Wednesday March 27, 2013

Boy, lots of Shannon moments for me today as I work on various projects.  And for Dan, too, there was a Shannon moment.  He's on the road and was telling a new customer about his family for the first time.  It's a hard thing that will never change for us.  In twenty years if we meet someone new who asks about our family, well, it will still be a hard thing.  We try our best to accept that this is how it is.  Sometimes it still seems unreal...

My Shannon moments today were all related to good things.  First up was a check in at the RAC about our the book event hosted by the Thrive Sports Shop.  We are gearing up for what we hope will be a great event for all our Rochester supporters.  (Shameless self promotion here - remember the mark your calendars for May 30th)  This will be the first chance to buy the book, and details are coming soon on how to reserve your copy.  

My second Shannon moment revolved around another event - the first annual "MGG Swings for Shannon".  (Another shameless moment of self promotion - save the date for July 22nd) It will be a 4 person scramble with profits split between the Mayo Girls Golf program and the Shannon O'Hara Foundation. We had our first planning meeting today, and it's heartwarming to see the support from these girls and their families.  Lots of good ideas and people willing to help, so we are off and running.  

After all that, I came home to find a box of book promotion flyers had been delivered.  Opening up the box and seeing that picture of Shannon - 250 flyers with the cover of the book on them - made me take a moment.  That picture brings a tear to my eye, but not for the reason you might think.  The picture reminds me of my sweet girl, of course, but it's come to represent the process of writing the book for me, too.  In that context, that picture is a symbol for me of our attempt to keep the spirit of that girl in that picture alive and to do something good in her memory.  My life from here on out has to have meaning so that her life meant something, too.

That picture was taken by our friend Mary DaRos at the Sheryl Crow concert on Mother's Day, 2011 just 3 weeks after Shannon's diagnosis.  It was a bit of cosmic luck that Mary was there with us that night - we were each invited by a mutual friend.  And Mary, being a professional photographer, brought her camera.  She asked Shannon and Erin if she could take some photos.  And now one of them is the cover of the book.  Cosmic.  

Mary continued to offer her talent to chronicle our journey and now, she's sharing some of that portfolio on her website.  You can check it out at:  

So, pictures of Shannon are everywhere for me today.  Damn, she was a beauty. 

Monday March 25, 2013

Erin was full of questions this weekend:

Can I have a sleepover?  Yes.

Can I get a puppy?  No.

Can I get a bikini?  Yes.

Can we have a new baby?

The sleepover and bikini shopping went well.  Erin's friends are great kids and they think Dan is funny, so he says they are welcome any time.  After Friday's sleepover, we hit the mall.  Erin was happy to find that new swimsuit along with a pair of shorts and a cute dress.  All those items will make the trip to the desert later this week.

Those other two questions were topics of discussion all weekend long.

Sunny went to the groomer on Saturday, so that took the three of us to the pet store.  Lots of dogs were parading around and Erin wishes we could have a second one in the house to liven things up. But, I'm not up for training a puppy, so the answer, for now, is no.

Erin has been watching our old home videos of her as an infant and toddler, so she's had babies on her mind.  Then, we ended up seated behind a beautiful baby girl yesterday at Palm Sunday mass.  The little girl had big brown eyes and a curious mind.  Reminded us of Erin back in the day.  On the way home, Erin said, "Why don't you guys have another baby?  It would be so fun and I would be a good big sister."  Now, the fact that I think a puppy is too much work probably puts me out of the running for a baby.

I'd be lying if I said it hadn't crossed my mind after we lost Shannon.  Of course I wish Erin had a sibling.  She was a great little sister and she would have made a great big one, too.  In hindsight, yes, now I wish we had had more children.  When Dan and I did make babies, we made cute ones if I do say so myself.  We've got the home videos to prove it.

But, at age 44 (almost), minus an ovary, plus cancer, and with a husband who was snipped, well, I'd say my baby making days have passed.

