Ending the School Year 2016

I know I say this every year – as does every other parent of a school-aged child, but really? Where did this school year go?

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It seems both like yesterday and also so far away that we sent the girls off to three separate schools for the first time. Juggling kids in high, middle and elementary school while having a child undergoing intensive chemotherapy treatments, trying to keep up with work and other commitments… Somewhere in there I lost a few months, but coming out of the other end of the school year – so much has changed.

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Most importantly, Hannah is finished with chemo, and you’d never know by looking at her now what she went through just six months ago. When I look back at her school photo from September, she was so thin and tired (and bald, of course). She’s gained back both weight and color, and has the cutest hair style (although plans to grow it back out). She maintained her grades throughout seventh grade – the child has never gotten anything below an A in her life. And she made a few new friends, but has also kept the strong friendships that have helped support her through everything she’s endured.

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Abbi not only survived her freshman year of high school, but she finished the year with her very first straight-A report card, ever. She’s always had at least a B or two in there, and at the beginning of the year we really worried about her ability to study effectively and keep her grades up. Over the months, she found her stride and her place – she absolutely loved marching band last fall and can’t wait for the upcoming season as a sophomore.

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With Hannah finishing treatment, we turned our focus to Becca during the second half of the school year and began some testing to figure out how to help her get along with others better, hopefully make (and keep) some friends, and help her learn ways to cope with her emotions. She is very bright, but doesn’t always slow down and work to her ability, but she also ended her fourth grade school year with straight A’s, so we know that she’s got the academic part down. We just need to help her with some strategies to put the rest in place so that she can have a happier fifth grade experience.

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We managed to keep up with all of the activities that the girls wanted to participate in, although logistics were often a challenge and we are so thankful that we are a two-vehicle family now. Abbi participated in both varsity marching band as well as varsity robotics – both of which are very time-consuming and challenging. Hannah took on not only soccer, but also Science Olympiad, Art Club, and church youth group. Both girls continued in Job’s Daughters, and Becca was initiated this year as well, once she turned ten. Becca also played soccer and participated in Lego League and Girls on the Run again.

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I’m not sure that we’ll take on quite so many activities next year – both Abbi and Hannah have already said that they want to back off a bit. But seeing what they can accomplish even when they are extremely busy makes me know that these girls can do anything they set their minds to. I just need to be able to keep up with them, which isn’t always easy. As Hannah finished treatment and grew stronger, I started losing myself, and really haven’t come completely back yet. Spending almost an entire year in ‘survival mode’ took a lot out of me, and I’ve just been finally learning how to live our new normal again over the past few months. There’s a level of fear and worry that I never really lived with before – knowing that her cancer came back once just makes it that much easier to imagine it coming back again. We hope and pray that it won’t, but there are no absolute guarantees, so the worry will never truly go away.

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But for now, we’ll just enjoy the first days of summer vacation and look forward to having a sophomore, eighth grader and fifth grader in the fall. The summer will zoom by quickly enough too – as they always do.

A Tale of Two Resorts: Disney’s Grand Floridian & Wyndham Lake Buena Vista

Last month, my girls and I had the opportunity to take a road trip down to Orlando, FL for my annual TravelingMom retreat. We really enjoyed the time together both on the road and at the parks – especially since the girls are older now and much more self-sufficient.

Entrance to Disney's Grand Floridian Resort

Entrance into Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.

For three nights, we had the opportunity to stay onsite at the Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, located next to the Polynesian Resort, right on the Seven Seas Lagoon near the Magic Kingdom. Afterward, we moved off property to the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort (Wyndham LBV), located adjacent to Disney Springs. The Wyndham LBV is technically not a Disney resort – they are an independent Disney partner hotel operating on Disney property, so they are able to offer many amenities. They are also the closest hotel to Disney Springs.

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Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Entrance

The two experiences were very different in many ways – but we definitely enjoyed both properties. Here’s a quick look at what we enjoyed about each one and what we felt were challenges about each property. Note: Yes, we were hosted and/or given a media rate by each property, but be assured that these are our honest thoughts and opinions.

There are a slew of reasons why a Disney resort is a good idea – and just as many dollar signs why it may not be the best fit. There are budget resorts at Disney as well, but offsite hotels can still cost even less, depending on when you’re traveling. Do your research and determine what your budget is, which features and amenities are the most important to you, and see what will be the best fit for your situation and your family.

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort – Main Building

Putting the ‘Grand’ in the Grand Floridian…

The Grand Floridian resort (designated as a Deluxe Disney resort) is designed around the Victorian style, reminiscent of Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. The property does feel like an extension of the Magic Kingdom in many ways – it’s only one monorail stop away and you can view the Wishes fireworks directly from Grand Floridian without having to navigate the crowds. They offer a large Disney store on-site, live entertainment in the lobby, two separate pool areas, a small beach area, spa and health club and multiple dining options.

Disney's Grand Floridian Beach Pool

Walking to Beach Pool area at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort

We stayed in the Sago Cay building, facing the monorail. Although technically our room was listed as ‘Outer Bldg – Garden View’, we could see the lagoon as well. The room was a good size and offered a balcony with table and chairs. I worried that the monorail might be noisy, but it didn’t bother us at all, even at night. This building was a bit of a hike to the Beach Pool area – it’s the farthest building from that pool. My girls found that they actually preferred the closer Courtyard pool though, as it was less crowded, had a hot tub, and was deeper than the Beach Pool. They actually never made it over to the Beach Pool at all during our stay, even though they did swim quite a bit. There are daily activities for kids as well as movies every evening over in the beach area, but the activities seemed a bit young for my teens and tween so they didn’t check them out at all during our stay. They pretty much preferred to just be in the pool as much as they could anyway.

View from Grand Floridian Sago Cay room

View from our room in Sago Cay Building at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort

The room itself was plenty large enough for the four of us – and the rooms do sleep five, so if my husband had come along we would have still fit and slept everyone comfortably. There were two queen beds plus a day bed and everything was extremely plush and comfortable. The room also had a mini fridge, which was very helpful since we brought food with us so the girls could eat breakfast and lunch right there while they were on their own, to help save on costs. We had space enough to spread out and we definitely enjoyed all the little ‘Disney’ touches in the room as well. I appreciated that the bath/shower and toilet were separated from the sink/vanity area so that we could easily have someone in the shower while someone else was brushing their teeth.

