Thursday February 28, 2013

I used to want to believe that everything happens for a reason.  I wanted to believe that cause and effect was at work.  Meaning, if I was a good person, then good things would happen.  I don't feel that way anymore.

What I do think now is that when things happen, be they good or bad, you have a chance to make use of them.  To give them meaning.  To find a purpose.

If something good happens you can try and share it with others - spread the love, spread the wealth, spread your time.  Whatever it is that you have in abundance, you can share it with others, and that gives life meaning.

Now, when something bad happens, you have a chance to make use of that, too.  Making this choice is much harder. But finding meaning, finding purpose after a tragedy can help you become a better version of yourself.  I believe that with all my heart.  It is happening to me right now.

I am feeling introspective as I reach the end of my six weeks of radiation.  The 30th and last treatment is tomorrow.  While I dreaded the thought of going there each day, we have again found ourselves connecting with people and sharing what we have to give.  I left today feeling really good about the interactions with everyone at Desk R.

So tomorrow (Friday), I will finish this part of my treatment and I will ring the bell.  Hell, yeah...

Monday February 25, 2013

Yesterday we had a chance to go to the Timberwolves game as a guest of St. Jude and sit in a suite at Target Center.  Erin got to meet Kevin Love and hang out on the floor before the game.  Very cool.

We are becoming entrenched in the St. Jude events for this year, which will lead us up to a big book/St. Jude event this September at the Fall Festival of Hope.  So, we are becoming familiar with the Minneapolis St. Jude office and the people who work there.  They are also very cool. 

Sure, the meet and greet before the game was nice, but what happened up in the suite was just as special.  Sitting in a suite with four families all of whom have been treated at St. Jude.  Two of us had lost our battle, and two others were still fighting.  It's quite a club to which we belong.  

It's also a little tenuous - the last thing those families that are still fighting probably want to hear about is a beautiful little girl who didn't survive.  Dan and I tried to be respectful and not share too much with them, but instead tried to engage and hear about their ongoing battles.

Now, with the family who met the same fate as us, all bets were off.  We shared details of radiation and chemo and recurrence and the rapid decline that comes when a brain tumor takes over.  There is an instant connection to someone who has lost a child in such similar fashion.  We are comrades.

Erin was the oldest "kid" in the suite, just as comfortable engaging the young patients and their siblings as she was engaging the young women who work for St. Jude.  No shocker here, another O'Hara who knows how to work a room!

Erin left yesterday feeling good - good about making connections, good about being a face of a family that's carrying on, good about playing with the little girl, Avery, who has already been through so much in her short life.  Erin has intimate knowledge of what these kids are going through, and she empathizes with them and their families.  

So, here's the next chance to help out St. Jude and the Shannon O'Hara Foundation - we will be speaking at the Zumbro Valley Bassmasters event again this year.  Dan will share an update on the research and I will read from Determined to Matter.  There will be a raffle to win a signed copy of the book and we will have SOF merchandise on sale, too. 

So, if you are free April 13th, come help the kids of St. Jude.


Friday February 22, 2013

Week 5 of radiation is in the books.  The end is in sight.  5 more treatments to go...  This week, radiation has been kicking my butt.  I am so tired that I can nap every day, and still go to bed at 9pm.  It makes me feel so unproductive and that makes me feel frustrated.

How can radiation to a non-essential body part cause such fatigue?  Dr. Laack explained it like this:  something foreign is happening to your body and your body is fighting back.  Just like when you have the flu, your body requires rest to fight it off.  Same type of thing is at work here.

Dr. Laack also explained that us watching Shannon sail through things relatively easily may have given us the wrong impression.  Shannon set an unrealistic standard for us.  Ain't that the truth!  Dr. Laack said kids generally handle radiation better than adults because their bodies are more resilient.  And, well, Shannon was Shannon, so she handled it as well as anyone.

So, the bottom line is I'm suppose to rest when I need to rest and not beat myself up about it.  One more week of treatment and then another few weeks as my body slowly climbs back to normal.  Patience is required...

