PTSD is real…

I catch the judgments when I mention PTSD to even those closest to us.

I have the utmost respect for our military, and our servicemen and women.  They are the front lines, defending us and keeping us safe.  They experience horrors I could not imagine, and I am daily grateful for them.  The PTSD many suffer is real and no one would ever question it.

But, just as l know that their’s is real, I am that sure it is real in my house too.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder does not stipulate the trauma.

Some days I try to ignore it.  I try to hide it. I try to work around it.  I try to pretend it’s not there.  I try to lean into the pressures of well-meaning friends and acquaintances alike that we should act “normal” so as not to marginalize ourselves.  I hear the logical statements about fitting in.  I hear them.

We talk about “everyone has something.”  We are acutely aware that we are not the only ones that suffer.  We are aware of our blessings.  We share those blessings with others when we can.  We listen compassionately.  We are believers in the notion that, “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours  back.”

We are aware that we can be perceived as aloof, or detached, or disinterested.  We are also aware that largely by circumstances and partly by our own design, we are alone.  We haven’t really ever spoken to you about why… We try to listen compassionately.  We try to be the people you need.  We try to be lighthearted and positive when we feel like we are being crushed.

When the diagnosis of PTSD was first given to me as part of an analysis of my beautiful daughter’s response to the constant traumas that had shaped her life, I was physically ill.  And then I was really sad.

And through the years I have tried to wish it away.  I have tried to convince and cajole and distract.  I have tried to rationalize. I have tried to blame myself.  I have tried to be angry.  I have tried to pray.  I have tried to walk it off.  I have tried to medicate it.

I have brought her to quality therapy.  I have introduced medication.  We have tried strategies.  We have tried simple grit.  We have never quit.  And there is progress.  But it is not easy.

I’ve been home a few weeks now with a foot that won’t heal.  I am trying to put into play some things that have been on the back burner for too long.  I am rediscovering my faith, and leaning back into the peace that has anchored my soul for so long.  I am learning new things, like the operating system on a new computer.  I am trying to find value in the waiting to heal.

I have also had some time to watch some old home videos, transferred from the portable video camera that was state of the art when our only child was born in 2003.

I look at some of those old videos and I laugh and smile.  And I hear the purity and innocence of a life untouched by physical and emotional pain, and the cruelty of the loneliness that often surrounds both.  And I laugh in spite of myself while the tears stream down my face.

We are strong.  We are determined.  We are compassionate.  We are intense.  We expect a lot from those around us, because we expect a lot from ourselves.  We are often isolated, marginalized, and left to live on the edge of all things social.

PTSD, the elephant in every room.

You see the diagnosis of Cowden’s Syndrome was not the start of it.  The first medical intervention was before the age of 6 months…

The years of hospitalizations, immune deficiency, chronic illness, food allergies, constant GI upset, speech, OT and PT services, led right into one surgery after another, with scans, doctors visits, and a few emergency room trips sprinkled in.  There were arrogant doctors and medical staff, ignoring that we were literally walking through fire trying to survive.  There were teams that would not communicate, and problems we had to try to solve on our own.  There were well meaning people in our lives asking if she was “better” because they could handle nothing other than a positive in the midst of this crazy, wild storm we were living in.

The diagnosis at the age of eight formalized the fact that we were definitely different.  It gave an answer while raising more questions and increasing the isolation, as parents scheduled play dates with children who became friends while we rode the FDR drive for hours after a day of work and school.  They went to the mall, or to the movies while we headed to PT to bring that knee back from surgery 4,5,6,7,8….  It was inevitable that the divide would grow.

I told her she could do anything.  And I meant it. I still mean it.

She is academically rock solid.  She is an athlete.  She is a good friend to those who let her be.  She is thirsty for knowledge.  She is insatiable in her desire to make the world better.

She’s also angry.  And its hard to see it.  It’s hard to feel it, and to watch it.  But, it’s real.  And it’s valid.  As much as we were able to do for her, the basic joys of childhood were taken from her.  From colic, to hospitals, to bullying so severe it almost broke her, to being just outside the edge of every circle or group…  A week in Disney every year helps, but even the Mouse doesn’t have a bandaid big enough.

