To Do Lists, Digital Footorints and Random Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet, we WILL make it- all of us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Meghan Ortega saved her Mother’s Life

12 Year Old With Rare Genetic Disorder Chosen as Inspirational Islander

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

12 Surgeries in 11 Years- Living with Cowdens Syndrome

Meghan Ortega- NYS Senate

I’ll take that top five any day.

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

Meghan in her elementary school with one of her idols- Borough President James Oddo
Meghan in her elementary school with one of her idols- Borough President James Oddo
An old one - when Meghan was named "Hero of the Month" by Child Life after an early surgery
An old one – when Meghan was named “Hero of the Month” by Child Life after an early surgery
SI Children's Museum Achievement Luncheon Award
SI Children’s Museum Achievement Luncheon Award
Rare Disease shirts from the PTEN Foundation
Rare Disease shirts from the PTEN Foundation
One of my most proud - NYS Woman of Distinction, nominated by Senator Lanza in May 2016
One of my most proud – NYS Woman of Distinction, nominated by Senator Lanza in May 2016

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

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

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

2017 Event Flyer
                                                                       2017 Event Flyer

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

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

#BeatingCowdens together

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

On Your 13th Birthday…

 

scan0003August 9, 2016

Dear Meghan,

As I sit to write this some time in the middle of the night, I am reminded of the early years, when so many of the middle of the night hours belonged to the two of us.  Yes, Meg, I said YEARS.

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You struggled my girl, but your determination was evident early, like the day the NICU nurse called you feisty.  She was right.  And it has proven to be one of your finest and most valuable attributes.

When I look back on pictures of those early years, it doesn’t seem all that bad.  I guess I never had time or desire to photograph some of those tear-stained days.  And maybe. if it wasn’t for the colicky cry seared into my brain, I might have even come to forget that you considered sleep optional, crying and screaming mandatory, and that carrier pouch a requirement for all things.  At one point we had even taken to calling you a kangaroo baby…

You and your tired Mommy!
                               You and your tired Mommy!

But, I look at the babies in those pouches,  And I think to those mother’s “enjoy it.”  You might find this hard to believe my dear, but there is not a single minute I would change or do over.  Every step along this journey with you has BEEN the journey.  And I have the deepest gratitude that God selected me to be your mother.

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The path hasn’t been easy.  Sometimes it’s been rocky, and a little unsettled.  Other times its been like traveling through fire. On a bicycle.  With no handlebars.  Backwards. But, I think we’ve all found pieces of ourselves we never knew existed, and there is a family bond between you, and me and Daddy that so many envy.  Not for what we’ve done or where we’ve been, but rather the fact that we have done, and continue to do it all together.

At eight years old, you were tossed a diagnosis of a Rare Disorder, a 1 in 200,000 PTEN Mutation called Cowden’s Syndrome, that has leveled many grown adults.  But, by eight years old, you were already seasoned at doctors, OT, PT, and speech.  You’d been there, and were still doing dome of that.  At 8 you were intimately aware of what it meant to spend hours waiting for doctors, and you had a clearer visual of an operating room than anyone should ever have.  So really, in reality, that diagnosis just pushed us in the right direction to continue to help you become who you were meant to be.

It’s rotten to be the “unusual one”  the one with all the risks and the need for that “hyper-vigilant” surveillance.  But, I’m thankful.

See without Dr. Jill to push us to your diagnosis, without all those things falling into place, it’s likely I wouldn’t be here to write this. Your diagnosis led to mine,  and while I am intimately connected with the reality there is no guarantee of tomorrow on this earth for any of us, my heart is sure that you, my angel, my gift, you my dear saved my life.

I watch you with each passing year, and the challenges pile on top of themselves.   And we both sometimes want to stop the presses and scream, “IT’S NOT FAIR” and the top of our lungs.  but then we laugh.  “Fair” is just a silly word anyway.   It’s not the perspective we use.  It’s not worth our time.

You approach this birthday with 17 operating room trips under your belt, and too may ER visits and, tests, and hospitalizations to count. You have had to make decisions, and think thoughts that are beyond the scope of what you should contend with.  But with grace and dignity you proceed, because none of that is what defines who you are.

Grace,. Poise. Strength under pressure.
               Grace. Poise. Strength under pressure.

