Acorns in Cancerville

Yesterday marked six years since we moved to Cancerville, when our Donna was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain tumor, papillary meningioma. I write the name of the bastard because it is so neglected in the cancer world that there is no treatment for it.  I like to call it out by name.

Yesterday was quite a different day than March 23, 2007.  On that day, I awoke in a huge hospital room at Children’s Memorial in Chicago.  There were six beds total in the room and it was on a respiratory floor.  We were there because we had been hastily admitted the night before and it was the only bed available.  Donna woke about 5 AM and vomited.  I cleaned her up and sometime later was changing her diaper.  I said to her what we always said during that routine, “Change your diaper, change your life!” It was one of our bits.  She repeated it back to me, as she always did, but her words were slurred.  Something was wrong.  Terribly, terribly wrong.

Within moments, Donna crashed.  Unresponsive.  Just a little sack of potatoes in my terrorized arms.  I called out for help, I rang the nurses.  I called out for help again.  The other parents in the room, all bleary and scared, looked at me without words.  Their fearful eyes spoke volumes, though.

Within a couple of minutes a PICU doc was in the room.  Dr. Kane was his name.  He told me to follow them and I did.  We ran through the halls.  Or did we?  I honestly can’t remember.  I also can’t remember when Mary Tyler Dad got there.  I called him at home after Donna vomited and we lived about 20 minutes away.  I do, though, firmly remember him at my side when we learned from Dr. Kane just a few minutes later that Donna was sick.  Very sick.  “There is a mass in your daughter’s head.”

That is the moment we moved to Cancerville.

Morton 4

To mark six years in this place is both remarkable and perfectly ordinary. Cancerville is where we live, where we will continue to live.  Like our zip code, it just is what it is.  We have changed neighborhoods in Cancerville in the six years we have lived here.  That first day six years ago we moved to a sub-division called Diagnosis Estates.  Today we live in Grieving Heights, the least desirable sub-division.

But yesterday was a very different day than March 23, 2007.  The sun was shining.  The air was cold, but the warmth of the sun was so welcome after this long winter.  Mary Tyler Son had dance class.  His class meets in the Donna Quirke Hornik Studio, renamed after her death.  He doesn’t have the same relationship to dance that his sister did.  It’s been a noble experiment. No doubt he will opt for soccer or karate next year.  I will miss the weekly walks to dance class, a sweet connection to Donna.

After class we headed to Honda of Lisle to accept one of those awesome cartoon sized big checks.  $500 for Donna’s Good Things, the charity we started during Donna’s vigil.  We had won their February charity contest. Lots and lots and lots of folks voted for our charity to win the prize (Thank you!). $500 will fund a scholarship at Performing Arts Limited for a year, including recital costume.  One more child dancing.  That was a real pleasure.

Well it turns out the dealership is right down the road from the Morton Arboretum.  After lunch, we drove over, with the thought that it would be good to get outside and let the boy get his ya yas out.  We were greeted with the acorns that flank the entry into the grounds.  Then more acorns.  And more. Mary Tyler Son ran and jumped and climbed and crawled.  The sun felt warmer, the air felt clean.  The cold seemed to melt away along with the piles of snow everywhere.  Drip, drip, drip.

Morton 3

This was a much better day than six years ago, despite Donna’s absence.

There is something to be said for acceptance and integration.  There is something to be said for “going to the joy,” which is what a dear and wise friend who herself knows great loss encouraged us to do.  While the sadness of losing Donna will never leave us, it has not prevented us from living.  Feeling the sun on an early Spring day, appreciating a boy growing bigger than his sister ever was, seeing the simple beauty of an acorn.

Acorns have great meaning for me.  This wasn’t always so, but on Donna’s 5th birthday, the first birthday after her death, two of her little playmates each gifted me with an envelope of acorns.  These two little girls, both four at the time, found the acorns and told their moms to give them to me.  One of these little beauties was emphatic in telling her mom that the acorns were for me to remember Donna.  Her mom tried to explain that I would remember Donna always even without acorns, but the girl was clear — I needed those acorns to remember Donna.  Case closed.

