3 Changes Coming To Clinical Trials

Lessons Learned, Uncategorized

Clinical Trial Changes

If you have a “rare” cancer that doesn’t have a great standard of care, chances are you will be offered a clinical trial. To the general public (which is who we all are before that diagnosis is presented) clinical trials sound like a scary thing. To a cancer patient being told there is no cure, a clinical trial is a lifeline being tossed in a stormy sea. IF you catch it, it MIGHT help save your life.

So how do you pick a clinical trial? Well, first you have to find one that you qualify for. We’re going to assume that you have a doctor who is really helping you and is presenting you with some choices. So you have a couple of clinical trials and the “standard of care” to choose from. How do you decide? Right now, it’s a guessing game, but all of that will be changing rapidly as technology and open access data become more commonplace in the process.

  1. You will have more concrete data to help make decisions. I have seen some pretty impressive technology being developed by Clalit Research Institute in Israel that will help a doctor walk through a list of weighted questions with a patient that will help them make this difficult decision. (That program was developed using data made available from a clinical trial, and as more data becomes open access, I think we can expect to see more applications like this developed.) Each patient will be able to rate a list of possible side effects and based on their feedback, an algorithm will provide guidance on particular trials.
  2. You will know more about what “successful” patients look like. As data begins to become collected in one place, it is easier to compare patients on a genomic level. Researchers will be able to compile profiles of successful patients to help determine who has the greatest chance of success on a trial. My son participated in a clinical trial where one patient was doing really well. We had no idea if David would have the same results because there was very little data to tell us why the first patient was successful.
  3. The system will start to find you. Right now, clinical trials are found largely by patients and doctors sifting through websites like clinicaltrials.gov to find possible trials. In the future, doctors will enter your information into the computer, and then you will be pre-qualified based on your exact diagnosis and personal information. The computer will then present a list of potential trials that you can choose from.

This all might sound a little too good to be true, but the fact is, the infrastructure is already in place. Cavatica.org is an open access research platform that Dragon Master Foundation and others have been funding for more than three years now. It houses a patient’s full genome and biosamples from the patient, and sometimes the patient’s parents. It also links to the patient’s clinical records so we can have a longitudinal view of that patient. I believe it is the single most complete picture of a patient you can get, and we are working hard to make it available to everyone. (At the moment, it is largely working with pediatric brain cancer data, but the platform is built to expand as funding becomes available.)

Data like this can take a lot of the fear and guessing out of treatment, and it should lead us to more successful treatments and cures. We are on the cusp of a meaningful shift in cancer care, and I’m excited for this to start really impacting patients lives.

What is Your Field of Dreams?

Uncategorized

Field of DreamsIt occurred to me today that I don’t really get to talk to our supporters enough. Working on Dragon Master Foundation has turned into a full-time volunteer job for me, and most of the time, my head is down on one project or another. The work doesn’t stop coming, but I am so thankful to be in this position – doing this on behalf of cancer warriors. I wanted to stop for just a moment today, and let you know what your support has made possible this week. (And yes, it is only Tuesday!)

You helped give encouragement to a researcher who has developed a program around brain tumor tissue donation. We will be sharing a lot of his work over the next few months, but sometimes, they just need to hear that their work matters. As he told me about the extremely sacrificial gift he works with in his lab, I could hear the emotion in his voice. Tears gathered in my own eyes as I thought about the sacrifice our family has made, and I hope you all know that giving families this final way to make a difference is a truly valuable gift.

You helped gather feedback on the recently launched research platform, Cavatica, from a man who has dedicated most of his nearly 70 years on this planet to cancer research. He spoke with wonder in his voice of the things he is able to accomplish with this technology – things he never thought possible!

You helped give hope to a group of innovators who are developing a big data algorithm that can make treatment recommendations based on a patient’s DNA. They had been struggling to find the amount of data needed to test their theories, and now they have a source for their work.

These were conversations filled with hope, and that is what we are funding. When we started Dragon Master Foundation, it was because we had some audacious ideas about how to help researchers. Less than four years in, we have accomplished so many of the goals we set out to achieve. There is a real-time, open access platform where hospitals can share genomic and patient data. As I type, there are more than 15 hospitals sharing that data with agreed upon data standards. That alone is more than most people thought would be possible. Like the movie Field of Dreams, this is a real life “if you build it they will come” situation.

