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.

It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Dragon Master Foundation
Wish I knew who to credit for this pic because it is awesome.

Wish I knew who to credit for this pic because it is awesome.

We get a lot of questions about Dragon Master Foundation, and whenever I have the chance to talk to someone about it, the response is amazing. They always end up saying “Wow, that’s such a big deal!” People are so generous with their support once they understand the project. The problem is, a lot of people don’t understand what we are doing and why it is needed. So I thought I’d take a moment to explain a little bit about what makes this project so special.

When David was sick, we were inside hospitals for days at a time watching people do their jobs. Technology is everywhere – from the patient bedside to databases in some unseen corner of the building. However, all of that technology seems to be locked inside each institution, with very little ability to share information from one hospital to the next.

It is like  being a horse with blinders on. You can only see a small part what’s really out there. You get a myopic view of the world. Unfortunately, that is the world most cancer doctors and researchers face. They long for more information, but it is largely out of their reach.

You may be thinking, “But what about the internet? Can’t they just send their information back and forth?” The short answer is no. Between HIPAA, different technology formats, and the sheer size of data, even the most collaborative hospitals have trouble sharing all the information researchers want to access. Collaboration would mean that a database would quickly need to warehouse petabytes of of information – a task that has only been tackled by the likes of the NSA or Google in the past.

It is an overwhelming task, to be sure, but for the first time in history, it is possible. It is possible to house genetic information and clinical data in one place so that researchers can really see the “big picture” of a patient’s health and furthermore, they can compare that patient to other patients. They can start to see why a drug works for one patient and not another. They can start to make sense out of things that are seemingly random.

It will be four years this September since we were dropped into this cancer world. I’m not a doctor or a researcher, but I’ve talked to as many as I could over that time, and every one of them has said a database like this would be an asset to them. EVERY ONE OF THEM.

And yet, we continue to spend money on tiny projects that help a single researcher or a single hospital. Please don’t misunderstand. Every researcher needs funding. Every hospital needs more help. But this is a situation of not being able to see the forrest for the trees. We need to build an infrastructure for the research data if we ever hope to move at a pace that is faster than cancer.

The good news is, we have made amazing progress. We have joined forces with the Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital, and Children’s Hospital of Seattle to take the database they are working on and grow it to a scale that can help pediatric and adult patients. The data is already being collected, which is a great and wonderful thing. However, it means that we are already at a place where we need vast amounts of funding in order to continue to grow.

I wake up every morning more sure that this database will change the way they do medical research. I have hope that people will begin to understand the vision that that this database represents, and that they will focus on helping us build it. You ABSOLUTELY CAN make a HUGE difference in the fight against cancer. Please share the mission of Dragon Master Foundation. Like us on Facebook ( http://www.facebook.com/DragonMasterFoundation ). Follow us on Twitter (@dragonmasterfdn and/or @amandahaddock ). Host a grass-roots fundraising event. Something as simple as dining out at a local restaurant that will donate proceeds can be a huge help with both raising money and raising awareness. Cancer is a beast that is taking lives. You can be a dragon master. Please join us today!

52 People You Should Meet: #36 Melissa White

52 People To Meet Posts
Sweet, little Adele

Sweet, little Adele

What I wish I had known before our barely toddler got brain cancer…

I’ve always been the kind of person that likes to stay busy, have a hand in everything. I like to do as much at our kid’s school as possible, be involved with our parish, help in our community. I had no idea how much we would need all those people. I had no idea that they would rally around us before we even knew we needed it. I’m thinking back to those first days, weeks, months of Adele’s diagnosis and treatment. If someone had asked what we needed instead of just stepping up and doing it, I don’t think I would have known what to say. If I did have an idea, I would have been too proud to voice it. I do now know what we needed and were blessed with, and I hope it helps other friends and families who want to know how to help.

Let’s start with just how debilitating it can be to have a sick kid; a “really sick, possibly won’t make” it kid. It was literally all I could do to roll out of bed. I probably functioned on about 50% of my brain during the worst times, the chemo, waiting on those crucial MRI’s. Nothing extra was happening, lots of McDonald’s was consumed, and we limped along. The worry was physically and mentally exhausting. I had no idea how much worry could knock a person down. Thankfully, I had given up all of my volunteer duties and part time work as soon as Adele got sick. I gave myself permission to focus solely on her and our family being together. Our world narrowed in a big way to the most critical, most important things and everything else had to go, at least for a while.

The best thing anyone did, and continue to do, is pray for Adele. I’ll never forget someone’s message “when you are too tired to pray, I’m praying.” That was, and still is, incredibly comforting. I did have times where there was nothing left, and I was so thankful for the folks out there praying for Adele. To this day, prayer holds us up. We’ve received several relics and medals that we keep near Adele (she has relics of St. Benedict, Gianna and Gerard under her crib sheet). She also has a miraculous medal under there. You can’t really put a chain around a toddler’s neck so sleeping with them (safely) was the next best thing.

