As the World Turns

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I almost have to laugh … there conyinue to be so many highs and lows, our lives playing out like a soap opera; filled with glamour, drama, tragedy and triumph.

Shortly after my Make-A-Wish blog entry posted, I was contacted by the Foundation. Someone had shared it with the board of directors and President of Make-A-Wish. Lulu was made the featured wish child, and they used part of the entry and pictures on their site. I soon received another call asking if I would be comfortable speaking at a fundraiser at the yacht club (I told you, GLAMA!). Of course I lied and said yes, knowing I would be very UNcomfortable beforehand, but fine once I hit the stage. Jimmy and the kids have also gotten used to these events, and I suggested we all go up together.

Lulu was unexpectedly crabby that day, and I got a phone call from her teacher letting me know Lulu was really tired and a little warm. I picked her up immediately, so grateful to be working at a nearby c’office. I got her home, laid her on the couch and wondered what we would do about the speech that evening. She had been very excited about the event and I had been throwing her a few random questions throughout the week, in preparation for her part. She perked up and was determined to participate, grabbing her rainbow piñata to bring along … somehow grasping exactly what was expected from her.

Jimmy and I volleyed the highlights of the wish trip. The kids stole the show as usual, Max with his old-soul eloquence and charm, speaking with his hands in the most natural way. Lulu chimed in, sharing excitedly her dolphin encounter, and telling the crowd that she loved Hawaii so much that it felt like she went home. We received a warm standing ovation, and felt so grateful to be able to give back to such a wonderful organization.

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Lulu ended up with a fever that night, unfortunately over that magical 101 degree mark, meaning we had to go to the hospital. This would mark the beginning of more unexpected trips to Children’s, as Lulu battled the recurring flu, and multiple ear infections. The flu is much more serious and harder to treat with kids on chemo since their immune systems are compromised. She’s been on two rounds of strong antibiotics and two rounds of Tamiflu, but her fevers have continued to return.

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Of course, Max got the flu too and I was scheduled for two jobs in NYC, a few days apart. To make matters worse, Jimmy’s dad had an emergency. I’m going to give you a cringe alert here, so skip this paragraph if you’re squeamish. After a routine procedure, he pulled out his own catheter accidentally. YEEEOUCH!!! He went septic and was rushed to the hospital and placed in ICU. It was touch and go for a few days, and the doc said if Jimmy’s sister hadn’t gotten him in immediately, he would not have made it.

I felt helpless in NYC, and it was strange to be the one who was working while Jimmy was dealing with the crises. My dad had happened to be coming through town heading north from Florida, and helped out. I was grateful to be able to bring home some bacon, and it was easier than I would have thought to be distracted by work. Lulu had a reprieve while I was gone, making it more palatable to be away. I was also with one of my favorite crews, people that have become my friends over the years. Lulu had generously given me her favorite bunny to ‘keep me company’ and we all had a blast taking pictures with Purple Bunny.

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I got to see a friend in a Broadway show and was able to meet a couple of college buddies for a drink. One offered me free tickets to another show the next night, and I learned my college was having a reunion while I was there! I couldn’t believe my luck! That was, until … I got the flu. O. M. G. I got SO sick (cringe alert 2). I threw up about 10 times throughout the day, each time sneaking off to a (public, ugh) bathroom, and popping gum in my mouth to continue working. It was awful! My model could not have been sweeter about it. I was so grateful I had an assistant on set, and I would have her watch things as I would disappear to ‘take care of business’ throughout the day. There would be no reunion or show for me, no dinners or shopping, but I was still grateful to be there.

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The studio had a great view of Freedom Tower and on my last day there, the spire was placed atop the building. What an inspiring symbol of resilience, determination and strength. A perfect reminder that it’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up.

