Our Turn

It’s taken me a while to wrap my head around this, so let’s start at the beginning:

Our 6 year old son Cooper has a rare, progressive disease called MPS IVA. It affects every organ of his body (except his brain), and has SEVERE skeletal implications. We are blessed to have a weekly infusion to slow/stop the progression of the damage to his organs, but the only way to address the skeletal issues is with surgery. It’s time for the first Orthopedic intervention.

Cooper will have surgeries on both hips, knees and ankles in June. This will relieve the constant pain in my first grader’s hips and knees and keep him mobile for a while longer. The surgeries will be done by Dr. Mackenzie in Wilmington, Delaware. He’s the orthopedic expert on Cooper’s condition, so that’s where we’re going.

The surgeries will be one week apart. The right hip, knee and ankle first, followed by the left hip, knee and ankle seven days later. This procedure will leave Cooper in a spica cast, from his chest to his ankles, for seven (what I imagine will be grueling) weeks. We will fly home after the second surgery. Cooper and I are booked first class on United on the way home, so that he has room for his new “width” with the spica cast. The rest of the family gets to fly coach, or swap me seats when I need a break. After seven weeks, we fly back to Wilmington to remove the cast, a check-up, and five days of intense Physical Therapy. Then we fly home again, ready to strengthen and use those new legs, just in time to go back to school.

This surgery will be FREE! HA! Only because we meet our out of pocket max for Cooper in the first week of the year, due to Cooper’s weekly infusion cost.

Getting to the surgery will not be free. We’ll fly the whole family out there, and we’ll stay for 2 weeks. We could have stayed at the Ronald Macdonald House for free, and we chose not to. I am either going to be at the hospital with Cooper, or hiding in a 2 bedroom apartment we’ve rented. I’ll pretend to be a normal mom hanging out in Delaware for a couple weeks. I plan to work for a couple hours a day while we’re there – mainly for a sense of normalcy, and to keep my mind (and inbox!) from imploding. Brian will work too. Campbell is too much of a support to Cooper to leave her home. We’re bringing my mom. Her help with Campbell, Cooper and keeping us moving will be invaluable during this time. These are the choices we’ve made, and they’re costly. We are ready to sacrifice to afford this journey.

Friends and family ask, “How can I help during this time?”

  • Pray for us. Pray for healing, strength, grace, patience and creativity in entertaining Cooper. I am partially terrified of Cooper’s reaction to being immobile for seven weeks. He is such an active kid. He LOVES sports – hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, riding his bike. My worst fear is that he falls into some sort of depression because he can’t do the things he loves. But at the same time I have faith that Cooper will show US the way. I think he’ll show us what he can and can’t do, and we’ll learn together what fun he CAN and WILL have this summer. I’m willing to load him up and take him and his reclining wheelchair to all sorts of sporting events, museums and the zoo.
  • I hope visits from friends can entertain him and cheer him up. But, I am nervous that Cooper’s new condition will make him embarrassed and not want visitors.
  • I’m sure we’ll have a sign up to bring meals for our family when we return home, and I’ll share that when it happens.
  • Check out our registry. If that’s how you’d like to help, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Feel free to share it with your friends/family/social media. I swallowed a ton of pride to put it together and share it. Today we were denied by an organization that “provides children and their families free flights to distant, specialized care and valuable second opinions” because we make too much money. It felt like a slap in the face. We work our asses off to provide for our family. I work my ass off in advocacy, fundraising and volunteering for organizations that can make a difference in the lives of families like ours. At the same time, I understand need based awards. Why am I so mad/sad/insulted? Maybe I should put my therapist bills as an item on the registry too!? (In retrospect, I’ve determined I’m so upset because of all the time I spent on the application.) In other news, we applied for medical travel assistance from the MPS Society, and their award is not contingent on income. We are very appreciative of the Society’s support financially (if it get’s approved), the valuable medical information we’ve learned over our years as members, as well as the connections we’ve made who are helping us hold it together and make decisions during this time.

Bringing it back to now – Cooper knows he’ll be in a wheelchair for a majority of this summer, but he doesn’t know the extent of the cast and his immobility. We’ll share the details with him closer to surgery time. No reason for him to get all worked up about it – like me.

Anyway – I’ve shared all this because if I’m asking for money, I want to be transparent. This is where we are. We’re ready to foot the bill because of the choices we’ve made. But if you want to help financially, I am humbled and we are very appreciative.

