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.”

 

Pizza, Salad, and a Movie: Get Out

Last weekend’s Pizza Toppings at Corner Pizza:

  • Tomatoes
  • Jalapeños
  • Mushrooms

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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, 4 Movies and the Oscars

Last weekend’s Pizza Toppings at Corner Pizza:

  • Shallots
  • Jalapeños
  • Portobellos

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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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

Pizza, Salad, and a Movie: The Accountant

This weekend’s Pizza Toppings at Corner Pizza:

  • Anchovies
  • Jalapeños
  • Shallots

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Me? Wedge salad.

Movie:

The Accountant

He liked this movie better than I did. I did enjoy several scenes, but as a whole it wasn’t exactly my thing. However, I did think it was pretty well cast, even if I found the story a little bit out there. He thought it was actually set up for (or could be set up for) a sequel.

As for the pizza toppings, I know anchovies don’t look that good, but I think they taste pretty good – better than jalapeños, anyway. He’s running through every combination (it seems) he can make with jalapeños as one of the toppings, since I dislike them and am not eating pizza for the foreseeable future.

And all those salads (and other healthier food choices, + daily exercise) is paying off: Today is exactly 6 months since I started focusing on losing weight. In those 6 months, I’ve lost exactly 45 pounds!

People have asked me how I’ve done it. I use the app “LoseIt” to keep track of calories, and of pounds. I’m not at my goal, but I’m more than halfway there. When I reach it, I think I’ll pick all 3 toppings and have 1 very tasty slice of pizza (and a side salad, of course). I plan to continue using the app then (and for life, too – why not?) so I can maintain, after such a long weight-loss journey.

That’ll be my sequel.

 

Pizza, Salad, and a Movie: Queen of Katwe

This weekend’s Pizza Toppings at Corner Pizza:

  • Sliced Tomatoes
  • Jalapeños
  • Red Onion

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and a spinach salad for me.

Movie:

Queen of Katwe

He had heard of this film and wanted to see it, and I really enjoyed it. Based on a true story, it’s about a young girl in Africa who turns out to be a chess prodigy. I don’t play chess (and don’t want to learn how), but it was absolutely wonderful that this girl did. She was amazing, and during the chess competition scenes, it was tense, and she didn’t always win. I was mesmerized by her and her opponent’s eyes – watching their expressions and their reactions as they competed.

There was a lot more to love about this movie, too, including the rest of the cast, and it was well done. Sully was a feel-good film, and so was this one. It was just a tad bit too long, but overall I think it’s an A.

Our dinner was great, too, and it was a fun evening out. I’ll eat pizza again later on – but not with jalapeños on it!

 

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