Yesterday, Erin and I volunteered at the Country Cares for St. Jude Radioathon.  Erin really enjoyed it and even went live on the air with me to talk with DJ Julie Jones about our time at St. Jude.  Miss E carries herself with more confidence every day it seems.  She is coming to accept that these types of events are now our duty, and we need to handle them with as much grace as we can.

Erin told me on the way home, "That was fun.  It felt good to help out."  That's the spirit, and that's how we honor Shannon.

This weekend brings us a visit from Grandma & Papa Harkins.  They arrived from Nevada just in time to help us shovel snow and then joined Dan and I this morning for our daily trip to Desk R. Lots of memories there for them, too.  While they are in town, they will take in cousin Laurynn's performance in her school musical tonight and then watch some of Erin's basketball tournament here in town on Saturday and Sunday.  Once again, it's a weekend on the go for team O'Hara.

Just a quick update today as we carry on.  Now, I need to go take a nap...

Tuesday February 19, 2013

If you don't live in Minnesota, be grateful for that today.  Our high temp is creeping up just above zero, but the windchill today makes it feel like it's 30 below.  So, I'm listening to music, sitting by the fireplace, and writing this afternoon.

Another day of treatment is behind me and the end is in sight.  Just 8 more radiation sessions to go.  I feel like I've sailed through the first four weeks, but this week the fatigue has hit me hard. Daily naps that I just can't fight off, so I've chosen to give in.  Sunny the Wonderdog is happy to keep me company.  She's always up for a good afternoon nap, and hops right up on the bed with me.

I found myself thinking back to the days when Shannon's radiation caught up with her and she would come home and nap before heading off to golf practice.  Shannon did a good job of listening to her body, and I'm attempting to do the same.

This is the point in the winter where us Minnesotans start to look for light at the end of the tunnel.  We all want to click off the month of February as March always brings promise for a change of seasons.  The beginning of March will signal the end of treatment and the end of the basketball season.

Erin doesn't plan to have much down time, though, as she will jump right onto a spring volleyball team and then plans to go out for the Mayo golf team, just as Shannon did in seventh grade.

Erin continues to work to find the balance of having enough down time, but not too much idle time.  Idle time brings sadness and loneliness, so she does her best to stay busy.  This past weekend it included a pizza party with the basketball team, a Sunday evening playing games with friends, and a Monday afternoon spent with a different group of friends at the RAC.  After all that, Erin needed to sneak in a nap yesterday, too!

In her quiet moments, Erin can't help but think of Shannon.  She thinks about the what ifs and the could have beens.  She recollects Shannon by looking through scrapbooks, but also through music. A girl after my own heart.  Erin has her own playlist about the pain of loss, and it's OK to admit that there's still pain as long as you don't get stuck in it.  My best motherly advice is to acknowledge it, share it, and then set it free...

Erin shared some of her playlist with me, and she turned me on to a beautiful song called "Let Her Go". It's by singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg who goes by the moniker, Passenger.  It's obviously about a lost love, but it's also about not realizing what you had until it's gone.  And that's what we all feel when we think of Shannon.  We had something good, and we miss not having more...

Staring at the bottom of the glass
Hoping one day you will make a dream last
The dreams come slow and it goes so fast
You see her when you close your eyes
Maybe one day you will understand why
Everything you touch all it dies

Well you only need the light when it's burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know your lover when you let her go
Only know you've been high when you're low
Only hate the road when you're missin' home
Only know your lover when you let her go
And you let her go...

Saturday February 16, 2013

It has been a busy and successful last couple of days here in Rochester.  Dan and I are still coming down from the events of Thursday night.

We handed out the first ever Shannon O'Hara Memorial Scholarships.  This idea, this goal we had to honor Shannon came to fruition and that feels really good.  We've said often that we need to make something good come out of our terrible loss, and here it is.

And, we couldn't be happier with the two student athletes chosen by our foundation board of directors: Rebecca Lorsung of Rochester Century and Brian Murray of Rochester Mayo. (To see photos, check out the foundation website -

It was a pleasure to meet these two kids and their parents.  They are both kind, humble student athletes who felt honored to receive the scholarship.  We heard from a teacher and a coach of Rebecca's that she's a great kid and a great choice.  We heard from Brian's mother that when he received the call from us letting him know he had been chosen, he jumped around the room with excitement.

