Day 14

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Writing has always helped me process difficult times. Finding words to describe what I’m feeling has allowed me to work through my emotions. Sometimes it’s like figuring out a complicated puzzle — when I realize I’ve broken the code, I’m often exhausted but relieved.

The last couple of weeks I’ve had trouble finding the right words.

I’ve shared our family’s journey for 14 years. I’ve shared our struggles and triumphs. I’ve shared so that people could understand what it’s like to live a complicated life. Now everyone’s life is complicated. We are all in the same boat, so I guess I don’t really need to find the right words.

It’s surreal to live in the most powerful country on the planet and within weeks, we’ve all been brought to our knees. We are all home, watching the news, worried about our health and our country and our 401Ks. Although some people are suggesting that we will reach the other side of this within a few weeks, I think most of us understand that this will not be over by Easter. This may not be over by Memorial Day or Thanksgiving or New Years. It may be years before we nonchalantly give a hug to an old friend or meet up with pals at a crowded bar or travel abroad (or locally for that matter).

It’s been two weeks since our family has left the house (except for a few errands run by Dan – clad in a mask and gloves). Day 14 makes me a little less worried about anything lurking here, but I am worried about plenty. I’m worried about our family and friends. I’m worried that if anyone I love does get sick, I can’t be there with them. I’m worried about all of the doctors and nurses we adore putting themselves in harms way daily — without the proper protective gear. I’m worried that we will run out of toilet paper.

But, life needs to march on.

Life at home has been strange, but we are finding our rhythm. We’re on our third puzzle and are all taking long walks every day. When I’m not cooking (LOTS of cooking and dishes) we’re ordering in from our favorite restaurants (trying do help them stay in business). Dan has his office set up and seems to be getting a ton done and Anna is up in her room attending college. Not sure how labs or Life Drawing is going to work, but so far it’s been okay. Jack and I are keeping busy with online yoga classes, bad TV,  and (If Jack’s teachers ask) he and I are doing 7 hours of school work a day.

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We’ve also been catching up with friends and family every day. It’s one nice benefit of this crazy time. Everyone’s eager to connect with each other. JackO really looks forward to these calls. He’s kinda sick of us at this point  – thank goodness for FaceTime and Zoom.

We hope everyone is doing okay and heeding the recommendations to stay home. Sending a huge shout-out to all the doctors and nurses and grocery store workers and EMTs and postal workers and UPS drivers and everyone else who is out there so that we can stay home.

Stay safe!!

Love, Jess

Suspended Classes, Learning from Home and Sex in the 80s

Yesterday Johns Hopkins University announced that in-person classes were suspended through the end of the semester. No spring formals or sorority secret week or lacrosse games or baseball games or ordering Insomnia Cookies for late night study sessions. Anna will be completing her second semester sophomore year of college, in her bedroom at home. Alone (except for her wonderful, super fun family).

We sat around the kitchen island last night and I asked Anna how she was taking the news. She told me that she had been prepared. All the schools had been making the same decision, “It stinks for all of us, but I feel REALLY bad for the seniors. Their missing their last spring on campus and now a virtual commencement.”

I looked at Jack and my stomach fell. Jack’s a senior. His school has not yet made the announcement that in-person school is suspended through June, but I know it’s going to happen. How could it not? Jack and his classmates are the definition of “medically fragile”. Jack will likely not return to school this year – his senior year. No prom, no celebrations, no graduation. On top of that, he’s stuck at home with just the three of us for months. We’re fun company, but we’re not therapists or special needs educators. 

Jack’s school, Pillar High, has created an “academic binder” that’s being delivered today. At first, I laughed at the idea that we would be homeschooling our children with special needs. Jack and his classmates can’t log in and sit in front of a computer to do their work, and none of us are experts in special education. A binder’s advice couldn’t come close to recreating what they get at school — the education, the experiences, the therapy AND the connections.

But, last night when I was up at 2:32 am (the time my body decides it’s gotten just enough sleep to wake up and let my mind spin), I started imagining all the work that went into creating a binder for each individual student. I thought about all the love and devotion I know that the staff at Pillar has for the students. I realized I needed to take it seriously. We’re now in charge of Jack’s education for the next few weeks/months and Jack needs us to try to mimic at least some of what he gets in school. And, a schedule might not be such a bad thing right now.

I’m looking forward to see what the school is recommending. I’ll keep you all posted on how it goes with teaching JackO at home. I’m sure relieved that Anna isn’t counting on me for any help with Physics II.