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Our room in Sago Cay Building at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort

Grand Floridian Sago Cay Room

Grand Floridian Sago Cay Bathroom

Our stay here was during my retreat, so the girls were on their own for much of their time at the Grand Floridian. I was glad that there was a monorail station right on site so that they could easily get to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot (with one monorail transfer) on their own – there’s also direct boat transportation to the Magic Kingdom, but we didn’t use that at all on this trip. The girls spent time in the parks and back at the resort, both hanging out in the room and at the pool. They also watched the Wishes fireworks from the small courtyard between the Sago Cay and Sugarloaf buildings – the view here is perfectly lined up with the Cinderella Castle. We did not eat at any of the on-site restaurants, but took a walk through the Gasparilla Island Grill casual restaurant and there were definitely options that even my pickiest eater would have enjoyed there.

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Courtyard Pool at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort

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Foam sword-fighting at Disney Store on-site at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort

Self-parking is free at all Disney resorts. Valet parking is available at the Grand Floridian for $20/day. I used the self-parking, which was a slight walk but not too bad. There were plenty of spots available. The girls and I arrived around 2:30pm and our room was ready for us, although other TravelingMoms did have to wait for their rooms.

Disney's Grand Floridian Lobby

Checking out the live music in the lobby at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.

Some of our favorite things about the Grand Floridian:

  • Not only did Concierge bring our bags to the room for us from our vehicle, but they gave us a golf cart ride to our building along with a guided tour of the resort. This really helped us get our bearings as well as give us tips like where to watch the fireworks for the best view. The cast members in general were all extremely helpful and polite.
  • The ease of access to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot on the monorail, plus free bus transportation to the other parks or Disney Springs.
  • Multiple pools for the kids – if mine were younger, they would have loved the offerings at the Beach Pool. As it was, they really enjoyed the Courtyard Pool.
  • Being able to avoid the crowds at the Magic Kingdom while still viewing the fireworks and the electrical boat parade in the lagoon.
  • This resort sleeps up to five – not all Disney resorts do, which can sometimes make things difficult for our family if we’re all traveling together.
  • Because it’s a Disney resort, everything is tied to your Magic Band – it’s your room key, plus you can use it to charge items to your room, so there’s no need to keep track of a separate key or bring cash or credit card into the parks with you. You can also have packages delivered straight to your room.
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View of Cinderella Castle from lagoon at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. This is a perfect spot to view the Wishes fireworks each night.

Some of our ‘not-so-favorite’ things about the Grand Floridian:

  • The resort is very spread out, so there’s a decent walk to get wherever you want to go. This isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but when you have your hands full of heavy grocery bags late at night, or have tired kids who’ve already been walking through the parks all day, it can be somewhat annoying.
  • The more kid-friendly Beach Pool was crowded and noisy during the days, so my kids avoided it altogether.
  • Although there are a variety of dining options, it’s still all rather on the pricey side, at least for the very budget-conscious.
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Pool area at Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort

Easy Access to Disney Springs at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista

When we moved over to the Wyndham LBV, I was curious how it would compare to the Disney properties that I’ve stayed at both on this trip and in the past. As part of my TravelingMom retreat, I did tour the property and have the opportunity to see both sections – the Wyndham Tower Lake Buena Vista and the Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista. This is essentially two hotels in one – the Tower offering a more deluxe room style and experience at a higher cost, while the Garden rooms are less expensive and outside-facing, with more of a ‘motel’ design. Both share the same lobby, pool area, dining options and amenities.

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View of Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort courtyard area and tennis courts from Tower room.

Our room was in the Tower, on the side facing Disney Springs. The view was gorgeous – and we were told that we could even see the Epcot fireworks directly from our room, although we were out late both nights so weren’t able to experience that for ourselves. We could see the signature Epcot Spaceship Earth sphere from our room at a distance, which was pretty cool in itself. The room was comparable in size to the Grand Floridian and also offered a mini fridge. This room only slept up to four however (with 2 queen beds), so if we’d had my husband along, we would have needed a second room to fit us all there. The sink/vanity, tub/shower and toilet were all together in one room instead of separated like at the Grand Floridian. There was no balcony or outdoor space.

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Our Tower room at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort

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The pool area had my kids excited from the very moment they saw it – there are two pools adjacent to each other, plus a hot tub. My girls actually preferred the pools here to the ones at the Grand Floridian – the pools were deeper and more spacious, and not nearly as crowded. I spoke to the Wyndham’s Director of Fun – they offer daily crafts and other activities as well as Disney pin trading. Since this hotel is technically on Disney property, it does have an official Disney store on-site, as well as a fitness center and tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts.

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Enjoying the pool at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort

The Wyndham offers complimentary shuttle service to the parks every 30 minutes via bus. We took the shuttle to Epcot in the morning and then returned from Hollywood Studios that night. The shuttle service was very quick and easy to use – it picks up and drops off right in front of the hotel so there’s minimal walking required. You can also easily walk over just a short distance (about a quarter mile) to the Disney Springs transportation area and take the free Disney Transportation shuttles to the parks if you prefer.

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Breakfast at Lakeview Restaurant at Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort

We ate breakfast on-site at the Lakeview Restaurant – this is a full buffet that offers large Mickey waffles as well as a character breakfast (on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays). The breakfast buffet was pricey but we enjoyed all of the options, especially the waffles. The girls spent some time hanging out in the lobby and were thrilled to enjoy pastries from Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Co. at the Sundial 24-7 café, which also offers self-serve snacks and beverages at a very reasonable price. We ate breakfast there on our last morning before heading out – it was quick and easy, and the girls thought the giant-sized pastries were a lot of fun to eat.

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Breakfast pastries from Joffrey’s coffee shop at Sundial 24-7 Cafe at Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort

Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Sundial Cafe

The Wyndham Lake Buena Vista is truly within easy walking distance to Disney Springs. There’s a pedestrian bridge over the busy roads that lets you down right at the edge of the Disney Springs shopping and dining area. I walked over there twice during our stay – first with the other TravelingMoms to enjoy lunch at Splitsville Luxury Lanes and then again with my 13-year-old to quickly grab a ‘must-have’ gift only available at the Marvel store for one of her best friends. Both of these destinations were at the far end of Disney Springs from the Wyndham, but not only was it an easy walk with plenty to see and do along with way – it’s very possible, if you’re in a very big hurry, to walk to the Marvel store and back in about 35 minutes flat. And yes, I speak from experience on that one (and Hannah owes me big-time!).