Food was probably second best on the list of things folks did. Our kids would have eaten chicken nuggets every night if it wasn’t for our amazing parish, friends, and even strangers. Even better, everyone brought tons of food, so even though we only got a few meals each week, there was plenty of food. Don’t give someone your dishes, please use a foil pan that they can throw away. The last thing they need is to worry about returning your Pyrex. Some of my favorite meals were the snacky ones where we could just grab bits here and there. Also awesome was the meal that could be eaten or frozen. Sometimes we were either out of town or needed to eat other food first. The ability to freeze a meal and pull it out later was wonderful.

Another huge blessing was a family that single handedly took over our lawn care. Honestly, we probably never would have remembered to mow. Even if we did remember, we were tired or gone or just wanted to be together as a family. This goes for the other every day tasks of life too. Go fold laundry or pool cash together with friends and send someone to clean house. We were blessed with a couple different friends who gifted us housecleaning, and it was amazing. The sheets never would have gotten changed otherwise. When you spend an hour or two on someone’s every day work, you are gifting them an hour or two. That time is so precious.

Don’t ask to mow, just show up and do it. I always felt guilty saying yes to help, and I was so busy during hospital stays that I couldn’t keep up with texts, calls and emails. When I did have a minute, there was no cell service or I just didn’t have the energy. Just drop off a meal, or just take a Coke to the hospital. And then go home. I know that sounds mean, but it takes a lot of extra energy to entertain a visitor. Like I said, this is my experience, everyone is different. There were a few, very low maintenance visitors that were very helpful and without them Peter and I would have lost our minds.

Please don’t stop emailing or texting; just don’t expect a response. We had a very busy, social life before cancer struck, and I felt very isolated at times. Even if I didn’t reply, I loved reading the emails and messages. It meant a lot that folks were thinking about and praying for us. A lot of times the message was exactly what we needed right then too, like the friend praying when we were too tired. I know you don’t know what to say, just “Hi, I’m praying” is good.

Our parish, friends and family raised cash for us and created a non-profit fund for Adele at a local bank. This was a huge Godsend that we didn’t even realize would need and continue to need. Medical costs of course are huge, and then all the extras like travel costs, extra eating out when you don’t have the energy to plan a meal, things you didn’t realize you would need (like the time our one week hospital stay turned into 3 weeks.) We have been so blessed with financial support, and it made a huge, huge difference in our stress level. Not having to worry about missing bills or not having gas money was and is a major blessing. It’s also so good for our hearts and souls to see all the folks pouring out their love to Adele in such a tangible way.

We had a core of consistent hospital visitors that kept us fed and sane, and they rank right up there in the top three best things folks did for us. The guys brought food that didn’t come from the cafeteria; they were helpful, and they didn’t care if we hadn’t showered for four days. They would even hold Adele (who was sometimes screaming because she felt like crap and just wanted Mommy or Daddy.) They didn’t require anything from us, and they filled our tanks so we could make it another day. Being in the hospital is rough, being there and watching your child suffer is almost unbearable.

My husband reminded me how much our friends and family stepped up to help with our three big kids while Adele was in the hospital. There is no way we would have stayed sane, and Peter could have kept working without all the help. Peter’s work has been amazing as well, God is definitely guiding us.

We, well, mostly Adele, got “stuff” as well, along the way. Some of it was very needed, like the Basket of Hope we got after brain surgery in St. Louis. She was feeling better, getting bored, and that came at the perfect time. Others mentioned items like quarters for laundry and vending machines, stamps and stationary, actual mail (this was especially nice for our big kids, several thoughtful folks sent them letters and items.) Someone else to send thank you notes on behalf of the recipient – I could not keep up with thank you notes. We were literally in the hospital for almost 6 months with little breaks in between.

There were also sibling packs from the hospital and other folks that helped our big kids not feel so left out. This really depends on the age of the siblings though, it might not be so helpful for smaller kids. We did get a little overwhelmed with toys and blankies at one point, so temper your toy shopping. I will say that twice we got two big grab bags, those were the best. It was lots of random stuff, mostly one time use and/or disposable, for mommy, daddy and Adele. It was a great distraction and time filler and it was great stuff like gum, little snacks, bottled water and bubbles. All excellent items that we wouldn’t have to pack up when we eventually went home.

Speaking of going home, kids on chemo are must more susceptible to germs so things like Clorox wipes and Purell are always nice. That housecleaning comes in nice here too. You don’t realize the level of clean you have to obtain until your kids immune system is completely wiped out and a germ normal folks encounter every day could send them right back to the hospital.

