what a WeEkEnD!!!!

I had trouble falling asleep Sunday night. Ever had a big day that you just didn’t want to end? We had a whole weekend of fun and my mind was spinning with entertaining memories and picturing the giant smile on Jack’s face. This weekend was The Camp at Home — ALD Family Weekend thanks to The Painter Turtle, the wonderful Adler family, Dr. Van Haren and all the other ALD heroes/folks that made it happen. Watching the computer screen all weekend and getting to see some of our favorite ALD families was great, but for me it was seeing all the new families that really got to me.

I was told almost half of the people were families new to ALD. Most of them have been recently diagnosed through newborn screening (thanks to the incredible work of the Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation/ALD Alliance). These are perhaps the luckiest, unlucky folks around. Thanks to newborn screening their children have been diagnosed early with Adrenoleukodystrophy They have time to educate themselves, set up a team of doctors who understand the disease, and monitor their sons so that when – and IF – the disease starts to progress, they can start treatment quickly. 

Lucky.

Unfortunately, this knowledge often comes out of nowhere. Imagine having a new baby and receiving a call a few weeks later saying that there was something that came up on their newborn screening panel. Imagine then doing more tests to confirm that your beautiful healthy son has a disease you can’t pronounce. Imagine sitting down at your computer and Googling a disease where much of the information floating around the internet is frightening and out of date.

Unlucky . . . But back to lucky.

My hope is that not long after getting the terrible news, these families stumbled on a Facebook page or found websites like https://aldconnect.orghttps://www.aldalliance.orghttps://www.bluebirdbio.com. They then met a few other families who were maybe several months are years ahead of them in their journey. They started learning that there are incredible doctors working with ALD and that with an early diagnosis, there are treatments and trials and hope. Then they heard about this incredible weekend where the entire community was invited to attend, free of charge, to meet more people, to hear from doctors about current trials and research, to hear from other families, to cook and to make art and to dance. Billie Eilish and Neil Young even gave the ALD community a shout out during the Saturday night “camp at home fire pit”.  

I hope these new ALD families feel a little better about this “club” they were just forced to join.

I was asked to speak on a panel on Sunday that included several people who I’ve known and admired for years and one man who I have added to my list of ALD heroes. When discussing the plans for the panel, we were told that we should share our stories keeping in mind that many in the audience would be new families. My first thought was, it’s hard to make Jack’s story seem easy and light. Then I thought – I’m talking about Jack. Nobody is lighter than Jack! I started sharing our story with why Jack wasn’t sitting next to me.  He was out for a quick lunch with his friend Monica and her beautiful/brilliant daughter, “If you think for a second that a life full of complicated challenges is sad and limited, think again. There is nothing sad or limited about Jack’s life.”

ALD = crappy disease/amazing people!

Love, Jess

ALD Camp at Home Family Weekend with the Painted Turtle

Calling all ALD families!!! PLEASE register today for this year’s CAMP AT HOME ALD FAMILY WEEKEND (March 19-21). A weekend full of great activities for kids, interesting information for adults, and groovy music and dancing family fun!!!

The Adler family is incredible. Their beautiful son was diagnosed with ALD through CA’s newborn screening program in 2017 and without pause they dove into, not just helping their son, but helping the entire ALD community. They started The Lucas Project which has raised over $130,000 for ALD research and has raised international awareness for the disease. And, along with Dr. VanHaren and The Painter Turtle, the Adler family has organized this incredible annual event.

If you would like to learn more about ALD, or how to help our community, or connect with other people, or make lovely artwork, or just dance and sing — THIS is your weekend!!

We look forward to seeing you all there!!!

Love, Jess

2 shots (8 total) and 1 shoulder

It’s hard now to find the time to sit down and write something that’s not about a specific therapy or therapeutic practice, but I wanted to sneak away form my studies and fill everyone in on some BIG news — The Torreys of MAPSO are now fully vaccinated!!!!

You may have heard that the second dose of either COVID-19 vaccine often results in a crappy day – fever, joint pain, chills and other “crappy” stuff. Both Dan and I each had a day feeling the effects and were worried about how Jack would do. We spoke with his doctors and decided the minimal risk of a reaction was outweighed but the HUGE reward of protecting him from the virus. We did stress dose him with his steroids for a day following the second dose and kept him super hydrated. Then we watched him like new parents watching their newborn breathe. The only one who had any side effects from Jack’s second dose was me, because I was waking up constantly to check on him. Jack got through it like a champ!

We are so relieved to be on the other side of the vaccine. We are not planning any big trips just yet, but looking forward to not freaking out about every trip to the grocery store. AND, we are excited to be part of history and part of the solution to reaching the end of this crazy pandemic.

