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It’s March 20th. The first day of spring. A time that for most of us marks a beginning. A sense of relief (phew, we made it!) and excitement for all that’s to come (it is coming, you know). New growth, lengthening days, all the signs of life returning.

It is not so for the Meyer family. This day, one year ago, marked the beginning of the end. There was new growth alright, but not the kind that anyone wanted. The discovery of a new tumor in Rebecca’s brain and the stark reality — that her parents already knew but had hoped they’d never have to truly experience — that there were no more options. There was nothing to be done.

It wasn’t the end of hope. The family kept fighting, kept searching, kept grasping desperately for any possible way to extend her life. But they knew. One year ago today, on the first day of spring, they knew what was coming. And they knew they couldn’t stop it.

I still have hope. I hope that they Meyers will heal. That each day, they’ll feel a little more joy and a little more peace. That one day, they’ll laugh til tears run down their cheeks and they forget, even if just for a moment, that they’re sad.

And I hope that this is the beginning of the end of childhood cancers that kill. I’m not convinced that we can actually end childhood cancer, though that certainly is the goal. But I do truly believe that we can end childhood cancers that kill. I think with the right combination of funding and technology, brilliant minds and steadfast determination, doctors can achieve that much.

And I also truly believe that we took one step in that direction on Sunday. That the brave acts of the youngest among us will, in a real tangible way, move us closer to that goal.

I’ll repeat some of the things I said on Sunday, variations of which I shared twice, once with the Feldman family in the beginning of the event and again with the Meyer family in the middle.

The children of Fernway School and those of Fairfax School have had to learn some hard lessons in the past week and in the past year. They’ve had to see, up close and personal, how sad and cruel and deeply unfair the world can be. But they’ve also had the opportunity to see how good the world can be. How much kindness and selflessness there is out there. How many people are willing to come to your side in a time of need, to stand by you, hold your hand and bolster you up. How many are willing to do what’s right even when it’s terrifying.

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They’ve seen that there is a time for laughter and lightness, a time to honor and celebrate what we’ve lost while still looking forward. They know what it means to sacrifice, to give when you know that you won’t get anything back from it. Every person in that room could have shaved their heads on Sunday and it wouldn’t bring Dan or Rebecca back. But they were still willing to do it. Because they embody hope.

Because they still believe in new beginnings.

 

Remember that Big Lots contest I wrote about back in June? The one that Fairfax entered in the hopes of winning big (or even little) money for a new piece of adaptive playground equipment that all our students could use together, regardless of physical ability? Well, it was the longest and most tedious contest ever, lasting an excruciating five weeks. I got so damn good at typing captchas from every device in our home that I even dreamed about them.

The contest did have an awful lot of potential prizes, ranging from the grand prize of $20,000 to thirty smaller $2,000 prizes. We were cautiously optimistic about at least winning something, although we knew we had several factors working against us. For one thing, we were competing against middle and high schools where every student likely owns their own device and could have voted independently of their parents. We also were competing against some schools that remained in session for the first week or two (or even three) of the contest, making it much easier for staff to remind students and families to continue voting, while ours were in full vacation mode.  And lastly, we do exist in a community that tends to be rather polarized around school issues. Many of our residents opt for private and parochial school and, even for those public school families, we can sometimes feel divided among the seven elementary schools in our district. This is not some old-fashioned town where if you post a reminder on the town square marque to vote for your local school, every single resident is going to rush home to their device and happily begin typing.

But we were indeed optimistic, if for no other reason than that we have the best damn PTA ever. And our optimism was well warranted because we won. As in, WE WON THE WHOLE DANG THING. We had the absolute top number of votes of any of the 186 schools across the country that entered and we won a whooping $20,000! I was moved to tears when I got the call from our PTA president two weeks ago. This brings us about halfway toward our goal and will hopefully allow us to capitalize on some momentum and raise the rest of the money to install the piece by spring. Big Lots will make their public announcement this Monday and will hold a celebratory ceremony where they hand over one of those enormous checks to which everyone is invited, especially Fairfax students and their families. The event, complete with food, music, giveaways and lots of media attention, will be held on Wednesday, August 14 at 9:30 am at the Big Lots at 24295 Chagrin Blvd in Beachwood.

Thank you so much to everyone and anyone who voted. Even if you only remembered to log on and vote after being harassed on Facebook or even if those captchas drove you crazy, it was all worth it in the end. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Yesterday was indeed another day. And a good one at that.

Started with an early morning Dunkie’s run by Mark (nothing like junk food at 8am to get the kids up and at ’em). Then off to school, with an end-of-Friday visit by Mommy and Braedan, complete with frosted zucchini muffins (not too junky, those) and a read-aloud by big brother to a class of cute and giggling kindergarteners. The whole event was tinged by a bittersweet encounter with a teacher’s aide I knew from my Coventry teaching days, who stopped me in the hallway with a hug and whispered in my ear how fervently she had prayed for this day.