 

Despite unimaginable pain, you press on.  Your body would not allow for dancing school or soccer.  But the competitor in you was not to be silenced.  Running was out of the question, so now you “fly,” in the water, 11 months a year 4-5 days a week for hours.  You pull energy out of the crevices of your toes to push through when most would curl up and give up.

First season swimming, a few weeks in. Spring 2013
             First season swimming, a few weeks in. Spring 2013
2016 Working on her "fly"
                              2016 Working on your “fly”

You press on in the community, focused to raise the necessary founds the PTEN foundation will need to create our patient database.  But, you will not turn your back on the charity where you began, Global Genes, “for the babies who can’t speak for themselves,” you tell me.  You make flyers, select venues, advertise and collect raffles.   You speak at schools and organizations across the Island who will have you, to raise awareness that rare diseases are everywhere.  For the last 2 Februaries we have celebrated Rare Disease Day with almost 200 people, gathered because you have a mission.

Youngest “Woman of Distinction” recognized in Albany by Senator Lanza in May.  Proudest parents.

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I watch you talk to people and I swell with pride.  When you’re intermittently stuck in that wheelchair you hate, you decided to help the doubters, the starers and those passing judgment.  A simple business card with a phrase you helped create “Cowden’s Syndrome – Rare. Invisible. Real.”  It starts a conversation, or it ends the behavior.  Either way you manage with grace to rise above.

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You take the high road so many times a day.  I know it’s not easy.  And I know there are people in your path every minute determined not to make it easy.  But, truth be told, as we are learning, there are others out there.  There are real people, at swimming, at youth group, at SICTA.  There are real people who are finally recognizing that you are pretty spectacular. And I don’t mean that in a ‘who is better than who’ way.  I mean it in it’s best sense.  Everyone is spectacular in some way.  You just learned it a little early.

As you turn 13 this week, I wish you so many things, from the depths of my heart and soul;

*Never lose the magic.  Ever.

ALWAYS remember THAT feeling.
                                        ALWAYS remember THAT feeling.

*Never compromise yourself for anyone.  Remember that doesn’t mean to be brick wall stubborn.  It means to keep those morals.  Rise above.

*Always remember no matter how wild and crazy the world gets, you’ve got two parents who will love you regardless… and that is a PROMISE.

*Smile, sing, laugh, act, dance, be sarcastic, and sensitive, and guarded and silly, with a healthy touch of humor thrown in.  Do it all always with respect.

*Continue to constantly take every obstacle tossed at you, and it toss it back, or walk past it and move on. When they tell you you can’t, find a way to show them you can.

*Never let anyone make you feel less than.  You, you are enough.  You are always enough.  God said so, and He is smarter.  Trust.

*”Be the change you wish to see in the word.” – Ghandi

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Your teenage years will be a giant path of self-discovery.  It won’t always be smooth.  But nothing is.

Be you, and it will fall into place.  And in the off chance that none of that works, I’m not going anywhere.

I love you from the bottom of my heart.  You truly are the child I was meant to have, and there is NO ONE I’d rather be #beatingcowdens with, than YOU!

Happy 13th Birthday!  You will always remain, “My Most Thankful Thing!”

I love you ALWAYS,

Mom

Thanks for bringing out the best in me. I love you more than you know.
        Thanks for bringing out the best in me. I love you more than you know.

Aunt Em, Arista, Albany, and (Almost) an Ambulance

THAT would be the alliteration to sum up the week that was, Thursday May 5th – Thursday May 12th.

Sometimes I get annoyed at myself that this blog gets neglected.  Then I realize it’s because sometimes I have to LIVE the life, before I can write about it.

It was a rocky month leading into the much anticipated school play.  Her health was questionable.  She spent most of Spring Break recovering from some random illness.  Attendance at swim has been spotty, a true sign she’s not herself, but after attending the Swim Team’s annual banquet the night before, she was ready for “The Wizard of Oz Jr.”

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Meghan with the drama teacher that helped her find a piece of herself.
Meghan knew she liked the stage.  She didn’t know  until she met her drama teacher in 6th Grade, that she also enjoyed acting, and singing.  Her father and I were stunned when we heard her for the first time.  Thank goodness for teachers… she may never have found this outlet.  And it has been such a wonderful thing.  She has met some really great kids, and has had fun along the way.

She was so excited to play Aunt Em in this year’s play, and even more excited because “Dorothy” was being played by a trusted ally, a rare commodity on Meghan’s life.  It made the role easier to get into, and to play with her whole self.

