Thursday, October 3, 2013

Celebrating Love and Living Large -- October 5

This weekend Rick and I will celebrate 22 years of wedded bliss...and what better way to toast our togetherness than challenge a group of friends to join us and walk a few miles to raise money for the American Diabetes Association. Am I right?

Our marriage journey has carried us about 2/3 of the way through my own personal journey with Type 1 Diabetes. Honestly, I can't imagine walking this crazy path with anyone else.

I was diagnosed on December 13, 1978, at the tender age of 11 (here's a fun fact, I started dating Rick just 5 years later...holy smokes!). Apparently I wasn't just developing high cheekbones as I thought. The extreme loss of body fat, leaving my cheekbones protruding more like an emaciated prisoner of war than a super model, was the result of my pancreas shutting down production of the hormone insulin. When this happens the body can't transform the calories you eat into energy to fuel your brain, heart, and muscles, instead it delves into the stored energy secreted away in our fatty tissue. For me there wasn't much to begin with, but by the time I was diagnosed I was a walking skeleton (honestly, I imagined that I'd finally come into my own and soon would be swapping stories with Brooke Shields at a Seventeen magazine photo shoot!).

My diagnosis led to a week long hospital stay to help me adjust and assure that I didn't slip into diabetic ketoacidosis thanks to the incredibly high blood sugar numbers I was experiencing. During that week the nurses and my doctor taught me how to think differently about food and helped me learn to give myself injections. Home monitoring of blood glucose at that time was accomplished with urine glucose test strips -- yeah it really is just what it sounds like and for a young girl it was super disgusting! Everything they shared with me then still applies today...but the semantics have certainly evolved dramatically.

I now have an insulin pump that I wear 24/7 so that it can administer insulin in micro-bursts throughout the day or I can program in the number of carbohydrates that I've just eaten and give myself a bolus of insulin to cover that food. I also have a trusty glucose meter that allows me to determine my blood sugar level at any time (mine even communicates with my pump via radio frequency). Using those tools for a finger prick of blood took me some getting used to, just ask my post-college roommate Lynn Heilig Faber who was present when I acquired my first ever glucose meter. Lynn would poke my finger for me to avoid my squeamish fainting spells. Back in 1978 when I was first diagnosed, I went to the doctor's office every Friday morning for a blood draw...and I passed out every Friday was fun!

The road I've traveled has been littered with highs and lows and plenty of debris to maneuver. I am not fond of eating pretty much anything green; I have never met a glass of wine or a pint of beer that I didn't appreciate and enjoy; and I'm a lousy example of a solid commitment to physical fitness. But, the consistent element over these 35 years is that each and every day I have chosen to live and therefore I've committed myself to doing whatever is needed toward that purpose. Since my body would simply stop functioning without the artificial infusion of insulin, I am ridiculously grateful to the crew of egg heads who toiled away in their laboratories in the early 1900s to discover insulin and determine a way to administer it.

I laugh every time a friend or family member reminisces about a time they witnessed me experiencing an episode of low blood sugar (the result of administering more insulin than is needed for the carbohydrates in your system). Those singular moments when I wasn't in perfect control of the disease that challenges my body have become somehow synonymous with me and my health in their minds. It is too bad. Those rare experiences are but a small collection of the more than 1,104,492,410 seconds that I have managed this disease perfectly. When everything runs without need for intervention (99% of the past 35 years) the challenge that I face and master alone each day is forgotten.

But, I, and the nearly 26 million other Americans living with diabetes, know it is there each and every second, waiting like a stealth leopard to pounce and devour it's prey. We know it because if we don't acknowledge it's reach and depredation -- and act on it -- we will simply succumb. And, trust me on this, I rarely lay down when a fight is brewing!

After 35 years of tackling a killer head on and 22 years of sharing that load with Rick, we celebrate this Saturday. We celebrate survival. We celebrate love. We celebrate the medical nerds who unwind the complications of our genes and cells and seek solutions. We celebrate every single person who has ever donated toward the research that allows me to kick ass and take names each day as a healthy member of my community.

