Best of 2012: Happy Birthday, Mary Tyler Mom!

Two Januarys ago I started Mary Tyler Mom.  I had just returned to work after four years of being at home after moving to Cancerville.  I was adamant that I would not be writing about cancer or grief with Mary Tyler Mom.  My vision, if you will (as all good blogs start with a vision that gets quickly tossed aside, right?), was to write a blog about working and mothering.  Ha! Two years later, I quit my job, am in the middle of the adoption process, and somewhat gainfully employed as a writer.  That is simply crazy to me and nothing that I would have imagined two years ago.

This here blog is one of my greatest successes in life, unexpected as it is.  I write my words and people read them.  For criminy’s sake, SheKnows.com named me one of the Top 10 Inspirational Bloggers.  I mean, SheKnows knows, you know?  And you readers voted me as one of the Top 25 Family Blogs by Moms (No. 2, yo) through Circle of Moms.  What a dream.  Seriously.  I feel lucky, lucky, lucky for that.

That said, anniversaries and birthdays always make me want to take stock.  I am one that likes to look backwards before I look forwards.  Mary Tyler Mom is evolving and I am still not quite certain what my blog wants to be when it grows up.  A book?  A newspaper column?  A Bravo reality series?

I don’t know, and that is pretty damn exciting.

In the spirit of looking backwards before I look forwards, here is a collection of my twelve favorite posts of 2012 — one from each calender month.  Turns out, I write a lot about emotions.  Pfffft.  Go figure.  For someone who didn’t want to write about cancer or grief, well, five of my top twelve posts are about cancer and grief.  They say to write what you know, so I guess I’m following that piece of advice.  And a reader turned friend once told me that my best writing comes when I have a bee in my bonnet.  There are no less than four bees that made this list, buzzing around those bonnets.

Without further delay (cue drum roll, please), I give you my own Best of 2012 list.  If you’re new to me, check them out.  If you’ve been around a while and feel taken for granted, this list is for you, too, as great blog posts are the gift that keep on giving.

January:  Barbie v. Cancer – the post that resulted in strangers saying I should be shot dead just for suggesting kids with cancer needed research more than they needed a bald doll.  Not to mention the American Cancer Society exploiting my words as justification for why they so shamelessly ignore pediatric cancer.  And I’d show you that post, but they deleted it.  Bastards.

February:  Toddler Ten Commandments – just a fun piece of humor about how raising a toddler is infuriating.  And exhausting.  And for the birds.  And one of the sweetest privileges I’ve ever had.

March:  Live Organ Donation:  A Tale of Two Kidneys – when my friend Andy opted to donate his kidney, he asked me to write about it.  That was pretty cool.  I learned a lot about kidneys with this post.  And what it means to be a decent human being.

April:  Easter for Heathens:  Religious Holidays When You’re Not Religious – I am so damn proud of this post.  I broke the rules and wrote about religion here, or more specifically, my lack of religion.  That took guts.  I remain really proud of the results.

May:  The Good Enough Mother – Ha!  This is a more thoughtful post than it seems about how my parenting and most everything in my adult life has been influenced by a mid-century psychoanalytic theorist.  Winnicott rules.  It’s also the very first thing I published under my own name on The Huffington Post, which made me feel like a real rock star.

June:  RIP Children’s Memorial Hospital, 1882-2012 – potentially one of the most meaningful and important things I have ever written.  I started the post with a bit of an axe to grind, as I was truly sad about the closing of Donna’s hospital.  In the end, it was cathartic and almost universally praised and featured in both The Huffington Post and the Chicago Tribune (online edition).  I still hear from doctors, nurses, and fellow families from Children’s Memorial about how meaningful it was to them.

July:  Yin, Meet Yang – This might morph into an annual tradition, posting on the eve of Donna’s would be/should be birthdays.  It helps to get the sadness out, to grieve what should have been, but never will be.

August:  Adoption 101:  The Visit Ends – Sigh.  This was tough to write and tough to read, even five months later.  And while most folks who read this short series that chronicles our first visit with a potential birth family were supportive, some weren’t, including close family.  It still stings to read the raw power of so much sadness.

September:  Donna’s Cancer Story:  One Year Later – I am so glad I thought to write this exploration of what it was like to write about something so wrenching and emotional.  It still puts things in perspective for me.

October:  A Walk in the Woods:  Finding the Teachable Moment – I am still learning how to do this whole mothering thing.  Ain’t no way I have it figured out.  This post is about doing just that — learning in the moment so that our kids can learn from us.  I also just adore the photography in this post and hope to include more of that in 2013.

November:  Mommy Bloggers and Douchebags – well, I just love the headline and it goes from there.

