This is Our Reality

Alone, in a crowded room.

alone in a crowded room

As I look around frantically trying to figure out exactly where, or how I fit, with anyone, my mind wanders.  I can’t seem to make conversation, or to pass the time socially as easily as others.  I watch.  I retreat as soon as I can.  I can’t quiet my head.  And, knowing the whole line of thinking that occupies my mind some days makes everyone uncomfortable, I step back into myself to cycle through reality.

occupied mind

“Those hormones?  Are they causing her headaches?  Or is it something more sinister?  How would I even know?  Do we need to use another MRI?  What if it is the hormones?  What choice do we have?  The doctor said she has to stay on them to stop the development of those “irregular cells” in the uterus they found in December.  They’ve already begun to schedule another D & C for July.  “You have to make sure…”  The uterus is a prime site for malignancy in Cowden’s Syndrome.  I got to keep mine until Meghan was 8.  Will she get to keep hers?  Will she have the chance to make the choice whether she wants to bear her own children?  And, even if we save the uterus and she wants to, will it be viable after 15, 18, 20 years of hormone treatment?  And at what cost to the rest of her body?  What about the breast cancer threat that looms large to a young woman whose Cowden’s Syndrome alone puts her at an 85% lifetime risk.  That coupled with a mother and grandmother who have had breast cancer… sigh…why is it even a topic of conversation when she’s 12?  It seems so unjust.  This issue shouldn’t have to be addressed now, well not ever really, but especially not now.  And when she has the headaches I have to give her something.  What about the headache medicine?  What about that esophagus we are trying to heal?

 

Is it those medicines that caused the horrendous reflux after Easter, or was it her MINOR indulgence into a few SAFE sweets?  Why should a slight indulgence cause such discomfort and vomiting?  Why does she have to be so careful all the time about everything?  No wonder she is so serious.  And what if it is the headache medicine?  What am I supposed to do to help her?  Tell her she has to deal with it?  I can’t imagine “toughing out” a blinding headache.  

 

The knee.  Oh the knee.  She tries not to complain about it, but I see when she struggles.  The AVM is finally stable, but the leg takes a lot of work to develop.  She works hard on it too.  But, the stamina isn’t there.  Hours in a pool yes, on land, no way.  Standing too long, walking the mall, or for a short walk, things we take for granted cause such pain.  And pain causes fatigue.  And on the occasions she relents and allows the wheelchair into use, she struggles.  Not for the need to use it temporarily, but for fear of insulting those who have to use it all the time.  She is proud.  She is frequently humbled.  She is conflicted.

 

And who wouldn’t be?  16 surgeries before the 13th birthday.  The need to be tough all the time, while you feel weak.  The desire to be stronger.  Having to fight, hard, for physical accomplishments.  Having to accept the ones that will never be.  Never giving up.  Pushing to be better.  To make the world better.  

 

She’s not perfect.  Never has been.  And oh, there are DAYS…  But she is good, in her heart.  She means well.  She has no spite or malice, and I can pray it remains that way.  I can pray that the children who don’t get it, one day come to understand her, just a little better.  That one day they can accept her,  for the good in her.

 

I scheduled 3 doctors appointments for the next three weeks.  Dermatology, orthopedics, and endocrinology.  The first is a screening.  Cowden’s Syndrome, melanoma risks.  Her father’s increased risk of melanoma on another unrelated genetic disorder.  Her grandmother’s melanoma this summer.  Every 6 months they told me.  Bring her every six months.  The others will work on long-term plans.  Spring break.  Every holiday, every vacation.  Every day off.  Doctors.  Not the mall, or a friend’s house.  Doctors.  For what?  And I’ve toned down the list quite a bit.

 

There are two bills of my desk.  One for her and one for me.  Both a battle.   Always a battle.  If it’s not the reality, or the appointments, it’s the bills.  And we are so fortunate to have insurance.  But, the hours.  Oh my goodness, the hours…”

 

I try to shake it off.  To stay focused on the good.  On the positive.  On the blessings, and they do abound.  But, so often it’s just me, and my head.  Working to get out of my own way.

I miss my Pop.  I miss my Grandma even though she’s still here.  I miss their goodness.  I miss my Dad.  I miss his listening ears.

I quiet the voices a little and try to follow the conversation around me.  I smile politely and nod.  I stay quiet.  “It’s good.”  “We’re good.”  That’s about all they can handle anyway.  Even the ones who genuinely do care.  Why drag someone to a place where there is absolutely nothing they can do or say?

cheshire cat

This is our reality.  This is Cowden’s Syndrome.  This is every day.  As long as we have breath, and strength, and stamina to shake off the pain, place the smile firmly where it goes and press on, we will.

Because the real reality is that every person in the room may have a similar string of thoughts in their head.  The reality remains that EVERYONE HAS SOMETHING…

been through something

I booked dinners for our Disney trip today.  I like to plan ahead.  Plus, Disney gives me a little extra strength, so that we can remain always,

#BEATINGCOWDENS!

