How 3 decisions impacted my son’s journey with cancer

“Cancer, like a cruel master, forces you to stand up and keep walking when all you want to do is stay down and hide.”

You won’t find those words in the pages of my book, ALL THE ABOVE: My Son’s Battle with Brain Cancer. Instead, you can find them in an Amazon review, written by a stranger who knew neither me nor my son, yet understood our struggle all the same.

Seven years and three days ago was my son Jack’s 19th birthday. It was a Saturday, and the first day of summer vacation after his freshman year at UGA. It was also the day he learned he had a brain tumor, and our world was forever changed.

During final exams the week before, Jack had experienced blurry vision. I thought he was just overtired, or could have been using too many allergy drops. At his request, I planned to get him an appointment with our optometrist the next week.

But that Saturday morning, his eyes were crossed and he didn’t seem to know it. I called my next door neighbor, our eye doctor and a friend, and she saw him immediately.

After examining Jack, she spoke to my husband and me in private. In a trembling voice, she told us Jack either had meningitis, extremely high blood pressure, or a brain tumor.

He’d had the meningitis vaccine, so I prayed it was “only” high blood pressure. But my prayer went unanswered. Hours later, after an exhaustive exam by an ophthalmologist on call, followed by an MRI at Northside Hospital, a neurosurgeon broke the news. Just behind his optic nerves, a tumor was wreaking havoc on Jack’s eyesight and damaging his retinas.

Stunned, the three of us listened as the doctor explained that Jack needed emergency surgery that night, not to remove the tumor, but to place a shunt in his brain to save his vision. Without it, he would be blind within days.

Jack signed the consent forms and a hastily written advance directive. The surgery was successful, and his vision started improving almost immediately. He came home the next day with a big bandage on and staples in his head. Over the next few weeks, as he recovered, we contacted a handful of top neurosurgeons around the country, and began figuring out what to do.

What happened over the next six months is chronicled in my book. Although it’s a true story, it isn’t merely a retelling of facts, interspersed with doctors’ notes and records. It’s about the way Jack handled his illness, and what our family did to try to help him. Written from my point of view, it describes my emotional struggle when cancer forced my teenage son to stand up and walk, as death stared him in the face.

At the beginning of his journey, Jack made three decisions, all of which would serve to help both of us over the coming months.

First: To stop asking himself, God, or anyone why he had a brain tumor. The doctor had said that no one knew why he had it. He could have been born with it. He could have developed it over time. Instead of casting blame, Jack focused all of his energy on getting better, and on doing whatever he had to do to get well.

That night – and almost every night that summer – Jack and I talked alone in his room before he went to sleep. We didn’t always talk about his illness. But we did when he wanted to, and he shared his feelings with me, and leaned on me emotionally.

But during those first few days, he kept what was going on in his life private. He didn’t want to tell his grandparents, or anyone in our large extended family yet. Dennis and I respected his wishes, and his right to drive the flow of information to family and friends – and not until he was ready to do so.

Choosing not to ask why – not to blame anyone or anything – was key to helping Jack move forward. It also influenced his decision to keep matters private at first. Shock was just beginning to wear off, and the last thing he needed were questions about the cause of his tumor – questions he couldn’t answer.

Second, Jack chose to not feel sorry for himself. He didn’t want anyone’s pity, saying it wouldn’t make him feel better, and might make him feel worse. After a few days, he told a few close friends and family members what was going on, but instead of dwelling on his situation, his strategy was to keep busy and not think about it.

As soon as he was able, he went to play basketball at the YMCA. In mid May, he began a 5-week drama camp internship that he had lined up in the spring. He volunteered at a comedy club, played golf, and went to a Braves game.

He also listened to what the doctors were telling him, about what he had to do to survive. He spoke on the phone with the neurosurgeons we reached out to, and absorbed what they said. After he made decisions about who to see and where to go – once Jack had a plan – he let more people know about his illness. But he still didn’t go public. He owned his journey and what was happening to him in the way that strengthened him, and used all his energy to fight the disease. He stayed positive and hopeful, and his courage was inspiring.

Third, Jack didn’t let others tell him how to feel. Just before his sophomore year at UGA, a radiation oncologist chastised him for being dismayed that he was going to lose his hair. Jack bristled at her words and seemed shaken. “Oh, come on,” she said to him, in front of me. “You’re a guy! You shouldn’t care if you lose your hair!”

Moments later, on our way home, he told me how much her cavalier attitude and judgment hurt. “She has no right to say if I should I care,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that I’m a guy. She has no idea how I feel, and she shouldn’t tell me how to feel.”

He was right. I was powerless to protect him from the insensitivity of others, but glad that he shared his reaction with me.

A quote at the beginning of Chapter 2 in ALL THE ABOVE sums up my own feelings that day, and almost every other day during Jack’s battle with cancer. It’s from a novel called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.

