“What’s up with the knee brace?” I asked 12-year-old Rylee, who was visiting from Pennsylvania for a couple of days. Head down, in a whisper, she told me, “My knee keeps popping out of joint. It hurts really bad when that happens. ” Just the thought of having my patella on the side of my leg for any extended amount of time makes me cringe. Yuk!
I will not stand for this. Will you?
“Ugh. Can you put these drops in my eyes?” Yohan groaned. He had just had eye surgery and needed drops every hour, on the hour. I almost said, “Buddy, you can do that yourself.” And then I remembered his tremor and weak grip strength. “I tried,” he grimaced, with water streaming off his cheeks, “but I missed!”
I will not stand for this. Will you?
I dread the thought of Bethany coming down with a cold because coughing takes energy and congestion robs her of the precious air needed to breathe effectively. Did you know that CMT can affect the nerves leading to the respiratory muscles? For some with CMT, the thoughtless act of breathing freely becomes a forced, challenging and anxiety-provoking undertaking, which may necessitate frequent visits to the ER. Not fun. Not fun at all.
I will not stand for this. Will you?
So, you see, CMT is much more than a funky way of walking, foot drop, high arches, and leg braces. CMT may also causes cramps, falls, balance difficulties, cold extremities, nerve, muscle and joint pain, curled hands and toes, altered reflexes, extreme fatigue, sleep apnea, hearing loss, etc. In short, CMT is a bitch!
I will not stand for this. Will you?
The most amazing thing about CMT is that we can fight it. Unlike many diseases, the genes that cause many types of CMT are known. The CMTA’s scientists are working tirelessly to stop or slow down the progression of CMT, and they are making headway. We’ve accomplished so much since 2008:
• Clinical planning has started. Working together with the NIH and the MDA, we are developing our clinical infrastructure: new centers, more clinicians, patient information and history over time.
• We are developing ways to measure disease progression in people with CMT.
• We are starting to use cellular and animal models of CMT to help pharmaceutical companies test their drugs quickly.
• We are partnering with pharmaceutical companies and labs to apply breakthrough genetic therapies (like gene therapy, RNAi, CRISPR) to CMT.
• We will continue to expand our program to cover more forms of CMT.
Join me to raise the funds to bring a drug to market and rid the world of CMT. Big goal? Well, maybe, but why not dream big? We’ve got to start somewhere.
WE will not stand for this.
Imagine what we can do TOGETHER! Did you know funds are what stand in the way between us and a treatment for CMT? Not scientific understanding. Not resources. Not clinics. Not patients. MONEY. I certainly don’t have all the money needed to bring a drug to market, but with your help and the help of others, the money can be raised to support scientific research. It’s doable.
Want to help? Our family has put all its efforts into Vermont’s Cycle (And Walk!) 4 CMT event and thanks to friends and family like you, we’ve raised close to $650,000 over the past 4 years. That’s not chump change, friends.
We are now preparing for the 5th Annual Cycle (and Walk!) 4 CMT event, to be held in Charlotte, VT on Sunday, August 26. Every dollar counts. Any donation is valued. Spread the word.
To join our efforts to build a better tomorrow, check out our website: www.cycle4cmt.com and donate a little or a lot.
Here is how to start changing lives:
1) Register for the Cycle (and Walk!) event and/or,
2) Fundraise! Tell others why this cause is important to you and/or,
3) Spread the word and register a friend and/or
4) Sponsor a rider, a walker or the event itself and/or
5) Sign up for the after-party.
Thank you for offering a promising future to Yohan, Rylee, Bethany and the 2.8 million + people around the world with this debilitating disease.
Last week, I purchased a top-of-the-line 4K LED Smart TV with enough options to bedazzle even the most technologically gifted. Some of the features were intuitive enough that I proudly disregarded the instruction manual altogether. To my dismay, I soon discovered that a good number of even the simplest functions were complicated, puzzling and downright impossible to comprehend even with the handy user’s manual.
New Toy – LED TV
Realizing my dependence on this pamphlet of how-tos, I reflected upon all the parenting guides I have purchased over the years, all dealing with every different aspect of the child imaginable: the terrible twos, sleeplessness, anxiety, positive discipline, the emotional lives of boys, tolerating teens, etc The one book I have yet to come across is called the “THE MANUAL: Raising Kids With An Unexpected Diagnosis (Like CMT, a Progressive Nerve Disease).”
My instruction booklet was not included in my take-home packet from the hospital when Yohan was born 25 years ago, and I still fantasize about getting my hands on a copy of this yet non-existent source of knowledge.