Which leads me to the best kind of problem to have. We can’t seem to fund the progress fast enough. We have delivered a tool to the nation’s top doctors who are eager to use it, but we need to fund the data to go inside. Putting the data into Cavatica means truly empowering precision medicine. It means we will be on our way to saving lives. If you’ve ever faced cancer, for yourself or a loved one, then you know that today matters.

There’s another great quote in Field of Dreams that applies to this situation. Archie Graham says, “We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then I thought, “Well, there’ll be other days”. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.” It’s easy to let days slip by without taking action, but one day, there won’t be any more chances. We have to seize the opportunity now! Not because there won’t still be data to add tomorrow, but because there are lives being lost today. Every day is life or death to someone. So let’s work with urgency now to save more lives tomorrow.

 

Who’s Really the Enemy Here?

David's Journey, Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

hawking

When someone you love is diagnosed with a terminal illness, the gut reaction is to attack that disease. That’s certainly how we felt when David was diagnosed, and our initial efforts were focused on ending Glioblastoma (GBM) because that was the type of tumor David had. We were not involved in the world of research, and that seemed the most logical  course of action to us. To strike back at the thing that struck at us.

We thought we knew how to help. As we learned more, we realized that we needed to help find cures for brain cancer as a group of cancers because there is a lot that can be learned by studying them together. We also felt like we needed to help that community as a whole because they are so underserved. A broader goal brought us into contact with many more researchers, and many more ideas.

We were energized by some of the sharpest minds in research, and realized that the kind of analytics we wanted to do are really best empowered by studying all types of cancer, and even other diseases, in tandem. The most cutting-edge research points to cancer being mutations in genes and studying the mutations, regardless of the starting point in the body, is leading to new research pathways.
Cancer is a disease that has plagued humanity for generations. In all that time, we have mostly dealt with it as a disease of a particular body part. We now know that it is much more complicated than that, and we need to empower researchers to follow many pathways.
David had a bright and curious mind. For him, helping researchers was never really about helping himself. It was always about helping other people and solving the puzzle of cancer. Brain cancer is the beast that took David from us, and we would love to see that disease wiped out for good. But what if the answer to curing brain cancer lies in pancreatic cancer research? What if the answers we seek lie in the cure for  fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive? (That’s a super interesting rare disease that has been connected to the brain cancer DIPG. You can learn more about that here.)
It’s human nature to strike back at the thing that hits you. But do we really even know what that thing is? Dragon Master Foundation is focused on putting all of a patient’s information into one giant research platform. It’s a database, yes, but it is also a place where researchers can collaborate and gain access to biosamples. It has a patient’s full genomic data, but it also has their treatment path over time. It gives us a more complete picture of what is going on with the patient and what treatments are successful. It can help us understand why certain patients do well on a clinical trial and some don’t. And possibly most important, it looks at patients across many disease types to compare and contrast things like gene mutations. Instead of having one small group of researchers working on a problem, this platform makes it possible for any researcher, anywhere on the planet, to work on high quality data to help find cures.
Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday. It’s a time when people around the world put a few of their hard-earned dollars into the hands of a charity that they hope can change the world. I’m convinced that Dragon Master Foundation is one of the most deserving places you could make your donation. Here are a few of the reasons why:
  • No one at Dragon Master Foundation gets paid.
  • We direct all of our research dollars directly into this one project that is already speeding research. (One doctor said that it shaved a month and a half off of his typical tissue request workflow!)
  • This project has the potential to help patients with cancer as well as a host of other medical conditions.
  • Through this portal, research can be done on both adult and pediatric populations.
  • It was listed as part of Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Fact Sheet.
  • It is open access – meaning researchers don’t have to be part of a special consortium to access the data.
  • It is cloud based – meaning the researchers don’t have to download petabytes of data that can take days to acquire. It also means they are not dependent on their hospital’s computational power because they can do their work directly in the web.
Dragon Master Foundation isn’t the only foundation funding this. As of right now, there are 13 hospitals and more than twice as many foundations putting resources toward this project. However, many of them have a specific disease focus where they direct their resources. By donating through Dragon Master Foundation, you can be assured that your donation will go to building the infrastructure that will help all patients, all researchers. This isn’t just a gift to help researchers. This is a gift for mankind. This #GivingTuesday, you can  be part of the generation that changes the world.