There will be no new baby and no new puppy, so we will have to fill our lives in other ways.  Carrying on Shannon's spirit.  Helping Erin chart her course and reach her potential.  Finding satisfaction in what we've accomplished, even though it's not exactly what we had planned.  And, when we need a baby fix, we can always go to the videotape...  

Friday March 22, 2013

I know I keep bitching about the weather, but this is ridiculous. It feels like January.  But, if we can survive the next week, there is an escape for us - a trip to Las Vegas for Easter weekend to visit Grandma and Papa Harkins.  8 days and counting...

I am busy filling up our spring and summer calendars:  book events, cabin trips, golf practices, some basketball and volleyball mixed in, and a big summer vacation we are planning.  I'm saying it here, publicly, so we can't back out:  we three are going to London and Paris this summer at the end of June.  Life is too short, and Erin has a passport that's completely empty.  Time to change that.

So, between Vegas and London we will complete the spring volleyball season and complete the high school golf season, which is off to a bit of a slow start.  I managed to volunteer myself to help out with practices since there are a record number - 42! - girls out for golf this year.  Hopefully the snow will melt sometime in April.  This team and Coach Myhro have been big supporters of us, and I'm happy to give my time.  Again this year, the girls will wear Shannon's initials on their sleeves in her memory.  Coach Myhro has also planned a fundraising event to benefit not only Mayo Girls Golf, but also the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.  More details later, but mark your calendars for Monday, July 22nd at 2pm for the first annual MGG/SOF 4 person scramble at Eastwood Golf Course.

Also, between Vegas and London we will publish our book and do events and press and hope that it gets some national publicity.  All of this is geared towards supporting the Shannon O'Hara Foundation and St. Jude with proceeds from the book.  Cross your fingers...

We still have the St. Jude/Bassmasters event coming up April 13th as well.  We hear that tickets are selling fast, so if you plan to attend, you better buy your tickets soon.  Dan and I will be speaking, and our latest, greatest t-shirt design will be for sale that night along with a raffle for a chance to win a copy of Determined to Matter.  For details on how to get tickets, go to our foundation website:

So, needless to say, I am filling my days, although I have no income to speak of.  I'm not making any, but I am managing to spend it!  (Dan and I call this good recognition :)  This doesn't make me feel great, as I am a bit too young to be retired, and I want to do my part for my family.  I know I need to be making some money again someday, but thankfully, Dan understands and supports me.  This is what I need to be doing right now.  Working on the Shannon O'Hara Foundation groundwork, working on publicity for the book, doing what I can to do some little good in this world in Shannon's memory.  Even if it doesn't pay me a dime.

I don't know what the future holds for me personally or professionally, but my calendar is full between Vegas and London...

Happy Birthday, Sunny!

Just a shoutout here to Sunny the Wonderdog who turned 7 today.  She and Dan are the same age - 49 in human years...

Aging is a bitch, even when you are a dog.  True story - Sunny has been having some problems with, um, leaking.  Guess how you treat urinary incontinence in older female dogs?  You give them estrogen!  Good god, even our dog has medical issues...

Anyway, the hormone replacement is going well and solving the problem.  And, we haven't noticed any mood swings - she still loves us unconditionally.

Happy birthday, Sunny girl...

Monday March 18, 2013

It was another slippery drive this morning as I dropped Erin off at school.  2 to 4 more inches of snow are suppose to fall here today, adding to our snow pack that's already a foot deep.  Ugh.  This is the time of year where we Minnesotans transition from feeling like we are strong and hearty for withstanding these winters, to realizing we might be a little bit stupid for living in this climate!

Spring will come...

Yesterday was a day filled with emotions for the three of us.  We spent the morning and early afternoon watching Erin and her friends play in a volleyball tournament here in town.  This is such a good group of girls and they absolutely love being together.  Erin was all smiles.

In the evening, we attended a benefit for a woman who is in the final stages of a five year battle with breast cancer.  This community is amazing and the support she was receiving reminded us of the support we have received throughout our journey.  It is sad, this cancer journey, but good friends can help lighten the load.  We know that firsthand.