His teacher using a magnifying glass to search for gray hairs.

More Lego gifts in the afternoon (god, I love how those keep them quietly engaged for such long stretches).  Then homemade pizzas with the Gallagher clan, more presents and the as-requested key lime pie.

Today, a couple of hours of soccer accompanied by Daddy (so Mommy can finish last-minute party prep and cake decorating), followed by hopefully sunny skies and a gaggle of excited school children eager for Lego mania.

And as I said yesterday on Facebook, not a single day goes by when I am not keenly aware of how lucky I am to have this boy in my life. It’s been a crazy, unexpected, awful, wonderful, unlucky and extremely lucky six years.

Happy 6th Birthday to my sweet love, the one and only Austin Gallagher.

It was magical.  That’s really the best word to describe it. The weather held out beautifully and the party was most certainly held outside in the yard, where we had always envisioned it (and what we — ahem, Mark — had worked so hard for). It had a wedding-like quality, which was both good and bad.  Bad only in the sense that all these people had come to celebrate with us and we managed to have very few meaningful or long conversations with anyone. It was lots of quick minutes with one group or another before moving onto the next arriving (or departing) guests.  I now want to have many smaller gatherings where we can actually sit and connect with our friends (and boy, do we have the leftover beer and wine for that!).

I do have two regrets. The first, pretty minor, is that I fully intended to use my last blog post to ask people to take their own pictures and post them.  That way I would have seen the evening from many different perspectives, all the small groups that formed here or there, on the lawn or the porch or even the treehouse deck. But I totally forgot and it wasn’t until the sun had already set that I thought to ask our helper girls to go around and snap some shots.  The flash on my iPhone isn’t very good, but they definitely managed to capture the magical quality of the yard with all its twinkling lights.

Shiny happy people

Representing the westside

(You must all know that, if you’re in my life, you have implicitly granted permission for me to publicly display your photos, official release form or not. And you all looked lovely anyway, so no complaining.)

My second regret is much bigger and it’s that I didn’t take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to thank everyone publicly.  You know that whenever there’s a microphone available, I find a way to speak into it! And yes, we had a microphone and yes, I had something in my head to say, but there never seemed to be the right moment. It all went by in a flash, until suddenly I took a breath and there were just fifteen of us sitting out on the porch (which we did until 3am). When one of my girlfriends said she was surprised I hadn’t spoken, I said that I’d intended to, and they then convinced me to stand up and do it right there.  I felt a little silly, since I was speechifying to my nearest and dearest (and a few late night randoms) but of course, I didn’t need much arm-twisting.

I will write it to you here tomorrow, I promise, a belated Thank You edited from what I can only imagine was some margarita-induced rambling. But for now just accept our thanks for coming and sharing in the specialness of the night with us. And thank you for all the wine and gifts; I made the stupid mistake of separating everything from their cards and gift bags as soon as I opened it and now I can’t figure out who brought what. Oops!

And one more photo of the party aftermath … tonight’s recycling:

I find myself studying the five-day weather forecast with an intensity matched only by that of ten years ago, as I nervously planned my outdoor wedding.  That day turned out to be way beyond what I would have happily accepted, with sunny skies and a high of 78, followed by a glorious sunset and an evening just chilly enough for women to have to wear the suit jackets of their dates as we danced under the stars.  As of this particular moment, the forecast for this Saturday’s big celebration looks very similar: a high of 79 (a relief in this oppressively hot summer), dipping to the 60s as the night goes on.  No jackets required this time though.

Oh, and speaking of attire (because I know from experience that this is an inevitable last minute issue for at least half of you), I am wearing a dress. Because it’s my party and I can wear what I want to.  I do not care in the least what any of you wear, but we do intend to be outside for the vast majority of the evening.

If you haven’t RSVPed, it’s not too late. Well, it’s almost too late because the food and drink orders have been placed, but I’ll be kind and still let you come. I know Mark always likes to know what to expect in terms of food when we go to these things because he is not as easily satiated by finger foods as I am, but that’s what we’re having — don’t come hungry for a full meal, it’ll be more in the “heavy hors d’ouvres” category.

My boys will be most pleased when this event is over and done with because Mark and I have been heavily engaged in house cleaning and yard prep. I always feel guilty when I read those little sayings on people’s Facebook pages like, “Please pardon the mess, my kids are making memories” or “My children won’t remember the dust and clutter; they’ll remember the laughter and playtime.” Well, my kids will remember the clean house and the hard work it took to get there!

