Tag Archives: love

A Reason

In light of circumstances happening in my life right now, I am bringing back a post that I originally published in August of 2014. I think what amazes me most is that years later, I still feel lost at times and certainly abandoned by people I never would have imagined would leave my side. But life has a way of surprising me, and not always in good ways, which means I just pick myself up, dust myself off, and give extra gratitude for the ones who remain by my side for the long haul. You know who you are so allow me this moment to thank you and tell you that I love and appreciate you more than you know.


When looking back at my journey with MS so far, I think that the hardest part has been how my friends and family have reacted to the ever changing me. When I was going through the grueling process of endless doctor appointments and tests that ultimately led to my diagnosis, I learned a lot about myself, but also about my friends and family. I quickly discovered who was going to stand by me for the long haul, and who was not prepared to handle the obstacles along the way. Some learned as much as they could about MS in order to be more understanding of my situation and more aware of what I was going through. Others slowly phased themselves out of my life, unnoticed until they just weren’t there anymore. Still others ran from our friendship, deserting me in my time of need.

This was not easy for me to accept. I don’t like to say goodbye to friends. A quality of mine that is both good and bad is that I love fiercely and with every fiber of my being. I would do anything for any one of my friends, and have always put the needs and wants of others ahead of my own. I give without question and offer support whenever I am needed. It’s who I am. I admittedly don’t understand when people are not like me. All I know is that I could never just abandon a friend, especially during difficult times. I will never relate to the way that some people could let go of our relationships, seemingly without a second thought.

Each time I relapsed, more friends seemed to fall out of my life leaving an indelible mark on my heart. I wondered why it was so easy to give up on years of friendship for reasons out of my control. Why couldn’t they still see me, the person underneath? Why couldn’t they see that my heart was still the same, only now it was broken into pieces, with each person taking a piece of it when leaving my side?

Through years of heartbreak, I finally realized that if someone couldn’t accept me as I am then I should not expend any energy hurting over it. The fact of the matter is that energy is limited for those of us with MS, and I decided that I was not going to waste what precious little I had on people who definitely did not spend any time or energy worrying about me. I started to scale back my efforts with those people, and suddenly all new and amazing people came into my life! Instead of being bogged down by negative energy, I surround myself with wonderfully supportive friends who spew optimism just like I do.

I am adjusting to my new normal every single day, and I am incredibly grateful for my small circle of lifetime friends who have remained steadfast at my side. But now I have newer friends who have shown me such tremendous warmth and compassion, and I don’t know what I’d do without them!

Finally, I recognize that not everyone is meant to be in my life forever. I am able to honestly declare that I am thankful to each person who has walked by my side, however briefly, on this journey of mine. I wouldn’t be the person I am now, with the understanding that I now have. As if I needed further clarification on how I came to arrive in this place, my (always full of wisdom) therapist brought everything into perspective for me by sharing a quote: “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” Indeed!

 

2018

As we approach the end of this first month of 2018, I am marveling (still) at what a difference one measly year can make. It seems like such a short amount of time, yet for me, this last year was one for the record books and even though I never wish days away, in the back of my mind it just couldn’t end soon enough.

So here we are in 2018, and my word for this year (more than any other) is gratitude. I can’t say it enough. Every single one of us, regardless of our situation, has the ability to find gratitude in our every day lives. I did it at my lowest points in 2017, and I am already doing it at my highest points in 2018.

I’m starting this year strong and healthy (relatively speaking, of course). Check-ups with my oncology team in the last few weeks have shown that I’m doing great. Plus a change in my MS treatment made me realize that I wasn’t really feeling my best on my last treatment but now I am feeling so much better than any time I can even remember. I have been able to keep social commitments (that I have shied away from in the past), and that alone makes me feel more like a human being and less like a patient.

I am forever indebted to this woman who gave me back my confidence when an MS relapse took it away. Her training extends far beyond the gym and I consider her my family.

So obviously at the top of my gratitude list each and every day are three things: my scholarship at the yoga studio, my amazing personal trainer, and the best care partner in the whole wide world. These things are more connected than it seems on the surface. Here’s how it works: my trainer, Diane, has brought me so far in my journey to becoming (and staying) strong. She also instilled in me a love of yoga, which brought me to participate in a yoga challenge that ultimately earned me that scholarship. And now, to connect it all together, Bruce (my other half) has started his own journey with Diane. He is motivated to stay strong so that he can take care of me in the future, although I’m still not sure it won’t be the other way around. Either way, both of us are working for longevity so that we can spend as many healthy years together as humanly possible… plus there’s the little motivation of our wedding that WILL be happening 2020, so that helps, too!

The 12 days of yoga challenge.

What I love the most about this current situation is how much we support each other through this journey. I mean, Bru has always been incredibly supportive, but now that he’s trying to live according to my lifestyle more, there is simply no comparison. He gets why I do what I do, and why it’s so important for me to do the “homework” I am given while fueling my body appropriately. While my lifestyle in itself is empowering because I am fully in control of that single aspect of my life (which is full of uncertainty and question marks), with Bruce living it with me, I feel exponentially more empowered when we are both working towards the same goal.

Keeping each other motivated, knowing that each of us is committed to the other and our future together is beyond priceless. It seems like the older I get, the more quickly time goes, and when I am feeling well, I wish I could slow the time down just to be able to give Bruce time with the closest thing to “pre-MS Rennie” as possible. We have traveled a long way together, and now I know that we are en route to continue together, committed and strong. While we might not ever look like Mr. and Mrs. Olympia, I can assure you that we will always work our hardest to remain healthy and strong so that we can spend our life together however we choose. Just another item for my gratitude list…

Happy New Year!

The end of 2017 had me taking inventory of everything that I went through along the way. New Year’s Eve always has me in a hopeful place, looking forward to a fresh start in a brand new year. But this year, I found myself especially excited because looking back on 2017 made me exhausted just thinking about the many, many obstacles I faced from day one. I realize that I gathered strength from every single challenge that the universe sent my way, and I faced each one the way I have learned to do having lived with MS for almost 15 years now.

