Lulu Rings The Bell!!!

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Hello Dear Friends,

At last, the day finally came and our little warrior princess got to ring THE BELL!
I wish i had more energy to write about the incredible day yesterday, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, this video is worth a million!!!
Enjoy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7K6NIEPKtg
Please keep us in your thoughts as Lulu goes in for her last surgery Tuesday.

Gratefully,
A.l.l. Of Us

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Special Sibling Surprise to Share

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Hello Friends,

I was recently doing hair and makeup on a photo shoot with a model who is dating Packer tight-end Ryan Taylor. She overheard someone asking me about my daughter, who is currently being treated for leukemia. I told her a bit about Lulu, age 7, who is 3 months from finishing a tough 2.5 year chemotherapy course. I also told her about my 10-year-old son, who has been amazing through it all. She generously offered to send him something from Ryan. I knew that would mean so much to him since he is a HUGE Packer fan. 

It’s more difficult than we realize, for the siblings of those going through cancer. The sick child is given so much time, attention, and showered with gifts. Often, the well sibling is overlooked… Our son has been nothing but gracious through it all, never showing a sign of jealousy or crying out for attention. Making his sister laugh when she needed it, and hugging her at just the right times. 

Today, a box arrived in the mail for him. Inside it was not only a signed photo from Ryan Taylor AND Randall Cobb, but a number 12 signed jersey from AARON RODGERS !!! 

I’m so grateful to be able to share this beautiful Christmas story with you, to thank Abbie for her thoughtfulness and Ryan and the Packers for their generosity. Lulu continues to be up and down with nausea, vomiting and pain, but she is incredible; a force to be reckoned with.   We are still pushing through to March 6th, 2014 when she will take her LAST dose of chemo!  

Happy Holidays, 

T. Marie and a.l.l. of us

A Little Rain

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Chemo, the double-headed dragon, continues to both protect and punish our little girl.  Lulu’s been sick more often and severely as of recent, vomiting and experiencing periodic, but intense pain in various parts of her body.  We assume it is the accumulation of toxicity caused by over 2 years of prolonged chemotherapy.  I mean, there must be a limit to how much a little 43 pound-er can process, right?

It’s difficult to take on many levels since we’ve been living in (relative) blissful denial over the last few months.  We try to live our lives ‘as if’ there is no cancer … giving the kids and ourselves as much normalcy as possible.  However, an unexpected and traumatizing trip to ER can snap one back to reality in an instant.

The fever came on at about 1 a.m., fast and furious.  It started at 101.5, and quickly jumped to over 103 accompanied by a throbbing headache.  I took Lulu to ER at Children’s and Jimmy stayed home so Max could sleep.  I wish I could tell you it was a quick and easy visit, but it was far to the contrary…  As we checked in, she was shivering and crying, very uncomfortable from the fever.  The first two nurses came in to access her port (appliance that is installed beneath the skin that connects to a vein for administering medication and drawing blood).  ER isn’t very familiar with ports, and Lulu’s is especially tiny and challenging.  After the first nurse poked her twice and failed, I insisted we get someone else.  The second nurse came in and I tried to stay calm for Lulu who was now reaching hysteria, so that she would still have faith in the caregivers.  Two more pokes with the one-inch spike and no luck.  This is unprecedented.  Lulu is now completely losing it, screaming through tears at the top of her lungs “THIS PLACE IS EEEEVVVIIIIIIL!!!!  IT”S EEEEVVVIIIILL!!!!!” begging and pleading with me to take her home.  This almost struck me funny, seeming like something out of the Exorcist.  We don’t use the word evil around the house regularly, and it seemed out of character for her to use it. I firmly asked the nurse to get someone form the H.O.T. unit, and ask for our friend Sal if he’s working.  He was.  I was relieved, but I also knew that H.O.T. doesn’t do a TON of ports either.  Clinic is where the expert ‘pokers’ are, and they only work 9-5.  I knew Sal would at least calm Lulu down, which he did the moment he entered the room.  He and his teacher wife actually babysat for our kids over the summer, and he had been our first night nurse ever.  To say we have a special relationship with him is an understatement.

Unfortunately, he too was unsuccessful.  I later learned from his wife that he had frozen after Lulu winced.  He had come to feel differently about this little girl than other patients and that touches us deeply.  The next nurse that came in for the 6th or 7th poke and seemed to have gotten it in securely, but it wasn’t drawing.  It seemed it was now plugged on top of everything else.  At least the damned thing was in and Lulu could stop being a human pincushion!  Now we would have to wait for the TPN (think liquid Drano for ports) to work its magic.  Sal hung out with us for a little while longer and Lulu really calmed down.  He left and Lulu vomited 5 times.  Ugh.

It was nearing 5 a.m. and after two rounds of TPN, the port finally drew and they could get Lu’s blood counts.  We had to be sure she had enough white blood cells to mount an immune response to the flu, a danger for these kids.  Her counts were high, which was a good sign.  Jimmy and Max arrived at 6 a.m. so I could leave for a job an hour away.  I hadn’t had time to get a replacement, and frankly needed this job since I had been taking time off more regularly to be with the kids.  Lulu’s fever dropped after finally getting Tylenol.  She was stable, calm and sleeping at last.

They all had a long next day as Lulu was transferred to the MACC Clinic where she was administered IV chemo and had to endure the dreaded nose swabs to test for flu.  These are very painful and scary for her, but apparently big brother was a rock-star, comforting her throughout, hugging her through the pain and making her laugh in between events.  He didn’t even complain a bit about the 5a.m. wakeup to go to the hospital.  We are so proud of him.  Now, how can we get him to change the litter box without complaining?!?

She was released the next afternoon with Tamiflu and other meds.  She seemed to bounce back so quickly!  But then the fever rose to 104.1.  Ugh.  We were told we could give her Tylenol for 24 hours, so we stayed on top of that and the fever broke again. This went on for another day and finally finished its course.

She’s continues to be up and down from the effects of the chemo.  When she’s up, you’d never know she wasn’t like every other kid in the world and then some; an amazing creative force.  When she’s down, it scares the hell out of me and is not a gentle reminder of what’s continuing to be present in our lives.  Seeing her in pain and lethargic is … well, you can imagine.  She has been taking oxycodone (you read that right) and anti-nausea medications to help combat these effects.  We can’t give her anything that might mask a fever like Advil or Tylenol.