We stay busy.  It is the best way.  But sometimes it breaks down.  This has been an extra tough week.  There isn’t one reason why.  It just is sometimes.

As I sat with her the other night and the memories of the most traumatic surgery turned my strong young lady back into a terrified 10 year old, I was reminded.  PTSD is very real.

It is real when the medical world is overwhelming you.

It is real when the pain is chronic.

It is real when the thought of getting out of bed is just too much.

It is real when you need the dog close by to even close your eyes.

It is real.

It is also real when you’re the youngest NYS Woman of Achievement in 2016 at the age of 12, or being honored with a Humanitarian Award at 15.

It is real when you’re holding a 3.9 GPA.

 

It’s real when you are achieving best times at Junior Olympics.

It’s real when you’re laughing with your high school swim team.

It is real when you’re in costume on the stage.

It’s just flat out real. And most of the time you have no idea what it looks like.  The costume is better than Broadway.  The mask is strong, crafted through years of survival instinct.

It never goes away, and yet it takes over without notice at the most inconvenient times.

PTSD is not an indicator of weakness, but rather of strength.  For living with it means you could have given up, but you are pressing on instead.

I’ve passed this advice to parents through the years who are new to our diagnosis.

“It is a lot to handle.”

Don’t underestimate.

It is hard to be kind to those who are different.  It is hard to be with people who are sometimes just “a lot.”  It is hard to care.

But the reality really is you just don’t know.  You don’t know the struggles facing anyone you pass by on the street.  You have no idea.

It’s neither a contest, nor a competition.

We are not perfect.  It is harder when the hurt is in its most raw periods.

But, we have goals.  And perhaps they go back to the “Golden Rule” of my youth.  “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”  

That means you keep paying it forward, without expecting it to be repaid to you.

If we all, ourselves included, can remember that everyone has real struggles, and we can all focus on kindness, I’m pretty sure we can start real change.

One smile, one inclusive invitation, one held door, one kind gesture at a time.

“Be kind always, because everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

#beatingcowdens

 

 

 

Check in…

grass is greener“The grass is always greener…”  Blah, blah, blah.

One of those phrases hard to hear, yet typically true.

I woke for work so many days wanting an extra day off, to do nothing.  A break from it all.  A weekend escape.  Me time.  On my terms.

And here I am.  Not on my terms at all. Finishing my seventh week in the “boot” with no end in sight, and daily trying to be diligent about restricting my movement.  All in the hopes the foot will finally heal enough for rehabilitation, and a return to the daily grind.  Isn’t it ironic?

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Seems to be how life goes  a whole lot.  A dear friend once told me, “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.”  Sage advice that I have frequently pondered through the years, but especially these last few weeks.  She stopped by and spent an amazing few hours helping to make some of the time melt away.

Someone sent beautiful flowers to my house last week.  They sat on my table and every time I rolled past them on my scooter I smiled.  Unexpected random act of kindness that lifted my heart.

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Someone sent me a text out of nowhere, just checking in.  The smile it gave me lasted for hours.

There is one who checks in to keep me involved in the day to day outside of what is currently a very small world.

Another sends me Instagram messages.  Simple Smiles.

check in

A dear friend stopped by with a bottle of Coke and left it in a bright pink bag on my porch.  She had taken the time to pick one up with my last name on it.  I try to generally be healthy, but a sugary real coke is often a weak spot.  She knows.  I will save it for a time when I’m really starving for company.  Maybe tomorrow?

I’ve been focusing as a chronically ill person would, checking boxes, and completing a variety of appointments that are necessary for the management of Cowden’s, yet sometimes interfere with my work day.

I’ve cleared a cardiology intake, and can now hope I need nothing more than an annual drive by.  I have “stacked” several appointments for Meghan on a Monday in January.  It will cost me the day (in my optimism that I’ll be there…) but it will save us a world of trouble going in once instead of three times.  I have filed claims, copied, faxed, sorted….

