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!

Leaving an impact on the world

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized


Last night we attended the second night of Richard’s class reunion. These are people he’s known for the majority of his life, but I mostly only see them every 5-10 years at these functions. They are a funny, welcoming group, and I enjoy seeing them reminisce. This year, though, one of them told me I was now a “falcon” and referred to Richard as my date.😉  

This group of people has been touched by cancer. We are not the only ones with a child in Heaven because the disease. Countless lives have been ended too soon, and others have fought battles that have left them with deep wounds. We were offered words of encouragement throughout the group, and that always has a buoying effect on me. But more than that, last night we got a significant gift. 

One of the cancer warriors gave a generous $1,000 to our Love Is On team. I know that it was a meaningful gift from her, and it was received with all the tears and hugs you might expect. And while that was an amazing and significant donation, we recognize that a lot of people can’t give at that level. So I wanted to also tell you about some of the other things that happened that are helping us along the way.

The event committee had extra soda and beer from the event that they donated to Dragon Master Foundation so we can offset the cost of an upcoming event.

 A classmate’s wife offered to reach out to her network to tell them about the Love Is On challenge and help us get donations. 

People asked about the challenge and what it could mean for the foundation. They asked about Orlando. And I believe the help from that group will continue to grow as the week goes on. These folks have reached the age where many are retiring and looking back on the contributions they’ve made to the world. Kids, grandkids, service to others, challenges overcome … They have a lot to be proud of. We think being a Dragon Master Foundation supporter is an excellent thing to add to that list.

We have a very urgent need for donations over the next few days. We need to be in the top 10 charities by Tuesday in order to receive a $5,000 grant from Revlon. That boost would really help us get to our $50,000 mark much faster. If you can afford $15, we have a cool window cling we can send you. For donations more than $150, you get a whole bundle of goodies including a great, limited edition awareness t-shirt. Please donate today. Any amount over $10 counts toward the contest and it is significant to us.

#MomentsofMagic

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

Cancer can be one of life’s most difficult challenges. It has brought more pain to my life than I care to remember, but it has also given me great awareness of the little moments in life. I think it teaches a lot of people about gratitude, frequently in ways we wouldn’t imagine. I know trying to imagine what it is like to live with a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, especially if you think about it being your child or other loved one. It’s sad and scary, and well, I don’t want to think about it either. But I do want to bring attention to the need for research. I want you to think about ways we can cure cancer. I want you to think about it all the time – like those of us who have been faced with it in our daily lives.

But how can we think about it, and act on it, without being overwhelmed by it? After talking with a lot of folks, I think I found a way to shed some positive light on the issue. We’re going to start a sort of gratitude journal, where we can focus on those little moments that are good, that are special because they are so normal. We want you to see how grateful cancer patients and their families are for those little things.

So here’s what I need from you. I need you to start sharing those moments with me, so that Dragon Master Foundation can share them with the world. We’re going to call them #MomentsofMagic . They can be anything you want – as long as it was a moment that was special to you as a cancer warrior, caregiver, loved one or friend. We’d love to share pictures with the stories as well, so send whatever you would like to share to amanda.haddock (at)dragonmasterfoundation.org.

Together, we can focus on the positive. As Dumbledore would say, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

IMG_3115

Turn $1 into $5,000!

Dragon Master Foundation

Missing Piece HeartWe stumbled across another online competition. This one is for $5,000, but it ends on Sunday! Since Sunday is Valentine’s Day, this seems like the perfect chance to share your love with someone in a very meaningful way.

The app is free, but it is only for iPhone users running OS 8.1. That limits the pool of potential helpers a little bit, so we are depending on all of you to help us spread the word. The app is pretty straight forward, but I’ve had several people ask questions, so here’s a quick walk-through:
SmallTokenhomescreen
1. They download the Small Token app.
2. Launch the app & click “Give A Gift”

 

 

 

 

 
3. Enter the email address of the person they want to honorSmallTokenDonatescreen.
4. Choose Dragon Master Foundation as the nonprofit (Type in “Dragon Master” and you get it)
5. Enter an amount. $1 is fine!!
6. Schedule the delivery – anytime between now and any future date.
7. Enter a personal message. It can be a thank you, a Valentine wish – anything!
8. Hit “preview”
9. You will see an orange screen with a heart. At the bottom, you can hit “edit look” to change the color and the icon. Pick what you like, then hit done.
10. Hit “continue” & you will be directed to Give Lively where you can enter your payment information. After you enter your info, click the donate button.
11. You will get a Thank You message, and you are all done!!