The Top 9 Things You Need to Know When Your Child is Diagnosed With Cancer

David's Journey, Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

carpeWhen David was diagnosed at 16, he was the first person in my immediate family to have a cancer diagnosis. We were shell shocked, to say the least. To be told that your seemingly healthy teen who had a bad headache is going to die… well, nothing prepares you for that. What happens next, though, is something I very much hope we can help parents prepare for.

David went to heaven four years ago, but we have stayed very active in the brain tumor community. It has been a huge part of my life for the last six years. (He was diagnosed in 2010.) I’ve learned a lot since then, some of it while David was in treatment, and some of it after he passed. All of it is information that I would rather forget, but it is important for parents like me to share their journeys so that those who follow after us can have a smoother path.

So here it goes, my top 9 tips for parents who’ve just heard that their child has cancer:

1. GET A SECOND OPINION. (Sorry for the all caps there, but really, this is important.) I don’t care that your doctor has been your family’s doctor for the last 3 decades. I don’t care if you are at one of the top hospitals in the country. Get a second opinion. Doctors are humans, and a lot of what happens in cancer treatments is up to their judgement. You may find that you don’t want to be on the path that they recommend. That isn’t a criticism of them. People are different. Paths are different. You almost always have to talk to more than one institution to know what all of your options are.

2. Do your research. Over and over again, I talk to families who say, “Well, our doctor said it is a ___ and we should do ___.” Then they just do it. We’ve been trained to honor medical professionals and trust their judgement. That’s not a bad thing. But being led around like a blind sheep can lead you into a treatment path that isn’t right for you or your child. When you are given the diagnosis, look it up. Start with major websites that can give you reliable information. A really good place to start is at https://www.cancer.gov/types

From there, look for foundations that specialize in the type of cancer that your child has. Since David had brain cancer, I can tell you that the sites I found useful were:

http://abc2.org/guidance/find-care – to find out which hospitals specialize in brain cancer – more on this later.

https://endbraincancer.org/we-can-help/ – to get guidance on what your next step should be. At the time I sought their advice, they were very frank about the type of testing they recommended and what to look for in a doctor, including referring me to a Neuro Oncologist.

3. If at all possible, go to a hospital that has a brain tumor team. ABC2.org only lists hospitals with a dedicated brain tumor team. The world of brain cancer research was virtually stagnant for many years, but in the recent couple of years, discoveries are being made very rapidly.  I don’t think it is practical to expect a doctor that deals with many types of cancer  to stay on top of every new treatment coming down the pike. Most will wait for the “tried and true” treatments before they change their recommendations. Brain cancer patients frequently don’t have that kind of time. Cutting edge treatments could mean the difference between life (or at least extended life) and death.

4. Ask every question you have. Write them down between appointments and don’t be shy about going through your list. The medical staff is there to help you and your child and the first step of that is making sure you understand what is going on.

5. Don’t be afraid to “fire” your doctor. I know that isn’t going to make me very popular with some folks, but here’s the deal. This is the single most stressful thing you will ever go through. You need to know that the doctor is 100% on your side and will fight for your child. If they ever make you feel like you are wasting their time, or your child doesn’t deserve treatment, move on.

6. Seek help. If you have found a doctor you like, but they are far away, ask for help. There are many foundations that fund travel and related expenses. Hospitals themselves sometimes have funds or auxiliary groups who can assist you. Crowdfunding websites help people raise money all the time for just this reason. You aren’t a slacker if you need help paying for all of this. Treatment is expensive. Time away from work means you have less money than normal. Going to doctor’s appointments means you need extra daycare, pet care, home care. It adds up. You can find a list of resources for brain cancer patients at http://www.dragonmasterfoundation.org. (Full disclosure: I’m President of that foundation.)

