Tag Archives: New York

Traveling to the Novartis Blogging Conference for TSC

I haven’t blogged much over the last year, except to rage over my pet political issue, so imagine my surprise when I was invited to the Novartis Blogging Summit for TSC.

*Insert legal disclaimer here–While I was not paid for my time at the summit, my travel, hotel and food expenses were paid by Novartis.* They also gave me a box of kittens. No. I’m kidding. Only one lousy kitten.

Four other moms to kids with TSC were also there.

Tina of Captain Jacktastic, who I initially met around the time I started this blog through WordPress and later Facebook.

Heather who has written several pieces for Huffington Post, and I met for the first time last year in DC during the TS Alliance’s March on the Hill to continue funding for the Tuberous Sclerosis Complex Research Project.

Laurisa of Land of La, who was one of my early stalking victims when I was finally able to do TSC research for more than two minutes at a time without “breathing” into a paper bag.
IMG_8972 And Stephanie of Lanier Landing, who was the only one I had really never had any social media contact with, but I had stumbled across her blog when seeking other TSC kids in Epidiolex trials. At the time, her son was the only one I knew of.

The day I left, Connor seemed to have a bit of cold and Chris thought he was coming down with it as well. This is called foreshadowing — but I’ll get into that later.

I was picked up at the Newark airport by a man holding a sign with my name. I am accustomed to such a lifestyle as I force my husband to stand in the driveway most days and greet me in this manner when I come home. It turned out Laurisa had shared my turbulent flight that wasn’t quite in a “luggage bins popping open” category, but definitely required gripping of the arm rests and the parents in front of me to intervene with their 10-year-old who was launching a panic. The driver whisked us to the Short Hills, New Jersey Hilton where I luxuriated briefly in the softest king bed ever then headed down to the hotel bar to meet the other ladies.

We had dinner with several Novartis employees and shared our stories so they could have insight on what it’s like to live day-to-day with TSC. For those that don’t know, Novartis produces Afinitor, a medication that can shrink certain types of tumors that occur in TSC. Connor, fortunately, does not have a need for this medication at this time, but it would be a likely course of treatment should he ever develop a SEGA in the brain or large AMLs in the kidneys.

It’s weird to sit and talk about your kid and TSC without having to give a bunch of background information, explaining what certain acronyms mean or why a particular medication might be preferable to another. They already know and they’ve already been there.

When dinner wrapped up at 8, we caught the train into NYC to meet another TSC mom who lives in the city.

Correction, four of us went. Tina’s no fool. She wasn’t about to let a king bed, personal hotel room and a long, luxurious shower without the door cracked listening for shenanigans pass her by.

We met fellow TSC mommy Naomi at Haymaker Bar, a few blocks from Grand Central Terminal, ordered drinks and appetizers and talked about some more acronyms that needed no defining.

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Heather revealed that Times Square was on her bucket list and since I was pretty much intent on spending every minute I could squeeze out of this 24-hour trip in NYC, I was fully supportive of her checking that item off. We trekked through the tourist mecca, which was hopping on this Friday night. As we passed by the Disney store, we were drawn inside by the sheer number of people inside at midnight. Apparently a large number of tourists venture all the way to New York and decide, as one day rolls into the next, that they simply MUST HAVE AN ELSA DOLL RIGHT NOW. It was amazing. And a little sad. But mostly amazing.

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We caught the train back to Short Hills where we bonded further as we almost spent the night in the station. The hotel didn’t offer much hope of a taxi and their shuttle service had stopped. Our first Uber driver was too stupid to find the train station. No we are not shopping at Trader Joe’s at 2 am. The second one found us, but appeared to have only been a licensed driver for a day or two. At any rate, we made it back to the hotel where it took me another hour to fall asleep, still high off neon and LED lighting (did you know that the Times Square district is the only district with a requirement for businesses to have illuminated signs and that there is a minimum, rather than maximum, lighting requirement)?