“It’s come at last,” she thought, “the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache.”

Jack’s story is one of triumph. He was one of the lucky ones. He survived brain cancer. Today he is 26, living and working in New York, and has been cancer free for over 6 years. He was glad I wrote ALL THE ABOVE and excited about its publication. When I finished writing it, I added one final quote on the page before Chapter 1. It’s a quote from Jack himself:

“Just try (not all at once, just step by step), to have hope. Resiliency is a wonderful thing. Sometimes something great happens when all feels lost.”

 

List Post, avril 2017 (April)

It’s the last week of April, and I just realized I forgot to do a List Post this month!

I’ve been a little busy writing…and appearing at bookstores, festivals and markets, signing copies of my books. Back in late March, I went to Asheville, NC for a few days, and to Savannah the next weekend. The first weekend of April, I went to Texas with my husband to visit family. Here’s a rundown of this month, through the end of it, this Sunday:

  • My appearance at Tall Tales Books had to be rescheduled from March 26 to April 8. It was lots of fun mingling with readers in a great bookstore!
  • Alas, I had to cancel as a Regional Writer for the Dahlonega Literary Festival last month. I hope to be back next year, though.
  • On April 9, I headed to Wilbur & Rudy’s Farmtable and Market in Milton, GA for a book signing.
  • Then on April 15, I appeared as a panelist with authors Gelia Dolcimascolo, Nancy Stephan and James Huskins at the Atlanta Writers Club meeting in Dunwoody, GA. Our panel was the 3rd speaker slot beginning at 3pm. Lots of interesting questions and discussion!
  • On April 22, I was one of several authors signing books at “Lemonade Days” in Dunwoody, a festival held at an area park. It was a gorgeous day and we met lots of cool readers. We appeared again the next day but had to close up shop early because of heavy rain.
  • And on Sunday April 30 (rain or shine), I’ll sign books at an Author Signing at the Donaldson-Bannister House in Dunwoody! Please stop by.

April30AuthorMeme!

us

That’s me on the left, with two other authors and a reader who grabbed copies of our books at Lemonade Days! 

Pizza, Salad, and a Movie: Get Out

Last weekend’s Pizza Toppings at Corner Pizza:

  • Tomatoes
  • Jalapeños
  • Mushrooms

IMG_3928

It was a beautiful evening, so we sat outside on the patio. I had the V-8 salad (tomatoes + other fresh ingredients but no lettuce).

Movie:

Get Out

If you know anything about this film, you know it’s basically Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets horror film. I’m not a big fan of the latter, but the former is one of my all time favorite movies. I thought that film’s story was wonderful, and the acting was super.

Not so much with this movie. My husband liked it better than I did (and he is more okay with horror movies), and though I admit it was cleverly done, I don’t think it’s destined to be a classic. There was one scene in particular that truly horrified me, and – spoiler – it had to do with brain surgery. If you’ve read my third book, ALL THE ABOVE: MY SON’S BATTLE WITH BRAIN CANCER (or even if you haven’t yet) you’ll know why.

So, I came out of the theatre a bit shaken. But I guess that was the idea.

 

 

 

Pizza, Salad, and a Movie: The Lego Batman Movie

Last weekend’s Pizza Toppings at Corner Pizza:

  • Arugula
  • Jalapeños
  • Artichoke Hearts

pizza

I had a wedge salad, but since it was the first Friday of Lent, I skipped the bacon. So it was basically iceberg lettuce, tomato, and blue cheese dressing. My husband joked that it reminded him of the salads his mom used to make. (But he doesn’t remember blue cheese dressing…)

Since I haven’t mentioned this in a while, let me say that the pizzas at Corner Pizza are very good. When I achieve my weight loss goal, I may have a slice or two. Until then, I’m happy just to take photos of them.

Movie:

The Lego Batman Movie

Whoever thought of making a movie using Lego pieces/characters? Someone did for the first one (The Lego Movie, I think), and because it did so well, they came along and did another. This one was clever, if a little silly, but it was well done and entertaining. A bit of a change from movies we’ve seen lately, and a welcome one.

Now – it’s old news that La La Land didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Picture (and how it didn’t win). I’m glad it didn’t, but we haven’t seen Moonlight and don’t really want to. I’m kind of over the Oscars, anyway, except maybe for the gowns on the Red Carpet. Staying up past midnight to see the announcers (or whoever it was) mess up the biggest award of the night – well, I’m glad I didn’t.

[I did wake up in the middle of the night though and checked Facebook (!) to see who won that award. I saw a post that said “That was nuts. #Oscars”, but for some reason, I wasn’t curious enough to look further. I went back to sleep and found out what happened the next morning.]

Incidentally, Bonnie and Clyde is one of my all time favorite films. Too bad its actors had the misfortune of being the ones who got the wrong card that night!