But, we know we are still the lucky ones.  During this new holiday season, we know far too many families who no longer have their little ones to eat turkey dinner with, to decorate the tree with, to buy gifts for … and still more who are in the hospital enduring their own treatments.  So, I continue to write to you all, about the good the bad and the fuggly of cancer, to raise awareness and hope that this holiday season you might think of one of those kids as your own, and donate in your own way your time, energy or money to help fight this disease.

Love,

A.L.L. of US

Standing in the sun

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It’s like standing in the sun, feeling the healing warmth of it, when someone grabs you by the back of the neck and throws you into a meat locker. But now this place has become familiar. You’ve started to count on being there from time to time. You’ve stashed a parka, some snacks and a book in the back. You know this place and you know you’ll get out. Suddenly, you’re back in the sun, blissful again, a little giddy. You have a secret knowing; this won’t last forever either, but you rejoice in it fully while you’re here, and ask no more of it.

Upon our return from Palm Springs, we headed directly into a spinal tap with intrathecal chemo for Lulu, IV chemo, and the rest of the usual monthly torture. It’s always difficult to shift gears from bliss to this, but we’ve become very familiar with it. Lulu still has a hard time with many aspects of the procedures, but she is light years ahead of where she used to be. Her coping skills improving, her understanding growing … which is good and bad, as she has become more vocal about it: “Mama, why did I get in this awful mess to begin with?” “I HAAATE LEUKEMIA!!!” “I HAAATE taking these pills every day!” And my very least favorite: “WHY did I get leukemia?” I can explain almost all the questions except that one. I wish I had an answer.

Life has been so great lately that I almost forget we are still in this crazy cancer world. The reminders pop up though. When I give her chemo every single night. When I see a picture of her before treatment. When I recently read a touching story Sarah, a little girl from her school, wrote about her. But the lows are not as low as they used to be, and the highs feel higher. I’ve been continuing to take in and feel all the blessings that have been coming our way, and there are many: Lulu is doing well overall, going to school more consistently, learning to read. The What if Book is getting some buzz and likely published soon, as well as another big what if I’ll tell you about if it happens. Then there’s the Make a wish trip to Hawaii. I have an editorial that will be published internationally. Jimmy’s indie film in an international film festival nominated for 3 awards, Hawaii. Max landed a role at a professional children’s theater. We continue to feel loved and supported by our friends and community in so many ways. Hmm, have I mentioned Hawaii?

Lulu had her Make-a-Wish party last week, and we surprised her with it. I’ve included some pics below. I had gotten the rough draft of the speech from Sarah on the way to the party, which somehow set the tone. Her assignment was to give a speech about someone who had inspired her. She is 11 years old in 6th grade. Please read:

Lulu, a 6-year old girl, has fought many battles and continues to do so everyday. Lulu attends my school. Last school year on November 7, 2011, just days before her 5th birthday, she was diagnosed with A.L.L., acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In an instant, Lulu and her family’s lives changed forever. The journey Lulu and her family have been on has taught them many lessons. These are lessons that Lulu can teach us.

Since her diagnosis, she has spent days, weeks and months at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Lulu has endured chemotherapy, its side effects and a burst appendix. Lulu is now in remission and is going through months of maintenance chemotherapy. Her mom T, her dad Jimmy and her brother Max have played a big role in Lucia’s fight against leukemia. Lulu’s mom has maintained a blog to provide family and friends with the latest updates. The blog has connected all those touched by Lulu’s amazing story.

I’d like to share a few examples of her courage and wisdom. One night in the hospital, when her liquids were restricted for medical reasons, Lulu was very thirsty and kept asking her mom for water. After not getting any, Lulu shouted: “My tummy is a desert, and there are animals there! And it’s hot and dry and they’re gonna die if they don’t get some water! ALL THE ANIMALS!!!” Then after her two sips of water, Lulu with a knowing smile said: “The desert is now a garden”.

Lulu’s mom has described their journey as a roller coaster or marathon. One day Lulu described their journey this way to her mom by saying: “I know Mama, storm, rainbow, storm, rainbow”… while drawing an invisible rainbow in the air with her finger.

Lulu continues to share her wisdom with her family and with all of us. One time telling her mom: “Mama, just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real. We can’t see air or the wind, and that’s real. We can’t see God, but that’s real too.”

On another day, her mom is talking to her and tells her how proud she is of her and that she is going to grow up to be a strong, wise and beautiful woman. She looked at her mom with big green eyes and says, “So, I’ll be just like you, Mama.” A greater compliment was never given.

Lulu has met many extraordinary families battling cancer while she was at Children’s Hospital. Lulu wanted to help them and had the idea of starting a lemonade stand to raise money for Children’s Hospital and cancer research. With two lemonade stands last summer, she raised over $2,300. I was fortunate to go to Lulu’s house and donate money to the lemonade stand. I got to see Lulu. We talked and played in the sandbox that day. I could see that Lucia was getting better every day.

Our school has been with Lulu on this journey, too. For the last two years, we held a Pennies for Patients drive to raise money for the Leukemia Society, raising over $3,000 in Lucia’s honor.

Last year, Lulu was in K4 for two months prior to her diagnosis. She wasn’t able to return to school last year but did visit them in May. Her mom tells the story: When we entered the classroom, a hush fell over the room. The kids were instructed not to touch Lucia to avoid exposing her to germs. Lulu was beyond excited, bouncing up and down. Gingerly, the little ones approached. One little dark-haired boy came up to her and quietly said, “Hi Lulu, you look just beautiful”. The kids were curious, but completely respectful. Happily, Lulu has returned to school this year joining the K5 class.

Lulu is an extraordinary person and her story is worth telling to the world. I hope someday to be wise and courageous like Lulu and her family.

What a reminder of how much our little one has gone through. How much we have all gone through… We went to the party and Lulu was bubbling over with excitement … and if she can revel in these moments after everything she’s been through, shouldn’t we all?

Love,

a.l.l. of us

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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?

Highlights (mostly!)

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Hello Friends!

Wow, it’s been a while since my last entry.  Thanks for your patience.  I’ll hit the highlights and lowlights to catch you up to speed.  Luckily, this will contain mostly the former!

We ended up spending the holidays in a much more quiet fashion than anticipated.  We were just too exhausted to make the 6+ hour trek to my BFF’s house.  Staying home turned out to be a fantastic choice.  We just needed some R&R after 2012!   As my grandmother used to say, my get-up and go, got-up and went…  We took the kids to Children’s Hospital Christmas Eve.  I know, you’re thinking: “Really?  You CHOSE to go to the hospital?”  We did.  We were so grateful not to be there, that we figured we’d bring some cheer to those who were, while teaching our kids to give back, and be grateful for all that we have (This does not mean that they were cured of their American spoiled-rottenness, but a step in the right direction nonetheless!).