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Making our hurried walk over to Disney Springs’ Marvel store from the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort. Walked there and back in 35 minutes!

There is a charge for both self and valet parking at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista – however, they cost exactly the same ($8/day), so I happily utilized the valet parking. The valets were also wonderful about bringing the vehicle back up for me when I needed to grab something that I hadn’t realized we would need during our stay and then re-parking it afterward. Our room wasn’t ready for us until around 5:00pm, so we did have a bit of a wait – but we grabbed our swimsuits from our luggage that was being stored for us and spent the afternoon at the pool.

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View of Disney Springs from our Tower room at Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort

Some of our favorite things about the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista at Disney Springs:

  • The view of Disney Springs and Epcot from our tower room, both during the day and at night. Waking up and being able to see the Epcot Spaceship Earth sphere out the window from my bed was an unparalleled experience for sure.
  • The quick and easy Sundial 24-7 café made grabbing snacks and drinks a breeze without breaking the bank.
  • The inexpensive valet parking. Enough said.
  • Multiple pools for the kids – they swam in and enjoyed both during our stay and I had to drag my youngest out so that we could get on the road at a reasonable hour when we had to check out.
  • Easy walking distance to Disney Springs – the girls walked over there on their own while I was busy with retreat activities. Disney Springs is free to wander around – they spent time at the LEGO store as well as the Marvel store, plus enjoyed exploring the rest of Disney Springs.
  • Having a Director of Fun on-site to plan activities and pin trade with kids.
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View of the Epcot Spaceship Earth sphere from my bed in our Tower room at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort

Some of our ‘not-so-favorite’ things about the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista at Disney Springs:

  • The rooms don’t accommodate a family of five, so we would need two separate rooms if the whole family came together. The Tower does offer adjoining rooms – the Garden section does not.
  • This isn’t a Disney resort, so Magic Bands don’t work. You have plastic card keys for room access and can’t charge items to your room by using your Magic Band.
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Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort – Tower

The ‘big’ question – how do they compare in cost?

Regular room rates for the Outer Building – Garden View room type that we had at the Grand Floridian start at $569/night. This is the least expensive room option at this resort. Disney does offer specials and deals on their resorts, so it’s worth watching to see if a lower rate is available during your travel times.

The regular room rate for the Tower Room – Disney Springs View room that we had at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista varies depending on when you’re staying. I found a rate as low as $89/night for this room by searching the Wyndham website for an upcoming weeknight. They also offered a ‘Kids Eat Free’ rate of $94/night for the same room on the same night, which gives you the breakfast buffet free for 2 children 11 & under with 1 regular price paying adult. This does include the Disney Character Breakfast on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings.

I would definitely recommend watching the rates and checking for deals, whether you plan to stay at a Disney resort or an off-site one. There are so many options for just about every budget, so determine what you’re looking for and see what is the best fit for your family and situation.

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort

View of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Disney Transportation boat taken from Magic Kingdom Monorail Station

Where would we stay next time?

To be completely honest, I would absolutely stay at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista again the next time we head down to Disney World. You get plenty of the ‘Disney’ experience, there’s easy transportation to and from the parks, and even though parking isn’t free, you get valet parking at such a reasonable cost that I don’t mind spending $8/day at all. My kids liked the pools there better, plus everything is closer together without requiring a long walk between buildings or amenities. There were quick snack food options much more reasonably priced and I loved the personal feel of having the Director of Fun right there onsite to help kids have the most enjoyable time possible. I’m not sure we would make the effort to take Disney transportation over to Disney Springs otherwise, so having it in easy walking distance is great and gives us a free option to enjoy some Disney magic without the park crowds when we need some down time.

Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Tower Hallway

Excited to get to our room at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort

There is something to be said for the ‘luxury’ feel and grandeur of the Grand Floridian though, so I’m very glad that we had the chance to experience that. If costs were equal, I would definitely consider staying at a Disney resort again for the easy park transportation, magic bands and extra perks that Disney resort guests get (such as the extra ‘magic hours’ in the parks) – but for me, the experience and perks don’t always offset the higher room cost. Two adjoining rooms at the Wyndham would give us more space and accommodate our whole family and still probably cost less than one room at the Grand Floridian.

Note: There are plenty of budget Disney resorts available – I haven’t personally stayed at any of them, so can’t speak to how they could compare to either of the properties discussed here. Check out TravelingMom.com for more reviews of available properties to stay at while visiting Disney World, both on and off-site, as well as plenty of other helpful Disney World tips and information.

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort

What’s new with the Panasonic Lumix ZS60 Digital Camera #TMOMZS60 #sponsored

I received a Panasonic Lumix ZS60 digital camera while on the TravelingMom 2016 retreat. As always, all opinions stated here are either my own or those of my family.

Two years ago, I had the great fortune to receive a camera from Panasonic to review as part of our annual TravelingMom #TMOMDisney retreat. My Lumix ZS40 camera has captured photos everywhere from the girls’ soccer games to Hannah’s hospital rooms and I’ve been thrilled with both the photo quality and camera features and ease of use. So when I discovered that Panasonic was going to be sharing their updated version with us at this year’s retreat, I was curious to see what exactly could be improved upon.

Panasonic Lumix ZS40 and ZS60 cameras side-by-side

Panasonic Lumix ZS40 camera (left) and Lumix ZS60 camera (right)

I was more than happy to have the chance to discover that for myself, as I have a brand-new Lumix ZS60 camera to try out and play around with, courtesy of Panasonic. I was not given any messaging to share or anything like that – I simply used the camera (with the help of a Panasonic expert to answer questions) and am giving my own opinions and thoughts on it here.

The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.

The first things that I noticed when comparing the updated ZS60 to the ZS40 is that the new version is slightly more robust and feels sturdier in my hand. There’s also an improved grip on both the front and back of the camera, making it much easier to hold and keep steady while taking photos or video. I’ve already used it at my oldest’s band concert and the grips make a big difference when you don’t have a tripod handy but need to keep the camera held up for several minutes at a time without shaking it.

The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.

I also noticed that the battery is larger in this camera, which means increased battery life – another feature which I’ve already seen just in the couple of weeks that I’ve been using the camera. The battery lasted me through 4-1/2 days of our Florida trip, plus two soccer games at home before I had to recharge it.

