Where was I?

Just coming down from a magical weekend full of time with Mymom and Anna, hanging with old friends, meeting superheroes, and listening to informative, brilliant, inspiring information. Where was I?

ALD Connect’s Annual Meeting and Patient Learning Academy!

When I was asked to speak at the conference, I was honored but intimidated. Being among so many people who are changing the direction of our disease, I wondered what I could contribute. “The Burdens of Caregiving” was the topic. After some discussion we added “and Joys”. THANK GOODNESS – I couldn’t imagine spending 30 minutes listing burdens!!

I included two other ALD stories – other phenotypes of our disease — so that I could share a broader picture of what caring for a loved one with ALD looks like. Thank you Miranda and Laurie for your honesty and perspective (two of my ALD superheroes). I ended the presentation with a little story that I thought I would share here.

Three weeks ago, I fell. Just out walking my dogs, enjoying the fall weather. I can’t tell you exactly what happened – or if my own ALD had something to do with it — but suddenly my feet got confused and I hit the ground, hard. I broke a rib and without any notice I wasn’t able to do any of the caregiving that has defined my life for the last 15 years.

Anna came up from Baltimore to help out. She had to get Jack up and ready foschool which can be a bit of challenge. One morning I heard her get Jack out of bed and then I heard a few comments about a mess. I watched from the couch as she walked to the laundry room with a big pile of laundry. A few minutes later, she walked through again holding a bag that I could only assume was a very soiled diaper.

I am so sorry you need to deal with that Bananz”

No worries mom – Sometimes you’ve just gotta wash your hands and move on”

And that is just what she did. A minute later I heard her singing along with 70s on 7 while dancing with her brother in the bathroom.

I think it’s important for us caregivers to remember that there will be a lot of messes to clean up – a whole lot of burdens – but if we can learn how to wash our hands and move on, we have a chance of appreciating some of the joys of caregiving.

Thank you, Anna, for your words AND your attitude!!!

Love, Jess

tHaNkS Team Torrey!!!

How many people does it take to care for our boy?

A lot.

Day 14 with a broken rib. Although I’m healing, I’m still not able to do much for Jack these days. Showering, changing, toileting, medicating, feeding – none of these things are particularly difficult, but there’s the Jack factor. Jack moves and grabs and hugs – it’s the hugs that scare me most – they’re magical, but I worry they could be dangerous!! 

So, I haven’t been doing much other than watching bad tv, studying for the National Counselors Exam, and counting my blessings that Jack has an amazing team of people who have stepped up to help out.

Dan has taken on the brunt of the responsibilities, but he has a job. Anna is home now for a few days – yahoo (she had offered to come home sooner, but she had a cold – if you’ve ever broken a rib, you will understand that a cold is terrifying). Luckily, Jack also has an arsenal of other mothers, and they’ve been amazing! Maria, Monica, and Lilly have all been keeping Jack entertained, fed and clean. And, we have a new addition – Natalie. We’ve known Nat since she was a tiny thing. She’s one of Anna’s best friends and she’s now a nurse. She offered to bring her skills and hang with our boy as needed. Lucky Jack – lucky us!

So, I continue to sit, watch bad tv, study for the National Counselors Exam, and count my blessings.

Thanks everyone for being me! I look forward to being able to care for our boy again (and enjoy one of Jack’s magical/dangerous hugs), but it sure is nice to know that Jack has a team who is ready, willing and able to help!!!

Love, Jess

a walk, a fall, and a kick in the ass

The dogs and I have been enjoying a new daily walk for a couple of weeks. Half the walk is through our neighborhood and then we slip into the woods for a while. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s great for the dogs to get a change of scene full of new smells and it’s good for me. My feet sometimes get a little lost. The only way I can explain it is that I don’t really feel them. They do what they need to do most of the time, but sometimes they need a little attention. Steps, curbs, crowds, rocks – they can all be challenges. I’ve learned that if I focus on them and where they are headed, I’m fine. A mile in the woods is good for me, my soul, my brain, and my feet.

Yesterday the dogs and I had a lovely walk (for a while). The crisp air and autumn leaves were beautiful. We walked out of the woods and turned the corner to head back into our neighborhood when suddenly it was like I was lifted into the air. I knew I was falling but couldn’t really figure out how to safely land – my feet seemed tangled. I hit the asphalt on my right shoulder and face.

Adrenaline helped me get off the ground and treats helped me lure the dogs to come back to me. I tasted blood and worried I may have broken a tooth and was relieved that they were all intact. Then I checked to make sure my legs were okay. Except for scrapped knees, they were fine. I found my phone in the leaves, dialed Dan’s number and started crying. Poor guy was in CA heading to the airport to come home. It took him a few minutes to understand what had happened and assured me that he would stay on the phone with me. I started walking, anxious to get home. A few steps in, my chest felt tight. By the time I got to our front door I was a basket case. Dan and I agreed that I needed to get to the ER.

I called my mother next. Her years at the Red Cross makes her as close to a doctor as our family has until Anna gets her degree. She agreed that I needed to get to the ER to see if I had broken a rib or two. I then called my friend Jen who dropped what she was doing and within minutes pulled into the driveway to take me to Urgent Care.

Apparently, there is not much to do for a broken rib – ibuprofen, acetaminophen and use of a breathing thingy (incentive spirometer) every hour. Oh, and “avoid recurrent injury to the affected area”. The doctor was friendly enough but didn’t seem to appreciate what it looks like to be Jack’s primary caregiver OR take much interest in why I fell.

I did managed to get some sleep last night and am now trying to figure out how to get through the next few weeks as this rib is healing. I have a dog walker coming every day, Jack’s other mothers are chipping in, and Dan has already gotten Jack up and out to school, made the beds and started the laundry. I hate this sudden need to cancel life for a few weeks but figure I will spend this time studying for the National Counselors Exam, preparing for the ALD Connect Annual Meeting and Learning Academy (I’m speaking this year and a little nervous), and working on some workshop ideas I have been thinking about. I’m also going to start making some appointments for me to see doctors who understand ALD. My balance, my bladder, my ghost feet – these are all likely results of ALD. This fall has not just broken a rib but it has kicked me in the ass — It’s time for me to make my health a priority so that I can continue to care for others.

Love, Jess

look what we just got!!!

We’ve lived in SOMA (South Orange/Maplewood) for 25 years. We’ve owned three homes here, had two kids here, and raised 4 dogs here (some more successfully than others). We’ve celebrated many happy moments here and experienced our hardest days here. SOMA will always be our home.

There are many reasons to love our towns — the easy access to NYC, our charming villages filled with cute stores and excellent restaurants, schools that managed to educate our two very different children, South Mountain Reservation, and the people. The people of SOMA are what really make our community a treasure. 

We’re honored to be the cover family in this month’s SOMA Living Magazine. Thank you, Michael Goldberg, Karen Driggs, and Jamie Meier (www.livelovelens.shootproof.com), for putting this all together and sharing our family’s story. We wish Anna could have made it to the shoot, but we did FaceTime her. I wonder if this should be our holiday card this year🤪😂🥰

Love, Jess

If you live in SOMA, you should be receiving your copy of SOMA Living Magazine soon. If you live out of town, you can catch a glimpse here — http://somalivingmagazine.com/

where did the tears come from?

Every month I speak to medical students from Rutgers University. It’s a small group of third year students who are in their pediatric rotation. I’m a “patient representative” who is there to share our family’s story and the good and bad of what we’ve experienced with doctors. I look forward to these Zoom sessions and am always impressed with the students and appreciate being able to sneak in as much as I can about ALD — the often missed signs of ALD and the importance of newborn screening.

After we go around doing introductions, I share the video that bluebird bio made about our family. It’s a great way for the students to learn a bit about our journey and “meet the family”. While the video plays, I usually take the opportunity to slip away from my desk to make a cup of tea or check in with Dan and Jack. Last night I sat and watched the video with the students.

I found myself in tears.

I did regain my composure by the time the video was over and got through the next hour and a half managing to hold it together as I shared stories of working with many exceptional doctors and some who were lacking empathy and/or the ability to recognize when they may need more education about our not as rare as you might think disease. I always try to be approachable and relaxed, using humor to make everyone as comfortable as possible as I share stories about witnessing our son unravel, searching for answers, receiving a life-threatening diagnosis, watching as our once typical, healthy son fight for his life, and learning to adapt to a life that none of us ever imagined. I’ve done this enough that I can let the words just flow. I did a fine job, but I couldn’t help feeling distracted.

After the session, I got up and went directly into Jack’s room, knowing that time with the boy would brighten my mood. We sat and watched The Impractical Jokers and laughed until it was time for us to get ready for bed. I did feel much better after spending time with him.  Jack is doing great. He loves his adult program and time with his other mothers AND can comfortably live at home. His health continues to be stable and, except for an occasional tear shed while watching those ASPCA ads, he always has a bright smile on his face. 

Although I felt better, as I tried to fall asleep last night, I kept thinking about my reaction to watching the video. My only explanation for yesterday’s tears is that it’s been a while since I let myself really focus on what we went through 15 years ago. Sure – I share it, but I remove myself as much as I can from the story. I fill in as many of the dark spots with humor and light. It’s how I survive.

If I were my own therapist, I would ask myself how this strategy is working, and I think my answer would be that it’s working pretty well — I don’t want to live in the dark. I want to live in the light. I want to enjoy all the good our family has experienced and not waste time with the what ifs. BUT maybe sometimes I should consider allowing myself some time to be frustrated or mad or sad. I’m not sure how or when, but I will sure try to avoid doing it in front of a screen full of students.

Love, Jess

SOMA

What will be add to our wall?

Lately, every time we travel Dan and I have the “could we live here?” conversation. Is there enough hiking for Dan? Are there enough resources for Jack? How close would we be to an airport? Would we be close enough to Anna? Could I find clients?

It’s not that we do not like SOMA – that’s South Orange/Maplewood for you out of towneres – we LOVE this community. It’s just that we’ve been feeling like, after 25 years (and two kids, three homes and four dogs), we might be ready to start our next chapter. The kids are done with our school district, taxes are high, many of our friends have left, and we no longer need an easy commute to NYC (the crypto world doesn’t require much time in the office and everyone/everywhere needs therapy). We’ve talked about Block Island, the Jersey shore, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, the Chesapeake and Maine. They all have their benefits, but will anywhere ever be able to compete with SOMA?

This week, we’ve had a reminder of just how special our community is. We were asked to be interviewed by SOMA Living Magazine for their October issue. Each month they choose a local family to highlight and an old friend recommended us. After sitting through the interview and being asked about our journey since we moved from Brooklyn, we found ourselves wondering why/how we could ever leave our beautiful/progressive gem of a town(s). We shared countless stories about our town(s) – the schools that educated our brilliant daughter and supported our son without question, the restaurants that draw people from all over NJ, South Mountain Reservation which allows Dan to disappear when he needs time with trees, and the people – soooo many stories about the people of SOMA. For 25 years, SOMA and it’s people have helped us celebrate wonderful days and held us up during our dark times. These towns are beautiful and progressive and crunchy and accepting.

We know that our future will ultimately lead us to a move, but for now — we are here. I need to get my supervised hours before I can hang my own shingle, Jack has wonderful support thanks to Universal and his other mothers, and we are not yet sure where Anna will land for medical school. We know in a few years we will make a move, but instead of dreaming of our next home, I’m going to start really appreciating what we have here.

Thanks SOMA!!!

Love, Jess

I will be sure to share the article in October!!!

two kids, incredible accomplishments and piles of pride

Last night our family sat around the kitchen table finishing up Anna’s medical school applications. Anna had already done all the hard work – the essay was written, the recommendations were in, the impressive MCAT scores included, and her transcript (flawless grades, completed in just six semesters from Johns Hopkins) was posted. The only thing missing was the list of schools where the application was headed – and the credit card payment. She will hit send on Tuesday and then the waiting begins. 

Today we will go through Anna’s other project – a six-week journey through Europe. Dan, Jack, and I have heard bits and pieces of the plan, but once again, Anna has taken an idea and run with it. She and her friend are winding their way through Europe wanting to take in as many sites and bites as they can. They want to explore museums and the countryside and the people of as many countries as they can. That’s the thing about Anna, she isn’t one sided. She is brilliant and determined and curious and adventurous and funny and kind. She truly is the most amazing person I know.

Except for MAYBE Jack.

Jack has been Anna’s greatest cheerleader her entire life. Whether it was cheering (silently, but with gusto) from the bleachers at lacrosse games to watching her proudly as she got her diploma last weekend – Jack is always there and always her biggest fan. And, Anna is always there to celebrate Jack’s accomplishments – his graduations, his activities, his strength through medical hell. He is also Anna’s inspiration for all she does. 

The pride I have for these two is profound and I can’t wait to see where life leads them both. BUT today, I just want to sit around the pool, hear about Anna’s trip and watch Jack swim.

Life is good.

Love, Jess

Tomorrow is not just Memorial Day – it is Jack’s 15th Transplant BiRtHdAy!!!! If you have time today – can you send a picture or a video so that I can make Jack a little birthday card/video thing? jctorrey@mac.com

A Gift

Yesterday I came home from a lovely day with my father in Tuxedo, NY and grabbed the mail. There was a package from an address I didn’t recognize. Curious, I opened it up and pulled out the note and was confused. It was a photocopy of a page from a book with a handwritten note at the bottom. It took me a minute to realize that the photocopy was from a page of Smiles and Duct Tape and that the note at the bottom of the page was from an ALD mom I’ve recently been corresponding with. She was thanking me for sending her a copy of the book. She had been moved by a story I’d shared and wanted to send a gift.

I went back to the package and pulled out a beautiful Rolling Stones tee-shirt.

Through my tears, I held up the shirt and thought about 8-year-old Jack wearing his dad’s Rolling Stones tee-shirt at a town fair just weeks before his transplant. It’s been almost 15 years, but that memory is as clear as day. We were all so scared and overwhelmed but focused on being hopeful.

I’d heard about this mother from a friend from college days. A conversation had revealed that my friend’s neighbor had lost a son to ALD in 1990. My friend put us in touch and since then, this mother and I have shared some texts and stories. Amazing how connected you can feel to a stranger.

Beautiful Alan

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed. Between school and internship and Jack and the dogs and the house and and and — It’s hard to do everything well (or even okay) when you have too much on your plate. When my friend first told me her neighbor’s story, my heart hurt for this ALD mom and I wanted to send her a book and a note. I’m ashamed that it took a couple of weeks to make it happen. Too busy with this and that. I needed to force myself to remember what really matters — relationships, connecting. I’m so glad I sent the book, because what I got back was so much greater. Not just the amazing tee-shirt, but the connection with a remarkable person, and the reminder of what’s important. Alan’s story is very different than Jack’s, but they are forever connected, and I am grateful to know his mom.

I’m not someone who believes in the idea that everything happens for a great purpose, but sometimes I do wonder that even though you can’t always get what you want, if you try sometimes, you just might find — you get what you need.

Love, Jess

The answer is YES!

Years ago, Jack and I walked into his neurologist office with a question that felt scandalous, “Do you think it would be okay to add CBD to Jack’s list of supplements?” I’d been reading about CBD being a magic cure for everything from seizures to depression to spasms (Jack was suffering from horrible spasms that were affecting his ability to walk). We left her office with the paperwork required to apply for a medical marijuana license. It took months for his license to be granted and several more before we realized that CBD wasn’t what Jack needed to help his spasms. What he needed was pot with high levels of THC. We didn’t tell anyone but family and a few close friends for the first few months, worried about being judged for getting our son high.

But there was no mistaking that it was working. Jack would have one of his magic treats two or three times a day and his spasms were alleviated, his appetite had increased, his sleep had improved, and his appreciation of 70s music was off the charts! 

For years we’ve experimented with different strains of marijuana, and I’ve become a pretty talented baker – we didn’t want Jack to smoke, and NJ didn’t sell eatables until recently. The years have moved on, and so has our country’s attitude towards the benefits of marijuana, and we’ve slowly shared our experience more openly. It may not be a solution for all ailments, but pot is a relatively safe substance with many medical (and recreational) benefits.

Since we’ve added pot to Jack’s list of medications, NJ has made getting a medical marijuana card easier and the number of dispensaries has increased, but we’ve been waiting for the day that we no longer needed a signature from our doctor or our cards to make our monthly purchase. Today NJ has joined the states with recreational marijuana dispensaries and — as Jack’s pot mama — I’m thrilled!

So is Jack. 

So are the folks on the LOOOOONNNGGG line at our local dispensary!!

Love, Jess

juggling cats

Like juggling cats.

That was my answer when my friend asked how it’s been for me being solo this week with Jack.

I’ve been in school for almost 15 months, and it has been complicated, but manageable. Dan has been home. In Crypto World, but upstairs. He shares shower-time and bus duty. He can start dinner and swing by CVS to pick up medication. And – most important – he’s there when I’m done with the day to listen to my stories about being a new counselor (no confidentiality breeched) and an old student.

This week, Dan met up with Anna and dear friends to go skiing in Vermont. So happy for them to get some father/daughter bonding time. The haven’t spent much solo time together since lacrosse days. They’ve had fun on their road trip – skiing and eating and even celebrating Dan’s birthday. I’m doing my best to be super festive when they call, but I CAN’T WAIT FOR THEM TO GET BACK!!!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m honored to be Jack’s mom and chief diaper changer. It might get messy sometimes, but none of my caretaker responsibilities are super complicated AND Jack’s great company. I’ve also had plenty of help this week – Maria, Ava and Monica are devoted other mothers. It’s just hard being in charge of Jack and the house and the dogs and clients and schoolwork. When Jack and I are home alone, he’s mostly sitting on his chair in front of Impractical Jokers, watching me buried in books and trying to keep my eyes open during my night classes. When I finish for the day, I sit down with him and he tries to look interested when I discuss solution focused therapy and other strengths-based approaches, but his eyes beg me to turn his jokers back on. HE ALSO CAN’T WAIT FOR DAN AND ANNA TO GET BACK!!!!!

None of the cats have fallen, but I’m a little scratched up.

We have one more day of juggling these cats. Jack’s at school now and I’m scrambling to get through my clients and treatment plans and asynchronous work and papers and laundry so that by dinnertime Jack and I can relax, sit down, and binge watch Love is Blind. I promised him to shop talk.

Goals!!!

Love, Jess