Friday January 30, 2015

I made a shocking discovery last night... I think I might possibly have some gray hair... damn...

I guess it shouldn't be a surprise.  I'm getting kinda old and my body is even older than my age.  I was chatting with a friend on the phone this week, and we were recounting my medical adventures over the past three years.  No wonder I have gray hair...

Today marks 6 weeks post surgery.  I see my surgeon next week, and I am crossing my fingers that I get the OK to return to normal physical activity.  I am chomping at the bit to get back out on the tennis court and get some exercise.  Uff da...

It has been a long six weeks for Dan as he has had to do all the lifting as we haul our Shannon O'Hara Foundation merchandise to and from the various events.  This weekend brings another one - the Shannon Cup for the 10 and 12 year olds.  It should be a busy weekend with 20 teams at four different levels coming to town.  We will kick it off tonight and then will be at Graham Arena all day tomorrow.  (Shameless plug - one more chance to get your Shannon gear :)

I visited the Rochester teams at their practices this week.  It's something we like to do in the week leading up to the tournament, to wish the girls luck and tell them we will be there cheering them on.
My message to them is to strive to be the kind of kid that Shannon was - good teammate, good friend, hard worker.  At 10, 11, 12 years old, they don't see the long view, but they can hear the story of Shannon and be reminded to be kind to one another.

Looking at the faces of those girls sitting the the locker rooms at Graham Arena... well, it takes me right back there.  I can picture sweet Shannon, getting fired up to play.  Those girls on the U12 team are right where Shannon was when she got sick.

Shannon's friends are now turning 17.  They are halfway through their junior year of high school, and college is just around the corner.  I sometimes imagine what life would be like with a 17 year old Shannon.  She could be driving Erin to school each day, going to hockey practice, working through the difficult coursework required of high school juniors.

These years of high school are so memorable.  Hell, even this gray haired old lady can remember those days...

The passing of time can be unkind.  Hard on the body, hard on the spirit, and for us, magnified by the loss of someone so young.  Shannon is frozen in time and we are aging in a hurry.  That ain't right.

But, I can't change it.  So, I will do my best to take solace in going to Graham Arena this weekend and watching those young girls play.  I will try to let it bring me back to better times and happy days with Shannon.

Off to the rink we go, remembering our girl...

Tuesday January 27, 2015

After whirlwind weekend getaways and Dan holding down the fort at home, we had to hit the ground running yesterday.  Dan and I wrote our speeches and loaded our boxes all in preparation for last night's Rochester Amateur Sports Commission Annual Banquet.

And what a great night it was.

The RASC honors local athletes in various categories and the night is filled with videos and speeches and silent auction items to be raise money for a local charity.  This year, that charity is the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.

Dan and I had the opportunity to share our story with 660 sports enthusiasts that were in attendance.  We never tire of spreading Shannon's message, and we hopefully reached some people last night who have never heard about the little brown eyed girl with the strong will and the big heart.

The featured speaker last night was Olympic Gold Medalist Bart Conner.  He was self deprecating about being married to someone more famous than himself, Nadia Comaneci.  They have 11 Olympic medals between them, and 9 of them are hers...

Bart thanked us for sharing Shannon's story and he found it inspiring enough to purchase one of our Keep Calm and Be Kind t-shirts for his wife.  As he stood at the podium and held up the t-shirt, he told the audience, "Nadia Comaneci will be wearing this tomorrow night!"  So cool.

Bart's message is a lot like Shannon's.  He spoke about finding your passion, enjoying the process, giving it your all, and letting go of the things that are out of your control.  

He was a world champion in 1979 and the top American gymnast with gold medal hopes heading into the 1980 Moscow Olympics.  The US boycott of those games was devastating for him, but also beyond his control.  That missed opportunity led Bart to persevere and continue training and preparing for one more shot at Olympic glory in 1984.  There, he reached the pinnacle winning a team gold and an individual gold on the parallel bars.

So, another event, another fundraiser, another chance to share our story is behind us.  I am so grateful that Shannon can continue to inspire, and hopefully make a small difference in this big world.

Wednesday January 21, 2015

High school finals are in full swing for Erin.  Biology and reading yesterday, history and English today.  She's liking this schedule - show up for a class, leave when you're done, have an open hour here or there where you don't have to report.  My kid who couldn't wait to get to high school now wants the college life... In due time... as many people have told me, high school will be over in the blink of an eye.

The reward is great for Erin when she gets through finals - she is headed off to see her friend Ariana in L.A tomorrow afternoon.  She and Kula are headed for a little semester break in the sun...

Dan is busy grinding it out at sales meetings in the Twin Cities.  The boys who are in from Tennessee think we're crazy for living here in this climate.  Although, apparently they were impressed with Dan's ability to spin donuts in the parking lot.

I am really finally starting to feel like myself again, so I am also taking a mid semester break and going to visit a friend this weekend.  A little Jen time as my family likes to say.  That means it will just be Dan and his pets for a little staycation on Willow Lane.

