Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Yesterday, President Bush signed the "Conquer Childhood Cancer Act" to provide much needed funding to pediatric cancer research.

Yesterday was Taylor's birthday (see blog post below).

The Senate declared September 13, 2008 National Childhood Cancer Awareness Day. September 13th is the day of the Fourth Annual 5K Run/Walk this year.

It's also the day of the fourth anniversary of Allie's death, or "Allie Day" as we like to call it in my house.

Coincidence? I don't know, but it gives me chills, that's for sure.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Work for Taylor and Allie

When asked what her mom does for a living, nine year old Tristyn replies, "She works for my sister." Sounds about right to me.

Today is Taylor Brewton's 11th birthday. My sweet friend, Larissa, is having a hard day. For her, this is her hardest day of the year. It's a reminder of what should be. For me, it's the anniversary of Allie's death. I think it is because we never had a birthday with Allie. I don't know otherwise. But Larissa had four special birthdays with Taylor. My favorite picture of Taylor, the one above, is from her last birthday party, I believe. She loved 101 Dalmatians, and she had a puppy party.

I never met Taylor. Larissa never met Allie. And yet, their legacies have so strongly impacted our lives. My life wouldn't be the same without the life of Taylor Anne Brewton. Her smile is with me every day, driving me to work harder and do her legacy justice. Her beautiful eyes and gentle spirit are with me every day. I love hearing stories Larissa tells about Taylor. She was a beautiful child, both inside and out.

Her family is now my family. Her mother is someone I so deeply adore and love. When Larissa and I first became involved together to form Heroes for Children, I spent time reading through Taylor's entire story. While Larissa did not maintain a blog during her treatment, she and her family sent emails out to everyone keeping family and friends updated on what was going on with Taylor's health and treatment. You can read all of the emails from initial diagnosis to after Taylor's passing.

I wish Taylor were here with her family, as engrossed with Hanna Montana mania as her two sisters and hoping that the Jonas Brothers will notice her now that they are moving to North Texas. I wish she was driving Larissa crazing with "tween" antics. I wish that my sweet friend was not going through the pain of missing her daughter today and every day. However, I'm grateful to be a part of her life and a part of carrying on her memory.

In her sister's memory, Tristyn went to the hair salon today and had eight inches cut off to be donated through a program with Pantene. In her daughter's memory, Larissa spent special time with her family and shed tears for her child today. Tomorrow, she will be at work to honor her. Because, of course, we work for Taylor and Allie.

To my wonderful friend--thank you for sharing Taylor with me. I know she is so very proud of you and what you continue to do for cancer families. I know that she smiles on you each day and loves her siblings so much. I love you very much.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Camp Discovery; Our Cure

A fifteen year old girl stood at the microphone saying that she once heard that happiness is a cure. "So," she said, "I think that Camp Discovery is happiness. That must mean that Camp Discovery is a cure."

My favorite things about cancer camp:

  • Camp is blind. Blind to race, ethnicity, socio-economic status. It is the place where the cool kid can hang and play with the socially ackward child, where the blind child is being lead by the bald child, and the child with hair is pushing the wheelchair of the recently amputated kid. No one stares at the young man who is amputated from the thigh down, nor do they question the motives of the friend next to him carrying his prosthetic leg. The richest of kids join with the poorest of kids. Because really, cancer is just as blind to these distinctions as well, crossing all boundaries and affecting everyone.
  • It is an opportunity for children with cancer to feel normal. Not the outcast or the taboo child with the big "c word." They are kids, just like everyone else. They act like kids and appreciate the time to be normal. At the same time, they get the chance to be around others that have been through similiar experiences. They discuss their cancer and treatments like trading cards--"oh, yeah, I had that." "Did you have this medicine?" "Me too!"
  • On average, about 75% of the volunteers of returners. We have former campers and cancer survivors returning to give back. We have a federal judge, a firefighter, a cop, many school teachers, busy oncology nurses and doctors. Two volunteers have been there for 25 years. Last week, we celebrated the 25th year of camp. Now, that should be a true testiment to the power of this camp. Can you imagine being devoted to a cause/volunteer organization without any lapse or change for 25 years? The dedication that takes. Trust me, if it wasn't meaningful, we wouldn't have that kind of volunteer retention.
  • Friendships formed at camp. These are both friendships between campers and those between counselors. Two of my favorite staff members became friends 19 years ago when they met at camp. Now, they are best friends. They are family. And Camp Discovery? Like one big family. My first year, I was so intimidated by the first day of volunteer orientation. We met at the hospital to load up the trucks and then caravan out to the camp grounds. Walking up, all I could see was everyone hugging and excitedly talking to each other to catch up. I stood there not knowing a soul. Eventually, I met up with a group of two other women that were first year volunteers as well. This year I was one of the ones excitedly hugging my camp friends, whipping out pictures of Maggie to share with them all. My friends I met that first year? Some of the first I hugged! I love these incredible people. And after four years, I finally feel like part of the big Camp Discovery family.
  • The time for the caregivers--nurses, doctors, other hospital staff--to see their patients in a setting that doesn't involve pain, sickness, hurting. They aren't administering chemotherapy (though we can if needed) or seeing the kids lying lifeless on a hospital bed in the throws of treatment. At camp, they get to see them having fun with friends. Most of the nurses have told me that is what brings them back to camp. To see these amazing children when they aren't just at their sickest, as they usually see them in the hospital.
  • The laughter! We laugh so hard at camp! The kids can be so silly. We have fun moments that create large amounts of belly laughs like Jello Wars, skit night, and sometimes even just meal time. After we all left the kids, six of us ended up at the airport, waiting to head back home to Dallas. At one point, I had to apologize to the unsuspecting family that chose to sit in the same area as us. We were laughing so hard we were near tears, recounting stories from camp.
  • The evening activities. These blew me away the first time I came to camp. When we say it's carnival night on Tuesday, we mean CARNIVAL. It is a mass production. Thanks to a company in San Antonio called Genzyme, we have a huge event. There is karoake (seriously, how do you properly spell that?), games, crafts, inflatable things such water slides and maze, dunking booth, and so much more!

So, it goes without saying that the fifteen year old girl? She was right. Camp is our cure. And I will keep going as long as I can.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Spanish Love Song

I'll do a post camp wrap up blog sometime, but as my brain is not currently functioning, it'll have to wait. For now, I give you this video. Have you seen it? They showed it during Volunteer Orientation (to remind everyone that we aren't there for hook ups or something like that) and we were all singing it throughout the week.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Never knew duct tape came in so many colors!

Just checking in while at Camp Discovery. The week has been yet another phenomenal year. I'm thoroughly exhausted after more than six hours worth of clean up and packing. We're the first group finished (yeah Arts & Crafts), but we still have a few more things to do before heading home tomorrow. This afternoon is "Jello War." Imagine a large soccer field, baggies of Jello, and cans of whipped cream. 15 minute free for all. The fire department is on their way over to hose the kids down after they have doused in sugary nastiness. And then it will take at least two to three good washing to clean out the sticky grossness out of our hair.

This year, Arts and Crafts has meant two things--wood project and duct tape. The picture you saw in the blog post below? Simply a first attempt. By the end of the week, I was the duct tape pro. Need a wallet? Grab some duct tape. Beach bag? You can even find it in hot pink and lime green. Tie? Oh yeah, I got you covered. I made photo bags, wallets, small handbags, coin purses. We went through close to fifty rolls of duct tape! Did you know there was such an assortment of colors? We had everything from purple to metallic silver. And the kids? Friggin loved it!

Oh, it's time for me to get covered in Jello. Gotta go! I'll be home tomorrow with my sweet family.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Duct tape purses

Arts & Crafts fun!!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer fun time, out in the sunshine (start whistling to the tune of You Are My Sunshine)

Here's what my week will look like next week--

I'm going to wake up early. I'm going to go to bed late. I might sit down for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During that time, my head will be pounding as cups are slammed on the tables. I will be covered in paint and picking it out of my hair before climbing into bed. I'll cry. I'll laugh.

My feet will hurt. My body will ache. I won't even care that my bed is so incredibly uncomfortable when I climb in because I'll be so tired that it doesn't matter. I'll shower with flip flops and check my shoes every morning for anything that might have crept in during the night. My food will all be served on a plastic tray, and I will abandon all thoughts of eating healthy. Hopefully, I'll keep my elbows off the table, or else I might have to run around it before resuming my meal.

I'll dance (in a toga), swim, sing silly songs, and spend about twenty minutes washing Jello and whipped cream from my hair (but the burning sensation will be stuck in my nose for several hours afterwards!).

At the end of the week, I will want to fall over and sleep for another week.