ONE MORE THING —

I’m begging everyone to PLEASE listen to all the recommendations about social distancing. The more people comply, the quicker we can get to the other side of this. It’s going to be hard on all of us, but we NEED to be in this together!!!

My brother described the danger of people dismissing the importance of social distancing as “People don’t really know who they’re in contact with and who those people have been in contact with.  It’s like having sex in the 80s with someone you met at a nightclub. You weren’t just sleeping with one person, you were sleeping with everyone they’d slept with.”

Great point Brother, but weren’t you only 14 when the 80s ended . . . 

Love, Jess

If you haven’t seen it already – take a LOOK at Jack’s school, Pillar High, in action.

Class of 2020 Challenge & Rare Disease Day

Are you sick of the Class of 2020 Challenge on Facebook?

I found all the baby photos adorable, but started to get a little tired of all the prom, varsity sport and college sweatshirt photos. ln fact, I was getting ready to toss my laptop out the window (although in our new ranch it might not have been such a big deal). I’ve already been through the torture of watching Jack’s former classmates have their photos posted all over social media as they graduated high school and moved on to their next adventures. And, now I was sitting watching their younger siblings move on, feeling a little sorry for Jack – for myself, until my friend Jen asked if I wanted to join in. “Jack’s class of 2020”, she reminded me.

Thanks Jen. 

When your child has special needs, they get the luxury of three extra years of education paid for by the state (we can only hope that that continues – don’t forget to vote in November).  Thanks to Jen, I realized that Jack IS class of 2020 and who cares if he’s three years older!

As I sort through the photos of Jack over the years, it’s a constant reminder of before and after ALD. A reminder of what life could have been. What life could have been had we known that ALD was lurking in his body. Had we known and treated him a year earlier, Jack would likely have been class of 2017. He would be in college asking for an emergency Venmo for the Uber he had to take to go to the Trader Joes to get Riced Cauliflower. Now we just have Anna making that request.

Saturday is Rare Disease Day – or as I like to call it – The Day When People with Rare Diseases get to Remind People WITHOUT Rare Diseases that We Exist.

I’m not asking for donations, just to read about Aidan’s Law , sign THIS and pass it along to every single person you know (I was asked to send it to 5 people, but that’s lame).

If you haven’t seen what a rare disease looks like at our house, take a peek HERE.

And, if you want to see Jacko’s Class of  2020 Challenge – here you go!

Love, Jess

Meet the Torrey Family

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I’ve been hinting about this for a while, but I was told that we weren’t allowed to share it until now — lawyers were involved. Several months ago, our family was asked to participate in a project that bluebird bio was working on. They wanted to include short videos sharing different ALD stories to a new website, www.navigatingald.com. A (much needed) effort to educate the medical community and newly diagnosed families.

Bluebird bio is a bio tech company who has been working on a treatment for ALD – gene therapy — a trial that has been very promising for our community. But, bluebird bio didn’t just want to stop at finding a cure, they have been determined to educate both the medical community and those families that are hearing the letters A L D for the first time.

We were happy to participate, but did wonder how bluebird bio was planning to represent our family. Hoping that it would be honest, but not difficult for us to watch and to share. When I first watched the video, I was overwhelmed. Very proud of where our family has landed and also profoundly aware that many would not see our story as a “success story”.

Our family’s ALD story WAS a success story 13 years ago. Jack survived. Jack survived having a late diagnosis and a transplant at a hospital that was learning about the disease as we all were. Honestly, the fact he left the hospital with his vision and hearing and ability to walk was nothing short of a miracle.

Now our story is an example of what newborn screening and new treatments are going to prevent. Proof of how complicated life can be without the benefit of an early diagnosis and having time to find a team so that you can monitor your child and get them treatment when/if needed.

Of course there is part of us that pauses to wonder — What if we had known when Jack was born? What if we had known just a few months earlier?

We know the answer, but we can’t change the past — we can only help to change the future.

Thank you bluebird bio for allowing us to be part of this incredible project.

Take a peek at our ALD story and then take a peek at the other stories. All beautiful, honest, raw and helping to change the future of ALD.

CLICK HERE

Love, Jess

 

 

A Lot of Tomorrows

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We enjoy today and hope for a lot of tomorrows.

That’s how I answered a question I was asked yesterday on one of my Facebook pages. The person was asking how to live knowing that there will likely be a “future loss”.

You might think it was a cruel question for parents with children with ALD – or any special situation leaving their child medically fragile, but trust me – it’s a question that we all have struggled with.