The next day was filled with discussions of TSC, diagnoses and, most importantly, what kind of resources would we have liked to have had when we received the diagnosis. We spoke of the fear of what was out there on the Internet and at least one person had been told to stick to TSAlliance.org and not to Google. Period. Novartis unveiled some new informational pamphlets for our feedback and said they are revamping their informational site.

There were some other resources they want to be sure the TSC community is aware of.

  1. The Afinitor $25 co-pay card. This only works with commercial insurance (not Medicaid). If your co-pay is more than $25, print this out and take it to the pharmacy.
  2. Afinitrac. This support program offers financial and educational support, deals with your insurance and provides other resources. Please note they are only allowed to offer it to patients who are using Afinitor on-label. If you are using it off-label (meaning for something it has not been officially FDA-approved for yet, like seizures or cognition) they are prohibited from providing this support.
  3.  Turbo & Scott. Previously the story book about a kid named Scott who has TSC was only available online, but it is now in print. It goes into a lot of detail about TSC in more kid-friendly terms. It’s a bit complex for younger kids or kids who are cognitively affected, but for older kids, siblings, or friends, it can be a great resource. There is also a comic book about a teenage Scott on a quest to meet others with TSC.

I was not required to share these resources or blog about the summit in order to attend, but I wanted to make sure people know about these resources as for many of us, the use of Afinitor (Everolimus) could very well be on the table one day, if it isn’t already.

I’m sad to say that I had to leave just before we wrapped up to catch my flight so I didn’t get to spend more time with my mommies, but perhaps my suggestion, as I exited, to do this again in Vegas will be heeded by Novartis 😉

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And so I headed home where I would soon learn that the cold was not a cold…but more about that in my next post. A full update on Connor to come and the reasons why I’ve dropped off the mommy blogging planet.

 

 

 

 

 

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We didn’t know at the time that there was a 50/50 chance the baby would have it…

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 28

by guest blogger Krystal Meier  (Rochester, New York) 

WP_20130503_022My story begins in 2005. I was 20 years old and I had just started dating my husband. We had talked about it and I knew he had TSC when we started dating. I was aware that he had seizures daily and that he had a kidney removed at age 20. That was all I knew of TSC and I accepted all of it. Then I got pregnant. We didn’t know at the time that there was a 50/50 chance the baby would have it. I was not the most careful and I didn’t go to the doctor the first time until I was 16 weeks pregnant. We asked the midwife if she knew anything about TSC and the risk to the baby and she thought it could be like other genetic disorders where both parents needed the gene in order to pass it on. We scheduled our first ultrasound and left that day feeling pretty happy about things. At that ultrasound we were excited to see what we were having and had no idea what was to come that day and what would follow. The technician did the ultrasound and told us it was a girl, which was very exciting for me, but then she promptly left the room. I was scared and had no clue what to think about what was happening to me and my baby.  The doctor came in and went over all the pictures again and saw a giant tumor on the baby’s heart. He sent us from there to another hospital and genetics. On this day that I was so excited for I was told something heart breaking — and that was not even the start of it. We sat at a giant table surrounded by doctors as they told me all kinds of information that I cannot remember. All I wanted to do was WP_20130504_004cry. My baby was diagnosed with TSC and I was in and out of the hospital for tests weekly. There was a 10% chance the baby would survive and I took that chance and kept the baby. We did all the appointments, and in the  meanwhile, I was working. I had no idea what was to come and how much this would change my life forever. The weekend of September 11th in 2005 I was at a festival and felt like I couldn’t breath. I was getting no air in my lungs and could not take a deep breath. I called the doctor who told me to come right in and they would take a look. Everything from that point on is a blur in my mind and just small pictures but I can tell you what happened from others’ accounts. I was admitted and put on oxygen immediately. I was dying of heart failure as was the baby growing inside my stomach. My lungs were drowning in fluids and I had preeclampsia. I lost the baby and almost lost my life at that point. I had what was called a peripartum cardiomyopathy  cause by mirror syndrome. One would think that I would have given up on having a baby with my husband at that point. Not me. I wanted a baby and I wanted it with my husband. 