Initially, I learned to care for my bundle of joy by asking questions, reading a selective few of those parenting books I mentioned above, taking advice from others (even if unsolicited) and relied heavily on my own maternal instincts. Through trial and error, my husband and I, as do most parents, strove to raise and nurture our child to be a resilient human being, who would hopefully be happy, successful, compassionate, friendly, confident, etc….. None of these attributes are ever guaranteed, but parents can and do influence their children to a very large degree by modeling behaviors and values, including empathic listening, acceptance of the whole child, unconditional love, acceptance and positive discipline.
Born with unique dispositions and temperaments, every child will integrate what he or she witnesses, observes and experiences to form a personality, which is in a state of constant flux, molding to and shaped by the surrounding environment. Raising children is truly a humbling adventure, where perfecting parental skills comes through valiant efforts on the part of the father and/or mother to do the best they can at any given moment.
And just to keep us on our toes, life has this nasty habit of throwing wrenches into our well thought-out and admirable plans and dreams, forcing us to change directions or reroute our individual and family’s journey throughout life over and over again.
For instance, when parents are told that their apparently healthy and precious child has a progressive neurological disease called CMT, (or any other chronic illness or disability) the world as they knew it comes to an abrupt halt. For a while, time just seems to stop as the shock of reality works its way through to the senses. With no current treatment or cure, CMT is a group of diseases whose effects vary greatly from one person to the next, even among members of the same family. The fear of an uncertain future for our beloved child creates a chaos so disruptive, parents may inevitably experience and re-experience a whole gamut of different feelings anywhere from grief, rage, disbelief, depression, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, to guilt and disappointment. This flurry of unyielding and varied sets of emotions is unequivocally normal and expected in the face of such devastating and unwelcome news.
We immediately wonder what this diagnosis means for our child’s future – will she be able to play the piano, have children and fulfill her dreams as an actress? Will his legs remain strong, what about his basketball career, and just how much will my son be affected? Will he/she become more or less disabled than me, than my mother, than other family members? As concerned parents, we all have a tendency to get ahead of ourselves by asking a million questions about the fate of our children by continuously wondering and inquiring about what the future has in store, trying to predict what cannot be foreseen.
To top it off, in the midst of this traumatic news, unsettled parents must return home to their children, bearing the intolerable news that will inevitably change the lives of every single member of that particular family. How hard it is to remain calm, in control and at ease after you’ve been hit with the CMT hammer! In these delicate situations, let’s not forget that children are savvy readers of parental anxiety, tension, and stress. They are inexorably influenced by our attitudes, opinions, and expressions as they learn a great deal about themselves by watching, listening and absorbing all the subtle messages left behind in conversations to be had both in public and in private. They definitely do not wish to see us devastated by their disease (even if we are) and need most of all to be comforted, supported and understood.
So, when a parent unintentionally acts out his or her intense sadness, despair and anxiety in front of their children, the child is sure to take it all in, every bit of it. If our children receive messages confirming that their own situation is hopeless and the future bleak, he or she will surely feel out of control and helpless in the face of upcoming and ongoing adversity. However, if our kids are met with reassurance and optimism, they will be more likely to cope adequately, if not conquer the intermittent hurdles that are bound to appear throughout their lives. So, the quicker we as parents learn to “deal effectively” with the challenges presented by CMT, the quicker our children will build the necessary coping skills and resilience to live well despite this disease.
Let me qualify the expression “dealing effectively with CMT” as an extremely subjective experience, which takes on a different meaning for each and every one of us. Coming to terms with your child’s progressive disease and limitations takes a lot of time and energy, and as you already know, this does not happen overnight, if ever at all.
There are still moments when I am angry at this disease and obstinately think of Yohan’s CMT to be the ultimate definition of unfair lots in life, followed by a pathetic, “Why me?”, “Why him?”, “Why us?” I usually manage to calm down by focusing on what he can do, by living in the present moment and by appreciating the gifts of today. I also fervently practice replacing my negative and catastrophic thoughts with a more positive and realistic perspective which encompasses a broader, less self-centered approach to challenging situations.
The brutal reality is that I cannot control his disease or make it go away. However, we as parents are far from powerless and impotent. On the contrary, by sharing an unwavering hope for the future, role modeling coping mechanisms such as humor, optimism, faith while remaining connected to others for support, we are fostering resiliency and courage in our children, traits on which they will rely heavily today, tomorrow and the days to come.
Let me reiterate that as parents, we have the capacity to guide and support our children, despite the absence of that darn manual. There are always silver linings to all black clouds, you may just have to look for them. Hurdles and stumbling blocks exist to a greater or lesser extent in everyone’s life and many times, these challenges will bring families closer together or even offer a deeper, more meaningful purpose to life itself. Whatever afflicts us or our loved ones and no matter how severely, life is truly what we make of it. By planting the seeds of hope, confidence, and self-assurance, we are offering our children the right to a bright and fruitful future.
