Coming Soon!

img_4586

Last week, I watched through our living room window as a man fought through the rain to dig a hole in our front lawn and place a sign. I knew it was coming, but it still took me by surprise. 

Coming Soon!

We moved into our home thirteen years ago and called it our “forever house”. We talked about how we would shine her up to match our dreams and enjoy our time there until we were ready for our golden years in Block Island or Florida. The kids were 7 and 5, and we imagined how they would learn to ride their bikes on Clinton Avenue and run through all the backyards with the neighborhood kids. Jack and Anna would go from elementary school, to middle school, to high school and finally off to college. It seemed so distant, but we pictured when our nest would become empty and we could periodically close up our home as we would travel the world, knowing that we’d always return to our beautiful center-hall colonial.

Thirteen years ago we didn’t know that within a year of moving in, Jack would start showing symptoms of a disease that would one day become a huge part of our family. We didn’t know that our future would be less about adventurous travel and more about doctoring and therapies. We didn’t know that one day, three stories of house would be more than our son would be able to manage.

So, we are selling our home before “forever”. We are selling because we are not living the life that we’d imagined thirteen years ago. We are not alone in selling our home. Many of our close friends are doing the same – escaping Essex County taxes or moving back to urban living or buying their dream homes in the country or on the beach. We, on the other hand, are looking to stay in the area, eager to find an easier home. One that is more Jack friendly – fewer stairs, open floor-plan. A house where JackO can roam free safely.

It’s not what we planned thirteen years ago and it’s a lot of work prepping to sell. There have been moments of panic/anxiety (and plenty of tears), but mostly we’re excited about this change. Our house is beautiful, but there are rooms we never use, but still heat and cool. There’s a lovely yard that is only used by our doggies. And, most of all we feel that the house is ready for her next family. It’s time to pass her on. 

Still . . .

Every time I look out the window and see that sign, I feel my stomach tighten and I think of letting go of our “forever house”. It goes on the market officially next Wednesday and then there will be a flurry of open houses. People coming through to see if it matches their dreams the way it did ours thirteen years ago. Fingers crossed that we sell quickly. I really don’t want to play the “make all the beds, vacuum the dog hair, and hide the diapers” game for too long. And, once we sell our beautiful house, we can find our next “forever home” where we will stay forever … or at least a few years.

Our realtor/friend asked us to write a note to perspective buyers. Let me know what you think.

Thirteen years ago we told our realtor that we wanted to find the “big sister” of our center hall colonial on Jefferson Avenue. Something a little grander, a little roomier. We fell in love with this house before walking in the front door. We’d lived in Maplewood for seven years and Clinton Avenue was one of our favorite streets. It’s quiet, but close enough to town that we’d never need to drive to the village or the train. It’s a street where our children could roam and ride their bikes down the hill without any risks except bumping into a friend. And, the front door, wide and stately, told us that this house was going to be the perfect fit for our family.

We’ve been here now for thirteen years and it’s time for our next adventure, but it’s going to be hard to say good-bye to 26 Clinton Avenue. She’s been good to us. She’s hosted family holidays so large that we’ve added one table after another – from the dining room, through the center hallway into the living room. She’s hosted many, many parties where we’ve used every pot on the pot rack and guests refused to leave the kitchen. And, I trust that neighbors will share the our deck and lower patio have hosted many an event that lasted way too late into the night (it’s a wonderful, understanding crew on Clinton Avenue).

We’ve raised our kids and added two dogs to the mix while we’ve lived at 26 Clinton Avenue, and the memories we are taking with us are plentiful. At 109-years-old, this house has a history and has taken care of many families. Our hope is that the next crew that calls her home will love her as much as we have. 

Love, The Torreys

Cross your fingers, light some candles, and send some good vibes!!

Love, Jess

THIS is LEUKODYSTROPHY #24 — Ethan

For most people, Facebook is all about travel pictures, political comments and dog videos, but for me it’s largely about connecting with the ALD and other Leukodystrophy communities. Last weekend, I stumbled on a post from a mom that I wanted to share. Much of the focus on our diseases lately has about getting an early diagnosis and the newest treatment options. It’s important to remember that some of our families have been living with ALD and similar diseases for a long time. It’s not as thrilling as the new stories, but our boys are beautiful and important too.