We saw some of our favorite nurses, and our social worker that introduced us to a family who had been diagnosed only 2 days prior.  All it took was one look into their eyes and I was hugging and crying with the mom, while Jimmy did likewise with the dad.  Their shock, grief and overwhelm was palpable, and all too reminiscent.  I think seeing Lulu there, bouncing up and down like a caffeinated bunny was reassuring to them.  Their 4-year-old son also had a.l.l.  Max and Lulu each gave them the $10 they had received from their “aunt” Carrie, to buy a gift for their son.  It was very tender, and the parents took a picture of our kids in their laps, to show to their son later.

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I’ve gone back to working on more photo shoots, and after a rough first day, felt back in the swing again.  The first day was just tough because I had to return to the ‘scene of the crime’, in a way …  I went back to the photo studio where I found out Lulu had cancer, and it was much more difficult than I had anticipated.  I was actually shaking as I drove there, and couldn’t even walk past the station where I had learned the life-changing news.  Ugh.  I was lucky to work with some wonderful models and crew though, and one photographer even brought me a beautiful bouquet of flowers to welcome me back.  That gesture was really big for me somehow.

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After that week, I spent left on my first work trip in over a year.  I went to NYC to work with a new crew, with the exception of my art director/friend.  It ended up being the perfect trip, with a fantastic crew who dressed up every day including a pajama day, hip-hop day (see above – I’m so gangsta, ha!), and pirate day!  Who does that?!?  We all hit it off and ended up going out the last night and having a lot more fun than my head would have asked for the next morning :-).  Oh, and my friend and I even caught a show!  We saw Chicago, and it was her first big show ever.  I swear I had more fun watching her delight than I did the performances!  There’s nothing like your first Broadway show.  She went from 36 to 6-years old as she sat on the edge of her seat, her hands moving from her open mouth to her heart over and over again.

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Lulu missed Mommy lots, but got through the week well.  I was so relieved.  It was very difficult to leave, but it was also much needed time for me to be … me again.

I entered a whirlwind upon my return as we prepared to have a film crew to our house the next day.  Do you remember the poster Lulu was in for Jazz Pharmaceuticals?  After meeting with them, they asked us if we’d be interested in doing more education with them.  They are the company that had the alternative drug to PEG-asparagenase, the drug Lulu almost died from when she had an allergic reaction to it.  We are glad there are companies out there who are looking for alternative and solutions to problems like these, and were happy to work with them.   I can’t say that about every drug company, but they really have a culture of integrity that has been consistent in every person we’ve met there.

They spent about 6 hours interviewing us, and made us feel very comfortable while discussing difficult topics; not an easy job.  Jimmy and I went first while the kids were in another room, then Lulu went solo and didn’t want to perform.  She was so shy you could barely hear her, which cracked me up because she is usually so loud and boisterous!  We all made sure the questions weren’t too pointed for her, as we really don’t want her to recall all the detailed horrors of her journey.  Max had the final interview, and of course nailed it.  That kid!  He answered the questions in his wise-old-young man way.  It was actually good for us to hear him sum things up and know his understanding even surpassed what we thought he comprehended.

More good news!  We will be flying to Palm Springs to speak at the National Sales Convention for Jazz Pharma.  The four of us will be featured on stage as well as in a break-out room for more in-depth q&a.  They want their company to see real faces of cancer, to keep what they do in tangible perspective.  I think we will serve as both a warning and an inspiration.  As we discussed during the taping, we never thought this would be our story, but cancer is indiscriminate.  We feel honored to participate in this way, and feel strongly about raising awareness about childhood cancer.

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This leads me to the lowlight portion of my entry.  Jimmy’s mother recently underwent two back surgeries, finding out shortly after, that he leg had broken just below the hip.  She had another surgery with pins and screws to fuse her leg back together.  She is recovering, but still in tremendous pain and we appreciate any good juju, thoughts and prayers you might send her way.  Her name is Sharon.

Overall, life is feeling hopeful again.  Jimmy is off on a work trip; Lulu is home with a cold, but nothing more.  Hopeful … for the first time in a long time.   I’m trying to stay in the moments, and feel them fully.  I’m doing my best not to think about the last year too much, or the fears of the future.   I’m remembering my previous entry on this topic:

Sit in the moments like a jazz musician sits in the pocket, never before or after the beat, behind or ahead of it.  Enjoy the sweetness of each note as it plays out.

Did I just quote myself?  What a dork.

Love,

a.l.l. of us

 IMG_2322 Oh, Mom …

A Little Nitty Gritty

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Hello Friends,

I’ve been writing about a lot of the bigger picture lately, so this update will cover some of the details on Lulu and the family.

Although she’s still doing well overall, we’ve had a bit of a detour this last couple of weeks.  Her ANC (basically, her immunity measured in blood cells) was rising to slightly beyond protocol.  The docs like to keep her counts between 500-1500 during Maintenance Therapy, to ensure that the leukemia doesn’t have a chance to come back.  Lu’s ANC was climbing into the 1600, then 1700’s.  To counteract this, they upped her chemo dose by 25%.  Unfortunately, this made her nauseous, and she started vomiting again Ugh, just pulling out the ol’ puke buckets made us feel a bit sick too. We added some more anti-nausea medicine to her regimine, which mostly did the trick.

But then we discovered that her ANC had been knocked down WAY too far.  The week of her 6th birthday, she had her usual in-patient spinal tap and IV chemo where they also check her bloodwork.  Her ANC was down to the low 100’s.  This basically meant she’s on lockdown until her counts rise.  She had been looking forward to, and talking about, her birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese for, oh, the last 6 months?  Some of the docs and nurses said we could probably go ahead with the party, weighing out the costs/benefits.  My gut told me not to, as disappointed as I knew she would be.  I couldn’t feel good about her having a fun party, but possibly ending up in the hospital the week after.

Bonnie and the nurses brought  a cake and presents to her in clinic, which at least felt like a bit of a celebration.  We also decided to make a quick trip to her school, after I had her teacher promise to flea-dip the kids in antibacterial gel.  We brought rainbow-colored cupcakes, and her class was beyond precious (see silly faces pic below)!  We couldn’t be luckier to have her teacher and school on our side.  They’ve been incredibly loving, patient and flexible with our ever-changing circumstance.