And believe me, there were plenty of photos taken both in Florida and at the games. Just ask my kids, who roll their eyes every time I pull the camera out. 😉

The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.

Along with the features that made me love my Lumix ZS40 to begin with, a few new features that make the ZS60 even easier to use are the touch LCD screen on the back, additional scene modes (including two separate modes for sunsets, something I take a lot of photos of), and the fact that the camera will automatically adjust between the electronic viewfinder and the LCD screen when you raise the camera to your eye or lower it. I switch back and forth between the two constantly and where the ZS40 had a button that allowed you to do so manually, this camera does so on its own, making it so much more intuitive. Even just having a camera with both an LCD and viewfinder is a huge plus for me and something that’s not common at all in point-and-shoot cameras nowadays. I shoot a lot of photos in bright light (soccer games, beach shots, etc.) and having a viewfinder available when there’s too much glare for the LCD to be easily visible is one of my absolute favorite features of both the ZS40 and ZS60.

The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.

I’m self- taught when it comes to photography, and although I do have a basic sense of how ISO, aperature and shutter speed work together when you’re taking a photo, I also am a busy mom and love that I can get good shots in just about any lighting situation with the ZS60 without having to spend time making decisions on which settings to use. The Intelligent Auto setting works well for basic shots and the camera also includes common settings such as aperature-priority, program and even manual, which is really fun to have when I have the extra time and want to learn more about how to best compose and take a shot.

The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.

I used my new Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera for the second half of our trip to Florida for my TravelingMom retreat last month and found it to be a superb option while traveling. The small size is easy to fit in a purse or backpack (or even a large pocket) but with the 30x optical zoom, you can still be right there where the action is while kids are on rides or to see the view up-close from your hotel window. I appreciate not having to lug a large camera when I’m spending the day walking and toting a backpack full of snacks and the other essentials that a mom ends up carrying while on vacation. Both the ZS40 and ZS60 came with a wrist strap and I have a neck strap that I feed through as well so that I can wear the camera around my neck for easy access when I need a quick photo. My teens and tween don’t cooperate for a lot of photo ops lately, so when I do get a chance to grab a quick shot, I like that the ZS60 is on and ready to go with just the quick press of a button.

The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.

One improvement over the earlier model is the addition of 4K video. I’ve shot some video with the ZS60 but haven’t delved into the 4K options yet. I look forward to trying it out and learning more about how to make the most of 4K. A few other features that I haven’t had much chance to play with yet but can’t wait to try are the 4K Photo and 4K Post Focus modes. With the Post Focus mode, you can change the focus of your subject after you take the photo, and the 4K Photo mode allows you to capture still shots from 4K video footage. I can see this being a huge plus when trying get the best shots of my girls’ soccer games, where the action is so fast that it’s hard to catch just the right moment when you press the shutter.

The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.

I have grown addicted to the wi-fi capability of these Panasonic Lumix cameras – being able to connect the camera to my phone to either use the phone as a remote shutter, have an alternate LCD screen for viewing over crowds, and transfer photos from my camera to my phone for quick sharing to social media sites right there and then. I use this feature all the time – including just recently on Mother’s Day when we took some family photos with the ZS60 for the higher resolution and quality than my phone right before heading out to dinner and I was able to copy the photos from the camera to my phone and share them on Facebook while we were out. And then, yes – I put the phone away afterward so that we could enjoy an electronics-free family dinner. Smile

The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.

It’s very safe to say that the Lumix ZS60 has already replaced the ZS40 as my ‘go-to’ camera that travels with me constantly. Yes, I still use my phone for many of those spontaneous moments, or to stealthily sneak photos of my teens when they’re not paying attention (shhh!), but I look forward to many hours of exploring the rest of the features that the Lumix ZS60 offers and learning ways to improve my photo-taking skills. I know there are so many features that I haven’t even touched on yet – but these are the ones that stand out to me after a few weeks of use.

The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.The Panasonic Lumix ZS60 camera takes photos in stunning detail.

Remember when I mentioned enjoying taking plenty of sunset photos? This is one that I shot with the Panasonic Lumix ZS60 recently. The top photo was with the Intelligent Auto Mode, the second one was taken with the Romantic Sunset Glow scene mode and the bottom one with the Vivid Sunset Glow scene mode, taken only just seconds apart. All three photos are beautiful, but it’s a good opportunity to see how you can change things up and play around with the different modes to get a shot that you’re the happiest with.

Fifteen

Has it really been fifteen years since the day that we brought our firstborn daughter home from the hospital?

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Back then it was impossible to imagine what she would be like as a little girl, running around, with hair… 🙂

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Nowadays it’s difficult to remember back to the baby, toddler, preschooler and kid that she used to be. She’s taller than I am and wears a larger size shoe. She’s old enough to start learning to drive.

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As of this week, Abbi is an international traveler as well – spending her birthday in three different airports and her spring break with her high school robotics team, competing in Calgary.

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She is still completely unique – weird, quirky and fun. She defiantly refuses to wear makeup or use any hair styling products. She’s her own person and she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. I am in awe of her confidence.

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A self-described ‘fangirl’, she loves all things Dr. Who and Marvel’s Avengers, along with other BBC shows: Sherlock and Merlin. Her favorite ‘fandom’ remains the Night At The Museum movies and she has all three movies completely memorized. This has sparked interest in American history, presidents, cowboys, ancient Rome and more – making her list of ‘likes’ very eclectic.

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Abbi has memorized pi, down to the 70th decimal place.

She loves pop music, but has some classics on her faves playlist as well – especially Bohemian Rhapsody. Favorite bands include Coldplay and One Republic. She can’t stand Justin Bieber.

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Abbi has written books – she incorporated all of her friends as characters and now has a group of authors who all edit and write the books together, including her younger sister Hannah. As a group, they’re on the sixth ‘Dragons’ book.  One of Abbi’s best friends printed and bound the first book from a Pinterest tutorial and gave it to her for her birthday last year, so technically – she’s self-published. Sort of. 😉

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She also love to bake, draw, paint, and be creative in lots of other ways. Her 2015 Christmas list was created as a Google presentation (partially in French, and most of it rhymed). image

She turned a childhood terror of storms and tornadoes into a vocation – her plan is to go to school for meteorology and become a storm chaser. Although she doesn’t want to be an engineer, she had a blast doing VEX robotics last fall – she likes to be hands-on.

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Abbi cares for others – always the one to give up or give in when it comes to conflicts with her sisters, and she worries greatly if things aren’t ok with all of her friends, family and loved ones.

