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!!!

HaPpY 2022?!?!?!?!

There are few things as depressing as taking down the Christmas tree. It literally screams – THE PARTY IS OVER!!!!!!!!

We had a great holiday season, but this year’s celebrations were tainted with a constant fear of being cancelled. We had piles of fun activities planned — family parties, visits with friends and plans to celebrate Anna’s graduation (YES – our Banana is done with school). Leading up to each event we’d scrambled to find a test, swipe our noses and pray — COVID was everywhere!! We were almost resigned to getting it (hoping that our boosters would do the trick). Good news is we managed to sneak in almost all our plans, and so far none of us got sick with anything (but perhaps a little bit of a hangover here and there).

Yesterday when I started taking down the holiday decorations, I thought about all the fun we had over the last few weeks and then heard Anna packing up and Dan starting our 11th load of laundry. 

Anna’s now back in Baltimore, Dan’s upstairs being loud about crypto currency, Jack is out with his other mother, Maria, and I’m sitting at my desk wondering how I’m going to work 20 hours a week as a counseling intern while going to school full time. I have the news on in the background and COVID is continuing to try to cripple the world, there are warnings about threats of violence on the anniversary of January 6th and someone just mentioned it might snow on Friday.

The party is indeed over!

I’m trying to remind myself that 2022 is going to be a great year. Anna starts her life as a grown-up while living/working in Baltimore and applying to medical school. Dan has his job that he loves and his Old School Vinyl Podcast. I will be finishing my master’s program and start my twentieth career as a counselor. And, Jack will continue being the happiest man on the planet☺️!

Here’s to a fantastic 2022! May it bring everyone joy, health 😷and happiness!! I promise I’m toasting with a simple glass of water 😉

Love, Jess

THIS was a holiday!!!!

Last year we went to my parents’ house in Tuxedo Park for Thanksgiving. It was just the six of us humans and three dogs – Keegan was still with us. We had a great day, but it didn’t quite feel like a holiday. This year we filled our house. Torreys, Perrys, Cappellos, Palets – 21 people and 5 dogs!!! 

There was food in the oven, on the stove, on the grill — even in the toaster. We had mattresses everywhere and used a beer pong table as an extra table. We needed our extra fridge for food, so our patio was filled with beer, wine and soda. I kept encouraging people to go take a nice walk in the reservation while I got things ready, but then more people would wander into the kitchen. Dan played music a little too loud and we played dice until later than we should have.

THIS was a holiday!! I hope everyone else experienced some chaos yesterday and is enjoying some delicious leftovers today!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

Love, Jess

HaPpY 14th Transplant Birthday!

14 Years . . . Day + 5113 . . .

It’s Jack’s 14th Transplant BiRtHdAy!!!! 14 years since he received the magic cells from the Little Lady from Detroit that would stop the progression of ALD and allow us to not just continue enjoying life with Jack, but appreciate his wisdom and strength. He’s the greatest teacher I’ve ever had and I know he’s the same impact on everyone lucky enough to cross his path.

Here are some sweet words from his family about our boy. PLEASE add a comment about what Jack means to you.

He’s got moves like Jagger. – Dan

He’s a loud, silent human. I love my Booger – Anna

In an age where we’re all on our devices, Jack is living in the moment and loving it. – Aunt April

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and the present is the gift Jack gives us. – Love Aunt Darcy (with help for Eleanor Roosevelt)

We all so remember this day 14 years ago when Jack stayed so calm and so brave as the the Little Last from Detroit came into him and started to do her magic. He smiled back at all the people standing and applauding in his room. What wonderful advantage we all have been able to take from that gift. Jack has been our leader and hero every moment of the way. —  Nonno and Mymom

A quiet guy with a big personality. – Uncle Phil

We both always feel so good around Jack and feel his presence and happy demeanor. He is a gift that makes us all better people. — Love, PopPop and Nanna Sue

A man of few words who says a lot especially with his laughs and smiles. – Aunt Kate

Jack is just a light soul and a whole lot of laughter and smiles. He is also a great dance partner. – Other Mother Orla

Jack is engaged. People think not speaking would isolate him, but it sure doesn’t. – Mymom

Absolutely famntastic! The best friend anyone could ask for. Empathetic, funny, charming. – Other Father Peter

As my grandson and my inspiration as a valiant and brave guy always ready to replace difficulties and tragedy with a laugh. – Nonno

Jack is the best human being ever, my inspiration in life! – Other Mother Lilly

Jack is pure love! The most beautiful soul I have ever met. He means kindness, friendship, strength and sensitivity with a resilient heart. Jack is an example of how to live life with grace and joy no matter the adversities. – Other Mother Monica

Jack is an amazing young man who loves a good laugh more than anyone I know! – Uncle Matt

Once upon a time there was “a Iittle girl from Detroit” who would forever change a little boy by the name of Jack Torrey’s life!  Her gift to Jack has inspired so many and has given Jack the opportunity to be the awesome dude he is – a smile like no other and an awesome sense of humor to boot! – Love Aunt Kim

Jack’s journey shows that happiness and love can win. Jack still has the same attachment he always did. — Uncle Pablo

Our family can’t describe in words what Jacko means to us. He has completed our family. We love him so much. — Other Mother Maria and Family

Time is always a odd when it comes to remembering defining milestones. We will never forget that day in room 505, but it feels like both yesterday and a million years ago. We remember every detail of the anxiety and energy and hope and smell (stem cells smell terrible — who knew?) in the room when the life-saving cells went into Jacks’s body. It’s the day that we saved our son’s life with the help of countless doctors and nurses AND a family that donated precious cells, never knowing that they were going to give the gift of Jack to so many.

Thank you to the mother of the Little Lady from Detroit! Your gift didn’t just save Jack’s life, it changed the lives of many!!

Love, Jess

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