7. Make a Plan B. For everything. You may have a reliable vehicle, but what happens if your transmission blows? You have a friend picking up your other kids from school, but what happens when they get the flu? Most likely, you have people offering to help you, but they don’t really know what to help with. Get them involved in your plan B.

8. Make a treatment Plan B. I could have included this above, but this is super important. If your child has an aggressive cancer or one that has a high probability of recurrence, ask your doctor to tell you what the next line of treatment is. Time after time, people are lulled into a sense of security because treatment is going well, and the BAM! The cancer comes back. Everyone wants to believe the treatment will work, and if it fails, you have that same shock that came with diagnosis. Knowing what the next possible treatment is can really help you feel more prepared.

Side note: We were blindsided when David’s cancer spread. He had been on a clinical trial and was doing so well that his results were presented at a conference. We just knew he was going to beat his cancer. When it spread, we were kicked off the clinical trial and had to scramble to figure out what options were available for him.

9. Trust yourself. All of the tips above are for families who are prepared for an aggressive battle. However, not every family chooses that path. We were fortunate because David was a teenager and could tell us his wishes for treatment. Most parents are dealing with younger kids who may or may not understand the repercussions of treatment. We had an amazing neuro oncologist who would always lay out possible treatment options to us and the last choice was always, “or you can do nothing.” David had glioblastoma multiforme, and even now, six years later, there are no easy answers for that type of cancer. Brain cancer is a tricky, nasty beast. If there were one thing that was certain to work, I would recommend it, even if it made the child feel bad for a while. After all, what is six months of feeling bad compared to the potential 77 years of life lost when a child dies from cancer? But with brain cancer, there are no guarantees. Heck, for the aggressive cancers, there is very little hope. The families that push forward with treatment do so because it feels right for them, and frequently, because they want to help other people.

David was pretty adamant about helping others. His tissue was donated to research, and it is now part of an open access database that is empowering research around the globe. (This is also a project funded in part by Dragon Master Foundation. For more info on that, go to Cavatica.org.) It was a heart-breaking journey, but it was not in vain. I know that David would be thrilled to know that researchers are sharing data and working around the clock. We don’t know the answers yet, but I have every confidence that they are on the horizon.

I used to preface my help to people by saying “I’m JUST a mom…” because in the world of cancer research, I don’t want to come across as a doctor or researcher. However, my hard earned “momcology” degree is valuable, and I’m moving forward with a sense of purpose that my message is important and needs to be heard. Do you have tips you’d like to share for newly diagnosed patients? Please share them in the comments!

One Small Gesture CAN Change the World

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

Today is the halfway point in the Revlon Love is On Challenge. We have raised over $21,000, which far exceeds any online fundraising we have done for Dragon Master Foundation in the past. It shows that we are growing as a foundation and that people are starting to really understand and support our mission. I really wanted us to be at $50,000 by the end of the day today, though. Hitting $50,000 today would mean that we have a guaranteed pitch meeting with Revlon to promote Cavatica — an open access data platform that will dramatically improve the cancer research process. We have until midnight. I haven’t given up hope.

My heart may be broken, but I don’t want yours to be. 

There are literally thousands of people who have the potential to read this message. If each of them donated only $10, we would far exceed our goal. There are many times in this life that we are helpless. We sit and watch as good people die from a disease that seems unstoppable. I’m here to tell you that it is stoppable. We are seeing breakthroughs with precision medicine efforts, but if we want them for everyone we must take action. Precision medicine initiatives are only as good as the data that drives them. You’ve seen the photos. Right now, a family sits with their child knowing there is nothing else to be done. For those of us who have been there, there is nothing we wouldn’t do to keep you from knowing that pain. Wives continue on without their husbands because a nasty beast stole them away right in their prime. Children grow up without mothers because cancer stole them from their family.

This project has the potential to help all of mankind. I don’t expect you to devote your life to it. I know you have jobs and kids and other responsibilities. All I’m asking is that you realize what an amazing opportunity this could be for all of us, and maybe skip that extra meal out this week. Donate two days worth of Starbucks to our cause — TODAY. I promise you we will make the very most out of that donation.

