Friday, August 29, 2014

Vacation Then and Now

Lou and I left yesterday for a short cruise to celebrate his parents’ 45th wedding anniversary.   Lou and I, his sister Debi and Rich, and Mom and Dad – no kids. 

Gavin ran out the door with a huge grin as we pulled away, turning to give us a butt shake.  I had mixed emotions knowing how happy he was to see us go!!  Sometimes I worry that he was passed around so much as a baby that he’s a natural independent and I tear up over visions of him moving halfway around the world someday.  But then I remember kissing him goodnight and yelling up to him, “I love you more!” as he’s heading up the stairs, only for him to run back down to say sternly, “Let’s not argue about this right now, Mommy.  I love YOU more!”  Then we play a game where whoever says it last loves the other person more, and I make sure we end at the same time.  “It’s a tie! I guess we both love each other the same.”  He needs me J.

Off we went, leaving from NYC and zipping up to Canada, we couldn’t have asked for better weather.  We have all been under a tremendous amount of stress lately (on top of the ever-present loss that we still feel daily), and after less than 24 hours of over-eating, over-drinking and enjoying just being together, I sit with the morning cup of coffee that was delivered to my door and I feel spoiled and blessed.  I love my family. 

On September 3, it will be nine years that Lou and I have been married.  On our very first anniversary, I woke up to our wedding song playing in the kitchen.  Lou had made ham and eggs, sunny-side-up sitting on top of heart-shaped toast with fresh fruit and red roses adorning our kitchen table.  He served me like I was a princess before presenting me with an anniversary present – tickets for a 10-day Mediterranean Cruise leaving a few days later.  I know, right?  He’s pretty amazing.

This is the only other cruise I’ve ever been on, and I am enjoying all of the memories coming back.   Eight years ago, Lou and I embarked on our most extravagant vacation with the exception of our honeymoon.  We knew we would start a family soon, so we broke the bank to experience European travels together and indulge in the good life before pregnancy and babies would change everything.  Change everything it did, for certain, but I wouldn’t trade a thing.  Of course, minus cancer.  I would obviously trade anything (and I truly mean ANYTHING) to make cancer go away and to get my son back.    

I remember how careful I was with my wedding band and engagement ring during that first cruise.  Putting them in the safe in the room whenever I was heading to the pool or if we were disembarking for the day.  Now those rings are a part of me – my ring finger perfectly and permanently indented because I never take them off.  I don’t even feel them anymore and I don’t think twice about losing them because they can’t possibly fall off.  Like a rope around a tree trunk, I have grown around them both physically and emotionally. 

This morning I smiled at my reflection - me in my comfy cotton PJs and nerdy glasses – and I thought about how I packed a dozen silky nightgowns for my last cruise.  How I went shopping for a new “cruise wardrobe” beforehand and packed different accessories for every outfit.  Back then I was preparing for the experience, today it’s all about the escape.  For this trip, I have my “I carry your heart” locket with Ty’s picture in it and some PRET*TY bracelets.  What more do I need? 

I spent more time preparing Gavin’s things and writing notes about how he likes his chicken nuggets extra crunchy, and how he prefers comfy long pants and long sleeves, even when it’s 90 degrees outside (he’s a weirdo, that kid).  I stressed out shopping at various stores to get all of his back-to-school supplies from the supply list before we left (I didn’t even know there was such a thing until a couple of days ago).  I can’t even tell you how difficult that has been.  Back-to-school is harder than Christmas.  Much.  My emotions have been running so high and I have been in pain for so many reasons. I imagine what backpack I would be buying for Ty as I pick out one for Gavin.  Gavin is getting so big so fast and I just want my babies back – both of them.  I overheard his friend saying “You wish you had a brother so you wouldn’t have to ride the bus alone.”  That is an understatement, little friend.  How right you are. 

I packed for myself the morning we were leaving and put little thought into what I should bring.   I just wanted to get the hell out of the house.  I could feel the excitement rising as we pulled away, and now that we are actually here, I am at peace.  Sitting on this balcony with my computer on my lap and nothing but ocean on every side, I am reminded how small and unimportant I am.  That reality has allowed my everyday worries to float right out from under my skin and into the open water.  I hope I can leave them there for a long time. 

Last night I watched the bright pink and orange sun disappear on the horizon and I convinced myself, yet again, that Heaven is real.  That God made that beautiful sunset and that when I myself get swept away at the end of this crazy, painful and beautiful life, I will finally understand.  And Ty will be there waiting for me, and we will live together in the beauty of that sunset and I will never, ever, ever let him go again.  I have no fear because I know that what waits for me is only pure love and light and I can’t wait.  I promise that I will take care of Gavin and make the most of this life until then, but there is an incredible sense of peace and comfort that comes with the true acceptance that there is so much more to this life than what we experience every day.  And I have faith that the happiness that awaits us is so incredible it is beyond our greatest imagination.  If it turns out I’m wrong and there is absolutely nothing after this, at least I’m living the rest of this life filled with hope rather than despair. 