Meghan got 2 wisdom teeth pulled Friday, right in front of a 4 day weekend from school.  I’ve set her up with a new eye doctor for her annual screen on Election Day.  The eyeglass forms from the Union are on my table.  Felix and I need exams as well.  I’ve spoken to pharmacies, stayed on top of prescriptions and supplements.

6 month dermatology screen for both of us next Wednesday.

I have a few projects, a few things I hope to get focused on.  But, I am easily distracted.  And I am focused on my apple watch, and my step count, which I have been instructed to keep painfully low.

There are some nights, after using up my steps at any of the above appointments, that I’m stuck in my bed pretty early.

I have an app on my phone that has me reading the Bible more than I have done in far too long.  I love the way the books are illustrated in drawings first.

I also have an app that I can waste hours on bouncing bubbles.

I’m up to date on the DVR.  I watched “Diagnosis” on Netflix.

I’ve been researching some alternative pain management.

There is always a way to stay busy.  There is always something to research, to sort, to shred.  There is ALWAYS a way to better yourself, regardless of the restrictions.

What I don’t do is pick up the phone.  I don’t really reach out.  I’ve been battling for quite some time, and I work hard staying afloat. I get the job done, and I always will.  Failure is not an option.  Becoming a completely isolated introvert however, is.

It’s hard to reach out when you’re struggling.  I do my very best to broaden my senses and put small gestures in the direction of those I know might be having a hard time.  Just because you haven’t heard from them, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love a check in.  In this technology world where its so easy to say “I’m thinking of you…”  We should all try it more.

It’s not about grand gestures.  It’s about knowing you’re missed.  I’m not always as good about it as I could be for others. But, I’m working on it.

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That starts now.  Because if I feel this way, other people do too.  And if we can all check in and share a smile in whatever way we know how, it will make a difference.

And right now, I’ve got plenty of time, anxiously trying to heal this foot while…

#beatingcowdens

 

 

 

Experience Dictates Your Reality

I usually have a plan when I sit down to write.  Typically there is a topic, or a concept in my mind or on my heart.  But, as is clearly evident by the two months of silence on this page, I’m struggling.

Having a PTEN Mutation, and being the mom of a young lady with a PTEN Mutation of her own has been nothing short of life-changing.  Things that happen in our lives change the course of our travel along the path.  That statement is not even intended as a judgment, just a factual statement that most people can relate to.

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Sometimes when we are talking in the car, my girl and I play the game of “what if?”  It can be a dangerous game, or it can be cathartic.  For us it is typically the latter.  No matter how many ways we can come up with that things “would have” or “could have” happened, we are always sure that we have become who we are because of the turns our road has taken.  And, on most days, we like ourselves.

Experience does dictate your reality, though.

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Two or three people observing the same thing will interpret it to some extent based on the experiences that have brought them to this point in their lives.  That is neither a bad thing or a good one.  It simply is.  And to understand each other as humans, it is something we need to recognize.

One of Meghan’s Christmas gifts was a T shirt that says “Humankind- be both”

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It was chosen for her deliberately because it is something she believes and aspires to.  being in a high school experience where she meets many young adults from a variety of life circumstances, she is developing an even deeper understanding of the situations in our lives that create who we are.  She is happy there.  She is accepted there.  Life stories are understood, and often unspoken.

Where we have been, what we have seen, and what we do with those experiences are such an integral part of our lives.  Many of them we can control consciously and fully, while others take a lot more work to harness.  The hardest things to get control of lie deep in our own hearts and heads.

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The day after Christmas we made the gut-wrenching decision to put down our Lucky girl, a lab/ border collie mix that had been a part of our family since Christmas in 2005.  There was sparsely a memory Meghan had that did not include Lucky.  And the absence of the clicking of her paws and her animated noises leave our house a way too quiet.

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We have our beautiful April, a mutt rescued very quickly after our beloved Allie passed away in December of 2014.  Lucky needed April to distract her from her own broken heart.  And she did an outstanding job.  April is finding herself now, as an “only” while we all navigate through a new phase of life with one dog.