LogoSample_ByTailorBrands-2

THIS is ALD (ish) #24 — Ethan

9 years ago, Ethan’s father and I were sitting in a neurologists office listening to a doctor tell us, “Your son was misdiagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. He actually has an unknown leukodystrophy – a very rare disease that is progressive”. 

I’ll never forget that day. The doctor had no bedside manner and told me not to Google the disease because awful things will happen to Ethan and then he will pass away. I left that appointment feeling helpless and hopeless. The doctor’s words played over and over again through my head as we drove home and I cried on the highway. I remember looking back at Ethan in his car seat all smiles and happy, not knowing he was very sick. 

For over a year, I let that doctor rule my thoughts “Ethan is dying  — the doctor basically said there is nothing we can do, “Don’t Google the disease”. I would have constant nightmares about Ethan’s funeral and wake up in a panic. I would check on him while he was sleeping to see if he was still breathing. 

A couple years later, we finally met Dr. Eichler (the director of the Leukodystrophy service at MassGeneral Hospital for Children) who has given us nothing but hope and a positive attitude. He genuinely loves Ethan and has never once said, “Awful things will happen to him.” Or, “He is going to die.”

What Dr. Eichler does tell us is, “Look how far he’s come” and, ”Yes this disease is progressive, but Ethan is a fighter”. Ever since meeting Dr. Eichler my outlook on Ethan’s disease has changed. When a doctor actually looks you in the eye, answers your questions, hugs your child, laughs with your child, checks in with you via text, email and phone calls, then you know you have the right doctor. 

Shame on the doctor who gave Ethan a death sentence and no hope! Guess what? I Googled his disease and ended up connecting with amazing families all over the world who share the same life we do. Connecting with other families has been a wonderful experience. Seeing all their pictures and how loved these boys are by their family and friends like Ethan, makes me so happy. And now Dr. Eichler introduced us to another amazing doctor, Dr. Rodan, who has helped give Ethan a better quality of life! I’m so happy these two doctors never gave up on Ethan and I’m so proud of my boy who continues to fight and has an incredible will to live. ❤️

A couple of days later, this mom wrote something else on Facebook that took my breath away . . .

Ethan ten years ago. Before wheelchairs, seizures, helmets, daily medications, and intrusive medical procedures. But some things haven’t changed: Ethan’s giggle, his funny jokes, his amazing personality, his hugs and kisses, his “I love you momma”, his ability to make any task fun, his will to defy the odds, his outlook on life, his ability to live in the moment. All the medical issues might be happening to Ethan, but he doesn’t let them define him or change him. Ethan is still Ethan, he’s my son, he’s my everything. Love you Super Mario boy!

— Jennifer

Thank you Jennifer for allowing me to share a little of Ethan’s story. Ethan is almost 13 now – such a handsome (almost) teenager!

23275534_1190027434430690_8470806296349185216_o

the future is bright(er)

A few times a year I have the opportunity to spend a couple of days in a room full of people who know what the letters ALD stand for and what it means to live with them in your home. This week I attended the Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation – ALD Standards of Care meeting. It was exciting to hear about the continued progress being made with newborn screening and the latest treatment options for this next generation of ALD boys. There’s not anything that will benefit Jack, but I hope in a small way, our boy (and his story) is helping the progress move forward.

13310616_1600296236948221_5513811636314207674_n

I know it’s not for everyone to sign up for juggling their real-life responsibilities to attend conferences highlighting the worst part of their life, but I never regret attending these meetings. I’d be lying if I said I understand all the medical talk, but the connections I’ve made over the years have been invaluable. I still get a little star-struck when I meet people that I’ve been following for years, but I’m always pleasantly surprised by how welcoming everyone is. These conferences are filled with doctors, researchers, and ALD parents who have become hard-core ALD advocates (trust me – I’ve done nothing compared to these folks). Everyone is always willing to answer questions and share their experiences. And, now there’s a new generation of ALD families recently diagnosed through newborn screening – they are the strongest people I’ve ever met. I’m not sure I would have been ready to dive in 12 years ago. 12 years ago ALD was a different disease.