In 2007 I got pregnant again. The doctors followed me for my entire pregnancy and at my first ultrasound all looked well. They told me I should come back in a month and check to make sure all was still well. I was happy that all look good, but when a month came around I had to fight to get that ultrasound. I eventually was able to get it at 20 weeks and it was then my heart broke all over again. This baby, another girl, had tumors in her heart. I was filled with the anxiety that she would not make it. I was afraid to plan for anything too far out, but I also felt that I had to enjoy the pregnancy. I worked throughout my pregnancy and they planned to induce at 39 weeks. I was excited to meet my baby at that point but still slightly scared of what was to come. They induced me on a Tuesday and I was sent home on Wednesday because the baby just wouldn’t come. On Thursday I went in for an ultrasound and WP_20140521_001the baby hadn’t grown in two weeks so it was back to the hospital for induction again. Once again the baby was not coming and they wanted to check on her again. The baby was breech and I was sent for an emergency C-section. Fiona was born at 2:42 on January 18th. I was so happy but didn’t get a chance to hold her before she was swept away to the NICU. I went to the NICU after I was finally able to move my body. She was in the NICU for four days to wait for a duct in her heart to close and to see if her heart could function after it did. All went well and I was sent home after four days. Our lives were good, and aside from some appointments to check on her, our lives were pretty normal until she was seven months old. Early September in 2008 I started to notice her having infantile spasms and knew what to look for because we had her in to see a neurologist since birth. I wasn’t completely sure but I was guessing that was what it was, but I ignored it at first. I let it go until others saw it also. She was admitted to the hospital on September 11, 2008 and was kept for six days to monitor and get meds adjusted. By December 1, 2008 she was seizure free and stayed that way until October 1, 2010. That day was one of the most terrifying days of my life. She was sick and had gone down for a nap. She awoke and was just staring at the ceiling. I went to her and tried to move her head but it was locked into place. She was just staring ahead and could not move. This went on for 15 minutes and then she seemed tired but well. We rushed her to the hospital and on the way it started again. She was again unable to move, only this time she was vomiting all the while. She was still in a seizure when we arrived in the emergency room. They gave her a medicine that stopped it immediately and they ran all kinds of tests but there was no cause for the fever that she had earlier in the day that caused this seizure. Once again, after this episode, all was well. This calm period went on for about a year then she started having a new type of seizure. She would wake up and scream and rock and all sorts of other things. At first I thought it was a night terror until she WP_20130321_001-1started to have them during the day. She would be up 10-20 times a night and have 3-7 during the day. I called the doctor and he wouldn’t see her or even talk to me; he just sent me a message to increase her meds and add new ones. She was suffering this entire time. I reached out but everyone said it was just night terrors or a febrile seizure. I felt alone and I was getting no sleep. I was afraid of what was happening to Fiona and her behavior was awful. Finally I decided to take her to her primary care doctor and he got the neurologist on the phone. We set up long term monitoring for Fiona and she went in two days after her birthday in 2012. We were in the hospital for four days that time. It took four days to have a seizure during the day that didn’t follow a nap. It was a long and hard process but her meds were once again adjusted and it worked. Since then she wakes up once in a while with a scream. She has started to have episodes at school where her eyes go back and forth quickly and she sees things. These have only happened at school so I have never seen it myself. Every once in a while I will catch her eyes with a look that says maybe she might be having a seizure but it never amounts to anything and more recently she has complained about feeling funny. I hope nothing comes of these things and she remains seizure free. 

During this time I also had another baby girl. Bonnie is 3 and so far has no signs of TSC though she has yet to have any genetic tests done. When she is much older they may do an MRI to check to see if she has an signs in her brain but for now she is health and happy.

They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 27

by guest blogger Susan (last name withheld)  (New York, New York) 

I do.100_0031

And with those two words, said seven years ago today, Marc and I were made husband and wife. Richer, poorer, sickness, health. Sure, we agreed to all of these things, but did we really know what we were bargaining for? Were we just looking forward to the cocktail hour? The honeymoon? Some amorphous version of the future that involved 2.1 kids, a white picket fence, and a golden retriever? Suffice to say, the future we envisioned probably didn’t involve our child having a rare genetic disease.

