ALD — crappy disease/amazing people

I hate that I know how to spell Adrenoleukodystrophy and know words like phenotype and chimerism. I hate knowing the difference between stem cell transplantation and gene therapy. I hate that I know dozens of mothers who have watched their sons suffer for months, losing all their abilities before this hideous disease stole them completely. I hate knowing that the disease that has effected every inch of my son’s life may start progressing in me.

I hate ALD — every little part of it except for one. The people!

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I just spent two days surrounded by ALD parents, patients, researchers and doctors at the ALD Connect Annual Meeting and feel overwhelmed by the love and support that filled the room. I’ve walked way feeling extremely lucky to be part of this community.

I talk about our duct tape a lot on this blog. Duct tape representing the people and things that have helped hold us together for the last eleven years. We would not have survived without our friends and family and teachers and doctors and therapists and nurses and dinners and wine. We’re so grateful and now we are adding our ALD family to the mix. At this point in our ALD journey, being part of this community is helping us take back some of the power the disease stole from our family.

The ALD Connect Annual Metting is all about learning and sharing. I have notes about different treatments and potential therapies that may lead to a cure for ALD.  I listened to how other counties are battling our disease. I heard about the remarkable momentum of newborn screening. I heard countless stories of strength and courage. I learned diapering tricks that made some people at our table cringe, but I can’t wait to try out. I shared Jack’s story, spent time with people I’ve known for years and met many who are new to our community.

Thanks to newborn screening, there is a new, quickly growing group in our community. Young families that have just learned of the disease and that their children have the mutation. These families have been thrown into our world and are holding on tightly to their beautiful children as they learn how to monitor and plan for a disease that MAY effect their child sooner or later.

Sitting in a room with parents who have lost children, parents whose children have survived treatment with varies amounts of success, and patients who are struggling every day with symptoms of the disease — I kept going from feeling sorry for these newborn screening parents to being painfully jealous of them.

When Jack was young and healthy, we had the luxury of just living. I can’t imagine having known what his future would hold. All the worry – all the planning. But, the benefit of having the knowledge that an early diagnosis provides, allows these families to prepare for the onset of the disease and will likely prevent following the same path that so many of us have been forced to follow. For two days I kept reminding these young parents that their stories will be different. They have the power in their hands to have treatments ready when/if their children need it. I also kept reminding myself that we can’t change Jack’s path, but if we can help others, we’re kicking ALD where it hurts.

 

Dan, Jack, Nonno and Mymom came down to join the Smiles and Duct Tape Book Club. I got to share our family’s story and it turned into a wonderful opportunity for many to share their own stories. Jack – as always – was a huge hit. For a kid with a lot of challenges, he always seems to have everyone around him smiling. Anna met me as the meeting was winding down, but she got to hear some remarkable presentations that further encouraged her to study hard and keep reaching for her goals.

I’m a little exhausted and need to make sense of my notes, but I’m already looking forward to the next excuse to spend time with our ALD community.

Thank you ALD people — I hate our disease, but I love the people!!!

Love, Jess

PS I was telling a friend about all the amazing people at the conference and kept referring to the newborn screening parents as the Newborn Housewives. My love of Bravo is ever-present and trust me — these ladies (and gentlemen) are as real (and amazing) as they get!!!

 

never too old to dress up;)

I realize that my children are 18 and 20, but they both still LOVE to dress up for Halloween.

Being off at school, Anna left few hints of her plans, other than an Amazon purchase that I did NOT approve (you still owe me $30 Banana). She had two parties this weekend and sent me photos of her costumes. Although I know that it’s inappropriate for my underage girl, I couldn’t help but laugh at her first costume – Whispering Angel.

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I had to be more hands-on with Jack’s costume. I spent weeks trying to find a clever idea, when it found me at Target last Friday. A large flamingo hat almost screamed at me from an isle full of Michael Myers, Demogorgons and Black Panthers. I introduce you to The Dancing Flamingo!! ****

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I got to spend some time with the Flamingo at the Trunk & Treats event at CPNJ Horizon High School. Always fun to hang with Jack and his schoolmates AND I got to sneak in a little last minute campaigning. Not sure if you’ve heard, but there is an election coming up next week . . .  Jack is running for president!!

