Mother’s Day Wish

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As sweet and wonderful as my husband, daughter, bonus daughter, and bonus son are, they can’t give me what I really want for Mother’s Day. If you know me, you’re thinking I’d want David back. Well, sort of. I mean, with all of my heart, I’d love to have him right here beside me, but how can I wish him back from a world so much better than this one? Now that he is there, I know he must stay. So what I’d really wish for is that no other parent would have to prematurely say goodbye their child. I want a cure.

You can look at my son’s death in a few different ways. In the most detailed way, you could say, “he died from GBM so we want to cure that.” Or you could broaden that scope and say “he died from brain cancer so we want to cure that.” He was a teen when he got cancer and that would fall into “childhood cancer” territory, so you could say we should cure that. Or you could look at the big picture and say “he died from cancer, so we want to cure that.”

There have been successful foundations set up with each of those goals. I guess the difference we bring to the equation is that we see the synergy between all those goals. We need to see the minutia in order to see the big picture. But by focusing on just GBM or just childhood cancer, we may miss answers that lie just beyond in brain cancer or cancer in general.

Please understand that I am not faulting the foundations that came before us. They all have served a very important purpose. I believe that we fill a gap between all the other foundations. We want to bring them all together. We want to take data from the individual silos, from the small consortiums, and put it into one massive database. People think that researchers and institutions won’t share. We know that isn’t true. There are consortiums all around the world, and we have already signed on five hospitals to share their data with us.

The missing piece is the data – not the sharing. We need to create high-quality data that is meta tagged for a searchable, graphing database that can be used in real time by researchers in virtually any location. We want to give them access to the data AND the computational power they will need to work with it. In the same way that Facebook can suggest new friends, or Amazon can suggest the next book you should read, computers can help researchers find new leads in the war on cancer.

Instead of wondering why some patients are successful in a clinical trial and some are not, the computer would be able to analyze each patient down to the molecular level to see what the successful patients have in common. They’ll know what the patients have in common who aren’t successful on the trial. These answers mostly elude researchers right now because of the complexity of detail. This type of database will speed research by an incomprehensible amount.

In a span of moments, they could query the database for information that takes months or years to deduce with current systems. Think about it as trying to find information for a report in 1980. You would have to go to the library, dig around for books and periodicals, maybe even travel to a different library to get all the information you need. The internet has put the most mundane information at the touch of our fingers. We just want to do the same for critical cancer research data.

If you want to do something for me and for all the mothers who are mourning their child because of cancer, then please plan to attend this webinar: http://bit.ly/1dLwolc . You will hear people far more eloquent than me discuss this database and what it will mean for cancer research. It will give you hope, and I pray it will give you purpose because we need more people in this fight.

Brain Cancer Awareness Month Needs You!

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Brain Cancer Awareness Month is, at best, bittersweet. A time for us to bring awareness to a disease that takes a devastating toll on families. It is a time for us to celebrate the victories of those who are living with this disease and at time for us to remember those who were taken by it.

I will be posting a lot this month about the brain cancer warriors who have crossed my path, and I will try to bring awareness to the disease and to events happening around the country. Everyone can wear grey and talk about brain cancer awareness month, but hopefully, by posting this list, you may also be able to find an event near you to attend. Please also consider changing your social media images to a grey awareness picture. If you Tweet, I’d love to connect with you on Twitter. Tweet me at @AmandaHaddock and you can use hashtags #btam (for brain tumor awareness month) and #BrainTumorThursday – a day each week throughout the year that we raise awareness.

If you know of an event that isn’t on the list, please message me so I can add it. I’m pretty sure I’ll be adding events all month, so please bookmark this list and check back!