Be a part of this celebration by contributing to the American Diabetes Association and help me fund a cure that will change millions of tomorrows. You can contribute to our team (we are called Team 2-2; select any one of our team members, including Rick, Connor, and me) here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

PS -- I will post a few photos from our walk next week. We are dressing up in our fanciest wedding attire for this shin dig...should be fun!

PPS -- Check us out! What fun we had.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What Do You Remember About 9/11?

Tomorrow is the anniversary of a bitter moment in American history. September 11. My son was asked by his teacher to interview me about what I remember from the day and then he and his classmates will discuss. Seems like a good way for the fourth grade set to approach such a traumatic happening.

This assignment caused me to dig out my mom's binder of emails from that time period and read through the messages shared within my family circle. So many nuances of the tragedy had been tucked away, wrapped in the tissue paper of a busy mind and stuffed in the back of my memory for safe keeping.

I had been in New York and New Jersey for a work conference prior to that fateful day. In fact, two days before I had floated on the Hudson River with a stunning view of the autumn moon juxtaposed near the Twin Towers. It was so peaceful and gorgeous. Everyone in my group commented on the scene. Too bad we weren't all armed with cell phone cameras then.

My early afternoon flight home on September 10, 2001 was marred by several unusual and chaotic experiences at the Newark International Airport. First a delay, then all flights were held because of a combination of weather and a rumored fire somewhere outside of the terminals. Eventually my flight was cancelled. While I stood in line to be rerouted on another flight, I called the airline customer service line from my trusty (and giant!) flip phone. I was rewarded with a new flight home and hours to kill before boarding. Others from my original flight were sent to hotels for the night and rerouted on flights out the next morning (I've often wondered how many of them were able to leave on early morning flights before all air travel shut down...and how many were trapped there in the heart of so much tragedy).

As I poured over the emails in my mom's old binder, I was reminded that when my flight finally departed our captain told us that there were 65 planes on the tarmac behind us and that he really didn't know how many would get out that night -- apparently the weather was still backing up departures. The flight I was on was traveling from Newark to Detroit and then on to Seattle. This journey seemed strangely ominous the next morning when one of the four planes came from Newark on a long distance flight.

Because of the series of events and delays, I took the next day off work. I didn't get home till nearly 3 am and I needed my beauty sleep! So, I was home when Rick heard on the radio that the first plane -- although no one knew that it was a plane initially -- hit one of the World Trade Center Towers. He woke me up and we turned on the television and watched in horror as the second plane hit and then the third plane hit the Pentagon and the fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

As rumors flew on live television, I dashed for the phone to call my mom. She knew where I'd been, but wouldn't know that I was safely home.

Reaching out to those you love and comforting and reassuring them is a solid story line through the family email messages that my mom dutifully printed and saved in her binders. We were all checking in with each other. Sharing our experiences...confirming that we were safe..expressing our love. I imagine that it wasn't just my family who did that at the time. I like to think that in the face of unexpected horror, we all found a way to get back to the basics and focus on those we loved.

At the heart of it all, we prayed. We cried. We connected with loved ones near and far. We remember what was important to us. We loved. And, we got on with the business of being citizens of an incredible and proud country. God Bless Us All. God Bless America.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Reflections on Mother's Day

As I type this I can hear my son zipping around the main level of our house on his roller blades. He is likely listening to his iPod, because he is strangely quiet. But his blades are swooshing him around chairs and other obstacles left in the path between the kitchen and living room. The sounds of normalcy. Love it.

I can hear Rick chatting with his mom on the phone. It is Mother's Day morning. They are having a routine mother-son conversation about life with updates on both sides. The banter of normalcy. This too, I love.

I just posted a photo of my own mom on Facebook. Simple gesture. Everybody's doing it. Seemed normal. Seemed simple.

It left me with shaking hands and tears pouring down my face. I found myself sobbing in those great gulping sobs that leave you dizzy with lack of oxygen. After so many years without my mom, you would think this sharp pain of grief would dissolve. Perhaps spread out like oil on water leaving a shimmer to remind you that it was there but diluting the original slick. Certainly missing her would remain, but it would somehow become normal. Yet it hasn't.

