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For the first time in my life, things were not in my control.

iamtsc

Day 21 of Blogging for TSC Awareness

by guest blogger Debdatta Bhattacharya  (Portland, Oregon)

I had always been in control of my life. I faced challenges but I knew if I work hard I will get over them. I was born in India into a loving family and had an amazing childhood. After I completed college I wanted to come to the U.S.A. for pursuing my PhD in physics. My parents were not happy with my decision because it was so far away from home. But I was adamant; it was my life right ? After a couple of years of coming to U.S.A, I married my college sweetheart. Six years later, both of us got well paying jobs at Intel in Portland, OR. Life was good. Finally it was time to sit back and relax and enjoy all those years of hard work at grad school. In 2010, our first born, our daughter Bartika arrived in our life. Oh what a joyful time that was, the exhausting but delightful days of nurturing her and caring for her, the ecstatic feeling of bringing new life into this world.

In 2013, I got pregnant with my second child. We found out it was going to be a boy. Everyone was excited, “oh you will have one of each”. We personally didn’t care; we just wanted a healthy child. I started planning, like I have for all other major events of my life. We sorted through all our daughter’s toys, separating infant toys from toddler toys, packed them in separate bags. I hired someone to help me out in the first few weeks after baby #2 arrived. I can’t believe it now; I even almost planned the weekly menu with her so that there would be one less thing to do.

On my 37th week of my pregnancy, we went for a routine ultrasound. I was excited to see him one last time before actually holding him in my arms. After the ultrasound, my doctor came in the room and told us “there is something wrong with the baby’s heart.” Those words and her voice still ring in my ears. We were quickly packed off to be seen by a neonatalist. He had no idea what was going on other than the fact that my baby had unusual thickening in the wall of his heart. We were told that there is no guarantee he will make it out of my womb. Such cruel words told with such heart wrenching indifference. I felt like someone just stabbed me in my chest. My child was still kicking inside me; how could any of this be true? Later that night, we got a call from a pediatric cardiologist. He said it looks like your baby has “tuberous sclerosis” (I first thought he said tuberculosis). That was the first time we had heard this term. The doctors wanted to do a c-section, but they wanted to wait a few more days to give him a chance to grow a little bigger. The little signs around the house that showed our readiness to welcome the new baby came back to bite us. The new baby clothes delivered at our door step, the unopened car seat, the toys, the laid out crib seemed to mock us. For the first time in my life, things were not in my control.

The inevitable question of “why me” kept me awake at night. We were told “law of nature” by the doctors. But we had been good to nature, recycling, reusing, installing solar panels, driving a Prius, you name it, then why us? We have given to charity, been reasonably polite with everyone, been sincere and honest in our job, then why was our dream of a perfect life being shattered so ruthlessly. I haven’t found any answers yet. But with time I have realized that most people are basically good and nobody deserves to go through this pain. But life happens and other than gracefully accepting it we don’t really have much of a choice.

blog-2We had a faint idea that TSC could affect our child in multiple ways but at that point of time we were concentrating on his heart tumors. We went to Seattle Children’s Hospital so that he had all the heart surgery options if he needed any. My beautiful boy Arij, was born on 7th April, 2014. Miraculously he did not need any surgery or medication. All the doctors had told otherwise but he proved them wrong. It was overwhelming because my arms were empty and my baby was in cardiac ICU (just in case) and a bunch of MRIs and ultrasounds were being performed on him. I had about 48 hours of absolute happiness till the doctors came back and told us he had tumors in his brain. For the first time after his diagnosis, I opened the internet and started reading about TSC. I had intentionally stayed off because before his delivery there was nothing much to do with all that information anyway. I saw terms like, seizures, developmental delay, mental retardation, autism, mentioned in a matter of fact way all across the internet. My heart sank and I cried and cried. Was I not allowed to enjoy even a few hours of my baby’s presence before being engulfed in worries again? While I recovered from my c-section, I tried to make sense of all this information. We came back home after staying for 12 days in the hospital. The first night we spent at our home as a family will always be etched in my memory. It was such a happy feeling to be home as a family for the first time, no hospital smell, no monitors, no doctors.

My husband spent the next few weeks in doing extensive research on infantile spasms and what it looked like. We had realized that we can’t control everything but we will control whatever little we can. We installed a motion detecting video camera over our son’s crib so that we could detect the first signs of infantile spasms. We prayed that we never detect anything but unfortunately around two months of age he showed some early symptoms of infantile spasms. He was started on sabril and everything was under control again. I took time off from work and took care of him. A bunch of therapy sessions started around 4 months. He was doing wonderfully till he was about nine months. That is the time when new seizure activity started. More tears, more heartbreak and more panic followed. He started falling back developmentally. The local neurologist was unable to control his seizures. Arij being his sweet self, of course just smiled through this all. We finally decided to take him to Cincinnati TSC clinic. I am so glad that we took that decision. The medicines were changed and he was put on new medicine. It took a while for him to react positively to the medicines. Patience is not my forte but life taught me to be patient. He is doing much better now but he still has some seizure activity. He is still delayed developmentally but he is making steady progress. We celebrate all his milestones. We have learnt to find happiness in the smallest of moments. We are going to start him on afinitor soon with the hope that it will control the remaining seizure activities that he is having.

blog-4It is still difficult for me write down the positive aspects of this experience. I have lived most of my life without TSC and I was quite happy. TSC has taught me a lot of things but I wouldn’t have minded leading the rest of my life without these learnings 🙂 One of the key things is of course that I have to let go of things and situations and I can’t control everything. The other is patience. I keep working with my son on a certain skill, day after day without seeing the desired result. But when I get there, I can’t describe the satisfaction and sense of achievement that I get. I also got to know the true color of many of my so called friends. Some have abruptly discontinued all contacts with me and some have stepped up to give me emotional support. We will continue fighting this battle with Arij. Amidst all these uncertainties, there is one certainty; he will always be surrounded by unconditional love.

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This year we celebrate 40 years of TS Alliance’s existence.

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 32

by guest blogger Susan McBrine  (Oregon)

photo 1Tuberous Sclerosis.
Words a parent never wants to hear… Or expects to hear. Yet every day, all over the world, parents are still getting this diagnosis for their child, who may be experiencing seizures, developmental delay, autism, kidney and brain tumors and more .

I got this diagnosis  for my daughter over 40 years ago and I must say it changed my life forever. I  became an informed, determined, assertive researcher, educator and advocate for making sure that I knew and found all there was  to know and do to help her achieve  her potential. In the process I helped found Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance and tried to help many other famiilies find hope for better treatments and a better life for their children with this disease .

This year we celebrate 40 years of TS Alliance’s existence. The organization has acomplished so much by advocating for and funding research, supporting families and much more. We celebrate, but I am  also saddened that many other young moms are also still going through what I did to get treatment and diagnosis. I am saddened that tuberous sclerosis exists. Yet, as a mom who has raised a child to adulthood and lost her  child to this disease, I am grateful for what tuberous sclerosis taught me about life, love and even her death.

Being a parent of a special needs child is life changing in so many ways, but in my case it changed my career and my perspective on life in general. It made me appreciate little things and focus on what is really important in life.

It also taught me valuable lessons on letting go of a child as she grew.  I learned to finally let go and let my disabled daughter have more of life of her own, despite her disabilities. It is very hard, when you miss those developmental milestones that non disabled kids have — when your child  goes to kindergarten,  off to college, work, marriage — to know when and how much to let go and encourage independence in a child who is basically totally or semi- dependent on you. The need to protect our vulnerable child is great and the tendency to overprotect always exists.

It was hard to step back and stop doing for her and let her do for herself. Dressing herself, going on the bus alone, spending the night away from me at a camp, having a boyfriend, and finally living in a group home with friends. All things other kids may do as they grow up, but for moms like us, whose child needs supervison and support in so many ways, it is  hard to let go even a little.

Letting go and teaching independence is important so that we don’t actually encourage dependence without realizing it.

Teaching age appropriate behavior to a 20-year old who would just as soon wear Mickey Mouse t-shirts and play with toys, that she is a young adult and must dress and be treated as a young adult is hard. I learned how, with help from many in her life, and from her.

I also was pleasantly surprised by how well she adapted to life in a group home at age 27. I thought she’d miss me so much I’d have to bring her home in a week. Nope! She flourished with her newfound independence and social life with her housemates — something I couldn’t give her at home with just the two of us. I also couldn’t continue to give her 24-hour care while I had to work and sleep. She got fresh caretakers every eight hours who weren’t tired, cranky or had other things to do.

What is hard for parents to admit as we get older (and we will) — the 24-hour care taking can be too hard without help. And the time will come when we can’t do it any more  due to our age or illness.

We have to really be realistic about helping our child find a place in the world as an adult without us while we are still around to help them transition. It’s harder if we die and they experience the grief of missing us and have to transition to a new home. That is the letting go and the transition we all worry about the most. We worry no one else will care for her or him as we do.

As a special education teacher of young adults 16 -22, I often heard parents say, “She can’t or won’t do that at home. How did you get her to do that?”  Some photo 2of my students had very low ability, but were able to work with some support and could learn to do things like cook, load dishwashers and do laundry for themselves. Things their parents didn’t let them do because they thought they couldn’t. It’s always amazing what they can do when we let go. I learned that my very  delayed and disabled daughter could do so much more than I ever thought or would have allowed her to do until I learned to let go some!

Every child is different and every state and family has different resources available, but it is something to think about for every parent.

Teaching independence and letting go is something to do gradually. After all, we all want all of our children to be happy, have a social life of some kind, to experience love and friendship, and to be able to support themselves in some way. They can’t do that if we dont teach independence  and responsibility to all our children.

Stacia taught me much in life. Tolerance, patience, unconditional love, selflessness and how to see the world through her eyes. Her life was a gift to me in so many ways, although battling her disease was also hell in so many ways.

I am grateful for the support the TS Alliance gives parents today, and for the hope that all our children with disabilities will have better lives to live and increased opportunities to do so in today’s world. We can all help them by increasing awareness of  not only TSC, but of all those with disabilities and their need for acceptance, employment, education and a place in society.

Please see Susan’s contribution from last year’s blogging event about the founding of the TS Alliance.

From Becky (Mixed Up Mommy): Thank you so much to everyone who contributed this year! It has been a pleasure to share your stories and read your personal or your child’s triumphs. I leave you with some artistic contributions from TSC warriors.

Chloe, age 5, Georgia
Chloe, age 5.
Bladen, 7.
Bladen, age 7.
Bladen, 7.
Bladen, 7.
Zander, age 7.
Zander, age 7.
Erica, age 19.
Erica, age 19.
Erica, age 19.
Erica, age 19.
Fiona, age 6.
Fiona, age 6.