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If you have lost a pet you understand the gravity of the loss and how it changes the dynamic of the family.  If you have not, you’ll have to trust me.  Or not.  It’s up to you.

Three of us, well four if you count April, are grieving Lucky’s loss.  Yet, we are all doing it differently.  Lucky lived here, but she was Meghan’s dog.  She came in to our lives when Meghan was only 2.  Experiences were different for all of us, yet the depth of the loss runs deep.

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Experience and personal reality are intimately connected.

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Almost two weeks ago I fell at work.  Hard.  It was so frustratingly avoidable.  I caught my foot on a child’s chair.  My brain and my feet were not communicating.  There was nothing to break my fall except my shoulder as it hit the base of another chair.

I stayed on the floor for a few moments trying to recover.  Looking up at the faces of 30 third graders gasping “Are you OK?” I knew it was essential that I at least look the part rather quickly.  I got myself to my feet, mumbled an independent assignment for them and got to the phone to get some help.

After completing paperwork and gathering some ice, I was sent out to seek medical attention.  After spending a few hours having x-rays of a foot, two knees and a shoulder, I was sent home to ice and rest.  I was also told to contact my plastic surgeon.

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No it was not a disfiguring fall, except part of what broke the fall was also the right breast implant.  The one just under the still slightly off-color shoulder.  It felt very “off” and it was impossible to ascertain whether the fall had somehow caused the implant to rupture.  I needed an MRI.

I could not get any associate of my surgeon to physically see me.  The fall was on a Tuesday, and my doctor ONLY sees patients on Monday.  So I was left to schedule the MRI and wonder.

The looming appointment was not nearly as bothersome as the wonder.

People fall every day.  Depending on age, physical fitness, the circumstances of the fall, they will all have a different reaction. If you have a PTEN Mutation, which led to a breast cancer diagnosis and a double mastectomy at the age of 38, and that double mastectomy was followed by silicone implants, which already had to be replaced in 2016, and you fall on and near one of the implants from a height of about 5 foot 7, well your reaction might very well be to worry about that implant.  Mine was.

I just wanted someone to look at it.  I wanted someone to tell me the visible changes were not to be worried about.  But, no one would do that.  So I was left alone, home healing, with full access to the internet.

DANGER.

While I have learned a good deal of what I know about my body and Meghan’s through skillful sorting through ‘fake’ and ‘real’ information, equally available on the internet, I now had plenty of time to investigate what had been a mention weeks earlier in one of my on-line support groups.

Breast implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or (BIA-ALCL) is something I never heard of until it was brought up in discussion by another patient with Cowden’s Syndrome.  I now had all the time in the world to fully investigate and I was getting furious.  While I do not put my faith fully in any source, I will link in FDA pages here.  A careful eye will notice that most links when searching this condition are plastic surgeon sponsored.

https://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/productsandmedicalprocedures/implantsandprosthetics/breastimplants/ucm239995.htm

https://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/productsandmedicalprocedures/implantsandprosthetics/breastimplants/ucm064106.htm

For those of you interested, clicking the links above is likely to give you information you never heard before.  Unless maybe your surgeon was much more forthcoming than mine.

I was relieved to learn I had the “smooth” textured implants, the ones least likely to lead to BIA-ALCL.  I was disturbed to read the FDA recommendation the implants be evaluated via MRI 3 years after initial surgery and every 2 years after.  No one had ever mentioned an MRI to me post mastectomy.  Ever.  But that shouldn’t be a surprise.  A complete search of all my paperwork from the initial implant surgery and the revision failed to uncover ANY documentation of ANY potential additional cancer risk.  Being diagnosed with a condition that had greatly increased my likelihood of so many cancers, I may have thought things through differently.  Maybe I would not have.  But regardless I would have felt as though I had made informed decisions.

Now I was just mad, hurt, and violated.