You can donate here: https://www.crowdrise.com/DragonMasterFoundation-Revlon2016

In case “warm fuzzies” aren’t enough

Dragon Master Foundation

We are a few days into the Revlon “Love Is On” Campaign, and I’m super proud of our effort so far. For such a new foundation, we are really holding our own! I know a lot of our supporters are not on Facebook, so I wanted to do an update here on what you can get by helping Dragon Master Foundation in our quest to win a million dollars. You know, in case the warm fuzzies aren’t enough. 🙂

We announced that we will have a special “thank you” bundle for everyone who donates more than $150, and today, I’m going to tell you what that bundle includes:

  1. A Hope, Love, Cure, End Cancer Vinyl Cling  – These are a great way to show that you support cancer research! You can put them on your car, on a dorm window, or the entrance to your business. Show the world you care!

    screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-9-28-31-am

    T-shirt and vinyl cling design

  2. A Snazzy Awareness T-shirt  – Ok, I know “snazzy” isn’t very descriptive, but the t-shirt will be changing each week. The first week’s shirt is a yellow gold with a grey imprint of our Hope, Love, Cure, End cancer design. It’s only available until Tuesday, September 20th, so be on the lookout for the next shirt after that. (Side note: If you donate more than $150 each week of the campaign, you get a new bundle each week!!)screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-8-46-37-am
  3. A CanPlan Planner – These are an awesome resource for people going through cancer treatment! It’s a leather hardcover design that just feels good to carry around, and the patient or caregiver that has it will feel better because they will have the information they need at their fingertips. This beautiful resource is available for purchase for $29.95 on their website (http://store.mycanplan.com/) or you can make a donation and get one as part of your bundle!insert_dmf_front
  4. A Two Pack of Dragon Snappets – This creative toy is a wonderful gift for kids battling cancer – or kids who aren’t battling cancer! Constructed of paper and rubber bands (no scissors or glue needed), the interactive toy lets them make their own dragon hand puppet and then have hours of imaginative fun while the dragon makes a satisfying “snap” sound when you close his mouth. Normally $9.99 (you can purchase extras here) this awesome gift will also be part of your bundle!
  5. The satisfaction of knowing you are making the world a better place. Really, the “stuff” is nice, but when it comes down to it, your donation will be helping us have a chance to talk to Revlon about open access cancer research and the need to break down the research silos that exist. It will be offering hope to patients with rare cancers who are currently told at diagnosis that they are terminal. It will put new and powerful tools into the hands of doctors and scientists who have dedicated their lives to finding cancer cures. That’s the very best gift of all.

You can donate to Dragon Master Foundation for the Love Is On Challenge by going here. You can donate directly to the foundation, or choose one of the team members who are helping us. Better yet, sign up to be on the team and help us spread the word! We need to be in the top 10 group by tomorrow to win the next challenge grant of $5,000, so every little bit today REALLY helps!

 

 

How do you answer the hard questions?

Lessons Learned

Whenever I talk to a family about brain cancer, I tell them they can ask me anything. Normally they ask me sensitive questions about the end of life or navigating treatment. But sometimes, tougher questions come out. The toughest one is “how do you go on without your son?” There are many answers to this question. First, would be that my other family members need me. But second would be that my son would want me to be there for these people. It doesn’t make it any less bone-crushingly sad. On the contrary, walking through hell with these families is horrific and hard. It’s been six years since we heard the words brain cancer, a little more than four since David was taken from us. And while many point to the successes of the foundation and the progress in research that we’ve helped with, I can’t see that. All I see is the next person in treatment with no clear treatment path. I’ve been a fairly selfish person for most of my life but now all I see is other people’s need. David always had that sight so maybe he passed some of it along. 

Right now, somewhere a family is agonizing over their loved one’s last breaths. Right now, somewhere a family is hearing that the diagnosis is terminal. I know there will always be freak accidents that steal our loved ones away, but cancer isn’t like that. It’s a disease that we are on the verge of finding cures for, but each day that passes steals away another life. 

People struggle with the meaning of life, but I know that the thing that gives my life purpose is making the way easier for others. That used to be through simple things like doing my job well or making lunch for a teacher at school. Now it is by helping push scientific research forward. And I can do that even though I made a C in Mrs. Coley’s Chemistry class. And you can do it, no matter what your background is. We all have power. We all have a voice. Let’s use it to end cancer now. Right now.

