Monday, October 28, 2013

Thrum: A Continuous Rhythmic Humming Sound

There’s this odd sound I’ve been hearing in the bathroom. For the last week or so I’ve been aware of this low bass-range sound. No water is being run, there’s no flushing. Honestly my first thought that the boys’ X-Box set up was too loud. Damn that sub-woofer! But see, first time I noticed it; it was 6:00 am. The house was still except for this subtle but distinctive thrum, in… the walls? The floorboards? I’m not sure of the source, all I know is that I have been hearing it every time I go in the first floor bathroom.

Weird thing is no one else has heard it. I don’t understand this. When I bring Dave or one of the boys in the bathroom, there’s silence. Embarrassing silence.

So – I’m wondering – is this all in my head?

::Checking::   Nope. Doesn’t feel like a psychotic break to me.

My natural inclination as a storyteller is to then get frustrated. WHY CAN’T I EXPLAIN THIS CORRECTLY!  WHY CAN’T I MAKE THEM HEAR IT TOO! Seriously, don’t we hate to not be able to convey something?

Getting the story right, having someone feel what you feel, making someone understand the complexity of a given situation, this is a crucial part of writing.

Because life is uncertain, and I could be waiting for a long time to have the stars and planets align, and I might never feel a full convergence, I can’t wait around any longer to move forward. So this last year I have been tackling one issue after another. Health stuff, work stuff, family stuff. And I know that everyone else does too, but I’ve had a lot of things piling up. Not bills or dirty laundry (those only pile up during Condition Orange/Red times.

Ultimate Writer's Retreat
My pile has been full of bigger stuff. I still have a backlog, but I’m taking action as often as I can. I’ve definitely refocused on writing. Not just writing, but writing for purpose. Got to try and tell the story the best way I can, and earn more money! I recently went to a writer’s retreat to learn how to best apply my talents. Fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about this. 

Another coolio thing I’ve been doing is to start yoga again. It’s very pleasant, except when it hurts, which is a good part of the time, but still it’s worth it. And I so want to get back to karate, I miss it. But my joints are still too fragile.

Neat thing though, yoga and karate have a lot in common. Both have a special mat for one thing, which actually is an accoutrement that is not even necessary to really practice either. But it’s a fun comparison, and I’m all about the fun. 

Also in karate and yoga (and this is true in other sports and arts too), you learn to approach breathing a different way. Weirdly, in my karate class, we would forget to actually, literally, breathe while doing certain things like performing a new kata (form), or during kumite (sparring). I know one of my weaknesses was during the “150 punches” exercise. 50 for power, 50 for technique, and 50 for speed, alternating with a partner, taking turns holding the bag after every 50.I’m fine on the first 100, but for the speed punches, I totally lose my breath. Ugh.

In yoga, it’s ALL about the breath. Of course we know the physiology, that inhaling and exhaling at the right times helps with muscle expansion, blood flow, etc. But focused deep breathing accomplishes something else. It prepares you for meditating.

What is meditating anyway? I know a teeny bit, hey, I read Eat, Pray Love. And a few years ago, I bought one of the Dummies books on meditation, I thought it might be a good thing for me. But I couldn’t focus enough to get past the first chapter! (And right there’s a lesson in irony, don’t ya think?) But I know the basic concept, if you can get yourself in a relaxed enough state, you can clear your mind and come away refreshed. That’s the very crudest and basic explanations, and I’ll add that the practice involves control. 

I won’t expound any further, because I won’t do the subject justice, that’s for sure. I do know that meditating is a way to let go of outside bullshit that distracts from proper awareness. It’s like that old joke when someone asks you NOT to think about a pink giraffe. Now there you go. Pink giraffe’s are leaping through your mind now, right? You’re welcome.

When you know you’re not supposed to think about anything consciously during meditation, it’s damn hard to do that. The mind keeps filling with such baloney. Even the important stuff “must donate to the food bank, must get flu shot” all those thoughts have to be banished. I have no clue how to do it and I really don’t try.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be accomplished. I’m just feeling too squirrely typically to be bothered. I’m realizing though, that learning to meditate could be a good and necessary thing.

Don’t we really want to be present when we need to be? Don’t we really need to cut out extra BS in our lives that don’t really count? I don’t mean carbs and soda, or designer purses and DVDs, I mean wasteful emotions and thought processes. 