And, I was dealing with a trauma to the area surrounding this foreign object in my body, causing visible swelling, with no one to calm my angst.

breast mri

By the time I got the call post-MRI that there was no rupture, I also read the report that said basically nothing other than the stability of the implant was evaluated.  A wordy disclaimer.

Risk of BIA-ALCL is rare.  There is no documentation as to whether our subgroup is any more affected.

It doesn’t matter anymore.  I will at some point in the not so distant future move to have these objects removed.  “Superfluous tissue” is what my mom called her breasts 22 years ago when they were removed.  She never had implants.  She’ll be 70 next month and is feisty as a firecracker.

I think I found my motivation to stay thin and spry.

Our experiences influence our reality.  All this from an unfortunate fall.  Even as I sit here almost 2 weeks later, the pain in my foot telling me I’m not sure there is not an un- diagnosed fracture there, I have to wonder if that fall was that unfortunate after all.

I decided finally on a primary care practice.  I stopped looking for one who knew or cared to know anything about Cowden’s Syndrome.  Instead I found one capable of screening me for the things any 45 year old needs to be screened for.  I think I may finally be at peace with that decision.  I had “well-visit” bloodwork Saturday, and I will have my visit with the staff’s FNP on Wednesday. I will talk to her about my basic asthma and allergy medications, as well as the script I usually hold for occasional migraines.  I suspect all that will go well.

Then I will talk to her about the fluid in my right ear.  The fluid that has been there for at least 5 months.  An ear ache in early September brought me to urgent care.  That repeated 3 more times, in October, November and December.  Each time there was an antibiotic.  Once there was a referral to a sub-par ENT who have me a steroid.  Sometimes the fluid leaks out of my ear while I sleep.  Sometimes I swear its finding it’s way out of my eyes.

My mother has terrible sinus problems.  She has since she’s been my age.  It’s probably rotten genetics not PTEN related.  Mucinex keeps me away from infection and eliminates the pressure for 4 or 5 hours at a time.  But this many months of Mucinex has a tendency to make the spleen angry.  And I don’t want to get sidetracked talking about those splenic lymphangiomas.

I want an MRI of the sinuses.  I want to know nothing sinister is going on.  Then I want to see the ENT who did the surgery to save my voice 2 years ago.  I’m hoping we can get that process started on Wednesday.

The calendar is foreboding.  We are heading into a doctor cycle – both of us.  And while I am grateful for the lull, I get familiar feelings of anxiety and dread as I lock the long afternoons in traffic into the calendar.

My daughter has the formal diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder secondary to medical trauma.  There are people who like to pass judgment on that.  I wish they wouldn’t.

Her service dog will come eventually.  People will have a lot to say then too.  I won’t notice because I will be exuding gratitude at all times.

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be kind always.

The struggle is real.

Experience dictates your reality.

The trick is to realize while everyone leads a different life, that reality is the same for all.

Humankind – be both.

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#beatingcowdens

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forever…

When I married my husband I committed to forever.  It was a good call.

When we decided to have a child, we understood she would be our baby forever.  No regrets.

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But some time in the fall of 2011 a doctor diagnosed both of us with a rare genetic disorder.  This forever, well, this one we did NOT sign up for.

At first there was no time to process the concept of forever as it connected to Cowden’s Syndrome.  There was too much to do.

Neither of us had an “easy” medical history, so putting a name on it had its pros and cons.  But, we were handed lists of appointments to make and things that suddenly needed immediate attention.  We were quickly schooled on tumor growth and cancer risks.  We were told to remain vigilant, and that we would be “fine”.

Stay Alert

There was no time to process as 2012 had a traumatic thyroid biopsy in January and an embolization for her Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) in her knee in February.  Then, there was my double mastectomy and my “surprise” cancer diagnosis in March, followed too closely by my hysterectomy in May.  And soon after that hysterectomy, Meghan had breast, pelvic and kidney and bladder sonograms.  There was also another MRI of the knee, and two thyroid ultrasounds that brought in 2013 with a surgical thyroid biopsy.