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Words that come to mind to help describe Abbi? Brash, loud, quirky, unique, fun, cheerful, ticklish, thoughtful…

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It’s awfully quiet around here without her this week.

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Happy fifteen, Abbi!

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NonVerbal Learning Disorder

Now that we’re through the mess of a year that was 2015 and Hannah is through with her intensive chemotherapy treatment, we’ve had the chance to focus on some other areas that had gotten largely ignored for a while. One of these is my youngest daughter, Becca.

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When Becca was younger, she was a pretty typical toddler and preschooler. She got along well with everyone and we were relieved that she didn’t seem to have the social issues that Abbi had struggled with at that age. However, as Becca has gotten older, we’ve begun to notice some things that she either hasn’t outgrown the way we thought she would, or that are more glaringly obvious when you compare her to other kids her age.

I’d always felt that Becca had some tendencies toward ADD – she finds it almost impossible to sit still unless she’s intensely focused on something, and even when sitting on our laps has always squirmed and wiggled. She is very unorganized and doesn’t pay attention to where she puts things down, so she is constantly losing items and has no idea where. When she was younger, we compensated for this with lots of reminders, labeling items, attaching her mittens to her coat – and I found out when she was in first grade that the bus driver would routinely run her lunch in to the office after Becca had left it on the bus in the mornings.

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I also wondered if some of the social issues we noticed with Becca had to do with the fact that she spends a lot of time around Abbi, who we know is somewhere on the Asperger’s/Autism scale, albeit very high-functioning. I figured that Becca was simply picking up social cues from Abbi, but over the past year, we’ve noticed things that go too far beyond what that simple explanation would account for. Now that Becca’s in fourth grade, the gap between where she is at socially compared to the other kids her age is widening.

Last fall, as I was tucking Becca in to bed one night, she began to cry and began telling me that she has no friends, the other kids tease her, and she doesn’t know why. We knew that she doesn’t really have any close friends, but her third grade teacher last year said that she seemed to get along well with all of the kids. This year, that hasn’t been the case. With Hannah and Abbi already in therapy for chemo-related stress and issues (Hannah) and anxiety/panic attacks (Abbi), it wasn’t difficult to add Becca in, and she’s been seeing the therapist every 2 weeks since. She loves the therapist, and especially loves the hour of uninterrupted one-on-one time with an adult where she is the focus of attention. She craves attention, so this is right up her alley. The therapist has been working with her on role playing and trying to work through why she doesn’t seem to fit in with the other kids.

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At Becca’s well-child checkup, we also began doing some of the initial screenings for ADD and other things. They referred us to a child psychologist and he had us complete additional screenings. After three visits with me and Becca, plus going through the screenings that Ron and I completed, along with Becca’s teacher, the psychologist feels that there are two things at play, either one or both.

First, she scores high on the autism screening for what used to be called Asperger’s and is now referred to as ‘Mild Autism’. This didn’t surprise me at all – although she does fit some aspects of Asperger’s, others don’t’ seem as close of a fit, especially when you compare her to Abbi. The second thing that the psychologist mentioned is something I’d never heard of before – it’s called NonVerbal Learning Disorder (or NonVerbal Learning Disability), other wise known as NLD.

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I was confused at first – NonVerbal? She doesn’t have any trouble talking at all – in fact, sometimes it’s hard to get her to stop talking. But when it was explained to me, it made perfect sense. Kids with this disorder have difficulty in picking up on the nonverbal social cues that most of us take for granted. We can easily tell when someone is joking or being sarcastic or being silly, because we read their nonverbal cues without even realizing it. But a kid with NLD doesn’t know how to interpret those cues. This is why Becca takes everything we say very literally. She also isn’t able to easily take her experiences in one situation and generalize them to know how to behave in a different, but similar situation. This is why new situations make her nervous and why she can’t handle stressful or emotional situations in books and movies easily.

Now that Becca is older, she can see that she’s different – that other kids easily joke and laugh together, while she doesn’t. She knows there are these social cues and rules that she doesn’t understand, but she doesn’t know why she doesn’t understand them, and that makes her anxious and frustrated. At school this year, her teacher has tried putting her in seat groups with just about every combination of other kids but it wasn’t until she let Becca be a ‘loner’ and sit in a desk that’s not grouped with others that Becca has had an easier time at school with no meltdowns. She works better in groups when it’s only part of the time instead of being forced to socialize with other kids all day long.

Academically, she’s doing well, which is a great thing, but we are starting to see her grades fall slightly. Our school doesn’t start using letter grades until fourth grade, so we don’t have previous years to compare her grades to. For the first trimester this year, she got all A’s and A-‘s. The second trimester just ended and she brought home an even mix of A’s and B’s. Still good grades, but we don’t want to see that downward pattern continue. Becca is one of those kids that rushes through her work to get it down and considers ‘done’ good enough, rather than done well. She doesn’t seem to understand what the point is – it’s either ‘done’ or it isn’t. Her thinking is very concrete and black-and-white, with no greys, which is also typical of NLD, I’m discovering.

The traits of a person with NLD are (I’m quoting directly from this page, except for my comments in bold):

  • Has trouble recognizing nonverbal cues such as facial expression or body language Yes, this fits Becca very well.
  • Shows poor psycho-motor coordination; clumsy; seems to be constantly “getting in the way,” bumping into people and objects I don’t trust her to drink from an uncovered cup at a restaurant still at age 10 – she doesn’t seem to understand where her body is in space or pay attention to what’s around her.
  • Using fine motor skills a challenge: tying shoes, writing, using scissors She doesn’t have much of a problem with these, other than that it took her longer than ‘normal’ to master them.
  • Needs to verbally label everything that happens to comprehend circumstances, spatial orientation, directional concepts and coordination; often lost or tardy I see some of this in her, but not to a high degree. She does label or ‘correct’ things that she hears someone say that’s incorrect or she wants to make sure they understand what the ‘correct’ thing is. This comes across as being disrespectful to adults or those in authority but it’s more a matter of her need to make sure her world is in order.
  • Has difficulty coping with changes in routing and transitions Yes, but not to a high degree
  • Has difficulty generalizing previously learned information Yes, very much so
  • Has difficulty following multi-step instructions Yes, this has been a struggle since she was small. We have to break everything down into small tasks and be extremely specific. The example that I always give is that I can’t just tell her to ‘go wash your hands’ – I have to not only specify that she needs to use soap, but I have to also tell her to use water too, or she’ll just wipe her hands on the towel and think that’s good enough.
  • Make very literal translations Yes. Very specific and literal.
  • Asks too many questions, may be repetitive and inappropriately interrupt the flow of a lesson Yes, she doesn’t understand the ‘ebb and flow’ of conversation and interrupts a lot. If she’s thinking or feeling something, she can’t let it go and will ask incessantly or complain over and over, even if there’s nothing we can do right then to fix the situation.
  • Imparts the “illusion of competence” because of the student’s strong verbal skills I wouldn’t call her verbal skills ‘strong’ – she does have speech issues as well. And she tends to speak quickly and slur her words together so that she’s difficult to understand. If you’re defining ‘strong’ verbal skills by quantity rather than quality, this fits her to a T.

