Pause…

Sometimes we need to pause.  We pause only briefly, with hope of it lasting the whole week, and the reality that there will be interruptions along the way.  We pause, knowing that pain is ever-present, acknowledging with gratitude any breaks we are granted.  We pause knowing surgeries will always be forthcoming, but for right now they can wait.  We pause because with the pace of this life it is easy to miss the little things, the important things.  We pause to enjoy noise that is not NYC traffic, or the sound of a doctor’s office.  We pause to quiet the phone calls that need answering.  We pause so we are better prepared to battle this Cowden’s Syndrome.  We pause to remind ourselves of the beauty, within our family, and around us in the world.

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Breathtaking sunset
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Hanging around the hotel
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Friendly EPCOT duck
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Animal Kingdom Safari
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Animal Kingdom Safari

Last week we were in Walt Disney World, in Florida.  It is our favorite, actually the ONLY vacation spot we have ever had as a family.  We are fortunate to have celebrated Meghan’s birthday there for the last 8 years.  Disney is crowded, and hot, and pricey, and all the things the haters of the big Mouse want to say.  But, to the rest of us, there is a magic – a magic that endures regardless of age.  It’s hard to describe it, unless you feel it, but we do.  There is magic in avoiding doctors.  There is magic in eating safe food from restaurants, and having a bakery that even makes cookies, and cupcakes for your gluten, dairy, soy free girl.  So much of what we can’t do during the year is because of scheduling, and food.  It seems silly, but with those obstacles gone, it is a recipe for success.

Even the negativity that tries to get at us, ultimately fails – https://beatingcowdens.com/2015/08/09/theres-nothing-wrong-with-that-girl/

The trip was one of the smoothest we have ever had.  (Aside from me unpacking late the first night to realize I forgot the enzymes Meghan needs to eat!  Fortunately I ALWAYS have extra, and Mom got them overnighted so they arrived in the nick of time Saturday.  Tragedy averted.  Magical.)

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And I was only on the phone with one doctor.   Once.  The WHOLE WEEK!

I sometimes look at others vacation photos and think it would be nice, and perhaps a lot less costly, to change things up.  It might be interesting to see a few new things.  I would love to travel the country one day.  But, there will be time for all of that – later.  For now it’s about magic, and the treasure of having a preteen who still feels the magic in her heart.

Plus, we have some favorite rides…

She's more brave than me, but we DID it!
She’s more brave than me, but we DID it!

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TWICE!
TWICE!

Some Magical birthday wishes…

Her first
Her first “REAL” cake in YEARS!

https://www.erinmckennasbakery.com/orlando/

Time with
Time with “BOB” our favorite entertainer…

http://www.yehaabob.com/

And a birthday tradition…

A great view…

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Spectacular nighttime shows…

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Some Mom time...
Some Mom time…
Some Dad time...
Some Dad time…
And some time to just be 12, all by herself...
And some time to just be 12, all by herself…

There was plenty of time for me to walk.  And think about whatever I wanted, or nothing at all.  And we three started each day with our Isagenix… (fool me once – but never twice… for those of you who remember last year’s debacle!)

isablender isagenix shake

There were days I felt like I could go on forever…

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And days to just be a little silly…

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And as is the case every year when we pull away from our “home” for the week, I find my heart beating a bit faster.  My mind begins to race back on track.  And I don’t really like it.

This has been a wild summer.  One too many doctor’s appointments, too few days of simple relaxation.  And even as I am ALWAYS so conscious it could be much worse, I feel a bit of longing to do it all again, or maybe tack a few weeks on the back-end…

But, time does as it pleases, and eight days from now my girl will be recovering from another hand surgery.

We’ve begun to prepare for fall activities, and we are looking to sure up a date for our PTEN Foundation/ Global Genes Project fundraiser in February.

BEATING COWDENS takes stamina.  Fortunately, we’ve got that.

And even more – we’ve got each other.  And if we pause for no other reason, it is so we NEVER FORGET…

Between us we've got unparalleled strength, and never-ending love.
Between us we’ve got unparalleled strength, and never-ending love.