2012 was salvaged largely by a third grade teacher who I swear was an angel placed in our path.  Because there was real life too.  There was work, and school, and activities, and appointments that were quickly starting to overwhelm.

There was probably close to 2 years after the initial diagnosis before I even looked up.  And, when I did I had a whole host of emotions.

Forever had taken quite a toll on my girl.  Tough as nails.  Driven.  Strong.  Focused.  Always.  But, apprehensive, concerned and full of worry she was way too young to have to shoulder.

Forever.  I did my best to keep as much “normal” as I could.  Early therapists cautioned not to let the disease “define” us.  I kept the schedule delicately balanced between the necessary medical screenings and the “fun” activities.  She needed to be “like everyone else”.  So there was swim, later theater, some voice lessons, all interspersed with surgeries too many to recount again.  Some traumatizing, some annoying, some isolating, and some worrisome.  All time-consuming.  Some required physical rehabilitation, and others emotional.

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Forever.  The highway became our bonding place.  She could read and do some homework in the car.  We scheduled appointments on holidays as often as we could.  We scheduled appointments after school.  It made for some long days- often traveling 2 hours each way, and waiting forever in the offices- but we did it to preserve school attendance, and to keep her at as many activities as we could.

Forever.  She grew up.  Not just physically, but mentally.  She has broad shoulders, literally from hours of butterfly, and metaphorically from carrying way more than she should at her age.  The knowledge that this is her forever is difficult for all of us.  We make the best of it.  We talk about how grateful we are to know what to look for.  But, that gratitude, while sincere, can never replace the innocence of youth.  Innocence lost.  Forever.

Forever.  The wait time at most appointments is close to forever.  No one typically knows what to say to us.  They look at what they need to.  They offer some empathy, sometimes.  Then, sometimes out loud, and sometimes in their heads, they show gratitude that they are not fully responsible for us.  We wait hours and hours so often.  We have learned patience.  We have learned to quietly accept that if they “google” us before, it means they actually care.  We are rare.  We are 1 in 200,000.  This diagnosis is forever.

late doctor

This summer we have already gone to our 16th appointment between us.  There are 4 more just next week.

Yet, this summer she performed with a wonderful, talented, warm and welcoming group of young people at Staten Island Children’s Theater Inc. in a production of “Legally Blonde Jr.”  They like her.  Some of them know what she does with the rest of her life, and others don’t, and it’s all okay there.  They give me hope that some people, teenage people and adults as well,  are just good people.

She has been at swim practice most mornings between 6:15 and 8:15.  She has spent this week in small group lessons for swim from 8:30-3.

She has accomplished a good deal of her summer work for school.  She had peppered in the appointments in the crevices hidden in the schedule.

Forever.  The reality is not lost.  But, I am so proud.  So proud of how hard she works to stay in this world, while living in the world of chronic pain and rare disease.  It is hard work.  She does it pretty gracefully most days.

Forever.  Perhaps I could use a lesson or two from her.

Somewhere in the midst of this medical whirlwind we live.  Somewhere in the midst of working full-time, and managing surgeries and appointments, and life as it happens to all of us, I have lost track of myself.

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Forever.  I have one speed.  I operate in constant motion, or I am asleep.  There is rarely any middle.  The yellow legal pad is to the right of my computer, capturing every thought.  The iPhone calendar alerts me to the plans of the day.  My house, although not as clean as I’d like it, is in constantly good order.  It is a control issue.  I will own it.  There is so much flashing by in the blink of an eye, I can be sure to get the dog fur off the floor once a day, and know that it actually got done.

Forever.  I’ve lost touch with most of my friends.  Life is busy, theirs and ours.  There are only so many times you can tell the same story to people.  Our story could be recorded.  It just repeats itself.  Doctor, testing, surgery, follow-up, rehabilitation, next body part, routine appointment, maintenance, worry about a potential problem, 6 months to watch it…  I used to have other things to talk about.  Now I would be one of those people I used to laugh at on night-time TV.  I am so out of touch with the world.  My experiences are significant, but without variety.  They are heavy and too much for most people to hear.  There are no answers.

