Michelle: Survivor from Cancer to Katrina Part II

Michelle’s Story. Part II of II: Last week I introduced you to my friend, Michelle, who even in the middle of her fight with Leukemia, never gave up hope of one day being a mom.

The strain put on Michelle’s body by the cancer while she awaited a bone marrow donor had caused her to lose her cycle. And once she had her transplant followed by chemotherapy and radiation, she would be rendered completely infertile. But, one year after her cycle had stopped, much to everyone’s surprise, Michelle inexplicably became pregnant.

Against her doctor’s advice, Michelle and her husband, Ryan O’Regan decided they wanted to continue with the pregnancy and delay a transplant even though the odds of carrying the baby full-term were very slim. And the chances that Michelle could die from the cancer if she delayed her transplant any further were very great. It was a chance Michelle was willing to take. She felt it was her destiny to be a mom; all her life she had prepared for this and the very deep maternal nature in her could not terminate her pregnancy. Even if it meant losing her life. Ryan, not easily convinced, eventually agreed to his bride’s heartfelt wish.

The doctors warned Michelle that to continue would mean 100% bed rest and daily blood transfusions. She would likely not survive the birth, if she even got that far. Her risk of infection from the Leukemia alone meant that the slightest scratch could send her to the hospital. She had already spent two weeks in the hospital as a result of a popcorn kernel stuck in her teeth. So precarious was her situation that even shaving and brushing her teeth were forbidden. She was not dissuaded from continuing with the pregnancy. Then, only two weeks after discovering she was pregnant, at just 16 weeks, Michelle miscarried. It would seem the pregnancy was never meant to be as soon after, a donor was found. Michelle’s transplant was scheduled immediately.

A few years later, after many hurdles had been cleared and the cancer was now behind them, the O’Regans began exploring their options to have the family they always wanted. With Michelle’s medical history, In vitro was immediately eliminated. They began hearing about “open” adoption. After much education, counseling and talking to both adoptees and adopters who were living it, the O’Regans decided open adoption was the way to go. They were concerned that a closed adoption would leave their child feeling “incomplete” or like something was missing, and they wanted to be sure their daughter felt “whole.”

Molly

Once Michelle and Ryan had been chosen by the prospective birth parents, the date was set for the two moms to meet: September 11th, 2001. While many people’s plans were canceled that day, rocked by the events that started to unfold that morning, Michelle and Janice chose to keep their plans amidst the chaos. The adoption process would not be held up by any catastrophe, no matter how great. They spent the entire day getting to know each other and twelve days later, the day the United States flag was finally raised from half-mast and the nation officially came out of mourning, Molly was born.

Janice and Eric, Molly’s birth parents continue to play an important role in her life. They have big family gatherings in California a couple times a year with Janice and her family, which really has just become an extension of the O’Regan’s own family. Molly has more grandparents and family to dote on her and spoil her than any kid could wish for.

Meggie

Otherwise known as, “Hurricane Meggie,” the O’Regans adopted their second daughter through open adoption after Megan’s birth mom was almost lost in Hurricane Katrina. Rebecca, already the young mother of a toddler, was very pregnant and alone when the hurricane hit her home and sent her scrambling to the attic. She and her daughter spent two nights there before finally escaping to the roof where they were eventually found and evacuated to Houston. Like so many others, the O’Regans had also evacuated to Houston and were safe. Unbeknownst to the O’Regans, Rebecca had already chosen them to be her baby’s adoptive parents and their social worker, Danna had planned to call them with the news the day of the hurricane. But now, with everyone scattered to the wind, there was no way to reach them, or to even know if they or Rebecca were still alive.

Remarkably, Danna ended up at the same hotel as the O’Regans in Houston. They would bump into each other in the courtyard. But, with no way of knowing the whereabouts of Rebecca, Danna kept the news of the adoption to herself. Meanwhile, in another hotel in Houston, Rebecca was frantically calling the local Catholic Charities office, trying to find Michelle. Of the few possessions she had with her was the O’Regans profile album from the adoption agency.

Rebecca refused to give up on the O’Regans being her baby’s adoptive parents and continued to call Catholic Charities, never doubting that one day she would find them. Here’s where providence would again plays its’ hand: Danna began helping out at the Houston Catholic Charities office. Another social worker at the office, who knew Rebecca was looking for a family from New Orleans, had heard Danna was an evacuee and asked if she happened to know of the O’Regans. Danna was finally able to share the news with Michelle and Ryan that not only had they been chosen, but the birth mom was there in Houston looking for them. Their first meeting was a joyful one indeed.

