Blindsided

Uncategorized

Here’s the thing about grief, it doesn’t care what you’re trying to do. You can be walking along, living your life, pretending things are nearly as good as they used to be, when it just comes around a corner and blindsides you. You think you can manage and then, wham! It brings you to your knees.

Today, I flew to Pittsburgh for meetings tomorrow with doctors who are sharing their data. I’m excited about it because it gives me an inside look at how the CBTTC member hospitals collect and send in their data. There’s just one little problem. It’s also the hospital where we were told the clinical trial wasn’t working for David. It was the beginning of the end, and we all knew it.

I thought it would be ok. After all, when we left Pittsburgh, David felt great. We were still in that crazy world where they tell you your child is dying but he looked fine, felt fine. And as long as you have a treatment plan, you feel like you might beat the odds. And then comes the smack down.

In many ways, we are so appreciative of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. We’ve told them that – at meetings that were far from the building I’m going to tomorrow. I know that we had more quality time with David because of the work they did. But somehow, being back on the streets that we traveled with him, it felt like he should still be here. I mean, every day, it feels like he should still be here, but somehow it was just so much more overwhelming being back here.

It made me think of the many friends I have who spend their days in hospitals where their children died. They get up each day with the resolve that they will make the day a little brighter for a family traveling the path they know too well.

When I think of that, it makes my days seem easy. When I think of that, I know I can face tomorrow with a smile for those who have dedicated their lives to trying to save our children. The truth is, none of us want to be in that room tomorrow. None of us want to be dealing with the reality of childhood cancer, but we lift each other up and do what we need to do to try and save lives. Until there are cures for all.

Breaking the silence

Uncategorized

So much of what happens to cancer families happens in silence. You may see social media posts, but they do little justice to the minute by minute terror that is constantly plaguing these families. A recent post by a Facebook friend gives a pretty good picture of the reality, so I’m sharing it in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month Day 18: madness

Watching your child lose their abilities day by day, or even faster, right in front of you. Seeing the incomprehension in their eyes and, besides showing love and hollowly saying everything will be ok, not being able to truly make anything better.

After your child’s tumor progresses and your doctors stop returning your calls. True that they don’t have any more answers but so heartless nonetheless.

Hearing the stories of friends and family who came over to cook meals, clean house, babysit, take photos, launch fundraisers, play music, spend countless hours doing research and speaking with doctors on that other family’s behalf..then comparing this to your own reality.

When after an hour of coaxing and coddling your child manages to get down the pills you hope could help extend their life only to throw them all up immediately after—bad hiccup timing or stubborn refusal? The outcome is the same.

Being denied clinical trial access and off trial medications that could extend your child’s life, due to bad timing, lack of clout carried by your medical team or more often the company/trial’s cold blooded decision to prioritize obtaining future data points over the life of your child.

Cackling madly to the ceiling when faced with yet another setback, ankle deep in the latest bodily fluid that needs disposal before you can even begin thinking of cleaning your house that looks like a) war zone b) crime scene c) hoarder’s lair (pick whichever fits best).

Dug deep furrows in both wrists watching my love get re-radiated today, head bolted tight to the machine, as we fight two tumors this, our last, time around.

Finally dozing off to sleep before being jarred awake by a bizarre sound coming from my child’s throat which sounds like ghastly choking, only to be reassured by the tone of her voice (words are now too indistinct to understand) that she’s actually ok, it was nothing.

These are just a few of the stones in the DIPG path that trigger madness.

This is how it feels at the moment….and my beloved child is still here, for now.

The alternative is unimaginable.

Arms Open

David's Journey, Lessons Learned

I was listening to a song today, and I wanted to share it with all of you. This song immediately resonated with me because David was always ready with a hug for anyone who needed it. They feature people in the video who were placed into foster homes, and the imagery for that group is strong.

For me, though, this song exemplifies what our brain cancer family is like. None of us want to be here, but now that we are, we are stalwart in our support. You are not going this alone. We are here. We care.

You may face rounds of chemo, the pain of side effects or the disease itself, and nearly everyone has a crisis of faith. Doors close without others opening. We can’t stop the bad news from coming, but we can be here by your side to see you through it.

All of that is said so much more eloquently in the song, “Arms Open” by The Script.

I can’t unfeel your pain
I can’t undo what’s done
I can’t send back the rain
But if I could I would
My love, my arms are open

So when you feel like you can’t take another round of being broken
My arms are open
And when you’re losing faith and every door around you keeps on closing
My arms are open

I can’t uncry your tears
I can’t rewind the time
I can’t unsay what’s said
In your crazy life
My love, my arms are open

Oh, and when you’re cursing at the sky
And thinking, “lord, you must be joking”
My arms are open
And, and when you’re looking in the mirror
Thinking that, “my life is over”
My arms are open

My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)

So let me do to you
What you’ve always done for me
And let me be the ground
Underneath your feet

I can’t unfeel your pain
I can’t undo what’s done
I can’t send back the rain
But if I could, I would
My love, my arms are open, arms are open

So when you feel like you can’t take another round of being broken
My arms are open
Oh, and when you’re losing faith and every door around you keeps on closing
My arms are open

My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)
My arms are open (oh, oh)

I will be standing here
I will be by your side (my arms are open)
You see me loud and clear
With my arms open wide (my arms are open)
I will be standing here
I will be by your side (my arms are open)
You see me loud and clear
With my arms open wide

My arms are open

You can watch the video here:  https://youtu.be/vOKOamXsXYE

Kids Helping Kids – Four Pennies at a Time

Dragon Master Foundation

Y O U R S P O T F O R L U X U R YIf you follow me on social media, then you have probably seen some mention of the Four Pennies project. There is a unique opportunity with the Four Pennies project to involve the population that stands to benefit the most: children. The money and awareness being raised through Four Pennies will help children with pediatric brain cancer, and by extension children with other types of cancer due to the expansion of collaboration among cancer researchers, but this project does more than that. It also provides young people with a unique, immersive opportunity to learn how they can help make a difference in their world, and among their peers.

Often children feel powerless to impact change on the world around them, and with all the negative news they are faced with, it can be overwhelming. The story of Four Pennies and Eric Montgomery is a powerful image of a young man who chose to make a positive change in the world and is inviting the rest of us to follow along.

You may be wondering why the project is called four pennies. There is more detail about that on the website (link at the bottom of the page), but here’s the way I put it when I’m talking to kids:

Eric decided to ask people to donate for pennies for every step he takes along this long trail. He picked four pennies because that’s the amount of every government cancer research dollar that goes to kids’ cancer research. So for every dollar that the government spends on cancer research only four cents goes to pediatric cancers. ( I usually pause here to see if they think that is fair. Spoiler alert: they don’t.)

Now four cents a step may not seem like very much, but the trail goes all the way from Mexico into Canada, so it’s a lot of steps. We are trying to help Eric reach his goal of getting four cents donated for every step that he takes by going out and telling people in our community about this amazing thing that he’s doing.

Eric began hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on Sunday, March 18th, but don’t worry! You haven’t missed much yet! The Trail goes from Mexico to Canada, so it will take quite a while for him to complete it – about 4 months, in fact! Eric estimates that it will take him about 4.6 MILLION steps to traverse the trail in its entirety. All along the way he will be giving us updates via social media, so it is a great chance for kids to see some educational principles in action.

Here are a few learning opportunities for classrooms who are following along:

• Geography/Geology – Eric will go through 6 of 7 eco-regions in the US. It’s a great opportunity for some real-world map reading and projections of how long it will take him to travel certain distances. Sample questions to ask: What kinds of things might slow Eric down on the trail? What kinds of terrain will he go through? Will he encounter the same type of terrain more than once?

• Goal Setting – Trips like this require a lot of planning and personal motivation. Eric has been planning his trip for months, taking into account that he won’t have access to  resources (food, water, shelter) along many parts of the trail. He will also need to motivate himself while on the trail for that many days by himself. Sample questions to ask: What kinds of things do you think Eric would need to pack for his trip? How much weight would those things weigh? Can he carry everything he would need for the entire trek?

• Preservation/History/Government – In order for trails like this to exist, they had to be commissioned and protected. The Pacific Crest Trail passes by National Monuments, through State & National parks, national forests and federal wilderness areas. It was one of the first two national trails, and was designated as such by President Johnson. Sample questions to ask: Why would the government need to be involved in protecting the trail? What circumstances make it ok to allocate space for public use? What could the positive effects of this be? Could there be negative effects?

• Math – So many possibilities for math! Students can calculating steps for a given distance, estimate how many steps Eric will take in a day, calculate the potential amounts of money raised based on various distances, etc.

• Biology – Six different ecosystems means the potential to encounter a number of native plants and a variety of species along the path. Students could research the most probably plants and animals that Eric may encounter. They could also talk about the ways the animals and plants differ based on the environments they live in. Sample question to ask: How would you expect the plants and animals to differ between ecosystems? Why would they be different?

• Engineering – land management, maintenance and restoration, construction, motorized vs nonmotorized trails. Sample question to ask: How can modern engineering protect nature?

• Language arts – reporting on Eric’s journey, imagining what could happen along the way, and reading about others who have taken the journey are all ways to engage more with Eric’s path along the trail.

If you are interested in learning more about the project, you can check out fourpennies.org or just send me a message! I can pass questions along to Eric out on the trail, and I’m happy to set up a Skype session with your classroom to help them learn more. If you want to make a donation, you can do that here.

 

Gut punched

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I sat with a family today. People think that I do that a lot, but I don’t. Mostly I don’t because the families we help are spread far and wide. But the other reason I don’t is because it is hard. It is really, freaking hard to go sit in a hospital room and act like the world somehow makes sense.

Whenever I have the opportunity and muster the coverage, I’m equally terrified and honored. It triggers every bad memory I have, but I feel so honored that I am even a blip on this person’s journey.

Today, the journey is for a six year old. He is beautiful. I mean, he is cute, but there is something about his spirit that is just beautiful. His mom is open and honest and it tore my heart to shreds. It is 2018, and we have only inched forward with research progress since David died. I truly believed we would be saving lives by now, but we aren’t. We just aren’t.

I feel the shifts underfoot. I can see the change on the horizon. But it isn’t coming in time for this family today. And that is heartbreaking. And I’m asking you, please, if you want to help speed cancer research, STOP DOING THINGS THE SAME WAY!!!

Innovation is coming from collaborative science, and that is NOT what most institutions are funding. Please don’t just blindly make a donation. Your money has power!! Even if it is only $5, it has a voice! Your donation is a vote, and we need more people to pay attention. Vote for what matters.

We have 17 hospitals who are sharing data, but the funding for the sharing doesn’t come from those hospitals. It comes from foundations like Dragon Master Foundation. It comes from passionate people like you, who are tired of the marketing hype and want to see results. It comes from people like me who work daily to bring about this change.

We might not get answers in time for this child. That is not ok. We need your help to do better.

P.S. I don’t really have a polished ending for this. This isn’t a marketing piece. It’s my blog, where I try to give you a real glimpse of life in brain tumor world. Sometimes it’s just raw.

The Force Is Stronger Now

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

NoahsLightGoldRibbon

Sometimes on this cancer mom path, you meet people who are on a similar journey. When I first met Amber Larkin, and saw the work she was doing, I knew that I wanted to be a part of that effort. My daughter and I volunteered with Noah’s Light Foundation, even after we had started Dragon Master Foundation. Our missions were so similar, and our boys had so much in common, that working with them just felt right.

Recently Amber came to me and told me that she has a different path in mind for Noah’s Light, and she asked if Dragon Master Foundation would be willing to take on some of the work she had started with their foundation. What a very special request that was! To say I was honored would be an understatement. I have a lot of respect for what Noah’s Light has accomplished, and like the Jedis that Noah and David loved, they are passing their knowledge and wisdom on to us.

Amber tells the story best so I’ll let you read all about it here:

http://www.noahslight.com/the-new-light-a-note-from-amber/

Thank you for being part of our journey so far, and we are excited about all the new things in store for 2018.

How is Cancer Research Like Playing “Go Fish”?

Dragon Master Foundation

Sorry for the lack of blog posts lately. Lots going on, most of which gets posted to some form of social media or the other, but I wanted to make sure you non-social media folks saw this! We partnered with a class at the University of Alabama to make a video to help explain what Dragon Master Foundation does. We think they did a great job… let me know what you think!

So Much For “Catching It Early”

David's Journey, Lessons Learned
David & Rachel

Does this look like a kid waiting on brain surgery?

I found a Facebook post today from before I started this blog. You see, I didn’t know the path that we were headed down. I didn’t know that I would be trying to help others navigate the ugly world of brain cancer. I thought my son had a brain tumor that would require some potentially risky surgery, but that we would get it out and be on our merry way. I didn’t know a lot of things – then.

Fast forward to today, when I know more than I ever wanted to about brain cancer and how devastating it is – even when it is small and they catch it early. You see, this disease isn’t like most cancers. Catching it early doesn’t dramatically improve your chance of survival. It being small doesn’t make it any less aggressive.

Looking back at this post, I am struck by how naive I was. I know that the rest of the world is also that naive. I know that you won’t really understand unless, God forbid, it happens to you or someone you love. And that’s the real kicker. It COULD happen to you or someone you love. We have no idea why David got brain cancer. Most brain cancers can not be traced to a specific cause. He didn’t smoke or drink or even use a cell phone much. He was a healthy, happy 16 year old who didn’t deserve this. No one does.

This post is full of optimism, and though we may not have David with us anymore, we still have his sense of optimism. We know we are on the right track. We know we will help put an end to this disease, and most likely, many others. I wish with all of my heart that it had happened in time to save David, but I move forward everyday with a sense of urgency that it today it could be someone else’s “David”. One day, a mother will get to keep her innocence because of the work you are helping us do.

Here’s the post from September 3, 2010:

David was having really bad headaches so his dad took him to the ER – twice. Second time they did a CT scan and saw something. Turns out he had a small growth with some bleeding. The bleeding was irritating the area & giving him a headache. (We had originally thought the bleeding was an issue, but it seems to have stopped fairly quickly on it’s own.) So the headaches alerted us to a problem (the growth) that might have gone unchecked for a while otherwise.

The growth is a concern because it shouldn’t be there, but as growths go, it seems “good”. It’s small and compact, like a ball – not “reaching out” like an open hand.

Because it is in his head, they want to be very careful how they approach it. Since everything has stabilized so much (a very good thing) they are waiting for the dust to settle (or in this case for the blood that is in the wrong place to be reabsorbed) so they have a nice clear picture when they put their tiny scope camera in.

Now, this may sound intense, but there are some good things working here: 1) they caught it very early and 2) they have time to calmly decide on the best approach to fix it. Since he is doing so well, they can start with the least invasive thing and only use the more invasive stuff as a latter option. (A lot of times the situation is more severe and they have to use the “big guns” right away. And yes, that is just a figure of speech!)

The growth is in his brain, and not in the easiest location to reach, so the doctor is being very cautious about how and where he goes in. It is very likely that David will have to do a little rehab depending on what procedure(s) they have to use.

His headaches have been well under control (sometimes gone) since the day after he came into the hospital, so he’s feeling pretty good. He has been kidding around a lot today and seems pretty comfortable with what’s going on. He does know everything and was able to ask the neurosurgeon questions. (Which, if you know David, you will know that made him happy.)

Please keep praying for him. Things look good for the circumstances, but we have a lot of work to do next week.

Lastly, I’d just like to thank all of you who’ve sent messages of thoughts and prayers. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve never really had to deal with this kind of thing before, so I never really knew how much that meant. We are confident that God is working powerfully for David, and we are so thankful for the prayer warriors out there who are lifting us up. (On a light note, we were visualizing that today as sort of a prayer with a “raise the roof” hand motion. God is good!)

