shi^ty disease/amazing people

Years ago my mother and my best friend, Enger, planned a surprise party for my birthday. It was just a keg, some balloons and a pile of friends, but it meant the world to me — I was so surprised when I walked into my dirty, second floor apartment at The Woodrow and saw all those smiling faces. It’s been a while since that day (30 years!!), but yesterday I felt that same feeling of overwhelming confusion and love.

I’m not someone who ever had a bookshelf full of awards, but now I have one, and it is proudly sitting on my mantel. 

Folks at ALD Connect asked me earlier in the week if I would help them as they gave an award to my friend Kathleen O’Sullivan-Fortin. I jumped at the chance of applauding her for all of her hard work — she’s a founding member of the the board of directors of ALD Connect and is responsible for bringing me into this community, while showing me tons of love and support. When it was time for the award ceremony, and I went upstairs to sit at the computer and brought Jack with me figuring that Jack could help me cheer for Kathleen. 

The call started. Suddenly Dan danced into the room with balloons and Anna congratulating me via his cell phone. Then Kimmy V walked up the stairs with streamers, holding a trophy.

Holy smokes!

I’ve sat through these award ceremonies and always felt that the awards were so earned. Amazing people who have done so much for the ALD community. Yesterday I was honored along with Nic and Alison Adler, Kathleen O’Sullivan- Fortin and Dr. Keith Van Haren — some of my ALD heroes. To share such an honor with that crew seems a little odd to me. ALD Connect has done far more for me and our family than I would ever be able to do. They have educated us and supported us and given us a community. 

Community.

If you are reading this, I want you to stop and ask yourself if you have a community. If you don’t — find one. 

ALD is the worst thing that has ever happened to our family. It’s a shitty disease that stole so much from Jack and is now effecting my mother. It has me in constant fear of when I will develop symptoms that might make caring for Jack difficult. It’s a disease that has taken the lives of so many sons, nephews, brothers, fathers. I hate every ounce of this disease, but I’m so lucky to have found this community of remarkable people. They hold me up and provide support. They share information and are always there when I need to yell and scream or laugh and cry.

If I could, I would return this beautiful blue trophy — but I can’t, so I will put it on my mantel and remind myself every time I see it that ALD sucks — but the people are amazing — and maybe a little nuts to recognize me;)

ALD — shitty disease/amazing people.

Love, Jess

There is an angel donor that is matching donations this week. I would like to ask you to consider to making a small donation to this incredible organization.

Two Days

Loving my new fancy ALD Connect mask!

I rarely check my calendar anymore. What’s the point? Plans aren’t really being made anymore. We live our lives playing everything by ear. All my sentences with friends and family start with — Let’s see or If the weather is good or Hopefully.

But this morning without thinking, I opened up my yellow 2020 monthly calendar and there it was — ALD Connect Patient Learning Academy. I should be packing my bags today to go down to Baltimore for their annual conference. Not this year. This year — like everything else — the conference will be on Zoom.

The 2020 conference was scheduled to be in Baltimore. My mother and I planned to head down early to steal Anna away from her college apartment, spoil her with a nice hotel room and explore Charm City for a day before hunkering down at the conference. Being in Baltimore and getting to see Anna for the weekend was going to be icing on the cake for what is always a wonderful few days with the ALD community. It’s an opportunity to sit with people who understand our disease — families, doctors, nurses, advocates, pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms — all with one mission — to win the war against ALD. It’s always an exhausting few days, but every year I leave counting the days until the next one.

Oh well.

It’s not perfect, but I will log in on Friday, and for two days get to listen to the latest news about ALD treatments and protocols. I will get to hear all the updates about newborn screening and hear stories of people’s struggles and triumphs over our disease. And, I will get to at least catch a glimpse of some of my favorite ALD folks on my computer screen.

Fingers crossed that next year we can reunite in person. Until then, I will enjoy the two days and try to appreciate the fact that I don’t need to take off my sweatpants and can get away with just a little mascara.

Love, Jess

ALD Connect Peer Mentor Program

No photo description available.

Thirteen years ago we were in the hospital living through transplant. We’d only heard the word Adrenoleukodystrophy for the first time four weeks earlier. We didn’t know anyone who had ALD or who had even heard of the disease. Our doctors didn’t even have much information to share.

We were terrified and we were completely isolated.

It took months to connect with any other ALD families — it was a time before social media and Googling ALD simply lead us to horrifying stories and even more horrifying statistics. Once we found a couple of other ALD families, we did find some comfort, but it was often short-lived as their journey’s took turns down dark paths. Fear and guilt weighed heavy in continuing those relationships.

It took years before our family really found our ALD community. Smiles and Duct Tape – the blog, then the book – found it’s way into the hands of a member of the board of ALD Connect and she reached out to encouraged me to go to their next meeting (thanks Kathleen). Attending a panel of ALD patients and caregivers and then my first ALD Connect Annual Meeting was empowering. It was years after Jack’s diagnosis and transplant and it was when I first realized that our family had reached another chapter in our ALD journey. Being surrounded by people who knew our disease – who lived our disease – was inspiring. And, we were no longer weighed down by fear and guilt and were finally strong enough to be able to provide help. Sharing our story with other families and doctors and organizations studying our disease — it’s (I hope) helped other people, but it’s absolutely helped our family find strength and take some power back.

ALD Connect asked me to attend a meeting last year to find out more about peer to peer support programs and how they can help rare diseases like ours. I was honored to be asked to represent ALD Connect and found the conference fascinating and reminded me of how our family felt thirteen years ago. Scared and alone.

The first speaker at the conference talked about the added stress of feeling isolated that families go through when facing a rare disease. They’re not just battling the disease, they are often battling the disease without any support from people who understand the disease the way ONLY PEOPLE WHO HAVE LIVED IT can understand.

ALD is a horrible disease, but the people effected are an incredible group. It took me a while, but most ALD families don’t take years to find the strength to help others. AND, thanks to social media, our community has been able to more easily find each other. Informally, many in our community have been acting as mentors, but ALD Connect is now rolling out a more formal program.

The ALD Connect Peer Mentor Program is now welcoming our ALD community to reach out if they would like to be paired with someone within our community who has experienced a similar path with the disease. A group of incredible mentors have been selected, representing each phenotype of our disease, and they are looking forward to being a resource for support, encouragement and a shoulder when needed. Please contact me or admin@aldconnect.org if you are interested.