 

Tomorrow I head down to Philadelphia for the ALD Connect Annual Meeting and Patient Learning Academy. This year they are hosting a book club where I am leading the discussion on Smiles and Duct Tape. I’m looking forward to spending time with many of our ALD community and introducing Jack (and Dan, Anna, Mymom and Nonno) to the crew.

Love, Jess

**** In case you are new to Smiles and Duct Tape, Dancing Flamingo has been a nickname for our boy for a while. To learn why, CLICK HERE.

 

 

two hours, some hugs, a godfather and a shave

Anna headed north this weekend to visit her boyfriend, Will, at Fordham. We tried not to give her a hard time for choosing him over us – after all, she’s in college, we just saw her two weeks ago and she’s in love. We followed her through texts and social media as she explored his campus and then headed to see friends at NYU. It’s still strange going from knowing every detail of your kid’s life, to hearing about adventures after the fact — or watching them realtime on my iPhone.

She and Will decided to head home Saturday to hangout with some pals who were in town. We had plans to go to visit family in Pennsylvania, so we left Anna with strict instructions to watch the dogs, lock the doors and NOT have a party. Then we watched her come home for the first time in two months through our Nest cameras — I know it’s creepy (we have them for security).

Anna had a great time (and no party that I could see from my iPhone) and we also had a great time seeing the Perry/Brooklyn Torrey gang, but as soon as we ate breakfast Sunday, we said goodbye so that we could catch Anna before her Bolt Bus took her back to Charm City. It left us with a two hour visit with Bananz.

Two hours with our girl doesn’t sound like a lot, but we made the most of it.

Walking in the door of our house I needed to look passed the stuff littering the foyer floor and pile of dishes in the sink to focus on loving our girl. We hung out around the kitchen island, enjoying sandwiches from the Millburn Deli (Anna’s got her Godfather fix) and hearing all about how everyone is doing. Funny that when I asked about how her pals were doing, Anna started with unfamiliar names. It took me a minute to realize that she was talking about her Hopkins friends — another reminder that things have changed a bit. We did eventually hear about the adventures of the kids we’ve known since elementary school — I miss all those wonderful humans and am thrilled to hear they’re doing well.

After lunch, we got to do what has become an important activity when visiting with Anna. Shaving.

I hate shaving Jack. For some reason shaving my twenty-year-old son, while he’s being held down making horrible faces, is painful for me — as if it puts a spotlight over how different our lives are. Since Anna left for college, I look at anyone who walks into our house as a potential barber. Be warned — if you come for a visit, you could be next. We’ve had a few good volunteers, but no one is as skilled as Anna. She manages to keep Jack smiling and gets every last hair without a nick or a scratch.

The barber decided it was time for to say goodbye to the goatee. I rather liked it, but it’s barber’s choice at our house, and he does look awfully handsome!

After the shave, it was time to say goodbye. It’s always hard to say goodbye to Bananz, but we will see her in two weeks for the ALD Connect meeting and my nephew’s baptism, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner!

I’ve got to say – I am getting better with being a college mom.

Love, Jess

Did you ever read Anna’s college essay? If not – CLICK HERE!

National Daughter’s Day

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I missed National Daughter’s Day. Just one day without looking at my Facebook feed, and when I returned I was bombarded with piles of sweet pictures of everyone’s daughters. I felt like crap. How could I have missed National Daughter’s Day?!?

I went instantly to my phone, searching for the cutest photo of me and my girl to show everyone that I’m NOT a bad mom and that my daughter is way better than everyone else’s. I narrowed it down to a few good shots and thought about FaceTiming Anna for her advice, before realizing that I was acting crazy. I don’t need a National Day to remember I have a daughter or to celebrate her — I do a pretty good job doing those things on my own.

Not sure about you, but I can’t keep up. It seems that every day there is another National Day/Month reminding us to celebrate, remember or eat.