I flew back home as Jimmy’s dad ended up back in ICU with breathing problems. I spent Saturday night in the ER with Lulu, who had 104 degree fever (she has bounced back once again, and was back in school yesterday). Jimmy is frantically catching up with a huge edit, and in pre-pro for a major film he’s working on this summer. We have been asked to be the featured family in Make-A-Wish’s Annual campaign. The What If Book will be published soon, proceeds going to the Go Bo Foundation, and our Love for Lulu fund. Oh, and our house has been turned upside down as Jimmy turns our attic into a home office and we get the carpets cleaned!

So, it’s best to laugh at the craziness, and only occasionally break down. We are rolling with the punches, appreciating the highs and getting through the lows, seemingly stronger and prepared by last year, which was spent in an even more dramatic fashion.

And so you have it: These are the days of our lives …

Love,

a.l.l. of us

Jazz Hands

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(pic from a.m. rehearsal)

“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand – and melting like a snowflake. Let us use it before it is too late.” – Marie Beynon Ray

Life has been opening up again. Personally, I feel like a canary that’s been let out of her cage. Hope is now blossoming into full-on optimism. Although we have 13 more months of treatment, I think we are all starting to live in a new way; unapologetically and unabashedly … squeezing the joy out of every plausible moment. This is what can happen when you almost lose life, and witness loss. There is a renewed appreciation for all things good, whether big or small.

We had an incredible experience last week, when the four of us appeared as guest speakers at a convention in Palm Springs. We added a few days to the beginning of the trip to spend much needed time together as a family. The warmth and sunshine were like happy-juice to us! The resort was everything our lives have not been: perfect, lush, accessible, relaxing, and comfortable. – A soft place to land after a hard day, or in this case, a hard year. We hung out together, swam, walked, played, relaxed, and had some actual downtime. Jimmy and I even sneaked in some quality time (wink, wink!).
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After a couple of days of this, it was time to think about why we were brought there: Jazz Pharmaceuticals. This is the company that had the alternative drug (Erwinase) for Lulu after she had a horrifying allergic reaction to PEG-Asparagenase (see excerpt from Caring Bridge below). They also took a pic of Lulu for their website, which we found out has served as a huge inspiration to their company in its entirety. We met the MC for the event, so full of kinetic energy and persona I thought he was gonna throw a jazz-hand out at any given moment! It was like looking directly into the sun. He was a Broadway actor and we both swore we had met before, perhaps from my performing days. He was at once comforting and startling, reminding us that we had a job to do there.

The four of us were featured at two sessions, the general session with a few hundred people, and a more intimate breakout session with about 50-60 people from the Oncology department. We had a rehearsal the day before, as well as one in the morning with the CEO Bruce, who would interview us on stage.IMG_2539 - Version 2

(pic from tech rehearsal)

The theme was ‘Bringing Value to Life’, and our story would kick start the multi-day event, to set the tone for the rest of the conference. What an honor. I won’t kid you, it was a bit nerve-wracking to speak on stage to that many people, but any nerves I felt in anticipation were totally gone by the time we went on. Jimmy and Max were cool as cucumbers too. Lulu got quite shy right before, and instead of her solo spot, we ended up all going on together. We entered the stage to a standing ovation, and surprised and delighted faces since most of the attendees hadn’t been told she/we would be there. Lulu was asked a few questions about her upcoming Make-a-Wish trip, and what rainbows meant to her, and was whisked off stage so we could get into the tougher subjects.

As those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know, I have a bittersweet relationship with medicine. Our whole family does. Pharmaceuticals are not on the short-list of aspirational adventures, but this company is truly different. The people we’ve met and come to know through Jazz have been consistently sincere, kind and enthusiastic about their work, a rare combination in any field, let-alone pharmacy! We’ve been in contact with multiple employees over these past few months, and developed a great report and, in some cases, a lasting friendship (you know who you are!).

After meeting CEO Bruce Cozadd, I understood why such a unique culture had been created. He shared with us a very personal story about his family, and I feel he has turned a tragedy into a journey, and that journey into a mission through his company. You can feel it in the way his employees speak of him: “Oh, just wait until you meet him, you’ll love him!” “He is so easy to be around, so compassionate”, “He’s such a great guy!” It went on and on and my B.S. detector didn’t go off once! He also admitted things aren’t perfect there (love that honesty) and it was clear he was genuinely concerned about it. After our interview with him, I could see how wonderfully down-to-earth he was, brilliant but humble, and deeply grounded. I also understood how he had developed such an amazing team; like attracts like.