On that fifth birthday we got friends together at Candlelite Chicago, a local place we celebrated often with Donna.  I was miserable.  Why on earth did we think having a pizza party on Donna’s birthday was a good idea?  I put a smile on and got through it.  The two envelopes were given to me at the party, but I didn’t open them until just before bed.  Two envelopes with acorns in them.  One from Evanston, one from Michigan.  What were the chances of that?

Oh a whim, I Googled “acorn symbolism.”  Within moments, I was a ball of messy tears.  It felt that Donna was speaking to us personally, though her friends.  The most commonly accepted meanings of acorns include:

  • potential
  • strength
  • power
  • protection
  • luck
  • immortality
  • life

I know that it is so easy to see what you want to see, feel what you want to feel, but in that moment, I believe with complete confidence that Donna was communicating to us.  She wanted us to be strong, to live life, to feel blessed and protected.  And I did.  And I do.

Morton 2

When I see acorns now, I feel Donna. They remind me that she was here, that she, like an acorn, was small, but mighty.  “From little acorns do mighty oaks grow.”  This quote is common and has been around for centuries.  No one has correctly attributed it.  Donna was our little acorn.  Donna’s Good Things is the oak that we are nurturing that it might grow big and strong and mighty, taking the potential of one small acorn and realizing it in a tree that brings continued life.  Oak trees grow, even in Cancerville.

So, yes, yesterday was a meaningful day for our family.  Six years in Cancerville.  But there was Donna, in all the acorns.  She was in other places, too.

She was in her brother’s smile and joy as he climbed the rope bridges.

Morton 7

She was in the sun that shone so brightly.

Morton 1

She was in our love and happiness.

Morton 6


Acorns and Donna are everywhere . . .

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Donna Day 2013: Bloggers Unite

The saying is that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.  Donna Day 2013 proved that right.  There were 50 bloggers ROARING loudly about pediatric cancer and St. Baldrick’s yesterday.  One blogger’s voice and keyboard can be a powerful tool, but 50 collective voices and keyboards?  I think Walt Whitman said it best with the words “barbaric yawp.”  Thing is, though, that this March is gonna go out with a big ROAR, too, as the Donna’s Good Thing’s St. Baldrick’s shave will wrap up the month on March 30.  I am still reeling from the outpouring of love, support, stories, words, and blog posts from the participating bloggers.

From the bottom of my bursting heart, THANK YOU to all those who so willingly used their platform to talk about the not always popular topic of childhood cancer.  You are making a difference.

Without further ado, here they are . . .

Adventures of NinjaMama, “To Mary Tyler Mom, With Love”

Advice From Marta, “Cancer Sucks”

The Amazing, Affordable Adventures of Mama, Bunny and Pip, “Donna Day”

The Apocalyptic Ginger Chronicles, “Donna Day 2013”

Baby Sideburns, “Are You Kidding Me, Another Damn Holiday?  Oh Wait, It’s a Good One”

Cheaper Than Therapy,  “Donna’s Good Things:  St. Baldrick’s Event to Help Fight Childhood Cancer”

A City Mom, “It’s ‘Donna Day’ at ChicagoNow

The Crumb Diaries, “Curveballs:  Donna Day March 1, 2013”

Daddy Knows Less, “Feeling Blessed on #DonnaDay”

DeBie Hive, “Donna Day”

Deepest Worth, “Donna Day”

Dribbles and Grits, “Donna’s Day”

From the Bungalow, “Donna Day 2013:  Hair Grows Back”

Frugalista Blog, “Donna Day”

Get Fit Chicago, “If You Give a Runner a Tutu . . .”

Gig Masters, “Fundraiser for Kid’s Cancer”

Holy Fire, Cake Girl!, “Donna’s Day:  A Chance to Help Kids With Cancer”

Humble Writes Words, “It’s Donna Day!”

I Want a Dumpster Baby, “Choose Hope”

I’d Give You the Moon and Stars, “Donna’s Day”

Insane in the Mom Brain, “Donna Day!!!”