These two work hard in school and on the ice, they are great teammates, they each love the sport of hockey and give back to it by helping out with the younger players.  In my imagination, I think Shannon would have been the same way.

In addition to the scholarship presentations, the Mayo and Century boys hosted "Shoot for Shannon" night and had fundraising events that helped us raise another $1200 for the foundation.  We continue to be amazed by this community of ours.  Thank you, thank you...

Friday was another non-stop day including two trips to radiation - my machine was down all morning, so my 8am appointment didn't happen and we had to return at 11am for treatment.  20 down, 10 to go.  Dan and I didn't waste that down time, running errands in between and taping a radio interview with local country DJ, Julie Jones.

Next week is the Country Cares for St. Jude Radioathon and we offered our support and shared our story, including reading an excerpt from Determined to Matter.  Besides raising money for the scholarships, the second goal of our foundation is to help fund brain tumor research at St. Jude and the Mayo Clinic.

The St. Jude Radioathon will be on air Thursday and Friday, February 21 and 22 from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm.  You can listen live here in town on 102.5 the Fox FM, online at, or on the I Heart Radio app.  And, if you call in to donate on Thursday between noon and 3:00 pm, I might even be the one answering your call.

Today we are busy with two basketball games here in town for Erin.  The Spartans season is winding down now, two weeks to go.

After all that, Sunday will hopefully be a day of rest...

Thursday February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day.  My day has included a massage and new glasses.  Sounds like a good deal, but I'm not happy about either.

You see, the massage was in the Lymphedema Clinic, and the new glasses are bifocals.  It's OK, you can laugh...

My radiation treatments are moving right along, but swelling has become an issue, so they sent me to therapy to get some help with compression and massage.  Not the most relaxing massage I've ever had, that's for sure.  But, the hope is it will offer some relief and help me manage through the end of my treatment and during the post radiation recovery.

As for the bifocals, those are a side effect of another problem I have - I'm getting old...

Now, today hasn't been all bad.  I was awakened by the sound of Erin banging around in the kitchen at 6:00 am.  Usually I have to rouse her out of bed at 6:45 each morning, but she was awake and obviously up to something.  I heard pots and pans banging around, and 15 minutes later she arrived at my bedside with a cup of coffee and an egg on toast cut in a heart shape.  "Happy Valentine's Day, Mom."

That girl loves Pintrest.  And apparently, she loves her mom, too.

The day is only going to get better from here.  Dan is on his way home from Wisconsin and tonight we are off to Graham Arena for "Shoot for Shannon" Night and the presentation of our scholarship winners.

No place Dan and I would rather be this Valentine's Day...

Tuesday February 12, 2013

The kindness of others... we use that phrase often, but I have learned the power of it in action.  Nothing lifts us up like hearing from someone that they are still thinking about us even as time passes by.  It's a great fear after a great loss that your loved one will be forgotten.  

Today a card arrived in the mail from Erin's preschool teacher just saying, "You are on my mind."

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from a high school classmate saying how she's been inspired by our story and wants to honor Shannon.

While it's nice that people are remembering Shannon and remembering us, there is a bigger message for me in these notes we receive.  The kindness of others shows through people taking time to act on their thoughts, sending a card, writing a note.

This is one of those things we've learned as a by-product of our experience.  Kindness and empathy do wonders for others.  Give what you have to offer - a note of encouragement or a shoulder to cry on.  I am mindful now to be present for people.  Really present.  I've always been a nice person (in my humble opinion), but now I want to offer what I can to those it may help.

That's heady stuff for a Tuesday afternoon, but I was struck by these interactions this week.

Our world is so much bigger now through all the connections we've made because of Shannon.  And more chances to connect are just around the corner - speaking at events and book signings will be just another chance to share the human experience with others.  This is something that I could never have imagined myself doing, but now, it seems right.

It's amazing to me to think I have more people in my life now than ever before.  Sometimes, it's hard to reconcile that - how can I be happy about relationships that blossomed because of the loss of my daughter?