12 years ago, when we first heard the word Adrenoleukodystrophy, a diagnosis usually meant that your son was already symptomatic – often too far along to treat. Even when you were lucky enough to find doctors willing to move forward with treatment, the outcomes (if successful) often lead to a new life, full of challenges. And, when you looked for other families for support or guidance, our community was hard to find. It was pre-Facebook and all that Goggle could tell us was horrific statistics and old information. Today, the ALD community is strong and the future is bright(er) and I want our family to be part of the future. I’ll keep attending any ALD conference I can get to, put on my fancy name tag, and enjoy some time with our ALD family.

For more information about ALD, please check out the Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation and ALD Connect.

Love, Jess

THIS is ALD #23 — Mason

Are there any GOOD ALD stories? I guess we need to define the word GOOD.

good
/ɡo͝od/
adjective
“a good quality of life”

 

Jack (THIS is ALD #1), as a GOOD ALD story. He’s happy and can walk and see and hear and laugh. Although his life is full of challenges, we’re grateful that he’s enjoying a wonderful quality of life. If you look through the previous 22 THIS is ALD stories we’ve shared, you will find other GOOD stories, but sadly ALD is not a disease known for GOOD stories. As Newborn Screening spreads across the country (the world), GOOD stories will take over. Until then, a determined family, curious doctors and a lot of luck needs to come together for GOOD to happen. Mason had all three.

 

THIS is ALD.jpgTHIS is ALD #23 — Mason

48310016_516246782203674_178482150578847744_n

Mason was born on March 19, 2011- completely healthy according to doctors. When he was 4 years old, he was admitted to the hospital for the first time. He had gotten sick out of nowhere — started vomiting and could not get out bed on his own. In the hospital, all the tests they ran were negative, so after a few nights we were sent home with no answers. They said it was just a virus.

Everything went back to normal for close to a year when the same thing happened, but this time with a fever. Mason started vomiting and became weak and dehydrated and refused to get out of bed. He was admitted to the hospital for a few days and again all the tests came back negative and we were sent home being told it was just a virus. Three to six months later, it happened again and then again in December, 2017. It was the forth time he was admitted to the hospital with similar symptoms. Luckily, that time an endocrinologist was asked to come see him. The doctor reviewed Mason’s charts and immediately ordered an adrenal test. Mason was diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency and put on hydrocortisone. Before we left the hospital, the endocrinologist mentioned the word “Adrenoluekodystrophy” (ALD), but didn’t give us many details. All he said was that Mason was not showing any signs of the disease (other than the adrenal insufficiency), but to be safe, he ordered an MRI to rule it out.

The MRI was scheduled for January 25, 2018. After Mason had his MRI, I started Googling ALD, and convinced myself he did not have it because we had no family history of the diseases and he was not showing any symptoms. His appointment with the neurologist to review his MRI was on February 19, 2018 and I was calm leading up the meeting. February 19th arrived, and we got the news I thought for sure we would never hear — Mason had ALD.

I broke down and was terrified that Mason would start showing signs of the disease quickly. Our neurologist called Dr. Lund at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital (Dr Lund is a leader in ALD treatment). Within a couple of weeks we were heading to Minnesota for our consultation for a bone marrow transplant (BMT). We were there for a week and found out Mason’s LOES Score (a determination used to rate the severity of the progression of the disease – it ranges from 0-34) was between a 3 and 4 and he was a good candidate for a BMT.

Instead of starting the process right away, they sent us home to wait for insurance to approve the treatment. That was the longest and most stressful month of our lives. Waiting on our Michigan Medicaid to approve an out-of-state BMT that was considered a “trial or experiment” (BMT, if successful, stops the progression of the disease, but is not considered a cure). For a month, a day did not go by without me crying on the phone with the insurance company or the doctors in Minnesota.