Invisible Illness

For the last 6 nights my soon to be 10 year- old has slept in between her father and I.

Now I will pause to give you time to gasp, as wave your fingers at me.

I will give you time to self-righteously proclaim that you “know better” than to put your child in your bed, because once you start “that habit” you will never be able to break it.

Go ahead.  Tell me its my own fault that I don’t sleep as comfortably as I could with my 5 foot tall 85 pound child bouncing between clinging to my husband and I.

Tell me I should just send her back to her own bed.

And then – when you are done.  Come over.  Please.  I will even make you some coffee – but you will have to settle for fake milk.  No need to keep any in a house where a child has a dairy allergy.

When you come over you can watch her for a few minutes.  I will let you watch as she winces in pain, and cries out as she bounces around.  And that, that is after she actually gets to sleep.

invisible illness

See before she gets to sleep, there is pain.  Always some pain.  Always.  But some nights, or weeks like this one, it is worse than normal.

There are nights, and plenty of them that she sleeps in her own bed.  Right through until as late as we will let her.  Those are the nights the pain is at its best.

Then there are the nights she needs one of us to rub her in her bed.  A knee, a calf, and ankle, an elbow, a shoulder, a wrist, or even a head is keeping her up.  Sure, you could say she is exaggerating.  Maybe she is acting like any kid who doesn’t want to go to sleep.  But Meghan is above many things, a really rotten liar.  So, when she hurts – she lets us know.  And when she doesn’t it never comes up – end of story.

The worst nights are the ones like this week.  The ones where she can’t even get herself comfortable in her own bed.  These are the nights she cries not only for the pain, but also for the raw fatigue that keeps her awake when she would rather sleep.

This week there has been pain.  Pain in the legs as she adjusts to swim practice, or plays with a friend or two at a play date.  There has been pain in the wrist, the pesky wrist injured now since early June.  The one that has to have a problem – we just don’t know what it is – yet.  The wrist in line for an MRI/MRA has a pulse to it that is reminiscent of the AVM  in her knee.  But we are trying not to jump the gun.

If you ever do stop by my house in the middle of the night, to see why none of us have any semblance of a normal sleeping pattern, maybe you can bring a warm compress, or strong hands, and help as we massage cramping, painful body parts.

Even on the days we fall hard!

No one knows the Meghan of 2 AM.

Everyone sees the bright smiley face.

Everyone sees the interpersonal child who talks with everyone – who makes them laugh.

Everyone sees the reader, the friend, the kid who likes quiet, and order, and rules, and helping people in need.

The Meghan of 2, or 3 AM disappears with the morning light.  She washes her face, brushes her teeth, and puts on the best smile she can to prepare to face the world.

This is the story of life with chronic, invisible illness.

energy to be normal

No one knows about the growths on her thyroid, or the insufferable hot flashes she has.

No one knows about the effort it takes her to walk up the stairs, or to sit and play with friends.

No one knows she is slated for 2 more MRIs, a pituitary function test and a pelvic sonogram – and that’s just the next 2 weeks.

No one knows because she doesn’t “look sick.”

And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

She wears her denim ribbon necklace, the one crafted after the Global Genes Project logo – every single day.  And she dreams of the day she will look across a room at another little girl wearing one too.

The denim ribbon is the symbol for rare and genetic disorders, and since identifying her own need to have a “symbol” to wear, like my pink ribbon, she saw to it that one was created to be worn around her neck.  She chose to have it modeled off the Global Genes Project- an organization that spoke to her heart soon after our Cowden’s Syndrome diagnosis.

We wear them now, my husband, and Meghan, and I – united in our battle.  And we hope that one day there will be more.

circle of three

A denim cause ribbon, crafted after the Global Genes Project's slogan, "Hope it's in our Genes!"
A denim cause ribbon, crafted after the Global Genes Project’s slogan, “Hope it’s in our Genes!”

Next month we will travel to Disney World, as we have for the last 6 years.  While we are there Meghan will use a wheelchair.

Recently, when the controversy hit about the misuse of Guest Assistance Passes at Disney, I was sick to my stomach.

