Social Distancing – Day 1

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I got to sleep a little later than usual. There is something nice about not having to frantically get Jack organized with the deadline of a bus pulling into the driveway at 8:20. It was raining and foggy, so even the dogs seemed okay with having a slow morning. I checked my phone and spent a few minutes reading through emails before getting out of bed. When I peeked into Jack’s room, he was still asleep. A quiet cup of coffee before the morning madness is always a treat, so I quietly walked into the living room.

Our usually tidy living room coffee table was littered with paints, brushes and a remarkable painting of Michelle Obama — Anna’s major is Molecular Biology but she minors in Art. There was a deck of cards thrown carelessly on the couch and there were empty wine glasses and soda cans on the side table. I turned to the kitchen and Dan was sitting at the table in his pajamas, cup of tea in his hand and his laptop open.

This is social distancing Day 1.

Dan’s office is closed with the majority of the company working from home. Hopkins sent Anna home on Wednesday and, although Jack’s school remains open for now, it’s seeming like a good idea just to hunker down. 

Jack would have a difficult time fighting the symptoms of COVID-19. That’s a nice way of saying that he likely would not survive. We’ve worked very hard for 13 years to avoid germs and COVID-19 — IS NOT THE FLU. We are going to avoid any unnecessary outings and try to just hang out here and enjoy some quiet family time. It’s the right thing to do for our family and the right thing to do for our community.

Anna and I did have a long and LOUD conversation yesterday about our family and social distancing. She thinks I’m crazy, but I think we are all on the same page now. At least for today.

Besides, perhaps slowing down for a few weeks as we wait this out will be a good thing. As long as we don’t focus too much on the news or the stock market or the giant mess in my living-room.

Good luck folks, try to hunker down and don’t forget to wash your hands!!!

Love, Jess

In other news — Jack’s school released this wonderful video. You might recognize some of the people.

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

She Can’t Sing

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She can’t sing.

I mean that seriously. She’s terrible. Like – hurt your ears bad. What makes it worse is that she tries. Sings loud and proud, but she shouldn’t. Because she’s dreadful.

I know it sounds mean, but we point it out whenever we have the opportunity. After all, isn’t that our job as parents? We can’t always just be applauding her.

Anna excels at academics, athletics, and artistic ability. She’s kind and graceful and beautiful. She’s generous and funny. It’s a little obnoxious, so we feel like it’s important to remind her that she will never be on The Voice or on Broadway. And, if she cares about people’s hearing — she should never even sing karaoke.

I wish I could take credit for half of who Anna is, but I think she is who she is because everything just came together and fit — like one of those 1000 piece puzzles with a huge amount of sky. You think there’s no way anyone can make it happen, but it does (at least on Block Island with Nana Sue taking the lead).

Anna was born determined and smart and when life changed for our family, she managed to get what she needed and continued growing and learning. I’m proud of all of her accomplishments, but when she does something that I can actually understand, I’m in awe.

Anna wrote a blog piece for Remember the Girls — an incredible organization founded by Taylor Kane, created to give a voice to women/carriers of x-linked diseases. Anna wrote about being tested for ALD. Her voice shines through in this piece and I couldn’t be prouder. She can’t sing, but she can write.

My Experience Getting Tested for the ALD Gene

Love you Banana.

Love, Momo

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

 

 

ALD Family Weekend 2020

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It took our family a while to feel like part of the ALD community. Part of it was that the ALD community was hard to find in 2007 — Facebook was just for the cool college kids back then and, although the internet was already full of information, it was tough to sort through and finding communities  like ours was a challenge. To be honest, we were also completely overwhelmed with what we were going through.

Early on, I did find a few other parents whose sons were struggling through transplant. It was difficult because this disease (especially with a late diagnosis)  didn’t lead to many happy stories. So I hid for a long timed. Just focused on Jack and his ALD journey (oh, and raising Anna and walking our dogs and keeping house and teaching art and writing). I didn’t really become super active with the ALD community until Smiles and Duct Tape was published and Kathleen O’Sullivan-Fortin (one of my ALD heroes and board member of ALD Connect) reached out and encouraged me to be more active. Thank you Kathleen;)

I’m so impressed by the ALD newborn screening parents. Many of them have jumped right in. Speaking at conferences, talking to legislators, and bringing the ALD community even closer together. I’m inspired by them and very optimistic that their families are the beginning of the next chapter of this disease. A great chapter.

