Bite Me Cancer

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I  recently began volunteering with a great organization called Bite Me Cancer. Bite Me Cancer was created by Nikki Ferraro who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in April 2010 when she was seventeen.  Nikki wanted the foundation to specifically support teens with cancer since she found this population to be underserved when she was diagnosed. She also wanted her foundation to raise awareness and research funds for thyroid cancer as it is the fastest growing cancer in the United States.  In April 2013, Bite Me Cancer had already raised $50,000 to support a 2-year research grant for thyroid cancer.

When Nikki was in the hospital she received a few gifts from nonprofit organizations consisting of items like stuffed animal and crayons.  Although grateful for the thought, she didn’t find that this suited her needs or those of other teens.  As part of Nikki’s mission, she has created the Teen Support Bags Program that she calls “A Bit of Bite Me Cancer”.  Through donations and fundraising, Bite Me Cancer is creating and distributing support bags to teens diagnosed with cancer.  The bags include items of particular interest to teens such as an iTunes gift cards, a USB drive, a water bottle, a baseball cap, a journal, a stress ball, a Sudoko book and some items with “Bite Me Cancer Attitude is Everything” logo on them.

My role has been to help find facilities that serve teens diagnosed with cancer.  I am contacting hospitals and tracking down the correct staff member to help distribute the bags to the patients.  I am definitely getting better at my task, but it can be quite taxing to find that right place, person or contact.  As I sat this morning weeding through websites, departments and phone numbers I felt a  visceral pang in my stomach.  Nikki’s parents and parents all over the country are searching these sites  looking for care for their children who have cancer.  The overwhelmed feeling I experienced while trying to find the right contact was nothing compared to what these parents are going through.

I have written about another volunteer endeavor pertaining to pediatric cancers, Make-A-Wish with Gabriella, and read this blog religiously about a boy who lost his life to cancer.  The courage and pain exhibited by these kids and parents is amazing.   I recently read this post by Lexi Sweatpants, a mom  who has a child with autism and a child with Down’s Syndrome.  She said that she is so tired of hearing people praise her and say things like “G-d knew you could handle this”.    She wrote “there is nothing fundamentally different about me than any other mother. I am a normal mother in an abnormal situation. I do what I do because I have to, and you would too if you were put into the same situation.”  These words struck me hard;  no parent should ever have to hear the words “your child is sick”, and yet they do every single day.

To suddenly become a member  of  the ‘Parent of a Sick Child Club’ is devastating; I agree with Ms. Sweatpants, these parents aren’t stronger or hand-picked, they put one foot in front of the other and do what they have to do for their children, just like anyone else would do.   Nikki’s mom, Sharon Ferraro, told me that  she heard another parent put her own thoughts to words, “We don’t know how strong we are until we are forced to be that strong.”

I am glad that I can help in some small way.  If a teenager in the hospital gets some cool things in a Bite Me Cancer bag because I made a phone call, it is the least I can do.

You can help too.  Join me and the Bite Me Cancer crew at the:

Bite Me Cancer Foundation’s Second Annual Fundraiser and
“Take a Swing at Cancer”
Sunday, June 9, 2013, 5:30pm – 8:30pm
Dulles Golf Center & Sports Park
(21593 Jesse Court, Dulles, VA 20166)

http://www.bitemecancer.org/take-a-swing-at-cancer.asp

Addendum: I have spent the past two days reading almost every word written about Zach Sobiech. When I wrote this post, I was not aware of Zach, his family or his beautiful music.  Now, I can’t stop thinking about them.  I would be remiss to publish a post about teenagers and cancer on the day of his funeral without mentioning Zach.  May his memory be a blessing and may his family find peace. Laurie


If My Walls Could Talk

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After long days at work  I can’t have the radio on during my ride home; I need the silence.  One day last week I saw ten clients in a row.  Poor planning? maybe, but due to scheduling, it is how it played out. Backing out of the parking spot at my office exhausted and heading home, my brain started to process the day and all that was discussed in my office:

Memories of sexual abuse, divorce, psychosis, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, adoption, grief and loss, addiction, anger management, bipolar disorder.

That is a heavy day, and yet, despite the exhaustion, I felt really good.  I am making a connection with a teen who, a few months back, literally sat in my office for an entire session without saying one word.  Through an art therapy exercise, a young woman is beginning to feel some relief and joy.  A college freshman looked bright and positive for the first time since I met him a few weeks ago while talking about his new job.  And, I got a big thank you from a woman who sat on my couch this fall sobbing about her recent separation; she is now stable on medication and reunited with her husband.

At the red light on Fairfax County Parkway, I shiverred imagining what would happen if my walls could talk.  Like the toys coming to life in Toy Story when the kids are absent, are my walls processing all that happens within their bounds?

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Days like that can be emotional and wearing, but yet so promising.  I have the privilege of witnessing these beautiful transformations. People are often at their lowest when we first meet and then via baby steps, they start to feel less hopeless, perhaps even hopeful as they make their way on to joy.  It is so rewarding to be part of this process.

