Mattie Miracle 2021 Walk was a $125,000 success!

Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation Promotional Video

Thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive!

Dear Mattie Blog Readers,

It means a great deal to us that you take the time to write to us and to share your thoughts, feelings, and reflections on Mattie's battle and death. Your messages are very meaningful to us and help support us through very challenging times. To you we are forever grateful. As my readers know, I promised to write the blog for a year after Mattie's death, which would mean that I could technically stop writing on September 9, 2010. However, at the moment, I feel like our journey with grief still needs to be processed and fortunately I have a willing support network still committed to reading. Therefore, the blog continues on. If I should find the need to stop writing, I assure you I will give you advanced notice. In the mean time, thank you for reading, thank you for having the courage to share this journey with us, and most importantly thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive.

As Mattie would say, Ooga Booga (meaning, I LOVE YOU)! Vicki and Peter

The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation celebrates its 7th anniversary!

The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation was created in the honor of Mattie.

We are a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. We are dedicated to increasing childhood cancer awareness, education, advocacy, research and psychosocial support services to children, their families and medical personnel. Children and their families will be supported throughout the cancer treatment journey, to ensure access to quality psychosocial and mental health care, and to enable children to cope with cancer so they can lead happy and productive lives. Please visit the website at: and take some time to explore the site.

We have only gotten this far because of people like yourself, who have supported us through thick and thin. So thank you for your continued support and caring, and remember:

.... Let's Make the Miracle Happen and Stomp Out Childhood Cancer!

A Remembrance Video of Mattie

December 18, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2003, Mattie was about a year and a half old. This was Mattie's second flight out to California to visit my parents. Unlike me, Mattie loved to fly and was a good traveler. In fact, as he got older, he was usually holding my hand on planes to comfort me rather than the other way around. Peter captured one of our many active moment abroad the plane that day. Mattie NEVER slept in transit, but made many friends in the process. On this particular flight I recall the flight attendant going to the first class cabin and she brought back a huge cookie and fresh strawberries for Mattie. In typical Mattie fashion, he handed me the cookie to eat. Mattie wasn't a sweets person but he knew early on that I was. So I must admit I benefited from many of the wonderful treats given to him over the years.

Quote of the day: Love like ours can never die! ~ Rudyard Kipling

I came across this quote tonight in the book of quotes my friend and colleague, Denise, gave me. This quote is simple, straight forward, and captures the sentiments I feel about my love for Mattie. Time is a funny thing. On one hand it is supposed to be "healing," yet I have found that it does quite the opposite of healing. Instead, time plays tricks on your brain, and in the process it can make me very upset. When you do not see the face and hear the voice of someone you love on a regular basis, you do begin to forget the specifics. This happens even when the person you lost is your child. It is a terrible, terrible fact and feeling to admit to and when I find that I have trouble remembering, I feel very guilty and sad. In fact, to say time is healing would mean on some level that it is okay for me to forget the specifics. To me, nothing is OKAY about forgetting and not remembering clearly. Despite having lapses in memories at times, one thing I will always know and remember is the love Mattie and I shared. It is a feeling I will never forget and always cherish, but perhaps that is what being a mom or a parent is all about. It is not about the specifics, it is about the feeling that is generated from the bond. Feelings are ever present and somehow create lasting memories.

I had a terrible night of sleep and I think I finally fell asleep at 4:30am. My head was pounding, my stomach was bothering me, and I had a lot weighing on my mind. So today, I have been functioning, but on such little sleep, I feel absolutely awful. Peter and I had brunch today with Robbie. Robbie was one of Mattie's favorite childlife volunteers. Robbie understood Mattie and had a solid rapport with him. We met Robbie through Mattie's big buddy, Brandon. Robbie is a professional events planner and manager and he was gracious enough to meet with us today to brainstorm our upcoming Foundation Walk on May 22, 2011. Robbie knew Mattie which is key and also understands our mission and goals. Robbie also attended both the walk in 2009 and 2010, so he is aware of what we have achieved already and is motivated to help us with the planning for this year. Ideas were flying back and forth at brunch and I found the whole dialogue very stimulating and engaging. Robbie is a delightful person to talk with and I can see why Mattie gravitated to him.

After lunch, Peter and I headed to Bethesda, MD to see the play, A Wrinkle in Time. On the way to the theatre, we drove up Connecticut Avenue. I guess I haven't done that in a while, but the drive sent me back in time. For two years, Mattie worked with his occupational therapist, Kathie. Kathie's office is on Connecticut Avenue. As Peter was driving, I was reliving the commute each week to see Kathie. I pointed out all the oak trees near Kathie's office that Mattie would stop at to collect acorns. Mattie was particular, he only collected acorns with intact caps. Needless to say, each time he visited Kathie, he always gave her a gift of an acorn. He never visited empty handed! Kathie told me once that Mattie was unique in that fashion, because most of her other clients did not think about giving her anything. I also pointed out to Peter the Starbucks near Kathie's office. Mattie was like clock work. After each therapy session, he wanted a muffin and milk. I could have brought these items with me, but he liked the whole experience of sitting in Starbucks with me. We would typically sit and since I always carried paper and pens with me, I kept Mattie busy! He loved my homemade mazes on paper and several of which I would create on the spot and he would figure them out while eating away. I wasn't expecting my reaction along Connecticut Avenue today, but it is the unexpected and little things that can trigger so much.

