Sunday Oct. 28, 2018

I'm thinking about life and death this morning. A high school classmate of mine passed away after a long battle with cancer. 50 is too young. So is 13. My classmate shared her journey via social media and reminded us all how important it is to live now while we can. Peace to her husband and kids as they start their life in the after.

On the flip side, my father-in-law turns 95 tomorrow. Eddie O carries on. Life is funny that way. We don't know how many years we get... it could be 13, 50 or even 96... This uncertainty is tough on a planner like me. (I call myself a planner. Dan and Erin think I might be an obsessor.)

So, there are many reminders to plan for the future, hope for the best, and live in the moment.

Life here on Willow Lane carries on. Dan and I have adjusted to the empty nest. It is quiet without Erin here, especially when Dan is on the road. I do have Gus - who is now an 80 pound puppy - to keep me company. We've been doing training to try and get him to control some of those impulses... like the impulse to run over anyone who comes through the door! He's learning and mellowing out and he'll be a good dog... someday...

Sunny and Sylvie tolerate Gus, they also put him in his place when necessary. Gus is usually sporting a scratch or two from the Sylvie and is missing a chunk of skin where Sunny nipped him. It's also deer season in our backyard, so we often have a chorus of barking dogs. Good times.

Sunny the wonder dog is reaching the end. Her back hips are giving her trouble and stairs have become a problem for her. She's 13 going on 14 and we're realistic. She's still with us today, so we'll live in that moment. Last Sunday, she walked all the way around the reservoir and loved every minute of it. She's not ready to go yet.

I suppose I should talk about Erin, too! It is so strange that she doesn't live here anymore. I didn't really think of it that way, but she is making a new "home" in Philadelphia. She is loving Drexel, has great roommates and is getting to explore Philadelphia a bit. Classes are hard, especially Chem and Bio, but she's making her way. She's already making plans for where to live next year with friends, so that's a good sign. She's stayed in touch with me and Dan via text and FaceTime, which makes the distance a little easier.

It's been 6 weeks since I've seen her, but luckily, I have a trip planned to Philly on Nov. 9th. It's family weekend, and Dan is taking one for the team and staying home with the pets. He's got a trip planned in Jan., so he'll get his turn to visit her. It will be so good to see her space and hear about her life. I can't wait.

Saturday Oct. 6, 2018

We spent our Saturday morning walking and running for brain tumor research at the Brains Together for a Cure annual event. Dan and I reminisced on the way there about the day 7 years ago when Shannon walked with us. But, before Shannon walked, she first had hockey tryouts, then came and did the walk, and then played a soccer game that afternoon where, the girl with the brain tumor, did a header. As soon as she did it, as those of us on the sidelines gasped, Shannon looked over and smiled. I'll never forget it. 3 months later she would be gone.

Today Dan and I did the balloon release to kick off the event. Grandma and Papa Harkins joined us, along with many other friends who are a part of Team Shannon. We connected with other parents who have lost their children and got to visit with Shannon's physicians who are a part of this fight to find a cure.




We continue to do what we can, including making a $5,000 donation from the Shannon O'Hara Foundation to Brains Together for a Cure. Every dollar helps and all funds go directly to brain tumor research at Mayo Clinic.

We missed having Erin with us this year, but she is settling in to college life at Drexel. Thankfully for this mama, she's been staying in touch via text and FaceTime. She's happy, so I'm happy. She has great roommates, likes being in the big city and loves the independence. Oh, and she says Biology and chemistry are hard.

Dan and I continue our lives of remembering one child and rooting for the other. It's not exactly how we want it to be, but it's how it is. It feels good and sad all at the same time. It always will.

Brains Together for a Cure Annual Walk/Run



Dan and I will be taking part in this annual brain tumor awareness event. Brains Together for a Cure has been a great supporter of the Shannon O'Hara Foundation, and we like to do the same.

I will be walking the 5K, and Dan will be doing the 5K run. Online registration for the 5K/10K run is available until Sept. 28 and for the walk until Oct. 3.

So, dig out your Shannon gear and join us to remember Shannon and support the research that's so desperately needed.

BTFC Walk 2011



September 12, 2018

We have just finished packing Erin for college. We leave for Philadelphia tomorrow, we'll shop on Friday for all the dorm essentials and move her in on Saturday. Dan and I fly home to our empty nest Sunday morning.

People keep asking me how I'm doing with all this? So far, so good... I am beyond excited for Erin and that outweighs my sadness about the change in our lives. She is ready for the next stage, so I have to be, too. But, I will miss the rhythm we've developed. I know the house will be too quiet and I will have too much time without her here.

But, this is how it's supposed to be, and we're grateful to get to take our kid to college. We were cheated out of that experience once. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I've seen many posts and pictures of families we've met who have lost children to the big C. It's a shitty club to be in, so we do our best to support each other.

In my job, I've been doing research about pediatric cancer this past week, focusing on the emotional effects - writing about how siblings can struggle and marriages often times break up. It's the lead topic of this weekend's Mayo Clinic Radio program.

So, on Saturday, while we are moving Erin in to her freshman dorm, the script that I wrote about how difficult childhood cancer is on families will be on the air. How's that for the kismet, karma, whatever you want to call it?

Dan and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary at the beginning of this week and by the time the week is over, we'll leave Erin happy, healthy and ready to start college. We know not every kid gets that chance, so we have reason to celebrate. I'm damn proud to say that's where we are, just shy of 7 years after cancer took Shannon.

This picture was taken on Erin's first day of preschool:


She was scared and nervous. I was ready for her to go to school. Now the rolls are reversed. Life is funny that way. Dan and I would give Erin the world if we could. We'll get started this weekend.