In October, when everyone including Rebecca and the O’Regans were finally returning home to Louisiana to much clean-up and repairs, or no home at all, Megan was born. Their story made the local news and “Hurricane Meggie” was featured on TV and in the Times Picayune.

Rebecca has lost touch with the O’Regans, perhaps carrying some guilt about giving up a child after already being a mother. Janice, however, has taken on the role of Meggie’s birth mom, and her family has fully adopted Meggie as their own. Both girls are a very special gift of providence to Michelle, Ryan and their families and they will forever be surrounded with love.

Michelle is a frequent speaker for Catholic Charities on adoption and says she has loved both her girls since before they took their first breath.

Advertisements

May 16, 2010 at 5:30 am 5 comments

Amazing Mom – Michelle: Survivor from Cancer to Katrina

A Mother’s Day tribute to an extraordinary Mom.

This Mother’s Day, just like last, I want to recognize a Mom in my life who inspires me to be a better Mom. There are so many ordinary women doing extraordinary things in ways that often go unacknowledged as mothers. We laud the accomplishments of women in the workplace, but, equally important are the sacrifices of the women who choose to stay home and raise the future members of our society with love and devotion. Against the grain. And, against the odds. Like Michelle.

Michelle’s Story. Part I of II: Michelle had dreamed of becoming a mother her entire life. It was all she ever wanted to do. It was her calling. And she was ready to answer her calling when she met and married Ryan while they were both still college students at the University of New Orleans. They had dated for just four months. Michelle was 21, Ryan 19. A few months into their marriage, Michelle started to feel fatigued. A stop in at the campus health clinic where she received a blood test resulted in an unexpected phone call from the doctor that same evening. He was sending her to see a Hematologist first thing in the morning. Her blood test showed that her hemoglobin was dangerously low, at a level where her organs could fail at any time. The next morning, she had her first bone marrow biopsy.

Michelle was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, or preleukemia, which meant she had no healthy blood cells. For the next two years, she underwent numerous blood and platelet transfusions, had her gall bladder removed and suffered endless infections because her body had become so weak. Time was running out for Michelle and her doctors knew it. Bone marrow transplants were still experimental at that time and none were being performed in the New Orleans area. Michelle was sent to Baylor University Hospital in Dallas to take part in an experimental bone marrow transplant program. The search was now on to find a donor.

After testing everyone in Michelle’s family, there were no matches. The odds today of being matched to a donor in the National Bone Marrow Registry are 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 100,000. But, incredibly, a match came up for Michelle at a time when even fewer people were registered. Unlike then, becoming registered today requires nothing more than a simple cheek swab. And, donating can be as easy as donating blood to collect the stem cells. (Join the Be the Match Registry and you could be the one to save a life.)

Michelle was moved into a facility in Dallas for treatment. At this same time, Ryan, an Engineering major who was now a senior at the University of New Orleans and top of his class, was recruited by the Army Corps of Engineers for an internship. That internship would provide the necessary insurance, working under federal employee guidelines to pay for the experimental treatment that could save Michelle’s life. Those guidelines don’t permit denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions. Without the internship, Michelle would be uninsurable and Ryan would lose his young bride to Cancer.

Ryan would now have to work 20 hours a week at his internship, carry a full course load in school and maintain his high G.P.A. to keep the internship and his scholarship. All the while his wife is about to undergo an untested and possibly life-saving transplant a state away. No sweat.

Treatment began with two days of chemotherapy and three days of full-body radiation before receiving her donor’s bone marrow. Michelle spent the next month fighting infections and on anti-rejection meds as her body tried to reject the donated marrow. She suffered from fevers, rashes, constant nausea and most painful, Mucositis which left her unable to swallow for ten days. But, in the end and against the odds, the transplant was a success!

While Ryan maintained his grueling work and class schedule, Michelle’s mother stayed with her at the hospital the entire 35 days. Their insurance paid for Michelle and her mother to be moved into an apartment for daily outpatient care for two months after that, and for Ryan to be able to fly out for visits two weekends a month. After three months, Ryan was finally able to bring Michelle home.

The fight didn’t end there. It would be a year and a half before Michelle would start to feel “normal” again. She would need constant care and supervision at home because of the risk of infection with her fragile immune system. The survival rate after transplant is 60% before the end of the first year. Michelle would have ten more bone marrow biopsies during the course of the next few years to confirm that the disease hadn’t returned. It never did.

Michelle was thankful to be alive. But, what of her dream? Would she ever become a mother? Next Sunday, read how Michelle and Ryan’s desire to become parents would not be impeded by two of the most tragic events in American history: 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

May 9, 2010 at 6:00 am 3 comments

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee!

