Tag Archives: Susan McBrine

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.
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Forgetting Yourself…and Finding Yourself

Day 23 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness

By guest blogger Susan McBrine

Being a mom  is the hardest job any woman ever has. No one prepares you totally for the complete neediness of a baby, or the way you suddenly know for the rest of your life you will love this baby with a love you didn’t know you even knew how to give.

You are in awe of this feeling and overcome with joy every morning when you stagger sleepily into your baby’s room and see her tiny face light up when she sees you.

No one  can prepare  you for the absolute wave of grief that hits  you, however, when a few months later, a strange doctor tells you that  baby has tuberous sclerosis .

The baby you envisioned watching graduate from school, get married, become an adult… All those dreams of normalcy seem to vanish with two words spoken from a person you now want  to slam your fist into and call a liar! You ask why, why? And you are angry, sad, and finally determined to fight this disease. You also know that nothing will change the love you feel and nothing will stop you from getting this child the medical help she needs to live a happy life.

As the years go by , perhaps you have other children, perhaps your marriage fails or gets stronger, perhaps your friends you thought you had fade away from your life because your every waking minute is consumed with caring for the child who now has brain tubers, seizures, too many medications to count, kidney tumors, behavior problems, autism  and major developmental delay. Those friends have been replaced with, perhaps, other moms of a special needs children, who are  the only ones who understand your devotion to this special child. The child, who despite driving you mad several times a week,  is so endearing when she finally can say ” I love you ” and finally can interact and play with other children .

Your heart breaks for her every day and your heart celebrates every day at her slightest progress because it is a huge long-awaited accomplishment. You  stay awake at night wondering how you will pay for her medication, whether you are being a good enough mom to your other children, a good enough wife, a good enough teacher, worker; and you worry, most of all, if your child with TSC will live, have a quality of life , a future. And what will happen to her if something happens to you?

What you don’t worry about is yourself. You’ve forgotten to worry or even think about yourself most of the time because there is no time for you. Doctors’ appointments, IEPS, hospitalizations, blood tests, therapy appointments, more doctors’ appointments, medical tests, MRIs, EEGs, sonograms, surgeries, psych evaluations, teacher conferences, trips to pharmacies …

It seems endless and every few years another body part or organ pops up with a TSC symptom and you grieve all over again for the healthy  child you  dreamed of and you cry for the suffering  one you have now and love so much. The tears are always there just below the surface.. But so is the joy  that she has defied the doomsday prognosis, the life expectancy. And she has taught your other children compassion, kindness and tolerance. You are so proud of them and grateful they are healthy and normal.

You thank God for every day she lives and beats TSC and you thank Him for making you strong enough to raise her. One day you realize she has made you a better person! But your marriage may not have survived the strain because he was never really committed or never really dealt with his grief. It’s too late to wonder why. The marriage is over. It ends when you understand he isn’t capable of  standing by your side and never was.

Or your marriage and bond grows stronger, if you have the right  man, because of this special child.

Your child is now an adult with, perhaps, a child’s mind, and  you have spent your adult years in a career working with teens and children in regular and special education while raising your own and you realize you’ve  still forgotten yourself.

You’ve spent many hours explaining to friends, relatives, doctors, teachers and strangers what tuberous sclerosis is and helping other mothers  cope. And insisting to them that you are neither a saint nor a martyr for choosing to raise this child despite the many people who say,”I don’t know how you do it.” Sometimes they say that because they are secretly wondering if they could do it if it was their child. The answer is simple . You have no choice. Your child needs you.

One day you also realize that finding yourself will be the healthiest thing you can do. You meet and fall in love with a real man, just when you thought they didn’t exist (as I did) if your  first marriage has failed. Eventually all your children, except  your TSC child, leave home to successfully live their own lives. And then your worst fear comes true. TSC has won the battle. And in my case the following happened:

Your TSC child’s second kidney is failing after endless hospitalizations and medical complications, including a year with a feeding tube. Dialysis and transplant are considered, agonized over, and then your trusted pediatric neurologist and you make the decision that she would not tolerate either successfully, only prolonging her suffering. You can no longer care for her at home and work also, which you have to do, so you reluctantly, sadly, place her in a group home  with a nursing facility where she is surprisingly happy and social for a time. Meanwhile, you continue to work and travel two hours one way to visit her on weekends when you can get there.