I’ve been fundraising for different things for the past 10 years, when is it OUR turn? Today.

Blogging from the Beach

This is what the last 45 minutes of vacation looks like. I’ve already cried twice this morning, thinking about what we came here to forget.

I turned on Roaming on my phone so that I could be in touch with the kids and home if needed. And of course life popped up. I got a reminder of Cooper’s eye appointment on Friday. I received the schedule of Coopers pre-surgery appointments. I got a reminder of Cooper’s infusion, asking me to confirm. I kept an eye on my work email. After being completely hands-off while away on Cooper’s wish trip a few weeks ago, I don’t need a repeat of that week of work catch-up.

But we also got to FaceTime the kids and watch them ride bikes and give them good night kisses, making our time away a bit easier on them (and me?).

I am grateful for time away, doing NOTHING. When a resort employee approaches, asking if he can arrange an outing, I point to my beach chair and tell him I’m not leaving this spot, “gracias”.

So yet again we prepare for re-entry. Re-entry is tough, knowing the summer we have coming up – Cooper recovering from surgery, immobile from his chest down. Thinking about it causes me anxiety. Constant back and forth with the medical team, figuring out how to get him home in the cast and back again – MUCHO anxiety. (See?! I’m practicing the Spanish I’ve picked up.)

So I don’t know if I need to “buck up”, “get a grip”, or “let go and let God” but I’ll be working on that now that the vacations are over and there is nothing between me and Cooper’s surgeries but 50 days and a ton of coordination and planning.

What’s next?

There needs to be a 12 step program for moms who have recently completed their child’s wish trip. Yep, I cried when we checked out of Give Kids the World Village. The elderly gentleman handing me my packet of souvenirs and “see ya later” letter told me they were happy tears. He was so sweet. But in my head, I was grieving. We will never have that kind of carefree, joy and surprise filled trip again. Now we go back to weekly infusions, lots of doctor appointments and an uncertain future. We go back to explaining to everyone that Cooper has a rare, terminal illness. We had such a sense of belonging in the Village. The families didn’t talk medical details. We spoke of joy found each day – whether it was at a theme park or in the details of life at the Village. It was magical and special and uplifting and carefree, and we will forever be grateful to Frank at Baking Memories 4 Kids for our trip, as well as Whitney at Children’s Hospital Colorado for nominating us for the trip. I would have never nominated Cooper for the trip. I was too caught up pretending to be a “normal” family.

I unplugged for the trip. I only posted pictures and wrote about what we did each day. No emails. No meetings. No phone calls. It was freeing and I appreciate the time to live fully with my family.

So now I catch up on emails. Catch up on work. Catch up on paying bills. Now I’m processing what just happened, and how I get from here to what’s next.

What’s next? Hammering out details and travel plans for Cooper’s surgeries in June, diving in to what I can for the MPS Society, and organizing our fundraiser. Spring soccer and baseball are starting as well, so we’ll be taking the kids opposite ways two days a week for the next two months. So in that weird way, I’m comforted we are back to “normal”. But I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to hold back the tears Wednesday when Cooper screams in agony as we access his port for infusion. It’ll be a reminder that we aren’t normal, that we deserved the trip, and that we need to plan more time to be carefree and live in the now.

But as Cooper requested, just one more arcade game before we go:

“That Was the Best Day Ever”

I can’t help but think we’re approaching the top of a roller coaster ride right now. Things are really, really good. (Yep, I actually knocked on wood as I typed that.)

We’ve got Cooper’s wish trip coming up. Only a few days until we leave for Walt Disney World! Cooper has been marking days off the Calendar since January 1st.

To say we are thrilled is an understatement.

But that’s not the only thing going on this week – yesterday at the hospital we celebrated Cooper’s 5 year anniversary of being on VIMIZIM, his weekly infusion. And ya know what he got to do? Ring the Warrior Bell. Yes! That Warrior Bell that was only for the kids done with their chemotherapy. The celebration was the brain child of our FABULOUS nurses and child life staff at the hospital. I’m afraid my words and pictures won’t do it justice, but I have to share how loved and special Cooper (and the whole family) felt today. It’s just too good not to share.