Part of Perfect Moment Mondays…

On Friday, Reagan rode in the St. Jude’s Trike-a-Thon with her preschool class. There was some pretty steep competition, but she held her own.

The morning started with the competitors getting their game faces on.

Followed by some bubble action to prepare for their slippery competition.

Once they were off, Reagan managed to stay out front, while others got “off-track.”

She strategically changed vehicles half-way through, riding “Flintstone-style.”

Soon, every rider became distracted by the playground and dropped out of the race…

But there were no losers. Only winners. Including the parents who got at least a solid two hours of nap time out of every little triker.

May 2, 2010 at 9:13 pm 4 comments

Faking It

Part of Perfect Moment Mondays…

Though we’re home all day together – every day — admittedly, my husband and I don’t take enough time to do things together just for fun. Just for us. Everything lately seems to have a purpose, goal or responsibility attached to it. And when we’re done with all that by the end of the day, who has the energy to just have fun? So last week we took a family vacation to Vail and left all that grown-up stuff behind us. It wasn’t our first snowboard trip to the mountains, but this one would be different.

Typically, we share our lift tickets. One of us will ride while the other watches our now three-year-old Princess, Reagan. We trade off at nap time. When you’re on a budget, it’s hard to justify the $130/day extra for daycare and a second lift ticket – another $100 each day to ride together. Of course, this means all the exhilaration, fresh air and beauty of riding the mountain becomes a solo experience. It’s enjoyable to do alone every once in awhile, but is so much more fun to do with others. And, since this trip was planned last minute, none of our local friends could make it up on such short notice to take advantage of the little condo we had reserved.

While our plan was to again ride separately all week, we were prompted by my good friend, Fiona, whose family goes up to Beaver Creek every weekend together, to take at least one day together on the mountain. Since Beaver Creek is just around the corner from Vail, we brought our families together at the end of each day for one weekend. Our kids had a blast and Danny and I always enjoy some adult conversation and laughter, whenever we can get it. Wish they had been with us all week.

While cooking us a delicious dinner in their condo in Beaver Creek, my dear-friend-turned-marriage-counselor, encouraged us to spend the money, even if for just one day, to snowboard together. She stressed how important and refreshing that time we would spend on the mountain as a couple would be, not just for us, but for Reagan. And for our family as a whole. A solid, loving, happy marriage is at the core of your children’s happiness and sense of security. Sure, we know this, but, it’s the putting it into practice part that is easy to let slide. I always used to wonder what people meant when they said marriage was “work.” We didn’t have to work at much at all for the first five years of our marriage.  It wasn’t until we had Reagan, and our focus was no longer on us, that I understood how much work marriage could become. And that cancer stuff sucks too.

We hadn’t snowboarded together since before Reagan was born. Sad, really. Pregnancy, chemotherapy, finances – all have played a role in the past few years. But, we were here now. Neither one of us throwing up this time. And Danny is set to go back to work any day now. No excuses. For the next few days, while taking turns on the mountain, we went back and forth about using our last two lift tickets to go out together on our last day. We called around for daycare options and I waited patiently for Danny to come to the same conclusion I had: I missed what it felt like to share this experience with him so many years ago. It was time. Eventually, he came around.

Our last day in Vail, was our best. Reagan, Ms. Social Butterfly, was ecstatic to go to daycare, running off to play without so much as giving us a passing glance back. And Danny and I had the best ride of the week exploring new runs together, enjoying the warm spring weather and mashed-potatoes under our boards. It was just like old times. Only this time, I could keep up with my old man. No better feeling than when he complimented me on riding the catwalks better than he could. In reality, I was just faking confidence. Just like when we were dating. And it was perfect.

April 19, 2010 at 11:22 am 2 comments

How to Win at an Easter Egg Hunt

Part of Perfect Moment Mondays…

Had it been me that was asked to pose for this photo at age three, I would’ve run screaming the other way. But, the cross-eyed, pinched-face bunny with the psychedelic vest had become Reagan’s best friend on this day. Just look at all the loot he left for her to find!

Being the oldest in her group at preschool gave Reagan a decided advantage on the playing field. She scooped up the colored plastic eggs and goody bags spilled across the lawn with speed and ease.

So much speed, that before long, her bucket was overflowing and I made her stop to be fair to the littler kids and the older ones who had yet to take their turn.

Then Reagan did something else I’m sure I would never have done had it been me at age three. She immediately began handing out her goodies to all her friends, naming each of them as she pulled a treat out of her bucket. My heart swelled with pride. And the rest of me sighed with relief that there would be just a little less candy in the house to cause other parts of me to swell. Everybody wins!


April 5, 2010 at 7:23 pm 2 comments

Health Care Reform: Does the Constitution Even Matter?