Anywhere
May 8 – Go Grey for a Day – Make sure you wear grey on this day and tell people that you are doing it for brain tumor/cancer awareness

May 15 – Webinar to learn about the latest in collaborative brain cancer research – http://bit.ly/1dLwolc

Tune in to Catch The Brain Wave each Friday from 6-7pm EST on WESS 90.3 FM LIVE in Pennsylvania!! Listen on the web here: http://tunein.com/radio/WESS-903-s28605/

Look for ways you can contribute to your favorite organizations every day. There are too many organizations to list all the possibilities, but here are some ways you could help Dragon Master Foundation:
– Following us on FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest
– Choosing us when you shop on AmazonSmile
– Recycling for us with our free shipping program
– Register your Dillons card using our #11547 – a lot of grocery stores have this option. If you don’t see your favorite foundation listed, tell them, so they can get signed up!
– Do your intent shopping with iGive

Also, check your favorite foundation’s website for other promotions that may be happening. For example, Dragon Master Foundation has the opportunity to win a unique piece of dragon art created just for the foundation! Check it out here.

Ok, now for a state by state listing of activities you can participate in:

California
May 2 – Bay Area Brain Tumor Walk – http://events.braintumor.org/bay-area-brain-tumor-walk/
May 3 – Los Angeles Ride for Kids – http://pbtf.convio.net/site/TR?fr_id=1980&pg=entry#.VUMDZ2TBzGc
May 8 – Striking out Pediatric Brain Cancer with the Los Angeles Angels – http://www.eventbrite.com/e/striking-out-pediatric-brain-cancer-with-the-angels-maxlove-project-and-the-mckenna-claire-tickets-16325952363
May 16 – Come Fly With Me Party with a Purpose – http://mckennaclairefoundation.org/events/come-fly-with-me-5th-annual-party-with-a-purpose-051615/
May 30 – San Diego Brain Tumor Walk – http://events.braintumor.org/san-diego-brain-tumor-walk/

Connecticut
Sharing Hope Walk the Walk Talk the Talk – http://hope.abta.org/site/TR?fr_id=3330&pg=entry

Florida
May 2 – National Walk to End Brain Tumors – http://wizathon.com/walktoendbraintumors-fl/
May 9 – Prohibition Gala – http://btagala.com/

Georgia
May 5 – 11 Annual JSL Charity Classic – http://www.jslcharityclassic.com/
May 31 – Bowl for the Bull – http://www.gofundme.com/bowlforthebull

Illinois
May 9 – 17th Annual Vernon Hills Brain Tumor Walk – http://www.abta.org/get-involved/events/17th-annual-vernon-hills.html

May 13 – Dine out at Kouri’s in Pekin – https://www.facebook.com/events/840909205993896/
May 15 – 3rd Annual Act for Alan Fundraiser – http://www.abta.org/get-involved/events/3rd-annual-act-for-alan.html
May 17 – Join the Voices 5K in Chicago – http://www.voicesinmotion.org/site/TR?fr_id=1291&pg=entry

May 30 – Cocktails for a Cause – https://myab.co/events/EC/

Iowa
May 1-3 – Lambda Chi Alpha Teeter Totter – https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lambda-chi-alpha-teeter-totter-a-thon-for-abta
May 9 – Race for Hope Des Moines – http://www.raceforhopedsm.org/

Kansas
May 3 – Avengers Age of Ultron Movie Screening – http://www.dragonmasterfoundation.org/events/

Massachusetts
May 2 – Brain Tumor Alliance 5k – http://events.braintumoralliance.org/site/TR?fr_id=1160&pg=entry
May 17 – Boston Brain Tumor Ride – http://events.braintumor.org/boston-brain-tumor-ride/

Michigan
May 2 – BT5K – http://hope.abta.org/site/TR?fr_id=3183&pg=entry

Minnesota
May 17 – MN Brain Tumor 5k – http://mnbraintumor5k.com/

Mississippi
May 2 – North Mississippi Kilt Walk & Fun Run – http://www.kiltedforbraintumors.com/

Nevada
May 16 – Desert Gray Matters – http://wizathon.com/walktoendbraintumors-nv/

New Jersey
May 30 – National Walk to End Brain Tumors – http://www.wizathon.com/walktoendbraintumors-nj

New York
May 17 – 11th Annual Team Billy Ride & Walk for Research – http://www.braintumorcommunity.org/site/PageServer?pagename=BTR_SS_Homepage

North Carolina
May 3 – NC Triangle Ride for Kids – http://pbtf.convio.net/site/TR?fr_id=1990&pg=entry#.VUMC6mTBzGc

