My Sister (daughter/bestie)

 

I didn’t have a sister, so I made one. It took a bit of help from Dan and loads of support from our friends and extended family, and I think we’ve done a pretty amazing job with the project. She’s just one inch shorter than I am, has the same blonde hair (although hers is a little more natural than mine), and we defiantly share the same sense of humor. She is a great sister to have. She is smart beyond her years and is the kindest person you will ever meet. She is a much younger, smarter, kinder version of me. Anna is my mini-me daughter/sister/bestie.

Thanks to my daughter/sister/bestie being thirty years younger than I am, I get to have a window into the life of a teenager in 2017. Trust me – it’s amazing!

This June has been particularly packed with fun and signs that our little girl is not so little anymore. I know I am not alone in being caught off guard by how painfully long parenting goes on AND just how quickly it’s over. How can our girl who was just in pre-school be on her way to starting her last year of high school and filling her life with so many adult things?

Last weekend Anna stayed home alone for a night. She had to stay local while the rest of us went to visit family. We were going to have her stay with friends, but after a lot of back and forth, we caved. She has never done anything to lose our trust and she did not disappointment us last weekend. There were no parties. If you are thinking, “How would Jesse know?” . . . I set up a camera in the center hall — really — I might trust her but I am not a fool AND I’m also a little nuts.

Then, this week Anna went to her second Prom for the season. Our beautiful girl looked stunning in her red dress and wore higher heels than her mama can manage. She shared plenty of fun stories of teenage silliness with her (much) older sister (that’s me). She also came home at 4:03 am (I still have the camera in the center hall). I sure wish I could have half the energy of my daughter/sister/bestie!

The last hurrah for Anna’s Magical June will be her birthday. Anna turns 17 on the 28th. In NJ, 17 means she gets her driver’s license. That chunky little peanut who used to snuggle safely in a car seat just a minute ago is going to be driving a car. It’s a little hard to imagine, but at least now I have a daughter/sister/bestie who can help me with errands and is also a designated driver!

All these significant events are to be celebrated, and I feel so lucky that Anna and I have a relationship that is so close, but as each of these events happens there’s a little stab to my heart. Prom, staying alone, senior year, driving – these are all milestones that Jack will never reach.

It’s hard, but so far I’m holding it together. Thank goodness I’ve mastered the ability to compartmentalize. It’s the only way I can survive. When I look at my daughter/sister/bestie, I try to clear my head of what ALD stole from Jack, and focus on how amazed and thrilled I am for her. So much of Anna’s life has been about Jack. It’s her turn to be the center of attention.

Besides venting a tiny bit here, I am going to do my best to continue to ignore that little stab to my heart. It might not be the healthiest decision, but I really want to avoid missing these celebrations by wasting time with the “If onlys”. Life is way too short and my sister/daughter/bestie needs me!

Love, Jess

 

 

Happy Father’s Day DanO!

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I would like to record what happens in Jack’s bathroom on Sunday mornings. It’s a routine that takes at least 40 minutes and involves laughing, singing and plenty of four-letter-words. Dan does it so that I can have a break from the morning routine, but I usually can’t sleep through the commotion. Instead, I lay in bed and count my blessings.

Dan has always been a hands-on father with both the kids. He once spent an entire night waiting in line to insure Jack got into our favorite pre-school, and coached Anna’s lacrosse team for so long that I sometimes need to apologize to her varsity coaches now for Dan’s sideline behavior. Even with all his business travel, Dan tries to make every home lacrosse game to cheer on Number 22 (Bananz/Anna) and schedules business around IEP meetings and important school events for JackO.

I sometimes wonder what our family would have looked like without ALD taking center stage. Would we have hung together so tightly or would we have gotten distracted by trivial nonsense and focused less on family? I can’t say for sure, but I can say that, no matter the reason, I do appreciate how close our little foursome is.

I get a lot of credit for holding up our house of cards, but the truth is that while I do my share, it’s Dan that really holds it all together. He knows what each of us needs. Heated discussions with Anna about political topics, snuggling on the couch with Jack watching his favorite Impractical Jokers. And, he is the calm voice of reason, balancing out my crazy. When I get stuck under my pile of Social Security/Medicaid/medical bills bullshit, he reminds me of what is important. AND that we are a family that survives, “Just take things day by day.”