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Meghan and her friend “Dorothy”

Four shows in two days tired them out, but the standing ovation to almost a packed house at the Intermediate School Friday night showed all their efforts to be worth it.

Meg slept almost all day Saturday. This is how it works.  We play trade.  For those of you familiar with the “Spoon Theory,”  (http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/)  we often borrow off the weekend “Spoons.”  We don’t get out much, but it keeps things working.  She woke some time around 2:30 PM Saturday when I roused her.

chronic-fatigue-spoon-theory

Sunday was Mother’s Day.  We visited some special mothers, caught up on some homework, and finished a project.  Monday was school as usual, followed by her second year induction into the National Honor Society, (Arista) followed by preparing for Tuesday’s trip to Albany.

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Mother’s Day 2016

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Arista 2016
Some time over the spring break I was contacted by the office of Senator Andrew Lanza.  Apparently, every year, every Senator gets to select a “Woman of Distinction” to be honored at a special ceremony in the Capitol in Albany.  We were amazed, and humbled that he had chosen Meghan.  The youngest to ever receive the honor, he was attracted to her spunk, her determination, and her “can do” attitude.  He liked that she didn’t wait to grow up to start doing something.  He liked that she was 12 and making a difference now.

So on Tuesday morning, Felix, and Meghan and I set out on the 2.5 hour journey to Albany.  The trip was smooth, until we got a tiny bit lost in Albany, but we were easily saved and set right by the Senator’s staff.  Nancy had us in the right direction in no time.

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Every “Woman” had a bio on the wall. We also got a beautiful book with all the bios inside!
We got to the Senator’s Office and enjoyed a wonderful lunch.  We got to sit on the Senate floor, and watch some of the Senate in session.  We walked around the building, and enjoyed the afternoon.

The ceremony began at 5:30 and probably my only regret was that I couldn’t record every moment to replay in my brain forever.  It was one of our proudest hours as parents.

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https://www.nysenate.gov/initiatives/women-distinction

(If you click the blue link above, Meghan is on Page 44.)


The reception that followed allowed for some conversation with Senator Lanza.  An incredibly intelligent, down-to-earth, “regular,” guy kept Meghan chatting for well over an hour.  We took pictures, laughed, and she even secured an internship for the summer after her freshman year in High School.

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Meghan and Senator Andrew Lanza
The drive home got us in the door around 11.  We were asleep by 12 and ready for school and work the next morning.  Tired, but determined, she even made swim practice.

Thursday I dropped her at school regular time.

By 8:20 my phone was ringing with the school nurse’s number.  She was not well, and they were frightened.  They wanted to call an ambulance.  Knowing where that would lead I begged her to wait.  I went into automatic, and with an incredibly understanding group of colleagues and administrators, I was at her school in under 10 minutes.

When I arrived the color had begun to return to her face.  She was weak, but able to focus on me.  I told them I could take care of it, and I signed her out while they wheeled her to my car.  Once in the house I waited a good 3 hours.  No sign of a problem.

Rice noodles and flat ginger ale did her in inside of 20 minutes.  I can honestly say in her 12 years I’ve never ever seen her that sick.  She was in so much pain, periods of time were missing from her memory.  I was terrified.  But, foolishly or not, I held out.  She was hydrated.  I wasn’t taking her to the hospital here.  Not again.  And I knew we were meeting a new GI in the city Friday.  If she could just hold on…

And she did.  Because for almost 24 hours I just didn’t feed her.  She slept most of it anyway.  But, I’ve decided hydration wins, and food can wait.  It worked.  By Friday night she was almost back to herself.

Yesterday she swam in a CYO meet.

My head spins.  And the tales I tell here are simply HER end of the week.  Add in the routine, and the mundane, and…  it’s been a long week.

I have work to do.  Lots of it.  It’s in a big pile right here next to me.  There were plenty of things that “should” have been done that weren’t.  And you know what?  We’re OK.  The house is in one piece.  The Board of Health isn’t coming to inspect my extra dog hairs on the floor.  The laundry isn’t folded.  But it will get done.

Tonight I put me first for an hour, and putting me first is getting the week out of my system right here.  Just me, my thoughts, and a glass of wine.

Cowden’s Syndrome – you’ve got some good fight in you, but we are stronger.  We will take you every time.

We are #BEATINGCOWDENS!

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