The anger between those who bought the campaign push that health care reform must happen NOW, at any cost, and those who preferred a more measured approach to make sure that change is effective, affordable and not over-reaching, has been building for the better part of a year. That anger was finally unleashed last week in the wake of President Obama signing his Health Care Reform bill into law, despite majority opposition to it. There is no disputing that this bill was unpopular, though some of the opposition consisted of those who thought it didn’t go far enough.

Many of us, young or old, cannot remember a time in history when a President acted in such blatant disregard of the will of the people and the Constitution he is sworn to uphold, like it or not. I’m no Constitutional scholar, but even those who supported this legislation don’t deny that nowhere in the Constitution is government given the authority to regulate health care. With 14 states now (and growing) suing the federal government on these grounds, it seems the Obama administration has devised a way to defend themselves under the “commerce clause.” Pretty sneaky.

The Constitution has been under attack for quite some time from those who believe it should “change to reflect the times.” Therefore, the President’s dismissal of it does not offend some in this country. But, have we really advanced as a people beyond the knowledge and wisdom of our predecessors? Those “old farts” who wrote the Constitution could not possibly have foreseen the challenges we would face as a nation today, right? As if history doesn’t repeat itself.

Quite the contrary, the Founders knew exactly what they were doing. As has been written, “there is nothing new under the sun,” and despite the advancement of technology, medicine, communication, travel, etc., at our core, people are the same. The world around us may have changed, but we have not. Sorry, but we are no more enlightened than we were 200+ years ago. Our struggles, needs, wants and dreams have not changed since the beginning of time.

What has and will always be changing are our values and priorities. These are things that are not innate, but are shaped by the ever-changing social landscape. They will always swing back and forth like a pendulum, growing and shrinking in auto-correction mode. In their wisdom, the Framers of the Constitution did not seek to cement their own values and priorities into the document, and designed it to make it difficult for future generations to do so as well. They provided a structure for government not to be able to exercise control over our lives for the “public good,” but to guarantee and protect only that which is intrinsic to all: our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

Unlike morality, which is defined as the distinction between right and wrong, and is legislated all the time, values are personal and not shared by all. The beauty of capitalism (also under attack), the social and economic system embraced by our Founders, is that it allows those values to be addressed as the need arises. The higher the value or priority, the greater the competition. The greater the competition, the less cost to all and greater the service. Simple economics. I contend that it wasn’t capitalism, but massive government intervention that led to today’s crisis. In health care and elsewhere. There were better options for providing truly effective reform.

There has never been a more brilliant document written than the Constitution of the United States. It is up to each and every one of us, and those that we elect to protect it from being trampled upon and reshaped at will. The good news is, this fast descent into socialism has awakened the masses…

Despite attempts by the main stream media and liberals to de-normalize the Tea Party movement as a a group of haters, bigots, racists, homophobes, etc., regular folks like you and me continue to show up, exercising our right to peacefully protest. Are there some wackos out there who will show up with their ugly signs and hateful rhetoric? Sure, just as there are at any liberal rally held in America. Are they the norm at a Tea Party rally? It appears the average attender is moms like me – fed up with the encroachment of government into the lives of their families and bankrupting their children’s futures. But, I shall see for myself tomorrow, when I attend the Tea Party rally scheduled to take place on the steps of the Capitol building here in Denver at 4pm. And guess what? Not only am I going with other moms like me, but, I’m bringing Reagan to show her what democracy in action looks like. May she never forget it.

The Tea Party Express is coming your way. Are you on board?

Bookmark  and Share

March 30, 2010 at 9:28 pm 7 comments

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!

Part of Perfect Moment Mondays…

Probably less than perfect, but still fun! What would Karaoke night be without a group of tone-deaf ladies full of liquid bravery taking the stage to belt the Cyndi Lauper chick anthem, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun?” Be thankful I don’t have video.

It was just the excuse I needed to get out of the house when some of the Mile High Mamas that live on the East side decided we should have our own get-together. Considering how few of us actually live East of Denver, we had remarkably good turnout. We even made up our own gang sign. If you lived in Denver, you’d get why that makes sense.

I’m looking forward to the next East side Mamas night out with my chickas. You should get to know them too:

Laura at LaLa Girl

Barb at Elementary Spirits

Melissa at Age of Melissius

Suzanne at Crunchy Green Mom

March 28, 2010 at 9:57 pm 3 comments

Older Posts Newer Posts


A half-hatched role-reversal takes flight on a wing and a prayer.

Life is a misadventure mixed with mayhem.

twit2

Feeds

Archives

Categories

Tweet tweet!

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.



2button125x125copy