 

At the beginning of April, we finally received approval from insurance and were told that our doctors found and 8 out of 8 cord blood match. Mason had his transplant on April 26, 2018 and it went better than doctors expected. We were discharged from the hospital only 12 days post transplant.

I know Mason’s story is a miracle and I have not heard many other ALD stories as positive as ours. We are very blessed to have had the transplant in time and that Mason continues to be symptom free (with the exception of adrenal insufficiency). Michigan does not do the ALD newborn screening yet, but will soon hopefully.

-Erica

*******

Reading Mason’s story gave me chills. My hope is that stories like his will be the new face of our disease. An early diagnose, treatment, followed by a healthy life.

I’m by no means saying that ALD will ever be an easy diagnosis. Even with the “luck” of having that endocrinologist being wise enough to test for adrenal insufficiency and then following up with the MRI which properly diagnosed Mason, his family faced a lot of challenges. Fighting with insurance companies, financial responsibilities connected to treatment/travel/etc, the pain/discomfort/agony of a transplant — all these things will never make ALD an easy diagnosis. Still, the future looks bright(er).

And, Mason’s smile is super bright!

Thank you Erica for sharing Mason’s ALD story.

Love, Jess

hApPy NeW yEaR!!!!!

images-5

I find the whole New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day thing ridiculous. Why on earth do we put so much pressure on one night to be awesomely fabulous and one day to represent “new beginnings” that are going to change our lives forever? Has anyone ever really had the best night of their lives on December 31st OR ever made a change on January 1st that lasted more than a month (or week, or day)?

This year I promised myself to give up New Year’s pressure – telling myself that it’s just another date on the calendar. Unfortunately, that promise lasted less time then any New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever made. Starting weeks ago, people start asking about our plans for the evening. And, suddenly every email I received was either from a local gym or Weight Watchers asking if I was ready to make another attempt to lose that 10 pounds.

I could have let it all wash passed me, but I couldn’t help myself. I signed up for a 10 class package at Baker Street Yoga, rejoined Weight Watchers (now called WW), started Googling “Dry January”, and found myself saying to anyone who asked about our New Year’s Eve plans, “We don’t really have any plans. You guys should come over.”

I’m sitting with JackO as I write this, telling him about how his crazy mom is wondering who exactly is coming over later AND how many WW points are in a Moscow Mule. He’s laughing at me. Jack doesn’t worry about dates on the calendar. He’s just happy he is going to have some visitors later today and hoping that they bring him treats full of tons of WW points.

I’m adding to my New Year’s Resolutions – I wanna live my life more like Jack.

Wishing everyone a Happy LIVE LIKE JACK New Year!

Love, Jess

PS If you live locally – please feel free to stop by. Apparently we’re having a party;)

… and to all a good night

IMG_4339

Anyone else exhausted? Our Christmas was filled with endless food, drink, gifts, games and people we love. We had a great holiday, but I’m ready for bed.

Happy Holidays to all of our Duct Tape! We are grateful for each and every one of you!!!

Love, Jess, Dan, Jack, Anna, Keegan and Finn

IMG_4342

Christmas, Facebook and (I’m guessing) a whole lot of friend requests

IMG_4293

Jack’s incredible one-on-one at school, Monica (also knowns as Jack’s School Mom), sent me a note this week — an informal Christmas list from Jack. I was eager to see what he’d come up with. Our silent boy can be hard to shop for. Top of the list was that he wanted his own Facebook account. I can’t believe I’d never thought of that myself. My 20-year-old son shouldn’t share a Facebook page with his middle-age mama. So we sat down today and set up his account. I encourage you to friend him and see what he comes up with. I will help him, but promise that it will be all Jack — all the time. For a quiet kid, he has a lot to share!

Merry Christmas JackO!

Love, Mom

IMG_4294

One more (wo)man down.

When Jack was in the hospital for his transplant 11+ years ago, there wasn’t much consistency to our days. We would wake up every morning with no idea what the day would bring. Waiting for blood counts, blood transfusions, good news and bad news would trade places several times a day. There was only one thing we could count on — at some point during the day, we would see Mymom.