Alison and Nic Adler’s son, Lucas, was diagnosed through newborn screening in California and they wasted no time. No only is their beautiful boy is being monitored by top doctors, but they are working tirelessly to spread the word and bring our community even closer together. They have organized an ALD Family Weekend at the Painted Turtle Camp in Lake Huges, CA May 1-3.

Make sure to check out the video on the link below:

www.aldfamilyweekend.com

Our family is looking forward to this wonderful event. ALD folks – sign up today!!!!

Love, Jess

PS Our first ALD friends, the Cousineaus, are also working to make this happen. We can’t wait to see them again in person!

hApPy NeW dEcAdE!!!!

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We are prepping for a new year full of celebrations and new beginnings — a new nephew arriving, Jack’s graduation, finding and sending Jack to the best adult program on the planet (we’re getting closer) and Anna surpassing her Chilean-born mother in her ability to speak Spanish (Anna left for Salamanca on Saturday).

We’re also prepping for a new decade full of celebrations and new beginnings. There will be many. I’m sure there will be many, but I know how life works. You can’t plan life too far in advance. It’s a waste of time that just leads to the universe laughing at you. So, I will leave it at . . . 

The 20s are going to be wonderful — LET’S CELEBRATE!!!!

Wishing everyone a very happy, hApPy holiday from our home to yours. May 2020/the entire decade be filled with joy, love and peace. And, laughter . . . lots of laughter!!

Love, Jess

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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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The Back Nine

He's a Keeper

Patient support materials you may see in the future . . . I was told to say that. I prefer the caption “Love and laughter make 50 easy”

At 9:30 last night my brother, Pablo, sent me a text, “In 2.5 hours you will officially be in the back nine. Well played, Girl.” Then I received my first Facebook birthday wish from an ALD friend who lives in Australia.

I went to bed next to my husband of nearly 25 years and woke up to the sound of the two dogs marching around our bedroom (their nails make a click, click, click at day break) and Dan muttering, “F*cking dogs”. I fell back asleep for another hour until that same mouth that had cursed at the dogs gave me a gentle kiss on my forehead, “Happy Birthday Luvo”.

I poured myself out of bed around 7:00 am to start my morning routine —  a busy hour of bathing, brushing, dressing and laundry. Jack’s sweet smile let me know that he knew that today was a special day and peeing in the toilet was his version of a perfect birthday gift. By the time we were done with the first half of our routine and made our way into the kitchen, there was a birthday message from Anna, “Gotta run take an exam, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOMO! I’ll call as soon as I’m done”.

The rest of the day included a long walk, a beautiful lunch with two and a half of my best friends (one was on Facetime), teaching art to kindergarteners who think I’m turning “some sort of grandma age”, and I just ordered sushi for dinner with my boys (Anna will join us on Facetime). I also have enjoyed countless phone calls, emails, texts and silly Facebook birthday wishes.

I’m not entirely sure how I imagined myself at 50 when I was young, but it definitely didn’t look like this. I’m guessing I pictured a bit more maturity and certainly wouldn’t have guessed that I would be excited by my 21-year-old’s toileting skills, but here I am and honestly, I wouldn’t trade my life.

My family – both immediate and extended, my friends, our community, our dogs (even with their annoying morning clicks), our quirky new house, — I am beyond grateful for everything and everyone in my life as I start the back nine.

Thanks for all the birthday love. 

Love, Jess

If I had the power to change certain things, of corse I would. I wish we’d never heard of ALD and that Jack’s life had taken a different path. But I can’t, so I embrace what I have and what I have is amazing.

THIS is ALD too (no more “c” word)

Just returning from this year’s ALD Connect Annual Meeting and Patient Learning Academy and trying to decide what to share. Last year, I shared that I had met some of my ALD heroes and that number grows every year. People who have devoted their lives to helping our disease through education and research – changing policies, raising money, raising awareness and working on cures for ALD.