And I can't wait! Camp Discovery starts tomorrow!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Public Story/Private Grief

In the past four years, our story of our family has been fairly public. Allie's illness was well documented on the internet, both through my writing, the Dallas Morning News, and WFAA news stories. I've shared my thoughts on Allie's death and how we've moved forward with life without Allie. I shared our adventures of having Miss Maggie come into our life. But few people have seen me cry.

Let me be clear about this--I don't like to cry about Allie in front of people.

My tears are mine. Private. When I shed a tear for my girl, I prefer it in private. I have a few meltdowns a year where I really lose it. The rest is simply a tear shed when I see a child her age, stumble upon something of Allie's that I might have forgotten about, or when I hear her song while sitting in my office listening to the radio. If I need to cry, I call Debbie to let it all out. That's what best friends are for, right? She stood beside me the night Allie died, helped me picked out my outfit to where to my daughter's funeral, and held me many times when I cried. I'm comfortable shedding a tear in front of her.

At Camp Discovery every year, I choke up and let out a good cry. Tuesday during "Happy Nappy" is our yearly tradition of a Remembrance Ceremony. It's out at the lake. We read a list of names of those campers that past away since the last camp. There is a candle with each of those children's picture on it and a poem on the back. We are invited to write a note or jot down our thoughts privately. All of these are deposited into a container and then thrown into the fire to start our bonfire. It ends with a balloon release. This is the one time I allow myself to let go in front of others. I don't just silently cry. I tend to sob. I find a corner where I'm not in front of the children, sit back and have a good cry. The hard part is that I struggle to compose myself afterwards to prepare for our sessions the rest of the day. I'm strongly considering NOT going to the Remembrance Ceremony this year.

So you see, I don't like public tears. It bothers me, burns my face, and agitates me more. In four years, I've cried in front of my mother only once. It was the day before Mother's Day about a year ago, and I was extremely upset. Andrew finally got the phone and asked if I wanted him to phone Deb. Instead, I asked for my mom.

It was a different experience for me when I let loose on my tears at the lakehouse Monday night. I cried in front of everyone. And trust me, I didn't like it. Spurred on by alcohol, exhaustion, and watching all the children playing, I let myself get upset that Allie was not there with us. Maggie was the only one there without a sibling, and trust me, I noticed it all weekend. But then, I felt conflicted guilt about that sadness too. If it weren't for Allie's illness and death in the first place, I wouldn't be friends with those women. It would still be my group of two--me and Deb. Allie is what brought me together with Tracey, Amy, Jen, and Megan. And I'm incredibly grateful to her for that.

At first, I sat on the couch silently crying. Others were out at the pool and a few of us were waiting inside to get our little ones finally asleep. I sat crying for about ten minutes before Deb noticed. Andrew had walked in, everyone else had stepped out, and I started to cry harder in front of them. Before I could stop it, all the girls were around me. And I was bawling. And unfortunately, I didn't handle the situation well. Instead, I pushed past their well meaning hugs and looks of love, and told them I didn't want to talk about it. I hid in my room.

Like a good friend, Deb followed me in. She didn't push, but she gently told me that I was not handling myself well. I needed to return with my friends. I needed to let them see that I do in fact cry for Allie, and understand that they love me and support me. When I composed myself and went back outside, no one pushed. We didn't bring up the subject again, just me meekly apologizing to Amy the next morning for my actions.

I woke up the next morning embarassed by my meltdown. The girls, of course, were supportive and loving as all get out, but it was very difficult for me. I don't know that it would ever be easy for me to let my tears flow in front of others without feeling a burning anger and frustration and wanting it all to stop. I don't know that I will ever be able to truly tell my feelings to multiple people at once and feel comfortable with it .

But I'm working on it. And luckily, I have good people in my life to help me with the process.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

6 Couples, 27 People, Absolute Perfection

I keep thinking my friendship with the girls, the Posse, couldn't get any better. Already, this is the coolest group of women I know that I get the honor and pleasure to call my friends. But then, we went to the lakehouse. And I discovered even more love for them, their kids, and even their sometimes crass but hilariously funny husbands. It isn't even remotely possible for me to describe the greatness that was our short few days at the lakehouse. I'll give it a quick try.

A few months ago, Tracey emailed us that we should make good on our idle comments of "we should have a family vacation sometime" and make a plan. Not only that, she found some options for us. We spent three or four hours one Saturday morning with a fury of emails back and forth between the six ladies (well, Amy was copied but Trey wasn't letting her on email because he was hungry and fussing for her to hurry up and get ready to get out of the house). Fifty some odd emails later, we had a date, location, and a plan. We were getting a lakehouse!