 

Avocado and Isagenix – What’s in YOUR suitcase?

It’s been almost two weeks – a long time for me not to write.  My head is spinning with things I need to get out in my blogging “therapy” sessions.

As I sit in Orlando International Airport, delayed by hours on the sunniest evening all week, I find myself reflecting on the week that was.

Even though we have been at Disney 7 years in a row, and even though we probably should have stayed home to lick our wounds this year, we threw caution in the wind and decided there would be plenty of time to make money, and time to make memories isn’t always there.

Plus, in 2014 alone there was that thyroidectomy in February that threw my girl’s body into some wild unbalanced state, and that week in May when we learned all about gastritis.  (Caused by the pain medicine she had lived on for years.) So after spending months trying to get her stomach back in balance, and juggling the gluten, dairy, soy free, and largely preservative free diet, with the new restrictions of no citrus, no chocolate, no tomato, we contemplated cancelling the trip.  But we knew that would seem more like a punishment than a precaution.  So the reservation held – August 5 -12.

In the week leading up to the trip time seemed to fly by.  I barely got her settled with enough clothes, got us a functional suitcase, and got us packed in time.  And as we were packing I began to gather food.  See, when you travel with a kid with food allergies, you don’t travel without food – ever.  Even though Disney is “the happiest place on earth,” and even though almost every chef we encounter is masterful at creating meals to please her very restricted palate, you still need to pack the “staples.”  There has to be a supply of dry fruit, cereal, pretzels, applesauce, cookies, and bars.  In the past we also always packed tomato, and barbecue sauce too.  Every morning we would fill small containers and have it to flavor anything dry along the way.  Except this year tomato was equal to painful reflux, and we weren’t about to try it out as we traveled.

So, we went to the next best thing – avocado.

avocado

 

I have never been a huge fan, but my Puerto Rican husband gently introduced healthy protein into her diet and it was so well tolerated.  She liked it to moisten food, and there were plenty of days she ate a whole one.  So, into the suitcase went a container full of 8 avocados.

Use what you know.

And in another container nearby were several packages of Isagenix shakes.  Those, I had packed with intention of using them myself.  So glad I did.

When we arrived in Orlando Tuesday the 5th after a 6 AM flight, it was 8:30.  We rode the Magic Express and got to the hotel by 10:30.  At 10:45 the luggage arrived, and by 11:20 we were unpacked and on the way to the Magic Kingdom.

And find the Magic we did.

We spent the day riding, and laughing, and watching and taking in all the wonder around us.  We had lunch at a trusted favorite, the Liberty Tree Inn, and the turkey, stuffing, mashed potato and gravy were prepared to perfection.  Her stomach was happy.  We were happy.

2014disney1

Dinner was with some old friends at the Contemporary, and we willed the time away searching for “Hidden Mickeys.”  The “Fab Five” greeted us, and the chef took us to the buffet.  I tried to choose carefully, as the selections seemed a bit questionable.  I was assured they were within her dietary restrictions.  And there was the drink.  We asked for it diluted, as it wasn’t her normal fare.  But he was busy and I suspect by the third glass the waiter had forgotten to dilute it.  And there was the GFCFSF sausage… and…

2014disney2

By the time we sat for the electrical parade we were all tired, but she said she felt something in her throat.  She asked me for food, and even as I handed over the pretzels I should have known better.

2014disney3

She slept fitfully.  So much so that I kept waking to check on her.

“New room… new place.”  I kept telling myself…

And in the morning when we got up to leave we just about made it to the lobby when she said she couldn’t go.

“Houston… we have a problem.”

We exchanged those “uh-oh” glances – Felix and I.  And we followed her to the room.

And barely did she make it in the door then the familiar violent vomiting from May returned.  So much.  So forceful.  Like her body was not going to stop until it got rid of every single offending morsel in her body – whatever it may be.

It went on for hours in our hotel room in Walt Disney World.  And every time it seemed to calm and we tried water, bread, pretzels… it all began again.

We called our GI from home who instructed rest.  And we looked at our girl laying so still and so sick on the bed, and we searched out the travel insurance brochure.  After two hours on the phone with more people than I care to count, we arranged for a doctor to visit the hotel.

And while we waited the staff had seen my tears, my desperation, and prepared a bag with some balloons, and coloring books, and pins and UNO cards to pass the time.  There are good people.

But by then – at 5 – she had been without food or drink for 5 hours and was starting to look better.

He was amazing, and unusual, and smart, and introspective.  And he sat with us for a good hour learning about Meghan.  Then he sized up that she was not dehydrated.

“What do we do?”

“Go with what you know.”

Not so easy hundreds of miles from home.  But, she was hungry.  And there were avocados.  And my eyes hurt from crying in absolute frustration that we had just breached her forever “doctor free” zone.