This year my biggest take-away (other than a massive hangover — drinking 9 ounce glasses of Sauvignon Blanc after a long day of sharing and listening was probably not a great idea) was that our community is now determined to get rid of the “C” word. 

Carrier.

Twelve years ago when we were told that Jack had ALD, it was found that I was a carrier. I had the genetic mutation for ALD and had passed the disease down to my son, but I would never be affected by any symptoms. ALD is an X-linked disease and only one of my X chromosomes was affected. I had another X chromosome that would do the work for two.

Then problem with this information is that it’s not true.

The first time I walked into an ALD conference, the first thing I noticed was the amount of men and women clearly suffering from symptoms. I had been so focused on the childhood, cerebral form of ALD, I had almost forgotten that there were other phenotypes (different versions of the disease). In the case of ALD, these phenotypes include:  Cerebral ALD (the worst manifestation of the disease which Jack has), Adrenomyloneuropathy (AMN) which usually starts later in life and often presents similar to MS, adrenal insufficiency where the individual’s adrenal gland is affected, and the lucky few who are asymptomatic.

That first ALD conference I tried to avoid too many questions about the other phenotypes of ALD. I had just managed to wrap my brain around what our family had gone through. I couldn’t begin to contemplate that this disease might leave a mark on anyone else in our family. 

As the years have gone on, and I’ve become more educated about ALD, I could no longer ignore the ugly truth that ALD was not yet done affecting us. Our family is small and I believe that everyone who needs to be, has been tested (if you haven’t – call me. I will first yell and then give you the information you need to get it done). As far as I know, my mother, Jack and I are the only people with the genetic mutation. We suspect that my grandmother on my mother’s side also had the gene because of the complaints she had later in life. Balance, neuropathy, bladder issues are common symptoms for women with ALD and my grandmother had all three.  She lived a long life with these symptoms, never assuming it was anything other than getting older. While annoying, they never seemed to hold her back. My mother, now in her seventies, has been suffering with balance issues that are progressing enough that she is going to see an ALD specialist. She is done pretending that ALD is just for men/boys.

I’m so proud of my mother, but I haven’t been sure I was ready to discuss my symptoms openly. Over the last year, I have started trying on the words. When people comment on my constant runs to the bathroom or clumsy falls, I might quickly mention that ALD is to blame. I’ve gotten rid of any shoes with a heel or platforms because they make me look and feel as unsteady as walking on a tightrope. And, I’ve shared with my close friends that I’m scared of not being able to care for Jack if something happens to my ability to walk BUT then I quickly say that I’ll be fine. “My mom is clumsy, but not using a walker or a wheel chair. I’m sure I will be just like her.”

How can a disease be so cruel as to affect a child AND their caregiver?

At the conference, I was sitting with a group of women with the ALD gene and we were each sharing our story. I was the fourth person to share, when the woman across from me interrupted, “Each of you are starting with someone else’s story. Your son, your father, your brother . . . We are here to discuss you and your ALD story.” I swallowed hard, but she was right. It’s time for our community to acknowledge women with ALD. I reluctantly talked about my increasing clumsiness and awkward relationship with the bathroom. Others in the group had more complicated complaints and were braver than I was. The woman next to me started with, My name is, D$#@, and I have ALD.”

As women, symptoms range and (like all people with ALD) nobody knows where their journey will lead them, but it’s time we all band together. We need to get the proper care for those of us who are suffering and need to educated doctors and nurses and each other.

No more hiding — THIS is ALD too.

ALD – shitty disease/great people.

Love, Jess

For more information about x-linked diseases, check out Remember the Girls. Here I am with it’s founder and one of my ALD heroes, Taylor Kane.

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Rainbows and Unicorn(s)

Life isn’t always just rainbows and unicorns, but it is today. Happy Halloween everybody!

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CPNJ (now Pillar Care Continuum – new name, same great organization) does it again! Their annual Trunk or Treats got rained out, but that didn’t stop the treats or the fun.

 

I was feeling pretty proud about creating a great costume for our boy until Jack’s buddy rolled into the room. The award for GREATEST COSTUME EVER goes to Ben! Sorry JackO – you get second place;)

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Love, Jess