Following the general session, we had a Q&A with the Oncology team. Many of whom have been touched by cancer personally and/or have battled it themselves. The questions were so pertinent, and insightful. Matt, a new friend with a permanent place in our hearts, surprised Jimmy by having the whole team wear Triumph motorcycle t-shirts. Jimmy has been wearing his in honor of Lulu, and Matt thoughtfully remembered this! That initiated the mood as the four of us were ushered on stage. Max continued to steal the show with his old-soul wisdom combined with his cute cheeks, and we all held it together fairly well until I started talking about what Lulu has learned though this. I talked about her generosity, the lemonade stands, and then went into her deepened empathy. She had recently spoken to me about Bo, our friend who lost his battle with cancer and deeply touched our lives. I choked and stopped. After what seemed like an eternity, I continued in this pathetic crying voice to share what Lulu told me last week: “Mama, when people die, they don’t go away forever, they just move into your head” She pointed to her heart on stage and I said “And your heart, right Lulu?” She nodded calmly; relieved I had understood her message. I’m convinced she is connected to the afterlife in a very different way than most of us are. Matt handed me a tissue, and we finished up with Jimmy telling the story of his first father-daughter dance that had happened right there the night before (and that Lulu had asked him!) Well, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after those two stories.

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The attendees flocked around us after, regaling us with stories of their own, sharing lives they had lost and personal battles fought. I wished we could have talked to each one of them for the rest of the night. I felt so drawn to this work we were doing, so invigorated and energized from it. I long to do more.

So … life is really, really good right now for all of us, relatively speaking. Right now is all that matters. Lulu is sick infrequently, the OCD diminishing through our guidance, but more so through her own sheer will. I’m almost giddy with excitement and relishing every moment. Don’t be surprised if I shoot a jazz hand out your way the next time I see you …

Love,

a.l.l. of us

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Caring Bridge entry from February 11, 2012

Hello,

I write to you today excitedly, to share some great news: Lulu actually ATE yesterday!!! I’m not talking a mouse-like bite out of a cracker, or a single grape. She ate for REAL. The docs gave her an appetite stimulant last week, and it seems to be working. Yesterday, she woke up and told me she wanted pancakes! Of course, she wanted them from Beans and Barley, so I bundled up, shoveled off my car and headed out in the snowstorm. Baby wants pancakes, Baby gets pancakes! Apparently, I missed the breakfast menu by 15 minutes. Argh. I actually pulled out the sympathy card and explained the situation, that my daughter has cancer, hadn’t eaten in over 9 weeks, etc, but to no avail. I think the guy almost thought I was making it up! Dude, your pancakes are good, but not THAT good. So, I headed over to The Original Pancake House to get her second favorites. Success. She was so excited when I got back, and she ate almost 1/2 of one! Then she wanted banana yogurt, some water, her favorite rice puffs, then pretzels. I just could not believe my eyes! She kept it all down and asked for more at dinner. Some baby sweet potatoes and a chocolate cupcake brought over from a good friend. I didn’t care how much sugar, fat, whatever was in anything she ate, she was eating! More this a.m., with yogurt and a pancake. Granted, there were some issues in the middle of the night, but expected with the new stuff coming at her long-empty tummy. Please keep those prayers coming, if this keeps up, we an get her off IV and maybe even tube feeds in the future. :-)!

More good news; her temperament has been almost normal for the last few days. She has 6 days off chemo, and what a difference that makes. I’ve come to understand the multi-faceted and diverse effects drugs can have on children. Each child reacts uniquely, and chemical imbalances are nothing to sneeze at … When she’s in Sybill-mode, there is no amount of good parenting that will change the outcome of her behavior. I can no more control her moods than I can stop a truck from barreling down the highway with my outstretched hands. Again, it gives me empathy for parents with kids with ADHD, ADD, all the levels of autism that can’t be seen with the naked eye, etc. I won’t be so quick to judge that bratty child at the checkout counter, or their parents. Who knows what they’re dealing with, what medications they might be on, or what is going on in their home.

Speaking of medications, I bet you’re wondering about the tornado. Well, we couldn’t let a whole week go by without a little drama, could we! I jest, but it was actually terrifying. On Tuesdays clinic visit, Lulu was scheduled to get a couple of chemo drugs that we don’t give at home. One of which, can cause allergic reactions, so the nurse stays in the room with you. Lulu has gotten this drug a couple times before, so the nurse and I were chatting it up while the med started. Within seconds, things went very, very wrong. Lu started screaming that her tummy was burning and that she felt really sick and awful. A couple seconds later, her entire face turned dark red and she started vomiting profusely and screaming ” HELP ME! PLEEEAAASSE HELP ME!!!”. Her face swelled up, including her eyes, lips, then tongue and throat. Omg. I’m freaking inside but staying calm for her. 4 nurses and 2 doctors are in our room with the kind of calm that’s full of electricity, extreme focus and intention. Lulu glossed over and stopped responding. She went sheet-white. She got IV benadryl, epi-shot, steroids and 2 other drugs. Finally, she became stable and fell asleep. I sat back in my chair and the tears started rolling down my cheeks like a waterfall. Dammit! Can’t she just have a normal week of totally shittty cancer? She had only gotten .9 of 50 units of this med. Thank goodness it wasn’t more. Even after the shot, meds, she started swelling again. Her eyes were super puffy and her lips were full enough to qualify her for an audition for The Real Housewives of Milwaukee. So, more meds were given, and we were checked into the hospital for the night. Obviously, she can’t ever get this medicine again, so now we get the added bonus of going in 6 times instead of one. Thank goodness at least there is an alternative drug. It’s called Erwinase. She will get two shots simultaneously in each leg Mon, Wed, Fri for two weeks. The risks are less with the smaller, more frequent doses, but it will suck seeing her held down, screaming while she gets these “pokes”. Poor baby girl :-(.

Jimmy was on the plane headed to LA during all this fun, and had emailed me with a strong prediction that something was very wrong. At the time, we were having a great day, and I told him all was well. Wow. I hated to tell him how right he was. Worried sick, he carried on and did a fantastic job on his production. He amazes me. Maybe its best he missed it, as I hope to never see anything like that again, and have had nightmares the past few nights over it. Kids make you feel so vulnerable … your love for them is so deep and strong, the mere thought of anything going wrong can make you catch your breath.

A.L.L. ALL of us. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. When one person in the family gets sick, the whole family gets sick, just in different ways. All are effected, even Lulu’s classmates, friends, relatives, ALL feel it’s effects, its burdens, its lessons, its inspiration. There are so many ways Lulu and A.L.L. are teaching us. I’m being more open and honest about this than I ever thought I’d be, feeling strongly drawn to write about it, and share with ALL, in hopes of something good coming out of the bad. I’m soaking up all the lessons for myself, including how to ask for help, taking care of myself, developing deeper empathy, helping others more, remembering true priorities, the list goes on and on. Now don’t go expecting me to be some perfect version of myself, no way Jose Eber! -but I know I will be a better version, and will realize more quickly when I mess up:-).

When I see the letters A.L.L. Now, I’m reframing them to stand for:

A

Luscious

Life

Good will come of this.

Things are getting better. We have 4.5 more months of hard-core treatment then 2 years of maintenance treatment, which is likely easier. I was recently introduced to another parent whose prognosis isn’t as good. His beautiful 10-year-old boy has brain cancer, and after almost a year-long battle, only has 2-4 months to live. I’d like to ask you to pray and send love to Josh Garcia and his family, as there is nothing harder on this earth than this. Also, please pray for Madi Drayna, who is recovering from a serious car accident. Her mother works at Lucia’s school.

I hope for more good reports on our end, and no more tornadoes. Just blue skies and lots and lots of rainbows!

What if … ?

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Hello Friends,

I’m very excited to write to you today. I have a big announcement to make! I am finally sharing my children’s picture book “The What If Book”. I use the word finally, because this Little Book That Could has had quite a journey:

I started taking notes on a someday children’s book while my son was only 3. He inspired me with his relentless ponderings while in the back seat of my car. That age begins an important time for kids to start wondering about the world through their own eyes, and asking a lot of “what if” questions. My tiny notebook sat for a few years in the ‘someday projects’ category until 4 years ago. I sat down, put finger to keyboard and put my own twist on this theme to create The What if Book, a picture book for ages 3-7. It carries the reader through a modern, whimsical journey laced with a simple but powerful message; remember to dream.

Working in the industry of fashion photo shoots and film, I tend to meet a lot of amazing, creative and talented people. One of these people is Carol Curley, an art director I’ve had the privilege to work with for many years. I had seen a bit of Carol’s art here and there, and had the strong intuition that she would be able to bring my book to life in the modern, edgy way I had envisioned. Carol was very excited about the project and began sketching away. Over time, she used the book as a creative outlet, finishing the remainder of the illustrations by sheer will and want. I am SO in love with what she’s created, and feel so lucky to have her on this project.

We were thrilled with what we had accomplished; a finished, fully illustrated book! Lulu and Max loved the book, as did the kids and teachers at the schools and daycares where I tested it. I hit the ground running to find a publisher. I began with my close circle of friends to see who might have a connection. One of my best girlfriends Carrie looked at me, almost cross-eyed, and said, “em … JODI!”. Jodi was an author I had met years ago on a job in NYC and had connected with immediately. I had forgotten she was an author, and had a stronger memory of her wonderful energy. Duh, and she was a famous author. Her name is Jodi Lynn Anderson. I didn’t even know if she would remember me. I took a chance and sent the book to her. She responded that of course she remembered me, and that she really loved the book! I still can’t believe that. If you’ve never read a Jodi Anderson book, do yourself a favor and RUSH out to buy one. She writes in the young adult category, but her writing appeals to a broad range of ages. Tiger Lily is her latest masterpiece: http://www.harperteen.com/books/Tiger-Lily-Jodi-Lynn-Anderson/

Here is a link to her bio and other works: http://www.harperteen.com/author/microsite/about.aspx?authorid=22853

I can’t express how talented, generous, humble, full of wit and grace this woman is! After really getting to know her over the last couple of years, she really has become one of the most inspiring people in my life. I’m so proud to call her my friend. Now, I hope this won’t have people sending her their manuscripts! She did make it clear to me that she doesn’t usually help fledgling authors in this way, but something about my book appealed to her and I’m so grateful.

So … long story longer, Jodi gave me a quote for my query letter, and I sent it off. I received a few form letters back, a few nice responses that went along the lines of “We are only accepting one (or two) new picture books this year, but we really like your book!” I got one tough rejection letter and a co-publishing offer (at 50% profit, I turned it down). The children’s picture book category is the most difficult category to break into these days, especially if you’re not a celebrity: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08picture.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

I think I sent about 30-40 letters out and 10-15 copies before Lulu was diagnosed in Fall 2011. And that was the end of that. The book, with all the time and love that went into it, sat on the shelf to collect dust. I thought about the book from time to time, and how the meaning of the book was so perfect for kids like Lulu, who needed a reason to dream, a little something to give them hope and inspiration. I decided that if I ever got the book published, I would use the profits for something related to our ordeal. I decided if (no, WHEN!) the book is printed that the profits would be split between The Go Bo Foundation; in honor of our friends Annika and Bo, and the loving message they continue to put into the world, and Love 4 Lulu; to help with her medical bills and to give to Childhood Cancer Research and support.