There are some great ones:

October 5 — World Teacher’s Day
June — Pride Month
June 20 — World Refugee Day
September — Leukodystrophy Awareness Month (for us, every month is Leukodystrophy Awareness Month)
November 27 — Giving Tuesday

Those are good ones, but then there are these:

January 4 — National Spaghetti Day
June — Turkey Lover’s Month
October 5 — National Do Something Nice Day (we need a day for this?)
June 1 — National Donut Day
June 9 — National Rose Day (I didn’t see one for Sauvignon Blanc, but June 14 is National Bourbon Day and September 7 is National Beer Lover’s Day)
October 15 — Global Hand Washing Day
September 16 — Wife Appreciation Day (just one day?)
March 10 — National Landline Telephone Day
June 21 — National Selfie Day
April 10 — Be Kind to Lawyers Day

The problem with these holidays is they distracted from things that should truly be celebrated AND they have people scrambling to join in. If you don’t eat ice cream on July 15, you’re missing out. If you don’t post a cute picture of your daughter on National Daughter’s Day you are a bad mom. So we keep going. I’m all for celebrating, but don’t you think it’s getting a little ridiculous? When we celebrate everything from quiche (May 14) to paperclips (April 4) to watches (June 19) to kite flying (February 8) isn’t it taking away from living in the moment? What if I don’t want quiche on May 14th, but I’m really digging the clam chowder that’s in front of me (National Clam Chowder Day is February 25) — should I feel guilty?

Perhaps we should consider celebrating things we love every single day.

I am trying to stop, but now I can’t stop looking at the National Days list. I wondered what National Days corresponded with our birthdays.

Dan’s Birthday (March 2) — National Read Across America Day (Dan does like to read and he loves America).

Anna’s Birthday (June 28) — National Tapioca Day (and National Nude Day, but let’s focus on tapioca . . . not sure if Anna has ever tasted tapioca, but I bet she would like it).

Jack’s Birthday (August 5) — National Underwear Day (NOT National Diaper Day? There is a Diaper Need Awareness Week in September, which is a lovely, but we need a new day on the calendar just for 20-year-old men who wear diapers). August 5 is also National Sister Day (THAT is perfect!!!)

My Birthday (November 19) — World Toilet Day (if you’ve spent time with me and my small, ALD affected bladder you know that this makes perfect sense).

In case you’re wondering. Today, September 27th, is National Chocolate Milk Day Day. Who knew???

Love, Jess

I don’t think I need to, but why not share some photos of my sweet daughter;)

Happy Belated Daughter’s Day!!!

lunch – the recap

In case you missed Wednesday’s post – CLICK HERE.

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seven hours of driving + a quick tour of campus + lunch with our girl = best day EVER!

It was just what we all needed. Seeing Anna in her element helped me let go of my nerves about how she’s doing. She’s thriving. Her classwork is interesting, she loves exploring Baltimore and has made many wonderful new friends (we got to meet several). Two hours of showing us around her new turf and a fun lunch and we were on our way. Saying goodbye was not easy, but we will see Anna for Parent’s Weekend in a couple of weeks and again in early November for Cousin Carlos’ Baptism. Thank goodness – we need more Anna time!

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Saying goodbye wasn’t easy.

Thank you for all the love and support this week. I heard from many moms that they’re feeling the same way and I’m not alone in the crazy drive/hug/lunch/hug/drive. I also heard from a few kids who shared that they appreciate crazy drive/hug/lunch/hug/drives! I sure hope Anna did, because I have a feeling this won’t be the only time I pull this stunt;)

Thank you Anna for being you and, thank you Jack and Mymom for being my partners in crime!!!!!!

Love, Jess

 

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Several years ago, I was getting my nails done when I ran into a friend whose son had just left for college in Boston. We were chatting all about the excitement of drop-off and what it felt like getting home one kid down. She admitted that the transition had left her feeling a little lost and that she was planning to head up the next day to take her son out to lunch, “What? For lunch? In Boston?”

Maplewood to Boston is a 4 1/2 hour drive. I walked away from the conversation relieved that I would never be THAT crazy.

Jack, Mymom and I are driving to Baltimore to see Anna tomorrow. For lunch.