It has been 8 years since that European cruise.  Lou and I have been through so much in those 8 years.  We are completely different people, and we are so lucky that we have grown more in love and more alike instead of the opposite.  The first time we returned to our room to find our towels in the shape of a swan or a monkey we took pictures and thought, “This is so great, how do they do that!”  Last night we found a puppy on our bed and silently let out an unimpressed “been there, done that” sigh.  It’s a little sad how quickly a new experience can become old!  Of course we are still thoroughly enjoying our time here.  For us, escaping has always been a healing withdrawal and I couldn’t wait to get away from the back-to-school frenzy for a few days.  I feel miles away from it all, both literally and figuratively. 

Vacation is good.  Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.  Happy almost anniversary, Lou.  I couldn’t imagine living this life without you.  I hope Gavin takes us on a cruise for our 45th wedding anniversary.  Or maybe our 35th ;) 



Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thank you to our volunteers, to all that attended the 2014, and to the woman in line at the supermarket...

... truly, I can't thank you enough.

The Mess Fest was outrageous.  The best day of the year, no doubt.  Once again, people came in droves.  We surpassed our 2013 fundraising goal and I am confident enough to say that the event was flawless.  The weather was like a huge smile shining down upon us.  There were ladybugs landing on children and laughter filling the sky.  It was pure magic.  Everything Ty ever would have wanted.  And I am proud.  VIEW THE GALLERY HERE.

We couldn’t have done it without the 100+ volunteers who selflessly donated their time, the incredible fundraisers who participated in the Dirty Dunk, and all of you who attended to make this event the tremendous success that it was.  Special thanks, of course, to our long-time friends at Kiwi Country Day Camp for donating the most amazing place on earth to hold this incredible event year over year.  Lastly, our sponsors, because without their generosity we would not be able to reach our fundraising goals to support innovative childhood cancer research.

The Ty Louis Campbell Foundation will be celebrating our 2 year anniversary soon.  I am proud of all we have accomplished, and we are well on our way to becoming “kind-of a big deal” (to quote Anchorman).

Sometimes I use this blog to keep you updated on the “business” side of things and I have made a conscious effort to slow down on how much of my personal experiences I share on a daily basis.  Because, in all seriousness, who wants to hear about how much I miss Ty day in and day out?  It’s been just about 22 months now – everyone has moved on while I sit here forever changed and plagued with the weight of his loss forever on my shoulders.  I have graduated to the slowly dissipating “bereaved mom” blogger, and there are new children to follow – whose triumphs inspire as they embark on their cancer journeys.  And all I can think is… “SH*T!  When will this slow down? When will these voices of childhood cancer be heard?  When will these innocent children be cured?  Will I live to see the day we uncover a miraculous cure-all?”  Because right now, today, I don’t see an end in sight and it is unbearable.

If you are active on social media, you may have noticed that our community is in an uproar over the recent refusal from the Empire State Building officials to light the building gold in September to honor childhood cancer warriors. In 2012 the White House denied a petition to go gold after already going pink for breast cancer awareness… and now this??  The mid-Hudson bridge was lit gold in Ty’s memory (and will be again), the city of Yonkers is going gold for the 2nd year in a row, Mahopac lights the town gold and sells gold ribbons to retailers to support the TLC Foundation – but these huge, most influential buildings just refuse to support our awareness efforts.  It is beyond disheartening.  It makes me feel as if Ty wasn’t important enough. That our children still don’t have a voice no matter how hard we try in our united efforts.  Did I mention that the Empire State Building was green in honor of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?  Barf.  Seriously, I couldn’t be more disgusted.  Please hit social media with the hashtag #empiregogold.  Use this image on Instagram (or any image).

Tweet at them, Facebook them, keep your messages positive while expressing your disappointment over this decision.  It’s not about a building or a bridge or a landmark being lit gold, it’s about a movement to raise awareness for the number one cause of death by disease among children so that some day it won’t be!

