You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2012.

Ready for these? Oh, they’re good ones alright . . .

From a restaurant in New Jersey:


And another in Hawaii:


A friend of my brother’s saw this one in a bar in Denver:



A high school in Chicago:


A different friend in Chicago was obviously in the very same building:


At a Starbucks in Bowling Green:


An ice cream shop in New Jersey:


In Traverse City, Michigan:


This one is just from good ol’ Cleveland, but it was cool because this church had another even bigger one posted out on the road that surprised me one day as I went running by (with no camera):



I had one that was sent to me from New Orleans that I can’t find any more.  And, of course, many people told me they saw them out and about but have no photographic proof (slackers). Thank you for keeping your eye out for us over these past twelve months. It has been such an incredible honor to be the face for so many of this year’s events, especially considering the fact that St. Baldrick’s raised more than $33 million in 2012, a $5M increase over their previous record-breaking 2011. A new poster child will be revealed in January and my boys’ sweet faces will be relegated to some dusty old storage boxes. I am going to ask St. Baldrick’s to send me any extra posters they have so I can use them again in 2013.

So, speaking of St. Baldrick’s 2013, our event page is up and running, with four registered shavees: Braedan and Austin as co-captains of Team Fairfax and two brave women I don’t yet know. It’s not too early for the rest of you to get started: register as a shavee, form a team of kids from your school, club or sports team, and start spreading the word and raising money. I am setting up a special Bobs for Baldrick’s station for women and girls who want to cut and donate their hair.   I’ve been advised that anyone doing that should register as a Volunteer and not a Shavee but then use the message on your personal page to describe what you’re doing to friends, family and potential donors. Let me know if you want more information about that option. I believe the barbers from Quintana’s will be shaving heads and Laura and Shawn Paul from Shawn Paul Salon will be doing the haircuts (so you can trust you’ll get a good one!)

And of course, I’ll need Registrars and Treasures too, the more the merrier, so hit me up if you’re interested. I’m really excited to do this again and am hopeful that we can surpass last year’s fundraising total of $36,146 by at least ten thousand. As importantly, I think we can surpass last year’s shavee total of 49 by about twenty. Join us . . . and be a hero for kids with cancer.

Whatever you celebrate, wherever you are . . . be a light in the darkness.

From a recent post I wrote for St. Baldrick’s:

Lighting the Darkness

Lighting the Darkness By Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, mother to Austin, 2012 Ambassador Kid

My grandfather died on December 21, 1982. The shortest – and darkest — day of the year. Cancer, of course. My brothers and I drove with our dad from Cleveland to Massachusetts for the funeral, where my mom had been for the previous week. It was the first time we’d ever not spent Christmas tin our own home, where my grandparents usually came to stay with us. After the funeral service on Christmas Eve, my grandmother went to lie down and my brothers and I ended up in her basement, one of our favorite places in her house (we’d spent many vacations roller skating around and around on that smooth concrete floor). But this time we searched through her neatly stacked boxes until we found some labeled “Christmas.” We quietly lugged everything upstairs and by the time my grandmother awoke from her nap, we had decorated a small fake tree in the living room and hung stockings over the fireplace. Just because our Grampy was gone didn’t mean we had to give up Christmas.

She talked about that day until she died, a physically broken but emotionally whole old lady, more than twenty years later.

To me, the holidays are about finding the light in the darkness. Placing candles in the window to light the way for those outside on these short winter days. Bringing the evergreen tree inside when all else is bare, to remind ourselves that life is still out there, that spring will eventually come.

When your child has cancer, the light and the dark, the circle and the cycle of life, feel ever more important. Everything is suddenly meaningful; little things like eating dinner as a family and big things like spending Christmas at home. When my Austin relapsed at age 3 in December 2009, the dark days were upon us in more ways than one.

Relapse is scary. Scarier than the first time, for us, at least. It means that that whole army you employed, the full-on assault you launched on your child’s small body, simply wasn’t enough. It means that cancer was stronger than the strongest medicines. And that is terrifying.

But you do it again. You load a fake Christmas tree into the car and you decorate every inch of that hospital room with anything sparkly and shiny you can find. You light the darkness because there is simply no other way. You hold on to hope and you force yourself to remember that spring will come.

Even on the darkest days.

We actually went home that year, a few days before Christmas, and returned to the hospital for chemo and radiation shortly after. But we spent Christmas Eve surrounded by family and friends and we celebrated all that we had, with full hearts. We awoke in our own home, a family of four, to open presents in front of the fireplace, to snuggle and laugh and take lots and lots of pictures. Never far from our minds was the thought, that fear that is impossible for the parents of the sick to shake, that this might be the last Christmas we would spend together.