If you’ve seen pictures of us at the hospital, there’s a good possibility you’ve seen Cooper playing hockey in the hallway – while hooked up to his infusion and my dad nimbly following Cooper and maneuvering his IV pole through a hockey game. This is Cooper’s favorite activity right now – whether it’s at the hospital, in our basement, in our backyard, in Grandma’s kitchen or Great-grandma’s back porch. HOCKEY ALL THE TIME! So of course our Children’s Hospital friends not only named the infusion center “Cooper Stadium” today, but there were goal creases, two blue lines and a center red line in our hallway today. It worked perfectly, because we brought 2 goals, 8 hockey sticks, Cooper’s set of goalie pads and 20 friends. GAME ON.

Check out the epic Hockey game here

We paused the hockey game for a bit so that our hospital friends could surprise Cooper with the ceremonial silly string, a gift, cake, and even a “Zamboni”!!! Or close enough to a Zamboni – the machine they use to clean the floors. Cooper loved his ride on the Zamboni around the infusion center! (If you look closely, you can see Cooper’s room in the background, with a sign that says “Cooper’s Penalty Box”)

Then it was time to do what has always alluded us – it was time to ring the Warrior Bell. The inscription on it had been personalized for us today. The words were PERFECT.

I’ll spare you the video of me trying to read this out loud, but I’ll promise you it wasn’t easy and the next time, I’m going to go to the bathroom and practice it a minimum of 10 times before it’s time to do it in front of everybody. Then maybe Cooper won’t get embarrassed that mommy is all choked up, and he’ll want to proudly ring the bell instead of bury his head in my arms. But I’m OK with that. It’s who we are and where we are in our journey – still clinging to each other when we are scared.

So we moved on to the cookies mom made and the cake. We laughed and the kids played more hockey and we finally left. As we got into the car Cooper proclaimed, “That was the best day ever!”

But of course we didn’t go home, although I was emotionally spent and just wanted to hide under the couch. We went to Chic-Fil-A because Cooper LOVES it and it just so happens that it was our elementary school’s night there for a fundraiser. So we went and ate delicious chicken, visited with friends, played in the playroom and was immersed in our community.

Even this morning, Cooper came running out of his bedroom, carrying the balloons that were on the Zamboni, singing “I’m so happy! I’m so happy!”. My jaw is sore from tensely clenching at night, worried and anxious for Cooper’s upcoming surgeries this summer. But for now I’m going to be mindful of where we are at NOW and soak in the happiness.

Five

Five

Five. Years.

Five years since diagnosis. Jan 30 2014 was our version of 9/11. The day everything fell apart. The day all our hopes and dreams for our 16 month old baby boy were snatched. Cooper didn’t know any different, but all of the sudden, I was waking up with tears in my eyes, and they were different tears than those I had cried as I attempted to fall asleep the night before. It was a long, tough, painful, sad, scary time. The past five years have been a whirlwind of doctor appointments and infusions. Thankfully I have forgotten that feeling of despair. As we moved forward and found our way, we also found laughter and joy in our new normal, because Cooper is who he has always has been – a sweet, funny, loving, larger than life little boy. Cooper has taught me patience. To have faith. To let go. I’m learning that I’m not in charge of everything. Our journey continues as this summer rapidly approaches, with Cooper’s bi-lateral lower extremity reconstruction (fixing both hips, knees and ankles) surgery and it’s daunting 8 weeks in a spica cast (from his chest to his ankles) and recovery. Oh, by the way – the surgery is 1700 miles away from the place we call home. I’m turning the page to a new chapter of what Cooper will teach me. I can’t imagine what the next 5 years will bring, but I am ready, with an open heart. Show us the way, Cooper. We love you to the moon and back.

A glimpse of life 5 years ago

My broken-hearted note to Cooper

Cooper,

I’m sorry this is your reality. I’m sorry you feel helpless, sad, angry and what must be a maddening feeling of not being in control of your own body.

Today when we accessed your mediport for infusion, you fought against us – as usual. But what broke me was when you cried in my arms afterwards, and you said you were sad and you didn’t know why.

You see, usually you can be distracted and pop out of the fit, and are ready to play or watch iPad. But not today.

I’d like to venture a guess why you were sad. You are being robbed of your childhood. You are learning that life isn’t fair. You know what it’s like to be different from your peers. You are made to do something that terrifies you every week. And you are only 6 years old. That’s a hell of a lot to process when you are still learning the difference between long and short vowel sounds.

It’s a crazy juxtaposition that we had such a great day together at infusion. We played on two different video game consoles, did one homework assignment, played with alien slime and Bunchems. You created a construction paper jack-o-lantern with Grandma. Then you and I played soccer, a bit of football and 500 Dead or Alive (where you continually made up rules) with Papa. You were so full of life and light. We had fun today.