Essentially, she does well enough to get along ‘well enough’ in most cases, other than socially. I see her with kids her own age at school and at Girls on the Run practice, and she does stand out to me there. She wants to fit in so badly, but just has no idea how.

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I see a lot of reading and research in my future – the psychologist gave us a book to get started, and I’ve been looking up information online too. We have one more appointment with the psychologist next week, and he’ll give us his recommendations then. That may include a referral to the hospital’s ASD (autism) program too, for further screening and possible diagnosis there. Many times NLD and autism (of varying degrees) co-exist in the same kid – there are so many similarities between a high-functioning person with autism and one with NLD, which is probably one reason that we see Becca having a lot in common with Abbi, but not fitting exactly quite into that description.

Becca’s 10th birthday was in January. After 2 months of delaying, we finally held her birthday party last weekend. We delayed in part for financial reasons, but more so for the fact that there weren’t any clear cut ideas of who to invite – she really doesn’t have any close friends. We finally ended up inviting one little girl from down the street along with two girls from school (who are in the other fourth grade class, not Becca’s class) and took them to an indoor trampoline park. They jumped and ran and ate pizza and it seemed to go really well, which was awesome to see. Becca had a blast.

Hopefully with all of this testing and determining, we can come up with some strategies and solutions, so that next January there won’t be any question of who to invite to her 11th birthday party.

Deb

Blowing off the dust over here…

It’s been a while, hasn’t it! Since I’ve posted on either of my sites, that is. I last posted on momstakeonthings.com last October and it had been much, much longer ago for this site. I recently decided that I needed to recombine and put everything back into one place. One blog. Just me, writing whatever strikes my fancy.

I decided to go back to my roots, essentially. Back to writing for the joy of it – which is why I started this site in the first place. So it makes sense to bring it all back here. I’ve imported the posts over from momstakeonthings.com – all of the important ones, anyway. I’ve also brought over the knitting-related posts from my short time writing at Just Casting On as well. So yes, everything is all here. I kind of feel like I’m coming home in a way.

I can’t guarantee how much I’ll post – the writing bug has left me over the past few months, but so far this post is flowing well, so we’ll see. My momstakeonthings.com site now forwards directly over here and the deb@momstakeonthings.com email is also defunct. You can reach me at debmomof3(at)comast(dot)net.

Yep, it’s good to be home. 🙂

Broken

I’m supposed to be happy right now.

After more than nine months of intensive chemotherapy treatments, my 12-year-old daughter is nearly done and the end that had loomed so far ahead as to seem unreachable for so long is finally almost upon us.

I should be ecstatic, jumping for joy, more than ready to resume our ‘normal’ lives again.

So why is it that all I feel lately is numb?

I AM happy – for my daughter, who is kicking cancer to the curb and not looking back. SHE is feeling everything and all of the above that I know I should be as well. And she deserves every moment of joy that the idea of just being a normal almost-teenager brings to her.

And yet, I am exhausted. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually.

I don’t even know if I know how to live a normal life anymore. Is there even a ‘normal’ left once the word cancer worms its way in to your life? The chemo may be almost done, but there’s a lifetime of worry ahead. Maybe someday this will all become commonplace enough that I will find a way to not let it consume me, but now that cancer has struck its way into my family’s heart – twice even – it doesn’t feel like there’s any going back to the anxiety-free, naïve life I lived before.

Hannah has faced cancer two times – and she is incredibly brave, and strong. She is also a pre-teen girl, so there’s no shortage of drama, attitude and eye-rolling as well. She now hates doctors and hospitals with a passion that I can understand, if not endorse. I only hope that someday she’ll be able to reconcile the good they do with the upheaval they have brought into her life.

There is no escape from the fact that for the rest of her (hopefully very long) life, she will always be a cancer survivor. With scans and tests in her future, and the potential for late-term side effects, recurrences, or even a secondary cancer, to emerge at any time.

She and I will both need to learn to live with the newest normal our lives have brought to us. As the parent, my job is to take on all of the worry for her, for as long as I possibly can. I only hope that I am even half as strong as she is, so that I can bear it all for both of us, without breaking.

Even though I already feel broken.

Six Months in

On January 22nd of this year, an IV dripped toxic chemicals into my daughter’s body for the first time. Chemicals that are necessary to stop any more spread of her cancer, but which ironically could cause additional cancers in her themselves. Or damage her heart. Or her bladder. Or cause other issues that could follow her for the rest of her life.

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For six months now, she’s endured numerous pokes, port accesses, tests, blood transfusions, IV drips and more. She’s learned how to drag an IV pole from her hospital bed to the bathroom and back while half-asleep, without blinking an eye. She’s thrown up in the pale pink nausea basins – and in the hospital sink and bathtub, when a basin wasn’t at-hand. She’s lost her hair, her eyebrows and eyelashes – and quite a bit of weight. Foods that she used to love don’t sound good to her anymore and the list of what she will eat keeps shrinking.

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Six months ago, these long weeks and months stretched endlessly ahead of us as we tried desperately to understand and accept what was happening. We couldn’t see an end in sight – we could barely think ahead to the next week. We didn’t know how to get through the endless-feeling hospital stays or what to say to the well-meaning, “let us know how we can help!”. We didn’t know what we needed or how we were going to survive what we were told would be a pretty intense 8 to 9 month chemo regimen.

Life goes on, even in the midst of upheaval and cancer treatment. And these months have zoomed by so much faster than I ever could have expected. We’re nowhere near the end yet – only just over halfway done, due to delays and chemo holds, but once we hit that halfway point, I suddenly began to be able to breathe again.