And now, here we are, three years later, a family of four, alive, intact, together. Two little boys quickly morphing into big boys. Healthy and happy and pretty darn close to normal. Lighting the darkness is their own special ways each and every day.

You’ve heard it all over the media these past eight days: The teachers in Sandy Hook were heroes. And they were. No doubt about it. But they were also just teachers; they were doing — in a most basic and ordinary sense — what teachers do, all over the country, each and every day.

Teachers support and protect and nurture the children in their care. No matter what. I know, I’ve been there. My first three years of teaching were in an elementary school in the City of Compton, outside of Los Angeles. And while there were many stereotypes about Compton that were proved wrong by my students and their families over those years, it was nonetheless an impoverished city besieged by gang violence. And so, of course, there were shootings. Not school shootings, in the sense we now know them. But shootings right outside our school, that we could hear and, one time, even see. Gun violence that definitely placed me and the eight and nine-year-old children in my care in grave danger.

I learned pretty quickly what to do when the code red alarm would go off.  I’d check outside my door and grab any child walking by (which one time caused great stress to the teacher who had allowed a little boy to go to the bathroom right before a shooting) and lock my door. Then we’d sit on the floor on our reading rug, under the windows that lined the back of the classroom, facing a residential street. We were close enough to the windows that if stray bullets came through, they would fly over our heads — or so we hoped. I’d read and sometimes the kids would share their stories of friends and neighbors and cousins who were shot, the way my sons talk about their summer vacations. We’d wait, with no cell phones and not even an intercom or building phone to contact the office (these schools were lacking in so many ways). And after a while, the All Clear bell would sound and we’d go about our day. No heroics, just grown-ups keeping children safe and calm, acting like the teachers they were.

In the last month of my last year there, I was coaching soccer after school on our asphalt playground. And we heard gunfire. More than I’d ever heard before, so much that I almost thought they were fireworks. I looked about, at the kids running across our “field,” enjoying their last moments of practice, and at the moms with their baby strollers lined up on the wall, ready to walk them home. One nodded at me (she knew the difference between gun shots and fireworks) and I blew the whistle and started to gather up my kids, right when the Code Red alarm sounded. I stood on the ramp to the trailer that served as our library and shooed the moms and the children, strollers and soccer balls, into the door. It was automatic. I didn’t fear for my life, standing out in the open as I was. I simply did my job.

As I stood there waving my arms, “In, in. Faster, let’s go” (in English and Spanish), I looked up over their small heads and saw a guy on a bike racing down the street on the other side of our fence. He was pedaling furiously and looking over his shoulder with his hand at the waistband of his sweatpants . . . where he was holding his gun. It was a bike-by, for crying out loud. And I was close enough to see his face. Suddenly, three guys from a house across the street burst out their door, jumped off the porch and chased after him, on foot. (What exactly they were trying to accomplish is beyond me.) My last kid was whisked through the door and I was safely behind them, though I already knew that the danger had passed.

The next day, the police came to school to record my statement and I easily picked the guy out of a photo line-up. A month later, I was packed up and on the road to San Francisco (not a moment too soon, according to my dad, who’d spent the past three years being nervous for me when I wasn’t nervous for myself). That fall, I received a phone call from the Prosecutor’s Office and they flew me down to LA to testify against this guy in court. A known gang banger, he had threatened a young teenager that morning for telling his friend to say no to gangs. Payback, that very afternoon, was getting shot in the face and leg (thankfully, he did survive). It was the shooter’s third strike and in California, that means you’re out. I was, as you might imagine, a very credible witness, white teacher lady and all. When it was the defense attorney’s turn to cross examine, he mocked me and my story, “Oh, I’m sure you were veeerrryy heroic, standing out there and letting all your students inside before you, while you just calmly surveyed the scene,” and on and on as if I’d embellished my role with undue heroics.

“No,” I told him. “I wasn’t playing the hero. I was doing my job.” What I did that day on that playground was automatic. I didn’t think about it, I did it. When you are a teacher, your students really are your “kids,” and you will do whatever it takes to keep them from harm’s way.

Victoria Soto, Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, and Mary Sherlach did not intend to be heroes when they walked into work at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday. They intended to be teachers.


I know many of you, like me, have felt hopeless in the face of such tragedy. Wondering what you can possibly do to ease the pain and suffering of the families in Newtown. The answer, sadly, is little. There are no words strong enough to bring their children back, no teddy bear that could replace the joy of a brother or sister, no flowers that can bring beauty back to these dark days.

