Wednesday May 25, 2016

25 years ago today, I graduated from college. The world was an infinite place of possibility...

Somewhere, deep down, I know it still is. I've got a lot more scar tissue now than I did then, but each and every day, there are still things to learn...

I find myself thinking about college a lot these days. Of course, Shannon's friends have made their choices and will be spreading out far and wide in the near future.

But, I'm thinking about it in terms of Erin, too. She has just 10 days left in her sophomore year of high school. And, once you are a high school junior, college begins to be a topic of conversation. Junior year is the time for tough classes, working for a good GPA and taking the ACT and SAT college entrance exams.

It goes so fast sometimes...

Erin and I went out and played a few holes together tonight after the afternoon rain.  Her meet today got canceled due to thunderstorms, so we had a rare afternoon at home. Erin might have even snuck in a nap.

But after the rain cleared, we jumped on the golf cart and played the O'Hara loop. That's what we call the group of holes closest to our house... in gym shorts and bare feet, E and I each played two balls and worked on our swings while we talked and laughed. It's so easy being with Erin... I am going to miss her when she's gone...

But, wait! That time isn't here quite yet, even if I can begin to see it out on the horizon...

25 years ago when I finished my schooling, I certainly wasn't thinking about being a mom, and I had no idea where that journey would take me... I was definitely still wondering what I was going to be and who I was going to become... I'd like to think I have a little more clarity about that now, but I still don't have it all figured out.

The good news is, at 46, I'm OK with not having it all figured out. The 21 year old me couldn't possibly understand that.

That's the thing about life, you learn what you need to know as you go... and growing older is not such a bad thing...

"Do not regret growing older... it is a privilege denied to many..."

Saturday May 21, 2016

Just a quick note today to celebrate the All City Champs... Mayo Girls Golf! Both Varsity and JV brought home the first place hardware. We had two of the top three finishers on the JV and we swept the medals for first, second and third on varsity, with Miss Erin bringing home the bronze.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day made all that much better by those in attendance. My dear friend Kula made her first public appearance since she's endured 16 rounds of chemo. 

The best news all week is that Kula's scans were negative - no signs of cancer meaning the best possible response to treatment so far. While she still has surgery in her future, she was feeling good and up for a walk around the back nine yesterday.

Erin might have had the biggest gallery ever in a high school golf meet: me, Dan, Uncle Mike and Aunt Connie, Kula, Ariana and Ariana's BF Tom all followed Erin yesterday! Oh, it was such fun...

Ariana was a Mayo golfer and watching Erin play brought back so many memories for both Ariana and Kula. They could laugh at me and Dan and our angst over watching Erin play. They've been there, done that. Ariana felt like she was looking in a mirror... Erin's mannerisms closely resemble a younger version of Miss A —the happy walk, the mad walk, playing too fast... it was all flashing back for Kula and Ariana! 

So, a great start to our weekend. Grateful for family and friends who support us. More fun ahead as today it's my turn to play golf. Life is good. Enjoy today...

Wednesday May 18, 2016

Yikes, it's been almost two weeks since I had the chance to blog. Let's just say I'm still getting a handle on working full time! I can't wait until I'm done with all the on-boarding activities that are required and I can get down to just doing my job...

Yesterday involved a two hour session on benefits. It was me and around 100 other new Mayo Clinic employees. I sat next to a young man in scrubs and during the break, I asked him where he would be working. He said, "I'm a radiation tech, so I'll be working at Desk R." He looked at me, wondering if I knew of Desk R... I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was intimately familiar with it...  not once, but twice...

It was his first day on the job and the last thing he wanted to hear is that while some patients are cured (like me), some are not (like Shannon). My mind wandered to this young man at the beginning of his career and the hope he has to help people. And he will. Just not all of them...

There are so many thoughts of Shannon these days as the seniors wind down to the end of their high school careers. Last weekend was Mayo prom, and our news feeds and timelines were filled with images of Shannon's friends and classmates all dressed up. You can't help but wonder, would she have had a date? A boyfriend? Would she have gone with a group of girlfriends? I wish I could just see what she looked like at this point in life...