December:  It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine) – written at the request of my dear friend, Nikki, from Moms Who Drink and Swear, who gave me my first big break in this here blogosphere.  A thoughtful post about a bottle cap and a life’s philosophy.

Thank you for keeping me company, reading my words, sharing my words, and sticking with me through the Terrible Twos.  Can I get a collective WOO to the HOO for 2013?

Ummm, cake.  Nom, nom, nom,
Ummm, cake. Nom, nom, nom.

Strange(r) Encounters: STFU Edition

This week has been a banner week for strangers telling me what I did wrong during Donna’s cancer treatment.

Before I go any further, though, let me preface this entire post with the very real fact that Mary Tyler Dad and I have no regrets about the choices we made.  Got that?  NO REGRETS.  That is one of the few blessings we have had bestowed on us in Cancerville.

By publishing Donna’s Cancer Story on Huffington Post this year, I had hoped to reach a whole new audience and expose them to the harsh realities of pediatric cancer.  Every indication is that it is working.  And again, similar to last year, is the awkward reality that new readers are not immediately aware of Donna’s death.  Is it my responsibility to break that news? I’ve opted not to, thinking that anyone with any curiosity would visit Mr. Google to meet all their curiosity needs.

Oddly, not everyone thinks the way I do.  Yesterday I received a private message that went a little something like this:

This will sound like an attack, but I promise it is not. I heard you mention feeding her [Donna] McDonalds for breakfast and it is what made me think of what I am about to tell you. The food we put into our bodies can be the best forms of medicine or the slowest forms of poison. McDonalds is toxic. My young boys actually broke out in a rash from eating there and as far as we know they have no known allergies.   I am by no means a doctor and I would strongly advise you to still listen to your doctor, but it is worth looking into, right? I think it could really save your daughter’s life. Please feel free to ask me for more information if you are interested.

Sigh.  Where do I even begin?  It’s pretty much a given that when someone starts out an exchange with the words, “This will sound like an attack, but I promise it is not,” you’re about to be attacked.  Prepare for battle.  I believe this individual was not acting maliciously in any way, shape, or form.  I also believe, knowing that said individual was under the impression that my girl was still alive, that telling me that McDonald’s was toxic poison was crossing the proverbial line.

Trust me when I say that Cancer Parents know from toxic poison.  Chemotherapy is toxic poison.  We know this because it comes in industrial grade plastic, is handled with RNs wearing blue gloves (and there are always two RNs present for chemo administration), and is thrown out in bright red biohazard bins that you learn not to go near.

Admittedly, McDonald’s is crap masquerading as nutrition.  We all know that, right?  Yes, we can all agree that it is not best for our bodies.  Damn you, delicious chemicals (shaking fist in air for greater effect)!

But, honestly, believing, as this person did, that Donna was still alive, was it really necessary to personally message me with the newsflash that McDonald’s was not the healthy diet my daughter needed?  I think not.  Was it really necessary to “strongly advise me” to still listen to our doctor, as if a stranger’s note on Facebook would vastly alter the course of our daughter’s cancer treatment?  And was it really necessary to speculate on what could and could not save my daughter’s life, three years after her death?  That a side of McDonald’s french fries two days after brain surgery would be the tipping point between life and death?

I just sigh and shake my head at the stupidity.

When I posted this on Facebook, which is where all daily frustrations land these days, there was a thread 260 comments long, bashing the unthinking soul who dared question my nutrition choices.  It seems I am not alone in getting worked up over some silly nonsense posed by a stranger.  Sure, there was the occasional voice of support confirming that McDonald’s is indeed unhealthy fare, but pretty much universally, folks agreed the well intentioned stranger should have kept their hands off the keyboard and their mouth closed.

Tomorrow I will explore another exchange with a stranger about Donna’s cancer treatment.  In September, I am like a freaking magnet for this stuff.  That tete a tete, though, is a little more nuanced, a little more interesting.  Stay tuned.

Strange(r) Encounters:  Listen and Learn Edition

Donna’s Cancer Story: Why You Should Share It

Today is Childhood Cancer Awareness Day, smack dab in the middle of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. 

Not writing this year, I feel a little bit like I’m sitting here twiddling my thumbs, waiting.  But what am I waiting for?  What do I expect to happen?  I don’t know honestly.  Is it Matt Lauer calling to want to interview me?  Nah, but that would be nice.  Is it Oprah, having suddenly seen the light that pediatric cancer is a worthwhile topic?  Nope, that’s not it.  I think it’s you I might be waiting for — yes, YOU. 

Raising awareness for a pediatric cancer needs to be a grassroots effort.  That means you and me and you and you and you and you and you and you and you, there in the back, yeah, you, too.  The thirty six children that will be diagnosed today need better options for their care.  They need options that will not only allow them to survive, but allow them not to be scarred by their treatments.  They need treatments that will not result in them requiring hormone replacement therapy to grow or hearing aids to hear or surrogates to carry the babies their bodies can no longer grow, as their reproductive organs have been trashed by the toxic cures available to them. 