North Dakota
May 24 – National Walk to End Brain Tumors – http://wizathon.com/walktoendbraintumors-nd/

Ohio

May 18 & 19 – Joggin for the Noggin Benefit Dinner – https://www.facebook.com/events/350866698444089/

Pennsylvania

May 1 – Brews for Brains – https://www.facebook.com/events/1377664142561766/

May 2 – Avengers Age of Ultron Movie Screening – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-avengers-age-of-ultron-2015-3d-private-movie-screening-at-king-of-prussia-imax-and-stadium-16-tickets-15957153275

May 24 – BRAINFEST – https://secure2.convio.net/abta/site/Donation2;jsessionid=0C748EA3B0B8BED03111BA4D4F56B5A0.app274b?df_id=6720&6720.donation=landing

Utah
May 25 – National Walk to End Brain Tumors – http://wizathon.com/walktoendbraintumors-utah/

Virginia
May 29 – 3rd Annual Lambda Chi Alumni Clay’s Day – http://akidsbraintumorcure.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=515

Washington DC
May 3 – Race for Hope Washington, DC – http://www.braintumorcommunity.org/site/TR?fr_id=2360&pg=entry

Washington
May 3 – Seattle Brain Cancer Walk – http://www.braincancerwalk.org/
May 16 – BT5K – http://hope.abta.org/site/TR?fr_id=3182&pg=entry

May 30 – Bellingham Brain Cancer Walk – http://braincancerwalk.org/bellingham

It is my hope that these events will inspire you to get involved in awareness events throughout the year – not just in May.

A Significant First

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You make note of many firsts. Baby’s first steps. First day of school. First job. First anniversary. They are almost always happy occasions. But today I am trying to find a way to  honor a first that is not happy. It’s heartbreaking and yet it means so much that I can not let it go by without acknowledgement.

Yesterday, I found out about a brain cancer warrior that has moved on from this world. His family and friends will have to learn to live without his sweet presence every day. It is a first for me because they have asked that memorial donations be made to Dragon Master Foundation. This is the first time that I’m aware of this happening, and I don’t know what to say. How do you thank someone for such a selfless gift? They’ve wrapped up all their love and lifted it as an offering in honor of Wilson. They believe in us enough to put it out there to the world that they want his life honored through contributions to an effort to save others.

This is such a significant thing to me. I’m humbled. I’m in tears. And I’m so very determined to put an end to cancer. For Wilson. For David. For all the warriors still in this fight. We won’t let you down.

For Auld Lang Syne

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I have an app on my phone called “Time Hop”. It goes back in time to year’s past and pulls out photos from your phone or Facebook to show you a little of your personal history. Today, one of the photos it showed me was of my Facebook statuses from 2010. What struck me was how happy they all were. How thankful. How EARLY in the year. You see, all of the statuses in the picture were from the first eight months of the year. David was diagnosed with cancer in month 9.

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In hindsight, I always wonder if I was thankful enough before cancer entered our world. If I appreciated my kids enough. If I knew how blessed we were in spite of our hardships. Then today I saw this recap of my year before cancer. There’s no doubt that I knew what my blessings were. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but I reveled in them when they appeared.

What really struck me, though, was how blissfully unaware we were. We had “normal” problems. The kind that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get through. And then, David got an excruciating headache that led to three weeks in ICU and brain surgery. All the while, we believed that we would just pull together as a family and get through it.

But cancer isn’t always like that. Yes, being positive and fighting hard is important. I believe that it can make a huge difference in treatment and survival, but it is no guarantee. Cancer sneaks in unexpectedly and steals away your normal. To me, that is the most alarming thing. There was no warning.

In some ways life is just like that. You never know what’s around that next curve. The end of the year seems like a good time to look back over those curves and smile where you can, and cry when you must. More importantly, it’s time to look ahead to see what you can do to smooth the curves in the coming year, both for yourself and for those around you.

For me, looking ahead means finding innovative ways to fight cancer. I know David is looking down on us urging us forward. I know that he would see each life as precious and worthy of the fight. As we enter 2015, I hope that you will join us to make a positive change in the world of cancer research.

Dragon Master Foundation is on Amazon!