While I was wallowing in my own little puddle of self-indulgent sadness I also was supported by the memories that now serve as my Mom Manual. Somehow Jackie Fitzgerald understood that there would be days when I just wouldn't know what to do next or how to manage the mounting chaos of daily life. Without knowing the details of what the future would hold, she offered solutions in the way she handled her own life and the pit stops that sometimes take you by surprise along the way.

Jackie wasn't a saint (pretty gosh darn close, but even she would blush a bit at such an audacious title and point out that her choices have not always been saint-like!). She didn't always have the textbook response to life's challenges for herself or her children. But, along the way she always loved her family, even when they tested her limits and pushed her buttons. She always cared for her neighbors like they too were family. She fostered the creative pursuits of each person she encountered uniquely. And, she cheered the loudest for each of her children's accomplishments in every phase of their lives. She taught me to become a mom with the way she handled each challenge, with the way she wiped every tear, and with the way that she handed out punishments when merited.

Every time I stumbled with the job of mommyhood, during that time I like to think of as my training wheel years -- before Connor could remember all of my egregious errors -- she pointed out the nuances of the task:
...focus on the big picture
...when in doubt just hug your child
...every problem will seem less daunting after a good night's sleep courageous in the face of doubt...always eat your vegetables (seriously, this one challenges me to this day!)
...use your manners
...don't do anything that you'd be embarrassed to tell me about

Now that I don't have her to chat with about every silly thing, I must dig deeper and come up with my own solutions. I have to step up to the plate and swing all on my own. But, I know that she is still cheering me on and rooting for my success...I know this because that is what I would do for Connor and I had the very best teacher. I learned to parent from my mom...and that is my normalcy. Thank you, Jackie.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Last night I sat with my boys and waited to learn the identity of four fellow parishioners from Holy Spirit Catholic Church. The four were reported deceased in a car accident while traveling to the site of their medical mission in Haiti.  Together we paced and worried and prayed. Learning the identities of those we lost did not erase our angst. We were left questioning why such horrible things happen to good people. Why?

I'm no philosopher. I'm not even the most well-versed Catholic out there. So my answer is really more akin to a string of obscenities than anything uplifting.

When bad things happen to good people it sucks. It rains angst. It overwhelms our senses and causes us to question the core of our humanity and faith.

And, through that storm of uncertainty and sadness, we emerge. Humbled. Challenged. Changed.

In the past, I've stood on the brink of this storm and I've been awash in its chaos. I don't wish such a journey on anyone. Profound loss like this is a journey unlike any other. It's reason seems to escape even the most learned.

But, last night, while I was worrying over things that were out of my control, my 9-year-old son spoke up with an innocence and intelligence that defies age. He said, "Well, they must have been needed for something even more important. I wonder what it is."

Perhaps he is right. When bad things happen to good people, it may be that their goodness is being rewarded or is needed in another way. In another place.

We who are left to mourn and who seek some rational reason for the loss are challenged to swim through our sadness over time. Relying on the example of those we've lost to shape and balance our future.

When bad things happen to good people it still sucks. Perhaps there is a divine gauntlet being thrown to step up our game and be more good. Not at the risk of losing ourselves too, but with the challenge of being needed for something more a life that reflects the goodness of those we've lost.

Live on, my friends. Keep being good.

Peace and Blessings to Matt Kutsche, Mary LaPonsie, and Rita and Jim Cwengros and their families.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Snapshot of a Year Well Lived: 2012

January always gives me a moment to pause and reflect on the past year. It has had some high points and some tearful moments. But, along the way I've had a hand to fact, I often had two hands to hold. Lucky me! Here's a snapshot of what we lived and loved over 2012...

We are lucky to live close enough to Blandford Nature Center to walk to the back side of the trails. We didn't get much snow in 2012, but it made it so easy to traipse through the woods all winter.
Working the floor during a basketball game in the West Catholic High School kids league. 