But, somehow each interaction, each connection I can make usually feels good.  At least that's how I feel now, almost 22 months since Shannon's diagnosis.  Sure, sometimes something or someone catches me by surprise and brings pain and heartache rushing in.  But most times now, I feel - or choose to feel - lucky for these connections.  Each time I cross paths with someone who knows I've been changed, well, it's a little gift from Shannon.  And, most days, anything Shannon related makes me smile.

You can bet we will be smiling this Thursday when we hand out the first Shannon O'Hara Memorial Scholarships.  It's so exciting to see this come to fruition.  To each and every one of you who has bought merchandise or made a donation, thank you.  Hope to see you Thursday night!

Sunday February 10, 2013

I'm betting on the band Fun. to score big at the Grammys.  They perform a beautiful song called Carry On that speaks to me;

If you're lost and alone 
Or you're sinking like a stone
Carry on 
May your past be the sound
Of your feet upon the ground
Carry on

The threat of a major winter weather event forced cancellation of a basketball tournament we were supposed to be playing in today in Inver Grove Heights MN.  Ms. Erin took about 9 seconds to  get over the disappointment and immediately hatch a sleepover plan with teammate Lexie.

The belly laughs I'm hearing this morning are the girls having a blast.  They slept late then gobbled down some apples and cinnamon rolls and now they are back on the sofa they slept on giggling loudly to some silly TV.  Dang, we missed church again.  But I am confident our God would approve of the happiness that Erin is living in the moment.  Carry on.

Jen and I were able to enjoy some of the happiest moments of our recovery over the past couple weeks seeing how Rochester's Girls Hockey Community embraced the Shannon Cup.  Girls everywhere wearing Shannon shirts, wearing lime green hair ties, "Shannon the Cannon" printed on green tape on helmets.  Everywhere we looked there were reminders of our little Irish angel.

We were able to speak with two of the teams from Rochester that won their Shannon Cup divisions (we weren't able to stay for their championship games).  The 10A and 10B teams from Rochester feature mostly 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.  Only a few of these girls ever got to meet Shannon.  We came into their locker rooms after practice Friday night to present them with Shannon shirts and remind them that the Shannon Cup and the Shannon Scholarship will need their help.

By the smiles and looks of amazement ("YOU are Shannon's parents?") I am confident these girls are going to carry on in a way that will honor Shannon's spirit for years to come.  Maybe some day they will take the time to tell a new girl what it means to play for a Shannon Cup. 

Monday Jen begins her fourth week of radiation therapy at Mayo Clinic. I will be in Wisconsin trying to grow my book of business.  Erin will be at Willow Creek Middle School exercising her big brain.  Carry on.

Thursday February 7, 2013

"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of.  You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life." - Albert Camus

This has been a theme around our house this week.  Really, it's been the theme for the 13 months since Shannon passed away.  Can we be happy?  What will make us happy?  How do we get there, to "happiness"?

Erin has struggled with this concept.  It is so difficult to reconcile for her that happiness in not a destination, it is a constant process of accepting where you are each day and doing your best to make the most of it.  If you do that - be the best you can each day - then you have to accept that you have done all you can to "be happy".

Circumstances that are beyond our control certainly affect us at times in our lives.  How to move beyond that and let go of those things is the trick.  And, that's hard to do when you are 11 and your sister has died of cancer and your mom is being treated for it.  Add to that the fact that one of Erin's friends is dealing with cancer in her own life - her mother, younger than I, has ovarian cancer and is undergoing surgery today.  I feel for that family, but I feel for Erin, too.

Poor E, at age 11, she knows too much.  When I was 11, I don't think I feared anything, really, and I don't think I had ever even heard of cancer.  Erin has such an awareness of the Big C, and a fear of the worst.  That is an anxiety she will have to live with in her life. She's seen the worst, but needs to find a way to still hope for the best.

So, back to the topic at hand.  Happiness.  Finding joy in moments, in relationships, in the beauty around us is what can make us happy, no matter what has happened before in our lives.  Everyone has past sorrows, regrets, and sadness over loss.  But we can't let those things cloud this moment, right here, right now.