When I break down each situation individually, maybe it doesn’t seem like I went through all that much… and let’s face it: people have been through way worse. But looking at the big picture made me realize how much I overcame, even if I did start complaining towards the end of the year. I complained, but I laughed my way through because it’s what I know, and if I didn’t laugh I probably would have cried. So I’m sharing a recap of 2017, knowing 2018 can only be better, and because it’s a reminder to be grateful for every single day you are given on this planet. And I believe even on the worst of days, beauty and happiness can be found, as long as you open up your eyes (and your heart) to seeing it.

2017 started out with a huge question mark for me, even more so than just living my life with MS. I knew I had breast cancer, but that’s all I knew. I had no idea what kind of treatment plan was in store for me, not to mention the number of doctor appointments, tests, and ultimately, waiting (the most torturous part) I would eventually have to endure. When you start off a new year in this way, it’s incredibly difficult to feel optimistic about what lies ahead or even to feel the usual excitement inside as you face a brand new year. I was stuck in limbo, questions and darkness circling around me constantly. I had no idea how to move forward when I had this gigantic somber truth to deal with. So I did what I always do, partially using advice given to me back when I ran that 5K: I simply put one foot in front of the other, and smiled my way through it. With Bruce’s hand in mine, we got to the other side stronger than ever.

Gnarly finger x-ray. Who knew how much you use one silly finger on your non-dominant hand??

I’m proud of how we handled my cancer situation because so frequently these things can drive a couple apart, but not us. One year later, I can confidently say that although I never thought it possible, our love and the strength of our relationship has grown exponentially since then. Unfortunately, cancer was not the only health concern we faced in 2017…. I also broke some toes, dislocated a finger, injured a hip with a slip on the ice, and closed the year with a lovely MS relapse along with a change in my Disease Modifying Treatment (DMT) that I had been on for over eight years. There were also some personal issues with some relationships in my life that hurt me almost as badly as all the physical trauma I suffered. At times I felt like staying in bed with the covers over my head for fear of anything else happening, and Bruce even jokingly wrapped me in bubble wrap at one point.

For real: wrapped in bubble wrap!

But everything I went through made me stronger, and reinforced for all who know me that this girl does NOT give up. It’s simply not an option. I have a natural instinct to persevere and a work ethic (thanks, Dad!) that is second to none. I’m not sure why the universe gave me all of these obstacles to overcome in 2017, but whatever the reason, it was my haul to carry. Luckily I have the best guy in the world at my side who never gives up on me, and my motivation still remains staying strong for him and for us. And I know for sure that I am starting 2018 stronger than ever (both physically and emotionally), and I can handle anything… ANYTHING the universe decides to throw my way because that was the overarching lesson I learned in 2017.

One of our NYE projects: a hand casting of Bruce’s hand in mine, because that’s how we survived 2017.

Today I am looking forward with hope and excitement, instead of fear and dread like last year at this time. Life is not always what we plan it to be, but as long as we acknowledge our gifts, like the qualities I inherited from my dad, my guy, who supports me no matter what, and the handful of dear friends and family who I can always count on, it can still be pretty sweet. I, for one, am psyched to see what 2018 has in store for me, since I know whatever it is, I am ready for it because of everything I have already been through. Considering the year I am coming off of, I’d like to think that I am due for a fantastic year, but I also understand that I am partially responsible for making that dream a reality. That being said, I can guarantee that I will be doing everything in my power to uphold my end of the bargain, and I know the universe will be on my side. So today I say goodbye to 2017 and welcome 2018… bring it on!

We are ready for you, 2018!

 

Gifts

As a former high school teacher, one of my greatest joys is watching as my “kids” grow up and start their lives on their own. I feel incredibly lucky that I maintain such special relationships with so many of them. Many people do not understand (nor do they think it’s normal) that I have been able to do this. If I’m being honest, I consider it a gift, because fostering lifelong relationships is something that you will never learn how to do in any education class in college or in graduate school. I am humbled and honored when my former students choose to keep me in their lives because it validates my life’s work somehow.

So today, let me tell you about Ashley. She was a freshman when I first met her. She was sweet, and enthusiastic, and she was an amazing student. Her smile always brightened my classroom, and I was lucky enough to teach her again when she was a sophomore. She was an asset to any classroom because everyone loved her and she set such a great example for the others. I got to know her extremely well, because during those years, I also ran a very successful Walk MS team, which I ran as a school club. She devoted endless hours to our fundraising efforts and to raising awareness of Multiple Sclerosis in our community. Basically, if I could have cloned Ashley and had all of my classes full of more Ashleys, I would have been ecstatic. Coincidentally, Ashley has a little sister (who is equally as awesome), and through the years I have forged a special friendship with their mom, too… how lucky am I to have these three amazing friends just because Ashley was randomly placed in my class when she just 14 years old?!

Here’s my little Ashley, working hard to distribute a fundraiser as on of my key go-to people on my 450 member Walk MS team.

As luck would have it, Ashley chose to attend my own alma mater, Rutgers University. Not only was I beyond proud, but I was so excited that she would be living just a few miles away from me. We had meals together here and there, and always, ALWAYS kept in contact. Perhaps you can imagine how I felt when she graduated at the top of her class and got herself a full ride to Seton Hall Law School.

It was a special Rutgers homecoming when little Ashley joined us for a tailgate.

I celebrated Ashley’s bridal shower with her (seated next to her mom, of course). I watched her marry the love of her life through my tears of joy, and was honored to be seated with her parents (now my friends) at her wedding reception. Similarly, Ashley (and her husband) were there to celebrate the renewal of my wedding vows with me and Bruce. They were also there (with her mom and sister) when my husband threw a party for me for finally earning my masters degree. These are life moments… milestones, really, that we have chosen to share with each other. No conscious decision was made, we simply allowed our friendship, born out of mutual love and respect, to grow organically as the years passed.