I am mentally preparing for graduation, finding the strength and compassion to honor and celebrate these kids that I care about so deeply. They are a connection to Shannon in a way that I can't explain. When I see a classmate, I remember a memory of them with Shannon, a little snapshot from the past. I wonder if they feel the same when they see me...

Many of these kids continue to honor Shannon. We've had a few seniors do speeches or write papers about Shannon or the foundation. It is a part of their childhood, and for some it was a deeply profound experience.

I think that's why I fight to stay connected to these kids.

Yesterday, we were at Mayo High School to celebrate Erin at the Academic Awards breakfast. In addition to being on the debate team and student government, Erin was selected as the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership award winner. Here are the criteria:

  • Outstanding oral and/or written communication skills
  • Critical and/or creative thinking
  • Creative problem solving
  • Strong decision-making skills
  • Sensitivity to the needs or concerns of others
  • Charismatic personality
  • Courage to speak out for one's beliefs
  • Courage to challenge authority
  • Participation and/or interest in community service activities
If that describes our kid, we must be doing something right! Erin will attend a weekend conference with the other HOBY winners from around the state in June. Keep being a leader, kid, and you'll go places.

And yet, there we sat at breakfast, next to a senior who played soccer with Shannon. Erin can't escape it this year... next year will be different.

Three and a half weeks until graduation... just keep swimming...

Friday May 6, 2016

It's been a while since I had the chance to write. Much of life is the same - work, golf, etc. My full time job really started this week, even though my "official" start date is Monday, May 9th.  I am spending about 85% of my time on writing and producing for Mayo Clinic Radio.

On my first day, we had the busiest/craziest recording session ever. Not even joking. Three guests, four segments, re-writing scripts on the fly, and a photo shoot happening while we recorded. Talk about baptism by fire!

I am working early mornings and late nights so I can take time off in the afternoon to coach golf and attend Erin's meets when possible. Yesterday was a gorgeous day and I got out there and walked Northern Hills while Erin played. She's having a really good season, with a few hiccups along the way. As they say, that's golf.

Dan hasn't been able to see Erin golf as much this spring, but he's got a few dates on the calendar in the coming weeks. He's been selling - which is good - but that means follow up appointments and implementations and that means travel. Every week I get asked, "Where's Dan?" If you guess Wisconsin or the Dakotas, you are probably correct.

So, we are clicking along and life is moving quickly. The approaching end of the school year is invading my thoughts. Each day, as I go to the mailbox, there they are - graduation announcements and invites to open houses.

These are Shannon's friends and classmates. This is a big deal in their lives. When your kid starts kindergarten, you say "Here is the class of 2016". I never thought that Shannon wouldn't get there...

While on one level, it's incredibly painful, on another level it feels like connection. When Shannon passed, her friends didn't forget her - or us. They smile and stop to chat when they see us. In some small way it's a connection to Shannon. We see these kids who have developed into young adults and if we close our eyes and imagine, just for a second we can think about what Shannon might be like now.

Last week the seniors had a day where they declared their college choices by wearing sweatshirts or t-shirts representing their school of choice. It was fun to see, but it hurt, too. It made me think back to when Shannon was about 9 years old. Somehow we were talking about college, and she declared she would either go to RCTC so she could live at home, or go to community college in Brainerd so she could live at the cabin!

I'll also never forget the day we told Shannon about the gravity of her diagnosis. One of the first things she said was "I'm not going to get to go to college."

These stories are reminders that Shannon's world never got to be big, because she left us way too soon. Maybe that's partly why Erin loves to travel and wants to go to school in a big city.

So, we will do our best to celebrate with these kids as they finish their high school careers. They are excited for the next stage in life. We are happy for them. Shannon would be, too...

Thursday April 28, 2016

My dear friend Kula completed her 16th and final round of chemo yesterday. She has been strong and kept her spirits up as well as could be expected when you've got poison running through your veins. In fact, the emoji queen created a bitmoji that she's used over the past four months:

Needless to say, she's kept her sense of humor!