Helping Orlando

Dragon Master Foundation, People We've Helped

20160621_145235-1This week has renewed my faith in humanity. It’s so easy to sit by and watch the world slowly spiral out of control, but it’s really not hard to make it stand still, either. when you are told there is nothing more they can do for you loved one, be it your child, your mother or your husband, your world stops. But only for a moment, and then it starts falling. The more time that passes, the faster it goes. You’re hurtling toward an abyss with nothing to slow you down. With a lot of help, this week, we were able to slow that time down for a family who is so desperately looking for a cure.

Orlando is a sweet 11 year old boy who lives in our hometown. He has two sisters and a brother, and a family who loves him very much. And the local doctors told the family it was time for him to go on hospice. No more options. But that wasn’t acceptable to his mom, Lacy. She kept searching for a way to save Orlando. There are no guarantees in the fight against brain cancer, but she found a treatment that offers Orlando some hope. Some more time. But that treatment was half a country away.

Dr. Santosh Kesari has been working with brain cancer patients for his entire career. From Harvard to UCSD, he has gone where the research took him, searching for better treatments for people with brain cancer, specifically glioblastoma multiforme, which is what Orlando has. In the past few years, he’s had some success with a drug called Everolimus. Everolimus (Afinitor Disperz) got accelerated approval for  subependymal giant cell astrocytoma is adults and children in 2012. Afinitor Disperz is the first pediatric formulation to be approved by FDA for the treatment of a tumor that occurs primarily during childhood. (In layman’s terms, astrocytomas turn into glioblastoma multiforme, so that is why this drug is a possibility.)

You can see some of the results Dr. Kesari has had via this article:

http://abc7.com/health/doctor-improves-cancer-teens-health-with-game-changing-approach/1175310/

I know it seems like something that has been FDA approved since 2012 should be common knowledge, but the 5 year study results haven’t been out that long. (Five year study results: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26381530With brain cancer, you really need a doctor who is paying attention to the very latest studies to try and gain as much quality time for the patient as possible. Dr. Kesari isn’t just paying attention  – he’s one of the ones paving the way.

But finding a possible treatment is just the first step. Dr. Kesari needs to evaluate Orlando in person to make sure this is indeed a viable treatment option for him. (All other labs and scans would indicate that it is.) 

With brain cancer, the clock is such an enemy, but treatments like this give us real reason for hope. On Orlando’s behalf, we reached out to the community for help to get him and his mom to California to see Dr. Kesari. Thanks to Brad Pistotnik Law and  a very generous offer of the use of a jet, we will be able to get Orlando and his mom to Santa Monica on Monday. We found out yesterday that there is enough room for Orlando’s sister to go, too, and we are so happy that she will be able to be there and give him moral support. They are only 15 months apart, and they are very close. 

There will be additional expenses for this family while they are split up trying to care for Orlando and his siblings. Dad is staying in Kansas with the two youngest children, but he works so they need additional childcare. Orlando’s meals will be at the hospital, but there is no coverage for his mom and sister for food. Also, this is an “out of network” hospital, so there will be higher medical bills.

Dragon Master Foundation recently adopted a change in our bylaws to be able to help families in this situation. A brain cancer patient can be sponsored by a person or community, and donations can be raised to directly help that person. The first person to benefit from this new program is Orlando. If you would like to help the family with expenses, you can text the word “cancer” to 91999.

If you can’t help financially, please share this story and join our Thunderclap, an effort to help win a million dollars for cancer research. You can join the Thunderclap here: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/44920-love-is-on-to-conquer-cancer

Brain Cancer Action Month 2016

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

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I had big plans to be super organized heading into May this year, but for various reasons, it just didn’t happen. So here we are, on May 4th (Star Wars Day!), and I’m just now making a post about all the ways you can get involved this month. There was a big event on May 1st in DC, Race for Hope, so I’m sorry for not getting word out to all of you in time to participate in that. It was only the first of many events this month, though, so without further delay, here are some ways you can get involved:

Wear gray. It’s the most simple way to show your support. Grey is a pretty bland color, though, so to really get people’s attention, you might need to draw some attention to yourself. Maybe some crazy hair, or a Hawaiian shirt on top of your grey… something te get people wondering what’s going on with you. 😉 You can even take a gray selfie and enter to win a prize!