This morning we woke up in Connecticut where we were visiting family. Despite a long night of festivities and it being Father’s Day, Dan still managed to continue his Sunday morning ritual – bathing, changing, toiling his eighteen year old son. It takes parenting to a whole new level. There is a fair amount of cursing that goes on in the bathroom on Sunday mornings, but there is also a song for everything. Not sure how you manage to keep coming up with new ones, but keep singing DanO!

Happy Father’s Day!

Love, Jess

I’d also like to mention two other remarkable fathers – Nonno and PopPop. We love you both!!!

Our (kinda) Skilled Companion

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Keegan is a Service Dog. To be exact, he’s a “Skilled Companion” which means that he has been trained to work with people with disabilities (JackO) under the guidance of a facilitator – that’s me. He was trained for two years by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) and is qualified to be in public – wherever a human is allowed.

Today Jack, Keegan and I are going out to Long Island for our Public Access Certification Test. We will be meeting up with a CCI team and several other CCI graduates at a mall where they have us work for an hour to see whether on not we are still qualified (under CCI standards) for public access. I’m a little nervous.

I hope the folks at CCI don’t see this, but I am pretty sure we’ve ruined Keegan. Sure, compared to Finn (our other pup), Keegan is a star, but when I think back to the dog we brought home 7 years ago, I cringe. Keegan knew over 40 commands and did not need any guidance to behave perfectly when in public. Now he’s a very sweet, kinda smartISH pet.

I keep warning our CCI trainers that we may have gotten a little lax over the years, and that perhaps Keegan’s skills might be a little rusty. The team has been sweet, assuring me that they understand that Keegan’s primary role is to be Jack’s buddy. “As long as your team can be handled safely and appropriately in public you should be fine”.

Fingers crossed.

So why am I brining him? Because I am a rule follower AND because I feel that if I DESERVE to be scolded, I should be. A great deal of time, effort and money went into Keegan’s training. If we are falling short on our end of the bargain, I need to do what I can to rectify it. After all, I am the first person to judge people that take advantage of the rather loose definition of a service animal.

I am an animal lover and I know a pet can be a member of the family. I also know that many pets can be well behaved and probably wouldn’t cause much of an issue in public, but the training it takes to insure an animal is silent, respectful and helpful in caring for specific disabilities is huge.

If you buy a vest on-line for your pet so that he/she can accompany you on vacation, you are actually hurting people who can’t be independent without their animal. If your dog/cat/miniature horse/ferret does not behave appropriately in public, people start to complain that all service animals are just “pets with vests”. We don’t want laws to change regarding public access for service animals because so many people gain a huge amount of support and independence because of their four legged friend. I know for Jack, Keegan is primarily a best friend/furry pillow, but some people rely of their service animal for far more than licks and cuddles.

So we are up bright an early to drive out to Long Island. Keegan has been bathed, his nails have been cut and his vest has been cleaned. I’ve been working on “Wait” and “Under” and “Car” for weeks, and we are as ready as we are going to be. I will let you know as soon as soon as we get the thumbs up or thumbs down.

Love, Jess

PS If we do not pass, CCI isn’t going to put me in handcuffs and take Keegan away. They will work with us to regain what we have lost.

For more information about CCI go to http://www.CCI.org

 

UPDATE: We passed with flying colors!!!!!!!

 

Ten Years and Counting . . . Special Thanks to the Little Lady from Detroit

I’ve been trying to find the right words, but I’m at a loss. There are no words to really describe how we feel today. I’ll keep this post short and sweet.

Ten years ago we put our son’s life in the hands of doctors and donors and maybe even a higher power (I know, I know – I have a terrible relationship with God, but I’m working on it). Ten years ago we didn’t know of any boys who were ten years post transplant for ALD. We didn’t know if there was a chance that Jack would reach this milestone.

Jack has reached this day – HIS TENTH TRANSPLANT BIRTHDAY – and I fully expect he will exceed every dream we’ve ever had for him. He’s just that kind of kid. He’s a silent boy who speaks.

We had a party this weekend to celebrate our boy. We filled our yard with greasy food and many of Jacko’s favorite people. Jack spent the day hugging, and dancing and enjoying every second.

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Please take a moment today and think about our boy. Think about how amazing life can be.

Happy Birthday JackO!!!

Love, Jess

In honor of Jack’s TRANSPLANT BIRTHDAY we asked people to make donations to Boxes of Fun and Horizon High School. Over $2800 was raised for his school and have a HUGE pile of toys for the Boxes of Fun. Our duct tape is amazing!

 

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FYI – “The Little Lady from Detroit” was Jack’s donor;)

Paying it Forward

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Yesterday Boxes of Fun received the 2017 Friend of Child Life Award from NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Sanley Children’s Hospital (NYPMSCH).

Ten years ago – almost to the day – our family arrived at NYPMSCH. Jack needed a stem cell transplant for a disease we had just learned existed one month earlier. We would end up living at the hospital for months and Jack would be in isolation most of that time. It was hell. One light in our room that always put a smile on our boy’s face, was a box that lived at the foot of Jack’s bed — The Box of Fun. It was the brainchild of my dear friend Kim. It was filled it with gifts and notes from everyone in our lives. Not just fun stuff, but a true reminder that we were loved.

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Jack’s Box 2007

What many didn’t know then was that Kim had a stem cell transplant ten years earlier AND her colleagues at work had made her a box filled with goodies. Kim was paying in forward!

When Jack’s health stabilized and we adapted to our new life, our family wanted to continue the trend and pay it forward. We started making Boxes of Fun for each of the kids on the transplant floor at NYPMSCH. That was eight years ago.

Last year, Anna took over. She and her dear friend, Jane, created a club at Columbia High School and started raising money to fill the boxes. Let’s just say that they put my efforts to shame. They’ve raised unbelievable amounts of money and awareness AND have even expanded their program to Hackensack Hospital. I am blown away by these kids. Boundless energy in their goal to help others — Anyone who’s worried about today’s youth, needs to hang out with Anna and her pals for an afternoon.

Yesterday’s ceremony was sweet, and the award itself needs to be displayed somewhere special – it’s HUGE, but the best part of the day was hearing stories from the Child Life team of people’s reactions through the years – not just the children who have received the Boxes, but the nurses and doctors who have come to expect that their patients will have a pile of goodies to distract them during their stay.

When we got the news that we’d been nominated for the award we were honored, but the truth is that we make the Boxes as much for us as for the recipients. It’s so important to recognize and appreciate when beautiful things are sent your way AND to remember to pay it forward.

Seven days until we hit Jack’s 10th Transplant Birthday. In honor of his birthday, I encourage all of you to take a moment and pay it forward. Make someone a Box of Fun, donate your time to a soup kitchen or food pantry, visit a neighbor who is going through a hard time OR make a donation to Jack’s school —  CLICK HERE. Just do something. Trust me – it makes the world a little better.

Love, Jess

GOOD > BAD

Enough with the hard stuff – let’s celebrate!

A crazy few weeks around here and most of it has been WONDERFUL.

Last week, Jack and I had the honor of speaking at an event for CPNJ (the parent organization of Horizon High School). 150 employees were celebrating 5, 10, 15, and 20 years of service to CPNJ. We were asked to speak representing CPNJ families and sharing a bit about how their team has helped us. My nerves still cause me to jitter a bit when I speak publicly, but overall I think I’m doing a better job. And, looking out at a room full of so many people who have helped our boy, I felt extremely grateful. I did the majority of the speaking, but when Jack joined me on the stage, he really did steal the show. His smile is electric.

 

Then yesterday, we shared our story in a whole different way. Through Jack’s school, we were approached by a Taiwanese television station that is making a documentary about children with special needs and adaptive equipment. A large crew of people and cameras arrived bright an early to catch our morning routine (I took care of some early morning messiness before they arrived – THAT would have been a little TOO real). The crew followed JackO around throughout his entire day, and by the time they arrived back from school, they all seemed like old friends. It’s amazing the connections our silent boy is able to make. The documentary is following children with disabilities from four different countries, discussing different approaches cultures have towards the special needs community. It’s scheduled to air in Taiwan in the Fall. They promised to send us a copy. I can’t wait to see our boy on the screen (and to see if my need of highlights is distracting;-).

 

It’s not just our boy who has been getting some attention. Anna received a wonderful invitation last week. On Monday, Boxes of Fun is being recognized as a recipient of the Friends of Child Life Award at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. We’ve been making Boxes of Fun for the children on the Bone Marrow Transplant floor at the hospital for eight years. Last year, Anna asked to take over and started a club at her school with her dear friend, Jane, to help raise money and fill the boxes. No surprise, they dove right in and have not only raised enough money to extend the program to Hackensack Hospital, but they have raised awareness for both Boxes of Fun and paying it forward. Kids these days . . .

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Our lives are complicated. Big things like fighting with Social Security and little things like Jack developing a habit of soiling his bed overnight. Some days I feel like we are dealing with more than our share of sh*t, but when I step away and look at the big picture, I am reminded that the good still outweighs the bad by a long shot.

I am beyond proud of both of our children. Each with such different lives. Each extraordinary.

 

Love, Jess

 

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Dear Social Security Administration,

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Dear Social Security Administration,

Stop wasting our fu*king time! I’m begging you. I’m coming close to a breakdown and my family needs me. I appreciate that there are people who wish to take advantage of the “system”, but I assure you — we are not one of them. AND, I realize that there are people who might not clearly qualify to receive Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, Jack more than qualifies.

1.) Are you working? No
2.) Is your condition “severe”? Yes. I find this almost insulting to answer.
3.) Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? Jack has five of these conditions.
4.) Can you do the work you did previously? Never worked.
5.) Can you do any other type of work? Jack cannot bag groceries, shred paper or walk down the street without someone holding his hand. I’ve often thought he would make a great professional hugger, but I’m not sure that it would pay the bills.

Several months after filing for Social Security benefits, Jack qualified and you sent us a shinny “Award Letter” (that’s really what it’s called – nuts) with his first check. The next week, you sent a letter that it was time to review his case to see if he was still disabled under the disability rules for adults.

I know that there is a need to reevaluate a person’s eligibility every so often, but 10 days after receiving the Award Letter seems ridiculous. I assumed it was a mistake, but after waiting on hold with your offices for over 90 minutes, I was told that I did need to return to your offices to go over Jack’s updated information (updated?). Then, you insisted that I bring my son to attend the meeting where I needed to once again describe his limitations in detail – THAT is cruel. Only made more cruel because we were forced to sit in a waiting room for 5 hours before having that uncomfortable conversation.

At the end of the review, the woman behind the glass (now I understand the need for the glass) said that we would hear within a few weeks if Jack still qualifies for his benefits. In her defense, she did preface this by handing me a tissue and saying, “I am sorry that I need to say this . . . ”

I’m so proud of where our family is ten years after ALD crashed into our lives. We are strong and thriving, but it’s days like this that make me want to crawl into a hole and scream.

Jack is profoundly disabled. He is profoundly disable AND will always be profoundly disabled. Jack is profoundly disabled. He is profoundly disable AND will always be profoundly disabled. Jack is profoundly disabled. He is profoundly disable AND will always be profoundly disabled. Jack is profoundly disabled. He is profoundly disable AND will always be profoundly disabled. Jack is profoundly disabled. He is profoundly disable AND will always be profoundly disabled. Jack is profoundly disabled. He is profoundly disable AND will always be profoundly disabled.

Is that better? Should I say it just one more time?

Jack is profoundly disabled. He is profoundly disable AND will always be profoundly disabled.

No Love Here, Jess

P.S. I promise to write again tomorrow and share a bunch of good news and funny stories. We do have a lot to celebrate right now and that should be my focus.

And the Winner is . . .

Smack in the middle of remembering the hell we went through ten years ago, we got a beautiful reminder of where we are now.

THIS is where we are now — We are winning the GOLD!!!!!

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This amazing day was thanks to the Special Olympics and the greatest school on the planet – CPNJ Horizon High School. Their love, support, training and encouragement helped Jack hop his way to the finish-line!!

If this video made you smile (or cry happy tears), please consider making a donation to Jack’s school.

https://cpnj.donorpages.com/WWCHorizonHighSchool2017/JesseTorrey/?t=636288010860612211

Love, Jess (proud mama)

P.S. It’s not really about winning, it’s about being able to play the game. Thanks to the Special Olympics and Horizon High School – Jack was able to play the game!

P.P.S. It is kinda fun to win sometimes;)

Ten years ago . . .

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2007

What were you doing ten years ago?

Ten years ago our family was in limbo. We had just been transferred from our local hospital to Columbia Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s hospital in New York City. Our lives were standing still as we waited for doctors to figure out what was going on in Jack’s brain.

Seven days earlier, we had gone for an MRI so that we could rule out any significant neurological issues. We were told immediately following the “routine MRI” that it did not rule out anything. Instead, the MRI had confirmed that Jack had significant damage to his brain.

That was April 20th, 2007.

It would be ten days before we were ushered into a small conference room and introduced to the word Adrenoleukodystrophy. Those ten days were surreal.

Waiting is brutal. Although we tried to be optimistic, the doctors were not able to mask their concern. We knew that a diagnosis was coming and that it likely would be bad news. Jack was only eight-years-old and Dan and I both needed to play the role of calm parents, but in the stillness of night our fears would crawl out. There was very little sleeping for us during that time. The “unknown” causes the imagination to spin, often landing on the horrifying or the absurd.

We all know what happened. That we did get a terrible diagnosis and then lived through a nightmare before finding our way to a new life full of challenges. As we approach the tenth anniversary of Jack’s diagnosis and stem cell transplant (his other birthday), I can’t help but relive those days. I can’t help but remember where we were ten years ago. Who we were ten years ago. Bear with me as I spend the next month remembering and sharing.

Sharing has helped me survive the last ten years and reliving these memories is actually helping me to appreciate that we didn’t just survive that period, but we have moved incredibly far since that time. Of corse, I have my moments wondering what life would have looked like without Adrenoleukodystrophy crashing in, but mostly TODAY I am feeling grateful.

Jack survived. His life is complicated, but his quality of life is wonderful. He is happy and stable and manages to bring joy wherever he goes. Anna survived. She runs through life like she runs down a lacrosse field – determined and strong. I’m not exactly sure where she is headed, but her life is going to be extraordinary. Dan and I survived. We are not living the lives we imagined, but I can honestly say that we are closer now than we’ve ever been. I know it sounds cheesy, but he’s my best friend.

Our family has also managed to surround ourselves with friends who hold us up when we need it and encourage us to celebrate the good times (wine and dessert flow often). And, our extended family is incredible. We’ve just gotten to share time with both the Torreys and the Cappellos and we are all feeling incredibly blessed.

For a VERY unlucky family, we are really f*cking lucky;)

Ten years ago our family was living in limbo. Waiting for news that would forever change our lives. Today we are in control. Perhaps not able to control what tomorrow will bring, but in control over how we will face today — AND today is a great day!!

Love, Jess

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Today (not really today, but this year)

Special moms CAN get sick

Last week was tough. It involved long needles and lots of waiting.

I went for my annual mammogram. It was followed by a lengthy sonogram and then a unnerving talk with the radiologist. Two days later, I returned to the hospital for a needle biopsy.

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As I was lying on the table having trouble breathing through the pain, Dan sent me a text from the waiting room – You are strong. You are brave. You are fierce. So sweet, but at that moment I felt anything but those things. I was crying even before the doctor started the procedure, wondering how on earth I would deal if I really was sick. A cold is tough for me. Anything that eats up time and saps my energy, takes me away from my responsibilities.

Special moms can’t get sick.

Like most women, I go to my annual mammogram with a tiny bit of worry, but mostly it’s just a nuisance and a pain (literally – no one likes their breasts to be flat as pancakes). Last week’s mammogram results hit me like a brick, reminding me that life can change quickly and nature can be a bitch. She doesn’t care how much you have on your plate. She doesn’t care if you are terrified of needles/pain/blood. She doesn’t care if your family has already spent too much time in hospitals. She doesn’t care if your husband has already lost his mother to the disease or that your friends have already done their share of suffering from illness.

Bad things happen to good people. Life isn’t fair. Not everything happens for a reason. AND special moms CAN get sick.

After several days of feeling sorry for myself and trying to picture myself bald (not a pleasant image), I got the call that my biopsy was negative. No cancer. I do need a MRI that I still don’t really understand, but my doctor isn’t concerned. My boobs (and hair) are here to stay.

We are all breathing a sigh of relief, but it has gotten me thinking about my health. I don’t take perfect care of myself. Sure — I do my share of 10,000 step days and eat plenty of green things, BUT I drink more than I should, I eat meat and dairy and gluten (I love gluten). I pay monthly for a gym I never go into and I’ve never even signed up for a 5/10/20 K run.

I have always tried to balance healthy choices with fun. Figuring that life is short and complicated and should be enjoyed when possible. I always find any excuse for the extra glass of wine or slice of cake. Last week scared me. I’m starting to think that as I approach the big 5-0, I need to focus more on the long road and being there for my family.

Special moms can get sick and nature can be a bitch — I really don’t want to add to the odds.

Love, Jess – (written while enjoying some green tea and kale)

P.S. To all of my friends and family that have fought breast cancer. YOU are my heroes! That one little biopsy nearly sent me over the edge (honestly, I nearly passed out when I saw the length of the needle).