We’ve been busy trying to get into the rhythm of our new nest. I’m feeling a little less lost than I had expected, but it’s not easy. As long as I stay busy I’m okay, but when the chaos of life quiets, I get teary. The result is that our house has never been as clean and I seem to be very on top of my my TO DO list and piles of paperwork. I am looking for anything that can distract me from the quiet. Things like writing and walking are a little harder to do – too much time to think about how much I miss our girl. It’s better for me to stay in motion.

FaceTime is a luxury that I hadn’t expected. I’m trying not to over-do it, but at least once a day we sit down for our call.

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Thirty years ago, there were two pay phones at the end of my dorm hallway. My parents would call on Sunday mornings at 10:00 am. It wasn’t just their chance to catch up, but it was assurance that I was awake at 10:00 am on a Sunday (As soon as I got off the phone, I would crawl back into bed). Within a few months, I got a phone in my dorm room. Still, the phone calls from home were limited. It’s not that my folks weren’t eager to speak with me, but times were different. 

There is a lot of talk among my circle of friends — maybe we shouldn’t call too much. We need to let our kids fly. They need their independence. We need our independence.

Perhaps this generation is too in touch, but I don’t care. I love chatting with Anna as she’s walking across campus in the sticky Baltimore heat. I love that I am starting to learn the names of her new pals and a little about her classes. AND, I love that Jack is able to not just hear his sister, but see her. This transition has been hard for all of us, but for Jack it’s been particularly difficult. 

Although we’d been preparing for months for this new reality, Jack seems to be constantly waiting for his favorite person to walk into the room. When her picture appears on the iPhone  screen, he lights up. They spend a few minutes making their silly faces as Banana tells her Booger how much she misses him. Parent’s Weekend is just a couple of weeks away, but we can’t wait.

So . . . we’re getting in the car tomorrow morning and driving 4 hours to take our Anna out for lunch. If anyone asks, I tell them that it’s because Mymom hasn’t seen Anna in a few months and the Jack really NEEDS a visit. That’s not completely true. It will be a lot of driving for a short visit, but I’ve never been as excited for a day trip in my life.

Love, Jess

To my friend from the nail salon – I owe you one. A lunch visit is a fine idea – NOTHING CRAZY ABOUT IT!!!!

my anchor

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How’d college drop-off go?

As soon as we left the house, I grabbed Anna’s hand and said, “It took us eighteen years to prepare for this drive.” I was bawling before we left Clinton Avenue.

It was a long two days of loading and unloading and setting up and last minute shopping and crying, before we kissed Anna good-bye and headed home to our new chapter. The house seems a little too quiet, but I’m not as sad as I’d expected. Sad would mean that I’m waking up in the middle of the night crying and sitting in Anna’s room counting the days until she comes home for Thanksgiving break (81 – maybe I am counting a little, but I’m staying clear of her room). I’m not sad, instead I’d describe it as feeling lost.

I’m getting along fine and then something will hit me. The empty stool at the kitchen island or the missing pile of shoes at the front door. I’m missing that fight in the morning when there’s no milk for my coffee because Anna and her friends had late-night bowls of cereal while watching Gilmore Girls. I miss Anna’s boyfriend, Will, racing into our house and wrestling a hug out of Jack. I miss the dirty dishes in the sink. I keep wondering when Anna will be home for dinner before remembering that she won’t be home for three months.

I also miss the chaos of being an everyday parent of a typical kid.

Anna has been our anchor to typical parenting. She’s linked us to her typical schools with their typical sports and typical classes. She’s had piles of typical friends that filled our house with typical snacks and typical teenage drama. She allowed us to get distracted from IEPs and changing G-tubes, because we needed to worry about curfews and grades and other typical stuff.

Being Jack’s mother is my honor and I love (almost) every ounce of parenting him, but it’s different. It’s not the parenting that you read about in novels or watch in movies. It’s not the parenting that MOST of my friends have experienced. It’s not the same parenting that raised me or raised Dan. I pride myself in not needing to be like everyone else, but it has been nice to be part of the conversation when people are talking about t-ball, middle school drama, first boyfriends, driving tests, and college essays.

I’m scared that without my anchor I will be left adrift.

