We should be professionals around here. We should just get up, get going and move on.
But we are human.
We hurt, inside and out.
We get tired, and lonely.
We understand the tired and lonely that others have too – but some days it doesn’t make ours better.
Some days its hard to look at things from someone else’s point of view.
And that’s OK.
Meghan is full of exhaustion and pain and conflicting emotions.
It’s annoying to realize you blew your whole summer at doctors and in surgery.
Thankfully we snuck in that Disney trip.
I can, and I do, take solace from my Facebook friends- the ones I know for real, and the web of Cowden’s survivors I have become intertwined with.
She has a smaller network. Mostly because I don’t think she is capable of realizing the effect she has on the lives of so many others.
Yet, she is my hero. And my rockstar.
I shuffled her around these last few days a lot more than I wanted to. But, she likes to stay close by me when she is hurting.
So yesterday we picked up the car. Apparently the “Magic Wand Guy” (Field tech) ran out of pixie dust. He declared my car “not broken.” Ironic because 2 weeks ago the same shop who held it for 10 days said they couldn’t fix it.
It’s definitely still broken. On to the arbitration with the Better Business Bureau. Just in case someone thought we might rest. No worries. Gloves are on.
She went with Felix and I for our physicals last night.
Then this morning, she went to work with me for a bit, and to pick up some of Daddy’s medical records. (Really WHAT was I thinking staying close to home for a doctor?)
She is tired. But she smiles. And she hugs us. And she asks for pain medicine. And she wiggles her fingers. And she looks at her pool, and the calendar, and she feels the inevitable.
I can’t stop it. No one can.
So we keep busy. We rest. I stay close by. We giggle and make jokes. If I had to “lose” a summer, I couldn’t have lost it with a better young lady!
A short time before we headed to Disney, I wrote about taking out Meghan’s push chair for an appointment in Manhattan. She was terribly bothered by the rude stares that greeted us that day.
As a result we talked, a lot. And, like she always does – she comes through those conversations blowing my mind with her introspective maturity.
Don’t misunderstand me. I sometimes worry that my 10 year old is such a deep thinker. I am acutely aware that she has way more on her plate than she should, and she handles with grace and poise a life that would leave many adults weeping under their covers. I wish she told me everything. I know she doesn’t. My heart often breaks for the burdens she carries.
Yet, she is just so amazing.
After we spoke about the rude “starers” she talked about wanting to have a way to let them know about Cowden’s Syndrome. She wanted to raise awareness.
Meghan wears proudly the denim ribbon created for her by a family friend when she expressed a desire to have a ribbon. something she could wear that would represent her.
She dreams of one day seeing another child wearing this symbol. She wants it to become as common as the “pink ribbon.” Because, there are about 7,000 rare diseases, and 1 in every 10 people is affected by one. Many of these diseases are genetic. As we learn more about other rare diseases, Meghan understands the need for the rare disease community to unite. So little research is done on so many of these diseases that they remain poorly understood and under funded.
As we packed for the trip – Meghan asked if we could print some of the business cards for her to bring to Disney. She wanted to be able to hand them out. She knew people from all over the world visit Disney, so it would be a great place to spread the word. 500 cards later, I made sure she had all the tools she needed.
What happened next was just another example of how easy it is to be proud to be her mother.
Meghan decided that instead of getting an autograph book this year, she would take pictures with the Disney characters with her cards.
She also spontaneously struck up conversations with complete strangers all over the parks. She would approach cast members, wait staff, photographers, and guests. She spoke to people from the US and well beyond.
And every time she spoke my heart smiled.
She is an incredibly articulate young lady. She explained Cowden’s Syndrome through the eyes of a ten year old to almost 200 people.
Some of the most memorable included a man and his wife and their service dog on the bus to Downtown Disney, and a helpful cast member from Puerto Rico outside the fitting room as she tried on her Merida dress, and a Disney Photopass photographer whose genuine hug was so heartwarming.
Those were just a few. She spoke to so many people over the course of our 9 day trip that I have no doubt there is a greater awareness of Cowden’s Syndrome in the world than there was just 2 weeks ago.
She will tell you she is not a public speaker.
She might even try to tell you she is shy.
I will tell you she is flat out amazing, and that she is going to do already doing great things.
This child will make the world more aware – one card, and one conversation at a time.
These are Just a few who learned something new this week!
Those are the words that come to mind every time someone asks me to describe Cowden’s Syndrome.
Most people, even most doctors, understandably, have never heard of it before.
With an occurrence of 1 in 200,000 that is not a surprise.