Whether it be CMT or some other uninvited disease, our children will have acquired the tools with which to triumph over whatever may befall them, because YOU, as parents, have given them the means. No one ever said that a parenting is an easy endeavor, but your hard work, time and patience is and will make a marked difference in the minds and lives of your children and the generations to come. Manual or no manual, your kids will be forever grateful, which I deem the best award a parent could ever receive.
I hear voices. Eavesdropping, as if I were an innocent bystander, I witness the back and forth volley of words, arguments, and reasoning. Often, I put a harsh stop to the banter, for fear of losing too many precious minutes to internal disputes and emotionally draining debates. Trying to reach my neutral, rational space often feels impossible, like I’m swimming against a strong current intent on overwhelming my frantic efforts. Yet, somehow, someway, I usually manage to quiet the noise, at least temporarily, and transition into a state of calm deliberation, frantic activity or self-imposed numbness.
Yohan had his first ever foot reconstruction surgery in June and 8 months later, he’s still not walking without using crutches or a knee scooter (see previous blog posts for the whole story). As soon as he starts to put full pressure on his foot, sores develop.
When that happens, staying off the foot until it heals is the remedy. To offset the pressure, he had his shoes modified, new orthotics made, which were adjusted again and again and again, only to have the sore reappear when weight-bearing. I know that all surgeries do not go as planned. You probably also know that surgeries are risky, in many, many ways. But I thought the surgeries that went awry happened to other people. But this time, Yohan is that other person.
The holidays came and went, and in January we found ourselves at a standstill, not knowing what direction to turn. The last pictures I sent to our surgeon showed how Yohan’s foot had healed, and it did not look right. For some reason, his heel looked misaligned, causing excessive pronation and weight distribution imbalance. Our surgeon, Dr. Pfeffer, was perplexed, but to his credit, he’s promised to make it right. Putting ego aside, Dr. Pfeffer is determined to make the next surgery the “last surgery” by asking for second and third opinions from well-respected colleagues. He wants to make 100% sure that no rock is left unturned before going back in to correct the lopsided foot and straighten Yohan’s toes. His humility, commitment, and compassion command our genuine respect.
Left Foot After Surgery
Nevertheless, I dread this second surgery. I just want Yohan to be able to walk with ease, even if it is only short distances. And in all honesty, I may have felt, if only for a microsecond, discouraged, angry and saddened by all the challenges Yohan’s already faced throughout his 23 years on this planet, due to the effects of CMT. He complains rarely and manages his day-to-day with laughter, humor, and hope. Yet it is difficult to witness his debilitating fatigue, chronic pain and now, successive surgeries. I wish it weren’t so, but it is so and that’s what is true.
In general, I tend to live in my head, not my heart. Why open up to intense emotion, when the risk is getting sucked up into a vacuum of never-ending despair and misery? When my thoughts become dark, the voices in my head try to cheer me up, scold me for being negative and/or neutralize the negative with positive thoughts. This process has become so automatic that I often no longer know what I feel inside. Many believe that raw emotions, in all their complexity, are an undeniable part of the human experience, serving as a profound source of inner guidance and direction.
Yeah, well my inner feeling mentor acts more like a sneaky stalker than a trusted ally, ready to pounce when I am least protected. I’d rather stay in the neutral zone and avoid the war-torn areas of my life. Yet I often wonder where those intense feelings go. Do they evaporate? Remain in the body unexpressed and ignored until the pressure builds so, they just explode? Do feelings have feelings? So many questions, so few answers.
The second surgery does not yet have a date, but it will be soon, in the near future. We’re all doing our best and trying to live in the moment. We’ll get through. Thanks for listening. And if you have a moment, let me know how you cope through difficult times. You never know, your advice and feedback may just be of help to others someone else.
Yohan’s Foot Surgery #15: Put your “Breast” Foot Forward!
What else could possibly go wrong? After the pressure sore on the bottom of Yohan’s foot had more or less healed, his big left toe got infected. At this point, he was finally in a plastic brace instead of a big, bulky walking boot. At last week’s follow-up appointment with Dr. Pfeffer, he prescribed a 10-day course of antibiotics. He also commented on how swollen Yo’s foot and leg were. He ordered an ultrasound to rule out any blood clots and recommended the use of an elasticized compression sock. A compression sock? We’ll give it a go, but how in the world are we going to put his puffy, stiff foot/leg in a binding sock? It’s going to be like trying to fit an extra fluffy comforter into a shrunken pillow case. And then I saw these compression socks on-line:
Suddenly, I felt super motivated to buy and try these decorative socks on Yohan. He will just LOVE them!