Showers of happiness celebrating little Ashley and her soon-to-be-hubby.

Now, more than 14 years since I first met little Ashley, she is married, she owns a home, and she is a damn good attorney. (I keep tabs on her because she happens to work at a law firm where one of my best friends is a partner… the epitome of the expression “it’s such a small world”!). I treasure the relationship I share with Ashley (not to mention the ones I share with her sister and her mom), and I do believe that my world would be a much emptier place without all three of these beautiful (both inside and out) women.

These are just a few shots from the day I watched little Ashley get married.

Now, that little girl who brought sunshine and smiles into my classroom every day continues to do so, especially when I recently learned that my little Ashley is going to have a little one of her own! My heart almost exploded when I found out, and I feel as happy as I did when I found out that there was going to be a baby Rankin (in the form of my own nephew) on the way. I feel like I’m going to be an auntie again, and I offered myself up as a go-to baby sitter, because there is nothing I wouldn’t do for Ashley & Co.

Here’s me with little Ashley at the after party when Bruce and I renewed our vows.

Not every single former student of mine occupies the same special place in my heart as Ashley does, but the ones that do know that they can turn to me for anything. I may not have had children of my own, but I loved all of my students as if they were mine. Fortunately many, like Ashley, have been able to transcend the teacher/student relationship and we now share relationships as human beings, without titles.

A sampling of little Ashley (and her sister little Britt) through the years.

I knew I’d never be rich when I chose to become a classroom teacher, nor would I earn bonuses or even be given accolades that are so prevalent in the private sector. But because of the profession I chose, my heart and soul are full of love and pride, which makes me richer than I ever thought I could be. And while money is nice and we all need it to survive, I guarantee that the bonuses I have been given are way more special than any amount of money I might have earned. Money is quickly spent, but what I have been given will last me a lifetime.

Mandatory selfie with my little Ashley while she was studying to take the bar.


I love you Ashley, Bobby, Britt, Diane & Greg! Thank you for being part of my special extended family! xoxox

Hungry Years

Today I am bringing back an old entry, written by Bruce. I love his perspective, and recent conversations with some of my very special former students has had me thinking about the time in our life that we can look back upon, knowing that we were living in our “hungry years”, but also that we were blissfully unaware of how different things would be (for the better) once we established ourselves. Please enjoy this very special entry written by my favorite guest blogger.


Recently, I was listening to an interview with an older male actor (exactly who he is doesn’t much matter to the story here, plus most readers wouldn’t even know who the hell he is anyway), and in it he referred to his “hungry years”. By this he meant the early years of his marriage, when his career had not yet taken off, and so times were lean for him and his wife. When asked if he looked upon this time negatively he responded that they were actually some of the best times of his life, as he was still so young and naive, and didn’t fully grasp the struggles he was enduring. This made me think about our own “hungry years” in the early years of our relationship, and when I mentioned it to Rennie she felt it might be an interesting topic for the blog. The catch was that since I was the one that brought it up, I’d have to write it. So here it goes…

In the summer of 1998, after dragging my feet for the first three and a half years of our relationship (not to mention the fact that we had been such close friends for over seven years), Ren and I finally moved into our very own apartment. It was a beautiful place in a brand new development in North Brunswick, one town over from Rutgers University (where we’d met), and while it might have appeared to those that saw it that we had it all together, it wasn’t really the truth. Like most couples in their 20s, we were still finding our place in the world. Both of our careers were still in their infancies, and while Ren had spent the early years of our relationship working a high-paying retail job, that lifestyle just could not be sustained. The stress it was putting on her mind and her body, as well as our relationship, was too much to bear. A few short months before we moved into our new place she’d made the move out of retail, but there was a price to be paid for the more humane lifestyle…a huge pay cut. At the same time, I was working at my first “real” job out of college, and was finding it hard to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. So while we weren’t anywhere near the poverty level, we certainly weren’t living in the lap of luxury either. But we had each other, and considering everything that had to happen just for us to end up together in the first place, I often felt like I was living in a dream that someone would be waking me up from at any moment. I had zero complaints.

This one is from the "really hungry years", before we even lived together.

This one is from the “really hungry years”, before we even lived together.

With no money to do anything all-that-exciting, we quickly stumbled upon what would become our usual weekend routine. On Friday nights, we’d start with dinner at whatever “gourmet” chain restaurant we had a coupon for that week (Applebee’s, Chili’s, Bennigan’s, etc.), and then follow that up with a leisurely stroll through Target, where we hoped we could cobble enough cash together to buy the things we actually needed for the new palatial Rankin/Leighton estate. Once done, we’d come home and watch the ever so thrilling “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and whatever else we could find on the basic cable package we were lucky enough to be able to afford. Saturdays and Sundays were much the same, but since we’d already splurged on one meal out, Ren would cook…and often with food we’d lifted from my parents’ pantry the last time we’d visited them. Crazy stuff.

The spacious kitchen from our first place. It was bigger than some of the places Ren lived in by herself before we moved in together.

The spacious kitchen from our first place. It was bigger than some of the places Ren lived in by herself before we moved in together.

There’s one memory from this period that is still so vivid to me that I almost feel as if I’m traveling back in time when I think of it. It was a Saturday night in December 1999, and we’d recently booked our wedding in Las Vegas for the following April. Christmas and Hanukkah decorations lit up our apartment, and we were spending our weekend the way we’ve always loved to…talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company and the life we’d built (or were building). As the evening got later, we both drifted off to sleep in our living room, with Ren on the couch and me in the recliner. Sometime after midnight I awoke to the sounds of Beck performing his song “Mixed Bizness” on Saturday Night Live, and I looked over to see Ren peacefully asleep. I then slowly panned around the apartment that was so unmistakably “us”, smiled and then marveled at how perfect everything was in that one moment. A moment that could have easily been innocuous and forgettable ended up perfectly capturing that exact time in our life.

Our very first Christmas tree in our very own apartment. Together.

Our very first Christmas tree in our very own apartment. Together.