What is a surprise is on days like today, where the sun shines a bit brighter. The traffic is a little lighter. Daddy is home on vacation. And, we met a doctor who had heard of Cowden’s, understands it, and is compassionate, likable, and easy to talk to. Yep, imagine that? A POSITIVE experience!! 🙂
We saw an NYU affiliated hand surgeon today. I am sure God heard the chorus of prayers storming Heaven for an answer for this kid, and today He delivered.
We were early for our appointment and waited in an uncrowded waiting room, while a pleasant receptionist organized the paperwork.
We were taken promptly at our scheduled time. We met with a friendly, competent PA. She had the hands Xrayed. The doctor was in the room 10 minutes later and immediately had Meghan on his side when he started to talk about two of her favorite things – Disney and swimming.
He examined her hand. He easily recognized the soft tissue tumor that is typical in Cowden’s Syndrome. He told her stories of another young boy he treats with a rare disease who grows bone instead of tissue. He validated her. He was confident. He drew a picture, and explained why that tumor was causing pain.
With every word he spoke her smile grew. The hope went back into her eyes. She waited anxiously for him to tell her he was going to take it out.
She almost leaped up and cheered.
August 20th in the early morning hours. my then 10 year old will prepare for her 10th surgery.
That’s how you know a kid is at her wits end. When surgery is an exciting option.
He told her it wasn’t going to be better right away. He asked if the PT from the letter we showed him (you know – the PT who had it right ALL ALONG! 🙂 could rehab her hand. I told him I was quite sure she could, but I would ask. (Actually – I have no DOUBT she can do anything. Dr. Jill NEVER gives up on Meghan!)
He said the pain may be worse for a bit after he “messes around” in there, but that gradually she will feel the pain lift and the range of motion return. I wanted to hug him.
All it takes is someone who “Gets it.”
We all want to be validated. As adults we often struggle to have our concerns made valid by those we love. When you have a rare disease, where the symptoms are often invisible, you struggle to be taken seriously. People are quick to pass judgement.
She looks fine, why can’t she walk? She must be lazy.
She is complaining again? Attention seeking,
So when you are just trying to have your voice heard, at the same time that you are trying to find your voice -life can feel extra challenging.
Cowden’s Syndrome is a struggle. We are buoyed by the fact that we have each other. I have Meghan as my inspiration, and she has me as her advocate.
I will NEVER give up. She will continue to get the care she needs. She will continue to see doctors who validate her. She will continue to inform an under informed public with her “cards.”
She is my heart and soul, my sunshine. She deserves nothing less.
We can’t change the “Rare.” The “Invisible” or the “Real.” But we can open the eyes and hearts and minds of more and more people every day. Ours is one of so many other Rare Diseases. We are grateful. We are blessed. Even through our pain we have gratitude for our blessings. And we will move forward with our mission of awareness.
I have been quiet this week. That in and of itself is unlike me.
I am tired – well bordering on downright wiped out.
There are a few more weeks of summer to go, and aside from a well planned Disney Trip, set in place in January – there seems to be precious little to look forward to.
Meghan has a short list of “have tos” which I plan to do EVERYTHING in my power to work out for her, but really every effort I made to keep this summer better – to “streamline the doctor visits” seems to have failed miserably.
Today she began her summer homework. While it is reasonable, it is one more thing on a list of “have-tos” for a kid that just wants to be a kid.
There is no camp for Meghan. It is all doctors appointments – all the time. And when it is not her appointments it seems to be mine. She is swimming three nights a week on a new team, at least she is LOVING that – but we have barely been inside our previously overused pool.
And its funny, while she and I have both had appointments of almost equal number in the last few weeks, I feel so much less stress about mine.
The geneticist the endocrine surgeon, the gyn oncologist, the abdominal MRI, the plastic surgeon, and the oncologist. The spleen survived its next cut – and can live for another 9 months. The 3.5 cm roundish lymphangiomas are stable. That’s all we ask for now. The thyroid lymph nodes – not suspicious enough to biopsy.
The plastic surgeon, well the LOVELY woman offered me a boob job to correct the “asymmetry” caused by me shoving the reconstruction all into one day. Not this year, but thanks. Good to know the offer stands indefinitely. For now, I have other things to do.
So I have only one more of my appointments lingering, a late July follow up with the breast surgeon. I thought of blowing it off and then realized how dumb that would be – for so many reasons. So, I will go.
But Meghan’s appointments, those are the ones that keep me up at night. Those are the ones that strike fear and anxiety in the core of my soul. My heart beats outside my body in this little girl. I can not sum up in any number of words the depth of my love for her.