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Several of our supporters have asked to support us via Amazon Smile, and we are happy to report we are now one of the official charities listed there. Simply choose us when you shop, and a portion of all your Amazon spending will benefit Dragon Master Foundation!!

Here’s the link:

http://smile.amazon.com/ch/46-2847688

What A Brain Cancer Caregiver Wants You To Know Before You Head to the Polls, aka People You Need to Meet: #45 Kristen Gauly

52 People To Meet Posts

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What I wish I knew before my Mom was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme…

When brain cancer entered my life, I couldn’t have processed or understood at that moment that it was the cancer that keeps on stealing. It stole my Mom’s speech, her movement on the left side, her laugh, her smile, her personality, in short, it took all of her. And then, it came for us.

My brother, David, and I have been close my whole life. I’ve been blessed beyond measure in that respect. We endured much growing up; both of us faced major obstacles that required full family support to survive. It was always a comfort to know that my Mom, Dad and David would be there to face whatever challenge showed up next. I wish I knew how to prepare to for the day when crisis would result in the death of the leader of the pack. At thirty-six, it’s very difficult to think about how to face the rest of my life without my Mom.

My Mom’s fight with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) was short. It began on Valentine’s Day of 2013 and ended on the afternoon of May 6, 2013. In those eighty-two days, she endured a resection, a stroke three days post resection, and three weeks of physical therapy which kept her from any sort of chemo or radiation. Mom’s left side was completely paralyzed thanks to the stroke, chemo, radiation, continued physical therapy and finally home hospice.

I wish I’d understood the health care system better. I wish I’d known that lack of funding, lack of research and no new treatment was the stark reality for those facing GBM. That death from GBM is the rule, not the exception. I wish I’d known GBM is considered “rare,” and that because it’s such a low priority, it’s considered an undesirable disease to study. I wish I’d known all of these things so I could’ve been prepared, planned ahead, advocated more effectively. But I didn’t.

I wish I knew before cancer that this… IS IT! Of course I know we only get one life; I wish I’d recognized earlier the importance of each day. I wish I’d taken more pictures throughout her life, that I’d spent more time with just her when she wasn’t sick. I wish a million things had been different, but I understand they simply are not. Mostly, I wish I knew how much the death of one family member can change the dynamic of the entire family. We aren’t the same. My Mom was the glue. She held everyone together, carried the Band-Aids and tissues in her purse for emergencies. No one tells you that cancer will change everything. Forever.

I wish I knew how just plain ugly cancer could be. There’s an unwritten rule among GBM folks: Do not compare any other cancer to this. When anyone does so, it is hard not to cringe. I’ve stood beside my dear friend while her Mom conquered ovarian cancer multiple times. GBM is nothing like that. My close friends, especially those who came to see my Mom, learned quickly this was a whole other beast. My Mom had the reasoning ability of a child post-stroke. She could say things that were cruel, such as when she told a friend that I pushed her out of her wheelchair and tried to kill her. Oh how that stung! Long gone was my sweet, smart Mama who loved others so very much. Nothing is quite as humbling as cleaning your Mom during a Depends change or feeding her soup and wiping her mouth.

I wish I knew how much others cared before cancer. People came out of the woodwork when they find out my Mom had GBM. They cooked, cleaned, prayed non-stop, gave gifts, and struggled for words that could possibly make my family feel better. My work family responded in a way you read about in books. They donated money in my Mom’s name to ABTA, covered my butt, and prayed non-stop. They took care of my cat, cleaned my apartment, gave me hugs, and listened when I needed to just spill my heart. My friends did all of this as well, but to see my work family just jump in without being asked told me quite clearly how they felt about me.

I wish I knew about post-cancer, post-funeral aftershock. I was ill-prepared for the after effects of cancer. I didn’t understand that my brain was processing all of these emotions for months after my Mom was gone. I continuously lost items, I forgot what I was doing, would find my keys in the freezer. I found myself continuing to panic with every incoming call and text, and sleep was hard to come by for months. Sometime around the five month mark, I started having nightmares. There are still days—over a year later— when I cannot remember what I’m doing or sleep through the night. While less frequent, the nightmares still love to resurface at the first sign of stress.