That's what I find for myself, anyway.  I am content when I spend the day in the present, not regretting the past, not fearing the future.  We - me, Dan, and Erin - can't think our way to happy.  We must do, we must live, we must continue to engage and experience things.  Yes, we are allowed some time of quiet thought and reflection on where we have been, but we must also continue to work on moving forward.  That  doesn't mean we are in denial, and it doesn't mean we are done thinking about Shannon.  We never will be.  But, there is a lot of good in our lives - people we love and activities we enjoy.  We are planning some trips.  We are awarding our first scholarships next week. We are preparing to share our book with the world.  These are good things.  This is what we are supposed to be doing, carrying on.

"Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness;  it is generally the by-product of other activities." - Aldous Huxley

Tonight we are contacting our scholarship winners.  So exciting.  Tomorrow I am off to a marketing meeting for Determined to Matter.  But first, tomorrow morning I will complete my 15th radiation therapy treatment.  Halfway done.  Now, that makes me happy...

Monday February 4, 2013

I am finding a free minute to sit down and write an update.  It has been another busy weekend of activity, but Monday is here, which, in my job, is actually a good thing!

I started week three of radiation today.  Dan is accompanying me every day when he's in town.  The women who work at Desk R are always happy to see him, as he chats them up and makes them laugh.  He's a social guy, and he's very Shannon-like in his ability to light up a room.  In contrast, when I'm there alone, I bury my head in a book and quietly wait my turn.  Opposites attract, I suppose, and we make a good pair.

We are coming off another busy weekend of Shannon Cup activities.  After all is said and done, we will have raised more than $5200 for the Shannon Fund.  We can't say thanks enough to all the volunteers who spent their time manning our merchandise table.

We took in several Shannon Cup hockey games this weekend, and although the big story is still painful and sad, there are so many little stories that bring joy.

We watched the 12A team fight like hell to win their last round robin game because these girls, all of whom skated with Shannon, wanted to play for the Shannon Cup.  They fell in the last two minutes 3-2, and we could see how crushed they were.  They wanted to do it for Shannon, for us.  We shared a little message with these girls before their third place game the next morning:  Shannon lost plenty of games and she never handled it very well!  But, for her, the best part was getting back out there on the ice with your friends and doing it all again.  Those 12A girls won the third place game and left the rink with smiles on their faces.

We watched the 12B Rebels team, too.  This was the team Shannon played on her last two years, and a couple of these girls played with Shannon in her final season.  The Rebels made it to the championship and the game was tied at the end of regulation.  Overtime couldn't break the tie, so a shootout would determine the champion.  The Rebels came through!  Dan and I were so pleased to be there handing over the Shannon Cup to a Rochester team.

The best part of this story is the fact that before the game, a mom overheard the locker room pep talk the Rebels were giving themselves.  They were facing a team they had lost to twice already this year, and in the locker room they said "Not today.  Not in our rink.  We're doing this for Shannon!"  Dan and I noticed the girls sporting their Shannon Cup t-shirts under their jerseys in that championship game.  Maybe a little angel helped them out...

Two other Rochester teams - the 10A and 10B - also won their Shannon Cup tournaments this weekend.  The future of Rochester girl's hockey is bright.  The girls on these teams are too young to have played with Shannon, but they are all coming to know her story.

That 10A team posted a video after their victory.  The camera person asks the team, "Who did you girls play for?" And all 14 girls smile and yell, "SHANNON!"

Seeing these girls makes us so happy and so sad.  I don't know how else to explain it.  Dan and I love and miss her so much, and yet we know that seeing others carry on in her memory is the best we can hope for, and it's a way to honor her.  So, it does bring us joy in a heartbreaking way.

One final story from the weekend:  Our friend Kari Grafstrom was working at the merchandise table on Sunday and this young girl, who obviously played for a U10 team, was looking over the t-shirts.  She looked at Kari and said, "Did you know Shannon?"  Kari smiled and told the girl that, yes, she knew Shannon.  The little girl smiled back at Kari and said, "Oh, you are so lucky!"

Yes, yes we are...