The chemo side effects have pushed her tiny, fit body to the limits, ravaging her insides and changing her outward appearance. The next two weeks will be no picnic, and this is not the end of her treatment. Surgery and possibly radiation are still a part of the plan. But, there are better days ahead.

The saying is oh so true - cancer sucks.

But, much like Shannon, if the patient has a good attitude about it, so must the people around her. I can't be down in the dumps about it if Kula is saying "I'm lucky". It's a good reminder of the strength we each have inside us.

So, a big shout out to my friend. You are stronger than you imagined. Love you, Kuls.

Monday April 25, 2016

Well, it happened...  I knew this day might come...

Erin beat me on the golf course. Not only that, she beat Dan, too!  Her 82 was the low round of the family. She's a better golfer than I ever was in high school. Wait, better than I ever was at any point in my life...

It's fun to see her hard work paying off. Now, we all know as golfers that every day is a new day and anything can happen... she's not going to shoot career bests over and over. But, she's enjoying it and we're enjoying watching her progress. Two more conference meets this week. Hopefully the spring weather will cooperate.

It wasn't all golf this weekend... Erin mixed in some volleyball, too. Her 17s team had a one day tournament on Sunday, playing 4 matches. Erin's making progress there, too.

So, we follow our kid around and watch her do her thing... I wonder sometimes if Erin feels extra pressure now that she's all we've got. I am sure she does, but she grins and bears it. We want to enjoy her and be there with her without adding pressure. Is that possible??

It's a strange family dynamic that we have. Two parents to one child is not always a healthy ratio. Erin gets pissed when her dad tells her something, and, five minutes later, I tell her the same thing. We're working on our fifth year as a family of three, and we still don't have it nailed...

But, we're all doing the best we can...

Luckily, Dan and I are both engaged in our jobs so that keeps us from hovering over Erin too much.  It was planes, trains and automobiles for Dan last week. Madison, WI on Tuesday, drove to Yankton, SD for Wednesday, then to MSP to fly to Fargo for Thursday. He's headed out again today for Milwaukee.

I have one more week at my "old job" and then next week I start picking up new duties before my official start date of May 9th.

It's been funny telling people that I'm going to work full time. Some people say "congratulations" but others know that there's a bit of trepidation. I even had one tennis friend who flat out said "Oh no!" That made me smile.

I think women understand. I want to work, I like my job, but I want all the other stuff, too. Time with Dan and Erin, time with my friends, time for tennis, time to coach golf... can you have it all? I'm going to give it my best shot.

So, this train just rolls onward... last week of April, seven weeks left in the school year... I think I can, I think I can...

Monday April 18, 2016

It was one of those weeks that we dread... a calendar day marked in black, diagnosis day, April 15.

But, sometimes you get lucky and life is gentler than you anticipated. That's how it was for us this time around, five years after that terrible day...

So much happened in this past week, and so much of it was good. The positive things in our lives help us remember that we are doing all right, we are surviving and sometimes thriving.

Thursday, Erin played in her second golf meet of the season. After not being pleased with her first score, she went out and shot a career best 81! Golf is a funny game...

Friday was diagnosis day, and while it was on my mind, I had bigger things to attend to. My job as a contractor at Mayo has morphed into a full time position working for Mayo Clinic Public Affairs. Friday, April 15, I accepted my first full-time job since before Erin was born. Yikes.

Five years ago I couldn't have imagined that I would work for Mayo Clinic. Would I be here if we hadn't been through our journey with Shannon? Probably not. My writing chops were tested right here on this blog and it led me in a new direction. How strange is that? My daughter's cancer and death led me to a new job opportunity. Life is so strange sometimes...

After a Saturday spent playing volleyball, the weekend wrapped up with Erin's confirmation. Yet another reminder of things that Shannon never experienced, but also a reminder of the blessings in our lives after Shannon. Erin's sponsor, Ellen, was and is a big part of our journey. 


Erin chose St. Jude as her saint name. The patron saint of hope and impossible causes. Erin was just 10 when we went to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital with Shannon, but it is etched in her memory forever.

A nod to the past, a look towards the future. Erin is growing up at warp speed now. I only wish Shannon was here to see it.