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I equate it back to when I had 2 small kids in diapers at once, and my time was spent in a sleep-deprived haze of just trying to make it through the day. And then suddenly you look up one day and realize that those two kids aren’t so little anymore and you don’t have to be in survival mode anymore. The world went on while you weren’t paying as close of attention. Somewhere in there, I think I missed a decade or so of pop culture – I don’t think I could name a song title or movie from the early 2000’s because I was too busy watching 5,403 episodes of Dora the Explorer and listening to The Wiggles everywhere we went.

This isn’t exactly the same – there are no cartoons or singing Australians… But that whole mechanism of being in survival mode just trying to get through the day… That feels awfully familiar right now. Although I think I’ve finally turned the corner from simply getting through the day and am starting to notice the larger world around me again.

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Our ‘normal’ has changed, of course – in ways I never could have imagined six months ago. I’m always aware of Hannah – where she is, what she’s doing, how she appears to be feeling… The worry never goes away, and to some extent, it probably never will. I’m more comfortable leaving my other two girls home alone for hours on end than I ever thought I would be with Abbi only being 14. I know most of the nurses on the 9th and 10th floors of the hospital by sight if not by name. We have a routine in place for hospital stays – I know to put the air freshener in the bathroom as soon as we walk in the door when she’s admitted, to try and mitigate the ‘hospital smell’ in there because it makes Hannah nauseous right off the bat. I know where to get my own linens and towels without having to bother the nurses, I can silence an IV pump so the incessant beeping doesn’t drive us crazy while waiting for a nurse to add a bag of saline or fix the tubing. I know that ‘upstream occlusion’ will likely occur at least once a day and that it’s nothing to panic over. I know when the hospital cafeteria opens and closes for each shift change and when hot meals are available versus just whatever’s left over.

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I look at the board to see who’s on the floor that we might know and recognize many of the names that I see on a regular basis. The Child Life folks know that they have to make Hannah get up and play a game instead of asking politely because she’ll always say no if given a choice, but has fun when she does get up and about. They know that she’s truly not shy, just avoids talking as her way of coping with having to be inpatient so much. They’ve been known to coax a smile or even a laugh out of her from time to time. Especially when therapy dogs are involved. 😉

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This new normal includes a lot of uncertainty – my girls know that when Hannah and I head up to clinic, we may be gone for 2 hours or we may be there for as many as 6 hours. They know that texting is the best way to get a hold of me because my phone doesn’t always get good service up on the 10th floor. They know that when we head up to the hospital for an inpatient stay, we may end up back home if Hannah’s counts are too low. We can’t make long-range plans or look more than a week or so ahead because so much of Hannah’s schedule is dependent on how her body’s handling the chemo at any particular point.

And yet, none of this fazes us anymore. It’s just how things are.

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I realized just how far we’ve come when I was talking to another mom of a newly diagnosed Leukemia patient – a friend and classmate of Abbi’s whose family also goes to our church. She is still at the very beginning of that survival mode stage, overwhelmed by everything that’s going on. I remember those days vividly. And I mourn a little for the person that I was back then. I would give anything to never know the feeling of giving my child injections or waking up to the sound of her throwing up in a bucket across the hospital room. But that’s our reality now – as it is for so many other parents at our hospital and all of the other ones across the country and around the world. Too many kids fighting cancer. And too few funds and resources to help find better cures that work, and work without all of the often horrific side effects and complications.

There are five kids (that I know of) who live in our town right now and are fighting cancer. Two are Abbi’s classmates who are heading to the high school this fall. Two are elementary school kiddos. And Hannah, starting middle school. Two of those kids have just been diagnosed this month. One has just relapsed for the third time. The other two (including Hannah) have also had relapses this year.

Two kids we know in treatment at our hospital have no current hope for a complete cure. Another is planning to undergo a bone marrow transplant as her only hope to survive. And yet another has just been accepted into a trial of an experimental treatment that may extend his life – or may not. So much pain, sorrow and worry. My Facebook feed is full of way too many pages of kids fighting cancer, or foundations created in the names of kids who have lost their lives to it.

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We are fortunate that Hannah has (so far) not had any major side effects from chemo. She hasn’t had to be rushed to the emergency room with a fever or pain, as so many other kids we know have been. Most days she feels pretty good, just tired. And she’s always cold. Outside of hospital stays, she’s had very little nausea. We are grateful for this and for every day that brings us closer to the end of treatment. For the first time, I really feel like I can actually see an end to it. It’s still months away at this point, but the goal is in sight.

So much has changed over the past six months. I only wonder what the next six have in store for us.

Join the Boston Marathon #JimmyFundWalk to help raise money for cancer! #ad

I participated in an Ambassador Activation on behalf of Influence Central for the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. I received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

Six months ago, I had never heard of the Jimmy Fund.

Previous to 2013, I also had the ‘luxury’ of not knowing that research funding for childhood cancer from our government is limited to only 4% and that 46 children are diagnosed with cancer each and every day.

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In January 2013, we lost that luxury when our then 10-year-old daughter became one of the 46. You never, ever think that *your* child will get cancer. Not until you hear those words from the doctor’s mouth and your world is never the same again.

Even through surgery and recovery, we still never thought of ourselves as a ‘cancer’ family. It was over and done with, right? Sure, she still went in for scans every 2, then 3, then 4 months but the few days of anxiety and stress were always followed by a hefty sigh of relief when we got that ‘all clear’.

Until we didn’t.

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I don’t know the statistics on how many kids relapse with cancer or how many tumors recur or spread, but statistics don’t really matter when it’s your kid. This time, we are living cancer almost 24/7 as Hannah has finished half of her chemotherapy treatments. This coming Wednesday will mark the 6-month mark since her treatments began, so we still have a long, difficult road ahead for the rest of 2015 as well. Every two weeks she goes inpatient for either 2 or 5 nights, with multiple clinic visits and blood count checks in between.

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Hannah has been fortunate in many ways. As with her originally knee tumor, this lung tumor was also completely removed with clear margins, and her first set of post-recurrence scans came back clear. She hasn’t had any extra hospitalizations (so far) for fevers or infections. She hasn’t had mouth sores and although her appetite has tapered off, she is able to mostly maintain her weight in between hospital stays. But, she struggles with nausea during every chemo round and the anti-nausea drugs knock her out. She lost almost all of her her hair early on, and for a 12-year-old girl, that’s been extremely traumatic. Nobody, including us, has ever seen her bald head – she even sleeps with it completely covered. She’s received many transfusions to build up her hemoglobin and/or platelets. She’s struggled with bloody noses and fatigue often. We watch her carefully all the time, and she’s had to avoid school and fun events at times because there’s been too much risk for germs to spread.