I do hope that my walls appreciate what it is that they get to be a part of, I sure do.


Mother’s or not Day

My son informed me this morning that I was celebrating my 18th Mother’s Day.  If that doesn’t make me feel old…….talk to me next month at his graduation.

I remember after he was born that Mother’s Day had an entirely different meaning to me.  It became my favorite day of the year, not only because it was for and about ME, but those pre-school Mother’s Day brunches with the hand made cards and dead dandelions coming home in a painted flower pot were always so sweet and special.

What I really grew to love about Mother’s Day was the community feeling I have with all the other mothers in my path.   Most  of my Mother’s Days have been spent in and out of the temple dropping kids at Hebrew School and on the soccer field.  Both of those places are swarming with mothers and I love the communal wishing of “Happy Mother’s Day” to my fellow mothers.

This year I have been thinking a lot about the women that are not currently mothering either by choice, or by many unexplained phenomena that are preventing the opportunity to mother.  I know women that are unable to get pregnant, who haven’t found a partner with whom to parent or who are waiting for a child via adoption.  I also know too many women that have lost children either during pregnancy or after a their child has been born.

I read this blog post  (http://nomoretomorrows.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/for-the-mothers-who-are-but-arent/)   from a woman who lost a child in utero and it brought tears to my heart.  I also read this post called “Dear Moms of Adopted Children” (http://www.kathylynnharris.com/dear-moms-of-adopted-children/). I saw photos posted of friends and their moms who are no longer living and many photos of  friends with their moms or of grandma’s and their grandchildren. While this day is joyful for many, it can also be painful and stinging for many others.

A friend posted this on Facebook today and it couldn’t more accurate:

“Living across the country from my family, I’ve come to believe that it really does take a village. I am blessed to have so many friends who are willing to help care for my kids and keep them in line. Happy Mothers’ Day to my village and to all my friends, nearby and far away. Today we honor all women who guide our children, whether or not they are mothers in the literal sense. Enjoy your day.”

I’ve been thinking about all of the women in our community that give so much love and support to our kids; some are mothers, some are not.  I know many women that are aunts and that love their nieces and nephews as much as their mothers do.   Often the aunts make for the better playmate/confidante/partner-in-crime because they are exactly that: NOT the mother.  I think about all of the women that take care of our kids while we go to work; day care providers, nannies and au pairs  – WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT THEM?

What really used to be a Hallmark holiday has, with the help of social media, become a much written about, posted about and/or tweeted about day.  Whether it was sweet, sour or bittersweet for you, I wish you joy in this moment and the knowledge that tomorrow we  ALL go back to the drawing board: work, laundry, meals etc.

Laurie


Avon Walk for Breast Cancer

I have just completed the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer for the third year in a row.   It is a two day walk that covers 39.3 miles (a marathon on Saturday and a half-marathon on Sunday). The Walk starts at the Washington Monument on the Mall in Washington DC and continues for 26.2 miles throughout the streets of the district finishing at a park turned into the Wellness Village in Chevy Chase, MD.  The next day we leave the Wellness Center and walk 13.1 miles  back to the Mall.  Each of the over two thousand walkers commit to raise $1800 to go towards fighting breast cancer via research and treatment for those who are uninsured.

The months leading up to the Walk require a great deal of preparation.  My team, The Reston Rack Pack, comprised of ten women, trained on a regular basis.  We met both days of most weekends early in the morning.  We are intimate with every crack on the W&OD trail, the location of each port-a-pot in Western Fairfax County and know the mileage between Reston Parkway and most large intersections  within a ten mile span.  We also individually and as a group worked to raise our mandated $1800 to participate in the Walk; we raised a total of  $26,262.85 which went towards the 4.5 million dollars raised by the DC Walk this year.

On Walk Weekend, we first congregated downtown Friday afternoon to check-in to the hotel and attend Event Eve. At Event Eve we finished any last minute registration, shopped for more pink accouterments and took in the scene; a bustling of Avon staff, volunteers and walkers all excited to be together and work towards eradicating breast cancer.

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We got to the Mall in the wee hours of Saturday morning and following an Opening Ceremony  were walking by 7:15.  We were blessed with beautiful blue skies and perfect temperatures. It is so great to walk through the streets of D.C. and have the opportunity to see so many wonderful sites on foot; one of my favorite moments is  walking with thousands of people in pink along the Mall towards the Capitol.

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There was so much support along the way.  The official Avon Crew are committed to helping the Walkers; they act as crossing guards, work the water and food stations and support us along the way via motorcycles, bicycles and vans.  There were also hundreds of people cheering us on at every corner, neighborhood and rest stop.   Oh, and the horns; I may have lost some hearing in my left ear from the blasting car horns of passerby’s cheering us on and showing their support.