The most beautiful thing about those hungry years was that we were so young and that simply placing down our roots together, on our own (except the usual raiding of my mom’s pantry) felt truly blissful. Now with hindsight being 20/20, we can look back on the years of living paycheck to paycheck and understand how much we struggled and how we always made do with what we had…because we had each other. We now recognize that even though we were struggling then, there was no preparing us for the real battle that had not yet presented itself to us: life together with Multiple Sclerosis.  

Taken on Ren's 29th birthday, just shy of two years before her MS symptoms first presented.

Taken on Ren’s 29th birthday, just shy of two years before her MS symptoms first presented.

Now, with over two decades together to look back upon, it’s easy to recognize the times that weren’t so easy…even if at the time they seemed oh-so-normal. But as with many things in our life, there’s the time before MS, and the time after MS. That line of demarcation provides all the perspective we’ll ever need to realize that even though we had good times, and we had bad times…we had times. Times together, which is all that really matters, even if you’re hungry.

This summer we ventured back to the very spot that I first saw Ren walking across campus. We'd just graduated high school, and were attending summer orientation before starting our freshman year at Rutgers.

This summer we ventured back to the very spot that I first saw Ren walking across campus. We’d just graduated high school, and were attending summer orientation before starting our freshman year at Rutgers.

Thankful

Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, I am feeling a need to talk about gratitude. Most people don’t think enough about how many blessings they have in their lives because they focus too much on the daily humdrum of life. It is much easier to focus on negativity when it sometimes does take more effort to open your eyes to all the beautiful things that are right in front of you. I live my life, acknowledging my gratitude twice daily: morning and night (through journaling), making a conscious decision to do so. In honor of this month of gratitude, here are 30 (thirty!) things for which I am grateful, and believe me, I could list about a gazillion more than what’s here:

(Aside from the first one, listed in no particular order!)

1. Bruce: my other half, my partner in crime, my best friend, my husband, my fiancée. He never wavers, and he has taught me how to love purely, and with all that I have. No matter what obstacles life throws our way, we conquer them together.

2. A roof over my head, food in my fridge, and love in my heart. These all go together because we had to live in a hotel for 5 months while our home was being built, and I can never take for granted how it feels to be home. We spent plenty of our younger “hungry years” food shopping at my mother-in-law’s pantry, and now we have a well-stocked fridge and pantry, and even when we neglect the food shopping, there is still always enough to make a simple meal. And love because no matter where Bruce and I live, there is always love in my heart.

3. Autumn in NJ. There is nothing more beautiful than the palette of oranges, reds, and golds that naturally decorate our environment, even on years when they say it’s a bad season for foliage. Sometimes I wish I could pull my car over even in the worst of places because the view is that beautiful. The fall also reminds me that I survived another summer and that the coziness of winter is imminent.

4. Every single day when I can put my two feet on the floor and walk unassisted. I work hard to stay strong, and after 14 (+) years with MS, this is something that I am truly grateful for. (Don’t ask me about going up and down steps though!)

5. Yoga. It has taught me to connect my mind, body, and spirit. As much as my lack of balance can make things difficult, I like the challenge, and I never give up. Walk into my house almost any day of the week and you’ll see my mat, evidence that I am constantly practicing.

6. My family (steps and all!). They are spread all over the east coast, but their support is felt from all corners.

7. I feel a special sense of gratitude for my sister, Lorri, and my brother-in-law, Ken. They have been by my side (literally) through all the ups and downs. My sister was there with me the day I found out I had cancer, and both of them were there the day I celebrated the end of my cancer treatment and they witnessed me ringing the gong.

8. My Rankin family. For almost 23 years they have loved and supported me without question. And because I am a Rankin I have been blessed with a little sister and a nephew, both of whom I absolutely adore.

9. My MS family. This motley crew of crazies is essential to my mental health. Although support from family and friends is great, nothing replaces this group who can truly understand the challenges that I face every single day.

10. Living in this day and age where there are treatment options for MS patients to help slow down illness progression, giving us all a better quality of life. While I don’t think I’ll see a cure in my lifetime, as long as they continue to find more treatments for us, my gratitude is infinite.

11. My fur babies, past and present. Rescuing these poor pups that never would have been adopted otherwise has added so much joy to my life, and although it’s heart-breaking to lose them, the happiness they bring on a daily basis is worth it.

12. Diane, my trainer. In addition to working me out, she has become a trusted friend, who I consider family. She plays many roles for me: cheerleader, therapist, trainer, sister, and friend. She has helped me change both my body and my mind, and for that alone I am eternally grateful. She knows what I need when I need it, and words can’t describe how important she is to me.

13. My volunteer job at Marty’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary. The “residents” are so loving, and I have met so many other like-minded individuals in both the many other volunteers I have met there as well as in the very skeleton crew of paid employees. They never waste an opportunity to thank the volunteers and to let us know how important we are in the daily upkeep of this extremely special place.

14. Having taken my cancer diagnosis and used it to build more inner strength.  Today I can look back at the beginning of my journey (starting just about one year ago), knowing that I faced it head on, with a smile on my face…and kicked ass.

15. Being proactive in my medical care, knowing how to use the tools at my disposal and sift out the fluff to understand the meat. I’m not afraid to advocate for myself, and I can do it without getting angry.

16. Having learned to listen to my body, and to understand what it needs and when it needs it. I know when I am over-tired and need rest, and I know when I can push through. I know when I have a gut feeling, I need to listen to it, and I’m grateful that I have learned this lesson.

17. My former students, near and far, who continue to play such an important role in my life. They help me to see the good in others as I watch them blossom as adults, doing amazing things. They make me happy just thinking about how far they have come, and they fill my heart up with endless amounts of pride.

18. Meditation, specifically Transcendental Meditation (TM). Through the process of learning TM, I am generally a more self-aware, calmer version of the person I used to be. TM allows me to settle my mind and give myself those 20 precious minutes of clarity.