 

 

 

Pizza, Salad, 4 Movies and the Oscars

Last weekend’s Pizza Toppings at Corner Pizza:

  • Shallots
  • Jalapeños
  • Portobellos

img_3153

For me, a spinach salad.

(Recent) Movies:

Hidden Figures

Gold

Fanny’s Journey

Lion


The OSCARS are coming!

Not surprisingly, La La Land has received lots of nominations. Although I enjoyed it, I don’t think it should be awarded Best Picture (but I expect that it will). There was much about that movie to like, but the story just didn’t do it for me. It was the ending that killed it – not to mention some aspects of the plot. A recent Wall Street Journal article sums up my feelings almost exactly (note: spoilers!)

I saw the four films listed above after seeing La La Land. Each are based on true stories, and I loved all of them except Gold (and I liked that a lot). What I didn’t like about Gold: the way Matthew McConaughey looked (he gained weight for the role), and the fact that I found the film too long.

The other 3 movies were fantastic, in my opinion.

Fanny’s Journey was in French with English subtitles (I saw it during the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival), so you may not know about it. I highly recommend it. Hidden Figures and Lion were very, very good, and I think each should win some awards. My pick for Best Picture? It’s a toss up between the two.

We’ll see what the Academy decides, tomorrow night.

 

 

Pizza, Salad, and a Movie: Manchester By The Sea

This weekend’s Pizza Toppings at Corner Pizza:

  • Capers
  • Jalapeños
  • Chicken

fullsizerender-19

I tried a new salad: “The V-8.” It was great!

Movie:

Manchester By The Sea

What can I say about this film, other than that it was sad? My husband said it reminded him of Ordinary People (which I liked better than this). Once I got used to the Boston/northern accents – which took a few minutes – I was involved with the characters. But overall, I didn’t enjoy this movie as much as I had hoped to. I knew it was a drama, and would probably be a tragic story, but I was looking for something else, something that just never happened.

And it left me feeling unhappy.

Let me know if you see it and you have a different reaction. I’d love to know what you thought.

 

 

List Post, décembre 2016 + HOLIDAY POEM!

  1. Write my next novel
  2. Get ready for Christmas (at home, this year)
  3. Celebrate the holidays with family and friends
  4. And on Tuesday, December 13 – the Killer Nashville Facebook Page will host my guest blog.

I met KN blog coordinator Tom Wood back in September at the Decatur Book Festival, and he asked me to submit a post for later on…which I did, and Voilà!

I’d love for you to read it and Like it.

img_2726

Now, for this year’s verse:

My holiday poem, I’ll try to make short.

The year’s highlights, to you, I’ll describe and report.

Two thousand sixteen will be history soon,

and I’ve time to consider that, this afternoon.

I began the year busy with two new endeavors:

got on Facebook, and found it both easy and clever.

I started my newsletter also, and found

it a way to update you all – all the year ’round.

In the spring, my last book, Daddy’s Girl, was released

and my number of novels out, by one, increased.

In the summer, just after it won an award

My nonfiction book, All the Above, struck a chord

With the public, when I penned an article in

the Atlanta newspaper (called the AJC). Then,

in the fall, I attended three festivals where

I met readers and authors and others who share

in the interest of stories, both made-up and true.

I had fun, and ’twas hard, to them all, bid adieu.

I will close with my wishes of love and good cheer.

Joyeuses fêtes de Noel and a Happy New Year!

img_2727

 

 

 

 

 

List Post, novembre 2016

It’s almost time for turkey Thanksgiving! (What?)

It’s the middle of November, and I’m just now getting around to posting this month’s List! (I’ve been busy.)

Just before the U.S. presidential election, my monsieur and I headed to the Caribbean for a long-awaited vacation on a beautiful island paradise. It was gorgeous, fun, and relaxing!

fullsizerender

On a “sunset cruise” together

The next weekend, I was off to moderate the nonfiction panel at the 2nd Annual Milton Literary Festival in Alpharetta, GA, where I also discussed my book ALL THE ABOVE.

img_2583

Me, talking books

So…what do I have coming up?

See my Events tab for details, but in a nutshell:

  • Book Signing, Crema Espresso Gourmet, Dunwoody, GA, Wed, Dec 7, 12:30-3:30
  • Interview, America’s Web Radio Show, “The Prologue,” Fri, Feb 3, 11:00 a.m.
  • Book Signing & Sunday Tea, Bookmiser Book Store, Roswell, GA, Sun, Feb 19, 2:00-3:30
  • And in March I’ll appear at the Dahlonega Literary Festival, followed by a panel discussion appearance at the April meeting of the Atlanta Writers Club in Dunwoody, GA.

In between, I’ll be writing my next novel, and celebrating the holidays with my family and friends.

Joyeuses fêtes de Thanksgiving, et bon apétit!

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