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

What A Rollercoaster!

Dragon Master Foundation

Like a rollercoaster as the last car eases over the top of the hill, we are hurtling forward after what felt like slow movement. The projects that we have been working on for the last three years are picking up speed. We have said all along that the way to change cancer research is through greater collaboration, and that message was loud and clear at this month’s Cancer Moonshot Summit at Howard University. There was an extremely diverse group of cancer research advocates brought together to hear Vice President Biden’s ideas and then work together to share our own ideas for how to bring about 10 years worth of change in the next five years. I think that idea might have scared some people, but we have already seen amazing advances using the Cavatica platform, so we know that kind of rapid improvement is possible. 

I know that there were many events held around the country, and we even hosted an event at WSU in Wichita, but many of you may not have had a chance to really see what happened during the day of the Summit. I wanted to give you my perspective on the day, and I hope it fills you with the kind of hope I have for the future of cancer and disease research. 

We started the morning with American icon Carol Burnett. She was delightful, as always, and the fact that she took the time to be there with us spoke volumes about how amazing this effort really is. Vice President Biden shared some of his frustration with us over costs and lack of progress, and we learned about some of the goals of the Cancer Moonshot initiative from Dr. Danielle Carnival, Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Director of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force. 

There were several other speakers, all of whom underscored the need for this important gathering and continuing effort by the community. We broke into work sessions for the morning, and I was placed in the “Solving the Technical Challenges to Unleash the Power of Data” group. That was no big surprise! 

I was incredibly humbled by the people in my workgroup. From industry veterans who have been working on making genomic data available like Warren Kibbe to bright, young innovators like Daniel Wagner who are challenging the way we look at and access the data. It was a fast-paced discussion that resulted in some great ideas.

We all returned to the general session for lunch where we could share ideas in a less-formatted way. I had the great pleasure of sitting with Dr. Charles Powell from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Our discussions covered everything from rare forms of Mesothelioma to the latest imaging technologies. There’s nothing quite like watching a doctor get a look at new technology that will help him do his job more effectively, and I had the pleasure of watching that at lunch. It is simply amazing what we are gaining access to through new technologies. We got a great look at how Siemen’s is turning analog scans into digital data that can be used for comparative analytics. That will be great in Cavatica!

After lunch, we heard some great speakers who spoke about collaboration. I think some of these were available on the live broadcasts, and they are available for viewing here:

Then we were off to our afternoon workgroup sessions. My session was on “Data: To What End?” and our insightful speaker to start the session was none other than David Agus. 

IMG_0598

We talked about existing collaborations, and I finally had a chance to mention Cavatica, the sharing platform we have been funding. The attendees seemed a little stunned that we already have 10 hospitals not only sharing digital data, but biosamples as well. There was still some sentiment among event attendees that it would be hard to get scientists to share their pre-publication data, but the doctors at the 10 Cavatica institutions are truly putting children, and indeed all humans, first. This level of collaboration may be unprecedented, but it is the wave of the future and that was evident from the number of people looking to learn more about our platform. I was so honored to be able to share about the many hospitals and nonprofits who have come together to build this amazing resource. I believe it could be the model by which all future research is done. 

After a pretty exhilarating working group, we returned to the main hall to hear Greg Simon, Executive Director of the Cancer Moonshot. Dr. Adam Resnick and I got to speak with him for a few minutes after the event was over, and I felt like he was truly trying to pull together all the resources he can to make the end of cancer a reality in our lifetime. 

IMG_0654

The event ended with Dr. Biden and the VP Biden speaking to the crowd and asking for a prolonged commitment to working together for cures. I believe we have that commitment from everyone that attended this important event. 

We returned home to find out that we have been accepted into the Revlon “Love Is On” Challenge. This is an amazing opportunity, not only to raise much needed funding for the research platform, but also to raise awareness for the platform and explain how it can improve research around the world. You’ll be hearing a lot from us about this, but there are two things you can do right now to make a huge difference:

  1. Sign up for our Thunderclap to announce the contest. We’ve used this before, and it is quick and easy. You give one-time permission to Thunderclap to send out a message on our behalf. The message will ask people to support Dragon Master Foundation in the “Love Is On” Challenge. Sign up here: http://thndr.me/ukBgiJ
  2. Sign up as a fundraiser for the “Love Is On” Challenge. This will give you a fundraising page of your own, which will allow you to easily share the challenge with your friends and family. We are asking that everyone make a minimum $10 donation because that is what is needed to count for the contest. Those $10 donations could easily be turned into ONE MILLION DOLLARS if we win the contest. We’ve won social media contests like this before, so we know with your help we can do it again.