19. Air conditioning. It sounds trivial, but when you suffer from heat intolerance due to MS (and you lose your vision when overheated), it takes on new meaning… especially when you live in NJ where the summer months bring what feels like never-ending heat and oppressive humidity. Also, the curly girl in me appreciates the AC as well, but for completely different reasons!

20. On-line shopping. Being that crowds make me anxious (mostly because I can’t feel my feet which throws my balance off), being able to still do my holiday shopping on my own, without fear of walking into people (or things) and embarrassing myself, helps me maintain my independence.

21. Social media. How else could I have reconnected and stayed in contact with so many amazing people from so many different aspects of my life? (Pssst: if you don’t see me on Facebook, it simply means that things got too political for me and I took a little break, but you will always see me on Instagram!)

22. Photography. This little hobby of mine has given me friendships with some pretty spectacular people. I never knew I could feel such a strong connection with friends simply because of a shared passion!

23. My forever friend, MHP, for always ALWAYS loving me. We don’t live ten minutes from each other like when we were younger, but it doesn’t matter. She is forever in my heart and no matter how long we go in between visits, it’s always like no time has passed at all.

24. My “brother from another mother”, BH, for coming back into my life at a time when we both needed a specific kind of friend to suit a specific purpose. He has seen me through so much and I am so thankful for his kindness and support. Not a day goes by without a text or a phone call, which in itself is hugely comforting to know that he has my back always.

25. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and On-Demand. Being able to watch anything we want so quickly, without having to go out to the movies is the best. Aside from the germaphobe in me who gets grossed out by sitting in chairs that who knows what kind of person sat in last, the MS patient in me appreciates not having to choose the right moment to go to the bathroom without fear of tripping in the dark. At home I can press “pause” as many times as I need to!

26. Having chosen a profession and worked long enough to earn disability retirement so that I could collect my pension early, allowing me to take care of myself and my illness, and still contribute to the household bills.

27. The families of former students who have brought me into the loving fold of their own families because of the relationships we established so many years ago. It’s hugely validating to me, not just as a former teacher, but also as a human being. All I did was love their kids and help them to succeed, but that’s all I had to do, apparently. I’m so thankful to feel so loved.

28. Coffee. And certain medications. When chronic fatigue rules your life, you must give thanks for anything that helps you push through the day, whether prescribed by a doctor or otherwise.

29. Texting. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to have a full conversation over the phone, and texting allows me to check in with (or be checked in on by) friends and family, with less effort expended. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to loved ones, but sometimes, I simply do not have enough energy.

30. I am grateful for this life I’m living. It’s not perfect, nor is it what I envisioned for me and Bru, but it’s the only life I have been given. Despite the obvious, our life is perfectly imperfect, and overcoming so much together only makes it that much sweeter.

So there you have it. With very little thought, I have listed a whole month’s worth of people and/or things for which I am eternally grateful. I’m not saying that you need to physically acknowledge your gratitude twice daily like I do, but I am saying that if you start and end your day with gratitude, there’s no way that you will be able to fixate on any negativity that arises during the day. We all deal with stress in our lives, and I have found the best way to counteract stress and negativity is by focusing on gratitude. I dare you to try it. You’ll be amazed at how differently you view your world. So tell me… What are you thankful for?

PS. I took a little tumble and dislocated my finger the night before posting this blog, so I am adding the fact that I’m grateful that my finger isn’t broken, and should heal up much more quickly than if it were broken. I’m also grateful that I didn’t dislocate a body part more important than a pointer finger.

Patient Advocacy

I’m not your typical patient. Not by any stretch. I value the recommendations of my health care team but I do not blindly listen and follow orders like a good soldier. I am an educated woman, with a masters degree in Library Science, which basically means research is my thing. Although anecdotal research serves a purpose, I like to dig deeper using educated research where I can compare data. I also understand statistics and how easily they can be manipulated to suit the needs of any study. Although I have been met with my share of resistance, ultimately I think my medical team understands that this is just who I am, and although they aren’t always pleased with this kind of patient, they respect it.

The last two weeks it feels that all I’ve done is defend myself and my choices, particularly where it comes to my treatment plan for MS. Did you ever have a really bad gut instinct about something without being able to explain why? Well I have. Generally I listen to my body because I am very in-tuned with it, and the last time I didn’t, I ended up crashing my car. Well I was having that same feeling about the treatment my MS specialist and I had discussed at my last visit and it had me very upset. I felt torn. I have always been on the same page as my neuro, and for 14 years I have trusted him implicitly. I still do. But I felt there were other, perhaps less orthodox treatments, that were not being discussed. And on top of everything else, I was informed that I have a thyroid nodule (which is most likely nothing), but no cancer patient ever wants to hear the word nodule no matter how innocuous it might seem to others.

It’s not that I panicked exactly, I just wanted to know more about this nodule as soon as humanly possible, and I couldn’t get anyone to listen to me. So I did what I know how to do. I did my own work, and managed to get an appointment with an endocrinologist (who is highly recommended) at the end of November when they are actually booking in late January.

I made an appointment with my MS specialist to discuss the other treatment options, because with a ginormous patient load, it’s the only way I could get some time that would specifically be mine. I made an appointment for the end of December, but as luck would have it, there was a cancellation so I was able to get in this past week. In the interim I had already called other specialized MS comprehensive care clinics in preparation for a second opinion of a new treatment plan, and shared that information freely with my MS specialist of 14 years. I simply let it be known that if there wasn’t further discussion about my options then I was prepared to do what I needed to do to get what I feel is the right path for me. I was not met with anger or resistance, but rather, what appeared to be respect. Because I made it clear what I wanted and needed… but I did it in a way that was not confrontational or angry, but simply by stating the facts as I knew them. I used 13 of my 20 minutes that is allotted for each appointment, and I left with a great sense of relief and accomplishment.

Being your own advocate, not just as a medical patient, but in any circumstance at all in life where there is someone in a perceived position of power over you, is a lesson that is hard to learn but invaluable in effect. It’s a lesson I tried to teach my students when I was working because being able to discuss what you need without getting angry or confrontational, is very empowering, and let’s face it… no one is going to advocate for you. You are your own best (and likely only) advocate.