One in 300 children will be diagnosed with cancer by the time they turn 20 year old.   Did you know that? 

Before Donna was diagnosed, I was probably a lot like you.  I had heard of children with cancer, but didn’t know any.  I felt badly for the kids in the St. Jude’s advertisements in movie theatres, but those kids were forgotten by the time film rolled.  And you know what?  That’s life.  We are busy and stressed and pulled in a thousand different directions.  These days, I am pulled in a lot fewer directions.  Cancer clarifies a lot of things.  It shows you what is important and who is important.  It puts you in touch with an inner strength that you never thought possible.  I wrote earlier this week that I am more focused — laser focused. 

Having buried Donna, knowing that she will never come back, that no treatment will ever bring her back to us, I feel for the kids still in the game and those that have a spot waiting for them.  They’re warming the bench now, but that errant cell is inside them, tick, tick, ticking, waiting for it’s opportunity to reproduce and reproduce and reproduce, resulting in cancer.  That child could be yours.  That child could be mine.  I shudder at that thought.

The U.S. government devotes approximately $5 billion a year to cancer research.  4% of that goes to pediatric cancer research.  We have not yet won the War on Cancer, declared by President Nixon in 1971, when I was a wee girl of two.  The American Cancer Society (loathed by Cancer Parents everywhere) does so little for pediatric cancer it is pathetic.  One-half penny of every dollar donated to ACS funds pediatric cancer research.  I will guarantee you, though, that their fundraising pitches include TONS of images of children.  Yuck.  ACS can suck it just like cancer can.

At the end of the series I will run a piece about what folks can do to help, but for right now, I need you to do something else.

I need you to share Donna’s Cancer Story.  When I wrote it last year, my intent was very strategic.  I firmly believed, and still do, that if people came to know and love a child with cancer, they could not help but become better aware and involved.  I know that because it is what happened to me.  Were it not for Donna, I would still be that gal welling up at the bald children, then blithely going about her busy day.  Be better than me.  I need you to be better than me.

Last week a personal facebook friend shared Donna’s Cancer Story in her news feed.  It was prefaced by some moving and inspiring words of hers about how since she read it last year, pediatric cancer has struck closer to home, more than once.  One of her friends wrote on the thread, “I don’t need to read more inspirational stories to know that the struggle with cancer is significant and painful.”  Ouch.  Damn that hurt like a kick to my stomach.  I wrote back, as did my friend, chiding him.  Her friend responded, “I feel for your friend and sympathize with your situation. A lot of people post much more ‘here’s an inspirational story for you’ material that I find trite.” 

I challenged this stranger to read Donna’s Cancer Story, to commit to reading it for ten minutes a day for the 31 days, and that if it did not move him, if he did not feel changed by coming to know Donna and her lessons, I would gladly donate $25 to the charity of his choice.  A couple of days later, this man private messaged me.  Here is what he wrote, “Ok. I read it. And it is moving, as I expected it to be. But it is also the first of 30 (!) pieces, and I simply do not have the time to read them all. I’m sure inspirational stories have their place, but they do seem to take over FB at times. Your work with families is valuable. Keep it up.”

Ouch.  Again, ouch. 

That exchange might seem like a reason NOT to share Donna’s Cancer Story, but I think it is the opposite.  His reaction fuels me and my advocacy.  I have heard from too many of you over the past year who found me and my writing through Donna.  I have literally hundreds of testimonials from folks whose lives have been changed for the better because of the time and emotion they spent reading it.  Reading about Donna enables you to know Donna.  Knowing Donna enables you to know cancer and the role it plays with families.  That knowing has translated into DOING by hundreds more of you. 

In March, Donna’s Good Things, our charity, sponsored a St. Baldrick’s shaving event.  This was conceived and organized by one of you, a reader, now doer.  That event raised over $77K for St. Baldrick’s, the leading funder of pediatric cancer research after the US government.  We had dozens and dozens of shavees — many women much braver than myself.  Some traveled to Chicago from Indianapolis, Atlanta, Michigan, and California.  Doers, all of them.  One of those shavees, a brave writer, wrote about her experience here.  She is definitely a doer.  I heart doers.

Now those examples are pretty extraordinary.  And both time and $ heavy.  But there are so many things you can do to raise awareness for pediatric cancer.  One easy thing is sharing Donna’s story.  Challenge your network to read about a little girl who is still making Good Things happen, three years after her death.  The awareness leads to understanding and many times that understanding leads to doing. 

Donna can no longer tell her story.  As her mother, I can and must.  Please help me do that.  Share.  Be a doer.  I will heart you forever.