But here we are, seven years later, with an incredible son who happens to have a disease called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. If you are reading this post, you may already know a little something about Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). I’ll give you a very brief synopsis of our journey with it.

In April of 2012, Elliot was born. He was declared perfectly healthy and we brought him home to begin our life as a family of three. Within the first few weeks of his life we began to notice that he was always looking off to the left side. By the time his three-IMG_0142month checkup had rolled around, the gaze preference was notable and we mentioned same to his pediatrician. He referred us to a pediatric ophthalmologist who referred us to a neurologist and ordered an MRI of Elliot’s brain.  Everyone assured us that the MRI was merely a precautionary measure. They were incorrect. The MRI revealed many tumors in Elliot’s brain, consistent with a diagnosis of TSC.

We consulted with several doctors and hooked ourselves in with two TSC clinics. Elliot’s neurologist determined that the gaze preference was likely persistent seizure activity and started Elliot on an anti-seizure medication. Within days he began having infantile spasms and another medication was added. Only several weeks later did that medication seem to control the spasms. His EEG revealed he was having other types of seizures so new medication and dietary therapy were added.  We began to notice the developmental delays. Eventually it became clear that further intervention was needed and Elliot underwent a series of brain surgeries before his first birthday. A few months later, he underwent a second series of surgeries. More medications. Trips to the Emergency Room.  Daily battles for Elliot’s myriad services and therapies. Acronyms I still don’tIMG_4697 understand for tests I still don’t understand. In and out of the hospital for weeks on end.  Bleary-eyed husband and wife. Can we go back to the cocktail hour, please?

Marc and I entered into our marriage young, excited and excitable. We were both starting careers and ambitiously laying the foundation for our future. We were ready to travel, embracing our new sense of “adulthood” and learning how to navigate people and life.

Nothing could have prepared us for Elliot’s diagnosis. The shock of being told that your child is stricken with a life-long, complex medical condition is enough to rattle even the strongest of bonds. The endless uncertainty and the constant anxiety caused by this confounding disease produce stress that others really cannot understand. It is very easy to see where people start to break down and therefore relationships start to falter. We have to make decisions like who will go into the MRI machine with Elliot and which one of us has to hold him down as the nurses try to get an IV for the umpteenth time. We have discussions about what medications to put Elliot on and whether he needs surgery. Again.

Notwithstanding, I am very fortunate to say that I feel much the same about our life and marriage as I did seven years ago today. We share a life in which we get up everyday ready to tackle the world together, where nothing seems beyond our reach, and where we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We know it is important to take care of each other, with the mutual understanding that we must also take care of ourselves. Though I am lucky to say that our marriage does not ever feel like work, life itself, especially this life that we have, requires tremendous effort and motivation. And I couldn’t imagine spending this life with anyone but Marc.

IMG_4475Just because our life is different than the one we envisioned does not imply that it is bad. We have no picket fence, but we have Central Park as our backyard. We have no golden retriever, but we have some amazingly cute stuffed animal puppies for Elliot (waaaaay less mess). I don’t even know what .1 child means, but you catch my drift, right?

It is preachy of me to even suggest that I can understand the complexities of anyone else’s situation but I hope that if you struggle with the stress on your marriage, perhaps you can just take a moment to remember why you chose this person to walk through life together. What hopes and dreams did you share on your wedding day as you gazed into your future? Despite a more complicated life than you envisioned, can they still be your hopes and dreams today?

There is a great scene in the movie “Parenthood,” in which a grandmother gives an analogy to her grown grandson and his wife, as they face the prospect of adding a fourth child to the family. She says “When I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a rollercoaster…Up, down, up, down. Oh what a ride…I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

So today, on our seventh anniversary, I take this opportunity to thank my husband for riding this rollercoaster with me. And I hope everyone can take a moment to appreciate their own version of the same.