It takes a long time to walk twenty-six miles.  Think of the thousands of conversations that are had. I met tons of really great people along the way.  Three juniors in high school were walking for their first time each on behalf of different friends and relatives that have been touched by breast cancer.   I met a team of women from West Virginia who helped us make up silly country songs while walking through Penn Quarter and I saw a mom and her son walking in memory of their daughter/sister lost to breast cancer.  We have all been touched in one way or another by this horrible illness and it is evident throughout the Walk.  Photos and ribbons and signs remind us of those who are fighting,  surviving or have lost their battle with breast cancer.

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On Saturday, I finished at about 5:00;  there were people finishing hours before and after me.  It is not a race, it is a Walk and no matter what time we cross Mile 26 on that first day, it is a huge moment for celebration.

That may or  may not be yours truly celebrating 26 miles

That may or may not be yours truly celebrating 26 miles

We had dinner at the Wellness Village and some of our team members tented there, while many of us (yes, that would be ME) took the buses provided by Avon back to the hotel for the night.

Yes, those tents ARE pink

Yes, those tents ARE pink

Sunday morning, reverse and repeat.  Buses back to the Wellness Village, breakfast and walking by 7:30.

This was the first year that I was blister free;  Sunday morning can be very difficult  for many.  Blisters, sores, and muscle pain can make for a painful thirteen miles, I have SO been there. This year, though, I felt great.  The thirteen miles back past the Washington Cathedral and down Embassy Row were beautiful and fun (and just a tad bit silly as our decorum begins to disintegrate into mindless humor for the last several miles).  And, I must say, once you have walked twenty-six miles, thirteen is a breeze.

Some of my team in front of the beautiful Cathedral

Some of my team in front of the beautiful Cathedral

I have yet to cross the finish line on the Mall without shedding tears. It is so emotional and fulfilling. There are tons of people cheering us the whole way and especially at the end. They thank us for walking and we thank them for their support;  neither could happen without the other. After our finish, I had the honor of seeing many other teams and individuals cross the finish line with tears and hollers.  I know they are walking for loved ones, I know they are missing their moms and friends, I know that we all  want an end to this beast that is cancer.

Thank you for indulging me and reading about this wonderful experience.  I could not have done it without the amazing women on my team or without the generous donations of many of you.  A few more pictures from the finish:

Almost there

Almost there

YES!!!

YES!!!

The Reston Rack Pack

The Reston Rack Pack


Happy Anniversary

One year ago today it began.

I had researched and thought and wrote and debated. I had talked the ears off of all my colleagues. I had drafted forms and paid for all kinds of official documents. I found an office to rent and painted it with my friends. I had bought furniture and hauled it around and put it together and then it was time.

May 1, 2012 I began seeing clients in my new office.  The space was beautiful and the clients were magnificent.  Most of my clients from my old place of employment joined me in my new spot.   I knew them, they were familiar with me and my work and they were only too gracious to continue working with me even if it meant driving a little farther to get to their appointments.

Enter: The SQUARE.   Throughout all my research and driving my colleagues crazy consulting with my peers, I learned that the Square was one of the most affordable ways to accept credit cards.  It is a tiny little, uhm, square thing that plugs into my phone.  I can swipe  a credit card and voila, get paid. It is really cool the way it has clients sign on my phone and then sends the receipt directly to their email WHEN.IT.WORKS!

On day one, I am pretty calm and collected despite this huge new endeavor.  After seeing my first client, I pull out the Square. The good news is that I know   and am comfortable with the client because the bad news is, the Square doesn’t fair. I swipe and swipe and swipe….sweat starts building, my heart starts beating and I am moving into panic.  In that moment every anxiety, worry and fear that I had about this new business venture was directed on.to.the SQUARE.

In some ways it was really perfect. The anxiety had a place to go.  I was never concerned about my clinical work  because I had been doing it for years, that part was simple, the business part was new and scary.  Forms, billing, marketing, these things had me in a panic, but sitting with my clients in my new and  beautiful office was just fun.  At the end of many of those first several sessions, though, I knew I had to accept the payment. I often would subliminally think “check, check, check”, but most of my clients (like me) would pull out the plastic and I would begin to get nervous. Would it work this time?

I have had a fabulous year.  I can honestly say that I have not had a bad day at work, not even once.  I have been blessed with new clients throughout the  year via marketing, referrals and just good grace.  I am also lucky enough to still be working with some of the clients that came over with me a  year ago.

As for the Square. It continues to be my nemesis.  We have a love/hate relationship.  My clients know the tricks; one  client advises me to swipe quickly twice, another thinks his daughter has the magic touch so she gives it a whirl, we all know that I stand by the window  hoping for better service, and many have seen my dance to the Square G-ds.  The good news is that my panic has subsided, all that initial anxiety is gone and the Square is just a finicky little gadget that has helped me tremendously.

I can not thank you all enough for your wonderful support and encouragement throughout this very special year. Let’s raise a glass to many  more therapeutic, fun, helpful and productive days at the office of Laurie Levine LCSW LLC.

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