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Forever.  The summer will pass.  We will force in a vacation and we will hold those days to be without doctors, and without summer assignments.  Then, we will do our best to put our feet in sand once.  Just to listen to the water.  We will try to get a few people to swim in our pool, so the activities of opening and closing it are not totally futile.

Forever.  Life is busy.  Too busy.  And that’s not just a Cowden’s Syndrome thing.  I heard of three deaths this week.  All three tragic.  One at age 19, one at 31, and another a bit older.  Tragedy.  They had plans.  They did not think their forever was going to end this week.

Forever.  My conscious mind doesn’t need but a split second to list dozens of real and significant blessings.  There are countless things in my life that bring me to my knees in gratitude.  But, the inner conflict is strong.  With the knowledge of the wonder and beauty in my life, I should be able to take this diagnosis, this “Forever” that is Cowden’s Syndrome, and put it in its place.

Forever.  The struggle is real.

Forever.  Stopping to find the moment, and to embrace the joy right now is not as easy as it sounds.  I can talk the talk better than anyone.  The raw truth is that I can not always walk the walk.

Our Cowden’s sisters and brothers span the globe.  Estimates are about 1,800 of us are in the United States.  I do not know the world numbers.  I know some of the people though.  One in Australia just underwent 2 MORE brain surgeries a few weeks ago.  Another, a teen who is with her Mom in Cleveland right now is waiting for news that is surely churning mom’s heart.

Forever.  It’s such an arbitrary concept sometimes.  I became a wife with the intent of forever in my heart.  I became a mother with that same intention.  But Cowden’s Syndrome threw forever at us.  It’s got the same dictionary definition, but not the same feel.

Someone asked me recently why I can’t just take time off, or block my appointments so we have “breaks”.  The truth is, I try.  Doctors want what they want in terms of follow-up, and being vigilant means I need to comply.  Most visits run us a minimum of 4 hours round trip.  Many can not be “stacked”.  I have a full-time job.  I have a high school honor student.  We need to be at work and school.  I suspect those who ask are just trying to help.  But, it makes me feel like maybe if I just tried harder…

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Forever.

It took me 7 weeks to write this post.  My attention span is not what it used to be.  I have a whole lot of reasons to keep making this work.  Forever.  I am blessed.  I am grateful.  I am tired.  I am human.

This blog was started in hopes that people stumbling upon it would read the story of a real family, fighting the same thing they are.  With that comes real, raw, and honest emotion.

Forever is beautiful when you connect it to things you signed up for.

Forever is not so easy when it connects to a rare disease that wants to grow things throughout your body.

Forever.  It is promised to none of us, that forever will last longer than today.  It is our decision what we do with the gift of the time we have.

I am a work in progress.  I am a wife.  I am a mother.  I am a survivor.  I am worth the hard work.

Today I will start by opening all the blinds.  Time to look at the sunshine.  Time to look at the blue sky and the flowers.  Time to breathe. In and out.

One step at a time.

We  will remain

#beatingcowdens

Forever.

 

 

 

 

Rare Disease Day- Video Recap

World Rare Disease Day is February 28th.  People all over the world will work to raise funds and awareness for over 7,000 Rare Diseases worldwide.  In our house things are buzzing, as we prepare to teach the world a bit more about Cowden’s Syndrome.rdd-logo-2

There will be so much time to write.  Soon.  Right now we are preparing for Rare Disease Day 2017 and “Jeans for Rare Genes 3.”  All the preparing brought me back to her video from last year.  And then I looked at the year before, and the one before that.  And I was struck by how much she has grown, not only in her technological ability, but also as an advocate, and a voice, and a human.

There will be no video this year.  It was time for a change of pace.  But, I thought it appropriate to post these here, now.  She keeps me grounded.  She keeps me going.

And then there was this…

http://blog.silive.com/gracelyns_chronicles/2017/02/inspirational_staten_islander.html

Together we remain

#beatingcowdens

Enjoy!