The pain of knowing that you will likely outlive your child and the fear that you won’t – who, other than you, can you trust to care for your child? You worry about a simple cold leading to a fever and then a seizure. You worry about what you might find when you open your child’s door in the morning. You try to plan for a future, but limit the future to a few years, not decades. Worried that being too greedy might somehow jinx things.

Everyone worries about their children — typical and fragile. Anna has no underlying conditions, but we worry about her making poor college choices that could put her in danger. We worry about her traveling alone, working too hard, falling asleep with a candle still lit. The other night I woke up at 3:00 am and spend two hours worried that we had somehow pressured her into following a career path towards medicine (I called her in the morning and asked if she felt pressured,  “You’re nuts, but I love you” was her answer. 

Everyone worries about their children, but the worry about special/fragile children is more profound, because IT IS more real.

Despite all the worry, your special/fragile children eventually teach you not to waste time with too much worry. You need to enjoy today because tomorrow is not assured. You need to slow down and enjoy the sunsets, the song playing on the radio, the newest episode of Impractical Jokers.                       .

I’m not saying that I never have moments where fear/despair/dread/depression take over. I bargain with the universe. I yell and cry. But, then I remember my role in all this is to help provide Jack the best life possible. I get up, wash my face, move forward and enjoy today.

The parent who asked the question yesterday was new to this life. It will take some time, but I know they will find their footing and it will be their special/fragile child that will lead the way.

The fact is folks —  we are all fragile. We are all going to die. None of us are assured unlimited days. 

Our family tries to enjoy and appreciate as many moments as possible. I encourage you all to do the same.

Love, Jess

a conference, the flu, a fall and a shower

Being surrounded by our ALD community is aways a thrill for me and being asked to stand up in front of many of them at The Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation — Standards of Care annual meeting was an honor. Talking about ALD, Jack and medical marijuana did have me nervous, but it was received well.

The conference takes place every year in Brooklyn and is run by one of my ALD heroes and the founder of The Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation – Elisa Seeger. Her beautiful son, Aidan, lost his battle with ALD and ever since she has fought to change the face of the disease. Her crusade to add ALD to the newborn screening panel has led to 14 states testing for the disease — 54% of births in this country (and that number is going up every year). She has also helped develop a wonderful guide for the parents who have just received the diagnosis. And, I don’t know anyone in the ALD community who doesn’t know Elisa and describe her as not just a driving force, but the sweetest, most generous human on the planet. 

The foundation fills the annual meeting with top doctors in the field, doctors trying to better educate themselves on ALD, biotech companies working on treatments, and patients and parents. I’ve attended for three years and am always impressed by the assortment of speakers representing all the sides of our disease.

When Elisa asked me to speak, I jumped at the opportunity, but sharing Jack’s cannabis story with this group did have me feeling a little uncomfortable. Cannabis is still largely unregulated and under-researched. I’m not a doctor or a medical professional and I didn’t want anyone to walk away thinking that cannabis was now part of some sort of standard of care for people with ALD. I kept reminding everyone that I was just a mom who loves her son and is trying to provide him the best quality of life possible. 

I went on to say that I’ve not seen a single negative side-effect since introducing medical marijuana into Jack’s regimen four years ago. It’s not effected his other medications or made him unable to complete his normal daily schedule. I credit cannabis for improvement in Jack’s walking, sleeping, eating and focus. It may not help anyone else with the disease, but it’s worked for us. A reminder that sometimes thinking “out of the box” is a good move for those of us facing rare/complicated/crazy issues. I’m sure that my words weren’t quite so clear as I stood in front of the crowd, but this is what I planned to say and I think I got my point across.

Since I spoke, two people have reached out to me and wanted more information about our experience. Family’s with boys, like Jack, dealing with complicated, often uncomfortable, lives.  I’m so happy that Elisa trusted me enough to share our story and I promise I will be responsible — anyone who reaches out to me will get the same disclosure, “I am not a doctor or medical professional. I’m just a mom trying to provide the best quality of life for my son.”

It was a great conference, but as soon as I walked in our front door Friday, I was reminded that life goes on and it isn’t always just about ALD.

Proof that life with ALD is not always just about ALD — The Flu:

Our family had planned to attend the second half of the Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation events — a family retreat. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to join the fun. I found out Friday that Jack’s school has had a flu outbreak. Between Jack’s less-then-perfect reaction to the prophylactic Tamiflu we decided to give him and worrying about getting other kids sick – we didn’t go the the family retreat. We were all bummed to miss meeting some of Jack’s ALD brothers, but the good news is that Jack seems to have avoided the flu for now. We are keeping our fingers crossed and please send love/prayers/good vibes to all of his classmates that are fighting the flu.

More proof that life with ALD is not always just about ALD — A Fall:

Instead of the ALD Family Retreat, we had a quiet Saturday. We stayed in our PJs until noon and waited for the snow to arrive. After lunch, snow started to fall and I decided to take the dogs for a walk. As the dogs and I were heading home, I was chatting with my friend Kim on the phone, looking forward to getting out of the cold. I crossed the street and stepped up onto the curb when suddenly I fell. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but I was on the street, my left wrist was aching and I was awkwardly pushed against the front of a large, black SUV. Kim heard me screaming that I had fallen and couldn’t get up. She was trying to calm me down, when the car I was leaning against started.

I’ve had my share of horrific experiences, but this was defiantly in the top five. Luckily, Dan came to the rescue within a couple of minutes. I’m fine except for a sore wrist and a new fear of ice and remote car starters (once Dan got me off the ground, we realized that the car was empty and I was in no real danger).  

A little more proof that life with ALD isn’t always about ALD – A Shower: 

Sunday morning I wrapped up my achy wrist and headed into the City. My mother and I threw my sister-in-law a baby shower. It was a lovely party, but better still is that in a couple of weeks, we will have a new baby in the family!!! And, this baby will be born in NY, where ALD happens to be on the newborn screening panel thanks to the Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation.*

It’s been a long four days. I’m ready for some time in front of the fire and some good/bad TV. Hope you all are doing some of the same today!

Love, Jess

* The baby is NOT in danger of having ALD. My brother doesn’t have the mutation and, even if he did, he could not pass the gene to a son. We are just happy that NY State is doing the right thing for all of it’s babies. 💙

Invisible-At-First-Glance Disabilities

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The last post got a lot of attention. Many seemed ready to go find minivan lady and make her pay for her comment. Others commiserated on having to fight for recognition for their own invisible (or invisible-at-first-glance) disabilities.  

I was disappointment that Peter was forced to spend time explaining his and Jack’s disabilities to a stranger. The last thing a person with a disability should be forced to do is educate, but unfortunately it often comes with the territory.

Especially when their disabilities are invisible-at-first-glance.

When out and about with Jack I often watch people as they try to figure things out. As if I can see the thought bubble on top of their head, “Why is that mom holding her son’s hand/feeing him/taking him into the bathroom?” “Why is he rocking back and forth?” “Is he licking the wall?”

Sometimes people will stop me and whisper, “My grandson/nephew/daughter/neighbor is autistic”. If I have the energy, I try to explain that although Jack shares some similar behaviors, he in fact has Adrenoleuokodystrophy. “The Lorenzo’s Oil disease – did you see that movie back in the 80s?” If I am tired, I just smile and nod my head knowingly. People seem to love having the connection and who really cares if people think my son is autistic vs effected by ALD.

There have been times that Jack’s invisible-at-first-glance disabilities have lead to awkward moments — like the time we got reprimanded by a woman at a Broadway theater. Jack had been annoying her by grabbing the seat in front of him – her seat. She had asked him several times to please stop. I tried to hold his hands, but Jack is strong and managed to break free for one last grab. She turned to me and loudly whispered, “PLEASE control your son!”

I felt terrible, understanding that it was her night out too and nobody needs to have a stranger touching their chair. At the intermission, I approached her, apologized and explained that my son had challenges and sometimes wasn’t able to control his behavior.

Her eyes widened and then filled with tears as she apologized again and again. That made me cry. There we were, two women in tears, waiting for the intermission to be over so that we could get back to our seats and pretend the whole thing never happened. Jack must have sensed the tense mood in the air and never touched her seat during the second act.

Jack has his share of disabilities and medical complaints, but at first glance, it can be hard to know that he needs a handicap placard. And, Peter has worked tirelessly to overcome and work around his challenges. I guess I can’t fault minivan lady for looking over and seeing two dashing young men get out of their car and think that maybe they hadn’t earned that spot.

All is forgiven, but I do hope that she learned that disabilities aren’t always clearly visible and perhaps she should save her scolding for people who don’t stop for pedestrians or text while driving or turn left into the parking spaces on Maplewood Avenue.

Love, Jess

He’s Ready (at least that’s what I think the photo is telling me)

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I dropped Jack off at school yesterday following an incredibly long blood draw (I counted 12 syringes – poor kid). When Jack marched into his classroom, his school mom, Monica, ran up to me to show me that Jack’s school portrait had arrived, “Look how handsome”. “Look how mature he looks”, said his teacher, Mr Dan. Handsome and mature – indeed. Then, it struck me that it was Jack’s last school portrait. He’s graduating in June.

