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!

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! 😉 )

 

 

 

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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This Matters

A few weeks ago, as we were preparing for World Rare Disease Day, my principal allowed Meghan to speak to my school.  She did an assembly for the entire school, first grades 3-5 and then grades K-2.

In both assemblies she showed her video, although we clipped the beginning from the little guys.

In both assemblies she spoke about Cowden’s Syndrome, following her mission to raise awareness.

Our Student Council actively worked to collect denim as part of a fundraiser for the mission.  They were amazing.

One little girl, our first grade friend Emma shared her journal with Meghan.

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Meghan and Emma
                                                     Meghan and Emma

Then she shared the journal with the whole school.  We are so proud of Emma and thankful for her bravery.  It felt really good to know the mission of awareness was working, coupled with intelligent compassion as young as first grade!

We had the fundraiser on the 21st of February.  The $13,000 has been dispersed, but the lessons remain.

Children in my hallways ask about “Meghan” as if she is one of them.  They want to know how she is, and what she’s up to.  A few even ask when she is coming back.  These are the young, bright eyed reasons I love my job.

Plus one more

About 2 weeks ago a young lady sought me out to give this to me.  This was a labor for her, truly a labor of love.  Writing is not easy, but clearly compassion is a natural emotion for her.

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We are getting somewhere.  Meghan wants the world to know.  With promising children like this on her side, she’s developing the advocates young.

With much love and gratitude, we remain

#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.

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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…

 

Meghan’s Rare Disease Day Video and Speech 2016

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.

  • There are approximately7,000 different types of rare diseases and disorders, with more being discovered each day
  • 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!

Local Newspaper Coverage

This is already all over for my local friends, but for anyone else who is interested, this article was written for our local newspaper. It will publish in print Monday, but is in the online paper today. Click the link below.

http://blog.silive.com/gracelyns_chronicles/2016/01/post_23.html#incart_river_mobile_home

 

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