The biggest accomplishments of my life have been as a mother. I am not pretending that I’ve been a perfect parent. There’s a long list of mistakes I’ve made along the way (things I wish I had taken more seriously – things that I did that make me cringe) but, when I look at our two children, I’m so proud of what I helped to create. I’ve grown to embrace being part of Jack’s beautiful, complicated life, and I’ve also loved being anchored to the day-to-day typical parenting world thanks to Anna.

I know that parenting isn’t over when kids head off to school or go to work or start their own families. I just hurt my toe (long story that means I will never go into Trader Joe’s again without wearing boots), and the first person I called was my mother. The last few days Anna has reached out to share stories about her first days on campus. I know I will be part of Anna’s life forever, but my anchor is now 156 miles away. She will no longer share every detail of her experiences. She will make friends that I will never meet and do things that I haven’t signed off on or understand. She is starting her new life. I’ll always be part of it, but a smaller part than I was a week ago.

I’m trying to get my bearings and am really trying not to overdo the calling/texting/face-timing. I want to give Anna space to fly, but it’s hard not to hear her voice around the house, “Mooommmmmm, where’s my backpack/curling iron/charger?” “Mooommmmmmm, what’s for dinner?!?” “Mooommmm, can I take the car?!?”

Jack is doing a great job of keeping me distracted. As I’m writing this (on the couch, with my foot elevated and covered with a pile of ice), Jack is sitting next to me laughing at his Impractical Jokers. Jack might not be “typical”, but he sure is great company!
Love, Jess

PS Anna isn’t just a pleasure to parent, she’s the best friend I could ever ask for. Maybe I am a little sad. Just a little. Enjoy every second Blue Jay Banana, but don’t forget to FaceTime!!!

the labyrinth

 

Just getting home from Block Island. It was a quiet stay this year and we loved having solo time with PopPop and Sue and getting to spend time just the four of us. Have I mentioned that Anna is leaving for college soon?

On our second day we went to Block Island’s Labyrinth. There was something about quietly walking a labyrinth that seemed like the perfect activity for our family as we prepare for a ton of change. Years ago I photographed a labyrinth for a local paper. I Googled the word before I left for the shoot, not really understanding the particulars of the definition. The three stages of the walk are releasing, receiving and returning. As you follow the path within, you are to shed your thoughts, quiet your mind and open your heart. While at the center, you meditate or pray, allowing yourself to receive guidance. Then you follow the same path out, thinking more clearly and feeling empowered. The whole thing sounded kinda cheesy, but after the shoot, I gave it a try and I found it more powerful than I’d expected. I felt calm and at peace. Last week I was looking for some calm and peace and wanted to share the experience with my family.

I encouraged them to take it seriously, “No talking. Just walk. Take it all in. Follow the path and let your thoughts wander.”

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Knowing I’m a little fragile these days, my family hid their rolling eyes and agreed. Anna led the way, trying to help her brother along. It was quiet and beautiful. There are no decisions to be made when walking a labyrinth. It winds around, but there is only one way in and you follow the same path out. A needed departure from the endless decisions we make every day. One step at a time we all moved forward. Within a minute, Jack got distracted, let go of his sister’s hand and started making his own path. I laughed at the image of Dan, Anna and I staying the course as our boy did his own thing. Very much our family, no matter the circumstances. We all stayed silent and I started to really get into it – I felt more relaxed than I had in a long time, enjoying the rhythm of my steps on the sandy path.

Half-way through, the spell was abruptly broken. Dan yelled, “Crap – Jack STOPPPPP!”

I looked up and saw Dad run after Jack as he bolted down the hill toward the street. Just a few moments of no one watching and he had managed to plan an escape. Block Island is not known for it’s traffic, but Jack heading to Corn Neck Road without assistance was enough to have us all in a panic. I imagined a pile of mopeds piled up on our boy.

Just when you think everything is perfect, Jack likes to shake things up for us.

Thank goodness for the stone wall at the end of the path. Jack reached the bottom of the path in record time, but took one look at the wall and the ladder to climb to the other side and gave up his plan. Too much work for our boy. He turned around to the arms of his dad. He and Dan walked back up the hill with his mischievous smile telling us all he knew exactly what he was doing. The boys watched from a stone bench as their girls finished up the Labyrinth. Jack had given us all a little detour from our relaxation, but our family is used to detours.