It Builds Character, “Donna Day:  Save Children’s Lives with St. Baldrick’s”

It’s Cool To Be OCD, “Donna Day”

Just Getting Started, “Support St. Baldrick’s and Donna’s Good Things”

Kissing the Frog, “Cancer Sucks, But We Can Do Good Things”

Shawn Renee Lent, “A Brain Tumor at My Dance Ricitle

Life As I See It, “Suck It, Cancer.  It’s Donna Day!”

Listing Toward Forty:  “Donna Day:  Support Pediatric Cancer Research”

Mary Tyler Mom, “Donna Day is Here!  Hooray!”

Moms Who Drink and Swear, “Sources Say It’s Donna Day:  The Facts About Getting the Facts Straight When It Comes to Funding For Pediatric Cancer Research”

Mother Naked, “Donna Day”

My Children Think I’m Perfect, “McTip’s Snips”

My Sports Complex, “Donna Day:  Playing in the Sand With Donna Lu”

Organized People Are Just Too Lazy to Look for Stuff, “It’s Donna Day!”

Part Time, “Spending Some Time With Donna to Beat Childhood Cancer”

Pinwheels and Poppies, “Donna Day 2013.  Let’s Do This”

Portrait of an Adoption, “Donna Day:  Raising Money for Pediatric Cancer Research In Memory of a Lovely Girl”

Razorblade Brain, “Change for Change”

Real Mom Nutrition, “It’s Donna Day”

Red Vines and Red Wine, “Celebrate Donna Day 2013 With Me!”

Ashbey Riley, “Celebrating Donna Day”

SarcasMom, “Donna Day Should be EVERY Day”

Stop and Blog the Roses, “Donna Day:  What Do Kids With Cancer Need?”

Suburban Scrawl, “It’s Donna Day!  #conquerkidscancer #DonnaDay”

Sweet Matthew Burr:  “Donna Day”

Tiny Steps Mommy, “Day Five:  Give Back Mission to Express Gratitude”

Tween Us, “Donna Day:  Raising Awareness and Money to Fund Childhood Cancer Research”

Ups and Downs of a Yoga Mom, “Today I Celebrate Donna Day by Donating to Pediatric Cancer”

We Band of Mothers, “Emily”

What a glorious Donna Day it was!  Thank you!

So I have no freaking idea why some of these links are in bold and other are not.  That is completely beyond my technical scope.  But subscribing to my favorite blogs is not!  You can do it, too! It’s true!

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Donna Day Is Here! Hooray!

This is just one of dozens of Donna Day posts published by bloggers across America today, March 1, 2013, all in support of raising $ and awareness for the good work of St. Baldrick’s, and the goal of conquering kids cancer.  I am humbled, overwhelmed, honored by the generosity of the blogging community that has embraced Donna as their own.    

I am Donna’s Mama.  I carried that girl in my belly, felt her kick inside me, was her sole form of nutrition for six months, fed her, bathed her, cuddled her, taught her her colors and numbers, loved her completely.  Life was so sweet, so good, so simple and uncomplicated.  Wake up, cuddle Donna, head to work or plan a day together, come home, cuddle Donna, sing and laugh and play.  We had it so very good, so very, very good.

And then this happened.


Donna during her stem cell harvest in 10/2007.
Donna during her stem cell harvest in 10/2007.

We moved to Cancerville and our lives were forever changed.  We had visited Cancerville before, caring for my Mom as she lived and died with her own brain tumor in 2004 and 2005.  This was different.  After moving to Cancerville with Donna, we learned that we would never leave.  It is our home now.  The neighborhood sucks, but damn, the neighbors are amazing.

Over three years after Donna’s death, I am still trying to wrap my head around the impact her life and story have on people.  First published in 2011, the response to Donna’s Cancer Story sort of threw me for a loop.  I hear from people around the world on a fairly regular basis about the impact Donna has had on them, how she has shaped their perspective.  People have stopped drinking or using drugs because of Donna.  People have opted to care for foster children because of Donna.  People have chosen to go into pediatric oncology nursing and doctoring because of Donna.  People have hugged their kids tighter and read them more stories and demonstrated more patience with unruly toddlers because of Donna.  People have gotten tattoos because of Donna.  People have consciously worked to help others in their community because of Donna.