Singular Focus
Another thing about meditating is the mantra. The word mantra has been diluted and manipulated to sometimes mean a slogan, a tag line, a motto, or an affirmation. But in meditating it’s meant to be a sound that produces a vibration, or a simple word that will give you a mental focal point. 

I know I want to have better and clearer intention not just when it comes to my work but in all aspects of my life. I’d like to be able to learn how to meditate, to take the practice of looking to that inner focal point, and then translate that power to laser focus on whatever else needs attention.

Too bad I can’t laser in on what’s causing that weird continuous rhythmic humming sound in my house. Like meditating, I haven’t figured it out. But I think, at least in my life, if not in my house plumbing, what I need to do is to find my mantra to focus on, I need to find my own thrum.

Monday, July 08, 2013


Just because I can't share this enough - this is a video clip of Tom's classmate, (Salutatorian)Dayna's speech.

And while we're at it, here's him getting his HS diploma. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Hallelujah Pintest!

I heard there was a “Secret Board”,

Where Jenny pinned her sweet prize gourd
But you don’t really care for pumpkins, not your interest.

Well, it goes like this, the boat, the fish

Then recipes for a tasty dish --

The baffled spouse asked “what’s Pinterest?”


Her squash was eaten but she needed proof

She shot the photo from her roof

The rabbit in the moonlight said, "was this your best?

“Sorry, don’t blame me, it was just a dare

I was challenged by that other hare!

Are you really going to put this on Pinterest?”


“Jenny, we’ve been here before.

Instagram, Facebook, and you still want more?”

Husband asked, “Twitter, Tumbler, is this a test?

You’ve got potpourri, books, tins of cornstarch,

Junior's glove, baby teeth and my accident last March?

TOO MUCH sharing of our lives on Pinterest!”

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Foot Soldiers

Tom, Laurel, and Tom Nealon

For us, the Boston Marathon started on Sunday, April 14th.  As has been the pattern in the last four years, we were invited to a brunch for the ALF’s Run for Research Marathon Team. It’s always a cool event. This year was the 25th anniversary of the formation of the RFR Team. They put together a clever video which consisted of interviewing other team members about their most bizarre chafing areas, how to spell cirrhosis, and to show their “finish line faces”.
Tom and Courtney at the brunch

There was also a wonderful speaker, Laurel, who told the story of her illness, transplant and recovery.

And then the ‘drumroll’ while they announced the current funds raised – which was a wonderful 1.1 (and more) million dollars.

We left the runners with our good wishes, and promises to see everyone after the race back at the Westin Hotel to celebrate.

The next morning we arrived somewhere around 10 or 10:30 at the “Liver Mile” (mile 16.8) in front of the Newton-Wellesley Hospital. We greeted old friends, mostly liver patients and their families, the ALF staff, and of course, the New England Organ Bank who sets up their table next to us.

Elizabeth, Diana, Celinda
The weather was fantastic, the music from the NHW ERG spot was loud and energetic, and the free BBQ lunch was delish. We planned to leave around 1:00 to head to Boston. I was tracking several runners on my phone, and we realized that Courtney, who was one of Tom’s transplant nurses, was going to be coming by our location soon, so we decided to wait for her.

After she went by, we headed to the subway, clutching our VIP finish line passes. The next plan was for us to meet Courtney at the finish. It took a while for us to stow our chairs in the truck, and then hike back down the hill to the MBTA stop. It took even longer for the Green Line train to get to the Hynes stop.

Finally, along with many excited Red Sox fans (the game had ended by now), we made our way to Boylston street and began working our way to the finish. And I had just received a text alert that Courtney crossed the finish line at 2:48.

BANG. Smoke.

“What was that? A bomb?”

“No, maybe not, maybe just a loud musket/canon for the Marathon. Or maybe a restaurant stove exploded.”

Another BANG and more smoke. Now the bomb question seemed more apt.

The crowd was pretty thick where we were, and everyone started asking each other what had happened. We saw a good amount of smoke up the street, and no one really knew what to do. Some started towards the smoke, and some retreated. Very soon there were cops telling us to move back, get off the street, NOW. 