But there are things we can do. Even if we can’t take away what happened last Friday, we can work this day and every day, to ensure nothing like this happens again. I know that sounds like talk, just happy hopeful words that pundits and politicians like to use when we don’t know what else to do. But I really believe that kindness matters. And that kindness can make the world a better place.

I’m not going to get into gun control, which I happen to believe is (and always has been) an absolute necessity, nor will I specifically address access to mental health care, although I think it’s pretty obvious our society has failed on that front. But I will share Ann Curry’s plea that we all engage in 26 Acts of Kindness. I’m calling for 27 acts, because as much as we want someone to blame and as irresponsible as her gun ownership may have been, Nancy Lanza was nonetheless a victim. And besides, one additional act of kindness can only help.

Here’s a link to some of the things people have been doing, some specifically related to Newtwon, such as calling the local coffee shop and paying for 100 cups of coffee with your credit card. But many of them are more local, donations made to local organizations, paying the toll for 26 cars behind you on the highway. They speak to the inherent kindness in people and they give us hope and provide light in the darkness.

This afternoon, my boys and I are buying 27 canned goods to donate to the local food shelter. We’re sending some extra money to the Hurricane Sandy relief funds. We’re gonna squeeze some extra time out of our very packed weekend to make and deliver breakfast to the pediatric oncology floor at the hospital, for those families who stuck there instead of home for the holidays. We already have and will continue to provide Christmas presents for a family we know who have struggled mightily over the past year. And we will make and mail 27 snowflakes, inscribed with wishes, to the Connecticut PTSA who is collecting snowflakes for Sandy Hook, in an effort mighty similar to Austin’s wishing stars.

It doesn’t take away the hurt, it doesn’t bring children back to life. But, in our own small way, as we begin the shortest day of the year, it lights the darkness. We can each light the darkness.

This one might be a little rough, so consider yourself warned. As so much we’ve seen and read and watched has been rough over the past few days . . .

Mark and I had that horrid conversation the other day, that I imagine many parents of the sick have had this weekend. It’s a rather gut-wrenching thing to bring up, but it inevitably comes at times like this: Which do you think is worse, losing a child to something like cancer or losing a child to something like a school shooting?

My answer was quick and unequivocal: School shooting, no question. Now let me be very clear — there is no good way to lose a child. NO good way. None of the options are remotely acceptable, nor should they be. But I have spent years envisioning what our last days and moments with Austin could be like and they’re pretty lovely. Not happy, not good, nowhere near okay. But they’d be filled with an overwhelming display of love. Every second would be spent holding and comforting, crying and remembering, loving and loving and loving.

I’m not stupid. I know it would be horrid. It would be painful and ugly and completely and utterly heartbreaking. But I would hold him. I would get as physically close as whatever machines and tubes he might be hooked to would allow, and I would wrap myself around him and hold him to the end, til he drew his last breath. And that would count for something.

The hardest thing for me watching and reading and thinking, endlessly thinking about these parents in Connecticut, was the fact that when they went to bed on Friday night, their babies were still lying on the floor of their classrooms, covered in blood and unmoved, untouched, as part of a crime scene. They never got to touch them again, to even see them again. Never, not even dead; the coroner said the parents were shown only photographs to spare them the agony of viewing the actual bodies in such a horrific state. But I think I would want to see it. I know that may not be wise, that it would be an unbearable image that I would never be able to shake from my mind. But so would the photo, really. I mean, is that truly any easier? I would want to touch my child’s body one more time. Touch their hair, stroke their cheek, kiss their lips, even cold and lifeless. I would not know how to go on without that.

Mark’s not so sure. He thinks the years of pain and suffering that children who die of cancer have to endure might be worse than the single moment of fear. He may be right, if you’re only thinking of the one who dies. I suppose he is right if we’re thinking only of the victims. Those children on Friday did not suffer long. But their parents will suffer forever.

I choose holding.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly we can revert back to our old roles. Our seamlessly we become who we once were: the patient and the advocate, the comforter and the distractor. It’s as if we never left that old hospital world; it all feels so familiar, so deep in our bones, even in a brand new space.

We awoke super early Friday morning, if you can call 3:45 “morning.”  Driving down the driveway at 4:30am to arrive in pre-op by 5:30 made me ever thankful that we lived so close to our hospital for all those years. (We ended up at Akron solely for insurance reasons — which will change in the new year — and, aside from follow-ups won’t be driving back there again.)