The play itself was written by Madeleine L'Engle in the 1960s, during the height of the Cold War. In her play, the children travel through time to a planet called, Camazotz. They travel in time to rescue their father, a scientist, who is being held hostage by the planet's leader, IT! Camazotz is L'Engle's version of a totalitarian, communistic society where there is no tolerance for individualism and differences. The essence of the story is that each of the children learn that their uniqueness is what makes them special and living in a world where you can't think for yourself or express your feelings is not only unhealthy, but it isn't human. In the end, the family is reunited together but only after discovering the greatest power that exists within each of us, love. It was a touching family story and moral message for the holiday season.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2002. This was Mattie's first Christmas and he was 8 months old. Right from the beginning red seemed like the perfect color for Mattie. It fit his personality and character. I remember this reindeer onesie quite well, because on the back of the outfit was the rear view of a reindeer, fluffy tail and all. If you have been following my photo comments for a while, then you most likely know who was taking this photo! Mattie was smiling and looking at the photographer, so by all accounts Peter would say I was therefore taking the photo! Peter jokes with me all the time by telling me that Mattie's attention was always on me if we were in the same room. I am not sure I agree with that, but it makes me smile anyway.

Quote of the day (From Peter's Fortune Cookie): Stop searching forever, happiness is just next to you.

Tonight's quote is not necessarily a quote. It is actually a fortune, right out of a fortune cookie. This is the second week in a row I am posting a fortune, and ironically each fortune I post happens to be from Peter's cookie. Peter's office had a holiday party tonight, and after the party we met up with each other to have dinner. Peter and I are quite lucky to live in a complex with a Chinese restaurant in our backyard. However, this Chinese restaurant has been here for decades, is owned by the same family, and is a Foggy Bottom tradition. Technically this is a restaurant, but for us, it is like our home away from home. Everyone in there knows us, they knew Mattie, and we know about each other's lives. I joke with Peter each week, that this is our, "Cheers" (you have to know and love the 80's sitcom Cheers to get my point here!). The owner is a Boston Red Sox fan, so clearly you know Peter is in good company.

Friday night dinners tend to be entertaining. Mainly because I am not focused on cooking and cleaning up, and therefore I freely sit and chat. That of course can be a mixed blessing, because you never know what topics of conversation I will bring up. Tonight, I chatted with Peter about how the death of a child can affect a marriage. It would be quite hard for such a tragedy not to impact a marriage, mainly because this unity produced a child who had cancer and died. It is impossible as a parent not to feel some sense of responsibility and blame for this, especially when you hear that pediatric cancer has genetic origins. Also tack on the fact that Mattie looked just like me, so at times I wonder how Peter handles this now that Mattie is gone. Peter and I both would agree that in the first three to six months after Mattie's death we most definitely were not on the same page about this loss. While one of us would be in pieces, the other was fine, and when one of us needed to be socially isolated, the other needed constant involvement. All couples face differences, however, such differences while grieving can be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and sometimes perceived as hurtful. Peter reminded me tonight that one night we were sitting at our dining room table after Mattie died, and we were arguing about these exact differences. I don't recall this but apparently I slammed my fist on the table, and apparently said that we just have to accept that we need different things as we grieve. We are different people and therefore have to grieve in our own way. This is not disrespectful to us as a couple, but natural as individuals. I of course don't even recall this statement, but Peter said it was at that point things began to make sense for both of us. We no longer became upset with or at each other, but began to appreciate the uniqueness of grief and the challenges associated with losing a child. I appreciated Peter talking with me about this tonight, because I think that is the key to surviving the loss of a child as a couple. It is open dialogue, acceptance of differences, and respect for each other. But do you want to know how this dialogue even began? It began because of the fortune Peter read. Apparently I am his "happiness!" I could have smiled and let his comment go, but I did not. It was the perfect way to dialogue about the journey we have been on together for over a year. A journey we will be on for a lifetime.
Earlier today I went to the mall, and while there, I had the opportunity to see and hear a wonderful sight! Right in the middle of the mall was the George Washington Middle School's (Alexandria, VA) orchestra providing all of us with wonderful music. The performing arts are a vital part of our world and when I see young people embracing creativity, it brings a smile to my face. Music, dance, and art are forms of expression that help us understand, make sense of, and process the world around us. The arts also provide us with skills that help us cope under the most challenging of circumstances. I am living proof of this. As soon as I heard the music, I stopped in my tracks, and I watched and listened for a while. Needless to say, it was the best thing I saw at the mall today.

While driving in the car today I heard an unusual Christmas song by Dolly Parton entitled, Hard Candy Christmas. I honestly never heard of the term, "hard candy Christmas" before, and had my own ideas and interpretations of this term. However, while searching the term on the Internet, it revealed the following explanation: "A hard candy Christmas was when a family was so poor that all they could afford was a penny bag of hard candy to give their kids (such as in the depression era). Yes, this actually used to be a Christmas treat, and still is to some, but that's in addition to other treats. And the kids in that family would love it because that would be the ONLY time of the year the family could splurge on something like candy."