Then he asked what she drank and we said “Coconut Milk.”  And just like that he was out the door headed to a whole foods 6 miles away.  HE took money only for the milk itself, not for his gas or his time.  And we had options.

so delicious

WHO does that?  This stranger… this “standby doctor” so moved and so interested in helping…

So there was avocado, alternating with coconut milk at very deliberate intervals.  And once the avocado held itself in place we had a few options.

“Can I have a shake?”  MUSIC TO MY EARS…

isagenix shake

A half shake in 8 ounces of coconut milk.  Followed by a half of an Isagenix meal bar.

By 9 she was well enough for a ride around the hotel.

By the next morning we cautiously resumed our trip.  With Isagenix, and an avocado in my backpack all day.

Felix said we should call her our “rubber band-” stretched until you think she’ll break, then she finds a way to spring back!

 

The Changing of the Calendar

Every year, this same week, I sit down with my calendar, and one for the following year.  I carefully transfer all the important dates I need to remember.  I write the birthdays, anniversaries, and other important “days to remember.”  There is probably some much more high tech efficient way to do this on my iPhone, but this is a job I am not looking to simplify, or give up.  I enjoy the time spent reflecting on the year that passed, and wondering what the next year will bring.


calendar

During the course of the year, around all the birthday and  anniversary reminders, the basic events of life fill in the blanks.  I can look back on some weeks, and months – where there doesn’t seem to be an empty box, and wonder how we got through.   There are the basics, PT, swimming, dance class, music class.  There are some parties, and celebrations.   Around them are peppered annual exams, like the cardiologist and the eye doctor.  There are some “sick” visits with the  pediatrician in there too.

Celabration Cake.2 003

But last year was a “special” year.  Between us there were three surgeries.  Tonight as I reviewed the calendar I saw a higher than normal number of pre and post op visits.  I saw consultation appointments with surgeons, and each month seemed to remind me of a surgery that was, well life changing in its own way.  There were certainly a lot of firsts in 2012.

surgeon5bl8

And, sadly there were some lasts too.  I couldn’t bring myself not to write GGPa’s birthday on the calendar.  It would have been in just a few weeks.  Instead I wrote it with a heart around it.  This year he will have his cake among the angels.  Nor could I stop myself from remembering his and GGMa’s anniversary the same way.  It didn’t feel right to leave it off.  I am sure she will appreciate a call or an Email anyway.

GGPa, GGMa, Grandma, and Pop (left to right)
GGPa, GGMa, Grandma, and Pop (left to right)

I remember lots of birthdays on my calendar.  Some for the very young, and others for those quite senior folks I love so much.  But, even as I ink those special days into 2013, I know there are no guarantees.  I know that my writing their special date doesn’t ensure that we will all celebrate together.  It is reality.  It is sometimes tough to swallow, but we are not in control.

In Newton Connecticut many young lives were tragically altered.  “Calendars” forever changed.  No rhyme or reason.  No notice.  Gone way too soon.

I attended the wake of a colleague tonight.  A 45 year old, happily married father of three.  He died suddenly Christmas Day.  I can not say we were “friends” outside of work, but I can tell you not a person that met this man easily forgot him.  His every breath was consumed wither with song, or words of his love for his family.  And tonight as I paid my respects I carried a heavy heart, and the reality again, that there are no guarantees.

Meghan was sick this morning.  Sicker than I have seen her in quite some time.  I was home alone, as Felix works this whole week before New Year‘s.  As she lay screaming on the bathroom floor, begging me to make the pain stop, I was terrified.  I called my sister to bring me Pedialyte and some essentials.  We lay there for quite a long time, at points her eyes were rolling – reacting to the pain in her stomach.  I held her as best I could and I prayed, hard.  I needed guidance.  I needed answers, and I needed that pain to be relieved.  He heard me, as He always does.  She vomited several times over the next hour or so, eventually ridding herself of whatever she had eaten that was bothering her.  I hadn’t seen that agony since the days of the gall bladder attacks when she was three.

We had had plans today, to celebrate my grandparents 67th wedding anniversary with them.  Even as the color came back into her cheeks, and the spring back into her step. we stayed home.  The lunch date that was on the calendar – unattended.  Our warm wishes sent with a phone call instead.

Grandma and Pop in December 1945
Grandma and Pop in December 1945

The calendar is a nice guide.  A road map of sorts.  It tells us where we hope to head.  But, as every day reassures me – it, like life, offers no guarantees.

This week the phone will ring.  Appointments will be set.  A thyroid biopsy will be scheduled.  A surgeon for my spleen may even get written in to the calendar as “consultation.”  2012 for us will end as it began.

Although as I tossed the calendar into the trash tonight, I couldn’t help but feel… somehow older, wiser, and even more appreciative of those who somehow come across my calendar each year.

55-one_year_larter