You see I have a child with a virtually invisible disability.  She can walk, by the grace of God.  She can swim.  She can function throughout a day – often with insufferable pain at night.

But what she can not do is walk for long distances.  Ever.  Regardless of the footwear – no matter how hard we try to prepare.  She just can’t.

We took her out of soccer because of the impact.  We took her out of dance for the same reason.  Now she swims, and even with that sometimes the muscle pain is difficult to bear.

So it is especially tricky for us at a park that necessitates walking and standing.  Sometimes she can stretch her legs.  Usually she can cover about a half mile on foot.  Then she needs to rest.  If she pushes too  hard on day 1, by day 4 we might as well be back home.

She spent her birthday one year in tears, pleading with me – in the middle of EPCOT that she would go home “RIGHT NOW IF YOU COULD MAKE THE PAIN STOP.”  That was the day after we let her walk 50% of the day before.

She hates being confined.  She would rather walk.  She looks like she should be walking.  But she can’t be.  Bottom line.

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So as I said earlier, those of you who want to judge me for rubbing my child’s sore and aching body so she can rest – feel free.  As long as we breathe she will be able to seek comfort in the arms of her mother and father.

And when you see me pushing her around Walt Disney World, I know there are the lowlives out there who abuse the policy, but before you assume that my “normal looking” child is one of them, ask yourself if you have ever met anyone with an invisible illness.

Ask yourself how many children, when given the opportunity, would rather navigate the happiest place on earth from the confines of a chair.  Sure we all need a rest some time.  But she’d rather have it on a bench.  And while we are at it – she would rather be having an ice cream cone like the other kids too.

Just because I teach my child to go through life with her head held high.  Just because I teach her to push through pain.  Just because I teach her to smile at adversity and to be kind to judgmental strangers- that doesn’t mean she doesn’t hurt.  None of that invalidates the 4 surgeries for the AVM in her knee, the thyroid biopsies, the constant scans, the issues yet to be uncovered.

My child knows patience.  She knows how to wait.  And she does it all year at countless doctors, and invasive lab tests, with grace, and poise and dignity.

So, before you forget what invisible illness looks like- look here.  We are too busy BEATING COWDEN’S to acknowledge the judgmental.  We teach our daughter to love and forgive.  She has too much stress in her life to harbor any anger.  We learn our best qualities from her.

you were given this life

The Carousel of Life

How can you tell if it’s really progress?
When we were in Walt Disney World, one of the rides we went on was “The Carousel of Progress.”  Now I must admit this isn’t one of my all time favorites, but it does serve to cool you on a hot August day, and provide some food for thought.

For those of you who have never been, it starts out in the early 1900s and has several scenes detailing progress through the years.  Of course, with all progress, there are a few snags along the way.

The state of the art kitchen in the mid 1900s, looks nothing like the state of the art kitchen in the 21st century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I think the lesson to be learned by those of us cooling off in the comfortable Air conditioning, is that with every new change, we lose a bit of the old.  It is often beneficial, and frequently necessary to improve, but we need to keep an eye to where we have come from so we don’t lose ourselves.

So why was this on my mind – aside from sorting out the Disney Photos?  Today was a doctor day  – again.

Today we took a 2.5 hour (should have been 75 minutes) road trip to Long Island to see Dr. E.  People ask me all the time who he is, and why we see him.  Well, the truth is, he is kind of our “think outside the box” doctor.

We first met him in 2005.  Meghan was severely delayed in many areas.  Her behavior was at times scary, as she was having fits of rage that were tough to manage.  She was bloated, and her belly was in terrible shape.  She wasn’t speaking much, and her speech and occupational therapists were starting to whisper “autism” to me.

Not feeling at all like that was where she was, we headed to see Dr. E, a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) practitioner.  He had been a pediatrician for over 20 years and had recently made the change to treating children with biomedical interventions.

It was a scary commitment to see such a doctor.  There was no insurance at all, and the initial out of pocket fees were frightening.  But when we sat and spoke with him, and he told us about the ways he was going to help Meghan – he meant it. 