Love, Jess

We drop off Banana tomorrow. Just another detour;)

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a table full of girls

Over the weekend we attended another graduation party celebrating a dear friend of Anna. They’ve known each other since they were tiny, and she has spent so much time with our family, that I consider her to be another daughter. Dan loves her too and Jack would think of her as a sister, if he didn’t have such a massive crush on her.

She’s not alone. Jack has crushes on all of Anna’s girlfriends. And these girls are wonderful to our boy. When they come to our house, the first thing they do when they walk in our door is ask, “Where’s Jack?” and then seek him out to give him a smooch. Some days I find Jack in the middle of the sofa surrounded by beautiful teenage girls watching Gilmore Girls or lose track of him to discover that he’s made his way up to Anna’s room to listen to some girlie gossip.

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Jack and some of the gals a few years ago.

Most of Anna’s circle of friends she’s known since diaper days. They knew Anna when she was a chubby little girl with a crooked smile. They knew our first house over on Jefferson Avenue and they knew Dan and I before we had gray hair. These kids also knew our family before ALD came screeching into our lives. They knew Jack when he was just a year ahead of them in school, loved to ride his bike and was one of the MCs in the school talent show (the only video we have where we can hear him speaking . . . ).

I realized while watching the girls at the party that I’m not just saying goodbye to Anna as she heads out to college — I’m saying goodbye to her buddies too. And, so is Jack.

I know Anna will find a wonderful new cluster of friends at college. She has good taste in friends and seems to always be surrounded by a funny, smart, kind assortment of people. I’m sure she will share a lot about her family with these new friends. About her loud Dad who graduated from Hopkins and loves history, music, lacrosse and the Yankees. She will undoubtedly share stories of her mother who insists on family dinners, needs constant help with wardrobe advice and spelling, and drinks a little more white wine than she should. And, I’m sure Anna’s new friends will hear a ton about her brother – the person who she adores more than anyone on the planet. They will hear what happened when Anna was only six-years-old and how it shaped so much of who she is now and what she longs to do with her life. Her new friends will see pictures of all of us and maybe even meet us over the next few years, but they will never know the whole story. They will never really know Jack the way that Anna’s childhood friends do.

I know that some of the relationships Anna has with her childhood crew will ebb and flow for a while. They are scattering all over the US for the next four years. It will be hard, but I really hope that they all make an effort to meet up again whenever they can. I’m lucky to still be close with a few of my childhood friends and it’s amazing how they know me on a level that newer friends just can’t reach. There’s something magical about childhood friends.

The graduation party was wonderful — good food, some white wine for me, and a lot of familiar faces. As I sat inside to escape the heat, I watched Jack through a large picture window. He was sitting next to Anna at a table full of some of his favorite girls. He had a grin from ear to ear. I know there will be more parties and tables full of these girls, but they will be a further apart now that many of the kids are heading off. I want to make sure that I savor them while I can and make sure JackO gets to enjoy as much girl time as possible before the summer comes to a close.

Love, Jess

Finito

Yesterday I was at a doctor’s office waiting to get my annual mammogram. If you’ve ever had a mammogram, you know that it isn’t any fun. As I waited to be called, I was trying to distract myself with cheesy magazines and social media before starting to send text messages, DanO – how’s your day going? Kim – Wanna head to the beach later this week? Anna – When do you get home from school today?

Before I hit send on the last one, it hit me. Anna wasn’t getting home from school, because she didn’t have school. She’s done. Finito. I’d known it was coming for 18 years, celebrated with her at countless parties over the last two weeks, and sat through a two hour ceremony filled with caps and gowns, playing Pomp and Circumstance BUT it didn’t really sink in until I was sitting in a sterile waiting room with a bunch of strangers, all of us wearing nothing but red and pink striped robes.

Welcome to my world. I was actually relieved when my name was called to go have my boobs smashed flat as pancakes.

Enough of me, my boobs, and my crazy emotions – here are some photos of Anna on her big day!

 

Love, Jess

My mammogram — unlike me — was normal.

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