So to say this summer, and especially this week has been sheer hell would be the understatement of the century.
Her appointments began the day after school ended. The lengthy thyroid sonogram bought us another 6 months. The pituitary function test was a train wreck, but the call this week claims the results were OK. I want to feel more relieved. But its hard. I am waiting to read the report myself. “Doubting Thomas?” Maybe. Realist – probably. Something is not quite right, but at least its not SO wrong it has to be addressed today.
The geneticist began to speak of carnitine issues, and I am waiting to hear of a possible muscle biopsy. In the interim I bought carnitine. Lets see if we can cut that one off.
The vascular surgeon examined the wrist, painful since early June, and the knee. He wants an orthopedist on board, but wanted me to consult with the rheumatologist about the wrist, and then scan the knee that had the 4 surgeries, because its been over a year. The rheumatologist concurred on the MRI studies, so we went forward with the wrist first.
Saturday, as I wrote about previously was hell on earth. I have been through a lot of MRIs with this kid, and the behavior of the two techs scared me to my core. I was assured upon exit, that the results would be available to my doctor Monday that passed. Well multiple calls, over the course of Monday and Tuesday led to a promise the results were being released Tuesday. “It’s a complicated read Mrs. Ortega.”
Wednesday morning – still nothing at the vascular surgeon’s office, only to find the CD and report left by courier at 10 am. They will make it by 3 I was told.
A return call to the surgeon’s office at 4:15. “They just got here, but the doctor is gone – emergencies. He should be able to look at them tomorrow.”
Some time around 4 AM my daughter climbed into bed between my husband and I. She had been awake long enough to finish her book, but she just couldn’t settle over the pain in her wrist. At about 6:15 this morning she nodded off. I tried desperately to find my peace.
And all day today, again, I held my phone. We skipped the pool in between the “have tos” of getting the oil burner cleaned and our annual trip to the dentist (normal stuff.) I refused to be far from my phone. But as minutes became hours, my hope dwindled.
A call to the office at 4:30, “Sorry, he never made it in today, but Meghan’s chart is on top of his desk. He has office hours tomorrow.”
Even if the report – by some freak of nature reads “normal” I can’t even be pleased, because the pain is not normal. It is real, and it is consistent, and it has gone on too long.
I wish for a lot of things in the world.
I wish for children and their parents not to suffer with illnesses or adversity of any kind.
I wish for relief for those in physical, mental, and emotional anguish.
I wish for peace in the hearts and minds of the caretakers of those who struggle.
But today I also wish something else.
I wish that EVERY SINGLE medical professional who performs a test – from what is perceived as insignificant, to critical recognizes the power of their words, and their actions. I wish that EACH of them understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of cryptic messages, grossly extended tests, and precious little reassurance. I wish that EVERY doctor who receives a call from a patient panicked about their results be PROMPT in their response. I wish that EVERY one of them, who goes to work each day and forgets that our child, parent, sibling, loved one exists will at some point in their life be on the waiting side.
I WISH for every one of them – from the techs, to the couriers, to the office staff, to the doctors- to have the opportunity to await the results of a test from someone they love dearly.
Then MAYBE, just MAYBE they will understand our torture.
Two weeks ago today we left for the last day of school. Seems like an eternity, although not a restful one.
Today was the first day I woke up with nowhere to be, and nothing to do. Our first mandatory stop is swim practice at 5:30 PM. So I sit, nursing a cup of green tea, and trying to convince myself, on my health quest, that it is just as good as the caffeinated hot cocoa I have been drinking for years.
This morning I woke when my body told me it was time – somewhere around 8:15. What a blessing to open your eyes because you are ready.
I tended to the garden. I watered my tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, and I even picked a ripe zucchini. I watered the flowers on my deck and I marveled at the calm beauty of the neighborhood at 8:15 on a Wednesday morning.
Now, to all you teacher critics out there- I recognize ten weeks of unscheduled time is a gift. I understand its not “the norm,” and I AM grateful. But to all you who are realists, I try not to be much of a complainer, but this schedule we are keeping is far from a walk in the park.
Even as I reflect just on yesterday, and then the last week, I can easily find myself overwhelmed.
The rhuematologist confirmed that the Celebrex is necessary. On the up side she said, at least the liver seems to be handling it well. Yep, on the up side I need to worry about my almost 10 year-old’s liver? So we have about a 50/50 split, and that’s just the doctors we like – touting the pros and cons of Celebrex. Take her off. Leave her on.