It is 7 years later.  My daughter is a far cry from that sensory sensitive, sickly, silent, little girl we brought him in 2005.  We have gone through countless lab tests, various diets, vitamin and mineral supplements, prescription and non prescription medication.  He has seen us through her gall bladder attacks, and has answered my texts and Emails at the most obscene hours.

Progress.  At a cost.

Not just a financial cost, but an emotional one too.  And now we hit a crossroads again.  Progress is at a standstill in many ways.  (Not in the bright, articulate, funny girl, but in other ways people don’t see.)  The strep is returning to life on a regular basis.  Her development is not agreeing with her hormone tests.  Her belly bothers her, and she needs medicine to help her sleep.

I spoke with him at length today.  He wants me to see a very intelligent nutritionist in NJ for a very specific test.  It will uncover some of the “mysteries” we are missing, he says.  We are past the point where we can look at her and treat her.  She appears well, but there are too many things that don’t make sense.

What about the Cowden’s I ask?  What about the PTEN?  Isn’t that the cause?

To which he gives me the honest, “I don’t know.  There isn’t enough research.” 

But, he insists what he does know, is that we will gain a wealth of information from this test.

It is costly, and there is no guarantee the insurance will cover it.  But, she is worth it, and we will likely set it up.  The question is when?

School starts in a week and a half.  I have 2 appointments tomorrow, she has 2 Monday, and another Weds.  There comes a point where we have to stop running like this.

The Carousel in Ocean City, NJ

When I was a little girl we vacationed in Ocean City New Jersey.  I used to like the carousel, but I wasn’t as daring as my sister – who would lean over and reach out for the rings.  I liked to hold on – tightly.

Some things haven’t changed.

I think about this carousel as well, moving in circles, sometimes seeming to get nowhere.

I find all these appointments all consuming, almost overwhelming.

Then I stop and think – it’s not about getting there, it’s about enjoying the ride.

Progress will come…

Bra-less in Walt Disney World!

I just returned from 9 days in sunny, HOT Florida with my family.  We had our 5th annual trip to Disney to celebrate Meghan‘s birthday August 9th.  I now officially have a 9 year old!

The trip was great, and I will have loads of things to share over the next few days, so bear with me.  But this is the thought I had to share first.

I spent 9 days in Florida and I didn’t wear a bra – not once.

Now I was never huge.  Prior to my mastectomy I was a B cup, C if I had gained a few pounds or wanted to make myself feel better.  So, when I was discussing my reconstruction options for the new boobs with the plastic surgeon, she was a little surprised when I told her I wanted immediate implants instead of tissue expanders.

She told me that just isn’t the way they do things anymore.  She said she wouldn’t have enough skin to maintain my existing size.  So I said, “OK, go smaller.”  Now she was a pretty small woman herself, but she still spoke to me for quite a long time, wanting to be sure I understood what I was saying.

I did.  You see my surgery was as much about my daughter as it was about me.  I knew that tissue expanders required fills.  I knew that that meant more trips to the doctor.  I knew that it meant an additional surgery for the implants, and I knew several people who had suffered enormous infections with them.  I also knew I had to get home to my daughter and get about the business of recovering – quickly.  So, if that meant I had to go down to an A cup – so be it.  It supported the weight loss all the recent stress has brought.

After the surgery I wasn’t unhappy at all with the “new” girls.  Once healed I got used to them, and grew more confident.  So, when I went shopping for vacation I got a little daring.

All those shelf bra tops. the yoga ones, and the skinny strap camisole tops – well I had a few, and I bought a few smaller ones.  Then, I tried them on with no bra.  THAT was something I never dared to do before.  I jumped, I bounced. I checked.  Nothing moved.  And, since I lost my nipples to the surgery – nothing stuck out.

Well I spent 9 days in Florida, with minimal hot flashes, helped along by my moisture wicking tops, and no bra.

Best part of all, I am sure NO one had a clue.

After all that has gone on, if I don’t find the bright side, I will crack up.  So here it is, just for you – the shots of me Bra-less in Walt Disney World!