"You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time, you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, but a world lives in you." - Frederick Buechner

August 25, 2018

It's been a whole month since I last wrote in this space, so it must be time. The month of August has flown by and now the school year is upon us. I have to say it's very strange not to have someone in the Rochester Public School system this year. Shannon started in 2004 and Erin finished in 2018, so for 14 years I've had my schedule dictated by ISD #535. And now it's not...

I had to change some of my bookmarks on my computer - mayospartans.org is out, drexel.edu is in.

Erin is enduring the long, painful process of saying goodbye to each of her friends who are heading off to college. She is among the very last to leave as she still has 20 days left in Rochester. I know she will be ready to go by the time Sept. 14th rolls around. While it's not goodbye forever as kids are more connected now via technology than ever before. But, it is goodbye to the way things were during high school. Who knows which friendships live on and which fade away as new ones take their place.

We have done all the shopping we can do. Her dorm room stuff is at Bed, Bath and Beyond in Philly waiting for us to pick it up. All that's left is to decide how much of her clothing she is taking and how many suitcases we will need to get it there.

In fact, we are so prepared that I'm leaving on vacation this week! I'm off to watch the US Open tennis tournament with 3 of my girlfriends. A VRBO in Queens, 3 or 4 days of watching the pros at Flushing Meadows, we'll take in a Broadway show and do a little NYC sightseeing. It's going to be a great getaway.

People keep asking me how I'm doing with the transition. So far so good... but Erin is still here right in front of me every day. I don't know how I'll feel once she's living somewhere else.  As Dan says, plan the action, not the outcome. I'm just going to have to feel what I feel when the time comes.

I know I'm lucky to have the friends I do. I've got my mom squad who are all in the same boat, sending out girls off to school. I've got my tennis friends and my volleyball friends. I plan to play both this fall to help keep my busy. I did a strength training class for the last 12 weeks, and I plan to continue that, too. Oh, and I have a full time job that I enjoy. So, I will stay busy, but I know there will be a void when I don't get to see Erin every day.

One day at a time, Jen. One day at a time...

Wednesday July 25, 2018

The posts on this blog are more infrequent now, and I can't really explain why. Life, I guess...

When I started this blog, I didn't have a full time job. We wrote the very first post on this site from up on Mayo Clinic floor 16 - the pediatric unit. We spent a lot of time up there on 16. Today, I had a regularly scheduled work meeting moved to a new location. A conference room on Mayo 16. I took a moment to sit and look out the windows where we would sit and look out while we waited for Shannon to have a blood draw or an appointment. I was remembering the day that we taped a piece of paper to the window, then hustled down the elevator and outside onto the Peace Plaza to see if we could spot it. I remember how excited Shannon and Erin were that they could see it. IN the midst of cancer treatment, we laughed.

Now, 7 years later, my job - a job I wouldn't have if I hadn't started writing this blog - took me back to Mayo 16. The universe sometimes circles back to places we've been before...

We are creeping up on what would be Shannon's 20th birthday. Perhaps that's why it hit me today. I still miss her every single day.

We're also spending time getting Erin ready for college. Because Drexel is on quarters, we don't take her to school until mid September. But the preparations have begun. She's texting with her suite mates about who is bringing what, and there's a shopping trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond and Ikea in our near future.

It's so exciting and scary. (And that's just me!) Is it normal to be jealous of your kid getting to go to college? I wanna move to a new city and have new adventures! I'm mostly kidding, but there is something exciting about the unknown.

And while we still have 6 weeks with Erin at home, I'm feeling the pangs of sadness that she's leaving.  I'm going to miss her something fierce. She's the person I see every day. Dan will continue to travel to help pay those tuition bills. I will continue to work and life will go on. But it will be lonely without Miss E.

But, it's as it should be. I want nothing more for Erin to go away and be successful and not need me, at least not too much. This is the goal when you have kids. Raise them to be good people. Direct them to set goals and work to achieve them. Not every kid gets that chance. It makes me sad that Shannon never got to chase her dreams. But Erin will. And that makes me happy, so this momma is going to be all right.

July 4, 2018

I used to think of the 4th of July as the middle of summer, but this year, it feels like we're just getting started.

June flew by, filled with all the festivities surrounding the end of high school. I think Erin lost track of  how many graduation open houses she attended. Now, she and her friend are referring to themselves as college students. They're not wrong.

Erin also spent the first three weeks of her summer working two jobs and saving money. She is motivated to help pay for college and minimize the loans she will need to take. She's definitely got some skin in the game, and she's invested. We couldn't be prouder.

We managed to end June with a trip to the cabin for a long weekend. Dan met us there last Thursday after his week of travel in North Dakota. Erin and I left after her work shift at 7pm. Our first trip with two dogs in the car. Uff da! We made it all the way to St. Paul before Gus puked in my car. Erin and I were singing along to the radio and Gus started barking. We thought he just didn't like the noise, but maybe he was trying to tell us something. Thankfully, that was the only episode of car sickness and we made it to the lake just before 11pm.

Time at the lake is rejuvenating for all of us. The sun, sand and water are the perfect combination. The only disappointment is that Gus did not take to the water. Perhaps he is less lab than we thought! He can swim, but he doesn't want to. We forced him to try and he is not very efficient. Lots of splashing as he tried to doggie paddle to shore.

Sunny made it to the cabin again for a 14th summer. Her heart is willing, but her hips don't work so well anymore. She now moves like an old dog. But, she still gets in the water to protect us and shepherd us to safety. We hope she's around for a little longer.

Our friends joined us and a great time was had by all. There was boating, tubing and fishing when the weather cooperated... and shopping, reading and napping when it didn't. A perfect combination.

Now we are home and enjoying the holiday before we all head back to work tomorrow. Erin still has two full months of summer as she doesn't move in at Drexel until Sept. 15.  We are all going to enjoy the time we have together.

Happy July 4th to you all!