On Saturday I drove home from the Mess Fest by myself.  Gavin was with Lou and we had two carloads filled to the brim with supplies.  To my surprise, I became overwhelmed by a sudden wave of unstoppable grief and I cried the entire way home.  Big, ugly, can’t catch my breath hysterics in between screaming and cursing as loud as I possibly can.  I was totally and completely overwhelmed and exhausted.  I guess after having so much adrenaline for days on end I just hit a wall.  That cold, hard wall being the reality that no matter how amazing it was - and no matter how hard I work to make that special day in Ty’s honor – it doesn’t change anything.  He is still dead, and when I look in my rearview mirror I will never see his smiling face again.  And that is a reality that is just too painful to bear sometimes, no matter how much time has passed.   And despite all of his pain and suffering… he died anyway.  I have been looking at this photo a lot over the past 2 weeks.  What do you think he was thinking?  We reassured him over and over again that he would beat the cancer.  That he was so brave.  But this face, this pain, this confusion, didn’t have a happy ending.  And in my heart I know that I failed him.  

I’ve been down on myself for having lost interest in writing.  Not just this blog, but so many articles that I have swimming in my head that I wanted to publish.  I wanted to write more about Gavin and how amazing he is.  I wanted to write more about Lou and what we are doing to help one another.  I wanted to keep writing about cancer across all ages, the good, the bad and the ugly.  And I wanted to write more about coping and grief and missing Ty.  I’ve been feeling so discouraged because I worry no one wants to hear my sad musings anymore.  My sleepless nights where words flew from my fingertips have been replaced with glasses of wine and early bedtimes to feed my lingering depression.  I can’t always keep up with all the amazing ideas we have for the foundation, let alone my emotional outlet via this blog.

Lou was home early yesterday and took Gavin to Karate so I went to the supermarket by myself.  It was one of the saddest trips I have made to the supermarket in well over a year.  I don’t know what came over me, but I couldn’t stop hearing Ty’s voice, imagining him in the cart as I pushed through each aisle, and I could barely hold back the tears with every single step.  On the checkout line, the woman in front of me asked, “Are you Cindy?  I have been reading your blog for years.  Thank you so much for sharing with us all.  I can only imagine what you are dealing with and how you are feeling but the way you put it into words, I am right there with you.  Please keep writing.”

That was exactly what I needed to hear to turn things around immediately.  No doubt.  It has been some pretty tough days and nights lately, despite the incredible joy that I took away from the Mess Fest.  That woman in the supermarket reminded me how much I need to keep on keeping on and if I need to "talk"- sad or not - I’m going to keep doing this.  Because it is good for me.  And because it is important to be candid about all of this… the reality of childhood cancer and child loss and grieving and living and loving and parenting… I am an open book for all who care to read it.  Thanks to all of you who do continue to read and share.  Ty’s story will never end.  


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Important Details for Mess Fest: Parking, Attire, Tickets, etc.

Ty's first and only Muddy Puddle
We are counting down the minutes to The Muddy Puddles Mess Fest 2014!  The weather looks PERFECT and the event is already a success thanks to all of you.   It is going to be everything Ty would have wanted, and he will be smiling down on all of us that day!

Ticket availability:  We are prepared to sell hundreds of additional tickets at the gate, however, we cannot guarantee that the event will not sell out.  In order for our team to be best prepared, please try to purchase tickets in advance, when possible.  Use promo code friends for an additional 10% off now until Saturday.  

Parking and Shuttle Buses: As indicated on our registration site, all parking is off-site this year. Everyone must park at the Mahopac High School, 10 minutes away, where several large shuttle buses will be running non-stop to transport you to the camp (421 Baldwin Place Rd, Mahopac, NY 10541).  There is absolutely no parking at Kiwi Country Day Camp (with the exception of handicapped parking).

As a ticketholder, you will be at an advantage if you bring your printed tickets with you.  When you pull into the lot, ticketholders will be directed to a designated parking lot in the back, where we will have a check-in table so you can easily get your event wristbands before you even board the shuttle. That way, you can avoid waiting on line when you get to the camp.

The first shuttle bus will leave the lot just after 10:30.  Gates will open at Kiwi at precisely 11am.  If you wish, you may drive to Kiwi for a drop-off beforehand, but you will then be redirected to park at the high school (which is approximately 10 minutes away).

By Train: For those traveling by train, Metro North/Harlem line will arrive at the Croton Falls Train Station every hour, about 5 minutes past the hour.  We will have a shuttle at the train station to easily and quickly transport you to the camp and back at the end of the day.

What to wear:  Considering it is a Mess Fest, we recommend you dress comfortably and be prepared to get dirty to the point where you may never wear those clothes again :)  Be sure to bring a swimsuit because there are swimming pools, as well as a change of clothes (don’t worry, we will hose you off before you enter the pool)!

We have dozens and dozens of wonderful activities planned, fun performances and loads of prizes. We can’t wait to see you there!

The Campbell Family and all of our incredible volunteers