I love them all, but ultimately the pain decides for us. This child is accustomed to pain so deep that the 20 laps of butterfly she swam Monday – when I expected her to be barely able to lift her arms Tuesday – caused her to need only “an extra stretch.” But the pain in her wrist right now – that can knock her to her knees. Celebrex it is.
I try to absorb medical jargon about why the Celebrex helps the pain – but doesn’t cure it. And why it may even help prevent the Arteriovenous Malformations (AVM) from flourishing.
I read an article she gave me on “prophylactic thyroidectomy” and its benefits in Cowden’s Syndrome patients.
I read about “Long Chain Fatty Acid deficiency” and heard about the possible need for a muscle biopsy to assess carnitine levels.
I am an educated woman, but I sometimes wonder why I seem to spend more time in medical journals than educational ones. Did I miss my calling somewhere along the line? Probably not, but “necessity is the mother of invention.”
And yesterday as she was examined by the rheumatologist there came the confirmation that the right wrist is “thicker” than the left. A month and 3 days after what we thought was the “injury” to the wrist, it isn’t better. Not really at all. So she said, definitely get an MRI.
We are on it. 11AM Saturday. We already cancelled the birthday party we were going to.
She wants a copy of the report – ASAP. She expects they will find something. I went to make my six month appointment, and she told me to hold off until after the test results.
I look at the piles on my desk. Better since the shredding is over. I glance at the order confirmation for my new driver’s license, and can’t help but wonder where the old one ended up. I look at a beautiful collage Meghan sent to the printer last night as I was working – just to make me smile. I look at the books for the “Teacher Effectiveness Training” I will be attending tomorrow, and the flyer with the itinerary for the Disney trip. Its right alongside the Costco list, and the original copy of the Myriad genetics report that I don’t have BRCA 1 or2. Obviously I still have a little more work to do down here.
Monday I went for my MRI. The one that checks my spleen. Next Tuesday I have the appointment to find out if I can keep it. Already covered the endocrine surgeon, the gyn oncologist, the I just need the breast surgeon and the plastic surgeon, and my oncologist to have their visits. It’s easy to forget that I am even part of this Cowden’s Syndrome mess.
My focus is on the beautiful one with the curly hair, who gives the best hugs in the world. It will be a long week – again. So for today, I will try to slow it down. The sun is shining. It’s July. And we don’t have to go to work OR the doctor today!
I am awake earlier than the rest of my family. My big dog took a container of Meghan’s gluten, dairy, soy free chocolate chip cookies off the counter last night while we were out. I think she will be fine. She just had her second dose of activated charcoal, and she seems to be resting comfortably. But. EVERYONE knows who the Mom is when they are sick – so she and I BOTH had a long night. (and I am sending her Daddy out to clean the yard! :-))
Last night we headed to Manhattan where we celebrated Felix’s sister’s 50th birthday. It was a crowded room, and although the food was quite good, I had a tough time being so cramped in. My little girl, as usual amazed me with her calm, patience, and poise. I asked her before we left of she wanted me to ask the restaurant to cook for her. She said she wanted me to pack her dinner. She doesn’t trust very many places to “get it right,” and she did not want a belly ache.
So. she put on her fancy dress. The one she is so EXCITED to wear to the Father/Daughter dance hosted by her school Monday night. I put her hair up and stepped back. This child has always been mature beyond her years, but when did her body start to catch up?
We sat, for a few hours. There was minimal time to walk around, but when she did get to talk she vibrantly retold the story of how she lost her last baby tooth, and the Tooth Fairy left her $20 and a Tigger pin! Way to clean up on the last tooth, None of the others were worth that much!
Magic. She brings it back into our lives. She rounds out her father and I. She is a princess. Yes, she has just about everything she has ever asked us for, but she has a whole lot more. She has compassion, patience, maturity, and wisdom. She has kindness and generosity. She takes pleasure out of making people happy.
My mother always said, “Children should be spoiled, just not spoiled rotten.” Doing our best Mom. It seems to be working out ok.
Before I started writing this, I was searching the Disney website. I was playing around with prices for a summer trip. We have taken Meghan to Disney in August (usually for her birthday) every year since she turned 5. My house has photos in every room that remind us of our adventures. We have had the happiest of times at Disney. We enjoy each other. And, I have to say, the year my parents joined us, was one of the best vacations.
We started going to Disney because of their accommodations for allergies. It is almost impossible to maintain a gluten, dairy, and soy free diet for a week without staff trained to take every allergy very seriously. And while we struggled a bit last year to find “quick service” food for her, on the whole we have had only positive things to say about our Disney dining experiences. When you have a child with allergies, you plan your trips a little differently. Everything else falls into place, AFTER you know they will be well fed.