Connor was sneaky at his school auction and put is raffle tickets into the bucket to win a cellular phone with minutes (even though mom and dad said not to!). After a heartfelt conversation, and a little nudging from his parents, he agreed that it made sense to donate this cool phone to a woman who was trying to find a job and take good care of her family. Here he is with Sharon Caldwell-Newton, Executive Director of Women's Resource Center, making his donation. We are so proud of the tough decision he made to help someone else!

Here we are on our first trip to Brewery Vivant -- Connor's rootbeer looks like a stout! Who wouldn't want to live in Brew City USA?! We love it!

Connor had a blast riding Aunt Lara Parks' horse, Dreamer, for the first time. He was a was watching in awe. He even helped Laura brush out Dreamer and give her a few treats. Who could imagine we'd have such gorgeous March coats!

We had a gorgeous place to hang out for Spring Break...right in Michigan! Connor and his cousins, Sarah, Rachel, and Reagan, loved the beach in Frankfort and we all soaked up the sun while exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Spring Break was capped off with a visit from Cousin Ryleigh and a trip to Frederik Meijer Gardens to see the butterflies exhibit and run around in the Children's Garden. Fun!

Connor and his buddies from school just before they made their First Holy Communion. Big rite of passage for a Catholic. It makes my heart smile to see how reverently they all participated in this Sacrament...and how handsome they were in their best Sunday clothes. Love it!
Connor and his cousin Reagan were on the same Coach Pitch Little League Baseball Team this year...with Rick as the coach. Great season, they all improved their skills and showed a lot of commitment and spunk!
And, May brought the official Memorial Day kickoff to summer! This year we were lucky enough to rent a cottage for the whole summer next door to our brother's cottage. We didn't swim on Memorial Day, but we stuck our toes in the water!

Celebrating the end of another school year, Connor and one of his buddies are tossing the football into Lake Michigan. What a great way to kick off summer at the beach!
June was jam packed for us! In the middle of baseball, school ending, beach time, the Ladies Tee Party Charity Golf Outing, and the usual stuff like work, we zipped out to Denver for the annual Fitzgerald Family Golf Outing. While there Connor and enjoyed a little trail hike with his cousin Jessica in the Boulder area.
...and while we were in Denver, my oldest brother John married his sweetheart, Carol!  What a fun backyard wedding, perfect for the two of them...we were all thrilled that we could attend!

Ah, heck, why not add another photo to June? Here is the whole Fitzgerald crew who journeyed to Denver for the annual golf outing! Yowza!

This photo sums up our July at Lake Michigan. Ahhhhh!
Although, this photo also helps tell the rest of the story! Our Tiki Bar at the cottage was a hit for adults and kids alike! Something there for everyone. We'll miss it a lot!


I loved seeing my business logo on the new jumbo screen at Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps! This was during a women's business networking event that I organized at the ballpark. Cool!

It was the summer of the Mohawk for Connor. He loved it. But, alas, it's only a fleeting thing...once school starts it is back to the basics!

First day of 3rd Grade!

One last weekend at the beach before summer ends...what a journey!

First year of Rocket Football...oh my!
Best Birthday Ever! We celebrated Connor's 9th birthday with awesome seats to watch the Tigers...and helped them score a win! We had a blast in Detroit for the weekend.

Here's our very own Vampire Football Player from Vampire State! 

Connor and his Fitzgerald Cousins were in rare form to celebrate Great Aunt Kathie's 75th Birthday in Jackson. Wow!
Connor and Reagan were so proud to host their Fitzgerald Cousin, Kyle, and his two youngest children, at school for their Veteran's Day program. We are proud of all of our Active Duty and Veteran relatives (and everyone else who has served and continues to serve our country)!

We decided the best way to celebrate Connor's Mayan heritage was to throw a party on December 21, 2012 and celebrate the end of one Mayan Long Count Calendar and the beginning of a new phase. We had an awesome Mayan Pyramid cake and painted a few kid's faces to resemble Mayan Warriors or Princesses. Big fun. And, the world didn't end. You are welcome!
Goodbye 2012...Hello 2013! Can't wait to see what you have in store for us!