But, before we head out, there are preparations to be done for next week.  Monday (1/27) we will be speaking at the Amateur Sports Commission banquet and the SOF will be the recipient of the silent auction money.  I've jotted down some notes, but it's been a while since we spoke in a formal setting. Hopefully, it comes back to me.

Once we get through that, it will be time to prep for the second Shannon Cup weekend and also read through the scholarship applications and start narrowing in on our choices for this year.  Choosing scholarship recipients is an honor we take very seriously.  It matters deeply to us.  I think it's the most difficult and most rewarding thing we do.  We want to get it right.

So, busy days are ahead.  But, first things first - a little break from all the foundation work to head out of town and hang out with friends.  No complaints...

Sunday January 18, 2015

Our busy weekend rolls on... Dan and I have been running back and forth between The Shannon Cup at Graham Arena and the National Volleyball Center where Erin is taking part in a tournament of her own, the Frostbite Festival.  Erin played 5 matches yesterday and there are at least two more on tap for this morning.  Uff da...

We had successful day of sales yesterday, raising enough for another scholarship.  It's fun being around the rink again, although, as always, it's bittersweet.

A big thank you to the Century Girls team who volunteered all day yesterday setting up, selling merchandise and then tearing down at the end of the day.

We even have a team here from Canada this year, and Dan had a chance to talk to them before their game vs. The Cannons last night.  Spreading the word about the foundation north of the border as the Titans from Winnipeg are enjoying their Shannon Cup experience.

The 14A and 14B teams will each play for a championship today.  Win or lose, the spirit of Shannon is carrying on...

Tuesday January 13, 2015

OK, cat people... how long does this kitten stage last?  Is it possible that Sylvie has reached the terrible twos?

She currently likes to bite our fingers, play in the houseplants and chew on Sunny's leg.  We had to move our couch back against the wall so she couldn't use it as a jungle gym.  Those claws and leather aren't a good match.  Oh, and when she's hungry, all things must wait until she is fed.  She has an affinity for popcorn, and feels free to help herself to some right out of the bowl.  We sometimes think she looks possessed...

This, too shall pass... right?

Now, when she wants to snuggle on your chest and sleep, that's not so bad...

Other than the kitty from hell, this week has been more routine.  Erin has a whole five day week and Dan is headed out of town this morning.  Only really good sales guys drive to Duluth when it's -19 below.

Me, I am in the midst of organizing our Shannon scholarship applications.  This is one of my favorite parts of running the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.  Reading the essays and letters or recommendation for these young people is truly an honor.  It's the best way I know to pay it forward, to do something positive out of our tragedy.

Funding brain tumor research is important to us, too, but realistically, a few thousands dollars here or there is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to research.  But, $2000 for a kid to use towards his or her college education?  That makes a dent.

So, over the next few weeks we will be reviewing these applications and then meeting as a board to choose our winners.  Scholarship night this year is February 14th at the Century vs. Mayo boys hockey game.  Start planning now to bring your sweetheart to the rink for Valentine's Day...

But, we've got some ground to cover before then, starting with a Shannon Cup tournament this weekend.  The 14A & 14B teams kick it off with games on Friday night.  While it's still difficult to watch Shannon's teammates out there playing, it's a connection to the thing she loved.

I think life will always be like this now.  Time marches on, yet we want to stay connected.  Painful as it is at times, it's the path we've chosen for ourselves in the after.  Moving forward, thinking back...

Thursday January 8, 2015

Our first week back to the "normal" routine has been anything but... yesterday, the frigid temps, -45 degree windchill, closed schools for the day.  This is the second year in a row that a school cancellation has fallen around the anniversary of Shannon's passing.  Maybe she's up there, sending a little shout out to her little sister and all her peeps down here...

We survived January 6th as we will have to do every year.  I can't explain why this one was harder than the last.  Maybe we spent too much emotional capital with all the goings on in December and we were just tapped out.

We made it through with the help and love and support of our friends and family.  It is a gift from Shannon that we have this support network.  The way she lived and the way she died helped people rally around us, and they continue to do so.  While I don't wish tragedy on anyone, I do wish everyone could feel loved and supported the way we do.

Erin said there were a lot of Shannon shirts walking around Mayo High School that day.  She was one of them, wearing her SOF sweatshirt to school that day.  My heart aches for Erin and her loss, but it also feels much gratitude for the way she carries herself.

After some downtime in December, Erin's schedule is ramping up again.  She's got club volleyball practices, weightlifting for volleyball, and an off season golf program, too.  Throw in piano and confirmation and she should stay plenty busy over these next few months.

Now we head into our busiest fundraising month of the year.  Our first Shannon Cup tournament is just 8 days away.  Our sweatshirt supply had to be replenished, and a new tournament t-shirt is on the way next week.  We will be at Graham Arena Friday night and Saturday (1/16 & 1/17) as we watch the U14 teams play.  The last of Shannon's teammates still playing at the youth level will be in action. The U14B have kept the name Cannons, and they are still hanging up Shannon's #9 jersey as part of their game day routine.