Despite the significance of the term, Hard Candy Christmas as a song just spoke to me. It caught my attention because Christmas is not a happy time of year for many people. Certainly the movies, TV, and the media make it a very happy and nostalgic time of year, but for all the parents out there who have lost their children to cancer or other causes, the loss seems magnified during the holidays. In our American culture, Christmas has been portrayed as the holiday of gift giving, of social gatherings, and especially of children waking up in the morning excited to run to the Christmas tree to see what is under it for them. What happens though when this was all a part of your world at one time, and then thanks to cancer, none of this exists any longer? Christmas still exists, it is still Christ's birthday, but you no longer have a little one living with you, you no longer have gifts to buy for your child, and the excitement that can only come from a child is no longer in your life. What does Christmas look like for you now? Well frankly in a nutshell this is how Christmas has looked for Peter and I for two years now. It is confusing, upsetting, and at times it is hard not to be bitter about our situation in comparison to others around us. When I get this feeling of inner turmoil, I usually know it is best to leave my social situation, because the issue lies within me, and not everyone can possibly understand just how painful this loss is for us.

I have included a link to Dolly Parton's song, and the video of her transformation over the years is entertaining as well. I relate to her Hard Candy Christmas song, except unlike Dolly there is nothing "fine and dandy" about me.

December 16, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tonight's picture was taken in October of 2008. Peter and Mattie bought a new addition to their Christmas light display, a Christmas Scooby Doo! However, before the dog made it outside, it spent some time in Mattie's room. Based on the picture and how Mattie was sitting, I can tell that he completed his first limb salvaging surgery of his right arm. But the picture was taken before the second surgery, in which part of Mattie's right leg, left arm, and left wrist were replaced with prosthetics and a bone graft. The spark in Mattie's smile was still evident here, however, as the surgeries continued, along with the treatment, Mattie's spirit and body showed definite signs of sadness and pain.

Quote of the day: As a boy I thought of heaven as a glorious golden city, with nobody in it but angels, and they were all strangers to me. When my little brother died, then I thought of heaven as that great city, full of angels, with just one little fellow in it. Then my acquaintances began to die, and the number of my friends in heaven grew larger. But, it was not until one of my own little ones was taken that I began to feel a personal interest in heaven. Now so many of my friends and loved ones have gone there, that it seems I know more in heaven than on earth. Now, when my thoughts turn to heaven, it is not the gold walls I think of - but the loved ones there. It is not the place so much as the company that makes heaven seem beautiful. ~ Unknown

I selected this quote tonight because it reminds me of a conversation I was having with my friend, Alison this week. We spoke about spirituality and connecting with God after the loss of a child. I told her I imagine for parents who have lost a child, God and religion becomes a more black and white issue. Rather than shades of grey. As many of my readers know, I struggle to understand why God allows children to develop cancer, suffer through horrific treatments, and of course die. There really is no answer to such a complex set of questions, but when your life is turned upside down, and your child dies before you, you begin to question and examine everything. Mainly because NOTHING makes sense anymore, even things that you freely accepted before without question. However, I can also see the other end of the continuum. I can see that a loss of a child could potentially bring parents closer to God. I am not sure I could rationalize that before, but over lunch, we talked about the importance of there being a heaven because otherwise, what would that mean about Mattie's life? That his life ended at age 7? That he died in pain and that is it? In many ways, religion not only guides us here on earth, but it also helps us try to come to peace with the death of a loved one. It is much harder to accept death as a finality, rather than as a transition to an eternal life. I am not sure where I am with all of this, but when I read this quote tonight about heaven, it reminded me of my lunch conversation on Monday.

It snowed today in Washington, DC. For my readers in other parts of the country, you are either saying, how nice, or so what! Well in DC, a one inch dusting of snow can wreck havoc on the entire city. Panic ensues, and somehow people forget how to drive. Literally! This is one aspect about living in DC that I do not care about, which is why I dread snow in this town. Though I grew up in New York, I learned to drive in Los Angeles (where I attended high school). So I have to admit, I have NO idea how to drive in the snow. I met up with Ann today and she had the pleasure of driving with me because her car was being repaired. There were two spots in particular where I had trouble slowing the car down, since we were sliding on the snow. So while I was driving, I was getting coached on how to stop a car under these conditions. It actually could have been another episode from our ever growing adventures of Lucy and Ethel, but I must admit I find the whole snow thing unsettling.

Ann and I had lunch together and then we moved in two different directions since her children were released from school early because of the snow. Her children are on different campuses, so I dealt with one campus, and she dealt with the other. Despite my fear of snow, I managed quite well today. Driving a four wheel drive vehicle helped as well as moving slowly.   

I spent the rest of the day designing this candy cane tree you see pictured here tonight. My friend, Tina, who many of my faithful readers may recall hosted a birthday party for me in July, had been admiring the trees I made for Ann. So I decided to surprise Tina with her own tree! The shape of this tree is different from my previous ones, but there is something very magical about seeing the red and white pattern of candy canes forming a tree. It was a very good activity to do on a cold and snowy day, and I find that making these special gifts means something to me as I hope it does for its recipients. 