About a year later she is facing complete and total kidney failure and you are facing hospice care for the child you fought and battled for 30 years to keep alive. Now you realize you have to allow her to die and end the suffering…it seems impossible to bear the grief  this time.

Even though you are finding happiness in life, your world is collapsing again because your baby, your first born special child is dying and you have to let her go after a lifetime of helping her to live. How does a mother endure this pain after you were chosen to learn all the lessons raising a special child has taught you? You lie awake at night wondering and  greiving all over again and you ask why? Why?

There are no answers…but you know after burying this child that the hardest thing a woman can do ever  is to be a mother and watch your child die.

Your other children continue to bring you great joy, pride and love in your life. You are so thankful you were able to experience the joy of raising other non-affected children to adulthood. Yet  you will always grieve for your special child and miss her unconditional love, total innocence and uncanny sense of humor in spite of all her suffering.

Yet you have found yourself finally…. Because you realize you were meant to be her mother to become the person you now are. This was my TSC journey and one typical of so many other TSC moms who have made similar journeys. But their journey will be more hopeful and less lonely because of the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance. I hope all the moms find themselves because I know we all forgot ourselves for a time.
Global awareness has increased today. And there WILL  be a cure.

photo-9

The Story of Stacia and the Realization of a Dream

Stacia at the age of three.
Stacia at the age of three.
By guest blogger Susan McBrine
Originally from California but retiring to Oregon
Day 1 of Blogging for TSC Awareness Month

My first child of four was born in 1971 . She lived until 2003, 32 short years. She was a joy, a beautiful baby , and I was a young 23-year-old  teacher.When she was about eight months, she started crying for no reason. Then she seemed to stop smiling and rolling over, and later she started jerking her head down in a series of movements. Frantic trips to  doctors’ offices  found nothing wrong. I was an “overly concerned mom,” and ” it was nothing” I was told. The few funny white spots I noticed at three weeks, were also “nothing,” and  the fact that she didn’t lift her chest or head up from lying on  her stomach was “weak shoulder muscles.” Every doctor I saw dismissed my concerns. I wanted to believe it was nothing, but in my gut I knew something was wrong! Moms always do!

Finally, one day, she had eight separate instances of jerking her head and body  in a series. I was alone with her and decided I was not going to take no  for an answer any more. I drove to the emergency room and, probably hysterically, told the  doctor there that I wasn’t leaving until someone told me what was wrong with my baby! Weirdly enough, the emergency room doctor  was moonlighting from local AFB and had a patient, 12 years old, with TSC. He recognized the white spots and my description of the infantile spasms she was having.

He bluntly told me she had TSC and would be handicapped… Would  not walk or talk and not live  if her seizures weren’t controlled. I cried all the way home.

 My world stopped! Life as I knew it changed forever. He turned out to be right  about one thing. It was TSC! And after finally seeing a pediatric neurologist at Loma Linda Hospital who confirmed it, (MRI was not yet developed until two years later), and hospitalizing her for invasive brain tests, we had to accept her diagnosis and the gloomy prognosis they gave us.

I was told so many things  that proved to be wrong. How rare it was, life expectancy, IQ expectancy, etc. And that there was no definitive genetic or diagnostic test available. And that really there was not one damn answer to any question. Now I know to question, to not believe predictions, to do my research, to develop a tough skin, and to be assertive. Doctors aren’t God. But she taught me all that in time. I took her home, loved her  and wondered  how I would ever survive her predicted, imminent death, as we struggled to control her seizures, first with meds, and then with ATCH shots. Welcome to the world of medication, seizures, hospitalizations, fears, tears, more tears and  special education. That was my new reality. I started to research tuberous sclerosis in many libraries, poured over medical journals, medical books, books on retardation, and epilepsy only to discover what was written about  TS was minimal (no internet). The  disease was considered very rare, and no real research or awareness had occurred  in over 100 years since it was named Bourneville’s disease. No wonder doctors didn’t know much about it. Not much was known period!