And so it begins...

It's hard for me to not be hauling and lifting boxes, but I am continuing to try and recover from my surgery.  I am trying really hard to be a good patient and follow the doctor's orders - no lifting, pushing, pulling or exercise for six weeks is making me feel like a slug.  Dan has been doing his own job and mine when he's home.  And, when he's gone, Erin is picking up the slack.  Tuesday night in the bitter windchill, she hauled the trash out to the curb for me.  Now that's love...

Speaking of recovering, Papa Harkins is back in Nevada.  He had some minimal gain in his eyesight from the treatment in Minnesota, but the truth is that he is learning to function with basically one eye.  To find the underlying cause of the blood clot, they placed an implantable heart monitor and he will return in six months for follow up on his atrial fibrillation.  Tomorrow is his 72nd birthday.

So, the world spins madly on.  Life happens.  The good and the bad.  Persevere when necessary and celebrate the victories along the way...

January 6, 2015

It's our anniversary today - three full years now of living without Shannon.  The heartache is still very real.  Time does not heal all wounds...

We talk about her often and remember her in every way we can.  Yesterday, the three of us were discussing those final days of Shannon's life, of her struggles to eat and breathe as her life came to an end.  Those are memories we will never shake.  The bright full moon this week was eerily reminiscent of those final days in 2012.

During our conversation last night, Dan said, "I really can't believe where we are three years down the road."  To which Erin replied, "I know, I think we're doing pretty well".   And it's true.  We're doing all right.  It's OK for us to celebrate the fact that we are surviving and even sometimes thriving.

Despite that, Erin awoke this morning in sadness.  She doesn't cry often,  but there were tears to start this day as she feels the loss of her best friend.  So much for Miss E to bear at a young age.  She lost a whole future with her big sis.

So today, we will each do what needs doing - Erin is off to school, Dan is on the road again, and I am holding down the homefront.  But, we'll do it with an ache in our heart and a lump in our throat.  No way around it.  Just gotta get through it.

While the three of he us know we must carry on, we also know we are not alone.  One of Shannon's gifts to us are the people who lift us up, people who came to know us better along on this now almost 4 year journey from diagnosis through illness to death and into our new normal.

Messages are already arriving this morning from those who also feel the loss.  There is great comfort in that.  We want - we need - people to remember, so thank you.  We never mind hearing her name.  She is with us always.

"Your absence has gone through me 
Like thread through a needle.  
Everything I do is stitched with its color."
-- W.S. Merwin

New Year's Day 2015

The calendar has turned over... welcome to 2015.  There is always something promising about a blank slate in front of you, the anticipation of watching a new year unfold.

I know now that we can't predict what will lie ahead.  It's foolish to try.  I'm learning to take it as it comes, adjust when necessary, and persevere.  No bold predictions here, just a quiet understanding that I hope for better days ahead, but there are no guarantees.

I have spent the past two days resting as best I can.  To be honest, I have been exhausted.  The first 10 days after my surgery involved, Christmas Eve and Day celebrations, sending Erin off on her adventure, retrieving Erin from her aborted trip, hosting Ed and Tess for two days, and then visiting my dad in the hospital.  Not exactly laying low in my own recovery...

So, these past few days, I'm making up for lost time - sleep in, watch movies, nap, shower (maybe), repeat... Needless to say, I didn't see midnight.  Didn't even have a drink on New Year's Eve. Damn, I'm old...

Erin escaped the boredom around here by spending New Year's Eve will her bestie, Emily.  They've been friends since 4th grade and have been spending NYE together since 2011 when we returned from Memphis.  Erin and Emily loves each other like sisters.  Thank god for that...

Erin will come home and we will lounge around today, snacking and watching bowl games, including the Gophers.

My dad continues his treatment at Hennepin County Medical Center.  The clinical trial using the hyperbaric chamber has given him some light sensitivity back in his eye, but Papa has come to terms with the fact that he won't get much sight back in that eye.  He has been told that people can live and do most anything with one eye.  Over time, the brain will retrain itself to help him cope with the disability.

The bigger question is what caused the clot in the first place.  Two possibilities - the initial thought was arterial fibrillation, but further testing has also shown significant blockage and plaque in his left carotid artery.  So now, there is no definitive answer.

The plan going forward is to put in a heart loop monitor and check his heart rhythm over the next six months.  During that time, he will stay on blood thinners to prevent any further strokes/episodes.  If the heart rhythm is not the culprit, then potentially surgery may be performed to clear the carotid artery.

Papa will most likely be released from the hospital on Friday and he and mom will head back to Nevada this weekend.  What an adventure... and not the good kind...

So, 2014 ended in a jumbled mess of emotions.  A blank slate starts today.  I have no idea what it will hold.  Here's to 2015...