Life will always throw curve balls our way, and the way we face them is up to us. I am the kind of person who sees that curve ball, and I don’t just stand there without attempting to smack it out of the ball park. Many moons ago, my softball coach told us that when you have two strikes against you, it’s always better to go down swinging rather than just standing there looking at the ball. It’s advice I have carried with me for the last 30 years or so, and I have applied it to practically every aspect of my life. This week I feel like I hit a home run for Team Rankin. And, like I’ve said before, we never lose.

(Shout out to my softball coach, Jean Hildebrandt, for giving me this advice that i have carried close to my heart throughout the years.)

No words necessary!

 

Do-over

Last week, I wrote about our plans to have a wedding since we never had one. This week, I proudly present an entry written by my one and only, Bruce, relating to the same topic. I know his posts are very popular, and I am sure you will all love this one as much as I do.

Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot how exactly I’m able to handle everything that comes with Ren’s MS. Now as we’ve moved into middle-age, and breast cancer has been added to her plate, the frequency in which I hear this from someone has increased almost exponentially. Usually, my response revolves around how I just keep my head up and continue moving forward, but that doesn’t begin to adequately explain what it is to be a care partner and to struggle through everything that Ren has to put up with from day to day. And as I’ve written here before, our relationship is such that whatever one of us goes through, we go through together. So while I’m not personally suffering with the debilitating nature of MS, or struggling through radiation treatments, I’m as close to it as anyone possibly can be. As a result of all that we’ve gone through, our relationship has strengthened and brought us to a place I didn’t think was possible. It’s a place (as Ren mentioned in her entry last week), that most couples just don’t find themselves in. Thankfully, that is not us at all.

When considering exactly what it is that keeps me going through it all, it ultimately comes down to one thing: I love Ren. I don’t just love her, but I’m in love with her. And I pretty much have been in love with her since we met as 18 year olds at Rutgers University…I just was too young and stupid to completely grasp it at the time. What started as a simple crush grew and grew into this overwhelming need to have her in my life all the time, and after several years I was lucky enough to finally have that happen. Of course, as the saying goes, you have to be careful what you wish for, because once you have it it’s not always what you thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, because Ren has always made me incredibly happy, but once we were together I had a very hard time dealing with it. In our early years, I often would put her second (or third or fourth) behind my friends, and certainly could be accused of taking her for granted. Being such good friends with her before we became romantically involved made things easier for us than most new couples, but for me they might have made them too easy as I ended up treating her too much like my buddy Rennie instead of my girlfriend Rennie. Add to this my tendency to reject romance completely (Ren once stated that a rock on the ground was more romantic than I was), and think of marriage as an unnecessary business arrangement, and you can see how there were many times when Ren didn’t always believe that I was as devoted to our relationship as I insisted (and knew) I was. And as our friends started to get engaged and married, my resolve to ever be the contrarian got stronger and stronger. Basically, I was a jerk.

When Ren and I finally did decide to get married, as she’s described here, we went with a very low-key approach. This was done for several reasons (more than one of which was my reluctance to look like a hopeless romantic in front of my family and friends), but the most important of those reasons was that we just didn’t have the money for a big wedding, and neither of us thought it responsible behavior to go into mounds of debt for one day…even if it was our wedding day. I know at the time Ren would have liked a “real” wedding, but as she has often said, she’d marry me with a piece of string tied around her finger. In the end, she was just happy that I was finally committing to her in the way that she’d always dreamed I would.

This is our actual wedding picture. Nothing conventional about it.

The first couple of years of our marriage were rocky, and there were doubts at times about how long it might last, but we were finally coming out of the woods as we approached our third anniversary. Then Ren was diagnosed with MS, and our world was turned upside down. Suddenly, our issues (which in retrospect were stupid little things) meant nothing, and it was all about getting a handle on things and ensuring that she was receiving the best care she could. And as I wrote about here on the blog, my attitude suddenly began to change. Even though it might not look that way, I’d always been devoted to Ren, but a metamorphosis was starting. Slowly, my attitude began to change. I no longer took her for granted, and I found myself wanting to be more romantic and spend more time with her, and just her. I also found myself thinking about finally giving her what I should have given her years before: a real engagement. It was an idea that gestated for the better part of ten years, and which did result in a renewal of our vows for our tenth wedding anniversary in 2010. But I knew that wasn’t enough. I had to do more.

At the renewal of our vows, celebrated with about 40 people at our favorite spot in New Brunswick.

Eventually, as my career began to pick up steam, and I was finally earning a substantial enough salary (or so I thought) to be able to give Ren what she deserved, I set the plan in motion. In the fall of 2015, I realized it was time to move ahead with things, and began looking at engagement rings. Yes, we’d been engaged before, but not in any true sense, as we’d mutually agreed it was time to get hitched. There was no dropping to one knee, and certainly no romance. Young Bruce simply would not have that. I badly wanted to right that wrong, so I went out and bought an actual engagement ring, and on the campus we’d met on so many years ago, I retroactively popped the question. Thankfully, she said yes (phew!).

Taken probably 3 minutes after the proposal!

On what was one of the happiest days of her life, I finally realized how important it was to have done this for Ren. She was ecstatic. And with everything we’d been through over the years, it was inspiring to see. For that one night, Ren finally felt like the princess she should have always been, or at least like the princess I should have made her feel like when we were younger. After all, she’s simply been the most important person in my life for more than half of it…a life that she completely changed by just being a part of it.

In the months following my “retroactive proposal”, our relationship went through a RENnassaince (pun completely intended), and we realized that we were even more in love than we’d ever been. During this time the idea of actually having a real wedding on our 20th wedding anniversary came up, and when I looked ahead at the calendar and saw that it fell on a Friday I just knew we had to do it. So this past summer we booked a venue, and have started to look into all of the other details needed to plan the big day. And now we can afford to do it exactly the way we want to, and we’re old and wise enough to know exactly what we want.