Change your profile picture. Make your profile image go gray this month. Need some inspiration? Check out our Pinterest board.

Support on online fundraiser. Maybe you’re busy. We get that. So skip coffee or drinks for one day and donate that money to an online fundraiser. You can find some worthy places to donate at these links:

Sponsor a runner in California here , here , here or here

Sponsor Runners in Iowa

Sponsor a runner in Kansas here or here

Sponsor a runner in Pennsylvania here

Sponsor a runner in Virginia

Go to an event! This one is a little bit trickier because the events are in specific geographic locations, but if you can make it to one, please do! The folks that organize these events put a lot of hard work into them, and it physical events can be a real boost for survivors. I’m listing the ones I could find by date and then location.

May 14th

4th Annual Race for Hope DSM – Des Moines, IA

San Diego Brain Tumor Walk – The Waterfront Park, San Diego, CA –

May 15th

Comedy Night – Hollywood, CA

12th Annual Team Billy Ride & Walk for Research – Saratoga Springs, NY

Boston Brain Tumor Ride – Waltham, MA

May 21st

CureFest 2016 – Humble, TX

Bay Area Brain Tumor Walk  – Crissy Field, San Francisco, CA

Charleston Brain Tumor Walk – Mount Pleasant, SC

I am sure I’ve missed a lot of events for the month due to lack of research time. Do you have an event or activity to share? Please add it in the comments!

THEN COMES SPRING

52 People To Meet Posts, Lessons Learned, Uncategorized

This post is written by my friend, Lori Hatfield Dickinson. Her words moved me, and I know several other people who could use them right now, so I asked her if I could share them with all of you.

12909463_10156736904935503_176181431140341521_oAs redbuds bloom and tulips turn their heads toward the sun, it’s bittersweet to think of the difference a year makes. It’s spring – literally and figuratively. After months of being quiet and reflecting, I feel a deep burden to write more honestly about my journey with God, grief and guilt.

Last year, fear was my constant companion. I saw spring as an ending. It was the end of a life I cherished with a man and family I dearly loved. There was no joy for us as the world bloomed because Michael was quickly fading.

Despite everything I said I believed at that time, I doubted God. I was mad. I was devastated. I made futile attempts to cut deals with Him, such as, “God, if you will just heal him, I will…” But mostly, I just felt abandoned.

Everything seemed like such a waste. A waste of a man with so much to give to the world – now unable to talk, to see, confused by simple instructions and confined to a chair. A waste of all the time investing in a marriage, a life, future plans that were not to be, all of which was compounded by the helplessness of watching my children lose their innocence without the ability to intercede. In March 2015, I wrote: “It’s as if we are standing on railroad tracks with a locomotive barreling toward us. I can’t stop it or move, so I’m constantly bracing for impact.”

It’s difficult to think anything good could come out having your heart being blown through your chest when you hold the lifeless body of the one you vowed to love and cherish the rest of your life. The primal cry from the depths of my heart when death came is something I will never forget.

In the ensuing days following the funeral I watched sunsets daily from Michael’s grave, sat in the darkness at night staring at his photo, read and re-read letters he wrote to me, smelled his clothes in the closet, and even at times, prayed the world would end. I was never alone, yet, I never felt more alone. Did I really believe there was a God and a Heaven? And if there was, where was He?

I began two “offline” journals. One, written directly to Michael. The first entry was the day he died.

June 15, 2015

You went to Heaven this morning.
I’m broken, lost, empty, alone.
I kissed you over and over.
I miss you.
For the first time since we met, you’re unreachable.
Our son is devastated. Grace is crushed.
I look toward where you’ve always been and the chair is empty.
I’m living my worst nightmare – I’m in a world you’re not in.

