Most unwelcome indeed.
As it will be next Thursday, one week after Thanksgiving, when we visit Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to discuss Alex’s latest round of testing and evaluations performed last week. Next Thursday will be a long day of waiting and listening in a windowless clinic room where limits of patience, hunger, and emotions are tested. It will be a day filled with administrators, technicians, nurses, and doctors specializing in pulmonology, cardiology, neurology, and endocrinology. Throw in dietitians, physical therapists, social workers, and palliative care specialists, and the day will be like a large family gathering of revolving doors, serious talks, and some tears. We’ll sit and take it while doctors share Alex’s steady decline in nearly every measurable category related to this incurable disease. We’ll sigh deeply, hold hands, and wish it was all a dream.
But, it’s not.
It’s life with Duchenne.
Next Thursday, we’ll see old friends we have known for years like Kenny-Benny in cardiology check-in who always shares smiles and laughter with Alex. We’ll see Dr. Wong in neurology, as well as her assistant Andrea, who have been with Alex since he was 3 years old. We’ll see Drs. Rutter, McCormick, and Garbani, and many others at our home-away-from-home located at 3333 Burnet Avenue.
We'll hear reminders of Duchenne’s unstoppable progression. We’ll listen to Dr. Sawnani, Alex’s pulmonologist and all-time favorite doctor, describe Alex’s declining lung function with heartfelt (though sometimes difficult) honesty. We’ll listen to Dr. Ryan, the cardiologist who works to protect Alex’s strongest muscle of all. We’ll listen as Alex shares his hopes and dreams with Dr. Widener, his palliative care doctor who is tasked to help Alex live as comfortably as possible as life gets tough. All said and done, it’s a long and exhausting day, one that usually leaves our heads full and our hearts heavy.
But, next Thursday is just that. It’s NOT today! It’s not turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans. It’s not Italian wedding soup, sweet potatoes, and stuffing. It’s not creamed corn casserole, tossed salad, and homemade bread! It’s not full bellies, dishes, and football! It's not, because today is OUR day! Next Thursday can wait!
I say this because today we focus on the good in life with Duchenne. Although next Thursday looms heavy, we have today. It’s precious. It’s now. And, it’s ours to enjoy and indulge. Let the feasting begin!
And today, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for many things currently in our life with Duchenne.
…seeing life from an incredible perspective I never would have dreamed
…witnessing Alex’s genuine love for everyone…seriously, everyone!
…watching him approach anyone with confidence and a smile
…seeing the hope in his eyes as his hand loosely curls for a fist-bump
…seeing his genuine joy for attending school and being with friends, teachers, assistant principals, security guards, and custodians
…listening to his hopes and dreams about life, girls, and everything teen-aged in between
…watching him work the phones in search of a friend to sleep over
…going to his school to help him use the restroom or sit him back in his wheelchair
…helping him with the simplest of tasks we often take for granted
…calming his hopes, worries, and fears
…helping him to understand life and death
…wiping his tears
…encouraging his dreams
…sharing his joys
…sharing his love
…hearing his laughter
…experiencing his smile
…holding his hand while we sleep, and
…hearing him say I love you every night.
On a personal front, I am also thankful for…
…Friday Night Pizza and Beer when Kristy and I carve out time to talk about life, Duchenne, our hopes, and our dreams (as well as listen to classic rock and enjoy a cold one or three)
…writing, fantasy sports, Sudoku, and hummus - my escapes from the daily grind
…friends who take the time to ask about Alex
…my coaches who encouraged me to do my best and never give up
…my parents who demonstrated commitment and love
…our daughter who fills us with pride and joy
…my wife who loves and completes me (and tolerates my quirks)
…our little family who travels this challenging road together.
For Alex, I am thankful for…
…Star Wars, need I say more?
…superheroes, who give him hope in the fight of good vs. evil
…video games that allow him to escape and conquer
…movies that entertain and expand his imagination
…his friends Zach, Brendan, Adam, Liam, and Ben, to name a few
…his secret crushes who shall remain nameless
…neighbors with driveways who take the time to talk and laugh with Alex
…anyone who allows Alex to pet their dog
…waiters and waitresses that share in Alex’s smile and laughter
…zoos, malls, parks, museums, and theaters or any open space for wheelchairs
…concrete, asphalt, or any other smooth surface to roll unobstructed
…storefronts without a step
…cell phones so Alex can call us whenever he needs
…Alexa for voice-activated calls (as his arms become too weak to hold a phone)
…a power wheelchair so he can get out and about
…a handicapped accessible van
…a Hoyer lift to transfer Alex from his bed to his wheelchair, and back again
…Bi-PAPs, sip vents, and cough assists
…technologies and treatments that give us another day
…caring and compassionate doctors, nurses, administrators, and technicians
…our little family
…Our son who shows us how to live!
So, there you have it. A brief and brighter side of living with Duchenne, as I see it. Although next Thursday will undoubtedly remind us of the monster’s sadistic and progressive march, Alex helps us to realize we have today and we have each other! And, nothing is more beautiful when you really think about it! For THAT perspective, we give thanks!
Life sometimes isn’t always what you expect. It isn’t always what you dreamed, hoped, or planned. But, it’s life! It’s your life! So, find the good, be thankful, and live with love!
We see no other way.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!
Please pass the gravy!