December 15, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tonight's picture was taken in April of 2008. This was three months before Mattie was diagnosed with cancer. In this particular picture, you can see that it was morning and Mattie had just woke up. He was in his pajamas and had been rubbing his eyes. Despite feeling groggy, he went right to his favorite item, Legos, and started playing. Naturally all helicopters need to fly in outdoor spaces, so he opened the door, and went outside on our deck. The one consistent item in his life was always Legos. Whether he was healthy or sick, he simply loved them! Once cancer struck Mattie's world, Legos became more than just a toy, they became a therapeutic tool. A tool that stimulated his mind, energized and motivated him to use his hands and arms (which was miraculous post-limb salvaging surgeries), and most importantly it was a tool that brought us together as a family while he was sick. We spent many days and months in the hospital, and Legos served as a mental diversion for all of us, and in the process, we could talk and connect as a family. Not as a family battling cancer, but simply a FAMILY. 

Quote of the day: The dead don't die. They look on and help. ~ D.H. Lawrence

I woke up this morning with a lovely e-mail from a colleague. She wanted me to know about a little girl who was born in Italy in 1930. This little girl's name was Antoniette Meo. The fascinating part about Antonietta was she died when she was six years old from Osteosarcoma. In fact, this young girl lived an extraordinary life in six short years, which is why the Catholic church may make her a saint. The story that Jean shared with me today was so intriguing that I decided to Google Antonietta. I included some information about her below if you want to read more. Antonietta once said, "I am very happy that Jesus gave me this problem (meaning Osteosarcoma) so that I may be his dearest one." That seems like a very profound statement from such a young child, but a child who clearly had a special calling and understanding about her own life. I included her picture because it was startling. It was startling because her eyes and Mattie's eyes were VERY similar.

The Life and Death of Antonietta Meo -- (December 15, 1930 – July 3, 1937) was an Italian girl who may become the youngest saint (who is not a martyr) ever canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

Antonietta was raised in an upper middle class household in Rome as the younger daughter of Michele and Maria Meo. She was nicknamed "Nennolina." She attended Catholic schools and stood out as an active, charismatic little girl who led her playmates in all their games, even after she became ill, and was popular with them because of her kindness. Her teachers said she was a child like other children, but stood out because of her personal charm and her sense of humor and the joyousness of her personality.

She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer, at the age of five after she fell and injured her knee and the injury didn't heal. When her leg had to be amputated, she bore the ordeal "cheerfully." She was fitted with a heavy, artificial leg so she could keep playing with other youngsters. Catholic theologians have called her a "mystic" because the six-year-old wrote "extraordinary" letters to Jesus Christ in the last months of her life that displayed understanding and actions beyond the normal for a child of her age. "Dear baby Jesus, you are holy, you are good," she wrote in one of the letters. "Help me, grant me your grace and give me back my leg. If you don't want to, then may your will be done."

At first she dictated letters to her mother; later she wrote poems and letters herself and left each at the foot of her crucifix. In another letter she wrote: "Dear Jesus, I love you very much. I want to abandon myself in your hands. I want to abandon myself in your arms. Do with me what you want. Help me with your grace. You help me, since without your grace, I am nothing." She wrote or dictated more than 100 letters to Jesus or to the Virgin Mary, describing "holy visions" in many of them. After Mass, people sometimes saw her approach the tabernacle and say, "Jesus, come and play with me!"

Antonietta Meo at her first communion in December 1936.The child viewed the loss of her leg as a sacrifice to Jesus for the conversion of sinners. "I am very happy that Jesus gave me this problem so that I may be his dearest one," she told her father, Michele, after her leg was amputated. "Pain is like fabric, the stronger it is, the more it's worth," she told her father. She told her spiritual guide: "For an instant I lie down on my wound, so as to offer more pain to Jesus," and told her mother: "When you feel pain, you have to keep quiet and offer it to Jesus for a sinner. Jesus suffered so much for us, but He hadn't committed any sin: He was God. How could we complain, we who are sinners and always offend him?" She was eager to receive the sacraments of the Catholic Church and was baptized, made her first confession, was confirmed and made her first communion before her death. She also received extreme unction, the last rites, in June 1937.

She insisted on writing a last letter to Jesus a few days before her death, even though it was interrupted when she had to vomit. In it, she asked Jesus to take care of everyone she loved, and asked for strength to bear her pain. She finished the letter with the words "Your little girl sends you a lot of kisses." She told her mother when it was time for her to die. "In a few hours, I will die, but I will not suffer anymore, and you shouldn't cry. I should have lived a few days longer, but Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus said, "it's enough!" After the child's death, her mother had a vision of Antonietta in a glorified state that reassured her that the child was now in heaven.

Peter and I have been dialoguing for some time now about reaching out to the Lego company. Lego has been a crucial part of our lives since Mattie's birth, and from 2008 to 2009, we owned every Lego kit on the market. When Mattie was battling cancer, Legos became our safe haven. We would Lego together as a family during chemotherapy treatments, at all hours of the day and night, and under good circumstances and often times under very difficult and trying times. In many cases, when undergoing chemotherapy and the recovery from the treatment, Mattie's immune system became severely compromised. Therefore he spent a good amount of time in isolation from others and germs. Isolation for a six year old can be devastating without something mentally and emotionally engaging. When Mattie was building with Legos he felt "normal," and it helped him to connect and talk with his nurses. Since his nurses would walk into his room, and always asked him questions about the structure he was building. When Mattie was sick, talking to him was problematic. He did not want to hear ANY noise, and conversation made him upset. However, Legos helped to draw him out, to engage him, and to work collaboratively with others. Frankly, I have no idea how we would have survived 15 agonizing months without such a therapeutic tool.