I did what I have been doing a lot lately — I quickly left an emotional situation. My mind was spinning the whole way home. It’s his last school photo. His last year at Horizon High School. His last year with these kids, these teachers.

I walked into the house and placed the envelop of pictures on our kitchen island – facing up where Jack’s face could stare up at the ceiling.

All day I kept pausing at the photo. It had me unnerved

It didn’t make any sense why this photo got under my skin. It’s Jack. A face I see every day. I know those eyes, that smile, as well as I know my own, but something about this picture made me see my boy from another perspective. He looks like a man. Like a very typical 21-year-old man.

I kept looking at the photo as if it were trying to speak to me. But, what was it about this picture?                    

It finally occurred to me last night as I was trying to fall asleep why this photo has been haunting me. It’s that it doesn’t really look like a school portrait. Jack’s 21 – too old for a high school photo.  This is a picture of a man. It’s a picture that belongs on an employee  name tag or a fraternity composite. 

I’ve been dreading Jack’s next chapter. Not being able to imagine him leaving the safety and security of his school. Not being prepared to see him start something new – something full of adults. Something that doesn’t have “school” in it’s title.

When I looked at the picture again this morning, I realized what it had been trying to say to me yesterday. This picture is telling me that it’s time. Jack’s outgrowing his school. It’s time for him to start his life as an adult. He’s not a child anymore. He’s a man and he’s ready to make a change. 

Let’s just hope that I’m ready by June.

Love, Jess

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Party Crasher

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We promise Jack simply walked in the front door. No broken skylights.

Last night Jack crashed a party. Although he wasn’t on the guest list, he didn’t seem nervous as he walked in the front door. That’s the way to do it – just walk in and own the room. He nonchalantly gave out a bunch of high-fives and hugs before hitting the dance floor.

We are blessed with having several people in our lives who are able to care for Jack when Dan and I want to sneak away. We call them his “other mothers” (he has “another father” too – we love you Peter). Rarely can we NOT find one of them to help out, but last night was one of those nights.

When we realized that we were without a caregiver, my first reaction was to call the hosts and express our regrets, but this party is one of our favorite parties of the year — I said to Dan, “Maybe we should just bring Jack”. 

We grabbed Jack’s diaper bag and put him in the car, hoping we weren’t committing an unforgivable party foul.

Not only was Jack welcomed with open arms by the gracious hosts, but Jack had a ball. Watching him walk around the party and cut a rug on the dance floor was great. AND, watching people’s reaction to the unexpected party crasher was wonderful. Our community is amazing — people who didn’t even know Jack seemed unfazed by our 21 year-old silent boy. Not by his dance moves and not even when he gave them an inappropriate grab or lick. Having him there also made Dan and I be a little more responsible about making an early exit (we woke up so easily today;-). 

As we got in the car to head home last night, we agreed we might need to make a habit of bringing Jack as a hostess gift. So much more fun than a candle or a bottle of wine.

Have a great Sunday and be warned that when you invite us to a party, we may be RSVPing for three.

Love, Jess

 

Grateful for Laundry

I’ve been grateful for so many things this last week – my heart is full. Dan threw me one hell of a birthday party last weekend and my only complaints were that I wasn’t able to get a proper visit with everyone and it ended too early (4:00 am . . .). Then, just five days later, we hosted a big Thanksgiving with all three sides of the family represented — the Torrey/Perrys, the Cappellos and the Mackays. Our house was so filled with guests all week that I never really knew how many people would be there for dinner or where everyone was sleeping. All I knew for sure was that it was amazing.

Today I’m grateful for laundry. 

Anyone else get that awful feeling lurking in the pit of their stomach when a fun time has reached it’s end (no – not a hangover, but that too)? I’ve gotten this feeling while driving home from Block Island on Labor Day and when Dan and I drag the Christmas tree to the curb in January each year. It’s part exhaustion and part relief BUT mostly it’s just knowing it was a great time and it’s over.

Our last guest left today around 1:00 and I’ve been loading and unloading the laundry and the dishwasher more times than I can count. I’ve been vacuuming and making beds and folding towels AND I am so grateful to have a distraction. 

Anna is home for one last night and we’re going to enjoy it just the four of us, around our little kitchen table. We’re ordering in, watching a movie and going to bed early. One last hoorah before the holiday is officially over.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and has some laundry to do.

Love, Jess

I would like to thank everyone who made a donation to CPNJ – Pillar Care Continuum High School in honor of Jack for my birthday. We raised over $2500!!! It’s not to late if you want to help a great cause — CLICK HERE!