We moved back and got on the sidewalk. Still there was that state of unease and confusion. After a few minutes of questions and wondering, we realized that we should just head for the Westin Hotel. We had to divert our travel a few blocks out of the way to get there, but that was OK. Cell phone service slowed down to non-existent.

So many ambulances
Now, we saw no carnage, no damage. We would never get close enough to see anything, (which is just as well). But what we did see was unsettling just the same. We saw runners with their space blankets wrapped around them. They looked displaced. We kept seeing the confusion on everyone’s faces, but we also started to see tears. Tears and comforting. So now we knew something big and bad had happened. 

As we got a little closer to Huntington Ave, we saw Donna, a woman whose son, Scott was a very active member of the RFR. We asked her to come with us to the Westin, and as we moved along, she told us that she’d heard from family members at home who were watching the news, and that there were reports of fatalities and lost limbs. She had not heard from Scott yet, but was pretty sure he had not reached the finish line, and therefore was safe.

And right before we got to the hotel, we saw another RFR volunteer, Alice. Alice’s significant other Jim (who ran for Tom last year), was still out on the course, somewhere, but she too was pretty confident he was safe.

Finally, we got up to the fourth floor where the ALF had the post-race headquarters set up. Right away we were hugged pretty tight by Lauren and Helen from the ALF. All they knew was that we had left Newton quite a while before, and were supposed to be at the finish line when the bombs went off.

No one had heard from Courtney yet, she had not checked in.

So we waited. We made small talk with a few runners who had already come back, compared notes with them and other family members waiting for their runners. Slowly phones were working OK again. I had voice mails, Facebook messages, and texts waiting. All asked the same thing, “Are you guys OK?? Call as soon as you get this!!”

After a while, only a very small number of RFR runners were coming back. By now, someone found a radio and a group formed around it, listening for whatever news updates were available. MBTA service was down. There was a reported fire or some disturbance at the JFK library, and the airport was closed.

Blurry photo of SWAT officers
And soon we learned that the hotel itself was on lockdown. No one in or out. And then we also realized that the floor below us was being used as a command center for the Boston Fire, Police, FBI, the Governor, and more. The escalators were shut down.

It was waay too much like 9/11. Too many conflicting reports, too much confusion, way too much fear.

We were safe enough, but the uncertainty was not easy to take.

FINALLY, Tom spoke to Courtney on his cell. She was fine. But – the explosion happened right near her. I can’t imagine the chaos she witnessed. She told Tom that she was SO glad he was not there with her. 

I’ve been hearing and reading on Facebook how this act will not deter us Bostonians (either by real estate or by heart) from being strong. Some of my “liver friends” are vowing to run next year. My Tom was already planning on it before this happened, now he is even more inspired. Or folks are planning to go ahead and attend big sporting events in town. And our other son Mike is full speed ahead with his plans to attend Comic-Con on Saturday. 

There was a great interview on WBZ TV yesterday. I’ve had these same thought swirling in my head before I heard Dan Soleau, a manager at Marathon Sports speak.  (Please take a minute to check it out - I'll wait.) I love it. Individual foot soldiers.

We’ve all got to handle this in our own way though. Humans can only handle so much, and then there’s a tipping point of saying, “No. I’m done. I can’t do any more, at least not now.” There are those who will shake and sweat at the thought of being in any large group, especially if they were at the blast site on Monday. That’s OK. We’ve got your back. We’ll go to the events, large and small, and we’ll think of you.

Others will never get on a plane again. We get it. Next time we fly, we’ll think of you too.

If someone else feels they must hang up their running shoes, then that’s OK too. Someone else will run for you in their hearts. Rest easy now. 

Being human is hard. Even if physical ailments don’t strike you, emotional struggles always will. I believe in trying a little harder when you can. I also believe sometimes you just need a break.

There was some kind of email/internet meme that was popular several years ago. It was about being a mom. Something like this:

“God bless the moms who wake up at 5:00am to bake cookies for the 4th grade party. And bless the moms who could not.” I loved that. It’s wonderful to celebrate those who do a little extra. Like marathoners, who ran to give blood. Awesome! But sometimes a person can only run the other way. And that’s OK too. 