Fast forward to last week. On a whim, I attended a seminar suggested by a friend on self-publishing through Kickstarter. I met some wonderful women there who were authors and illustrators. They were so encouraging regarding The What If Book, and one of the most impressive figures there took me aside after, and told me NOT TO GIVE UP. She thought I had something really great, and that it would be published.

Well, meeting those women lit a fire under me, and I started a Facebook page the next day. I was told it is very important to gain a following. The page got 325 likes the first day! Over 400 by day 2, and still growing at 500 on day 3 today! I hope you will ‘like’ and share this page as well by following the link here: http://www.facebook.com/whatifyouaskedwhatif?fref=ts I will post the book’s progress on that page often.

I must give a very special thanks to Carol Curley, who has generously decided to donate all her time and talents in illustrating this book to support our causes. She is a true gem of a human being and thank you doesn’t begin to cover it. But thank you Carol.

It seems like the little-book-that-could, was just waiting for the right time and reason to be introduced … and so it begins.

I must wrap up with a big thank you to Max and Lulu, who keep me believing, dreaming and asking … What if?

Go Bo.

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Bo lost his brave battle with leukemia very early this morning.  Although he has left us, his spirit has not.  The Go Bo Foundation will continue to grow and carry out his wish to cure childhood cancer.  Please ‘like’ and follow The Go Bo Foundation on Facebook, and continue to support all the little warriors in the world.  My husband put our connection to Bo very clearly on a Facebook post:

RIP Bo. You were an Angel here are Earth and I’m sure God has a high place in Heaven for people like you. Bo Johnson, a brave young man, who despite his own illness, got up out of his hospital bed, and came to comfort my daughter in her time of need, a little girl he had never met, yet could hear crying out in agony in the middle of the night. Bo passed away last night at about 3AM. God bless you and keep you Bo. Please join me in sending love and peace to Bo’s Mom Annika who has lost her only child. And please comfort all of Bo’s family and friends.

It feels trivial to write about the little things going on in our lives right now, but I know you are also anxious to hear what has been happening.  It’s strange operating in these two worlds; cancer-land and ‘real-life’.  I sometimes feel like I have my feet on two different islands.  I’m towering above them like a giant, but also held down and cemented into the earth, arms outstretched to find balance, trudging slowly forward to form steps.  I no longer feel that my worlds are colliding … nor are they merging.  They are coexisting.

After Lulu’s heart tests, we are relieved that her heart is healthy and strong.  Her hernia will need surgery, but the docs want to wait 18 months until she is finished with her therapy, to lessen the risks.   Luckily, the hernia doesn’t bother her at all.  Unless that changes, she should be fine to wait.  My hernia turned out to be something I can wait on as well.  Apparently, I was experiencing searing nerve pain from the irritated hernia.  It has since subsided, much to my relief.  No mother-daughter hernia specials needed yet.

Lulu has been exhibiting some new behaviors that we looking into.  She’s started to show tendencies towards OCD.  It’s not diagnosed or labeled, just something we are going to address sooner than later so that it doesn’t turn into something more serious.  It’s certainly understandable, under the circumstances.  Children have very little control over their worlds at age 5, and throw in the year she’s had filled with upheaval, stress and uncertainty, and these symptoms can develop.  It’s her way of controlling SOMETHING.  Even if it’s where we stand, how we kiss and hug her goodbye, wave out the window just so, and say exactly what she needs us to say before we leave.  It’s become more and more apparent that the family as a whole has had to act around these behaviors.  We are going to learn how to parent under these circumstances, how to give her a sense of control, and help her feel secure in her world as much as possible.  She’s still doing very well in school, and this has not impeded her lifestyle day to day.  We are confident it will just be a matter of time before these rituals dissipate.

Again, these problems feel small right now, in light of the news on Bo.  Please keep Annika and their whole community in your prayers.  The ripple effect Bo has had on so many is nothing short of astonishing.  Thousands of people will be mourning today, but also lifted up by this wise young man.

GO BO.  YOLO (You Only Live Once)

Love,

a.l.l. of us