She would ride her fold-up bike to Washington Heights from her Upper East Side apartment, climb off the bike, flash her visitor’s badge at the front desk of the hospital and head for the elevators. By the time she would reach room 505 there would be no hint that she had just ridden her bike up the gritty city streets in the summer heat.         

Mymom is a woman who you will never see with a hair out of place. Whether she’s sporting her Upper East Side style or Santa Fe hippie chick, she pulls it off. She’s a beauty. Always has been, but the word elegant is a better description of who she is. I look a little like her, but I will never hold myself the way she does. She also happens to be brilliant – a Phd holding, Red Cross working, dynamo with boundless energy. My mother doesn’t ever do anything half-way – even those hospital visits 11+ years ago.

I’m not sure I ever really thanked Mymom for her daily visits while Jack was in the hospital, but this week I got a chance to start to repay the favor. Mymom got a shoulder replacement week. You read that right — it’s the month of shoulders in our family — first Dan, then our Aunt Kathy and now Mymom.

IMG_0381-1

After a couple of years of fighting her shoulder, Mymom finally gave in and scheduled the surgery. Her biggest worries were that she would need to cancel her Christmas Eve party and what clothes she’d be able to wear. My biggest worries were about Mymom slowing down enough to let her body heal and if I could talk her into binge watching Bravo so we could discuss Dirty John (it’s so gooooooood). I also worried about how I could help as much as she helped us all those years ago.

There really wasn’t much I could do, but be there this week. I went back and forth, providing a little distraction and I wasn’t the only person eager to hang with Mymom. Of corse Nonno has been at her side every step of the way and both of my brothers, my beautiful niece and our cousin spent time in her room sharing gossip and telling stories. It ended up being an unexpected family reunion.

As I left the hospital yesterday, Mymom commented that it’s been such fun having the family together. I looked at her in her hospital bed wearing nothing but a hospital gown and a hint of lipstick left from her attempt to “clean up before her visitors arrived”. I thought, wow — the power of family.

I’m hoping that the next time we all get together Mymom is able to enjoy it while wearing her ultra chic clothes and not a sling.

Love, Jess

Mymom is heading home today and Anna and I are going for a visit tomorrow and meeting up with Kate and Baby Carlos – THAT will make everyone feel great!

THIS is ALD #22 — Alexis, Gerald and Jacob

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a THIS is ALD story, so I reached out to our ALD community. Within a few minutes I heard from several families willing to share their stories. The first is from Kiomara.  

THIS is ALD #22 — Alexis, Gerald and Jacob.

THIS is ALD.jpg

When I was 8-years-old, my 6-year-old brother Alexis suddenly lost his vision. After a long week at the Puerto Rico University Pediatric Hospital, the doctors told my parents that my brother had Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). My parents traveled with my brother to Baltimore, MD where they met with Dr. Hugo Moser and Dr. Raymond (leaders in ALD at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at the time). They were told that it was too late for a BMT (bone marrow transplant), but Alexis started taking Lorenzo’s Oil (a mixture of oils thought to slow the progression of the disease). Alexis stayed with us for 12 years, until he lost his battle when he was 18-years-old.

It was a terrible loss for our family, but my sister and I say that Alexis saved his two nephews’ lives. My 31-year-old sister has a 7-year-old son. His name is Gerald. He was diagnosed with ALD at birth because we knew that we were carriers. I am 33-years-old and I have an 18-month-old son named Jacob. When he was born I requested that he be tested for ALD and two weeks later I was told that Jacob tested positive for ALD.

Now we have a long way to go to prevent this disease from winning. Trusting in God and with our angel, Alexis, we know we will win. My sister left Puerto Rico and now lives in Massachusetts and my nephew is evaluated every 6 months by Dr. Eichler (a leader in ALD at Massachusetts General Hospital). I live in Georgia and travel annually for Jacob to be evaluated by Dr. Eichler. Thanks to my beautiful brother, my son and nephew are being monitored and will be treated early if there are any signs of active disease.

