Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Hello, and welcome (almost) to Fall.  We are off to a good start to the new school year.  Clay has a new teacher, a new braille teacher, and a new assistant.  It seems like the "dream team" we had hoped for, and we are enthusiastic and hopeful that 3rd grade will be a good one for Clay.  Grace has started Middle School at a new school, and she is also feeling enthusiastic about 6th grade and all of the new activities and classes.  So, although it was tough (particularly for me) to leave our wonderful vacation location of Cape Ann, I am begrudgingly adjusting to reality.  I continue to work on my Master's program, which now includes a weekly trip to Boston for my orientation and mobility classes.  Currently, we are learning to cross streets and navigate outdoor travel (blindfolded, of course, and using a long cane). 

Clay had his final MRI on the clinical study last week.  The report is that things are stable, and he now goes into the last two months of receiving this medicine.  We are waiting for approval that the drug will be available to him should he need it once he is off trial, but the paperwork is still not signed.  We hope to have this assurance before the trial ends.   We realize how lucky we were to get the last slot for Clay on this trial, but it is hard reentering the uncertainty of what comes next.

I will not torture you with endless summer photos, but just my favorite one of Clay enjoying himself on a hammock, taken by our friend (and prior teacher) Laura. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer Update

Summer is passing too quickly. Clay has been busy and has had a few "firsts" recently.  Right after school let out he attended a week of summer camp at Columbia Lighthouse, in Silver Spring.  Each morning a driver picked him up and returned him home at the end of the day.  There were about 20 kids at the camp.  This is the first time he has attended camp for children with visual impairments, and I think overall it was a good experience for him.  For the final day of camp they performed skits, and of course Clay chose to tell jokes.  Besides swimming, they did adapted sports such as beep-ball (like baseball) and practiced their navigation/cane skills. 

Since then he has been doing twice a week swim lessons, and has made great progress.  He recently passed the "swim test" at our pool.  Here he is with his swim teacher Hannah, celebrating his feat.

Clay is also doing braille lessons a few days a week, and surprisingly is enjoying this as well.  He recently cleared out a shelf in his room for his braille books at his own request.  As I am also taking braille, we are good study buddies and sometimes I have to call him to help me with the braille page I am trying to translate.

A real treat was a recent Nationals ballgame with our friend Pat Leahy.  We got down onto the field to watch batting practice, and Clay and Grace enjoyed getting signatures from several of the players.  Clay's highlight was  having Ian Desmond give him his bat, pine tar and all.  Here is a shot of us down on the field.  Ian is 6'8" which is why I only reach his shoulder.  Grace is very into baseball these days so she is able to give Clay blow by blow details on what is happening on the field. 
Phase 2 of our research project at Johns Hopkins is underway.  A huge thank you to our friends who have helped move this along.  Dr. Raabe is pulling experts from several areas to focus on low grade gliomas, and his hope is to have a center at Hopkins dedicated purely to Clay's disease type.  We are not there yet, but hopeful that this will move forward in the future. 

We are vacationing close to Boston this August, and I will be able to get to my classes more easily, while we all enjoy some down time.  Clay's next MRI is in September, and then we face very difficult discussion on next steps.  Please keep Clay in your thoughts and prayers so he might have a good year as he starts 3rd grade this Fall.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Spring Update

We have been busy the past few months, with no emergency updates.  We enjoyed time with family from far and near over the Spring Break/Easter holiday, and most recently for Clay's 1st Communion which was Saturday.  We were so proud of him walking into the church with a buddy by his side.   His mobility teacher, Nina, met us at the church one day the week prior for a practice session.  Father Burchell prepared Clay to receive the Eucharist, by letting him practicing with an unconsecrated Host.  Saturday morning Clay said to me, "I am so excited today is my Communion! I wonder what the Host will taste like when it is holy!"  Here is one of my favorite shots:

The past month or so I have noticed Clay pushing himself to do more.  He now feels more comfortable going outside and navigating the yard.   For Mother's Day he asked if I would like him to buy me a coffee at Starbucks, and he, Grace and I walked the half-mile to the store.  After school he will often go down to the swing set and play.  He now swings like any 8 year old, and I have to restrain myself from asking him to slow down.  This is something Grace and he can still enjoy together, and as you can see, she keeps her eye out for him (when she isn't fighting with him).

Clay is feeling well and is now on month 21 of the clinical trial.  We are in conversations about our options for the Fall when Clay will reach the 24-month mark and be forced to stop the drug according to rules of the trial.  Our best hope is that there will be an addendum to the trial that will allow the children to be retreated with the same drug should they relapse.  We hope to know for sure within the next month.  At this point Clay has one more MRI in June on this trial, and then 3 more months of pills if all is stable.

As always,  there is lots of research to do.  I went to the Perkins School for the Blind outside of Boston recently, as part of my Master's program.  Technology has provided so many new options for people with low-vision or blindness, and I spent a day with the folks at Perkins who provide these tools, learning all about the products they offer (such as the Smartbrailler Clay uses).  On the way home I met with a researcher at Schepens Eye Research Institute.  Dr. Feng Chen is the lead researcher studying paths to regeneration of optic nerves.  There are several possibilities that are still in the early stages, but she is optimistic that they will find a way to regrow damaged optic nerves within the next decade.  It is just as complicated as bringing new brain tumor drugs to trial, but I left feeling thankful that science, and brilliant people like Dr. Chen, are working to find solutions for currently untreatable injuries and disease.

We have a research paper from Dr. Raabe on Phase 1 of the mouse-model project at Johns Hopkins, and I will post that shortly.  We hope to begin Phase 2 within the next month. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

3 More Months

The results of the MRI were stable, with some discussion about increased enhancement on a few spots. Reading MRIs, we now know, is more of an art than you might imagine.  But it is more tense than normal when you are on a clinical trial where the rules are very exact.  Regardless, Clay was cleared to stay on the trial, and so we march forward another 3 months until the next MRI.  His heart test was also stable.  Three more months and school will be out (maybe, unless we get another snow storm).  We have a lot of work to do to prepare Clay for third grade, when reading becomes much more important to keeping up in school.  But we will get there! Thanks for checking in.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Another MRI Ahead

Time is marching on and we are in month 18 of the clinical trial. Next Saturday, March 15, Clay will have a MRI.  On Tuesday he will have an echogram of his heart to make sure the pills are not doing any damage.  Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers for both of these tests, so he can stay on the medicine and finish up 2nd grade.  A bit of good news is that last month we had a full audiology exam done, and his hearing is perfect.  I was very worried since he has had regular MRIs since he was 3, and they are extremely loud exams.  From now on he will be armed with heavy duty ear headsets during the exam to protect his hearing.

Clay has been working hard at learning to read and write in braille.  He is now spending two hours a day in school on this task, and he is making good progress.  I am so proud of him, and it is amazing to watch him feel the pages of a book and make words and sentences out of the braille dots.  He is also doing well in math, also learning to do this in braille, and he is working on the same second grade material as his peers.  It is our hope that in third grade he will only be pulled out for reading and braille, but will do math with his regular class.  The Smartbrailler makes this integration into the regular classroom much easier. For now the school is using our brailler, but we hope they will provide him with one next fall. 

As part of his lessons he has vocabulary words to learn to spell each week.  This past week's words included "fate." He asked me, "Mom, what is fate?"
"Well," I explained, "it is what is most likely going to happen in the future."
"Oh, I get it, " he said, "like: It is my fate to get singing cards."
"Right," I said, happy for this new phenomenon in the greeting card business.  And, thankful for a simple definition for a difficult concept.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Keeping Warm and Catching Up

With the kids home from school for the past two months it has been hard to do much writing, or much of anything, except make hot chocolate and wrestle to get the remote control (to hide).  Today is the first day that I am optimistic that the kids MIGHT be in school for five days, weather-willing.  I pulled out a pile of paper that had been calling my name, and started to work on reducing the stack.  Then an e-mail came in from Snapfish, reminding me that I wanted to get copies made of a few recent photos.  Two hours later I had downloaded 1,300 photos.  That was not my intent, but that is another story.  Well, if you Give a Mouse a Cookie...the story goes, and I ended up looking through too many of these 1,300 photos.  Don't worry, I won't make you do the same, I know your time is precious too.

But just a few.  These were taken in Georgetown on March 3,  2010, when Clay was 4 and Grace was 7.  Clay had been diagnosed a year before, and I think I was in still in shock, alternating between feeling like the worst possible thing had happened, but also feeling like we would get through this unscathed.  Now I look back on these photos and think, at least in part, what happy days these were.  Then, I had no idea how resilient we would have to be, and I had no concept of how strong our will to survive is.  Since these photos were taken I have learned that today could be the best day.   A few summers ago I was sitting at the beach watching Clay float around on a raft in the ocean.  It was a rough summer as his tumor was growing, and he was suffering bad headaches and nausea.  My friend sitting with me said, "What if this is the best you have?" I remember being shocked that she said that to me, and feeling angry that she thought that was a possibility.  Now I realize that that was a brave and a wise thing to say to me.  A reminder to savor each day.

Four years later we have new challenges to overcome, but we are grateful every day for how well Clay is doing.  His energy is good, and he has been focusing hard on learning to read and write in braille.  
Miraculously, he continues to see in his heart what the rest of us sometimes forget to notice.  On Christmas night, Clay said to me, "Mom do you know who would have thought this was the best Christmas ever? Grandpa Ed." 
"Why? Why this Christmas, Clay?" I asked him.
"Because I got so many cool models.  Grandpa LOVED models!" 
Grandpa Ed, who died when Clay was 5, was an exemplary model builder. 

On the medical front, Dr. Raabe and the researchers at Johns Hopkins are continuing to publish news of their work on low-grade gliomas.  Here is another recent update from his group:  http://www.stbaldricks.org/blog/post/st-baldricks-researcher-blocks-pathway-in-low-grade-gliomas-to-reduce-cancer-cell-growth

We will be attending a special fundraising event in February, "Belle Notte" to support pediatric brain tumor investigations at Children's National as well as the pediatric developmental neurobiology initiatives at the National Brain Tumor Society. A main goal of both of these groups is to find therapies to help children survive their brain tumors without devastating long-term side effects from their treatments. Clay's doctor, Dr. Packer, will be calling Clay and several of his other patients up for a special recognition at the event. 

Time goes by so quickly.  I am going to take our dog Pearl's advice and go find a warm spot by the fire.