Lulu was more understanding than I ever would have guessed she’d be about missing her birthday party, but we were still so disappointed for her.  Her counts ended up not rising as expected, and the week after she was only in the low 200’s.  At least we knew we had made the right call to cancel her party.  This meant we’d also have to forgo Thanksgiving with friends.  But we made the best of it, instead, staying home and eating Jimmy’s delicious chicken with prosciutto over pasta.  YUM! We reminded ourselves of last year, when we spent every single holiday in the hospital, and counted our blessings to be together in our home this year.

Her OCD – like behavior continues to be an issue, and we’re doing our best with that with what we know and are learning.  It can be VERY trying sometimes and we try to keep our patience.

Max is continuing to excel in school and sports.  Luckily, he’s been staying healthy.  That is, until one Monday morning … Suffice it to say I was taken unawares when my son became suddenly ill on the way to school.  Well, he did tell me he didn’t feel well in the morning, but I pretty much told him to suck it up, eat some breakfast and get to school.  I regretted those words wholeheartedly a few minutes later.  After ALL the puke I’ve dealt with over the past year, you’d think I’d have emergency bins in the car.  I used to, and still bring them when Lulu has to travel, but my son is never sick!  He gets a bit carsick, but never actually GETS sick in the car, so when he told me he still felt icky in his tummy I continued to chalk it up to a little nausea.

Then, it began …  The best way I can describe it, is that he threw up like a boy.  It just came out without any focus or finesse.  Lulu gives me just the right amount of warning, and we’ve never missed the bucket.  Max just exploded all over.  It hit his chest first,  then all over his lap into the crook of his legs, which spilled between and under his butt and onto my back seat.  There was nowhere to pull over, so I told him to try to find something to throw up into.  Onto his shoes it went, and I started yelling “open the window, and puke out the window!!!”.  He faced the window, and full on puked into it, while it was still rolled up. Into the crack of the window and the door it went, dribbling onto the floor.  He finally started unrolling the window, but the damn back seats have the childproof windows that only roll down halfway, so more volcanic eruptions onto the side of the window.  I finally pulled over to a closed gas station, where I got him out and started dry heaving myself, as the smell of him wafted up and overwhelmed me.  I’m sure it was quite a site for the passers by.  And not a wet wipe or a kleenex to be found.

Luckily, it was just a 24 hour flu, but I now feel like I’ve been on an episode of Sienfeld, as I will NEVUH get the smell out of my car, and may have to sell it!

In the scheme of things, these are such small trials.  Jimmy and I are so grateful to continue on the work path, and working on finding some quality time together as well.  I’m heading back into doing more photo shoots as my consulting job ebbs for the time being.  Jimmy’s working from home for the holidays and I can’t wait to put up the Christmas tree this year, to circle round it together and celebrate all of our health and good fortune.  Even if there might be a puke bin hidden underneath the pine branches …

Love,

a.l.l. of us

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To my Big Boy on Thanksgiving

Hello on this special holiday!

There are so very many things to be thankful for this year.  But I’m dedicating this Thanksgiving to my son, who sits by the sidelines while his sister receives positive and negative attention. As she is showered with gifts, he resides quietly in grace. He thrives despite stress, and brings his gift of laughter to the worst of situations.
I love you ‘Bugs’, you are an amazing unsung hero, wise beyond your years, and I’m so thankful to be your mom.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the unsung heroes out there!

Love,

a.l.l. of us

Carrot Juice or Chemo?

They say there are two things you should never talk about at the dinner table: politics and religion.  I beg to differ.  I’d argue that food has become almost as controversial as politics or religion.  Think of all the nutrition information out there, and how confusing it is, yet everyone has a strong point of view on the subject:  Lean meat protein is good. No, meat is bad.   If you know where your meat comes from, it’s ok to eat it.  No, plant based protein is the only healthy option.  Fish is healthy. Fish is toxic, etc.  Then, there are the confusing terms and labels like farm raised, free-range, grass fed, omega 3 added, organic, fortified, ‘natural’, and on and on and on …

I have gluten sensitivity (celiac), which can be tricky in a social environment.  Although I always try to be subtle when asking the server for gluten-free options, I inevitably end up in a conversation about gluten.  People always like to know how it affects you.  Well, if you look up the main symptoms, it doesn’t exactly make pleasant dinner conversation.  For me, it was throwing up.   Yackity-yak-yacking after gluten-filled meals.  Mostly, people get BAD gas.  I’m not talking garden-variety gas; I’m talking peel the paint off the walls, asphyxiating green gas bombs!  Do you still want to know the symptoms?  The worst affect is the villi in your stomach lining get damaged and lie flat, which doesn’t allow proper absorption of vitamins and minerals.  This can lead to a host of other ailments, including fibromyalgia which I suffer from.

Since I’m not a big pill-taker, I prefer to find natural alternatives whenever possible.  This has led me to have a fascination with the link between food and wellness.  I’ve done some research on various therapies including The China Study, which is a plant-based vegetarian diet said to reverse heart disease and cancer.  The Gerson Therapy, a very controversial cancer therapy that involves heavy juicing, coffee enemas and the like.  I’ve also looked into Ayurveda, veganism acupuncture, etc.  I’m not endorsing or following any particular protocol, but I like learning about different approaches.

At our house, we strive (don’t always succeed) to eat organic and local products, within the balance of a fast-paced lifestyle, and a love of good restaurants and eating out.  Yes, that means we eat fast food sometimes.  I’ve had great success with keeping my symptoms at bay when I’m eating well.  This means clean, mostly organic whole foods.  However, I’m not doing so well with that this year and wow, can I tell the difference!

So … when Lulu was diagnosed with cancer, it made me question a lot of things including the food she eats.  She’s a notoriously picky eater, and has battled our food choices since I can remember.  I’m sure having an undiagnosed infected appendix affected her digestion as well.  I’m sure it wasn’t any one thing, but I’d like to try control the elements I can to help her heal.

