Papa Harkins Update

I am happy to report that Papa Harkins is back in the land of snow... and capable healthcare.  Sorry to all my Florida friends, but the quality of care there leaves a lot to be desired.

Papa suffered an retinal arterial occlusion caused by an episode of atrial fibrillation on the ship.  Afib can make you throw blood clots that settle in your organs.  Losing eyesight in one eye is terrible, but it could have been so much worse.

After a couple of frustrating days of substandard care in Port Canaveral and a less than comfortable flight home, Papa is now at Hennepin County Medical Center under the watchful eye of Dr. Scott Davies... who just happens to be Chuck's longest standing brother-in-law.

Scott has helped assemble a team of docs to treat the cardiac issues, and also attempt an experimental treatment on Papa's loss of sight.  HCMC has a hyperbaric chamber and Papa will now sit in there twice a day, two hours a day, for five days.  It's an effort to improve blood flow in the hopes of regaining some vision.

He's still got some cardiac issues to be resolved and there's no guarantee that his eyesight will return, but from here on out, Papa's getting the best care possible.

Hold a good thought for him as we move forward with treatment over these next few days.

As for Erin, she's doing all right.  Still disappointed, still sad and a bit shaken by all that has happened, but she'll get through it.  She always does.

And me and Dan, we are once again reminded of the grace and goodness of other people.  Those who are there to lift you up and help you move forward when you aren't sure you can.

I'll get a chance to visit my dad in the hospital tomorrow.  Can't wait to see him.

Saturday December 27, 2014

I am tired of looking for silver linings.  Today just sucks and there's no way around it.  Erin is suppose to be on a Disney Cruise today, swimming with the dolphins in the Bahamas.  Instead, she is back home after a long, traumatic day yesterday.

Grandma and Papa Harkins flew with Erin to Orlando Christmas night in preparation for their 13th birthday adventure.  Yesterday morning, they shuttled from Orlando to Port Canaveral and boarded the ship.  After a quick peek around, they headed to get some food.  Upon sitting down at the table, Papa lost sight in one of his eyes.  Just like that.

Off to the ship's doctor who said they needed to disembark and head to the local hospital.  Erin was on the cruise ship for 2 hours, 90 minutes of which was spent in the hospital.  Then, to the local ER for another two hours.  While talking to Erin on the phone, she said, "Mom, out the window of the hospital I can literally see my ship sailing away."  She was on the ship long enough to take 5 pictures with her new camera she bought with her own money.  She showed them to me last night.  There's a really good one of Grandma and Papa at the beginning of their grand adventure...

It was obvious that Papa would be in the hospital and there would be no vacation, so the next goal was to get Erin home.  Nothing else could be done.

On the phone with Delta, one way ticket back to MSP for an unaccompanied minor.  Grandma and Erin cabbed it 45 minutes from Port Canaveral to Orlando, got Erin on a flight and then Grandma got back in the cab and headed the 45 minutes back to the hospital.  Erin sat alone on a plane for three hours and Dan and I were at the gate at MSP to meet her.  She finally cried when she got to us.

The initial diagnosis is that Papa had a stroke to the optic nerve.  Recovery of eyesight is an unknown at this point.  Life altering for he and my mom.  My mom is currently working to get him cleared to fly to Minnesota so he can be seen here in Rochester at Mayo Clinic.  Tests are being done to make sure there aren't other clots or concerns before he can be released from the hospital.

Erin was, of course, a trooper.  She handled it as well as any 13 year old could.  I am so tired of life lessons for Erin and for her to keep having to put things in perspective. She's gotten way too good at saying, "It could be worse."  Guess what?  It could be better, too. How about some unadulterated fun for that kid for once?

She's up this morning, coping, making plans maybe to go to the mall shopping with a friend.  She's resilient.  I know that.  I just worry how many times she can bounce back.

So, we are in Rochester.  My parents are in Florida.  Everyone is scared. Papa's life was altered yesterday. So was Erin's.  Papa and Grandma feel awful.  My heart aches for all of them, and there's nothing I can do or say to make it better.

Christmas Eve

Sleep has not come so easily for me the past few days, so I am the first one awake this Christmas Eve morning.  Well, me and Sylvie.  She has an uncanny ability to hear any sort of movement anywhere in the house and she thinks this is her call to come to the kitchen and ask for food...

Thank goodness for Netflix and HGTV.  They have been my constant companion in the sleepless hours these past few nights.  I'm hopeful that today is a better day.

Yesterday felt like a step backwards.  I think the exhaustion, weaning off the pain meds and the whole surgical procedure finally caught up with me.  Low hemoglobin combined with taking narcotics has not been a great recipe for me.  I might have had a mini-meltdown last night. I'm resigned to the fact that you're probably not going to win mother of the year when the 13 year-old has to tell you it's ok if you skip Christmas.  Thank goodness there was one adult in the room...