The Best You Can…

Friday we met a good doctor.  A new endocrinologist.  He is young.  He is friendly.  He is smart.  He is ready to be a doctor to Meghan.  I am grateful.

Friday Mom got her second cataract done and checked before the storm.  So necessary for more than visual acuity.  It just needed to be done.  I am thankful.

I was about to say today was one of those days where you have to focus on your perspective, and it will define your outcome.  But, really that’s every day, isn’t it?

We woke up under about 30 inches of snow here in NYC.  Now the thing about living in NYC is that you have to learn, as the Marines say, to “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.”  Because nothing really stops.  At least not for long.

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Yesterday there were travel bans.  Yesterday we were to stay off the roads.  Today we are told that the City’s 1 million school children will report to school tomorrow, and with them, their thousands of teachers and support staff will report as well.

In many boroughs this is not such a big deal.  Public transportation is at the ready.  Moving around is easy.

Not the case here on Staten Island.  Almost everyone travels by car.

Yesterday Felix tried to keep on top of the snow.  It was fruitless.

Last night an ambulance got stuck in front of my house.  My husband and a neighbor dug them back to a main road.  We said a prayer for the person they were headed to, and continued on our night.


This morning, we woke early got the shovels and the snowblower.  He started at one end, and I at the other.  But in the front of the house I was met by my neighbors.  We groaned a bit, and pleasant conversation ensued as we gave each other a hand.

At one point the conversation turned to Meghan’s footwear.  Somehow.  And as I explained that she has 2 different sized feet, and we buy 2 different shoes and toss the opposites, she seemed stunned.  And I said soon after we toss the opposites we sit for a moment in gratitude for 2 working feet, and a financial situation that allows us to pay our credit card bills.  She smiled.  She gets it.  She’s had life struggles of her own.

We got the cars free.  We set ourselves up to hope for the best for tomorrow.

Then Felix headed with Ken to shovel out my grandparents.

Grandma, when memory came easier to her, used to sing, ” Count your many blessings, count them one by one…”

Grandma is 95 and Pop is 96.  Life is more challenging for them than it ever was before.  Yet there are so many blessings.  They have neighbors that help clear pathways when we can’t get to them.  They have a tenant who is a friend, who looks in on them and keeps us posted.  They are really special, and we are grateful for the kindness of those they interface with daily.

When he got home, my husband stole a quick meal and headed out to make an igloo and a snowman with Meghan, after a romp in the snow with the dogs.  He is a good husband, and a good Dad.  A really good man.
   
Some time this afternoon my phone rang.  It was an internet friend looking for some reassurance.  I think I was able to give it.  Keep your heart and mind focused.  Stay physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy.  Do the best you can with what you have, where you are.  Always.

Tomorrow Meghan will see the knee surgeon.  Time to follow-up on a less than stellar MRI/MRA experience the week before last.  Time to check on the status of the AVM.  Holding my breath that it’s behaving.  Tomorrow I will hope all the main roads from here to NYC are plowed well, and I will gratefully pay to park in an overpriced lot.  Perspective.

We are actively engaged in “Jeans for Rare Genes 2,”  working on everything from ticket sales to journal ads to raffles.  My Meghan is ready to channel this week’s pain into a focused goal.  Meghan wants the PTEN foundation to have the money they need to create a patient database.  Vision.

JFRGflyer7

Every day we are given a choice.  Many choices.  Life is not all peaches and cream.  Not for any of us.  Some days I struggle.  Most days I know which side of the bus the sit on.

everyday-u-make-a-choice1

Here’s to hoping for an easy safe parking spot at work tomorrow, a mind eased from the worry of loved ones, and a smooth trip to NYC.

 

The Speed of Life

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I am always amazed by the speed of life.

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

Rare Disease Day Fundraiser

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

PTEN logo global genes logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

help from my friends

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

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

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

friends uplifts-the-soul

We have to try to slow things down.  Sometimes.

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

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

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

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

“Butterfly is my favorite!”

keep-calm-and-swim-butterfly

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

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

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

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

“If… Probably…”

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

The speed of life can be overwhelming.

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

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

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

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