But in the end, this whole thing is really about Rennie. She’s the most incredible person I’ve ever known for so many reasons, even though I too often spent some time early in our relationship taking her for granted. While I still beat myself up for my behavior back then, I know that it was short-lived, and that I’ve spent much more of our time together appreciating her for the person that she is. And I get better at it all the time. Regardless of what obstacles MS or cancer puts in our path, I know that not many guys get to date their crush, much less marry them. And on April 17th, 2020, I’ll get to marry her all over again.

Wedding

So Bruce and I are not the kind of people who live our lives according to other people’s standards. Most people would consider our marriage somewhat unconventional (not in any gross ways 😜  ), but to us, we have always just done what works for us. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, all of our friends had extravagant proposals followed by equally as lavish weddings. But not us… we opted for a trip to Vegas (just the two of us), a webcast (very cutting edge in the year 2000), and a casual celebration after the fact. And you know what? I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.

As the years passed, I still didn’t have any regrets. Our friends started having babies, and we chose not to. At the time when babies were being made, we were dealing with the addition of MS to our family and that was enough. And even though we took some heat all around for not making babies, you know what? I still wouldn’t have changed a single thing.

Random date night picture…

As we began approaching what most refer to as “mid-life”, we were falling deeper and deeper in love with each other, while many of our friends began divorcing, cheating, or both. Then, on a random Saturday “date night” in March of 2016, Bruce and I went to one of our favorite places in New Brunswick, where he got down on one knee and actually proposed to me (retroactively). It was, by far, the most romantic night of my life. We didn’t know at the time what the proposal meant for us, except that Bruce wanted to give me what everyone else got in our 20’s, and even though I never had regrets or doubts, on some level I always wanted him to declare his love for me in a personal way like all my girlfriends had experienced from their guys years before. Still, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.

Here I am on the night of my proposal, walking on cloud 9 and admiring the beautiful engagement ring that Bru placed on my finger.

For a few weeks, we rode the high, feeling like a newly engaged couple despite having been together for over 20 years already… full of excitement and butterflies, the way it should be. But better. Because in my mind I knew that this guy of mine wanted to be married to me more than ever, even after so many curve balls that life had thrown our way. We talked a lot about how to acknowledge our “engagement” and what we discovered is that we wanted a wedding. And you know what? I wouldn’t change a single thing!

I still cant believe he orchestrated such a perfect proposal that I could never forget.

There is something very different about declaring your love publicly when you are just starting out your life together,  than doing the same as established adults. For one thing, we can do everything the way we want to because we are in a different financial position than we were in our 20’s. We know what we want, what we like, and if anyone disagrees with us, we don’t care! So, months ago, we booked a venue that is very representative  of who we are, and on our exact 20th wedding anniversary, we will finally have a wedding to celebrate our amazing life together with our family and friends. And I wouldn’t change a single thing.

Bruce has a countdown until our wedding day on his phone, and every once in a while he sends me a screen shot so I know how many days are left.

Suddenly I find myself watching bride shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Four Weddings”. I spend time on Pinterest browsing wedding dresses, wedding hairstyles, wedding invitations, and anything else wedding related. It’s not like I can do too much because this isn’t happening until 2020! I even have a wedding planner/consultant (shout out to Dani!❤️  ), who is amazing at details and she keeps telling me we have to get to work. What do I know about this stuff? Nothing! Which is exactly why I need her, and I wouldn’t change a single thing!

This is what I know. I know that although we aren’t doing this in the “right” order, it is exactly the right order for us. I know that I want Bruce to see me in a wedding dress and be waiting for me at the end of the aisle. I want to declare my everlasting love for the guy I can’t live without in front of everyone. I know that I want to celebrate our love with those we hold dear. And although having a wedding after 20 years of marriage isn’t the way people normally do things, I know, without any doubts whatsoever, that I wouldn’t change a single thing.

We should all be so lucky to fall deeper in love as the years pass, rather than grow apart as often is the case. Bruce and I are proud of the strength of our relationship, and even though we have had many obstacles to overcome, we have weathered the storms together, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.

Rainbow Bridge

This week, Bruce and I said goodbye to a beloved member of our family. We knew his days were numbered, yet we still were not fully prepared for how quickly he seemed to decline. In the end, we let him go peacefully in the loving arms of the best mama he ever had in his traumatic little life. We are sad and broken, but we will heal, comforted by how far he came in his 5 years with us. In honor of our Marty, I am bringing back two entries that I wrote about my spirit animal, read with tears in my eyes but a smile on my face because that little boy will always hold an extremely special place in my heart. Marty is on to the rainbow bridge, and his suffering is over. May you all experience the love and joy that a rescue pet can bring into your life… and remember please, please, please #adoptdontshop!


Marty

I have written about how therapeutic pets can be (click here), but today I’d like to write about one pet in particular. Before I continue, I feel the need to state that I love all my pets (past and present) equally, and with every fiber of my being. Even if I did love one of them more (and I’m not saying that I do!), I would never verbalize it! 

He even plays with toys sometimes, now that he is feeling well!

He even plays with toys sometimes, now that he is feeling well!

When I first saw my Marty on Petfinder, I felt drawn to his picture, and I stopped looking. This is how I had found Mookie (Marty’s now deceased older adopted brother), and I had the same exact feeling back then. I stopped looking because I knew that I had found the one. 

When I first met Marty in person, I was horrified listening as his foster mom told me the traumatic events that brought Marty to NJ. He was rescued from a high kill shelter in Texas, where he was due to be euthanized because he was just another chihuahua with heartworm. He was saved, and endured the painful, grueling process of being treated for heartworm. I’ll also add that he is an albino chihuahua with many sensitivities, just like humans with albinism. He has sensitive skin, bad allergies, and certain sounds or music affect his ears so badly that he howls. That howl of his is what caused him to be “un-adopted” twice before he found me. My husband and I are well-versed in special-needs dogs since Mookie was abused and abandoned with many traumatic memories, and he also suffered from seizure disorder. To paraphrase Bruce’s feeling on the matter, why would we adopt the ones that everyone else wants when we know we should take the ones who won’t find a home?