Can Zika Really Cure GBM? Experts Weigh In

Lessons Learned, Uncategorized

3D Image of the Zika Virus from WikiMedia

For most people, trying to navigate the world of new cancer treatments is not easy. The media reports on new discoveries like they are already viable treatments, and patients are often confused as to why they can’t access things they hear about on the news.

We’d like to help brain cancer patients and their families understand these discoveries a little bit better. The first step is really to understand that there is a big difference between what can happen in the lab and what happens in the human body. The lab gives us our first indications that something is worth exploring, but however promising something is in the lab, in the human body that path can lead to many things — from healing to death.

As our first example in what we hope will be an ongoing dialogue, let’s look at the Zika virus news. You’ve probably seen headlines like “Employing Zika Virus to Treat Advanced Brain Cancer” and “Zika Virus Targets and Kills Brain Cancer Stem Cells”. That sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want to jump on that?

Unfortunately, these are still lab studies, and have a long way to go in proving safe and effective in humans. For some clarification, we reached out to Dr. Cheng-Ying Ho, MD, PhD, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Ho has done some work with both the Zika virus and brain tumors.

Dr. Ho states, “The misconception about Zika originated from the earlier cell culture studies showing Zika preferentially infects neural stem cells. However, the cell culture system is an oversimplified model. It doesn’t have glia or inflammatory cells like human beings.”

She goes on to say, “Mouse models are a lot better, but most of the mice need to have a weakened immune system before they can be infected. Therefore these mice don’t have the immune response against the virus. It is also an artificial system.”

Many times, doctors and researchers are afraid to share preliminary results from studies because the general public may draw the wrong conclusions. Dr. Ho seems to share that concern. She states that her biggest concern about this seemingly promising strategy is the possibility of developing meningoencephalitis. Meningoencephalitis can be fatal and it has occurred in adult Zika patients.

Dr. Ho ended our interactions by saying, “The concept of using Zika virus to treat glioblastoma is very creative but may be difficult to be put into practice due to the possibility of fatal uncontrollable side effects.”

We also talked to Dr. Javad Nazarian of Children’s National Health System because of his work on pediatric brain tumors. He said that the issue is more complicated in children. “A child’s brain is constantly growing and making neuronal connections. It is an active environment and any time we apply drugs that indiscriminately target tumor AND healthy cells, we could potentially do more harm than good. That is why laboratory findings need rigorous testing and multiple validation steps before they have clinical benefits.” He went on to say that this is one reason that discovery and validation of effective treatments takes time.

Obviously, there are labs who are very interested in pursuing Zika as a possible treatment agent. We know that creative measures will be needed to combat GBM and other aggressive brain cancers, so we will continue to hope that one of these creative solutions will turn out to be a viable solution in humans. Will that be Zika? It seems to be too early to say, but for now, patients should not expect this to be a treatment that would be offered soon.

Note: This article is not intended as medical advice and you should always seek the opinion of your physician before starting or stopping any new treatment. Blog post was first published on Medium.com.

 

Recognition for “Putting Kids First”

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Kids First Research Program

We are so proud to share the announcement that the Center for Data Driven Discovery in Biomedicine (D3b) has been selected to lead the NIH’s Kids First Data Resource Center. D3b is based at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and they along with a number of other partners, including Dragon Master Foundation, will be a integral part of the new, collaborative effort funded by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund to discover the causes of pediatric cancer and structural birth defects through the use of big data.  The Center will be known as the “Kids First Pediatric Data Resource Center” (DRC).

This effort goes hand-in-hand with the work we have been doing on Cavatica, and as a liaison to the Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium’s Scientific Advisory Committee, I will be attending meetings for the next three days related to this and other collaborative efforts to take place in the coming year. We are so excited about the influx of resources from NIH, but  it does not take any of the pressure off of the work we are already funding. This means that the project will grow bigger and faster, but there is much work to be done on our own efforts. For example, the clinical trial that we have committed to fund still needs to be funded.

We want to take this opportunity to recognize all of the hospitals, foundations, individual doctors and researchers, and families who have worked together to get us this far. This really is a massive undertaking that we believe will forever change the way we conduct medical research. Please take a moment to read the full press release here.