I was starting to get angry now, and when I read in the American Association of Mental Deficiency book that the life expectancy was 25 years, I knew then that no one really knew diddly squat! My pediatric neurologist was advocating institutionalization and no one had real information. I became empowered with my anger about no answers and no knowledge. I was a teacher, a reader, and yet I couldn’t find answers. Maddening! I refused to believe there was no hope! By now, she was almost two and I was expecting my second child, Tanya, after a geneticist told us Stacia was a random mutation. My older sister told me about preschool programs for special needs kids and about a magazine called Exceptional Parent. I wrote to it, asking for other parents with TS children to contact me. I thought if there were others out there, we could unite and make our voices heard. We could demand research, a genetic test, and treatments. Support could happen! I dreamed it all!

In two weeks I got 15 letters from all over the USA. Three from California. And one from  a mom of a 29 -year-old with TS ,who thought she was the only case in the world. Clearly no one had ever tried to find out how many cases there were (again, no internet yet). To make a long story shorter, I found Adrianne Cohen, Verna and Bill Morris, and Debbie Castruita in California.

And ….

We started to meet and plan, write letters, call moms, have meetings and contact doctors. We created a newsletter (run off on a school mimeo machine) and a medical research survey. Adrianne helped us get our first grant, a lawyer friend helped us incorporate as a non-profit and NTSA was born.We knew if we were determined enough we could make a difference. We talked to regional centers, hospitals, child neurologist associations, and put articles in magazines and newspapers. We also hoped for a celebrity to endorse us. We lived and worked on NTSA for years. Then slowly let go and let others take it over when it became a  successful reality. Now the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance!

It spread and now it is international. I no longer have to write letters of hope to other moms from my kitchen.
We have a staff, TSC clinics, a medical advisory board, genetics test, research, a magazine, a bonafide celebrity (Julianne Moore), fundraising,  and chapters all over the world. Tuberous sclerosis is no longer an unheard of disease and there is hope for no mother to go through what I did. It is miraculous really. But we still have the disease  TSC…. and we still have heartache and families looking for help and hope. Now we have Facebook, the internet, this blog, and a phone call or email to the TS Alliance for immediate help and hope. My dream has come true.

Along the way I had four children, got a divorce, remarried, became a special education teacher and struggled every day to raise my TSC child, Stacia Diaz, and battle her ever growing list of symptoms. She turned out to be severely involved, mentally about three years old, brain tumors, kidney tumors, sleep , appetite problems, autism, and aggressive behaviors. She was verbal at eight and was able to say I love you (and cuss:). She was funny, happy, and taught me and my other children so much. But she also suffered, and we suffered…

And  when I look back on the day she was diagnosed and remember the stages of grief I went through to come to acceptance (to learn to love her for who she was,  not who I hoped

Stacia on her last birthday.
Stacia on her last birthday.

she’d be), I remember how it was a long and difficult journey. The grief never really ends. Yet today parents have support!

The end, for her, was the hardest. We watched her die in a hospice, after her second remaining and only kidney was so full of tumors that nothing could be done. She could not tolerate dialysis and a transplant. The heartache never really goes away, and I miss her every day,  but I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore. I know today the newer kidney drugs might have saved her. But knowing the TS Alliance is making  strides in treating TSC kids gives her life…and her death, meaning. Maybe I was her mom for a reason? No parent should bury a child, but even her death made me a better person. She and TSC taught me many life lessons.

I now have  Cll leukemia and am doing very well with my own medical battle. But I know Stacia’s courage, her smile through all of her battles with TSC, and seeing her still smiling when she died gives me courage and allows for no self pity. I just want each mom and dad and individual with TSC to know that, though it isn’t fair to have this disease,  you CAN, as one person, make a difference in the  fight to cure this disease!!!! We moms who started this organization believed that!

It is a battle we are winning. Things are better. There is hope. There is help. You aren’t alone! And every case of TSC is unique.

I’m so grateful for the work alliance members and staff do daily. I feel so fortunate to see a dream become reality. I hope my story helps someone today who reads it. And I hope Stacia is smiling down on all of us!