Disney also accommodates her chronic joint pain. Even with the Celebrex she could not endure the miles of walking we do each day. She travels Disney – walking some, but spending the majority of her day in a portable wheelchair. We always get a room on the first floor to avoid extra steps, and in the event those knees give out, every park has everything from Advil to heating pads to help with the pain.
Not to mention the Magic. I believe in the wonders of Disney. I believe in the smiles of hugging Chip and Dale, and Mickey and Minnie, and all their friends. I believe in the smiles on my girl’s face. I believe in the memories we are making – that no one can ever take from us.
So, this morning when I ran the prices of the trip through the computer I choked a little. It, like everything else, has gone up a good deal since last year. And, for a brief second the thought of not going crossed my mind.
I mean, the deck needs major work, we still haven’t finished the upstairs. There are plans for the basement to be redone, and the backyard needs help. What about that awning for the blistering sun in our back yard. Plus, this year forced us into a new car, braces….
Then I saw the question in the corner of their website. It said, quite simply, “What are you celebrating?”
Well, that did it. We are celebrating all right. We are celebrating Meghan’s negative biopsy. We are celebrating the knowledge we have gained from our Cowden’s Syndrome diagnoses, and the ability to “strike first.” We are celebrating that after a long stretch of studying, they offered the Electrical licensing Exam, and Felix passed part one on his first try. We are celebrating the love of friends, the kindness of stangers, and the compassionate heart of my little girl. We are celebrating the power of God and the Holy Spirit to lead us to a place we worship together as a family each Sunday. We are celebrating “more birthdays” as Meghan will turn 10 and Felix 40 during that hot August vacation. And I could go on and on with the thoughts that flooded my head in reply to that simple question.
So today I will finalize our trip. I will be sure to get “trip insurance” in case life tosses us any more curve balls between now and then. We may not finish all the projects around the house this year either. But we have lived here for 12 years now, and its a pretty nice place to be. The projects, the bills – they will get paid for and finished.
The magic may not last forever. We have learned as a family to stop and enjoy the ride. We are celebrating our countless blessings. God is good. Life is good. Family vacations are worth celebrating.
It is late. I should be asleep. Morning comes fast and it is already after midnight. I just can’t seem to find a way to unwind.
I just had a long chat with a ‘new” friend. That helped a lot. But still here I am, trying to get these racing thoughts out of my head before I rest.
I saw a new oncologist today. The geneticist insisted I have one to follow me and one for Meghan. Except I was having a hard time finding one who didn’t think Cowden’s Syndrome was contagious. (Ok, perhaps I exaggerate, but they weren’t anxious to see me.)
So the geneticist sent out an Email on Tuesday to some of his friends. By Friday he had a name for me, (which means the genetecist is a KEEPER!) of a doctor IN network, and I met her today.
She is lovely. Of course, by already having the double mastectomy and the hysterectomy, I have made her job much easier. Now she gets to push me to the fun stuff. Next up- colonoscopy, and kidney MRI. So tomorrow I will call to get the GI appointment, while they work out the authorization for the MRI.
And all the while I will mourn a bit for the summer that wasn’t meant to be. This was more, a necessary doctor “catch up period.” I think by the end of August we will have at least 25 appointments done between us. And those are just the ones scheduled right now.
So, just when I start to get whiny and cranky about wanting some alone time to shop, or some fun time to swim, I remember. Were it not for the work of the angel on my shoulder, that pushed my “prohylactic blilateral mastectomy” in March, I would have likely been spending this summer prepping for cancer treatment.
So, we still get our trip to Disney, and there is always NEXT summer…
I spent the last hour preparing for Meghan’s oncologist visit on Friday. We haven’t seen this doctor for months. There have been a few things going on. So, I faxed her 32 pages of what we have been up to. She wanted to review it before the appointment.
I posted the cartoon because I had her binder out while I was preparing the fax. I laugh every time I read it because even after all these years it is still true. Even with our diagnosis of the PTEN mutation, and Cowden’s Syndrome, even with the precancerous thyroid nodules in Meghan, and her early puberty, she still has pain. Every day. And not one of these doctors that we take her to can tell us why.
I thank GOD every day for her stamina, and her spirit and her spunk. She is my love, my reality check, my perspective, my reason for being. I feel displaced right now, from my church, my comfort zone – but not from God. Even in the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty, I have a husband and a daughter that are beyond compare. God has us in the palm of His hand. We are blessed. And it WILL be OK!