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.

 

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!)

Finding the Poetry

52 People To Meet Posts, Lessons Learned, People We've Helped

IMG_7611A long time ago, I wrote a poem for my coworkers. I really had a lot of admiration for them, and they taught me a lot of life lessons. They worked hard, played hard, and made the most of every day. They were paralyzed veterans, and as much as I could, I tried to learn from the lessons they shared. Their strength amazed me, and they made me re-think one of my favorite pastimes – complaining. 😉

I think in a lot of ways, I met those men and women to prepare me for what life had in store. It isn’t always easy. It most certainly isn’t fair. But what you choose to do with the pieces you have left after your life explodes… well, that can make all the difference.

Today was supposed to be an “office” day for me. A day to tackle the mountains of paperwork I’m behind on. Instead, it turned into a day to go out into the world and see what it had to share. A lot of what I do is try to raise money for cancer research, and today I had the opportunity to get a check from one of our loyal supporters. That’s a really good thing!! But the reason they are supporters is because their daughter, Addison, died from brain cancer. That really sucks. I get to know them a little better each time we meet, and our conversations nearly always include laughter along with the tears. Today the check came with a hug, and I’m not sure if it felt better to be able to hug them as a thank you or to be hugged in return. Hugging is like that, I guess.

I also had a chance to go visit their daughter’s grave. They picked an amazing spot for her, and I could just feel the love there. Still… it just sucks to visit a child’s grave. I sat and talked with her for a minute about what her parents are doing so that other kids might not have to suffer the way she did. Addison was a fighter that defied the odds. I think she would be happy to know that her tumor got taken out, and hopefully what we learn from it will be used to fight some other child’s tumor.

As I visited with Addison, I listened to her wind chimes and the other sounds of nature there. I thought about how the world shows us poetry if we just stop to see it. Sometimes it is given to us in words, but many more times it is just the feeling you have inside. There aren’t always words to express the feelings we have. The love and the grief are just too big for words.

Addison’s parents let us us her as the “sponsor” for the first child to go on the upcoming clinical trial we are sponsoring, and because of their generous matching gift, we actually funded the first two kids onto the trial. That left me with coming up with a second sponsor person – someone that we can visualize as we fund the third spot on the trial for this unknown child.

And that’s when the day took a turn. You see, there are just so many families we know that have been touched by this disease. So I tried to narrow it down based on significant days to that family, and even that didn’t help! There was the anniversary of Ethan’s passing yesterday, Carter’s birthday today, and the anniversary of Jake’s passing today/tomorrow. (Yes, Jake is special and gets two days. More about that later. )

Most of these kids I never got to meet except through the broken-hearted words of their moms and dads. It’s the same for the adults with brain cancer. They leave behind shattered families who ache to have someone say their name. To know that they mattered and continue to matter.

We are funding this clinical trial to try and save lives, and for me, it is so special to connect the spots on the trial to these special brain cancer warriors. I hope it is special for their families, too.

We post about the progress pretty regularly on Facebook, so please join us there to see pictures of our sponsors and help us fund all 200 spots on the clinical trial. There are some really great stories to share with you as we go, and if you would like your loved one to be part of this movement, just let me know.

P.S. As for the rest of my day, I hope I got to spread a little sunshine into Carter’s family’s world, and I know that my brother and daughter spread a little into mine. I may have more to share on that later, too.

Survivor Offers Words of Hope to Senator McCain

Dragon Master Foundation

electioncancergraphic

This post is a guest post by Alexander Moore. Graphic created by Laurel Jackson.

It saddened me deeply  to hear that American hero John McCain was diagnosed with Glioblastoma or GBM, the most common and most malignant of brain tumors. It is simply not fair for someone who has already suffered the unimaginable horrors of war and captivity to now have to endure the pain of Brain Cancer. Senator McCain will be 1 of nearly 24,000 people diagnosed with primary brain cancer this year in the U.S. Not a lot in the grand scheme, but for almost 24,000 people and their families, it’s devastating. The median survival is 16 months and the effects of the disease and treatment deeply impact quality of life.

Senator McCain has already had surgery to have as much of the tumor removed as possible, but he will most likely go through a treatment regimen which combines radiation and an oral form of chemotherapy. For most who suffer from GBM, treatment only really prolongs life because the tumor is almost guaranteed to grow back even after chemotherapy and radiation. Through the next few weeks, the McCain family will learn all about Brain Cancer and the devastating effects it has on those who have to endure it, just like another political powerhouse family, the Bidens did a couple years ago.

Former Vice President Biden lost his son Beau to Brain Cancer in 2015, and since then has made it his mission to radically change the way that cancer research and treatments are done with the Cancer Moonshot initiative. The Cancer Moonshot initiative has been a point we can all rally around, and hopefully, these additional efforts will speed new treatments for patients everywhere. 

There are big changes happening in cancer research, and there is every reason to hope that discoveries will be made faster than ever before. Initiatives like Cavatica.org, funded in part by Dragon Master Foundation, make cancer research data open to researchers around the world. Additionally, researchers are willing to push their work into new frontiers, like the Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium (CBTTC) and Pacific Pediatric Neuro Oncology Consortium (PNOC) hospitals who have agreed to share data live during a clinical trial that is set to start later this summer. We are working closely with these initiatives, both through idea sharing and funding. Patient, family and foundation input is being heard more than ever before, and I am optimistic that Senator McCain will be a strong advocate for both himself and other patients facing a similar diagnosis.

I’m confident that Mr. McCain has the fortitude to take this disease on full steam, and everyone at Dragon Master Foundation wishes him well.   

Editor’s note: The odds of getting brain cancer is about 1 in 140 for men and 1 in 180 for women. The odds of being elected to Congress are 1 in 600,000. Let’s all hope Senator McCain continues to beat the odds!

How weird are you?

Dragon Master Foundation

This article makes a really good case for big data analytics in medicine. (Which is the heart of what we are working on.) It essentially says that we all have gene mutations making us each much more unique than scientists previously thought. It is really only through compiling vast numbers that we might be able to see some patterns emerge. 
This applies to cancer research, but it can also apply to all sorts of other medical conditions. Have you ever had a doctor tell you that your response to a drug shouldn’t cause the reaction it caused it caused in you? That’s kind of the same thing. A drug might do different things to you than to other people because of your unique genomic composition. If you’ve ever dealt with a reaction like this, you know how frustrating it can be. Now imagine your reaction is the difference between life and death. Pretty important, right?
We are laying the groundwork that will help people navigate these situations. Chances are, it will be you or someone you love that needs the answers. Help us now, so we can help you later.