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True, 6 months ago, I didn’t know what the Jimmy Fund was and had only heard of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston in passing. During this year, I’ve made great strides to educate myself and my family, and to look for ways that we can both support others also struggling against cancer and help raise awareness (and funding) to support additional research to help find ways to eradicate all cancers, for kids and adults. Cancer has touched my family in more ways than one over the past year – in January, my 85-year-old father passed away from Rhabdomyosarcoma (typically a pediatric cancer), only 8 days before Hannah’s chemo treatments began.

Cancer is an evil, ugly disease.

Jimmy Fund Walk Image 7The Jimmy Fund was created in 1948, to raise money for cancer research. The annual Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai is the Jimmy Fund’s largest one-day fundraiser and allows participants to follow the 26.2 mile Boston Marathon course, to raise money and honor those in their lives who are fighting, have fought or have lost their battle with cancer. Anyone can walk on September 27th – and if you aren’t going to be in Boston this September, you can also register as a virtual walker, as I have.

Whether you’re walking in-person or virtually, there are many tools available on the walk webpage to help you fundraise, and there are rewards you can earn for reaching specific milestones with your fundraising as well. Registration for the walk is easy and you can register right online. There is a $25 fee for walking in-person, but registration is free for virtual walkers, who also have no specific fundraising goal. If you are walking in-person, you can use the coupon code BLOG to save $5 on the registration cost!

No matter your walking ability, there’s a route for you. You can walk the full 26.2 mile Boston Marathon course (the Hopkinton route), or a 13.1 mile half-marathon course (the Wellesley route). There are also two shorter routes available as well – the 5-mile Boston College route and the 3-mile Dana-Farber route. All four of the routes finish at the Copley Square finish area in Boston, where you can also enjoy live music and food on the day of the event.

For more information about the walk, you can check out their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, or see the videos shared on their YouTube channel.

There is a massive need for more funding – for cancer research, as well as for care of patients undergoing treatment. Participating in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, whether in-person or virtually, is a fun and easy way to help raise funds. Ninety cents of every dollar raised goes straight to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to support their programs and research initiatives.

Jimmy Fund Walk Image 4I’m registered as a virtual walker – and hope to raise as much money as I can, in honor of both Hannah and my dad, as well as all of the other kids we’ve met who are fighting cancer and the ones who have gained their angel wings. No child should ever have to lose their life to this monster, but all too many do, every day. Even those who survive, often end up with health issues and challenges that impact the rest of their lives – usually as a result of the treatment that saved their lives, not the cancer itself. We need better, updated treatments that target only cancer cells and leave the healthy ones alone. We need better compassionate and palliative care for the kids for whom treatment is no longer an option.

It may not be *your* child whose life is at risk. Or maybe tomorrow, you will be one of the 46 families whose child has just been diagnosed and whose lives will never again be the same.

Either way, you CAN help make a difference.

Help Walmart and Pampers Support Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (Giveaway, ends 7/11) #sponsored

This post is sponsored by P&G and I was provided with a Walmart gift card as a thank you for sharing this information. As always, all opinions stated here are 100% my own or those of my family.

This year has truly been a challenging one for my family – in ways we never anticipated. When my 12-year-old daughter began chemotherapy treatments in January, we knew that we would be spending a great deal of time at the hospital, which would add a lot of stress to our lives – logistical, financial, emotional… It’s been difficult but also rewarding, to see her quiet bravery each day, through each port access, infusion, blood count check, transfusion and more. She is a fun, quirky, amazing tween – who loves to read, play soccer and volleyball, write stories, spend time with her friends and above all else, just be a normal kid as much as possible.

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We are very blessed to have a world-class children’s hospital right here in town, so only have to travel 15-20 minutes each way. We’ve met other families who travel much greater distances for every hospital admission and clinic visit, who can’t bring other kids up to the hospital to visit on a regular basis, have regular visits from friends and family or run home to grab something they forgot to bring. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital has innovative medical programs and an incredible, caring staff who we trust implicitly to take the very best care of our daughter. The Child Life staff have been especially amazing with Hannah, who tends to shut down and ignore everyone when she’s in the hospital – but the Child Life folks are so good at drawing her out, getting her out of bed and up and around, playing games, meeting other kids on the floor, participating in activities and reminding her that she’s not just a cancer patient right now – she’s still a kid.

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During her last inpatient admission a couple of weeks ago, she was convinced to go downstairs to a hospital-wide luau party being held for kids and their families. Hannah and her sisters decorated cookies, played games, got temporary tattoos, snacked on smoothies and cake, and watched hula dancers perform. Hannah was inpatient during the first half of the week at Camp Catch-A-Rainbow, a local YMCA camp that offers a week for kids who have been treated for cancer – she originally wasn’t going to go late and finish out the week at camp, but the Child Life staff went out of their way to help convince her – and she had an absolute blast, made new friends and can’t wait to go back next year.

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Our hospital is part of the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN), which works to raise funds and awareness for 170 children’s hospitals all over the US. As anyone with kids in their life knows – at any time, a child you love could become sick, or injured or need medical care of some sort. Or get cancer. In fact according to the Children’s Miracle Network, every day 2,218 kids are treated in CMN hospitals for cancer. That’s not just a statistic – many days, my kid is one of those two thousand. Tomorrow, yours could be. Every minute, 62 kids enter a CMN hospital, for any reason.

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This month, Walmart and Pampers are donating $200,000 to the Children’s Miracle Network. If you would like to make a donation as well, you can visit Walmart.com/cmnh for more information. And if you purchase Pampers (or other P&G) products at Walmart, a portion of the proceeds will go to the CMN as well. My kids have all been out of diapers for years now, but Pampers were one of the brands we trusted when they were little, so I love seeing big company like Pampers and Walmart giving back in a way that helps kids everywhere, of all ages.

The infographic below was put together to show why it’s so important to support Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals – and there is some very helpful information there, some of which I referenced above. But the true reason why I support the Children’s Miracle Network, and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in particular, is heading back into the hospital tomorrow for her next round of inpatient chemo – Hannah, and every other kid like her being treated at HDVCH or other hospitals around the US.

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