Mattie spent most of his treatment time in the hospital, but there were periods of time when we were released for a week at a time to be at home. Mattie looked forward to leaving the hospital only because that meant he could take a car ride to the Lego store at the Tyson's Corner Mall, VA. Mattie was a familiar visitor to the store, and the employees at the store got to know him. Mattie stood out since there weren't many six year olds in a wheelchair with a bald head, connected to all sorts of pumps, strolling through the store.

Tonight, Peter and I reconnected with Liz, the Assistant Manager at the Tyson's Corner Mall store. I say reconnect, because in August of 2009, we had the opportunity to meet Liz. This store held a special workshop for Mattie and his buddy Abigail (Ann's daughter). After store hours, the store invited Mattie and Abbie in to build anything Mattie wanted to create. There were two special Lego builders on hand to help them, and that night in many ways was magical for Mattie. I think perhaps it was for Abbie as well, since on the car ride home, she called us to say that was the "best night of her life." Needless to say Mattie was beaming to hear this. Linda (Mattie's childlife specialist at the Hospital) arranged this evening for Mattie with Liz's help. Unfortunately Mattie did not live long enough to have a wish granted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but in so many ways, this was a special wish that was granted through Lego. One neither Peter or I will ever forget.

We have reached out to Liz tonight by phone. Liz remembered us and Mattie quite well. In fact, Liz read Mattie's blog and was VERY familiar with all the wonderful structures he created in a year's time. Liz is working to help connect us with local Lego groups, groups that would be willing to run creative activities and events at our upcoming Pediatric Cancer Awareness walk on May 22, 2011. Liz is also going to approach Lego corporate for support of our cause. As I mentioned in the call tonight, I would love to partner with Lego and start a therapeutic program for pediatic patients. I realize the complexities of such a program, but after spending over a year living in a hospital, there is no other toy that came through the Hospital doors that was as engaging, intellectually stimulating, or creative as Legos. In addition, I also look at this toy/tool as having major psychosocial consequences. Building with Legos encourages teamwork, communication, and a discussion of issues. It is the perfect play therapy tool, and with children, toys have huge therapeutic value. In fact, the mode of therapy for children is PLAY, not talk therapy. I am not sure how to get this idea off the ground, but it is definitely something I am very passionate about.   

Below are some slides Peter created to share with Liz. Some of you may recall the wonderful Lego creations featured here. The first slide was a structure Mattie created for Linda (Mattie's Childlife Specialist). Linda asked Mattie to envision what a hospital room should look like. He took it upon himself to illustrate his vision in Legos. Mattie's hospital had a private outdoor space for children with cancer. This space had a fountain, birds, a treehouse, and a swing. The actual room, was thoughtful. It had a desk in it for my computer (he was always thinking about me!) and a huge shower. He heard me complain enough about sharing showers, that he thought his ideal room would have a shower that we did not have to share with the family next door to us.

The second slide showed Mattie's Lego alligator. One weekend, while in the Hospital Mattie sent Peter to the Lego store for ONLY green legos. He had it in his mind that he wanted to build an alligator from scratch. As you can see he was very successful. However, as you can see from the other pictures, Mattie built many, many things over the course of his treatment.

The third slide shows Mattie's love for vehicles. Vehicles of ALL kinds, as well as things that moved. As you can see Mattie built Lego cars, planes, trains, and a carousel! Also notice that Mattie and Peter built the Taj Malhal, which contains 5922 Lego pieces. This structure and many other Mattie creations are all over our home. Completely intact, just how Mattie left them. 

The final slide was taken in August of 2009, at the Lego Store in the Tyson's Corner Mall. We had learned that Mattie's cancer was terminal in July, and Linda helped to arrange this special night for Mattie. That night Mattie chose to build a New York City taxi. He had seem several of them, and even rode in them while he was being treated at Sloan Kettering in New York. In the pictures, you will see Mattie with Abbie, along with two expert Lego builders, Jared and Brandon! 

I would like to end tonight's posting with a picture of a beautiful candle lit star. This star sits on Lana's mantle. Lana was one of Mattie's favorite preschool teachers, and in fact Lana's son is a member of the VP 26 Tridents. The amazing group who had a very successful fundraiser for the Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation in Florida. Lana wanted me to know that she lit this star in Mattie's remembrance this past Sunday (on Worldwide Candle Lighting Day), and his star will continue to sit on her mantle throughout the holiday season. Seems like a very fitting and touching symbol for my "Mattie Moon."

December 14, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 -- Mattie died 66 weeks ago today.