I know that looks like a lot of steps, but really it is pretty simple.

Please go enter a donation today and actively encourage others to do the same. We just started last night, and we’ve gotten over $100 in donations already, so it is worth a few minutes of your time.

If you would like to help spread the word on social media,  here are some possible tweets:
Pls download @SmallTokenApp and send a greeting to help @DragonMasterFdn win $5,000. #charity with the highest # of donors wins.

Thank someone today by donating to @DragonMasterFdn in their name w/@SmallTokenApp. You could help us win $5,000! #endcancer

Help win $5k for #research 7& give a #cancer warrior a smile by donating to @dragonmasterfdn & sending a greeting through @smalltokenapp!

 

Thanks & have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

I Had A Dream…

Uncategorized

Last night I had a dream about an adorable little boy. It was not a child I knew, but I fell instantly in love with him. His mother was unable to care for him, and ultimately he came to live with Richard and I.

He was precious, and we were happy to have him with us. And then suddenly, he couldn’t walk. They told us he had DIPG. And I knew that this little boy we loved would be taken from us far too soon.

They say your dreams are your subconscious trying to work out a problem in real life. To me, this dream meant that even though we really did lose a child to brain cancer, we still feel the emotions of each new diagnosis. Those children are our children. We still fight with that kind of passion, but the key is helping people understand they need to join the fight BEFORE it really is their child.

You’ve seen those commercials, the sick child in the hospital over the holidays. You are thankful for your healthy kids and so you donate. I used to do that, too. And we would contribute to Make-A-Wish and other charities that helped those kids and families. They are good at what they do. But doing what we have been doing for years is not getting us the cures we need.

We want to take the research community and give it a turbo boost. Parents, think about the days when you were in high school. To complete a paper for school, you had to go to a library, look things up on little paper cards, go find a book (that you prayed would be shelved properly), and dig through that book hoping to find the info you needed.

Today’s kids do a quick search on the internet for exactly what they are looking for, and they have their source in moments.

Cancer researchers are stuck in the “library”. They only have access to the info at their local branch, and sometimes the filing system isn’t great. If they have a new idea, the information they want might not be there at all.

We want to change that. We want to build an internet “library” for researchers that will have every piece of information they are looking for. It will be categorized properly, quickly accessible, and updated daily.

We’ve got the foundation. It is housed at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and it currently has genomic and clinical data for pediatric brain cancer patients and their families. Records are being collected from four hospitals right now, but we want more! We truly want this to be a collaborative tool that will help a multitude of researchers at multiple hospitals.

But a resource like this costs a lot of money, and traditional funding sources are inadequate. That’s why we need you. There is nothing that Americans can’t do once they set their mind to it. The ice bucket challenge proves that millions can be raised very quickly, given the proper incentive.

We love our individual donors, and they are a loyal bunch. However, we need to multiply our donors if we are going to truly make a difference. That’s why the #whippingchildhoodcancer challenge is so cool. It isn’t a huge monetary commitment, but it allows you a forum to talk about why you are giving. It can inspire others to do the same. And before you know it, hundreds, or even thousands, of people know about the database and why it is important.

So if you haven’t done it yet, please consider taking a pie to the face for childhood cancer awareness. And make sure you let me know if you do it for Dragon Master Foundation so we can post the video!

P.S.
I know that not all of you are on social media (ahem, Danny!) so here’s a brief recap of the #whippingchildhoodcancer challenge:

Our aim is to raise awareness around the 46 children diagnosed and 7 lost every day to pediatric cancer in the U.S. You have 46 hours to complete the following challenge. You must record a video of yourself taking a pie to the face (can be a paper plate with either whipped cream or shaving cream). Once completing the challenge you must choose a pediatric cancer charity to donate $7 to and tag/challenge 7 friends (46 if you’re feeling bold!) to make their own pie in the face video. If you’re unable to complete the challenge within 46 hours, you must donate $46 and tag/challenge 7 friends.
Be sure to explain the 46/7 statistic in your video. 46 kids diagnosed every day, and 7 die from pediatric cancer.