In summary, prayer is number one. Pray, pray, pray. Just knowing people cared about us and didn’t forget us was so important. And then just the regular every day stuff we all do with barely a thought like eating and home maintenance. Time is a huge blessing, anything you can do to give a family more time together is huge. And it probably doesn’t even cost you any money. Stuff is just extra, little stuff that won’t create more work (i.e. finding a place to put or pack it).

Thank you Jesus for all the folks you sent our way, for all the folks you continue to send our way. You’ve blessed us abundantly. Please bless others in need the same way. Please grant Adele complete healing from cancer and many, many, many years with us on Earth. Jesus, we trust in you.

Editor’s Note: If you would like to keep up with little Adele and her journey, you can follow Melissa’s blog here: http://workinprogress-melissa.blogspot.com/?m=1

What Are You Doing To Cure Cancer? You May Be Surprised At How Much Power You Have In This Battle.

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This morning I woke with a start and was completely wide awake. I am not a morning person, so this was very unusual for me. I had been awakened by my dream. In my dream, I was able to think a little more freely about some questions as they relate to cancer research, and I woke up super excited to put those questions down on paper.

The timing is perfect as four board members from Dragon Master Foundation are traveling to Philadelphia this week to meet with the Childhood Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium. This is the second meeting for Richard and I, but the first time we are able to take other board members. It is significant because the progress we can make in person is more collaborative than what we can discover over the phone. Rapport has been built, and I believe both teams are eager to forge a bond that will help us move this big data project forward.

I can’t really share every thing that is going through my mind, but there is a central issue that I think is key for all of us to understand. It starts with Ted Kennedy.

Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with GBM in 2008. He went to the best doctors money could buy, and he died anyway. There is much to be learned about brain cancer. My son, David, was diagnosed in 2010, and he died in 2012. He also had amazing doctors, and unlike Mr. Kennedy, David had great health and youth on his side. It didn’t help. The doctors and researchers didn’t have any new information to work with that might make a difference. There has been little progress in brain cancer research in the last few decades. However, in the last couple of years, scientists have discovered that GBM is not just one disease. There are at least four subtypes. It is easy to understand that these subtypes might all react differently to different treatments. Right?

And now for the really important part. If there are four subtypes of GBM that have just recently been discovered, what other things might we have been missing in the “big picture”? You see, we are in a revolutionary time in both science and technology. And one can barely keep up with the other. Researchers are pushing to the edge of their worlds – eager to go farther, faster. Data engineers are using bigger sets of data in new and innovative ways – eager to go farther, faster. But there are precious few resources being given to bring these two sets of people together. Imagine a researcher writing out all the questions he or she is trying to answer. There may be hundreds of possible scenarios they want to investigate. It would take a whole lab full of people months, or maybe even years, to answer all the questions. They might not ever be able to answer the questions because they simply don’t have access to enough data.

That is where the data engineers come in. They can take the data and program the computer to find similarities and differences, greatly reducing the number of man hours needed to get answers. The questions are hard, but the answers could be easy.

However, before any of that can happen, we have to build the database. The exciting thing for us is that the team at CBTTC has already begun doing that. They have started “small”, with childhood brain tumor patients, but their vision is big. We believe it is going to be able to scale quickly to include adult tumors and then even beyond brain cancer. This is the way research will be done in the future, and we are poised to make it happen now. NOW. And the faster this database is built, the faster they can save lives.

To say we are working with a sense of urgency is an understatement. It woke me up this morning. I think about it every day. I truly believe the only thing standing between us and a cure for cancer is this lack of a database. So we are going to build it, but we truly, desperately need your help.

Everyone can do something, and right now the thing we are going to need most is resources to build the database. We need citizens like you to care about a cure for cancer right now. You need to ask your hospitals if they are sharing data. Don’t accept no for an answer. We need to build this database big enough that they can all share -which is going to take a lot of money. The good news is that the major expense is in building the database. Once the resource is built, ongoing expenses will be a fraction of the start-up costs. So the help we need in the beginning will diminish over time. When the database is fully functional, it will save money elsewhere that could be re-allocated to fund the database.

Please share this story with everyone you know. It is so important that we get this database built. It is too late for my son, but there are so many other lives at stake. We can’t afford to wait for someone else to fix this problem. We have to do it ourselves. Now.

If you’d like to donate to the project, you can make a tax-deductible donation here:
http://www.dragonmasterfoundation.org/get-involved/

If you would like to plan a fundraiser in your area, please let me know and we can help you get started. We CAN do this!

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52 People You Need To Meet: #22 Richard Haddock

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David Pearson is my stepson, who I immediately liked when we first met. He was a very odd kid and loved to be different. Whenever someone told him that he was weird, he would simply smile and say “thank you”. David never cared what anyone thought about him and was always befriending the friendless. He would almost seek out the ones who looked wounded, or in need of a smile, or a joke, or to say something totally unexpected. David treated everyone like his best friend, and they all loved him for it.

David was a stranger to no one, and he is an amazing, wonderful soul. David Pearson was diagnosed with brain cancer, at only 16. This is what I wish I knew before then. Growing up, my parents, especially my mom, taught me that I could be anything, do anything. When David was diagnosed with a GBM (glioblastoma multiforme), my thought was that everything was solvable, that any issue could be analyzed, understood, and fixed, but I was wrong. There is currently no cure for GBM, and the standard of care hasn’t changed much in 30 years.

When we went to the hospital to help David and figure out what to do, we saw that there were lots of children with cancer. One that particularly stood out was a young man named Justin, who had leukemia. His mom, Kathleen was a nurse, and she seemed to know her way around the hospital. She was very kind to us and immediately took an interest in David. Justin and David became hospital buddies and in the short time they were together, became friends. I assumed that Justin would be fine, and that eventually he would be a healthy young man, able to live his life. I naively wished that David had something “curable” like Leukemia.

We weren’t sure what to do, since David was living in Virginia, and we lived in Kansas, but our friends, Jamie and Jennifer offered to let us stay in their house in Virginia while David was going through treatments. We essentially moved into their home, even bringing our dog, Cooper, to stay with them. They were awesome hosts and we could not have done it without them. They continue to help us as well as others.

We weren’t sure what to do with our cats, still in Kansas, and how to look after our home, but our neighbors, Jay and Michelle quickly offered to help with feeding the cats and watching over the house. It was one more thing that just got handled and we didn’t have to worry about. As we worked to help David with his health, we found that there were times that we simply could not get everything done, and that’s when Jay and Teresa stepped in and helped with all sorts of projects. There are so many kids and parents who did little things to help us along the way! Please forgive me for not naming everyone here.

A few months after David’s diagnosis, we got word that Justin had lost his battle with leukemia, and we were stunned. I thought that Justin would be okay,  but the battle had just become too much, and he lost the fight. We went to Justin’s visitation and waited for two hours to pay our respects. When we finally made it to Kathleen, she asked about David. I was heartbroken and amidst her pain, Kathleen was asking about David. Kathleen has been an amazing friend, who continues to fight for cancer research and is a treasured friend.

As we continued working to find a cure for David, we came into contact with many amazing nurses, doctors, researchers and others who are doing their best to make things better for families going through this. Dr. Hwang and Dr. Packer of Children’s Hospital in DC were very vigilant to do everything they could to help us. They were also instrumental in finding a clinical trial for David at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Jakacki treated David in Pittsburgh with a new immunology study that helped him for 10 months until the cancer got smarter and the cancer began to grow. All through our journey, we had the help from many friends, who did things to help that we could never repay. Whatever we needed, friends, and people we didn’t know were our friends yet, helped us in ways that were simply amazing.

David lost his battle at the young age of 18. I think of David every day, and think of what might have been. I miss his sense of humor, his amazing personality, his love of everyone, and his amazing faith. On the day of David’s funeral, a lot of our friends came to pay their respects. I’ve never been one who goes to funerals because they’re uncomfortable. Many people came to show their love of David, including a bunch of his friends from high school. They all wore Hawaiian shirts because David always liked to wear them to be different and stand out.

I was not prepared to see my friends David and Loren show up, as well as Dr. Hwang among many others. My brother, David, also made a point to come and be there for us. It was a very humbling day, and changed my view of funerals. When David’s battle started, I thought that we would be able to fix him, to make the cancer go away. My parents taught me that anything was possible, and even though I’d had various setbacks in my life, I always came through it.

David’s journey, though, was different. Here was this battle with cancer that David lost, but is that it? Is that where it stops? Amanda and I decided that even though David’s battle was over here on earth, that there were many more children and adults who are fighting this battle every day. Many were winning, but too many are losing. After a year or so of thinking about what to do, and trying to “recover” from such a loss, we made a decision to help. The battle for David may be lost, but the war against cancer is certainly not over.

We formed the Dragon Master Foundation in 2013 to bring big data technology to medical research. When we started, we had no idea how many people would offer to help, even though they had no family members who had ever taken on the cancer battle. We’ve been very humbled by all the help from many different people, including Angie, Miles, Kimberly, Roger, David, Linda, Jolee and many others.

I often ask myself what it means to be a Christian, and I think that our friends and family have shown me in many ways what that means. As we struggled with what to do throughout this ordeal, and ultimately our loss, Amanda and I would pray together, and we would feel a sense of calm that I cannot explain nor will I try. Things just happened for us that we can’t explain, I think, because we were connected to something greater than ourselves.

Some days I see David’s picture and just smile. He always made me laugh, and I think of what a privilege it was to have known him and be part of his journey. The picture of David with this article is just a few weeks before his diagnosis. You can see that David was a handsome young man, full of life and laughter and love and promise.

People have told me that it gets easier over time, but it really doesn’t. It makes me sad to think of what might have been. That full life that David had envisioned is gone, and his absence is felt every day. It doesn’t get easier, you just learn to live with it.

Our friends did amazing stuff for us. From all over the country, we have friends who have done so much for us we could never repay them. Even now, we have new friends who have come into our life after David died, and really want to help us with our foundation.

Some days I wonder why they help us so much, but I’m trying to be gracious and just say thank you without question. It hasn’t been easy, but our friends have made it easier for us. I wish I’d known how to be the kind of friend that all of the people who helped us through this journey have been. They figured out what we needed, and then just did it – they didn’t say to call if we needed anything. Friends show up when you’re in need – especially at the funerals of loved ones. I wish I’d known how to be a better friend.

We’re all on a journey that we don’t know the script to, and some days we’re just trying to get through the day. Be gentle, be kind and take care of each other. Life isn’t easy, but with the help of friends and family it’s well worth the ride. Thank you is not enough – but thank you to all the friends who have helped us and continue to help in this journey.

Editor’s note: You can keep track of Dragon Master Foundation at the website: http://www.dragonmasterfoundation.org , on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @DragonMasterFdn .

We Have Three Months

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February, March, and April. That is what stands between us and Brain Tumor Awareness Month. There is a lot of work to be done if we want to see real change this year. Last May, I posted some tips, but by then it is too late. If we want to see gray in May, we need to start asking now. Please take a few minutes to write to your favorite newspaper, tv station, magazine, etc and tell them about brain tumors and brain cancer. The more people who do this, the more they will understand it is a story their readers/viewers care about.

Now is also the time to plan your events for May. We are working on Concert to Cure (slight name change from last year) in Wichita, and we are lending what support we can to other events around the country. Race for Hope in Des Moines is in its second year, and they have big fundraising goals for this year. I’d love to hear about what is planned in your area. Please post a link, and I’ll try to get events posted on the Operation: ABC “Annihilate Brain Cancer” Facebook page.

In the meanwhile, if you are looking for some inspiration, or just need a cool new shirt, check out this great design to benefit both Dragon Master Foundation and National Brain Tumor Society:

http://www.zazzle.com/brain_tumor_awareness_t_shirt-235201354207178397?color=purple&size=a_m&style=basic_tshirt_light&view=113158993915508071

52 People You Need To Meet: #4 Angela Heckard

52 People To Meet Posts

What I Wish I Knew Before my Husband was Diagnosed With Brain Cancer.

January 5, 2011 my husband, Todd, was diagnosed with Grade III Anaplastic Astrocytoma of the Left Temporal Lobe.  He had suffered a seizure exactly one month prior, just before leaving the house to watch Sunday football with the guys.  My husband passed away on August 12, 2012, shortly after turning 47, always believing that he would beat this monster, always having hope.

His face cradled in my hands as he took his last breath… a moment, a sight, a sound, the most devastating pain that I will forever carry with me.  Those are things that I can never escape as his final breaths often invade my thoughts without warning, without mercy, and very often publicly, leaving me to seem an unstable woman, tears streaming, as my brain favors the rewind button.

I miss my husband more than I can ever explain to anyone, whether they knew us or not. Todd was my husband, my lover, my personal comedian and singer, my best friend and sometimes worst enemy.  The following are some of the things that I wish I knew before Brain Cancer devastated our lives.

I wish I knew, truly knew, to the extent that I do now, how lucky I am for those that I have in my life.  My friends are not merely friends, but family, maybe not by blood but my family nonetheless.  They have supported me, stood by me, and helped me in ways and times when I didn’t think I could be helped.  Some sat with my husband while I grocery shopped, many had provided food and cooked meals, when eating was the last thing on my mind.  Some were there for moral support, to take a breather, to laugh with their silly antics or have a glass of wine, sometimes bottle, late at night when the house was quiet.  And then there were some who at the most critical of times, never left my side.  Drove me to finalize arrangements and choose the options they knew we wanted, even though I could not verbalize them myself.  The one who dressed me, fixed my hair and makeup and found the things that I would constantly misplace, except for that key.  Only Todd knows where the key is hiding.  And then too, the Warrior Women, that wonderful group of ladies, that embrace and support those of us affected.   The love and support of my friends, to this day, continues to humble me to my very being.  I will be there for them as they have been for me, although I pray for them that it is never needed.

I wish I knew the phrase “Let me know if you ever need anything” is such a cop out.  Until this beast affected my family I may have used those words.  Now I know better.  Now I know that I need to look at the individual, take in their struggles, access the situation and jump right in and provide what is needed.  What I know is that those of us struggling will never ask for help, we will keep struggling, keep fighting, against better judgment, because maybe, just maybe, asking means giving in, giving up.

I wish I had known that the phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle” is something that someone made up along the way to comfort those experiencing the harsh realities of life.  You will be given more than you can handle, some more than others.  Try to overcome the desire to slap this person.  They mean well and to their credit, may have never experienced what we have. Those of us left behind.  The wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews and friends, we understand that we will constantly be challenged.

I wish I knew that all of these years together we were not living life, we were merely existing, going about our days as we had each day before.  One night we sat talking, Todd and I, and he discussed all that he wished he had done differently, and the choices he made that he would have changed.  Less time working after work, more vacations as a family and less side jobs done while on “vacation”.  He would have spent more time with me instead of the guys, he would have spent more time with our son instead of beers with friends, had he known what beast was within.  I came to realize that we went through the motions of every day as we had the day before, the mapped out course of our lives, I have forced myself to step outside of my comfort zone, that safe refuge that I had resided all these years.  Maybe it is only in baby steps but I’m doing it, one step at a time.  Fear of heights put aside, I went zip-lining.  And there were butterflies; butterflies were everywhere, just like the day we laid him to rest.  I learned to ride a motorcycle.  Just before taking my test I was nearly in a panic because I hadn’t had that confirmation, it appeared: my butterfly.  I think he is showing his support and smiling down on me for these tentative steps.

I wish I had known that brain tumors are so devastatingly deceiving and that the decline can happen so quickly. Often those with brain cancer do not appear unhealthy.  I didn’t know I would hear “I didn’t know he was so sick.”  I also didn’t know that last week, those final days, I would have to say goodbye.  Two weeks before. Three weeks before. Yes, there was decline, but I didn’t know.  I didn’t know that my love would be gone in a blink of an eye.  I wish I knew that my thoughts would flood, often without warning, of all our years together.  I wish I knew that I would break down in public because of a song that is playing.

I wish I knew that I am a warrior, not Xena, just a warrior.  That I actively engaged in war, on my home-front.  A war that I had never imagined that that I would have to fight, nor was strong enough to endure.  I promised Todd that fateful day in January of 2011 that I would slay dragons for him if I had to, and in his memory I will continue to fight. I fight in the memory of my Hero Angel.

52 People You Need To Meet: #3 Danae Hischke

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What I wish I had known before my son was diagnosed with cancer.

My oldest son, Jordan, was diagnosed with a Spinal Cord Glioblastoma when he was 22 years old. Chances are you’ve never heard of it. It’s one of those “rare” cancers that few doctors, even oncologists, ever encounter in their careers. Jordan also had moderate/severe autism. My husband and I were not new at advocating for Jordan’s needs but I wish I had known, could somehow have been prepared, for how much farther we would have to go after he received a rare cancer diagnosis.

I’ve worked as a primary clinic nurse for 30 years so I’ve seen a lot over the years. Nothing prepared me for being the mother of a child with cancer. I wish I had known how much I would need to trust my instincts, my gut feelings…

Our cancer journey started in January of 2009 when Jordan seemed to have some difficulty with his left ankle. It was difficult to step up into the school bus or our van. We took him to our doctor who x-rayed his ankle and thought maybe it was sprained. A week later Jordan was saying that his knee hurt. Another trip to the doctor and another “clean” x-ray. A week later and my food loving son is refusing to walk to the cafeteria at work. January 20th was his last day of work and also mine. We took him to the Orthopedic specialist we had seen in Milwaukee for an unrelated problem. At this point he was in a wheelchair because he couldn’t walk without holding onto the wall or a person. Blood tests, bone scans, x-rays. Everything “normal”. So our family is at home with a young disabled adult man who can’t walk. But everything is “fine”. On February 4th, when my 200 lb husband had to carry my 180 lb son down the stairs we were at our wit’s end. We drove to the ER (again!) and were determined to stay there until we were given answers.

With the help of Jordan’s old pediatrician, he was admitted to the neurology floor with a diagnosis of Guillian Barre Syndrome. It made sense. He had ascending paralysis and protein in his spinal fluid. Three weeks in rehab and during that time Jordan completely lost his ability to walk. He also lost control over bladder function. We still didn’t question the professionals. Soon after he lost bladder control, we were released home to continue rehab. At this point Jordan was in a lot of pain but the “experts” told us Guillian Barre Syndrome isn’t painful so Jordan must be faking the pain to get out of therapy! Alan and I should have known better. Jordan had always had an incredibly high pain tolerance. He displaced his elbow when he was 3 – without crying. He had surgery to remove part of the bone in his arm and needed no pain meds after – and no crying. So now he’s crying and saying his hips hurt and we are told he’s “faking” and to just give him Tylenol.

Jordan’s diagnosis of spinal cord cancer came in March of 2009 after an MRI of the spine was finally performed. Surgery to hopefully remove the tumor was scheduled for the next day. It was too late for his mobility. He was permanently paralyzed from the waist down before he went into surgery. Fortunately, we had an incredibly compassionate and caring neurosurgeon who delivered the devastating news to us that our son had a tumor that could not be removed, only biopsied. Not only would Jordan never walk again, but he would be lucky to live a year. Most likely scenario would be that the tumor would continue to grow up his spine (it started in the lower lumbar region), and he would gradually experience more paralysis – and excruciating nerve pain as this occurred. So much for “just Tylenol”.

We were very fortunate in one sense though. We had a neurosurgeon and a neuro team who gave us the knowledge we needed to start advocating for the best care possible for our child. We were encouraged to search for second, third, even fourth opinions. Given the terminal nature of the disease it was gently stressed to us how important it would be to weigh quality of life against quantity.

I need to say that after those first couple months, after the real diagnosis, I have no regrets in the care Jordan was given and the advocacy our family did on his behalf. A lot of the credit for that goes to the incredible medical professionals that we encountered throughout what turned out to be a 3+ year journey. They helped us every step of the way in determining what was right for Jordan and what was right for our family. There were a couple professionals (doctors, therapists) who didn’t make the cut and needed to be “let go”, but just a couple and it was easy to cut them loose! They didn’t fit into our plan for what we felt was right for Jordan.

When it came to anything Jordan related we learned to trust our instincts, trust our gut, trust each other, trust God, and research, research, and more research. Jordan died peacefully and pain free at home on June 24th, 2012 with family and friends near his side. He lived and died on his own terms with help from a great team.

Always Jordan’s mom,

Danae

52 People You Need to Meet: #1 Nikki Austin

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What I Wish I Knew Before my Son was Diagnosed with Cancer

My only son Matthew was diagnosed on September 7, 2012 with DIPG, an incurable, inoperable form of brain cancer.  He was 10 days shy of turning 10 when he was diagnosed.  He battled bravely for 14 months and passed away in my arms on November 5, 2013.

Although there is nothing I can do to change the events that have taken place, there are several things I wish I knew before Matthew was diagnosed.

I wish I knew how much our family was loved:  Before Matthew’s diagnosis, I knew that my family was liked.  We have a wonderful circle of friends and we live in a great community.  However, I could not comprehend how much we are LOVED until Matthew was diagnosed.  The generosity that we have received is beyond anything that I ever could have imagined.  It’s overwhelming, incomprehensible, humbling, and quite simply amazing.  Two months after his death, we are still reminded daily how much we are truly loved.

I wish I knew what this diagnosis would do to my relationships:  In my naïve mind, I thought something as major as your child being diagnosed with terminal cancer would somehow create a clean slate with the relationships in my life.  Previous issues would be erased and everything would start over fresh.  Everyone would realize as much as I had what really matters in life.  I was sadly naïve in this area.  Some relationships have been made stronger than ever.  My husband and I are closer than I ever thought we could be.  My friends and close family members have rallied around me and supported me in ways that I never even realized I needed.  They were my strength for 14 months and continue to be.  I’ve also learned that if the death of my son isn’t reason enough for some people to forgive, forget and move on, then I don’t know what is.  This journey has told me everything I need to know about the relationships I have with the people in my life.

I wish I knew not to take simple moments of life with my children for granted:  Of course I’ve loved my children since the day they were born.  But like any mother, I got frustrated, yelled when I shouldn’t have, probably said “no” more than I needed to and took for granted the time we had together.  Hearing the words “no cure, maybe a year if we’re lucky….” immediately changed that.  There is nothing like knowing your son is living on borrowed time to make you cherish every single moment together.  Someone once said “it’s like living life in High Definition.”  Every sunny day is more beautiful, every laugh is more musical, and every achievement is more remarkable.  I savored every breath he took, every word he spoke, every squeeze of his hand in mine as we’d walk, his smell, his voice, his everything.  It’s sad that it took an experience like this to make me realize how to cherish the everyday little moments I have with my children, but I’m grateful that I’ve at least learned to live in HD.

I wish I knew that karma is as make believe as unicorns:  I’ve had a good life.  Yes, I’ve had challenges, but I believe that these experiences have made me stronger and made me who I am.  I assumed that because we are good people who live a good life that the universe, God, Buddha, whoever, will take care of us.  I was wrong.  Bad things do indeed happen to really good people.  The theory of Karma- if one sows goodness, one will reap goodness- was blown apart the day Matthew was diagnosed.  What could my 9 year old son have done to deserve a cancer diagnosis?  What could we, his parents have done that was so awful to deserve this?  Is this a lesson?  Is God trying to teach us something?  These are answers I don’t have and don’t know that I ever will.  But I do know that the unthinkable CAN happen to us.  But the idea that karma is somehow at work- I’ll never believe that theory again.

Each Journey is Unique:  The day that Matthew was diagnosed, a neurosurgeon at Seattle Children’s told us “It’s important to remember that Matthew’s tumor is unique.  No one knows how it will behave, so don’t think that the statistics will dictate his journey.”  I wish I had known that just as Matthew’s journey was unique; my grief journey will be unique as well.  It’s a wonderful thing to be connected with amazing moms who have lost a child as well, but when you start comparing your journey to others, that can be harmful.  There have been times that I’ve felt that I’m not “sad enough” if I have a good day.  Deep down, I know that I love my son more than life itself and the amount of tears that I cry are not a measure of that love.  I’ve had to learn that I will grieve however I need to grieve and it will happen when I need it to happen.  Comparing myself to others only serves to make me feel that I’m not “doing it right.”   Had I known this early on, I think I would have saved myself a decent amount of guilt.

I wish I knew how strong I really am:  There have been too many moments to count that I’ve cried “I can’t do this….I don’t know how I’ll survive.”  Guess what, I’m doing it.  I’m surviving.  I took care of our son for 14 months better than any other person could have.  I comforted him when he was sick, scared, and in pain.  I kissed him goodbye every day for 6 weeks as he went into his radiation treatments and told him how brave he was.  I watched as poison dripped into his veins and told him how proud we were of him.  I told him about Heaven and Jesus and eternal life and eased his fears about death and leaving his mommy, daddy and sister behind.  And I held him in my arms and comforted him as he took his last breaths while telling him that it was ok, it was time for him to go.  So yes, I am strong.  I am so much stronger than I ever even imagined.  Fear will never hold me back.  If I am strong enough to live through these past 16 months, I am strong enough for anything.

As I read through this, I’m left wondering “What if I knew all these things before Matthew was diagnosed with cancer?  What would I have learned?”   I guess this is how it was meant to be.  Although it would have been helpful to know these things 16 months ago, these were the lessons I was meant to learn.

With Matthew in my Heart,

Nikki

http://www.mama2matthewandmegan.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

52 People You Need To Meet

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2014 Resolution

With 2013 drawing to a close, I have been wondering what I can do to make 2014 really stand out as a year we draw attention to brain cancer. My son was diagnosed in 2010. He passed away in 2012. And here we are, almost to 2014, and virtually nothing has changed. I mean, I know that my circle of friends is hyper-aware of brain cancer now, but the world at large still isn’t. No new treatments have come along that are helping patients beat this disease. Even today, a little boy is being laid to rest from “Stage 3” brain cancer. I know all cancers are bad. I know. But it is somehow more insidious when it is in their head. When it can’t be touched by surgery or most other treatments. When you can’t see it growing, but it is killing you all the same. I can think of few things more horrible than brain cancer, and since it is the one I’m most acquainted with, it is the one I’m charged with changing. So back to my pondering… How do we make a difference in 2014?

The first thing is make a more regular effort to bring awareness. As you can tell from my posts, I don’t feel inspired to write blog posts every day. Regular posts, however, are the best way to keep brain cancer awareness as a “top of mind” topic. So I had an idea. Why not get some of my friends to help by writing guest posts? It occurred to me that in my caregiver support group, we have over 200 people, so even if they were the only ones who responded, we could fill each week with people to spare. I tossed the idea out to them and the response was overwhelming! So we are on!! Each week in 2014, we will share something with you from this writing prompt:

“What I wish I knew before my_____ was diagnosed with cancer.”

It might be their husband, daughter, best friend, or cousin. It might even be someone they never met!  We want to raise awareness for brain cancer research, but in the process, we think these stories can give families and friends the tools they need to fight together as a team. To ask the right questions. To offer the right comfort. To be on fire for a cure.

These people are all passionate about helping others and raising awareness for cancer research. There will be at least 52 different people with different perspectives who have a message for you. I’m really excited to see what 2014 will hold! I hope you will join us on this journey, and share these posts with your friends.