That being said, people have suggested we try some alternative therapies including heavy vitamin therapy, juicing, and even ingesting silver as of recent.  I like my alternative therapies to have science backing them up, but with the amount of free-floating information out there, it’s more than confusing.  What I know for sure is that Lulu’s cancer was so fast moving there was NO WAY we would ever consider an alternative therapy.  If we hadn’t gotten her started on chemo immediately, she wouldn’t be here today.  Within a week after diagnosis, her bone marrow had been so overloaded with leukemic blasts that she couldn’t walk and was in extreme pain.  Do I wish I could give her some carrot juice and a coffee enema to cure her?  YES!  But the science simply isn’t there.  Do I hate giving her toxic medication every single day that may cause long-term harm to her?  YES!  Do I worry she won’t be able to conceive?   That her OCD is mostly caused by the drugs?  That she may never be the same little girl we had before?  You guessed it, yep.  It’s awful feeling like you are poisoning your own child with the very thing that is saving them, knowing there is no alternative to treat her.  Aside from horrifying cancer itself, it’s devastating to see children die from the side effects of the drugs, not the disease.

What I hope for the future of medicine is that we can help fund studies to incorporate some less toxic alternatives into cancer treatment.  Nutrition related or not.  It’s not simple, it’s tragically difficult, and I truly believe in the sincerity of our caregivers. I’m not preaching, but I am wishing, hoping and believing.

We’ve been honored to find some brilliant scientists right here in our own state that are doing just that.  Yesterday, we donated the $3000 from Lulu’s lemon-aid stands to The Blood Research Institute.  They are on the brink of a huge discovery, which could make enormous strides towards a cure, and in reducing toxins during treatment.  We know that our donation is small compared to what they need, but we hope it will inspire others to do the same.  With kids like Lulu (Love 4 Lulu), Bo (Go Bo Foundation) our new friend Emma Rose (Emma Rose, A patient Helping Patients) and others, these gestures can add up to some real change.

Who knows, maybe in the near future we will take our chemo with a carrot juice chaser?

Love,

a.l.l. of us

Lulu’s cameo in a music video

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Lulu has a cameo in the end of this music video (click on link below). The This Time Tomorrow Foundation has been a wonderful supporter of Lulu, and other children with cancer. We are honored to have her take part in this work.
Thank you!

Love,

a.l.l. of us

Go Bo.

ImageHello Friends,

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

Lulu describes … (recording)

http://chirb.it/MHh6LN

Click on the link above to hear a recording of Lulu

Recording transcribed:

“His nose is a flower,

and I think that his legs are tree trunks,

and I think that his arms are branches,

and I think that , em, his soul is a sky,

I think his hair is the top of the tree

and I think that … um, his um, eyes are leaves

with beatles inside them

and I think that, um, well, I think that his brain is a cloud.”

Mom: “and who are you talking about?”

Lulu:  “God.”

 

An eventful day

Yesterday turned out to be an eventful day.  I got a phone call from my Dad, who had gone back home for a while.  He told us his wife’s granddaughter, Kaylee, had been severely burned in a campfire accident.  Apparently, one of the kids at the bonfire had thrown a large log onto the fire, which in turn threw a large burning log onto Kaylee.  Somehow, she had the presence of mind to jump into the lake, and the kids put wet towels on her.  She was burned on her thigh, side and chin and sent to the hospital.  It looks like she will make a full recovery, minus some scarring.  We are keeping her in our prayers.

Then late to clinic for Lulu’s spinal tap and chemo, we were bumped back.  This meant we’d have to wait even longer before she could eat.  After a minimally dramatic port access, we waited for her blood work to come back.  An announcement came over the loudspeaker calling out a CODE BLUE on the H.O.T. unit.  Oh no.  I thought I recognized the room number.  Maybe it’s familiar because we were right next to Bo’s room last time?  That’s it, right?  I asked the nurses and doctors, realizing full well they couldn’t disclose information about another patient, and I was putting them in an awkward position.  I continued to ask anyway, hoping to see some glimmer of confirmation or denial in their eyes.  Let me tell you these guys would all make for great poker players; not a twitch or a tell to be found.  I texted his mom, but no response.  Must wait.

Lulu’s ANC was only 250, so there’s no way we were starting treatment that day, and probably shouldn’t have set up a play date and dance class for the week!  I practically threw a bagel at Lu, who started devouring it.  Sometimes it still seems strange to see her eat!  After exam, learning the new protocol to come, and getting prescriptions called in, we are told we can go, and come back Monday for treatment.

I knew I was on the visitor list for Bo, so I casually asked at the security desk which room he was in.  My fears were confirmed.  Shit.  He’s been moved to ICU.  We later get a text from his mom that he’s had a seizure and they are doing a cat scan.  They’ve found something in his brain, but have to do an MRI to find out what.  I can imagine the terror his mom and he is feeling.  I was praying he might be sleeping during all of it.  They have to wait to find out the results, and are hoping it’s not leukemia in his brain.  Oh, that waiting for MRI results … brings me back to when Lu was so sick when her appendix burst, but we didn’t know yet.  Waiting is absolute agony.  I got another text at almost 10:30 pm from Bo’s mom sharing the news that it’s a complication from his medications that cause extremely high blood pressure.  It may be reversible, and they are treating it.  We were relieved, but still concerned, and continue to send them as much strength as possible.

Most of you don’t know Bo personally.  But I share his story because I feel like he’s everyone’s child.  He has the kind of beautiful spirit that makes you feel like you know him, he reminds you of your own precious child, or the one you hope you have.  He’s kind, sweet, strong and loving.  These kids really are all of our children.  I used to think this stuff happened to other people.  How naïve, and how superior!  It really can be any of us, at any time.  We’re all in this together.  If this sounds a bit maudlin or preachy …  I can’t help but be moved to by this year and the events that continue to unfold.

Lulu was shaken up as well, and I wish I could protect her from this madness … and that I would have been better able to hide my own emotions.  We are careful about what we say, but these situations have become a part of our everyday lives.  She said she was praying for Bo, and worried about him.  She wants him to be able to go home soon.

We are still trying to put emotion into action and had another successful lemon-aid stand, this time at our church.  We raised $600 in 2 hours for children’s cancer research.  Thank you for those of you who donated online as well, that helped a lot!  Jazz Pharmaceuticals donated $1000 to the MACC clinic at Children’s on our behalf, for Lulu’s photo shoot.  Many of you are raising money in races, biking, walking, running, swimming, and we are so touched by your efforts, and proud that you wear LULU on your shirts as you race.

Thank you, also, to the wonderful doctors and nurses at Children’s.  I neglected to mention Lulu had a party at clinic on her last day of delayed intensification.  It was her official last day of shots, and Bonnie, along with the other nurses, made a huge sign for her with balloons, candy and presents to celebrate.  THANK YOU.  I’m continually impressed with the care and thought you all put into your jobs.  You are still by our side for every scream, every tantrum, every hug and every giggle.  I don’t know how you can deal with the love and the loss your jobs entail, but I am grateful to have you.  And humbled by the strength you have to keep on loving, despite the risks to your own hearts.