52 People You Need to Meet: #13 Stacey Gravina

52 People To Meet Posts

What I wish I knew before my son was diagnosed with brain cancer…

StaceyGravina

On July 27, 2011, after fifteen days, three hospitals, a CT scan, medically induced coma, intubation, an MRI, a spinal tap, a craniotomy… we received the diagnosis: Brain cancer ~ Gliomatosis Cerebri with Anaplastic characteristics. Gliomatosis Cerebri = a rare brain cancer that is highly aggressive and very resistant to treatment. These malignancies are not lumps like other tumors, but cancerous threads that spread very quickly and infiltrate deep into the surrounding brain tissue, or into multiple parts of the brain simultaneously, making them very difficult to remove with surgery or treat with radiation. Gliomatosis cerebri is extremely rare, with fewer than 100 cases diagnosed in the United States each year. Anaplastic = A term used to describe cancer cells that divide rapidly and have little or no resemblance to normal cells. And the prognosis = 6 months to a year.

One year and four days from that day, my beautiful, energetic, full of life, silly, fun, compassionate, loving 8-year-old little boy was gone. At that point all of that medical jargon really didn’t matter anymore. The 12 months of searching for a cure, trying everything that we came across that we thought might help him even a little bit, traveling across the world to Germany for one final attempt at a cure… none of that mattered.

On Tuesday, he should be turning 10 but instead on Tuesday, it will be 20 months since he went to heaven. Before he was diagnosed with brain cancer, I wish I had known he would never be 10… not even 9…

I wish I knew the value of every moment of every day and how we should have taken advantage of that before and after he was diagnosed. We did celebrate him and share him and our journey with the world… or at least as far as our world reached. But we also spent a ton of time trying to save him. That’s what a mother does, right? We are supposed to protect our children and make it all better… no matter what. I can’t imagine doing it any other way but at times wish we had. I might trade some of the time it took to get him to take his many pills, which included many natural supplements, with some cuddle time (although he took them like a champ). I might play a game instead of trying to get him to drink his “green drink” or eat his Budwig protocol concoction (not so much a champ with those). I might keep him in the comfort of his own home surrounded by his friends and family instead of flying him to Germany because I just couldn’t give up hope that there was a cure out there. Or maybe if given a do-over, I would do it all the exact same way because how can you not do everything you possibly can to try to save your baby? They say hindsight is 20/20 but I’m no clearer now on what happened, or why it did, than I was on July 27, 2011. In fact, I feel more lost than ever. I wish I knew that I would go in circles over things like this and that as soon as I was comfortable with the decisions we made, I would start all over again with questioning everything we did.

I wish I knew how others would deal with my grief. It is true that you find out a lot about people when you go through something like this. It is truly shocking who is there through it all and who disappears. In your greatest hour of need they just disappear… Some people that you never thought would be there, step up to the plate and some people that you expect to be there, just aren’t. We make them feel uncomfortable, they think we need to move on or they just don’t realize how much we still need the support. I am sure I’m guilty of this because I didn’t always know how it feels. And even now that I have faced the worst thing that could happen, I don’t always know what to say to other moms in my position. Through this you definitely see true colors… it is eye-opening and somewhat freeing. I wish I had known.

I wish I knew that people would avoid talking about him. That it would feel awkward to talk about him in front of some and that I would have a need to seek out those who would listen and equally enjoy hearing his name. I wish I knew that most people who will ask how you’re doing won’t really want the truth… especially if it’s more than six months out. I wish I knew I would have to work daily to keep his memory alive, to continue parenting him, to develop my new relationship with him and his with the rest of the world.

I wish I knew that I would start grieving the moment I was told he would die. I lived every day inside a dichotomy… The hope of finding a cure vs. knowing the statistics and that we were facing his death. There is nothing more confusing, nothing more exhausting, nothing more devastating, Decisions to be made every single day about his care, his quality of life, what’s important, what’s not, what will help, what won’t, when should I stop working, when should I stop trying so hard and just enjoy the days we have left. And that was just for Jacob… In the mix of all that you also have other children to consider and make choices for, not only in their every day lives but in how all of this affects them.

I wish I had known what to expect from this beast of a disease: how things would change so quickly after months of “stability”, how much time we had left when we decided to go to Germany, and what the end would look like, because that is what I was seeing after a week in Germany – the beginning of the end. I wish I knew how much having this awful disease eating at his brain would take from him… before it took his life.

I wish I knew how this experience of fighting for my son life’s and then losing him would change me forever. Brain cancer alone is not something you go through and come out of on the other side unchanged… Brain cancer resulting in the loss of your child means a part of you dies with them.