Amidst all this, our minds were wandering to an ice rink up in Eden Prairie.  The Cannons - Shannon's hockey buddies - were competing in the State Tournament for their level.  This is the end of the season tournament, and a chance to go out on top.  As the 4th seeds, the Cannons would need some magic...

After winning their quarterfinal game on Friday, they faced top seeded and home team Eden Prairie on Saturday.  EP had an undefeated season and had beaten the Cannons twice.  On this day, it was the Cannons turn.  A 2-0 victory behind stellar goaltending put the Cannons into the championship game.

In Sunday's championship, they would face another nemesis, Edina.  On St. Patrick's Day, maybe with the help of a little Irish angel, The Cannons brought home a state championship.  For those of you unfamiliar with MN Youth Hockey, this is a big deal.  To the best of our knowledge, a Rochester team hasn't won one since the mid 1980's and no girls youth team has ever been a state champ.

So, Dan and I were over the moon with joy, and incredibly heartsick at the same time.  As we kept checking for live updates during the championship game, we were both so nervous.  And when the game went final, we felt such happiness.  And such pain.  It's still unbelievable sometimes that Shannon's not here...

Upon the Cannons victorious return to Rochester, there was an impromptu party and they invited us to join in.  Oh, man, seeing those girls and those parents - more joy and more heartache.  We miss those people.  We jumped right in and heard the stories from the weekend and reminisced about past seasons.  So many happy memories for us with those people.

We still feel connected and yet, we are getting further away.  More memories are being made.  Memories without Shannon.  A whole season has passed.  That part is hard.  We feel joy and pride for the Cannons, and a little bit of pity for ourselves.

As we were feeling these conflicting emotions yesterday, Dan and I kept reminding ourselves that this wasn't about us. We see Shannon in these girls and we can't help but live vicariously through them on some level.  But, we can't expect others to live out Shannon's dreams.  We can't ask that of Erin, and we can't ask that of Shannon's friends.  We want Shannon to inspire others, not be a burden to them.  We want her memory to bring them peace, not pressure.  This is a tricky thing for Dan and I to navigate, and some days we struggle with it more than others.

When we arrived at the party last night, Dan, Erin and I were welcomed as part of the gang, and there were hugs and high fives all around.  It felt very much like we were a part of this team in some cosmic way.  We are proud of the young women those girls are becoming.  We are proud of the bond they share and the kindness they show each other.  We can feel Shannon when we are with her teammates, and, while it's not about us, we are proud that they all seem to carry a little bit of #9 with them every time they hit the ice.

State Champions, baby!  Well done, girls.

Thursday March 14, 2013

Happy Pi Day (3.14...)  Erin celebrated in math class today with a french silk one!

I took a big step today - playing tennis for the first time since all hell broke loose in my body.  After a few tentative strokes, I relaxed and things loosened up.  It felt good.  I feel like my shoulder and left arm were left mostly unaffected by my treatment.  Thank goodness.

Tennis is good for me physically, but good for me mentally, too.  Being out there with the ladies is good for my soul.  These are the kind of friends where you better make sure you go to the bathroom before you step on the court, because laughter will ensue.  (Middle aged women, you know what I'm talking about...)

So, feeling relieved and contented today about how my body is rebounding.  Now, if I could just get those missing teeth replaced soon... that's a story for another day... don't get me started...

Erin and I attended the State Basketball Tournament yesterday to watch the Mayo Spartans compete.  While they came out on the short end, it was still fun to be in the crowd with the students and parents supporting the girls.

I was definitely having some Shannon moments.  Knowing how much she would have loved it.  Seeing her friends who all rode up on the fan bus together.  At this point in the year, all those ninth graders are feeling pretty comfortable about being a part of the high school crowd.  They are all getting older, maturing, growing up.  I was talking to one of Shannon's friends about getting their learner's permit and starting to drive.

Watching all of Shannon's buddies start to take to the road is going to be hard.  I'm not going to lie.  When Shannon died, she was barely big enough to see over the dashboard.  She's frozen in time as a tiny little 13 year old girl.  Her friends are becoming something new now as they grow and change.