You see what I mean?  It is both amazing and overwhelming and uplifting and makes me so damn proud to be her Mama.

One of those people was a reader like you.  Her name is Jamie.  She was the cousin of a friend who read Donna’s Cancer Story as it was being published in September 2011.  She wanted to help.  She wanted to make a difference.  Tentatively, she called me and we talked.  She proposed Donna’s Good Things, the charity we started after Donna died, host a St. Baldrick’s event.  Would I be interested?

Um.  Yes.

Right after Donna died, we wanted nothing more to do with cancer.  It had taken my mom and our daughter.  It had taken enough.  We wanted to do something to honor Donna, but didn’t want to give cancer any more of our time or attention.  Pfffft.  Yeah, right.  What the hell were we thinking? Pediatric cancer advocacy is now an important part of my life.  Jamie just knew that before I did.

With Jamie’s suggestion, we did our research on St. Baldrick’s.  WOW.  What a fantastic organization.  They have funded more childhood cancer research than any other entity outside the U.S. Government.  They have excellent charity ratings, an extremely streamlined administrative tier, and minimal overhead.  St. Baldrick’s is the real deal.  They were Donna-worthy, if you will.  We were in.

In just one year, Donna’s Good Things has raised over $130K for children in treatment for cancer.  BAM!  Let me tell you, there is no better way to tell cancer to SUCK IT than to help raise $ to banish it.  Our shavees know this.  Our donors know this.  I hope you know this.  And as of this year, no matter where you live, you too, can host a Donna’s Good Things shaving event in your own community.  Do you live in Montana?  NO PROBLEM!  Florida?  We got you covered?  Oregon?  New York?  California?  All things are possible with St. Baldrick’s.  Just email or and we will hook you up.  BOOM.

On Saturday, March 30, we will host our 2nd DGT St. Baldrick’s shaving event at Candlelite Chicago.  There will be shaving — and hey, if you have a head, you are still eligible to shave it — lots of dough can be raised in 30 days (that’s the blue button, yo).  There will be beer and pizza and burgers and tater tots.  There will be face painting.  There will be smiles.  There will be a tear or two.  There will be lots and lots of hair to sweep.  There will be cake. There will be bravery.  There will be children and old ladies and lots of folks in between.  There will be love.  There will be joy.  There will be gratitude. There will be HOPE.

Hope is what Donna taught me.  More than any other lesson, and damn, that little girl had so many lessons to share, the importance of hope and joy in our lives — just our day-to-day seemingly dreary lives — was just part of her DNA.  It is now part of my DNA.

Biologically, parents pass DNA to their children.  With Donna, it worked the other way.  That is just how damn amazing she was.  My life is more joyful and full and rich and hopeful for being Donna’s Mama.  Every day I thank her for what she has given to me, what she continues to give me and so many others.

You can do a Good Thing today and donate to our St. Baldrick’s event.  Just click on the green “DONATE” button and make a difference for a child and family undergoing cancer treatment.  It is a bitch, that cancer treatment.  Honestly.  Some days I never thought I would make it.  We lived a life for 31 months that I would not wish on anyone.  Today we live a different life.  It is calmer than while we were in active treatment, but it can be sad and lonely.  Quiet.  We miss our girl, our Donna.  We thank the stars above that Donna left us with joy and love and hope and the finest example of how to live a full and complete life.

Please, consider donating.  Now.  Not later.  Not tomorrow or next week.  You’ll forget.  You will.  I know, cause I do it all the time.  Our lives are busy and frantic and crowded with responsibilities.  In the midst of that, think of Donna and all the kiddos and families who live in Cancerville.  It is damn crowded in here, let me tell you.  We could you your help — $5, $10, $20 and up — every dollar makes a difference when it goes for research.

Tell ’em Donna sent you.

I need you.  YOU.
I need you. YOU.
Get, scootin!  Children with cancer need your help!
Get, scootin! Children with cancer need your help!

Thank you, folks!  Donna Day is one of our favorite days of the year.