And speaking about that left big toe, which curves to the left, it has always had a mind of its own, like my cactus. The other cacti follow the rules and grow straight, while the rebel cactus first has to create drama by sprouting way to the left before moving upwards. Breaking the bad news, Dr. Pfeffer calmly voiced his opinion, “You might want to think about a second surgery to straighten that toe before it causes too many problems. With CMT, it’s not uncommon to undergo several surgeries on each foot to fix everything.” Honestly, if my thoughts had become words, they would have sounded like this: “A second surgery on the left? Let me think about that…… NO!” And then, for effect, I might have added, “Have you taken that internet insanity test I wrote about in my previous blog post?” But there were no words to be heard because we just sat there in silence and moved on quickly to the next topic.
Rebel Cactus Rebel Big Toe
The best news of the day was that Yohan could now try walking without brace and/or boot. There were no more restrictions on movement. He was not only allowed to start physical therapy but was also given the green light to walk, point, stretch, twist, turn and do the loopty-loo. Dr. Pfeffer’s parting sentiments were, “Yohan, I could not be happier with the outcome of your surgery. Your foot is perfect! You can start walking!” We left feeling pretty darn optimistic.
But the following day, we got a reality check at the Los Altos Farmer’s Market. I think the universe was telling us to slow down…..way down. For the first time all summer, Yohan decided to join me, my friend Eva and her 9-year-old daughter, Bella, to buy our fruits, vegetables, and dinner. Although Yohan walked with a limp as he got used to his new foot, he was doing extremely well, until he fainted. Yes, he passed out cold, but not before Eva stepped in to save his life.
Here is a summary of events: His sweaty palm grabbed ahold of me as he started to lose consciousness. As his eyes became unfocused and rolled up into his head, I knew I would not be strong enough to keep him upright. Every other day, I lift my 2 and 3-pound weights to keep my upper arms from sagging, but there was no way I would be able to hold up this 150-pound kid who was falling to the ground in slo-mo.
That’s when our superhero, Eva the 6-foot Diva jumped in and saved the day. Somehow, Yohan got flipped around, facing Eva, allowing her to control his descent. With her 38 G sized breasts, she provided inflatable side airbags to cushion his fall and prevent any chance of concussion. When Yohan’s smartphone went crashing to the ground, I knew he was out like a light. I was a little worried Yohan would suffocate between her large billowy boobs, but he was not even purple when she gently sat him on the ground.
My hero, Eva
My fellow Los Altans were so accommodating. Before we knew it, Yohan was sitting on a chair, drinking a coke and talking with a nurse. His first question was, “Where is my phone?” Second question: “What happened?” As we explained the chain of events, sparing no detail, Yohan’s cheeks reddened slightly. He was quite relieved to have no recollection of falling. At least that’s what he said.
While this whole scene unraveled, I made sure not to lose my place in the long line of people waiting for corn and potatoes. And as soon as they gave me my order, I too jumped into Eva’s motherly arms with Bella. What? I needed a hug! That was extremely scary!
As calmness settled back in, we chalked this episode up to a lack of food, too much stimulation and pain. He simply tried doing too much, too soon and ended up having an unforgettable experience that we will never, ever let him forget. As my friend Donna would say, “Eva, thanks for the mamories!”
His toes are curled, especially the pinky toe which begs attention by standing just that much higher to make wearing any shoe a challenge. His crescent arches make walking a balancing act. His calves are as tight as the string of a bow and his ankles are turning out as the supporting tendons lose their grip. Thick, but hard earned callouses are just a bonus for winning the CMT lottery.
CMT is usually passed down from one generation to the next. It is inherited. Yet, neither my husband nor I have it. Yohan is the first person in our families to have CMT. His CMT is caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation. A mutation that can be passed on to his children, his children’s children, and so on and so forth.
Yohan will have reconstructive foot surgery tomorrow morning at 7:00 am, a surgery which has been planned for a year and scheduled for 3 months.
A few weeks ago, in a moment of sheer fear and anxiety, I clumsily suggested that we might want to get a second opinion on the necessity of surgery, a surgery that was only 3 weeks away.
In shocked disbelief, Yohan blurted out, “Are you expletive kidding me? After choosing to put my life on hold for a year after graduation? After all the in-depth discussions and conversations we’ve had? No way. I’m resolute in my decision. Now let’s get this over with and put it behind us.”
Enough said. My worry asked the question and the voice of reason responded: the surgery is a go. The reality is that Yohan can no longer run, walk with confidence or stand without pain. It’s time. It’s time for an upgrade that only the hands and skills of a competent orthopedic surgeon like Dr. Pfeffer can offer. After tomorrow’s surgery and a 6-month healing process, Yohan’s calves will relax, his pinky toe will align, his arch will flatten and his tendons will be strengthened. Tomorrow brings the promise of less pain and more stability.
Any surgery is risky. And the recovery for this particular surgery is long and tedious. But the possibilities of a new tomorrow are endless. So, when anxiety rears its ugly head, I am guided by Yohan’s words: Plan for tomorrow, then live in the now. Our brightest future lies in the sound decisions of today.