And yet, I like being around those kids.  I see them and I have Shannon memories - I can picture how Shannon came to know each of those kids.  I see a boy and think, "He and Shannon were in the same first grade class."  Or I see a girl and think, "Shannon played soccer with her in fourth grade."  For me, each one of those kids represents a little piece of my little girl.

There was a song lyric that caught my attention the other day - "All the grown up places you never went."  

Exactly.  Shannon's peers are on their way to grown up places...

Sunday March 10, 2013

The power of this blog still amazes me.  It has been an incredible tool for us in so many ways.  It has become a comfortable friend.

We are coming up on two years of writing here, and I am trying to figure out what the end game should be.  I am hoping the publication of the book and where that takes us might provide some clarity, but I don't know that for sure.  So, we continue to blog.  Here's what I do know:  

Through writing this blog, we found friends and supporters we didn't know we had.

We made new connections.

I found a passion I didn't know was missing - I love to write.

This weekend the blog brought me an answer to a question that's been bugging me, and brought me together with an old friend...

First, one of Shannon's friends was kind enough to send me a note because she remembers Shannon's English project, the one I couldn't recollect.  Shannon dressed up as Amelia Earhart - complete with a bomber jacket borrowed from a friend who was several sizes bigger than Shannon.  Now I remember.

The second blog connection was out of left field.  I ran into a high school friend on Friday night and she looked me in the eye and holding back tears she said, "Your blog is the reason I moved back to Minnesota."  Wow.

See, this friend has been living away from her extended family and working so much she was missing out on her own kid's childhoods.  She said reading our story helped her realize she wanted to be more present in the lives of those she loves.  So, she gave up the "big" job and things worked out to continue doing what she loves, but on a lesser scale and closer to her family and friends here in Minnesota.  Now, she has more time with her kids and she's so grateful for that.  Strange how you can get what you want once you know what it is.

It was so fun to re-connect with her and to feel an instant bond because of this blog, because of Shannon.  Making connections, sharing stories, maybe helping others in some small way is very rewarding.  Stories like that make me want to keep writing this blog forever, but there will be an end.  Nothing lasts forever.  I'm just not ready to stop quite yet...

That's what I'm thinking about as I drink my coffee on this Sunday morning.  It's another wintry day here in Southern Minnesota.  Snowflakes are falling, Erin is still sleeping, and Dan is fighting a nasty head cold.  Spring, please come soon...

Friday March 8, 2013

Another week has passed and one season has melded into the next.  No, I'm not talking winter and spring as it sounds like more winter weather is on it's way this weekend.  Ugh.  I'm talking basketball into spring volleyball.  Two practices already for Erin this week and an all day event tomorrow.  Such is the life of a pre-teen keeping herself busy...

I am feeling more like myself each day.  At least my daily naps are getting shorter, so I am taking that as a sign of progress.  A friend looked at me yesterday and said "Your eyes look good!" which means I look less like the walking zombie I have been the past couple of weeks.

It's hard to believe that radiation to a non-essential body part can have such an effect on the body.  But, your body fights back against this foreign attack (radiation) and uses all it's resources that way.  So, you are left feeling like a shell of yourself.  I do believe the worst of it is over as my skin is healing and my energy is returning.  Thank goodness...

So, volleyball tomorrow and then Sunday the calendar is empty.  First day in a while with no plans.  Woo hoo!  This spring is going to be very busy with Erin not only playing volleyball and continuing her piano lessons, but she's going to play HS golf this spring, too.  Coach Myhro always encourages these seventh grade girls to give it a try and Erin has talked two of her best friends into doing it with her.  So, once the snow melts, there will be daily trips to Eastwood golf course.

That will be a bit of deja vu for us.  We loved those days with Shannon.  Seeing her determination to get to practice every day after her radiation.  Out there on the range, she felt like a normal kid, not a cancer kid, playing a high school sport.  She just wanted to be a part of it... and she was.  Damn...