A little more than a week later I began a faith journal of sorts. It was a desperate attempt to work out whether God abandoned me or if I was the one who abandoned Him. I wrote to God…

June 26, 2015

When will you comfort me?
I am profoundly sad.
The truth is what I need most.
Give me understanding.
Strengthen me.
Be gracious to me.
Direct me.
Turn my heart.
Turn my eyes.

On June 30, 2015, I wrote and prayed this Psalms (31:10, 14-15):

I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Misery has drained my strength; I am wasting from within. But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying You are my God! My future is in your hands!

I wanted to wholeheartedly believe. I just couldn’t.

Contrast that with my entry to Michael on the same date…

June is gone and so are you… I think I smiled more than I cried today when I talked about you.
I count the hours throughout the day – they go so slow. I like the days best where I sleep. I’m seeking God’s will. It’s my only hope for peace in all this. I wish I could be with you.

One day at a time sounds trite, but it’s true. God began opening doors before I even knew they were there. Through the journaling, sleepless nights, questions and tears – He slowly softened my heart. So many years I “served” God out of fear, obligation and pride. But, I didn’t truly know Him, love him, believe Him like I thought I did. It’s not always a priority to build a relationship with God when the world seems right. Now, I was desperate. And as a parent holds a heartbroken child – I started to feel God everywhere.

As I read my posts and journal entries I can see the progression I couldn’t see in the midst of the storm. I wrote only the following words on Sept. 1, 2015, from 19th century pastor Charles Spurgeon in my faith journal that resonates today…

“Don’t you know day dawns after night, showers displace drought and spring and summer follow winter? Then, have HOPE! Hope forever, for God will not fail you.”

God did not fail me, despite my disbelief.

He comforted me through Bible readings, books, church, people and prayer. He still does. He changed my heart and my priorities. I no longer view the world or problems the way I did before. A friend shared God was working faster in some areas in my life than others to make himself so obviously known I couldn’t deny Him. Maybe my heart was truly closed off that much.

In November, I wrote for the last time in Michael’s journal. The words captured what I’ve wrestled with and still do – the guilt associated with my disbelief, grief and survivor’s guilt:

Nov. 10, 2015

Passed our anniversary and approaching five months and the holidays. I don’t feel you around much anymore, but I’m hopeful you’re well.

I feel guilty for living and being able to love again. It doesn’t replace you, but I’m happy. That is a miracle… I’ve cleaned out the closet and I’m getting ready to remodel. I need the house to be different, the space to be new. I’m still sad when I think of you being so sick and the way you died. But, you have taught me how gracefully it can be done.

When I read back I remember all the feelings and emotions, but I also see how far I’ve come. While I may not feel you near, I do know God is, and my life is not finished.

I will never forget you. Your work here was finished, your legacy is big, and your memory will always live on in our lives through the love we now carry forward.

Goodnight Michael.

My pastor asked the question from a series titled, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense:” What if the scene of our greatest disappointment was the setting for our greatest moment? He used the illustration of Lazarus’s story – how with God, a waiting season is never a wasted season and God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials.

Waiting is never wasted… It’s a paradigm shift for me. Waiting began on Sept. 27, 2013: Waiting on test results, waiting on radiation, waiting on chemotherapy, waiting on doctor appointments, waiting on planes, waiting on MRIs, and then, waiting on death. The time that passes after a terminal diagnosis is at a much different pace. Time passes quickly up to the point of death, then, it crawls – a day is a week, a week is a month and a month is a year.

However, waiting is not wasted when spring comes forth from winter. The trees roots are a little deeper and the world comes alive anew and refreshed.

It is difficult to bless and release the guilt of disbelief I carried in my heart for God through much of Michael’s illness; the guilt of being happy more than sad, seeing another spring… And yes, a measure of guilt for being in love with someone who knows my pain and walks the same path I do. That, in and of itself, could only be a gift from God.

But even as I wrestle with guilt and grief, I feel hope in the depths of my heart and soul.

Hope that God truly answered my prayer of healing for Michael in his perfect way and will.

Hope, that despite my actions, He didn’t or will never abandoned me.

And in surviving an experience I’d pictured to be unsurvivable – Hope that He isn’t finished with me yet.

 If you would like to read more of Lori’s writings, you can check out her blog here: www.thesuburbwoman.com