Tonight's picture was taken in April of 2008. Three months before Mattie was diagnosed with cancer. As you can see from this picture, Mattie woke up that morning, and wanted to stay in his pajamas. He received this red and white remote controlled car for his birthday, and in true Mattie fashion he wanted to take the car apart and examine it. So out of tinker toys he built a car lift. What you need to understand is that at a very young age, before one, Mattie could hold a screwdriver and actually use it. At one year, he was taking apart ALL of his toy cars, and the scary part was he could actually reassemble them. When I first saw him do this, I realized this was very unusual developmentally. But it spoke to how Mattie's mind worked. He had a very mechanical brain, and we always joked that he was going to be "my engineer." This sight before you was just too funny to me, and that morning I grabbed my camera and captured the essence of Mattie. As today begins the 66th week that Mattie is gone from our lives, I wanted to share a part of Mattie's character with you that you may not have been aware of.

Quote of the day: When you grow old or ill, the most important things to you will be who and what you've loved. ~ June Martin

I wholeheartedly believe in the sentiment expressed in this quote. At the end of the day, what matters is who you cared for and loved. Not what you have accomplished, not what job or jobs you had, and certainly not the earthly possessions you have accumulated. Certainly these things may help you feel good, they may even make you feel important. But when you are facing illness or life and death issues, NONE of these things matter. Your perspective changes, and though I am not "old" per se, Mattie's death has provided me with deep insights. Insights I never expected to gain until later in life. Which brings me to a conversation I was having through e-mail today with my friend and colleague, Nancy.

The premise of our conversation focused upon motivation. What motivates one person to care for another person? What motivates one person to be friends with another person? Better yet, do we extend ourselves to others, because we expect the same treatment in return? Well certainly it is healthier to have two way conversations and two way relationships, but based on the circumstance or the dynamics, this isn't always possible. So then what? I know in my counseling field of specialty, which was working with family caregivers of older impaired adults, two way communications and actions cease to exist. The impaired older adult may be physically and/or cognitively impaired, making such feedback impossible for the caregiver. That may seem like a poor example, because standing back from the situation, I am sure it is easy to rationalize that if your impaired mom or dad needs help, you give it to him or her, and may not necessarily seek compassion or kindness in return. In theory such altruism exists. Yet, as human beings we all need love, kind words, thoughtfulness, and understanding in return. When we do not get it from those closest to us, it is painful and we can easily begin to resent our connections and our friendships. As always, my conversations with Nancy are stimulating and they give me perspective.

I spent a good part of the day helping Ann with wrapping gifts. Ann seems to appreciate my level or creativity and based on all that I know she balances, if I can help her, I try to. However, tonight I stepped back from the process and couldn't understand why I was feeling sad and agitated. It came down to this, no matter how many gifts I wrap, no matter how many Christmas decorations I can surround myself with, to me it just isn't Christmas. Christmas is naturally a very spiritual time of year for Christians, in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The only son of Mary, who was destined to die in order to grant us eternal peace and salvation. I can understand and still appreciate the spiritual side of Christmas. However, what I can no longer appreciate is the feeling that Christmas once provided for me. There is NO joy, there is NO happiness, there is NO warmth, nurturing, and love for our threesome. Because there is NO threesome left, only two. So as I was helping Ann, I realized just how different and unhappy my life is, and may continue to be for some time. When I got home and told Peter how I was feeling, he wasn't shocked at all by what I was telling him. Mainly because he feels the same way. In fact, Peter and Ann kept telling me today that it was freezing outside (they are both New Englanders, so when these folks tell you it is cold, it is COLD!), but to me, I was numb to the cold. I did not like it, but when the cold doesn't bother me, it speaks to me being overloaded with other emotions.

Today was also Ann's youngest daughter's birthday. As many of my readers know, Abbie (Ann's daughter) became a very good companion and friend to Mattie when he was battling cancer. As is typical of any 9 year old, she was so happy because it was her birthday today. In a way, Abbie is my benchmark, as she gets older, I am able to count how many birthdays Mattie has missed. I feel torn on these happy days, because naturally I am grateful that Abbie is well and can have another special birthday, but on the other hand, it makes me deeply sad to know Mattie will never have this moment, and neither will we. Even writing this tonight makes me feel uneasy, but my feelings are very genuine, honest,  and very conflicted.

Last night I received two pictures from my friend, Carey. As I reported in last night's blog, I was introduced to Carey electronically in August of 2008. She reached out to me, because her sister was reading Mattie's blog. Carey's daughter, Lauren, who is now 13, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma a month after Mattie (August 2008). Since that time, Carey and I have been in e-mail contact, and we would share horror stories with each other while both of our children were in-patient. I had the opportunity to meet Carey and her family last December at the Candlelighter's Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.

My faithful readers are familiar with the wonderful fundraising program Lauren started at her middle school in PA. She created the successful program called, Bows for Hope. Lauren developed this program as part of a course assignment, however, what makes her very special and unique is that she took an assignment and brought it to life. She energized her friends and her entire school community. They sold 100s of bows last year and the proceeds from these Bows were given to the Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation. The bows are made out of duct tape, and as you can see from this picture, Lauren uses only the most interesting colors and patterns of duct tape. Her bunny, Abby (sitting behind her on the floor), is even in the mix. Lauren has continued the production of bows this year, and is still raising money for the Foundation. She is an incredible young lady in my perspective who is deeply passionate about helping families touched by pediatric cancer. Her awareness campaign at her school is simply awesome, and what I admire about her is that she is a teenager who cares about helping people and takes the initiative to make a difference.