I hate this ALD, and don’t want to lose anymore boys in my family to this horrible disease. 

— Kiomara

*******

Learning about Kiomara’s brother Alexis and how he saved his nephew’s lives, made me think about the importance of Newborn Screening. Newborn Screening is a huge topic in the ALD community. ALD is currently on the Newborn Screening Panel in 10 states, will be testing soon in another 5 states and are mobilizing efforts in 12 others. Why is it so important? Because it gives the power back to the family. 

Without an early diagnosis, Alexis was not able to be treated and the disease continued to progress. Because the family knew to look for ALD following Alexis’ passing, Gerald and Jacob had the luxury of an early diagnosis. Their families are working with a top ALD doctor and the boys are being closely monitored. If there is any hint of the disease starting to progress, they are prepared to begin treatment quickly — before significant damage can occur. Looking at the photos of these beautiful boys, I’m grateful that their stories will be different than many with ALD. They are the future of our disease. A future that is far brighter than past generations.

Thank you Kiomara for sharing your family’s story.

Love, Jess

(another) man down

Generally, I’m a really good caregiver. I’m not patting myself on the back – I’m the first to admit that I’m not great at a whole lot of things, but if you ever need someone to hang with you while you’re waiting in doctor’s offices or recovering from surgery or binge watching mindless television with your feet up, I’m your gal. 

I don’t mind dressing changes, I’m good with organizing medication and I know my way around the kitchen. I’m also not scared of those awkward, messy situations that can come up. I’ve had piles of experience with such things.

 That said, I’m a little tired right now and likely not winning any awards for Caregiver of the Year.

Dan had shoulder surgery last week. Poor guy has tried everything from physical therapy to chiropractors to some guy who I’ve only heard called The Witch Doctor who filled Dan’s arm full of electrical stimulation. Nothing worked, so Dan finally gave in and scheduled surgery.

Nothing huge, but I was a little nervous about what to expect. It was Dan’s first surgery – ever (impressive for a person 51 years old) and I wasn’t sure how he’d be as a patient and how PATIENT I would be with a new patient to care for. Dan, always wanting to limit my stress, often down-plays things. Leading up to the surgery, he’d refer to the recovery as “a day or two”. Even as we drove to the appointment last Thursday, he was sharing that he would be starting PT within a few days was looking forward to a party we were invited to on Saturday night.

I suspected that Dan was being a little overly optimistic, and when I walked into the recovery room my suspicions were confirmed. My strong, handsome husband looked like he’d been in a fight. When I set him up on the couch when we got home I started to really appreciate that he wouldn’t be able to do much for a while.

You never really appreciate how much someone does, until they can’t.

IMG_4213

Caring for Jack requires a lot, but after 11+ years, days go by without much thought about the details. I’m the primary caregiver during the week, but nights and weekends Dan and I split the responsibilities. Without any planning, we take turns brushing and bathing and feeding our boy. Not that there is never confusion over whether or not Jack got his afternoon meds and you might hear us bribing each other to take a turn feeding Jack when we’re out at a restaurant – but mostly things run pretty smoothly.

I’m used to taking 100 percent of the responsibilities when Dan is traveling, but this has been the first time that Dan is here and not able to help. He’s down an arm and caring for Jack requires two. So does cooking, walking the dogs, doing the dishes and the laundry, and driving. He’s making a great recovery, but I don’t think Jack duty (or Jack doody) is in Dan’s future any time soon. Jack is strong and I’m not sure he can appreciate how careful he needs to be with his Dad. For now, I’m in charge of all meals, bedtimes, showers, medications, errands, and poop.

It’s no ones fault and it isn’t the end of the world, but last night as I was falling asleep, I wondered if there was any way that I could plan a little surgery for myself sometime soon.

Love, Jess

Dan skipped that party on Saturday night. I went with friends and did my best to be festive enough to represented us both. Boy did I miss having Dan take the morning shift yesterday;)

I say I am doing things solo, but I do have some help. Thank you Lilly and Maria for everything you do for us!!!!!!