 

Brain Cancer Action Month 2016

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

13419_1386361731692400_1879090937433300442_n

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!

Seven Ways To Celebrate “National Cancer Survivor’s Day”

Uncategorized

7 Ways To Celebrate National Cancer Survivor's Day

National Cancer Survivor’s Day is a relatively new day of recognition on my radar, but I think it is really important. It is significant to me because I sometimes need a reminder that there ARE people who are surviving cancer. You see, I do a lot of work these days with the DIPG community – a pediatric brain cancer that claims the lives of nearly every patient. For them, being a survivor means you are alive today. It is the most stark reminder that we should all appreciate each day. Every. Single. Day.

So on this day to honor survivors, I thought I’d touch on some things you can do – every day – to make a difference for those fighting the cancer battle. I really want to focus on the “mundane” things that most of us do every day, so I’m gonna go through my typical day and show you how easy it is to make a difference.

#1 Social Media – When I get up in the morning, I typically check Twitter or Facebook to see what my friends are up to. I like to share their positive messages and I frequently share a message about cancer fundraisers. (Even if you can’t afford to participate in a fundraiser, sharing it on social media is a powerful way to help.)

#2 Pretty Flowers – In the summer, I will typically let the dog out and then wander into the back yard with him for a minute or two. I like to check the progress of the flowers, and that reminds me that National Brain Tumor Society has a bulb fundraiser that lets you have a annual reminder of your gift to their cause.

#3 Recycling – Back inside, I usually grab a quick bite to eat and then shower & get dressed. As I use up containers, I drop them into a small box for recycling. The salon I frequent has signed up to help with recycling, too, so our containers add up pretty fast.

#4 Wearables – What I’m wearing each day will vary, but on “casual” days, it’s almost always some sort of awareness shirt. Dressier days see me wearing a wristband, bracelet, or necklace. On a good day, I can wear all four things!

#5 Online Purchases – Then it’s usually time for the computer. If I need to order anything online, I make sure I check the vendors that use iGive.com or AmazonSmile so I can donate a percentage back to Dragon Master Foundation. My emails have a tagline that points people back to those simple ways they can raise money for charity. I really think everyone should use AmazonSmile. It doesn’t cost the participant anything, and it can add up quickly for the charity.

#6 Social Media – Ok, I know I’m listing this again, but things go by pretty fast on Twitter, so one tweet a day won’t necessarily reach a lot of people. During the day, whenever I end up on social media, I try to add a Tweet for the cause.

#7 Food – At the end of the day, we either make something at home or go out to eat, but either way, I’m careful to pay attention to the brands that support cancer research – especially brain or childhood cancer research. Those are much harder to find that other types, but you can bet we are there when Chili’s supports childhood cancer awareness every year! And our grocery store, Dillon’s, lets us donate a portion of our grocery bill to Dragon Master Foundation each time we shop with our rewards card.

So there you have it. Seven easy things you can do nearly every day to make a difference in the battle against cancer. Maybe if we all make it a daily effort, there will be a few more survivors to celebrate next year when this day rolls around.

Brain Cancer Awareness Month Needs You!

Uncategorized

DavidWearGray

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

Uncategorized

Wilson's happy cookie

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.

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

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 11.14.55 AM

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

People You Need to Meet #44: Stephanie McMillan

Uncategorized
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.

People You Need To Meet #43: Karin Forbes

Uncategorized

KarinForbesblogpic

What do I wish I knew before my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer? I’ll tell you what I’m glad I didn’t know, because these things are too horrible to know in advance, and knowing these things wouldn’t have helped in this horrific journey…

I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to know how quickly he would  lose his ability to talk, to move, and to eat or drink.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that he may not have been able to see or hear.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that he would be told no hope, that there was nothing anyone could do.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know he would be suffering seizures, or about the many, many hospital visits.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that I would have to make life decisions for him that doctors didn’t trust he could make.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that that my love who didn’t take so much as an aspirin, would be taking long lists of ever changing  medications.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know how this strong man, who took such good care of himself,  would bloat, and have reactions from medications.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know all the nursing skills I would have to perform with on the spot training.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know how my heart would be ripped apart watching the man I loved suffer and wither.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that I would see his beautiful eyes fill with so much sadness as he knew he was dying.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that his life would be over long before his death.