This weekend we were unable to meet up with Carey and her family to attend the Candlelighter's Christmas Tree lighting, but I was happy to receive this picture of Lauren and her brother, Matthew taken at Union Station in Washington, DC. When I look at Lauren, she looks like the picture of health, it is almost hard to fathom what she has been through and continues to overcome. Her brother, Matthew, has many of the same interests as Mattie, and I will never forget the birthday present he sent Mattie in 2009. It was a magic kit, that had trick things in it like fake "poop." Totally up Mattie's alley and he loved scaring me with it. So as I sign off tonight's blog posting, I felt it was important to share the face of a young girl who is working hard to overcome osteosarcoma, and who continues to think about ways to help others as they face the pediatric cancer battle for the first time.

December 13, 2010

Monday, Decmeber 13, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tonight's picture was taken in May of 2008. Only TWO months before Mattie was diagnosed with cancer. When I look at this picture it almost seems impossible to believe that inside that cute body was a disease that had already taken an aggressive hold over Mattie. I recall the day this picture was taken. It was a Friday afternoon. Peter got home early from work, and Mattie was very ready to do something. So we took him on a Potomac River cruise. Mattie enjoyed that day, and another family on the boat trip snapped our picture along our journey. I am so happy they did!

Quote of the day: Did I love you? Surely yes. Did you know? Absolutely. Was it enough? Never. Is it over? Yes, forever. Will it end? Not ever. I bid you goodbye and love you still, dancing in the joy of what we had. Crying in its loss, praying for your soul. Not knowing if you need it. But believing it is a link. ~ Clarice Hausch

I received an email this morning from my friend, Charlie. Charlie mentioned how our radio station has been having a St. Jude's radiothon for the past two days (from which the station raised over $300,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital). Ironically, neither one of us could really listen to it this year. You would think since I lived this experience, that I would be thrilled that such publicity and fundraising was happening on the air for pediatric cancer. My answer to this is partly. I suppose in many ways the radio and the tv have become modes of escape for me. Therefore, when I am hearing cancer stories and crying parents on the radio, I find this disconcerting. For two days, I lost one area of my life which I usually turn to for a diversion, free from cancer.

This morning was one of those days where Mattie's death hit me. Bluntly stated, it is hard to see pictures of Mattie healthy and then reflect on the fact that his little body was cremated and all I have left of him is his ashes. It seems too surreal at times to believe that this happened to Mattie and to us. Yet the lack of his presence forces me to accept the impossible.

As I told my friend Alison today, I was happy we actually met for lunch. She forced me in a way to get up and out. At lunch Alison and I talked about many topics, and over lunch she gave me several meaningful gifts. One gift was a beautiful glass butterfly, which I plan on using as a suncatcher. Butterflies mean a lot to me, and therefore as I look at this butterfly this winter, I will be thinking of Mattie. The second gift was an origami Santa. Origami cranes became a symbol for Mattie in the hospital. His IV pole and room were filled with praying cranes, thanks to our friend, Junko and her mom. So today's origami Santa immediately reminded me of Mattie, and I placed this fellow right next to Mattie's ashes, because it just seemed like the right place to put Santa. The final gift was a beautifully scented candle, but it was the name of the candle that caught our attention. The candle's name was "comfort and joy." Alison felt like I needed both of those things. When you think about it, Alison has shared with me HOPE, comfort, and joy. Seems rather symbolic. Many of my readers may recall that the first time Alison met me in the Hospital, she took off the necklace she wore around her neck, and gave it to me. The message on the necklace was simply stated, with one word, HOPE. I wore that necklace each day that Mattie was alive, until the day he died. Alison's gifts were very meaningful to me, but the true gift is her friendship. We laughed and cried and basically covered many emotions together at lunch. But as Alison reminds me, I am still grieving, and grieving the loss of a child doesn't stop after one year. VERY TRUE, and I appreciate her openness to talk about things that aren't always easy to talk about.

I received a lovely e-mail tonight from my friend, Carey. Carey's daughter is Lauren, a 13 year old who is an osteosarcoma survivor. Lauren and Mattie were diagnosed about a month apart from each other. Some of my faithful readers may recall that Lauren is the young lady who came up with the innovative and creative program at her middle school entitled, Bows for Hope. Lauren sold hundreds of bows last year, and the proceeds raised from this incredible project went to the Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation. On Sunday, Lauren and her family attended the Candlelighter's Tree Lighting Ceremony at the National Post Office Building in Washington, DC. Some of you may recall that we went last year to this ceremony and we had to leave early, because I landed up in tears. This year, like last year, we had a gold bow placed on the tree in Mattie's honor. However, last year, I never could find it on the tree. A tree which has hundreds and hundreds of bows on it. Filled with names of children who have/had cancer. This year, Carey immediately found Mattie's bow and she sent me a picture of it! After Christmas the bows are mailed to the parents of the children. I use the bow I got last year as my bookmark. That bow means a lot to me, so much so, that when I was flying from Los Angeles to DC in October, and lost the bow on the plane, I basically tore my row and the row behind me apart until I found the bow. I appreciate Carey sending me this photo, and I am happy that Mattie's memory is alive and well on this tree. Though if I had a choice, I rather have him than the bow any day.