But we’re close to done and mostly just excited.  And for those of you who are unable to come and said you’d drink a toast to us, we’ll be sure to drink one to you too, but it’ll have to be one collective toast to all of you at once or I’ll never make it through the night!

I know it’s redundant to ask people to “please RSVP” since si vous plait is right there in the request, but please RSVP.  We’re making the final call on how much food and drink to order by this weekend so I need the most accurate count I can get. So far, we have 127 confirmed guests plus another 30 or so who are “stopping by.” And that’s with at least another hundred who are regrettably out of town, at weddings or with visiting guests. So, needless to say, it should be quite a shindig.

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, this is a grown-up party.  My kids and a few others will be here until about 9 or 9:30 and then are walking over to their friend’s house to crash.  I know some people are planning to bring their kids, at least early, which is fine if that’s the only way you can come but just make sure they know that the evening is not designed with them in mind.  I so don’t mean to be rude or exclusive or anything (I like kids, I promise!) but just don’t want anyone to be surprised or disappointed if their kids end up bored with all the grown-up talk and grown-up food. Just fair warning! Babes in arms are always welcome.

And, no you don’t need to bring anything.  This is in large part a Thank You for all the love and support and food and gifts we’ve received in the five years since Austin’s first diagnosis. So, thank you, but we’ve got you covered!

We’ve been busily preparing the house and yard (although I cannot bear to weed my sunny — and absurdly overgrown — garden in this disgusting heat), so it’s mostly indoor tasks I’m completing. We are very excited and I wouldn’t have said that I was at all nervous except that I had a bizarre dream the other night where 1) All sorts of random guests showed up an hour early and I hadn’t yet gone out to get the food (why I thought I could wait until 6:30 the night of the party to get food is beyond me) and 2) I lost one of my front teeth right before the party started (a la Braedan) and was worried about all the toothless pictures of me that were going to appear on Facebook, so was trying not to smile!  Ha. Maybe I am a bit nervous!

But if you RSVP, it’ll make me feel much better …

An addendum: If you’ve already let me know that you’re coming (or not) via email, text, Facebook or in person, consider yourself RSVPed and skip the Paperless Post site.  I’m keeping a separate master list.

OK, perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. I am not sending out individual invitations unless I know that you don’t read the blog (yes, there are still a few people in our lives who don’t). So, if you’re reading these words right now, then you’re not getting an invitation. For one thing, it would take too long. Plus I’d be afraid that I might miss someone. And the Paperless Post site I’m using isn’t free, unlike Evite. It’s only a few cents per emailed invitation, but still, I’d rather put that money into indulging you at the party itself.

But you are actually invited. If you’ve ever commented on a post or “liked” a status update, if you’ve delivered us a meal or hosted Braedan during a hospital stay. If your child shaved his head or if you donated on the heads of my children, if you walked beside us at the CureSearch Walk (which, no we didn’t miss this year; it’s been moved to September) . . . then you are invited. Even if you’ve done none of those things, but have followed along quietly and consistently over the years (or months), then you also are invited.  I know some of you are sitting there reading and saying, “Oh, well, she couldn’t mean me,” but I do!

I can see that several hundred of you read Tuesday’s post and that more than 100 of you clicked through to view the invitation so the fact that only eight of you have responded is going to hurt my feelings.  And we don’t want that . . . So, come on and celebrate with us!  It’s been brought to my attention that there’s no Decline option on the Paperless Post site (but do please check out my carefully chosen postmark on the envelope). Sort of strange, I know, but you can probably just use the Comments section for that. I want you all to come, but I don’t really want ALL of you to come. Our yard isn’t that big.

Well, my friends, it’s more than time to celebrate.  When Austin first finished cancer treatment way back in the winter of 2008, I remember thinking about having a big party until my mom and I sat down with a list of registered Carepage readers and realized we simply didn’t have enough room for all those people.  But now Mark and I have a huge yard with a huge porch and even more to celebrate (as that 2008 party would have obviously been a bit premature).

Austin is not keen on being the center of attention, so we’re wrapping many milestones into this one bash, and … on Saturday, July 28 we are hosting a great, big, long, loud and late party to celebrate all that is right in our lives: Mark is turning 40 in November (if you can count that as something that is “right” in our lives….), our 10th anniversary is in early August, our house projects are pretty much/almost/really close to done and, of course, last but far from least, Austin is two-years cancer-free.

Our fun and fabulous (and tree-friendly) invitation can be found here. Please know that even if you don’t receive an official invitation delivered to your email, you are indeed invited. Yes, all of you. Of course, I have no idea who or how many “all of you” are, but if you’ve ever gone to bed at night with fear and sadness in your heart after reading my updates or with relief and joy in your heart after reading my updates, then I’m talking to you. Leave your computer behind and come celebrate with us in person. But you must let me know that you’re coming! We really need a head count if we’re going to be even the slightest bit prepared. Of course, there are a few of you who may want to plan a surprise visit, but you better really be worth it. No fair “surprising” me with your presence if you live ten minutes away.