I sure wouldn’t have wanted to know I would lose my husband, my children’s father, my best friend, my confidant, my everything, my world, five months from diagnosis.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know we would never hear, see, or feel anything about him,  ever again.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know the enduring pain to my very core.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that this man who worked hard every day of his life, would never see one day of his retirement, or one of our retirement plans come to be.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that our family life as we knew it, would be soon be over.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know my children’s pain from the loss of their dad.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that some would  add to our pain with words or acts or lack of either.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know the greed some would have after the death of my beloved.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know how some would disappear after his death.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that my future entailed widow fog and being unable to concentrate.

I  wouldn’t have wanted to know that I would lack desires and no longer love life.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that I would have post traumatic stress.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know that my health would suffer, and I’d be badly hurt in an accident, or that accidents are common among the grieving.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know the long duration of grief,  and depression I would endure.

I wouldn’t have wanted to know because I needed hope to fight for him. If I had known these things, I would have been too distraught  to function. If this horrific  journey had been given to me in black and white print, I still could not have known the depths of this nightmare. I had to believe in a miracle; I had to have hope.

How I wish that I and the others who suffer had never heard of brain cancer because there were no such thing.

There is one thing I wish I knew…
The one thing I wish I knew was that I didn’t have to be so alone with this. There are online groups of people who share this grief, some are now fighting this monster. They give each other encouragement, love, and knowledge that I so needed in this terrible time.

I now belong to a group of women caregivers who are all on,  or have been on this same terrible road brain cancer takes us down. It’s heartbreaking because I know what they are going through.
I also know that unlike me, they aren’t alone because we band together for each other. We are special Warriors who all wish we had never been in this horrific battle.

Did I learn anything on this horrific journey?
I already knew the depths of our love, and that we would die for each other. I knew of his strength and his heart. We had found out long ago that material things just don’t matter. How blessed we were to have each other and such a deep love! We already cherished every day together.
We didn’t need illness to bring that realization.

I learned that GBM is horrific beyond words, not at all rare, and a thief of the very worst kind.

People You Need To Meet #39: Andie McConnell

52 People To Meet Posts

FGP logo

What I wish I knew before my friends’ son got brain cancer… This may seem a strange twist on the theme of these blog posts but I wish I knew my friends before their son got brain cancer. When I met them, their son had been in remission for a couple of years, but the pain over what they experienced was still raw. As I got to know the couple, she spoke of the experience of facing cancer with a child and the disappointment in the friends who disappeared during this difficult time. So in addition to the fears and grief that come with a child facing cancer, she spoke of the loneliness and the struggles as a family. She talked of how people they believed would stick by their sides did not, and that some people they didn’t expect to help, did.

Her words really resonated with me, as did her talk of the pain of watching a child go through cancer treatment. Hearing their struggles made me wish that I had known them and had been able to be there for them during their journey because I knew I would have been one of the ones who stayed around to help. I thought of ways I would’ve helped to lighten the load on them, how I would have been there to listen, to help with meals, their house and anything else they couldn’t quite find the time to do. Years later, I met a family with a child with a new cancer diagnosis, and my friend’s words about the loneliness of pediatric cancer rang in my ears.

I decided to make an effort to help them through fundraising and emotional support. Looking back , in some ways I realize I did it to make up for not knowing my friends before their child got cancer. As this family’s child reached the end of treatment, I realized there just might be a real need for support of other families facing pediatric cancer. I surveyed families and found there certainly was a need. I brainstormed how best to provide this support, and it evolved into what is now a nonprofit based in Fredericksburg, VA that focuses on the needs of the parents rather than the child. We provide meals, house cleaning, lawn care, hair cuts, gas cards, a financial relief fund and emotional support to the parents in order to relieve some of their stress and to provide them with more time to focus on their family. I wasn’t able to support those friends during such a difficult time because I didn’t know them, but now my organization provides support to families in parts of VA and MD with similar struggles. We fill the void of the friends who, for whatever reason, are unable to help and for the friends they have yet to meet who will wish they had been there in such a difficult time.

Editor’s note: You can learn more about Andrea’s nonprofit, the Fairy Godmother Project, by checking out her website: http://www.fairygodmotherproject.org/