Thank you all for reading, acting and sharing your hearts with not only Lulu, but with all of the Kate’s, the Joshua’s and the Bo’s of the world . . .

Love,

a.l.l. of us

Update and Lemon-Aid tomorrow

Hello,

Just a quick update today.  We will be doing another lemon-aid stand at our church, all proceeds go to childhood cancer research: Sunday (tomorrow) July 15 from 11-1.
To donate to Love for Lulu:
https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=HWVDDTBWNFYDE

Otherwise, not too much to report.  We’ve had a week off of treatment since Lu’s counts didn’t make it to start Maintenance Treatment.  We can tell some drugs are leaving her system and she’s showing wonderful signs of her true self.  She’s still having some tantrums, but after speaking with some of you who have 5-year-old girls, it doesn’t sound as out of the ordinary.  – or you’re just trying to make me feel better (you are).  My favorite line from Lulu this week came after I asked her to just TRY not to overreact to every little thing.  She responded very dramatically, hands waving in the air: “But Mama, I CAAAN’T!!!  It’s just how I WORK!!!”

Keeping it real as always, Jimmy and I had a date last week where we ended up ‘discussing’ (as my parents always called it) during the whole thing!  We discussed at the first restaurant starting with politics, on through dessert at the next stop. We went into everything we haven’t been able to cover in the last 8 months… just another way cancer affects a family; little time to communicate.  I guess we got it all out in one night, and we were able to tease each other about it the next day.  Now we can’t wait for the next date :-).

Jimmy’s mom is visiting after having what we hope is successful back surgery, so we have a full house here.  We are looking forward to setting up playdates for Lulu.  Her counts should be good enough from here on out to enter a normal-ish zone where she can play with healthy kids! Travels are ahead for hubby, and work is heating up for me so playdates are extra helpful, and heck knows Lulu needs to play with someone other than us!

I’ll write more soon, lots to do this weekend.  Hope to see you drinking lemonade tomorrow!

Love to you ALL

Reaching Bittersweet Maintenance

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Hello Friends,

It always feels difficult to get started on these entries, but once the words begin to come, they do seem to pour out.  Today, I’ll start where I finished last; the lemon-aid stand.  I think we’re all still feeling the joy from that day.  We got up early, wiped the sleepy dust from our eyes and started cleaning, peeling and juicing to make the lemon-lime-strawberry concoction. We couldn’t just have regular ol’ lemonade … it had to be PINK!  We made gallons of it, and it was tasty!  As Jimmy documented every move on video, we somehow opened promptly at 10 o’clock.  It was hot but bearable outside, eased by the cloud-cover overhead.  Customers were ready at the wait, and came in droves throughout the day.

We had special guest appearances by little Kate, who looked positively beautiful, and Toussaint from the ‘Seeing in Believing’ May blog entry!  Neighbors, friends, church members and blog readers came and populated our front and back yards with kids in tow (who generously brought money from their piggy banks).  Our local news even came out to do a story on us, which I’ll try to post soon.  They did a lovely job, and played it at both the 5pm and 10pm news with Lulu lead-ins during the Olympic trials.  We felt our community holding us up once again, and wished we’d had more time to talk to every person who came.  I actually lost my voice by the end of the day!  I’m thrilled to report that with your help, our little 3 1/2-hour lemonade stand raised $1,725.14 for childhood cancer research!  We are planning another one July 15th at our church and, by summer’s end, hope that we can really make a difference in either the H.O.T. unit or the Blood Research Institute.  We’re speaking to people now to find out where the money can best be utilized, and not be lost in the red tape of donationland.

We spent the 4th of July at the hospital, because, ya know we like to spend every holiday there ;-).  We happened to be right next to Bo’s room, and I felt terribly that he had to hear Lu screaming through her shots while he was already having a hard time.  He’s in a torturous pain from mucositis, but got his double-cord transplant successfully after multiple rounds of total body radiation.  Please keep the good juju coming for him that all goes well.

We talked about getting to Maintenance Therapy with the docs, and what it will entail for Lulu.  It’s not as easy breezy as I had hoped, and the conversation left me a bit deflated.  She will start off with a spinal tap with intrathecal chemo, and a lot more chemotherapy to follow.  She will get one chemo drug at home EVERY SINGLE DAY for 20 MONTHS along with others received regularly and intermittently.  She will also get steroids 5 days every month (hear inner scream) and more spinal taps.  Wow.  The good news is that we won’t have to go into the hospital nearly as much as of recent.  If all goes well, she will only go in once/month!  Now that’s huge!  Her beautiful blonde hair will start growing back, and she can go back to school in the fall.  Halle-freakin’-Lulu-ya!!! We have the end date penned into our calendars: March 6, 2014.

On the home front, Lu is still a little spitfire, but showing flashes here and there of her old sweet self.  I’ve sworn to move out when she is between the ages of 12-16, and return after.  I’ll still call, and skype.  – Maybe even have a weekend visit and holidays … just kidding (mostly)!  I really do adore her and she is my little Tinkerbell.  They make ‘em cute for a reason, right?  Jimmy is, well, Jimmy is … hmm, too many words to fit in here.  He’s been working harder than I’ve ever seen him work in my life.  I must track down his swim coaches and thank them, because I truly believe his training in college has prepared him for this both mentally and physically.  You see, Jimmy was a world-ranked distance swimmer, in the 800 and the mile.  Can you even imagine swimming a mile!?!  I’d be happy to jog a mile these days!  I think you’d have to be incredibly tough on all fronts to do this, and do it for years.  So, coach Bob and Jack, thank you.  Sports really do shape a person.

Oh, and I must include his biggest news:  He had a personal dream come true last week!  His favorite band in the entire world is the Foo Fighters, and he got to film them at a live concert!!!  He was just adorably giddy about it, really unlike him who plays it very cool most of the time.  I loved seeing that side of him and he wholly deserved it.  At one point while he was shooting, Dave Grohl almost knocked him over when he came flying up to his camera.  I think Jimmy told me about it at least 5 times.   – Love it!