Miss Erin has been a trooper.  So has Dan.  I am not a great patient - I sort of want to do everything for myself - and he, ahem, doesn't love playing nurse.  I hate to generalize, but I've done a small straw poll, and the truth is, guys suck at taking care of their sick wives.  The world just functions much better when the roles are reversed.  Dan has been doing it all, though - cooking, cleaning, laundry - and we've managed to laugh a few times at how out-of-balance we all feel when things don't go according to the master plan.

Ah, perspective though.  All things considered, we are doing all right and we are lucky to be where we are this Christmas.  Yesterday's obits in the Rochester paper were sobering reminder of that.  Three people who I knew in my life passed away this week:  the father of a dear high school friend, another acquaintance whom I worked with and occasionally played tennis with, and a high school English teacher of mine.

Each of them dealt with cancer as part of their life's journey.  I have fond memories of these people and the different times in my life that they represent.  Wendy's dad was a bus driver who often drove the basketball bus in my high school years.  Bob was a good guy and a fun tennis opponent when I picked the game up again after taking a few years off to become a mom.  And Mr. Sollien introduced me musical theater.

We read Shakespeare in his class and then watched "modern" adaptations.  Taming of the Shrew led to Kiss Me, Kate and Romeo and Juliet brought us to West Side Story.  One look at the Sharks and the Jets singing and dancing their feelings, and I was hooked.  West Side Story is still my favorite.

I know those families each wake up today to a first.  The first Christmas without a piece of them.  My heart aches for them.

We are doing this "Christmas without" thing for the third time now.  Does it get easier?  Not really.  We still miss Shannon every day and the holidays only bring that into sharp relief.

But time does soften the corners a bit.  We have more life without her now to reminisce about.  I don't know if that's a good thing, but it's the truth.  We find ourselves moving right along, watching Erin grow, getting on with the act of living our lives.  It doesn't hurt to stop and remember from time to time...

I'll be thinking of those families and their firsts, hoping for strength and peace for each of them on this journey.

I'll be remembering Shannon, and another Christmas she missed.

I'll be hoping that my family can nurse me along for another couple of days and that I start to feel like myself again.

I'll be crossing my fingers that Erin still feels the magic of Christmas like a 13 year-old should.

Hold those you cherish close in your heart today, tomorrow and always.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Home Sweet Home

I am happy to report that we made it home yesterday from the hospital.  I was released yesterday afternoon, and I was able to sleep in my own bed last night.  OK, "sleep" may be a bit of a misnomer, but you know what I mean.  I'd still rather be getting up for pain meds at 4am on Willow Lane than at Methodist Hospital...

I feel a bit like I got hit by a truck this morning, but this is to be expected.  Things will get better in the days ahead.  I've got Dan making me food, Erin keeping me company and a couple of animals for entertainment.

My surgeon stopped by yesterday before I was released to let me know everything went very well with the procedure.  No incision necessary, he was able to do it the easy way.  ("Easy" being a relative term here!)  Now I just need to be gentle with myself for the next six weeks and let things on the inside heal.

Grateful it's done, grateful I'm home, let the healing begin...

Saturday December 20, 2014

Good morning from Rochester Methodist Hospital.  Dan here delivering Starbucks to the patient who is recovering from successful surgery.  Friday was a long day - we checked in at 9:30am for the procedure which did not get underway until about 3:00 pm.  The hysterectomy took a couple hours.  Jen was not delivered to our 5th floor hospital room until after 8pm and she was pretty much out of it for the balance of the night.

Jen is bright-eyed this morning but suffering from nausea and not even close to thinking about food.  The staff will be rounding here in a few minutes and we will learn more.   The hope is we are discharged by mid-day and recovery can continue from Willow Lane.  However, it is possible we may be here another day.  That would suck.  But out of our control.

I am always impressed by medical professionals ability to provide comfort and confidence.  Still, it is impossible to not think about Shannon when walking these halls.

Hope there is something to update before too long.

Thursday December 18, 2014

Sleep has been elusive here at the O'Hara household this week.  No doubt tomorrow's surgery is weighing on all of our minds.

The good news is, I've been productive in those early hours of the morning.  I've got my writing job/consulting work all in order for the next 10 days.  Presents are wrapped and Christmas cards are going in the mail today.  One last trip to the store today and then everything that needed to be done is done.  And, the things I didn't get done this year, well, maybe they didn't need doing...

I'd be lying if I didn't say I was a bit nervous about tomorrow.  I've gotten more anxious as the week has gone on and I've told a few more people that I'll be out for a while - my tennis group, my volleyball team, the guys I teach with at the RAC.  By the way, it is not a real conversation starter when you tell 30-year-old men that you won't be able to teach tennis for a few weeks because you are having a hysterectomy!  Poor guys, they don't know what to say... I did my best to put them at ease...

I'm not really worried about the surgery itself, but the uncertainty is getting to me.  I'm not so good with unknowns, and I won't know what type of procedure I had until I wake up.  That will determine the amount of pain I'll feel and the recovery time that will be needed.

The thought of 6 or 8 weeks without tennis or volleyball or blast class is a huge bummer.  But in the grand scheme things, it's really just a small bump in the road.  We've traversed rockier ground than this and people go through worse things every day...

I know it's for the best.  Short term pain for long term gain.  If I was having any doubts about whether or not I needed this procedure, well, mother nature is sending me one last cruel reminder this week.  Are you kidding me??  I refuse to go to the store and buy more tampons, so I'm scrounging through every purse and bag I own... argh!@#$!

I guess you just have to laugh at the cruel irony of it.  I'm doing my best!

See you on the flip side...

Monday December 15, 2014

We had a productive weekend and things are moving smoothly toward the holidays.  There are a few presents under the tree now (phew!) and Erin and I did a little Christmas baking yesterday.  So, if I'm laid up for a while after Friday, everything will be o.k.

Our event on Saturday was a huge success.    Once again, we are humbled by the support of our town and the hockey community.  The three high school girls teams put on a great event, wearing lime green and supporting the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.  Each girls program - Mayo, Century and JM/Lourdes - made a $500 donation to the foundation.  The new Shannon gear was a huge success and, in total, $4400 was raised.  In one day.  Truly amazing.

The girls that Shannon played with are spread across this city.  That's how youth hockey works - you all play together growing up, and then, come high school, you separate and represent your school.  

As part of the presentation, a dear friend of Shannon's from each team spoke.  Paige, Maddie and Sam shared their memories of playing with Shannon and knowing Shannon as a friend.  It was powerful to see each program represented, and to hear Shannon remembered through the eyes of her peers. 

As we spoke, Dan called up all the girls who ever played with Shannon.  It was poignant for us to see how many girls were teammates of Shannon's.  They are out there, living the dream.  They all know it's what Shannon wanted.  They all remember.

I always come away from a day where people are handing us money feeling a little self conscious about it.  It is a strange thing to ask people to donate to your cause, to this thing that matters so much to you that you want others to be on board, too.

But, luckily, each time we fundraise, someone ends up thanking us.  They feel good remembering and honoring Shannon.  They appreciate the reminder to enjoy the day, to enjoy their kids, to celebrate what's right here, right now, because that's all we know for sure.

What a gift that is to us.  Shannon's wish to make a difference is coming true.

SOF Day at HS Girls Hockey Today! - 12/13/14

Just a friendly reminder that we are having our first Shannon event of the winter season today - SOF Day at HS Girls Hockey.  JM/Lourdes plays Mayo at 1pm followed by Century vs. Austin.  

Dan, Erin and I will be on hand from 1-5pm.  There will be a short presentation between games at around 2:30.  

Lots of cool new Shannon merchandise on sale, so if you are out and about, stop by and pick up a Christmas present or two... looking forward to a great day for the SOF!

Thursday December 11, 2014

I am happy to report that Christmas preparations are now under way at the O'Hara household.  The tree is up, the Christmas card is ready, and I bought baking supplies to make some cookies.  Erin and I even did a little shopping last night.

I've been forced into action over the past few days after purchasing an early Christmas present for myself... I'm getting my very own hysterectomy next Friday!  Woo hoo!  Lucky me!

The past three years have not been kind to my body.  This "disorganized ovulation" began just before we headed to Memphis with Shannon in 2011.  There was the ovary removal due to a cyst and the uterine polyp surgery.  Throw in a little ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), lumpectomy and radiation  and it's fair to say my body has been through the ringer.  That doesn't even count the non-estrogen related osteomyelitis that prompted two oral surgeries, five days in the hospital, and three dental implants.  Hey, maybe I could make a "12 days of Christmas" type song...  "On the first day of Christmas, my body gave to me - twelve medical bills..."

This most recent struggle has become a quality of life issue and a treatment issue for preventing a recurrence of DCIS.  The drug I should be taking doesn't play well with my cycle.  Having the hysterectomy will give me better treatment options for preventing breast cancer.

OK, I know this is TMI for most of you... but, it's a reality for me, so I'm sharing here like I always do... sometimes being a woman just sucks.  I certainly didn't think I was having more kids or anything like that, but it's still hard to admit that I'm getting old.  I still think of myself as young-ish, but young people don't have hysterectomies, so I guess I'm not fooling anyone, anymore...

In the long term it's the right thing to do.  My body is tired and I am tired, too.  In the short term, it will be a royal pain.  If all goes smoothly, I'll spend one night in the hospital and then I'll come home to rest.  I'm hopeful I'll be feeling ok by Christmas.  Recovery time means no tennis/volleyball/personal training workouts for six weeks... could be a long January...