Tracey and Rich were the first to arrive since they were coming from Austin. Not even going to get into the caravan fiasco/frustration of the rest of us getting there! My phone rang to Tracey saying, "Wait till you see this place." You know, that could go either way. It could be "Wait till you see this place because it's a complete shithole," or "Wait till you see this place because it is totally incredibly wonderful!" Thank goodness, it was the second. The house was PERFECT.

Our time just flew by. When I was telling others about this and how the women are such good friends, more than one person asked, "then why not just do a girls weekend?" Of course, let's be honest--six women with no kids and no husbands would be A LOT easier to plan for, cook for (well, the cooking seemed quite easy to me since I didn't do any of it), clean after, and general keep up with, but we knew that we had to make it all our families. We want our children to know each other. We want our husbands to hang out together. And we want to create these memories together. And standing at the lakehouse, I knew it was the right decision. At any given time, we had one or two kids circling the wrap around porch on little bikes, one or two on the hammock, someone sliding down the slide on the swingset, a few glued to the Wii inside at the living room, and kids grabbing a snack in the kitchen. The children were great. Of course, we had the obligatory meltdowns--have you ever TRIED to get a picture of 15 children? Especially at the end of the trip when they're all tired and melting down?

Here are a few Lakehouse highlights--

  • Tracey's Birthday Surprise--"The Posse: Parents with a Passion" t-shirts made with all of us anxiously waiting at the bottom of the stairs. The pic on the t-shirt? From the 5K last year with Tracey looking like she's about to open a can of you know what on her sons! Thanks to Megan for the t-shirt design!

  • S'Mores! Chuck Weintraub saving the day for all the children. Do you want your marshmellow done--Chuck will shove it into the fire for you (much to the dismay of Bailey Robinson).

  • Late night parent swim--wait, are those heads in the window? Are they watching us? Crap, they are!!

  • Returning from changing out of our swimsuits after the parent swim to see only four adults out of eleven still awake (we were minus one dad at that time who arrived late). All others were sacked out at 11:30pm, leaving just me, Andrew, Rich, and Amy.

  • Teaching Amy to play poker--no, just because you have a Two of Hearts and an Eight of Hearts does NOT mean you have two of a kind.

  • Playing Apples to Apples at 2am with a drunk Trey yelling, "Oh, you have Coconut!" Cue seething look from sober Tracey.

  • Um, yeah, she was sober because--the night before? Not so much.

  • Sugar Photography on location! Family photographer couldn't resist and photographed the Franklins and the Robinsons. Jen is AMAZING! She was even willing to snap a few of Maggie!

  • Salty chicken. Really, salty chicken.

  • Rich and Andrew practing their throwing arms--launching chicken into the brush at 2am after we noticed lots of bird left over on the grill.

  • Fireworks! Pretty sure that while the guy at the management office gave us clearance to shoot off a few, he had no idea that they would be setting off some pretty big ones. Thank goodness for Andrew. And the fire extinguisher he had just in case.

  • Men on one side, ladies on the other side of the fenced in pool. Like watching something in the zoo.

As long as this list is, I could go on. I could tell more things about what happened--funny, inside jokes, cute kid stories, etc. We're in the process of booking of 2009 trip. Tracey already found a new house with slighter bigger accomodations (same location, just a different house). Hopefully, this tradition will become an annual trip not to be missed. We'll plan our summers around it.

Lots of love to the Posse! You're amazing. Thank you, thank you to Tracey for orchestrating this entire thing--you are most definitely More than a Minivan Mom!

And now....for the pictures. Not even a portion of what was actually taken.

Me and my man on our first night. I'm fairly satisfied with this picture given the fact that I don't have a single bit of make-up on.

Moms hiding in the little bedroom. Children? What? Go find your father!

All the dads hanging around the grill.

I love this picture. She was mad at me for telling her she needed to keep her shoes on.


Sweet Bailey holding baby Beck. He was so gentle with them.

Maggie and her man, Megan's little guy.

Ella considering tearing up. Seconds later she was smiling and cooing.

Wrangling the children for dinner.

Tracey catching her first glimpse of the birthday suprise!

Like giddy little girls as we pulled out a well planned out surprise for our Minivan Mom.

Tracey--she's a sexy beast.

Pure cuteness! Our little princesses.

The back of the house from the view of the fire pit.