I’ve been continuing to work part-time on my consulting job, and loving every minute of it.  Thanks Grandpa, for holding down the fort while I’m working at the coffee shop, which the family now knows as my c’office.  I feel like I’m overflowing with pent-up work energy, like a runner crouched in the starting position on the track before the gun is fired.  I’ve needed this outlet, and am so grateful to have it.  It adds balance to me, to Lulu and to the whole family dynamic.  Max has been taking a theater camp, and he too, seems to be bubbling over with enthusiasm.  He’s actually super talkative at the end of the day!  I get to ask him all kinds of questions and actually get a response, well, except when I ask him about girls.  That’s still off limits.  I guess he’s not interested yet (yay!).  On the contrary, Lulu already talks about her little friend Franklin saying things like “Mama, sometimes I fink I wuuuuv him!” followed by a cheeky giggle.

Well, dear Friends, we are getting there.  Wherever ‘there’ is.  Getting to Maintenance, getting to the new normal and whatever that will mean.  I’m hoping the forecast is light on rain, and heavy on rainbows.

Love,

a.l.l. of us

Lulu’s Ad

Lulu's Ad

Here it is! We are so proud of our little firecracker. Yes, she is Spirited indeed …

We are a bit in the weeds this week, but I will write asap! She’s doing pretty well, and we are all hanging in …
a.l.l. of us

Presenting …. The Amaaazing Lulu!

Lulu.  She’s amazing to me.  She’s been hanging so tough this last couple of weeks.  Although this round has been better than expected so far, it hasn’t been easy on a little 5-year old.  She’s taught me so many things throughout this process.  I’ve learned through her wise words, as well as by what I’ve had to teach her to help her get through this ordeal.

Some of my favorite Lulu quotes of the week seem to develop out of the mist.  She might be sitting in the car, or going for a ride in her stroller, or waiting in the hospital, but they are always preceded by a soft silence:

“Mama, We’re all made differently, I’m supposed to look just like this.  Not like anyone else.  Just like this (smiles). ‘Cause this is how I was made.”

“You know what would be the worst villain ever?  A flower-making villain who shoots flowers out of a gun.  Now that would be lame.  The good guys would be, like, ‘really Dude?”

“Mama, just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real.  We can’t see air or the wind, and that’s real.  We can’t see God, but that’s real too.”

“You know what?  Girls can rap too.”

Every week she’s had to endure painful shots in her legs, two at a time, 3 days/week.  Because she had a horrible allergic reaction to one of the chemo’s a while back, she must endure 24 shots of a similar, but different strain of chemotherapy.  Can you imagine being 5 years old and having 3-4 nurses come in, dressed in full chemo gear, holding you down and poking two 2” needles into your legs simultaneously?

So … we’ve been working hard on self-talk.  We have to put numbing cream on the spots 1-2 hours before injection, which gives plenty of time for the total fear and anxiety to build up to near hysteria.   Therefore, we’ve developed an inner dialogue worthy of a scene from The Help:  “I am brave, I am strong, I am tough, I am LULU!”  I whisper it in her ear over and over again, until she starts breathing more deeply.  I’ve taught her about her “brave spot”, which she says is sometimes hiding in her toe, and one time it was even hiding in her bum!  I physically roll the brave spot all the way back up into her heart and have her hold it there. We talk about how many times she will have to endure this, how amazing she is, and what a beautiful strong woman this is going to shape her into being.  She really understands and tries mightily to overcome her fears.

The nurses are as kind, gentle and patient as they can possibly be, and allow Lulu to have her one bit of control over the situation, which is allowing her to count to 5 before they give the shots.  She makes them promise over and over again to do it quickly pweeze, and put the band-aids on wright away.  Pweeeeze Pweeeze! After a few rounds of that, she gathers herself, closes her eyes and says “o.k., o.k. I’m doing it.  I’m doing it.  O.K.  She likes to watch everything that happens, so she chooses one of her legs to look at, then, as fast as humanly possible, she says “onetwofreefourfive!”  The injections come, and even with the numbing cream, the chemo going into her thighs burns.  She screams operatically, and squeezes our thumbs as hard as she can.  She really, really likes both Jimmy and I to be there, and the days Jimmy can’t be there are always harder.  After a few minutes she recovers, and always says “That was the ONLY storm for today, right?  Now it’s rainbows for the rest of the day! RIGHT?”  Yep.  Rainbows the rest of the day, I promise honey.   We have two weeks off from these, then two more weeks on.  Good grief.

Other than the shots, Lu’s been tolerating her treatment extremely well!  The steroids haven’t been nearly as bad as the first round, and I think we’re trying to see the lighter side of her dramatics as well.  Just don’t laugh at her when she’s mad!  Ooh, it’s so hard, she’s so funny!!! Everything is theatrical. “NO, MAX IS BUUUUGGGING MEEEEE!!”  “WHY won’t Max PWAY WIFF ME?!? I WUUUUV HIM!!!”  These sentences could be said within 5 minutes of each other.  You get the picture.

She’s been nauseous a few days, but is STILL EATING!  I’m afraid to even write this down, that I might jinx it somehow, but she is OFF OF HER FEEDING TUBE!!!  Oh, it’s glorious to see those two little soft cheeks again.  She looks so beautiful, and is overjoyed at getting that darned tube out of her nose and throat.  We’re praying she doesn’t need it again, but the docs know it’s a possibility if she doesn’t eat enough, or starts vomiting.  Her counts have just begun bottoming out and the hardest drugs begin next week, but one day at a time …  I know this little girl can do anything she sets her mind to.  She is truly one of the most determined people I’ve ever known.  If she will only use her powers for good, how amazing she will be in the world!

Oh, and know that Lulu fully realizes how special she is, as she demonstrated the other day:

“Do you want to see that I am special?” (gets up from her chair, turns around with her back to us, then whips her head around) “Look!!!  I can see my own butt!”

It’s been a rainbow-liscious week, which wrapped up with my big boy playing the lead in The Jungle Book, and my hubby and baby girl going live on the radio.  Max was adorable in his little red loincloth and fake-bake.  He was bubbling over about it, and told me that if he had a second middle name, it would be Actor.  A ham is born.  Daddy and Lulu were on the radio yesterday to raise money for Children’s Hospital.  To say I’m proud of them doesn’t begin to cover it.  All got to listen to my articulate, obviously moved husband and the sweetest voice you’ve ever heard from Lulu, who knowingly wraps things up beautifully in the end of the segment.

Love,

a.l.l. of us

Normal is underrated

Normal.  It’s a word I’ve never really identified with.  Growing up as an overachiever of grand proportions, I’ve always shied away from words such as this. I’ve never aspired to flirt with Normal, or tango with Average, and can hardly utter the word… Ugh… Mediocre.  Routine? – the bane of my existence, and solid was a word I’d like to hear only in reference to my backside.  I always pictured myself living a more glamorous existence, chasing the tail of life, and filling it up with adventure.  I’ve discovered, however, that normal is relative, and certainly not bad.  In fact, I would even say I now crave normal.

This past week was surprisingly just that, with a daughter who was functioning as a wonderfully average five-year old.  Lulu is off of chemotherapy for almost two weeks, and our regular-ish little girl has reemerged.  What most people find to be ordinary, we now find extraordinary.  Her fighter blood counts were so high we were able to do crazy things like go to the grocery store!  We got ice cream one day, and went to a park – WITH other children!  We sat at the dinner table together and shared a meal where Lulu actually ATE!  It was only yogurt and one bite of chicken, but we could have been dining at The Four Seasons, it felt so good.  I had a business meeting that I’m not sure how it went, but who cares!  It was a normal thing to do, something I haven’t done in 6 months.  I met a good friend who is going through a hard time and I was able to listen to someone else’s problems. Wonderful! My dad is in town and we actually went out on not one, but two dates!  I mean, come on, this is pure gluttony.

The icing on the cake was a visit to Lulu’s K4 class.  She had only attended for 2 months before her diagnosis, but her school has been surrounding us with love ever since.  When we entered the classroom, a hush fell over the room.  The kids were lovingly and cautiously instructed not to touch her due to exposing her to germs.  We hadn’t been able to tell the teachers of her improved status for this week.  Lulu was beyond excited, bouncing up and down, overwhelmed into smiling silence and eyes so happy they squeezed almost shut.  Gingerly, the little ones approached.  Jimmy, my dad and I watched from a distance, letting go of any control over the situation.  One little dark-haired boy came up to her and quietly said, “Hi Lulu, you look just beautiful”.  Wow, thank you God.  The kids were curious, but completely respectful.  I wanted to grab each one of them and squeeze their little cheeks off, then send a letter to their parents thanking them for raising such gems.  Her principle read a story to her class as Jimmy and I held hands, being sure to keep the other hand free to wipe the tears that were escaping rapidly.

Yes, Normal is relative. I remember when Lulu had an undiagnosed ruptured appendix on top of her leukemia, which caused her excruciating pain and multiple surgeries.  There were times when we thought to ourselves: can’t she just have normal shitty cancer?   Bo, a boy we met in the hospital during this time, is one of the sweetest, most kind-hearted boys I’ve ever met.  He was recently given his walking papers; remission.   He rang the bell at clinic, meaning his fight is over, he’s won, and his new normal can finally begin.  We felt lucky to be there that day.  He had adopted Lulu when she was at her worst.  Bo saw the little fighter in her, and just took to her, even when she was too sick to even know he was there.  He’s been her big brother from down the hall, making her little presents and always keeping her in his prayers.  Bo just celebrated his 13th birthday yesterday, and his present?  He found out his leukemia is back.  Please pray for him and his family. Normal has now moved into divine.

-and, Hey Normal, we know we only have you committed for two more days, but please stay for a while… and visit Children’s often.

A.L.L. of Us

“Rise”

I am with Lulu at Children’s this week for more treatment. She’s been the life of the party here, and hosted her own rainbow fiesta at rounds this a.m. One of our favorite docs brought supplies for her to decorate her room in a rainbow theme, and she made each doctor a rainbow drawing. She also gave away bead necklaces and leis. It was so cute and, although the toughest round is still ahead, it reminded me how very far we’ve come in 6 months.

Hubby Jimmy’s gone for 3 days this time, so he will get back tomorrow when we hope to be released. I have friends stopping by with dinner each night we are in the hospital, which helps tremendously in passing the time. If everything continues to go well for Lulu, we are planning a little family camping getaway this weekend. Cabin camping, no roughing it for us right now!

Max has become an adopted family member in some of our friends’ homes. We are eternally grateful for their generosity. He’s still very quiet about what’s happening with his sister, and I sometimes worry that he’s stuffing it all. – but he surprised and touched me last week when he told me there was a song that always reminded him of Lulu. He quoted some of the lyrics which proved just how deeply he understands. I bought and played the song on the spot. It is called “Rise” :

I used to be afraid of giving up
The road was just too tough
Out here on my own
My path was so alone

But now I see clearly
Everything within me
Is reaching out to the sky
I can see the world with open eyes

You can’t let it pass you
Just take hold and grasp it
Now’s the time to take a chance
With the strength of a thousand men
Climbing to my feet again

So dry those tears from your eyes
And everything will be alright
You know the rainbow’s just in sight
Dust your wings off as you rise
If your heart feels overwhelmed
Just know you’re never by yourself
Put your hands in mine, hold your head up high
And together we’ll rise

That’s what left your head up to the sky
And find yourself asking why?
Never see them out at night
With the hardships of life

But faith is where my heart is
Let energy replace my doubts
Won’t my trials get the best of me
I’m marching forward towards my destiny

You can’t let it pass you
Just take hold and grasp it
Now’s the time to take a chance
With the strength of a thousand men
Climbing to my feet again

So dry those tears from your eyes
And everything will be alright
You know the rainbow’s just in sight
Dust your wings off as you rise
If your heart feels overwhelmed
Just know you’re never by yourself
Put your hands in mine, hold your head up high
And together we’ll rise

Together we can do anything
We’ll rise
We can make it through anything
We’ll rise
Together we can do anything
We’ll rise, we’ll rise, we’ll rise

You can try to hurt me, doubt me and desert me
I feel the will of kings, with my mind I’ll build the sea
And you know a tree will grow and take me in
To safety’s arms, I will descend

So dry those tears from your eyes
And everything will be alright
You know the rainbow’s just in sight
Dust your wings off as you rise
If your heart feels overwhelmed
Just know you’re never by yourself
Put your hands in mine, hold your head up high
And together we’ll rise

Together we can do anything
We’ll rise
We can make it through anything
We’ll rise
Together we can do anything
We’ll rise, we’ll rise, we’ll rise

Yeah, I was tearing up too. Jimmy listened with us, and it was one of those moments when our bodies were pulled powerfully to the earth, and we were completely grounded and accepting.

I’m feeling, dare I say it … Hopeful? Please knock on wood as you read this! I think hope is the difference between thriving and existing. In any circumstance.

Love,
a.l.l of us