So, I've got 8 days to finish what needs to be done before Christmas.

I think I can, I think I can...

Sunday December 7, 2014

My coffee is tasting good this morning as I need a little wake up call after yesterday's whirlwind of activity:  A walk around the reservoir in the morning, a quick drive to South St. Paul to pick Erin up from State Debate, a visit to the inlaws, and an O'Hara family gathering that involved a drag queen...

Let's start from the beginning.  Erin finished off the debate season with the state tournament Friday and Saturday.  What a wonderful experience with a great group of kids and a wonderful advisor, Judge Kevin Lund.  Erin learned about the topics presented, and learned skills of listening, extemporaneous speaking and rebuttals.  She admitted she loves the rebuttals... I mean, what teenager doesn't love to refute the other person's points?!?!

Miss E and her partner, Anna, comported themselves well, getting out of the round robin portion of 60 teams in the Novice division and into the sweet 16 before getting knocked out.  A great experience for sure.  The dynamic duo already plans to be a team again next year.

Our next stop was a visit to Dan's parents in their apartment.  Aging parents is something that many of our peers can relate to.  I'd say Dan's parents also have comported themselves well:  when we arrived yesterday, we found Ed watching women's college basketball.  He'll tune into any game in any sport if it involves Notre Dame!  Tess was off at her friend's apartment, busy playing bridge.  We stopped in and said hello and made a plan for another visit in the near future.

While their time of living independently is coming to an end, it's been a helluva run.  91 and 88 years old.  Amazing.

The last stop of the night was an O'Hara family gathering.  Seven of the nine kids and spouses were there.  Throw Erin and her cousins in the mix, and we were in for a night full of laughter.  There has been a lot of communication between the siblings recently as plans are being made to move Ed and Tess into a senior living facility.  It's a stressful thing, even if it's the right thing.  Last night's gathering provided a chance to be together and forget those worries for a while.  People were in a festive mood and enjoying each other's company.  It's amazing how loud a room of O'Haras can be...

We ended our day with a trip to downtown Minneapolis to take in a holiday show of Miss Richfield 1981.  She is a drag queen with a stand up routine that will make you pee your pants.  Audience participation and equal opportunity offending had us all laughing.  It felt good to just be together and be entertained.  Nothing wrong with a little inappropriate fun...  

So, on we go with December.  18 days until Christmas... still no decorations for tree around here... maybe this will be my week!

Wednesday December 3, 2014

I'm not gonna lie - it's been hard coming back to the cold weather.  It's a good thing our school system here is so good or I might be tempted to up and move...

We are settling back into the home routine, though.  Dan is traveling, Erin is busy every night, and I am here to feed the cat and dog.  By the way, Sunny and Sylvie are more than co-existing these days.  I think Sunny even kind of likes the kitty.  They have developed a new chase game and also a new napping spot.  I came home yesterday to find the two of them sound asleep on our bed together.

I cannot believe it is just 22 days until Christmas.  I don't have any decorations up yet - no tree, no stockings - and I'm having trouble motivating.  Erin wants to decorate, though, so I don't think I'm getting by without it.

It will be a different kind of Christmas as Erin leaves for her 13th birthday trip on Christmas night.  Yes, the little princess is off to warmer climates again - she and Grandma and Papa Harkins are headed on a three day Disney cruise to the Bahamas.  Erin's wish for her birthday trip was to swim with the dolphins, so off to the Bahamas they go.

This will be our third Christmas without Shannon.  That's a shock to the system when I say it out loud.  But, we have lots of opportunities to honor her in the coming days and months.  Shannon events will keep us busy through the middle of February.

We just sent out our first ever fundraising campaign letter.  (If you own a business in Rochester, MN, there's a good chance you are getting one!)  It's our first attempt at a charitable giving campaign.  In a perfect world, we will raise enough money to fund our scholarships for the long term.  In a pipe dream world, we'd have lots and lots of money to donate to brain cancer research.  It's ok to dream...

We also just got in our new merchandise - hoodies, ladies zip up sweatshirts, and sweatpants for the kids.  The stuff all looks really cool.  Erin and I have been drumming up business by wearing our gear around town.  The first chance to purchase these new items will be Saturday, December 13th.  We will be at Graham Arena that day during both high school girls hockey games.  JM/L vs. Mayo at 1pm, followed by Austin vs. Century.  I'm not much of a salesman, but if you are looking for a Christmas gift or two, we've got 'em!  I'll be putting these items on the Shannon O'Hara Foundation website store soon for those of you who can't get to the arena.

So, I have no doubt that December will fly by.  It's state debate this weekend, hockey event next, and then we're just days away from the holiday.  I guess I better go dig out those decorations now before it's too late...