To this day, I wish I knew what was going on in that beautiful little mind of his. What did he know, what did he understand… especially in those last days and hours. I wish I knew… I wish he could tell me.

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” ― Rose Kennedy

52 People You Need To Meet: #12 Shawn Ratcliffe

Uncategorized

What I Wish I Knew Before My Son Was Diagnosed with Brain Cancer

I wish I had known how big a role you truly play in the medical care of your loved one. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS! They are nearly always right and you know your family member much better than the doctors. Also, make friends with the nurses – they can be a huge advocate when you need a different opinion or help in understanding the “system” or even getting past some of the quagmire you encounter with all the different specialists insisting on their unique treatment plan.  Ask to see the “chart” (if they will let you) so that you can better understand just what the doctors might be thinking. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers you are given, keep asking, don’t be brushed aside as if you are too paranoid (“just being a Mom”), don’t back down, and know that the doctors are doing their best but in the situation of brain tumors their best is still greatly lacking in knowledge and expertise.  Every patient is different, and YOU are the best one to help your loved one. From diagnosis to death is a rollercoaster ride on every possible level, take one day at a time and always look for the positives.

For us, it started out like any other Saturday morning.  Matt and I had breakfast, no one else was up yet. He was off to get his eyes checked as we were sure that was what was causing his headaches. Not long after he arrived at the Dr’s office he sent me a text “They want me to get an MRI”. I was stunned, and in my heart, I knew we were headed for something scary.  Within a few hours, we heard the words that would change our lives forever. “A very large mass on the right front lobe of your brain. It is cancer.” He was 20 years old.  By Sunday afternoon, 24 hours later, the tennis ball size tumor had been removed, or at least 90% of it. Matty bounced back like a true warrior, despite major pain and swelling, and on Thursday afternoon, he and I walked out of the hospital, confident that the worst was behind us.  Naïve, I know.

Within a few weeks, the swelling was so bad that they had to put in a VP shunt.  Within about a month, they removed the shunt as it had caused massive infection.  He was now experiencing Grand Mal seizures, loss of memory and functionality.  Shortly after that, he was fired from his job, and we added major anxiety and depression to our list of issues.    Basically, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  He continued to focus on school, and within just over a year, he graduated top of his class at ITT Tech. It was truly a highlight of his life.   After 6 weeks of radiation, 11 months of chemo, and 5 stays in the hospital we finally heard the words “no evidence of tumor”, and it looked like we were finally getting a break!

With his confidence at an all-time high, he accepted a job in San Francisco, California, and we moved him out there.  I was, of course, devastated and proud all at the same time.  There were many struggles during the 18 months he was there.  He had just gotten his dream job working for Google when we realized the infection had never really gone away, and two more surgeries would be required.  The first was to remove the infected brain plate and start him on aggressive antibiotics.  Of course, during that time the cancer returned, and by the time they were able to replace the brain plate, the tumor had grown to the size of a fist.  It was stage 4 and angry.  The doctor was so aggressive in the recession of the tumor for the fifth and final surgery that Matty lost half of his eyesight in both eyes, the use of his entire left side, his short term memory, and some of his cognitive skills.  We managed to get him home to Valley Center, Kansas after an extensive stay in the hospital and quickly signed up for a clinical trial through Mayo Clinic.  But to no avail.

Just days after his 24th birthday, we were told there was nothing more they could do.  Matty wanted to go home and party with his family and friends and that is just what we did.  For the 3 weeks and 3 days he was with us, we opened our home to anyone, anytime.  Friends and family came from all over the country to spend time with him, reminisce about the good times and embrace the present, soaking in every moment with him. It was such a difficult time filled with tears, laughter, heartbreak, stress, and always love. Lots of love.

Matthew came into this world on a Sunday morning at 8:53am as a content, happy baby boy and left on a Sunday morning at 8:35am as a peaceful young man ready to let go of this life and seek out new adventures. It was a true privilege to be with my son for both. I cherish the memories that help me never forget, help me learn, help me survive.

During his entire fight my son displayed a kindness and gentleness that I could only watch, I felt none of that.  He always thanked everyone for their assistance and never lost his patience, despite severe pain at times.  He was constantly trying to help people feel comfortable with his cancer, with a ready quip or comeback to make them laugh.  Often times when a nurse finally arrived with pain meds to help with a horrible headache, he would purpose marriage and make them know he appreciated their efforts. I, on the other hand, was tenacious if not demanding when it came to his care and pain management.  His last effort to help others was to donate his body to science.  It was his hope that somehow he just might help find a cure so others would not have to endure what he did.

My wish is for everyone to enjoy today, whatever it brings, and make the most of it.   My son is gone in body, but he lives on in our hearts and our memories.  I am a better person having experienced this pain and heartache, no matter how awful it has seemed at times. It has softened the rough edges, dimmed the harsh blacks and whites and helped me focus more on the moment. I have finally come to a sort of peace with the fact that I’m alive and healthy, despite my desperate pleas that I be allowed to somehow take his place.  Matthew is my hero, and I just hope that I can make him as proud of me as I am of him!  Live, Laugh, Love

 

 

 

 

Kinsley’s Visit

David's Journey

We were very happy to pick Kinsley up at the airport last night. She flew in to spend a little time with David. She is only here until Tuesday, so she won’t even get to see Austin, but a quick visit is better than no visit at all. (Austin had a tennis match out of town and won’t be back until late.)

David threw up right before we went to pick him up, but he was good for the rest of the day. We took him to the eye doctor to get glasses. He has had some vision changes, and it’s a little hard for him to put his contacts in so we got him glasses.

We spent the night getting dinner (Panda Express, of course!) and watching movies. David and Kinsley both like silly movies so they just chilled and watched some comedies.

We took David back to his dad’s to spend the night, but hopefully we will be able to spend some time with him again tomorrow. He is a little unsteady on his feet, but manages pretty well. He uses a walker some of the time, but he is staying pretty mobile.

Tomorrow at his high school they are having brain cancer awareness day. It is the first day of Brain Cancer Awareness Month, and a lot of David’s friends made grey t-shirts to wear. He has really made a positive impression on a lot of people, and it is heartwarming to see them rally behind him and this cause.

No holding back

Uncategorized

When I started this blog, I was very concerned about how much information to share. I was very careful not to say too much in the beginning because David didn’t want to know his exact tumor name. He felt that he wasn’t a statistic and so therefore didn’t want his outlook clouded by them.

He has since learned that he has a GBM and has continued to handle his diagnosis with a positive outlook. That gets tougher when you experience a setback, but I still find David to be pretty positive most of the time.

Lately, however, I’ve been more concerned about David. I haven’t mentioned anything on here because I didn’t want to cause alarm, but several people have encouraged me to tell more of the story and so I’m going to try to find a way to do that.

About two weeks ago, David decided that he wanted to take a break from his family. He felt that his stress level was too high, and he told his dad and I that he wanted to stay with a friend for a couple of weeks.

I was concerned about that at first, but he had a detailed plan for how he was going to deal with everything, and so I told him I would support him in whatever he needed to do to be happy.

He moved into his best friend’s house, and their whole family was very supportive of him being there. He seemed much more relaxed and happy for a few days, but then he rode to the hospital with his dad. After that, he abruptly decided to spend the weekend with his dad at the beach.

David’s friends became concerned and alerted me. I tried to contact David, but he never answered his phone. He finally made contact with one of his friends on Sunday. David said that he hadn’t gone to the beach but had instead stayed home alone with his dad while the rest of the family went to the beach. David said that he was tired and he was planning to just stay at his dad’s house. He seemed very tired, and barely able to hold a conversation. His friend was very alarmed because David had really sounded excited about going to the beach, and then didn’t go.

I called him and he told me that he was going to stay at his dad’s because he didn’t want to be a burden to his friends and that he was tired of trying to schedule his rides. This didn’t make any sense to me because David had been quite proud of how he was planning to help out the family he was staying with. He had also already created a ride schedule for the entire time he needed to go for radiation. So his story didn’t add up, but I didn’t give him a hard time about it because he already seemed overwhelmed.

David has seemed very tired every day since then. He has not engaged much with his friends, and as of today, we are back to not being able to reach him.

He has some big decisions to make, and his friends and family want to be there to support him. Unfortunately, he seems to be effectively cut off from a large group of people who care about him.

I will be more forthcoming with the info on what is happening with David in the future. In the meanwhile, please pray for David to think for himself and to stay connected with those who care about him. In times like these, you need your friends and family around you. I’m very worried about how isolated he is.