Lastly, I wish I’d known that all the things that fell apart did so for a reason. I’m not referring to my Mom’s death; her death is something I’ll never understand.  It is only now that I begin to recognize that sometimes you have to experience extraordinary pain from loss before you decide to change priorities. My Mom was my biggest cheerleader; her cancer helped me see my life much clearer. She was constantly telling us good things would come from her cancer. I’ve made connections with others fighting GBM, begun working to spread smiles through my charitable project for kids with, Brain Cancer Share Your Shirts, and I’ve strived to make my loved ones my top priority everyday. The more I delve into advocating, the more of those “good things” begin to surface.

Brain cancer has not changed my core values or beliefs. However, some parts of my life have been permanently altered. If you ask me which issues are most important to me at the polls in 2014, you’ll find my answers dramatically shifted from those I would have given a year ago. My first priority is now supporting those politicians, regardless of party, who support brain cancer research. It matters. I wasn’t always a major supporter of brain cancer funding, but then again, I wasn’t always a thirty-six year old living without my Mom courtesy of GBM.

Missing Patricia A. Gauly today, and always.

With Love and Hope,

Kristen Gauly

Editor’s note: If you would like to learn more about what Kristen is doing in her mom’s memory, check out her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brain-Cancer-Share-Your-Shirts/160672910806397

Working Together for A Brighter Future

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This week I had the great pleasure of speaking with Dr. Peter Adamson, Group Chair of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). For those of you unfamiliar with COG, more than 90% of  children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States are cared for at Children’s Oncology Group member institutions. Their goal is to cure all children and adolescents with cancer, reduce the short and long-term complications of cancer treatments, and determine the causes and find ways to prevent childhood cancer. That matches our mission pretty well, so I was excited to learn where we might be able to collaborate.

COG is currently focused on collecting biospecimens and clinical data. In layman’s terms, they are collecting cancer specimens (tissue, blood, etc) as well ad information on the child’s diagnosis, treatment and outcome. They have collected a massive amount of data over the past 50 years. They have well over a million biospecimens! More than 350,000 patients have shared data with them. They have biorepositories and databases in different parts of the country and work with over 220 hospitals in the US & Canada.

I am very impressed by what they have accomplished, but ultimately, I believe that the infrastructure we are building can improve the work they are doing. Their focus is collecting the specimens and data. Our focus is taking those specimens and data and making them a perpetual resource backed by robust computational power to allow them to collaborate with other researchers and also analyze and visualize the data in new ways.

To give you some idea of the scale of the data, let’s look at the numbers. There are approximately 14,000 children a year diagnosed with cancer in the US. Collecting a biospecimen would cost somewhere in the range of $1,000. (The NIH currently values that at around $500, but the actual institutional cost is thought to be much higher, thus my $1,000 figure.) So just to collect the biospecimens for those patients, you are looking at $140,000 per year. However, that is just scratching the surface of what needs to be done. Those specimens have to be stored (visualize giant freezers with robots to access the individual samples), categorized, and matched with corresponding clinical records.

Traditionally, most hospitals and foundations have been unwilling and/or unable to invest in the infrastructure that it would take to compile this amount of data. COG demonstrated real vision by collecting this data and they have been able to use it to forward science. Dragon Master Foundation believes that additional computational power, or “big data” analytics, will help them find the cures they seek even faster.

Dr. Adamson said he felt Dragon Master Foundation is taking “a sophisticated look at the challenge.” We know that building this type of computational infrastructure will be expensive, but we also know that it will exponentially decrease the amount of time it takes for researchers to collect and query data. Faster answers to their questions means faster cures for us.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are building a resource that will improve cancer research. It ultimately will help cancer researchers throughout the US, and probably throughout the world. It will make the work they have been doing for years more relevant.

To learn more about Dragon Master Foundation, please visit http://www.dragonmasterfoundation.org. To learn more about the Children’s Oncology Group, please visit projecteverychild.org or childrensoncologygroup.org .

Do you watch The Voice?