This evening after infusion you were FULL of energy! Enough energy to be preoccupied with a ball to the point that communication with you was pointless. You were energetically pushing your sister’s buttons. Threats of “no bedtime books” was the only way you’d get your PJs on.

But then it happened again. As you were trying to fall asleep, you were sad and didn’t know why. So instead of struggling with sleep and the thoughts in your head, we went out to the couch and joined Daddy in front of the Avalanche game, where you finally unwound and gave in to sleep.

My heart constantly hurts, watching you navigate the tough parts you’ve been handed. But my heart fills up watching you proudly practice handwriting, pretend to be the referee in a hockey game, do commentary as Campbell jumps into a pile of leaves, and play the drums (as well as a million other things).

I pray that the things that fill up my heart, fill up your heart too, and that they can pick you up when you can’t put your finger on what’s sad. I will find tools for you to deal with these feelings – your mama needs to refresh these tools too.

Sleep well sweet boy. Enjoy those hockey dreams, for morning and the rush to get to the school bus will be here before we know it.

Passion

Cooper lives every day with passion. Recently, sports passion. Every day is a new day to set up the bases in the back yard and play baseball. Every day is a day closer to his next T-ball game. Every day is an opportunity to veer the car from our intended destination to stop and watch a baseball game in progress as we drive by any school/park/ball field.

Last week was Cooper’s first T-ball game. Nevermind he’s been playing baseball in the yard for over a year, and his last birthday party was at a neighborhood ball field where we could play baseball on actual dirt, with a real pitcher’s mound, bases and stands. This 5 year old can throw, mimic a pitcher, catcher, and can make contact with a ball that is pitched. He loves to run the bases. He’ll keep score, and keep track of “ghost runners” when we run out of players. He loves the game, the sequence of events and all the parts that go into it. When in our backyard, he’ll sing the national anthem before the players come onto the field from their dugouts, which are labeled in chalk on our back porch – “home” and “visitors”.

Seeing Cooper light up last week as he chatted with his teammates, then proudly hit the ball and ran the bases, reminded me to enjoy, share and cherish the good parts of my time with Cooper – to enjoy the time he can fit in as a typical kid.

He loves baseball so much right now that our bedtime story tonight was simply a list of every World Series Champion, and who they beat. No real plot there, and it took much longer than the average bedtime book! Alas it was a fun read to see the history of which teams started in different cities, as well as the teams who lost the Series sometimes coming back to win the following year. We stopped to chat about those items, as well as any teams we’ve seen in person or favorite teams of family members.

Cooper’s T-ball team is coached by none other that his Daddy, Brian. When I told Cooper that Daddy was going to be his coach, Cooper cheered and jumped for joy! And then the planning started: “Daddy and I will ride in the same car to the game, because he’s my coach” and at dinner, “I’m going to sit on this side of the table, next to my coach.” And on and on.

We are blessed to have Brian. This Daddy is patient, upbeat and can handle the energy, awkwardness, and lack of attention of the team of eight five year olds.

For those of you unfamiliar with a T-Ball game of Kindergarteners, let me paint a picture:

  • First, the defensive team has several parents in the field, to remind the kids to spread out, watch for the ball, and stop playing in the dirt.
  • Next, there are repeated attempts by the at-bat team for the hitter to hit the ball off the tee.
    • After successful contact with the ball, the batter usually needs to be reminded to run to first base. This follows with much pointing, yelling and arm waving (on behalf of of every parent, coach and older sibling) to direct the now runner in the direction of first base.
    • In the meantime, every child on the defensive team (who wasn’t playing in the dirt) runs to get the ball – even the kid standing on third base who is now battling the first baseman for the ball rolling behind second base. They haven’t figured out it’s a team sport yet, and there is must jockeying and sometimes pushing to get to the ball first.
    • With the help of coaches and parents in the infield, the ball gets back to home plate and the process starts again.
  • Now that we have a runner on first base base, we are back to getting a successful hit for batter number two.
  • Another successful hit, and every child on the field – including the runner on first base – will chase the ball. You get the picture….

The good news is, there are no outs and everyone gets to hit and run.

It’s so great to watch the kids learn, together, in a supportive environment. I am beyond thankful that Cooper can participate and is loving it. It’s a little piece of “normal kid life” we will cherish forever.