In other medical news – Dan had a shoulder replacement today. It’s been a long time coming and he is eager to see how this new one works. Not sure he will be pitching for the Yankees any time soon, but he is excited to be able to raise his arm over his head.

Back to my school work for now. Look out for another post soon about the next Camp-at-Home ALD Family Weekend at the Painted Turtle!

Love, Jess

Day +5000 (a post from Dan/Dad)

Day 5000


Lately I’ve been distracted.  Distracted by the lousy weather outside the window.  The cold.  The grey sky.  The snow piling up… Distracted by the inane MTG politico drama playing out on TV every day and night…  Distracted by work stuff ( I just started a new job this week).  Work can sometimes be a positive and useful distraction – especially when living through the first 12 months of a pandemic (Yes, we are now in our 12th month…).  But at the end of the day, it is still a DISTRACTION.   


Sometimes the only part of the day when things come into focus, when my mind clears, when I shed all the distractions is when I get a giant hug from Jack.  It’s the best part of my day – every day. 

 
Even if you haven’t spent a lot of time with Jack, you know that he is non-verbal.  But you probably can’t fully understand how he communicates most directly and most effectively.  It’s when he gives you a hug.  He is extremely strong.  He will literally squeeze the breath right out of your chest.  It’s the best feeling in the world.  It’s when I regain all perspective — as I squeeze back! 


Today is Day 5000 in the Torrey house.  It’s been 5000 days since Jack received his stem-cell transplant in May 2007.  Since the doctors at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital saved my son’s life.  5000 days of a wonderful life.  5000 days of smiles and belly laughs and hugs and dancing to 70’s tunes.  5000 days of watching him and his baby sister grow up to be adults.  5000 days of “our normal life” with Jack.  


Think about what has happened in your life over the last 5000 days.  It’s hard to grasp all the changes, the good and the bad, the ups and downs,  the mundane and the thrilling, Hell, some days I can barely remember life before COVID.  But Jack and his hugs help me remember what is really important in life.  Not the distractions.  That’s nothing but a lot of noise.


Thank you Jack for being in my life. 


Love,
Dad 

MCATS, NYU, Old School Vinyl and Duct Tape

hApPy NeW yEaR!!!! Less than a week into 2021, and our family is starting out strong. Anna completed her junior year at Johns Hopkins a semester early, so she’s taking next semester off to study for the MCATS. Not really … Continue reading

Thanks JackO

This morning I was sitting in my office feeling overwhelmed as I poured through my syllabi for the winter term. I was busy second-guessing my decision to return to school at my age and wondering how on earth I was going to manage, when I heard Maria (Jack’s caregiver), “JackO – why are you crying?”

I race downstairs to find our boy in front of Maria’s phone, watching a video with big tears rolling down his face.

Shakira singing John Lennon’s Imagine.

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope some day you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

Don’t ever confuse Jack’s silence with not understanding. He recognizes powerful words when he hears them and sometimes his emotions take over. Perhaps his silence allows him to listen even closer than many of us. I’m always amazed by the beauty of these moments. Maria offered to turn off the song, but I insisted that we continue. Tears aren’t always such a bad thing — beside I needed a little perspective this morning.

Love you JackO. And, John Lennon and Shakira too;)

Love, Jess

Holidays + COVID = 0

Not sure how I can feel so exhausted when I do so little. Each morning I write a list of what I hope to accomplish. Some days go by where I don’t complete anything, so I return to the list and add things like — shower, walk the dogs, feed Jack — just so I can cross a couple of things off the list. With the holidays around the corner, my daily list gets longer and less seems to be getting done. Today, instead of Christmas shopping for the family, I ordered some bras and an eyebrow kit (not even sure what that is).

Love, Jess

our relationship in 100 words

As the music plays, I lay my head on his shoulder and feel his breath on my face. I wrap my arm around him so I can stroke his hair and wonder when he’ll lose the rest. He doesn’t seem to know that he’s aged, but the years have come and gone and he’s showing signs of a complicated life. He loves this song. I can tell by the way his body is rocking. He’s not been able to speak for many years, but I’m able to translate. Our connection is deeper than the scars his disease has left behind.

Legalize It

In case you haven’t heard — there’s an election next week. There are very clear choices on one side of NJ’s ballot, but I want to remind Jersey voters not to forget to turn over your ballot.

Question 1 would add an amendment to the state constitution that legalizes the recreational use of marijuana, for persons age 21 and older, and legalizes the cultivation, processing, and sale of retail marijuana.

In a time when our state is in need of help, the tax benefits alone would drive me to support this amendment, but selfishly the legalization of recreational marijuana would make my life, Jack’s life, and the life of many, so much easier.

I’m a pot mama.