We'll be your foot soldiers

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Never Running on Empty

I wanted to write this for a long time. Hell, l wanted to write anything for a long time, besides a grocery or to-do list. As most of you know, the last six months have been pretty nasty regarding Tom and his health setbacks. Were these problems caused by his liver and transplant issues? Not necessarily all of it. What does this have to do with the American Liver Foundation and Marathon Monday? Stick with me, and I’ll explain.

When Tom was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in August it definitely was connected to the diseased that ruined his liver, PSC. PSC – Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis many times presents with some sort of inflammatory bowel disease. Because it has an autoimmune component, right after Tom’s transplant, we were told that Tom could still develop an IBD.

So, that was a bit of a blow. But besides the nuisance of the colonoscopy interfering with a new job and vacation on the Cape, it was not devastating. Colitis CAN be successfully managed.
Tom was an ALF LIVEr Champion in 2010

We are pretty sure that his femur fracture on September 2nd was not related to liver disease, although it was certainly suspect for a while. But still – it was not fun. At all.

What about the sudden migraine in early February that landed him in the hospital? Well I don’t think there was a direct connection – although it seems there was a connection between that terrible head pain, and the severe bout of cyclic vomiting that Tom went through his first year after transplant. Many sufferers of cyclic vomiting also have migraines. In fact, the stomach issues themselves are often referred to as abdominal migraines.

Migraines are often triggered by stress. Hmm, where did that stress come from? Any guesses?

Then there was the other hospitalization this year, smack in the middle of February vacation. Now we’re really making a connection.

That Tuesday morning Tom felt extra tired and chilled. Then he looked feverish. Took the temp – 102.3 – yikes! Called Boston, were told to bring him in right away, since he was on three different immunosuppression meds (one for the transplant, two for the colitis) – the docs didn’t want to mess around with that.

Of course, probably because I gave him some ibuprofen at home, his temperature was completely normal once we landed in the Children’s ED (Emergency Department – to say ER, well it’s just soo yesterday). But his blood work revealed a startlingly low white blood count, specifically his ANC (absolute neutrophil count). Right there that was reason to admit him.

After a few days, there was no clear cause of this low ANC. But what we did learn was very concerning, and this is the crux here, the BIG connection to liver disease. One possible cause was the medications that Tom was already on, especially 6MP, a drug he was taking for his colitis. (It also used as part of a chemo regimen to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia).

And another possibility was cholangitis. A bile duct infection. Now why would someone with a healthy liver have a bile duct infection?

Because the thing is, Tom does not seem to have a total 100% healthy liver any longer. Because, the thing is, it looks like Tom’s PSC has come back.

You read that right.

PSC has been known to recur in (I think) 5 – 10% of cases.

Although one of his doctors very recently said that she’s not entirely sure that the PSC did recur – still another doc was pretty certain. Hey, not that we want to look for trouble, and if this has recurred, then we’ll just move forward and think positively and the usual. The consensus is that recurrences typically don’t progress as fast.

But since February, this new knowledge has been pretty tough to handle. The depth of worry has been hard to explain, and harder to go through.
Zac's Mom, Heather is running her first marathon with Tom Nealon, who is running his last.

The good thing is, he’s doing pretty well at the moment. He’s got one college acceptance locked so far, another school seems very interested, and he’s going to Prom –

And he started track. You know his goal, don’t you?

He wants to run Boston next year, on the Run for Research Team.

I'm tired of liver disease. I'm angry. There's no one to blame, it's not like that, but still there's anger, there's frustration and there's definitely fear. And we're just one family going through this. There are too many others. 


Matt Noyes ran for Tom and Zac Rue in 2011
So next year, there will be a plea directly from Tom. And this June, there’s another Liver Life Walk – but for now…please, please, kindly consider donating to the following fantastic people running for Tom this 25th Anniversary year, Katie Chisholm, a new match, her first marathon – can’t wait to meet her this weekend! And Courtney Fratto, one of Tom’s transplant nurses, her first outing with the RFR team, she will do great, and Patrick House, his third marathon with the RFR, and his second time running for Tom. Patrick won Season 10 of The Biggest Loser and ran with the RFR team for Tom along with his cast mates Elizabeth Ruiz, Adam Hurtado, and Tracey Yukich.

And we are all so proud to know the following - some are liver patients, or transplant recipients, and are all around good people who want to help. And help they do. And they are all running Boston this year, some for their final year. Please consider donating to: