Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bill turns 49 1/2

In January 2005, in the midst of building a ramp for the house, getting Bill ready for his wheelchair and who even remembers what else, our friend Connie asked, "Bill will be 50 this year, right?"  Indeed, his odometer would turn to 50 in October.  Always up for a party, Connie suggested we start planning!
A couple of weeks passed and it became pretty clear that Bill's ALS was progressing much faster than any of us were prepared for.  I called Connie and suggested that we hold off on the planning.  Based on his didn't look like we'd have a guest of honor for this bash and I didn't want to put anyone through a lot of trouble or heartache.  She said she'd get back to me!

Within a matter of days Connie had decided that waiting was not an option.  She delivered the new plan.  We would we quickly organize and still throw the party to celebrate Bill's 49 1/2 birthday!  I told you....she's a party girl!!  She and her husband Eric organized all of the details.  Bill and I had just 2 assignments.  Put together the favors and show up to enjoy some snacks, cake and the good wishes of friends and family.

Every picture tells a story!  This one tells of an amazing group of friends, who quickly organized before ALS could snatch their friend, to celebrate a milestone birthday - 6 months early!  Bill is smack in the center grinning, and Connie is in the lower right corner, with the bright, beautiful smile in the black, floral dress. I've told them personally, but this tells the world how grateful I am for the friendship I enjoy with Connie and Eric.  I will ALWAYS appreciate their thoughtful, unselfish gesture. 

Oh...and the party favors?  A CD of Bill's favorite songs.  No small task for a 15 year DJ'ing veteran!  Volume I was such a hit, he immediately received requests for Volume II.  But another story!

Here's the playlist...You'll probably scratch your head and determine that my husband's taste in music ran to the extremely eclectic.  And you would be so right!!  Enjoy...and let me know what's playing on your iPod!

  1. Fox Fanfare
  2. Beach Boys - 409
  3. Disney - A Pirates Life
  4. Eagles - Hotel California (w/acoustic intro)
  5. Free - It's All Right
  6. 3 Stooges - Hello (sound clip)
  7. Jump in the Saddle - Curly Shuffle
  8. Los Lobos - Mustang Sally, Slow Your Mustang Down
  9. Michael Franks - Inside You
  10. Star Wars Quote - "I find your lack of faith disturbing" (sound clip)
  11. Ray Charles - America the Beautiful
  12. Santana - Samba Para Ti
  13. Sara Evans - Suds in the Bucket
  14. Animal House Quote - "Fat, Drunk and Stupid is no way to go through life son" (sound clip)
  15. Shelly West - Jose Cuervo
  16. Southern Comfort - Liquored Up, Lacquered Down
  17. Steppenwolf - Born to be Wild
  18. THX Movie Opening Theme
  19. Vivaldi - Concerto in D Minor, Allegro
  20. Toby Keith - Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue
  21. War - Low Rider (remix)
  22. Tracy Byrd - The Truth About Men
  23. AD/DC - Back in Black
  24. Backdraft Sound Track - Fahrenheit 451
  25. Braveheart Sound Track - Amazing Grace

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Patients with Pluck!

From the Yahoo Education dictionary, I found the following definition for the word "pluck"
"Resourceful courage and daring in the face of difficulties; spirit."
And PLUCKY would be the best one-word description for 3 ALS patients, each far too young to have this shitty disease, whom I have come to admire and consider as personal heros.  They have truly taken the lemons life has handed them, added some salt and tequila (the 100% Agave GOOD stuff!) and done shots!  While they are still around to read these words, I offer the following tributes.

Carla Zilbersmith is a singer, actress, mom and a hell of a funny woman!  She lives her life out loud and ALS is just one of the many facets of this extraordinary woman.  Read Carla Muses regularly for a funny, irreverant and emotionally engaging look at her life, which just happens to include ALS.  I often wish that our paths had crossed when Bill was still alive.  I can only imagine their friendship and possible collaboration. heaven!?  Her latest post "A Cripple Danced at a Gay Cowboy Wedding" is not to be missed.

Jason Picetti is young, smart, a self proclaimed nerd/former math teacher and writes the blog Adventures of ALS Boy.  Jason teamed up with Carla and was photographed, wheelchair and all, surrounded by a bevy of very sexy looking young women.  All in the name of raising awarenss for ALS.  "We're Bringing Sexy Back" is his account of the recent photography session.  Jason, like Carla writes from the heart.  "Last Call" is just one of a hundred+ gifts of insight that will allow his baby girl Emma to know the dad that will be taken from her too soon.  His wife Fehmeen is gracious and shares Jason's ability to look at the funnier side of life

Last, but certainly not least is Sarah Ezekial who has made it her life's work to raise ire and eyebrows, as well as awareness for ALS or MND (Motor Neuron Disease) as it is known in the UK.  Sarahville is one of my new favorites for a variety of reasons....but mostly because, like Carla and Jason, Sarah doesn't flinch.  She tells it like it is and isn't afraid to shake up the status quo.  Please take the time to read "MND is..." including the embedded link to "Is my pain really too shocking for television?".  The advert (in America we say commercial, but advert is so much cooler!) "Sarah's Story" is brave, direct and has created a lot of conversation...proving once again that one person can indeed make a difference.

Who are your ALS heros?  Cheers!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Developing YOUR Story - a few tips/tricks

My best friend got married this past Sunday and as her coordinator, I have been consumed with ALL things wedding related.  It was a GORGEOUS wedding, perfect in every way. I'm back to the real world and realize that a month has passed without a new entry to Defeat ALS.  My how time flies!

In the past, on a number of different occasions, I've mentioned "telling your story".  Generally it's been in the context of advocacy and involvement with changing public policy.  I believe you need to be able to tell your story, in a concise and compelling way so that you can inform and educate, whenever the opportunity presents itself.  With ALS, this is particularly difficult, but critical, since few people know much beyond how to spell ALS.  Each time I talk about developing a story, I get a blank look or the question "how do I do that?"  It's hard to tell someone else how to write their story....I don't have the same perspective, experience or voice.  And's not my story to tell!

A few months ago, a childhood friend referred on of her friends to me for support, following the loss of her father to ALS.  Today's post is my response, which includes my thoughts on how to develop and tell your story.  I hope you find it helpful as you document YOUR story.

Dear Denise...
It's taken me a couple of days to think about your question and to (hopefully! answer in a thoughtful way.  I'm thinking that the true goodness of Facebook is that we don't actually need to know each other - we can be brought together by a mutual friend.  Because we share a very special bond - I'm pleased to "meet" you!  First I'm so very sad that you lost your father to this s^%&ty disease.  While there is never a "good" time to lose someone you love, I'm sure that losing him just before you delivered your daughter was especially difficult.  I can't imagine that pregnancy hormones and the joy of a new baby mix very well with grief.  Thank you for your kind words regarding my husband.  This is an especially difficult time of the year for me, so I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness.
Congratulations on making the decision to participate in the Idaho Walk to Defeat ALS.  I found the walks a good way to channel my grief - I had something to focus on besides a broken heart.  The walks are also a good way to organize friends who want to help you.  Unfortunately I'm going to agree with your friends and tell you that telling your story is the best way to educate people about the disease and to work through your own grief.  You don't really have to go into anything long or drawn out.  the good news is that the story will get better and your delivery will get easier over time.  Interestingly, this was one of the Twitter messages in my inbox this very morning!
"@schwerdtfeger:  Speaking: Don't look for grandiose stories.  Tell stories about YOUR life.  The audience will connect with the emotions you describe."
Your ultimate goal is to educate people about the disease, share your experience, talk about what the ALS Association does to help people with the disease and then ask them to help you honor your father by supporting the good work done by the association.  I believe your focus on raising money to find a cure will ultimately help you speak.  Here are a couple of points to consider as you craft your own story.
When I share my story, I will generally start by asking someone if they are familiar with ALS.  Depending on the answer, I might add, "You may have heard it called Lou Gehrig's disease."  90% of people will recognize it then.  Lately I've added that we just celebrated the 70th (yes 70 years!) anniversary of the famous speech give by Lou when he retired from the Yankees in 1939 because he was too weak to play ball.  You may have heard the speech.  I call it the "luckiest man speech" and there are lots of versions out on YouTube or the Lou Gehrig Wikipedia page.  Major League Baseball did a pretty big push earlier this month, so folks may have seen some of the stories and advertising.

I talk briefly about the statistics.  In the US, 16 people will get an ALS diagnosis today and 16 others will die from ALS.  One person every 90 minutes.  Less than 10% of the cases are geneticly transmitted and veterans returning home from mid-East conflict duty are twice as likely as the general population to receive an ALS diagnosos.  ALS is truly non-discriminatory.  It strikes young (17), old (83) and everyone in between.  My husband was 49 years old when he was diagnosed.  Whenever somebody asks me "why?" to any of these questions, I am hones and say I don't know.  Scientists are working on it, but there's been little, significant progress.  And I'm getting pretty impatient!
Then I move into helping people understand the disease.  I recently came across a wonderful analogy that people "get" right away.  Talk about "...being on the beach with sand for miles around.  We've all seen the dads who allow their children to use their plastic pails and shovels to bury them in the sand.  When the children finish the project they are generally happy with their work and the dad looks indulgent.  You see the dad's head sticking out of the sand, he's fully aware of what has happened/is happening, but cannot move anything.  He cannot even get out of the sand by himself".  Then you can say...."imagine what that might feel like."  And then let that sit in the air for a couple of seconds.  Then you can quietly say, "that's what it was like for my dad."  I promise you, people will have a new understanding of ALS!

You can then share a quick story of what it was like for you as a caregiver and how hard it is for you that you lost your dad before he could even hold his first grandchild.  Your daughter will grow up with stories about her grandfather, but won't have his knee to climb up onto to share a story.  Carry tissues for a while, this part will be hard, but it really helps people connect with you and your loss.  Take a deep breath and settle yourself.
I would then talk about the walk and why you are asking for money, especially in these tough financial times.  I find that talking about honoring my husband's memory works pretty well.  I also talk about the support groups and regional care managers funded by the association.  If your dad benefited directly from the services offered by the chapter, PLEASE SHARE this information.  Talking about the good work done and how you/your family personally benefited, makes it real!  I will sometimes talk about how expensive the disease is, especially in the late stages, often running $225K annually for equipment and full-time skilled care.
Finally, I come back to Lou Gehrig.  I ask people to think about the diseases that have discovered, in the past 70 AIDS, Breast and many other types of Cancer, Parkinson's, MS, Swine Flu and more.  In our lifetime, researchers and scientists have been able to find what causes these diseases, created tests for early detection, have found therapies to help patients manage symptoms and to extend life and/or live relatively normal lives.  None of this has happened for ALS.
I then ask them to walk with me or to go to the website and sponsor me.  I talk about the walk and joining Bill's Brigade.  If they can't walk, I ask for sponsorship.  I've taken checks for $25, $50 (and more!), but lately I am asking people to think about a regular monthly pledge of $10.  It's only $2.50 per week, less than a fancy coffee drink at Starbucks, but it really means a lot to the chapter to support their work.  Most people can find $10 a month in their budget and not miss anything important in their household.  But $120 annually to the chapter is significant!
I can also tell you that this is a very effective way to craft an email campaign.  Go to the Walk website, register a team to honor your dad, and then us the email tools provided by the chapter to send "your story" out to all of your friends/family via email.  When I use this method, I thank them for their support and ask them to pass the email on to their friends and family. SOMEONE else has been impacted by the disease and will want to help you out!

I sure hope this helps!!  You are in my thoughts and prayers and I appreciate your trust in reaching out to me.  Please give my best to Brenda.