Of corse I’ve never used pot myself (it’s illegal 😏), but Jack has had a NJ medical marijuana card since 2016. We needed to fight the state, but were able to qualify because Jack was suffering from debilitating spasms that were effecting his ability to walk. Marijuana not only helped with the spasms, but has improved his overall quality of life. He eats better, sleeps better and although his mood has never been a problem, he’s even more JackO.

We have friends and family who credit marijuana with helping with nausea caused by cancer treatments, appetite, anxiety, sleep, depression and a host of other ailments. All without any complaints of bad side-effects other than it can be a pain to purchase and there’s still a lingering stigma attached to marijuana.

I don’t worry too much about people judging us for giving our son marijuana. There have been too many improvements in Jack’s life thanks to our adding marijuana to his list of medications, that we feel completely justified in our decision. What I do complain about is that medical marijuana in NJ is a labor of love — labor being the first word.

Every few weeks I contact Jack’s doctor to make sure our file is up to date, make an appointment and head out to one of the 3 dispensaries in our area (none is our community). I purchase an ounce of marijuana and then go home and start baking. It takes hours. I decarbonate the flower, clarify the butter, use a fancy machine to infuse the butter with marijuana and then bake cookies. I try to make each cookie with approximately 7 milligrams of THC – that seems to be the dose that helps Jack the best. Some caregivers would be forced to sample the cookies to gage the strength (of corse I won’t do that — it’s illegal😏). Jack has a cookie two or three times a day until we run out and then I make another run to the dispensary and spend another day baking.

Legalizing recreational marijuana would make access to marijuana easier and limit the need for Jack’s doctors to be involved. No more cards and physician’s certificates. It also means we could purchase eatables with a specific strength so that this mom doesn’t need to sample cookies to gage strength (NOT that I would do that — it’s illegal😏). And, legalizing marijuana would help limit the negative stigma attached to a medication that has improved Jack’s life exponentially.

So, if you live in NJ and haven’t voted yet, please make sure you turn over your ballot, think about Jack and his sweet smile, and do the right thing. Then turn your ballot over again and make sure you voted for Biden/Harris!!!

Love, Jess

other mothers, a taxi driver, and a plan

I’ve spoken about Jack’s “other mothers” in the past. A small group of women who Jack adores and who we trust with our most prized and fragile gift — JackO. Each of these women have become family and each has helped me every bit as much as they’ve helped Jack.

Last weekend when Monica arrived to hang with Jack for a few hours, she noticed right away that I was not myself. I shared that I was feeling a little off and she pondered if there was something in the air lately. She too had been feeling a little blue and told me that she’d been spending time listening to wellness speakers and reading inspirational books. 

She shared something she’d heard and found motivating.

When you get in a taxi, you need to tell the driver where you’re going. If you don’t, they might be willing to drive you around, but it’s unlikely to get you to where you want to go. Even if it does eventually get you there, it’s not a direct route and can be expensive. “Words are powerful, Jess. Find the words for where you want to go.”

Wow!

As soon as she shared that story, Monica started putting on Jack’s shoes and left me there thinking as she took Jack to Wendy’s to pick up some bacon-double-cheeseburgers. She had no idea that she had given me the last kick I needed to make a big change.

I sat down on the living-room couch and asked myself to figure out the words for where I wanted to be in five years. The words were right in front of me. I then called my mother and told her what I was thinking — I told her my words (I know I’m 50, but she will always be my goto person when I’m struggling). She said, “I think that it’s a dandy idea. Move forward Tates. Don’t let anything stand in your way.”  I spoke to Dan who told me he was proud of me and supported me 100%. By the time Monica and Jack returned to the house with their greasy fingers and full bellies, I was on the computer researching master’s programs. By next week, my applications to get a MA in Counseling will be complete and I’m hoping to start in January.

Truthfully, I’m not usually a person who believes in everything happening for a reason and that the world makes much sense. I’m more practical and believe that life is usually a mess and it’s our responsibility to make the most of it. Either way, Monica’s words hit me in an unexpected way and I am grateful. I’m ready for my next chapter now and I am relieved to finally have a plan. I’m aware that I haven’t actually been excepted into any program, but my words are out there so what could go wrong?😏

I’m fifty. I’m a wife and a mother and a friend. I’m a writer and a photographer and teacher. I’m also a special needs mother who’s passionate about working with other parents who are struggling to find their way. And, here’s what I’ve discovered folks — I’m also a taxi driver. Thank you Monica!!!!!

Love, Jess

I searched the internet trying to find the source of the taxi story. I couldn’t, but I did find this one.

“Life is like a taxi. The meter just keeps a-ticking whether you are getting somewhere or just standing still. — ” Lou Erickso

And of corse, I’ve always loved this one.

“I may be going to hell in a bucket, babe. But at least I’m enjoying the ride, at least I’ll enjoy the ride.” — The Grateful Dead

One more thing — Peter is included as one of Jack’s other mothers.