And note, Austin’s good health may be at the core of this party, but Austin himself will only be here until about 9pm and then he and Braedan will be shipped off somewhere quieter. In other words, call your babysitters, people, this is a grown-up party.

See you in a few weeks . . .

Friday was Austin’s last day of preschool. Ever. So, of course, here’s the obligatory playground photo, along with his previous two Last Day photos:

It’s bittersweet to leave St. Paul’s since it’s been such a major part of our lives for the past six years.  Braedan’s first official day of preschool (after a good two weeks of orientation) was September 21, 2006 … the day Austin was born! So, from that moment to this moment and for every insane moment in between, we’ve been members of that school family. It has spanned all of Austin’s life so far and hopefully the entirety of his cancer, start to finish. It was only fitting that he ended two days after being declared officially and most definitely cancer-free.

As I think back over these past few weeks, I am awed, as I have been so many times before, by the kindness and intense emotional investment of all of you. Your tears and your hugs, the very thoughtful gifts (the dragon-slaying StoryPeople print from the Sweeneys and the key chain featuring my double rainbow image from Becky being my top favorites), your messages of hope and sadness, faith and joy, sustained us through this otherwise heartbreaking experience.

Knowing that you’re out there and that you care so deeply about us, about my child whom some of you have never met, means an enormous amount. I regret that I am never able to properly thank you, but know that I feel you and am fully aware of you. I read the name of each “Like” on my Facebook updates with gratitude and satisfaction (and sometimes surprise). In fact, as Mark and I sat out on the porch last Wednesday with our champagne, we both had buzzing phones in our laps, constantly updating one another with the latest messages of love and relief.

I loved that my brother told me that every time he went anywhere on Thursday or Friday, he was greeted with high fives and hugs, random people congratulating him on his nephew’s good health and even shouting it from the side of the road as he drove past. This has been such a community saga in so many ways, as you’ve followed along beside us for all these years, crying with us, wishing with us, celebrating with us.

(And speaking of celebrating with us, we are going to finally throw a big-ass party and everyone is invited. But we must gather our strength first!)

This round, if you can call it that, was interesting because it was the only time in all of our years of cancer that I felt like it was truly unfair, the first time I ever felt like, “Why me? Why us?” I know it sounds crazy that I hadn’t ever said that before, but — as much as I hate childhood cancer and as much as I’ve raged against its presence in our lives — I also know that it exists and someone has to get it. Someone has to hear those dreaded words, “Your child has cancer.” So I always sort of figured, “Why not me?” I saw no reason I should be exempt from being dealt such a hand. I’ve been given so much, am fortunate in so many ways … why shouldn’t this be my thing?

But this last time, I finally felt this just isn’t fair. We have done it. We fought, hard, and we succeeded. Austin does not, did not, deserve to have to fight this battle yet again. It would have been too much. It would have been, for the first time, completely unfair.

As my brother said, it just felt (for lack of a better term) karmically wrong. Like it just shouldn’t be. And, of course, lucky us, it wasn’t. It isn’t.

At the Family Connections benefit a few weeks ago, right in the midst of our darkest days, a friend told me that I so deserve to have the universe treat me with kindness. Of course, we know that the universe just doesn’t work that way. Bad things happen to good people (and good things happen to bad people). And suffering is not fairly or evenly distributed. But I agreed with her. I really believed at that moment (and in this moment) that the universe should treat me kindly. That I deserved it.

And most of all, more than anything, that this boy deserved it:

And this (toothless) one too:

I celebrated my twentieth high school reunion this weekend. It was so so fun, great to spend time with my current friends, my oldest friends, and even some new friends. I’m not going to dwell too much on the weekend’s events (some of them are a little blurry) but here is a picture of me and my girlfriends before heading out on Friday.

The really remarkable thing about the weekend is that Saturday, July 30 was the four year anniversary of Austin’s diagnosis and I just now remembered that! Just minutes ago as I was standing in the kitchen washing dishes and I thought briefly about how quickly summer’s going by, can’t believe it’s August 1st and all that, and suddenly I was like, “Oh my god! August 1 … July 30 completely passed me by!” It was nowhere on my radar screen, overlooked amidst the celebration.  Which I think is really really awesome.

So, now we just look ahead. Another year and then another, filled this time with health and normalcy instead of hospitals and sickness, happiness and hope over fear and misery. And one day, Austin and Braedan (and Toni) will be celebrating their twentieth Heights High reunions.

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