
We received so many well-wishes and positive thoughts from genuine people.
But, in the end we were looking at attendance numbers far lower than last year.
We had excellent baskets – Some were gathered by friends and family. Others were given as donations, and many were put together by my loving husband.
Meghan and I wrote out and carefully planned what we wanted to say.
She opted this year to stray from her pattern of creating videos, and she created a Power Point of the year in review instead.
But, as late as that morning the text and phone calls kept coming from people who could not make it.
We walked into the room anxious. Not sure of how the day would go.
We should not have worried.
What this crowd may have lacked in volume they more than made up for in LOVE, SUPPORT, GENEROSITY, and COMPASSION.
They were from all areas of our lives. There were family. There were lots of cousins. There were friends. There were colleagues. There was Meghan’s Physical Therapist, her math teacher, and her former paraprofessional. There were friends of friends. There was Charlie Balloons, and a DJ whose services had been paid by some dear friends as a donation.
There were 42 raffle baskets, and a 50/50. The money generated just from those two things was mind-blowing.
There were 2 schools, PS1 with cousin Kim, and Holy Rosary with our friend Christal, that each raised over $400 at their schools for the cause.
We laughed. We drank. We ate. We talked. Kids danced with balloon creations. There were musical chairs and fun. There was pure love in the room.
When Meghan and I spoke there was silence. Attention. Focus.
Cowden’s Syndrome is understood by this crowd, because of us.
And there stood my daughter, telling this crowd of 100+ that she was tired of “Living with Cowden’s Syndrome.” She “put Cowden’s Syndrome on notice.” She told it, it was time to “keep up with her.” She’s got things to do. Places to go. People to see. She’s growing up right before my eyes.
Not long ago she was a scared and confused 8 year old. Now she is a wise, and mature beyond her years, 13-year-old young woman. She wants the PTEN Foundation to flourish. She wants research, a patient database, and even a cure. She’s 13. There is time to get it right for her, and all the young ones being diagnosed after her. She has drive and ambition.
She chose a song to end her speech. She chose “Let it Go” from Frozen. She toyed around with a few songs, but this is the one that spoke to her, at this moment. This one got to her heart. And you could tell, as she belted it out acapella.
In the end, as people with full bellies, and big smiles, hugged us goodbye, they spoke of “next year.” They said this one was “the best yet.” We felt loved and full of gratitude.
And as we sorted through the finances, we were struck with something amazing. Jeans for Rare Genes 3 would be making a cumulative donation of just over $12,000 to the PTEN Foundation. This love, this event, these people, the generosity of so many, had generated an amazing amount.
Our hearts are full of gratitude.
A donation of over $12,000 to the PTEN Foundation. Because of you.
Thank you for valuing a cause that matters so much to my family. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for supporting us from near and far. Thank you for your never-ending generosity. Thank you for your prayers and good wishes.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-
This is the text of the speech Meghan delivered at this year’s “Jean’s for Rare Genes 2” Fundraiser. Regardless of the monetary totals, which will come in the next days to weeks, I can assure you it was a success.
I want to start by thanking you for attending this fundraiser here today. This is the second “Jeans for Rare Genes, a tradition I hope continues to grow each year.
I knew nothing at all about Rare Diseases until the fall of 2011. I was in 3rd grade. I went to a geneticist because I was having all sorts of medical trouble. He diagnosed me with Cowden’s Syndrome. A few weeks later he diagnosed my mom with the same thing.
Cowden’s Syndrome is a mutation (a break or a mistake) on the PTEN gene which is a gene that is supposed to keep the body from making tumors. Basically, when you have Cowden’s Syndrome, which is pretty rare (only 1 in 200,000 people) your body makes tumors. Sometimes they are benign, and sometimes they are cancer. It also causes my body to make vascular malformations, like the one in my right knee, that has caused me 6 surgeries all by itself. That is why with Cowden’s Syndrome we have to be watched all the time. There are so many doctors, so many things that need to be checked, and scanned and looked at, it can be really overwhelming.
You can’t catch Cowden’s Syndrome, it has to be inherited, like I got it from my Mom. You also can’t get rid of it. Once you have it, the only thing you can do is get checked, a lot.
I have had 16 surgeries so far, and I only turned 12 in August. That doesn’t even count for the doctor’s appointments, Emergency Room visits, scans, and never-ending blood tests.
When I first learned I had Cowden’s Syndrome, I went to a website called the Global Genes Project to learn of facts about rare diseases. I learned all sorts of interesting, and sometimes upsetting facts.
30 million people in the United States are living with rare diseases. This equates to 1 in 10 Americans or 10% of the S. population
80% of rare diseases are genetic in origin
Approximately 50% of the people affected by rare diseases are children
30% of children with rare disease will not live to see their 5th birthday
95% of rare diseases have not one single FDA approved drug treatment
Approximately 50% of rare diseases do not have a disease specific foundation supporting or researching their rare disease
I started out feeling like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I couldn’t understand why all these diseases existed and no one seemed to know or care. I found the “Global Genes Project” motto, “Hope it’s in our Genes” to be a comforting play on words. I identified myself with the denim ribbon, a powerful symbol of Rare Genetic Disorders. My Mom’s friend made me a denim ribbon necklace, and I felt like I had an identity piece, something that represented me.
At first I organized an assembly at my school, and in 4th grade we gave out denim ribbons to raise awareness. In 5th grade we had a fundraiser. We sold some T-shirts, and had a small event at the school. The money went to the Global Genes Project.
Last year, a charity was created called the PTEN Foundation. It is the first charity that looks to help people with our specific disease. They want to create a patient database, so people with our Syndrome can be studied and learned about. Then, maybe there will be a way to help us.
As happy as I was about the PTEN Foundation, by this time, I had learned about a lot of other Rare Diseases, and kids, who didn’t have a chance to live and do as much as I can. I promised myself I would always remember those kids when I did any fundraisers.
Last February, “Jeans for Rare Genes” happened at the Hilton Garden Inn. I wasn’t sure I could pull off anything that big, but with a vote of confidence from Borough President Oddo, and my Mom supporting my vision, it happened. 150 people showed up, and we raised over $12,000. True to my word, half of the money went to the Global Genes Project, and the other half went to the PTEN Foundation.
This year, I invited Bob Jackson, my favorite entertainer from Walt Disney World, to come and play piano at “Jeans for Rare Genes 2.” He is here with us today and I am so excited! We also have “Charlie Balloons,” back to help us again, and lots of great raffles from generous donors. This year, I think and hope we can raise a lot of money to send to the PTEN Foundation and the Global Genes Project.
One of the hardest parts of having a Rare Disease is one I don’t like to talk about too much. Middle school is tough enough, but when you spend more time at the doctor than at social gatherings, it gets tougher to fit in. I am glad that with Cowden’s Syndrome I don’t “look” sick, except it makes it even harder for people to understand why my life is so different.
I’ve gained an appreciation for the reality that “everyone has something,” and I work hard at not judging others, because everyone is fighting their own battle. I want to make more people aware that this is the case, and that is why raising awareness for Rare Diseases is so important to me.
The pressure of life, the surgeries, the hospitals, the worrying, the waiting, and the wondering, has done a lot to make me who I am. I don’t wish for anyone else to really understand this pressure, but I sometimes wish more people would understand me.
I have met a handful of people along the way, some in the most unlikely places. These people have provided me support through the pressure, and I am forever grateful.
I know I still have a lot of time to grow into the person I am supposed to be. I love swimming, and drama and singing. I do well in school, and I love being with my friends. I love helping others. I will continue to search out my “Corner of the Sky.”
As you watch the video I have prepared for you, you will see that despite the pressure of life, I will not ever be defined by my disease. I am determined to focus on a brighter future, and to channel my energy into making a real difference in this world.
I look forward to seeing what the future hold, and how the next chapter in my life turns out. I hope to see you at our event next year!
When you’re through reading take the time to appreciate her video, created by herself!
With another fall season upon us, life is in full blown crazy mode. And, to be honest, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Yesterday, my 12 year old FINALLY throughly enjoyed a Halloween. It was such a thrill to watch. FINALLY, she was able to trick or treat, EAT a few treats, AND keep up with some serious walking with friends.
Of course, she slept until almost 1 pm, even with the time change, and woke up unable to move her AVM knee. These are the repurcussions we expect. She is not “normal,” but when she can pretend for a while when it really counts… well that is a great success. And even as she lay still most of the day, she smiled. She sang. Joy.
Fall is full of things, and so far she’s managing nicely. With a marking period to end Friday, Pupil Path tells me grades are at an all time high. Practice 4 times a week has her swim times at an all time low. And, drama twice a week is leaving hopeful anticipation as “The Wizard of Oz” is soon to be cast.
She is working with me to plan our second fund raiser in February. We chose a date close to World Rare Disease Day, with the continued desire, and intention to bring awareness to our rare disease, and over 7,000 rare diseases worldwide that affect 10% of the world’s population. We are acutely aware that to be heard, we need to join collective voices. Individually we matter little to most of the healthcare system, overwhelmed, uneqipped to diagnose and treat us. Together is the only way we have a chance.
Last year we raised over $12,000 and donated it to the PTEN Foundation (www.PTENfoundation.org) and the Global Genes Project (www.GlobalGenes.org). This year we hope to exceed $20,000 in donations.
We have brought in Bob Jackson, a performer from Walt Disney World. He will be flying up to entertain our guests. Our whole family LOVES Bob, but Meghan especially will not hear of celebrating a birthday until Bob sings to her. We’ve spent her last 8 birthdays at Disney.
Here is a youtube video that is a great indicator of the FUN time Bob brings!
We have lined up sound with Partners in Sound, and we have Balloon Charlie returning to also help entertain the children.
We have established a children’s menu in hopes that families can enjoy the afternoon out together.
There will be raffles and lots of laughing.
There will be comfortable JEANS and good friends.
We are setting up a facebook group called Jeans for Rare Genes 2016 Staten Island, and we encourage you to join.
Meghan is living life as a 12 year old who just happens to have had 15 surgeries. She is a 12 year old who just happens to have a Rare Disease. She is a 12 year old who realizes that as challenging as life is, so many others suffer worse. She is my hero. She is MY role model.
Together we will make Jeans for Rare Genes a thrilling success. Hope to see you there!
Sometimes we need to pause. We pause only briefly, with hope of it lasting the whole week, and the reality that there will be interruptions along the way. We pause, knowing that pain is ever-present, acknowledging with gratitude any breaks we are granted. We pause knowing surgeries will always be forthcoming, but for right now they can wait. We pause because with the pace of this life it is easy to miss the little things, the important things. We pause to enjoy noise that is not NYC traffic, or the sound of a doctor’s office. We pause to quiet the phone calls that need answering. We pause so we are better prepared to battle this Cowden’s Syndrome. We pause to remind ourselves of the beauty, within our family, and around us in the world.
Last week we were in Walt Disney World, in Florida. It is our favorite, actually the ONLY vacation spot we have ever had as a family. We are fortunate to have celebrated Meghan’s birthday there for the last 8 years. Disney is crowded, and hot, and pricey, and all the things the haters of the big Mouse want to say. But, to the rest of us, there is a magic – a magic that endures regardless of age. It’s hard to describe it, unless you feel it, but we do. There is magic in avoiding doctors. There is magic in eating safe food from restaurants, and having a bakery that even makes cookies, and cupcakes for your gluten, dairy, soy free girl. So much of what we can’t do during the year is because of scheduling, and food. It seems silly, but with those obstacles gone, it is a recipe for success.
Even the negativity that tries to get at us, ultimately fails – https://beatingcowdens.com/2015/08/09/theres-nothing-wrong-with-that-girl/
The trip was one of the smoothest we have ever had. (Aside from me unpacking late the first night to realize I forgot the enzymes Meghan needs to eat! Fortunately I ALWAYS have extra, and Mom got them overnighted so they arrived in the nick of time Saturday. Tragedy averted. Magical.)
And I was only on the phone with one doctor. Once. The WHOLE WEEK!
I sometimes look at others vacation photos and think it would be nice, and perhaps a lot less costly, to change things up. It might be interesting to see a few new things. I would love to travel the country one day. But, there will be time for all of that – later. For now it’s about magic, and the treasure of having a preteen who still feels the magic in her heart.
There was plenty of time for me to walk. And think about whatever I wanted, or nothing at all. And we three started each day with our Isagenix… (fool me once – but never twice… for those of you who remember last year’s debacle!)
There were days I felt like I could go on forever…
And days to just be a little silly…
And as is the case every year when we pull away from our “home” for the week, I find my heart beating a bit faster. My mind begins to race back on track. And I don’t really like it.
This has been a wild summer. One too many doctor’s appointments, too few days of simple relaxation. And even as I am ALWAYS so conscious it could be much worse, I feel a bit of longing to do it all again, or maybe tack a few weeks on the back-end…
But, time does as it pleases, and eight days from now my girl will be recovering from another hand surgery.
We’ve begun to prepare for fall activities, and we are looking to sure up a date for our PTEN Foundation/ Global Genes Project fundraiser in February.