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Tonight I was watching The Voice and listening to these young people talk about pursuing their dreams. It’s a fun show, and I really get inspired listening to them talk about their goals. But today I got to sit in a room and listen to cancer researchers talk about pursuing their dreams. Talk about inspiring!! I wish that each of you could be there and hear what they have to say about their work.

I wish that the world chose to really get their priorities straight. I wish that instead of rock stars, we were watching cancer researchers. I wish that they got the recognition and the “buzz” that celebrities get. I know that this isn’t a switch that is likely to happen anytime soon, but still, I hope that the folks reading this blog will get excited about what I’m going to share.

In today’s meetings, we were asked to help put together a pilot program for the database they want us to build. Using their data and developing computational power, we want to pilot this program that will allow them to share data and work together toward a cure. They have asked us to start with DIPG and GBM – two of the most deadly brain cancers.

These are some of the smartest people I have ever met, and they are asking us for help. To be more clear, they are asking for YOUR help.

They can’t depend on traditional funding sources for this. Grant funding is very limited, and most grants aren’t structured for programs of this scale. The funding sources they have access to traditionally want to see results before they will fund programs.

So they need us – all of us – to help them find this pilot so they can show some results and get further funding. Every one of us has the power to do something big here. Really big. You may think you don’t have much to offer, but you do!

If you have read this message then you have the power to help us meet our goal. Please share this blog. Then think about ways you can make an impact in your community. Can you hold a bake sale? A car wash? A Zumbathon? Whatever it is you like to do, invite some friends to do it with you and raise a few dollars.

If we all do that, we can make thousands of dollars to help these researchers change the way research is done. This is bigger than me. It is bigger than you. It is the sum of all of us, and together we can change the world!

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There Are No Easy Days

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I believe it is the Marine Corps that says, “There are no easy days.” They know what they are talking about. They are either at war or preparing for war. Sometimes it feels that way when you are the parent of a child with cancer. Or when you have lost your child to that disease. There are no easy days.

Yesterday, I watched in awe as my friend, Vashni Nilon, came to a 5k without her sweet daughter, Lucy. She came because they had been building this team for months, and even though Lucy died just a few days ago, Vashni knows this battle is not over.

This team of walkers grew from about 20 to about 150 because of the efforts of two moms and a dedicated staff. There were doctors and hospital staff sprinkled throughout the crowd. Everyone doing their best to make a difference.

One doctor shared with me that he had been up by 4:30 am each day this week so he could work on grant proposals before heading to the hospital. Another’s wife mentioned that not only does he respond to patient needs in the middle of the night, but also was on call for lab equipment failures. (Tumor tissue samples are precious and he takes personal responsibility for their safety.)

A staff member shared that her kids are “regulars” at the hospital because she has been working 7 days a week. There is no lack of passion here, but yet our children are still dying.

So what do they say they need? More computational power. More data storage. More manpower to input the records. What does that really mean? More funding.

We are in a day and age where computational analytics could be a powerful tool, but most researchers don’t really have access to that kind of power. Dragon Master Foundation aims to change that, but we need your help.

We need a nationwide effort to raise money for a research database. There are currently four leading children’s hospitals participating, and we want to add more! Please get involved today, and help us give everyone hope for easier days.

You can make a tax deductible donation to Dragon Master Foundation by clicking here: http://www.dragonmasterfoundation.org/get-involved/#donate

Or by mailing a check to:
Dragon Master Foundation
8201 East 34th Street N., #801
Wichita KS 67226

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People You Need to Meet #44: Stephanie McMillan

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Stephanie's family

Stephanie’s family

What I wish I knew before my child was diagnosed with brain cancer??

I wish I had known how precious time was. I wish I had realized how little that mess had mattered, how quickly time passes by, how precious every sound from his lips could be.

Though his whole life we were on the go, enjoying life, but it wasn’t until my son was told that he mostly likely wouldn’t survive this that we really began to live. October 4, 2012 will forever be etched in my mind as a day that the world stopped turning at the same rate of speed.   From that day, life became before and after.

Before Richard was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) we spent our weekends going to the park, visiting the local lake, swimming from sun up to sun down. I wish I had known how precious that time with him really was. I wish I had soaked up every minute. The thing is, as parents, we tend to busy ourselves. Even when taking our kids to a park, we use that time to socialize with other parents, or to send those all so important work emails. Looking up every so often to make sure we can spot our child, then right back to what we were up to. How many times did I take my kids to the park only to sit on a bench the entire time?   How many of our trips to the pool or lake did I lay on the side line the entire time working on my tan rather than splashing around with them? Yea, I got up and played with them, when I got too hot to continue lying there, and needed a break from tanning my skin. There were many times that I did this with friends and spent more time laughing and cutting up with them, rather than playing with my kids. If I had known then that my son would die at 9 years old, I have to believe that I wouldn’t have cared one bit about my tan lines, or sending that work email. I have to believe that I would have gotten off my butt and played with my kids. I would have spent every single second soaking them in. I would have let the dishes lay in the sink and played with them before bedtime.

So often in our busy lives we wake up determined to keep ourselves on schedule. We get upset with our children when they take too long to put on their shoes. ‘UGH….get up, I’ve called your name three times… if I have to call your name one more time you’re going to be in trouble.’ I have to believe that had I known that our lives would change completely when my son was 7 years old, I would have spent every morning waking them up slowly with snuggles. Giggling while we played games to get dressed. I have to believe that I would have gotten up earlier to make sure we had time for things to go wrong, or us to fall behind schedule. To enjoy that morning rush with my kids rather than just march them into the day with one …two…. three, let’s go.

As adults we become so consumed with our careers. I wanted to travel every chance I was given with the company I worked for. I was working hard to hopefully become a District Manager some day. Had I known when I was busting my hiney to climb the corporate ladder that my life would change, I would have left work at work. How much money I earned wouldn’t even matter anymore! So often I brought it home with me. After working 12 hours, I’d come home and take calls or send emails, pushing my kids to the side so that they could entertain themselves. I have to believe that if had I know that my son wouldn’t ever turn 10 years old that I would have worked fewer hours, and I would have let work handle itself when I was home with my family.

I ask myself often, why did that matter so much to me? Did they miss me when I left? You see for me, it wasn’t my business I was working to grow. I was working in a corporate job that I loved, but while I want to believe I was a valued employee, I was just a number and quickly replaced. Life moves on, and they needed the job done. Meanwhile, what was waiting on me at home was a position that was irreplaceable. I was the CEO of the most important job in the world. However, I didn’t place that job description high enough in my list of importance. Don’t get me wrong, I needed to earn a living. I needed to pay for the fun I took my kids to enjoy, but I, like so many other parents, put the value of the corporate ladder before the quality of time my family got from me.

Before my son was diagnosed with brain cancer I wish I had realized how little the opinions of others really meant. I’ve always worked hard to be a likeable person and be easy to get along with. When relationships failed, as they often will, it would break my heart. I would spend so much of my energy worrying over what went wrong and how I could have changed the outcome of that relationship. If a “friend” had the wrong idea about who I was or what my agenda was, I spent way too much time trying to get them to see things from my perspective. I wish I had known none of that would matter. You see during my son’s fight for his life, we made his journey public. I wanted people to see what life was like with living with a child with cancer. By doing this I made myself and family vulnerable to the opinions of others. It didn’t take long for people to question my agenda and say hurtful things. I wish I had known then how little those people’s opinions mattered when it was all said and done. People will tell you what you should do, or how you should do it. They may question your every move. What I am glad that I know now, that their opinion of me is none of my business. All that matters is that everything I did/do is for my children.

My son died one week and three days shy of his 23rd month anniversary from being diagnosed with DIPG. He beat the odds and survived much longer than initially expected. From the moment he was diagnosed until the day he died, every ounce of me was poured into him and my other children. I will forever be a person who doesn’t care if there is a mess laying around in my floor, as long as I am taking that time and focusing on what is important….my family. I am thankful Richard’s fight taught me these things. I wish I hadn’t had to experience childhood cancer to learn that lesson. Please, hug your children. Please evaluate your life, and think, if your world was flipped upside down today, what would you forget about in order to be what your family needed? Every minute counts in life, and I promise you, if you’re aligned as you should be, when it’s all said and done all that matters is your family.