December 12, 2010

Worldwide Candle Lighting Day

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I purposefully picked tonight's picture because it shows Mattie surrounded by his friends. They were his closest friends, and yet they were of vastly different ages. The picture was taken during the Mattie March, which was in April of 2009. Behind Mattie you can see his big buddy, Brandon, pushing Mattie's wheelchair, and along side Brandon was Robbie. One of Mattie's favorite hospital volunteers. Despite Mattie and Brandon's age difference, they related to each other and understood each other. When Mattie was going through cancer treatment, he literally wanted to shut the world out, and really preferred to isolate himself from his friends. However, he usually let Brandon in. At times I wonder how the loss of this connection impacts Brandon. But as Toni (Brandon's mom) tells me, Brandon feels close to Mattie, when he is in my presence. Walking along side the wheelchair in this picture was Zachary. Mattie and Zachary met each other in preschool, and for some reason, even cancer could not sever this relationship. I saw Brandon and Robbie tonight, and somehow this picture seems very fitting in capturing the memories I have of these two young men. 

Quote of the day: When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart and you shall see in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. ~ Kahil Gibran

Tonight's quote seems quite appropriate as it reflects how I am feeling. Peter and I were invited to attend the Fifth Annual Georgetown University Hospital Jingle. The Jingle is a major fundraiser for the pediatric oncology program at the Hospital. It is an event that features wonderful foods, a silent auction (with incredible items including trips abroad, jewelry, handmade items, etc.), live music, an activity room for the children, and so much more. One category of items in the silent auction is designer Christmas trees. When I entered the hotel, I saw the tree entitled "Secret Snow Village," which I am standing beside in this picture. It turns out that this tree was designed by Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey. Shazalynn is a mom at Mattie's school and in fact, her son and Mattie were in the same Kindergarten class together.

During the evening, Peter and I got to chat with Shazalynn, and she shared tears with us over Mattie's death. Shazalynn is on the executive committee of the Jingle, and we learned more about the year round activities of this group.

Peter was standing in front of a tree entitled, Flights of Fancy. This tree was designed by Martha Stewart. I happened to love the bird theme on this tree.

At the event, we saw Dr. Aziza Shad (the beneficiary of tonight's event, and the director of the pediatric oncology program at the hospital), Debbi (our sedation nurse angel), Anita (one of Mattie's HEM/ONC nurses), Linda (Mattie's childlife specialist), Katie (one of Mattie's favorite HEM/ONC nurses, who he affectionately called "Dorothy" for her shiny red shoes), Sharon (Mattie's chaplain at the Hospital), Mary (one of the social workers), and Tracy (the head of the art therapy program at the Hospital).

I spent a good portion of the evening with Toni and Jim (Brandon's parents), and of course Brandon. In many ways, I am not sure I could have stayed through this event without Toni's presence. Through Mattie and Brandon's battle, we lived together in the hospital, saw each other under the worst of conditions, and also faced many of the same challenges and had the same outlook on certain things. So unlike others in the room tonight, who have NO idea of what Peter and I survived, Toni and Jim know quite well!

Last night, I text messaged Dr. Shad and reminded her that today is the 14th anniversary of Worldwide Candle Lighting Day (in which candles are lit at 7pm in memory of children who have died). Clearly the Jingle is about life, survivorship, and the celebration of a successful pediatric oncology practice. Acknowledging children who have died doesn't seem to fit in nicely at this event. But at 7pm tonight, Aziza was on stage, and told the audience of hundreds about the significance of the day and 7pm. She told the audience that the goal is to save every child's life, but there are some children who do not make it. She invited Peter and I on stage to light a huge candle and asked the audience for a moment of silence. After the moment of silence Aziza asked me to address the audience. Before I spoke, a little boy came up to me and handed me a huge bouquet of flowers. He was a pediatric cancer survivor and his gift was very touching. I had no idea I was going to have a chance to say something tonight, so I had to wing it! Lord knows what came out of my mouth but I know I was speaking.

The Jingle was a well thought out and executed event, however as a parent of a child who died from cancer, it at times can be overwhelming. It is hard to see the other children running around, smiling, and dancing. In a way, I at times feel like I am part of a different community. Yes we all went through cancer, but there is a difference between survivorship and those children who lost their lives. Therefore as tonight's quote so aptly states, I weep for what brought me great delight, Mattie. Being around pediatric survivors makes me feel uneasy and also highlights my differences and feelings. I do not like to acknowledge this feeling within myself, but it a real and very unsettling.

I would like to end tonight's posting with this beautiful picture and message from our friend, Debbie. Debbie's son and Mattie were in the same Kindergarten classroom. Debbie is one of my faithful readers and as I told her today, her picture made me smile. There are times I feel as if Peter and I are fighting this grief battle alone, and just when I think this, I get a message like Debbie's that makes me pause and understand that Mattie's memory lingers on in those touched by his life. Debbie wrote, "During Advent, we are lighting candles with our children every day as we watch Mary on the donkey making the journey to Bethlehem and we wait for Jesus's birth. Tonight, we lit the candles at 7:00, to coincide with the Worldwide Candle Lighting. In addition to our twelve Advent candles, we lit a candle in memory of Mattie, which will stay lit for an hour. Please know that we remember Mattie still and that you and Peter remain in our hearts and prayers."