By 7:30, Austin was walking down the hallway hand-in-hand with an operating room nurse, with just one backward glance, but no tears, as he marched off to surgery. A quick hour-and-a-half later, he came to in the post-op room and we were by his side, offering popsicles and comfort. The ENT said his tonsils were enormous, but came out with no problems. And the hand surgeon was very pleased with how his finger repair went, no nerve damage despite many layers of scar tissue. He has a heavy red cast up to his elbow, only there to keep him from using his hand. The doctor wasn’t even sure he was going to give him a cast until he asked me how active Austin is. Once the words “gymnastics” and “cartwheels” passed through my lips, he knew just what to do. (And I’ve seen Austin do three cartwheels already, using the cast as a study foundation.)

photo(195)Dressed for the part

photo(196)Yes, he’s using that cast as a bat


We spent the afternoon mindlessly rotating between the floor playroom and his bed, trying to make the minutes pass by a little more quickly. A couple of books, wandering aimlessly through the halls, cajoling with sherbert and applesauce. Three good hours followed by the miserable half-hour leading up to the next dose of painkillers, followed by the miserable half-hour it takes to kick in. Hospitals are just plain boring, there’s no way around that. Akron was a lovely place; we went downstairs for a dramatic reading of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and met Ronald McDonald on one of our walks. That evening as we sat on the bed eating dinner, a troupe of carolers in Renaissance costumes came singing down the halls. And a volunteer knocked on the door to read Austin a bedtime story.

So, it was fine, but still, it’s a hospital and I can’t help but feel trapped when I’m there. And they’re all amazingly the same, the colors of the cupboards to store your clothes and the placement of the buttons on the walls, the smell of the rubber couch I slept on and the feel of the sheets that have been washed ten thousand times. Austin did okay throughout the night, well, as expected, I guess. He was up at midnight and 4am needing medicine. But he ate surprisingly well Friday evening, chowing down an enormous l tray of soft foods for dinner. We were released by 10am on Saturday and safe at home an hour later.

He played hard and happily that day and I thought I’d for sure send him to school Tuesday, if not Monday. But yesterday was worse and today he took a three-hour nap in the morning, so we’re laying low. His hand is fine and he’s driven to be independent, managing to snap his jeans and write his name with both his left hand and his casted one. But his throat is very painful and he’s struggling to eat anything at all. Even popsicles hurt going down.

But we truly believe this could be our last overnight in the hospital for many, many years. We called it an Austin tune-up, just getting everything into tip-top shape for years and years ahead of normal, regular childhood. I imagine that the next time he sleeps in a hospital bed, he won’t scoot over halfway through the night and beg for me to slip in beside him. It’s sort of bittersweet, that thought, but as hard as watching my baby grow up may be, I will always take it over the alternative. Always.

Austin is having surgery this Friday at Akron Children’s. Surgeries, actually, two procedures rolled into one. They’re minor and non-cancer related.  Just a long overdue tonsillectomy and finger repair. You may remember that his swollen tonsils (besides keeping us all up at night) prevented him from being sedated for his May MRI, requiring us to go through the surgical department for full-blown anesthesia. While we hope he’ll have no future reasons to be sedated, we also realize that’s pretty unlikely given his history (and his future). And the poor finger . . . well, that thing’s been bothering him for more than a year as it’s now clawed and  unable to fully straighten. The lovely surgeons at Akron have coordinated their schedules so he only has to have one surgery, which I think (I lose track of these things) brings him up to eleven.

The interesting thing about this time is how nervous Austin is. He’s been so young every time in the past that all these crazy things happened to him without his full (or at times, even partial) understanding.  This time, he is well aware and asking many many questions: “What day are we going again? Is tomorrow when we leave at 6 in the morning? How long will I have a cast on my hand?” I don’t think he’ll have a cast on his hand at all, more like a bandage, but he’s definitely concerned about not being able to write at school.  His teacher has assured me this won’t be an issue (he is in kindergarten, after all), but Austin is a participator — he joins in to any and every activity possible with his full self, so standing on the sidelines will be tough. Especially when it comes to missing his regular Wednesday and Saturday tumbling classes. I already have to set silly rules to contain the near constant acrobatics, like no cartwheeling while crossing the street and no flips after 8pm. Of course, I think it’ll probably be his tonsils that cause the most pain, but that seems a bit too abstract for him to worry about. And I don’t exactly want to encourage him to fear something else!

Sp we go in early Friday morning and will stay over that night. Of course these are both typically out-patient procedures but since Austin is in no way typical, they want to observe his blood pressure and hydration. This will be our first overnight in the hospital in a record-breaking two-and-a-half years, since an unexpected fever in August of 2010. I just reread that old post, “Interruption,” not quite remembering the circumstances of that particular stay. Its closing lines were right on. It finally seems that, despite swollen tonsils or Franken-fingers, we have indeed made it safely to that wide-open future I could only hope for back then. We are living it.


December 2012


December 2012