Erin is creeping up on the time in her school career where Shannon was when she was diagnosed.  Spring of 7th grade.  Erin has a school project coming up where they have to pick a deceased celebrity and act as them for an English class speech.  She asked me who Shannon was for this project... and I can't remember.  I can remember many details of many school projects from previous years, but once Shannon was diagnosed, that's what I remember.  Treatments, naps, golf practice.  Shannon must have done this English project as she insisted on doing EVERY assignment, but while some details of those days are crystal clear, other details have faded.  I want to remember everything...

I think that's the most exciting part about the book for me.  We will have this story written down forever.  I told Erin that someday, if she has kids, they can get to know their aunt by reading her story.  Our story.  Determined to Matter...

Tuesday March 5, 2013

As I sit here to write this morning, it's snowing.  It's been snowing all night, and the 10 inches we are going to receive by the time it's all said and done is enough to cancel schools.  When she wakes up, Erin will be pumped about having a snow day.

It's pretty typical for us to have a snowstorm at this time of year here in Minnesota, but when the calendar turns to March, we can finally start to think about spring.  Here in Minnesota, after each long winter, things begin again each spring...

Last spring was the first time we spoke publicly about our journey with Shannon.  The invite from the Bassmasters group meant Dan was getting up on stage to share our story just three months after Shannon's passing.  He will do so again this year.

Last spring was also the beginning of the book project for me that turned into Determined to Matter.

This spring and summer will bring us many opportunities to share our story and, specifically, to share our book with the world.  It is really exciting and also somewhat scary.  A whole new adventure for this family is ahead as we see where this book project takes us.

So, here's the scoop:  if you live in Rochester, MN or the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, you will have a chance to buy the book at upcoming events.  We will be at each of these events, reading from the book and signing copies.  So far, there are three book events on the calendar, with the first one taking place right here in our hometown.  Consider this your "Save the Date" with more details to follow:

May 30th  Rochester          5:30pm       Rochester Athletic Club - open to the public
June 5th    St. Paul               7:00pm       Micawber's Books
June 15th  Minneapolis    10:00am      Magers and Quinn - MN Publishing Tweet Up event

More events may be added, but for those of you who don't live in these areas or are unable to attend these events, now is the time to order your copy.  This will help ensure that enough copies get printed.  You can pre-order now from your favorite retailer, so check out our "The Book" page here on this blog or on our foundation web page for easy access to the links.

We are hopeful that sharing our story will help others.  That's the main goal and it's really two fold: people may find comfort and inspiration from our story and in turn, by purchasing the book, they will help us fund the Shannon O'Hara Foundation and it's efforts.  We are excited to see where this part of our journey takes us.

The snow is pretty today, but we eagerly await the arrival of spring and all the hope it brings...

Friday March 1, 2013

I need to take a few minutes this afternoon to brag about my wife.  When I refer to the WE in Team O'Hara, Jen represents about 80% of our team and Erin and I account for the other 20%.  Jen carries us.

So Friday when we went in for Jen's final radiation therapy session at Desk R in the Mayo Clinic's Charlton Building it was good to step aside and recognize another job well done for our heart and soul.  And, of course, the spotlight of ringing the bell to mark the end of RT made her uncomfortable.  

The second O'Hara to ring the bell at Desk R
There were tears and laughs and new friends going through similar journeys that surrounded Jen and loved her up.  She just put her head down and approached this battle like any other task our family faces - just get it done.  And there is far more pain and discomfort for her than she will let us know about..  Over the last week, radiation levels were cranked to maximize the attack on any rogue cancer cells that may be incubating.

So, Erin and I will try to carry more of the load as Jen recovers.  The radiation therapy continues to work away inside Jen for at least a few more weeks.  She's radioactive!

We have all made far too many trips to Desk R - we were told we are not welcome there anymore!  But we have gained even more respect for the professionals that treat cancer families with compassion and consistency.  Over this 6 weeks we have witnessed an ever greater fellowship among fellow RT patients and families. We are grateful for the fellowship.  We are also grateful for our leader.  Even if she doesn't want anyone to notice.
Desk R friends for life