So Marty joined the family on July 6, 2012. I can honestly say that it took a really long time for me to connect with him. He was not an easy dog to love. He was an incredibly low-energy, temperamental dog. If we touched him in the wrong place, he snapped. If we played the wrong music (Radiohead, for example), he snapped. If we tried to clip his toenails, he snapped. If we moved him or picked him up before he was ready, he snapped. 

He is not exactly a handsome fellow, but he makes up for it in personality!

He is not exactly a handsome fellow, but he makes up for it in personality!

I wanted to love Marty and make up for all the bad years and experiences he had endured before he found us, but he made it difficult at times. A few months after he came, we said goodbye to Mookie, and Marty became an only child. Little by little, he softened up some, and some days I think I actually did love him. Certainly I couldn’t imagine my life without him, anyway. 

This was when I started to feel the love for my little boy!

This was when I started to feel the love for my little boy!

We have since added Scarlet, rescued about a year after Marty, to our little family. She is just about the sweetest, happiest little girl ever. She is definitely easy to love, and I’ve loved her since the very first time I met her. You always know what you’re getting with Scarlet, which is pure love. With Marty, not so much. 

This is Scarlet. She isn't baring her teeth here. She is one of those dogs who smiles! How could I not love her?!

This is Scarlet. She isn’t baring her teeth here. She is one of those dogs who smiles! How could I not love her?!

But about a year ago (when Marty was with us for two years and a scarlet was with us for one), Marty began having even more medical issues. After spending a small fortune at U Penn Vets, we discovered that he has a collapsing trachea, and it is probably 65% collapsed at the moment. They told us that the best thing we could do is have him lose some weight, and they put him on a combination of medications to help manage his symptoms. I finally started understanding why Marty acted the way he did. He didn’t feel well. I don’t act nice when I don’t feel well either! 

Siblings.

Siblings.

Then just a few months ago, we had yet another medical crisis. Seemingly out of the blue, his stomach was bloated, and he was lethargic. When he refused the peanut butter (that conveniently hides his medications), I knew something was up. He was admitted to the hospital for four very long nights, and he diagnosed with Diabetic Ketoacidosis. It took weeks to regulate his insulin, and slowly he started to recover. There were setbacks along the way, including a condition that requires us to put ointment in his eyes, as well as a recent tooth root infection. But he is a trooper and he keeps bouncing back. My sister even commented that he’s like a cat with nine lives!

Marty's preferred location is on top of me, whether it's on my lap (shown here), my chest, or tucked under my arm.

Marty’s preferred location is on top of me, whether it’s on my lap (shown here), my chest, or tucked under my arm.

I think now I see Marty in a whole new light. He, like me, enjoys the simple things in life: a full belly, peace and quiet, and a warm place to snuggle with his family. Even though I look ok, simple things are harder for me than they are for healthy people, and I see that with Marty, too. Both of us live a life that is incredibly happy, but also unpredictable. We both take two steps forward, and one step back. He has been attached to me like never before lately, and I think it’s because he knows that I understand him. More and more I feel like he is me in doggy form, or else I’m Marty in human form. Our struggles are so much the same. We both fight with all our strength and determination, and he is my little Warrior dog. 

Spooning against me.

Spooning against me.

Marty has been a part of our family for over three years now. There is a reason I stopped looking at available rescue dogs after I saw his little profile on Petfinder. He was meant to be with us all along because all he needed was the right family to help him thrive. He is happy, and as healthy as he can be (like me) with all of his conditions controlled medicinally, and he is more affectionate, sweeter, and happier than ever. Just like me! 

These kids complete our little family.

These kids complete our little family.

(PS. If you are looking for a furry little addition to your family, please, please, PLEASE consider rescuing an animal from a shelter!)


Marty and Me

I know I have written about my dog Marty in the past, but he is certainly worthy of another entry for so many reasons. He’s definitely my spirit animal in that he’s a true warrior dog. I mean, he was rescued from a high-kill shelter in Texas, with heart-worms, mange, and a host of other conditions. He survived all of that, found his way to NJ, and finally found me. 

I didn’t fall in love with him from day one, but there is no denying that he’s my little boy now. Amazingly, since I’ve had him (coming up on five years), we have been through many health crises together, and he has overcome every single one, most notably a collapsed trachea and the sudden onset of diabetes. 

Poor little tongue is always out now.

Most recently, on the day of my surgery, as we were rushing out of the house at 6 am, we noticed that one whole side of poor Marty’s face was swollen. Great timing! After my surgery, Bruce deposited me on the couch, ran out to get my medications, and brought Marty to the vet. This had happened in the past yet with a new vet in the practice, she was reluctant to give us any medication without seeing him. She actually wanted to admit him but Bruce insisted that this was not a good time. As it turns out, Marty had an abscess and needed an antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory, and some pain management. The swelling went down pretty quickly, but it was obvious he was uncomfortable. The vet suggested we admit him immediately to have a deep cleaning done, but of course we couldn’t do that because we were dealing with human issues. In the interim, we dealt with a lot of crying (on Marty’s part and ours) as well as frustration all around. He can’t tell us what he needs and we did nothing but try everything possible to see what he needed: taking him out, giving him meds, feeding him, moving him to all of his favorite spots to rest… and the list goes on. 

Messy eater with no teeth left!

When he finally had his dental work done, the bone in his jaw was so brittle that the vet caused a hairline fracture, which then led us to a doggie oral surgeon to take on his case. Again, our lives revolved around trying to take care of our baby boy and managing his pain. For a middle-aged couple who made a conscious decision to simplify our lives by not having any children, we were living as if we had a child. Besides taking care of Marty, we also had to make sure that Scarlet was not feeling any less loved, despite the amount of attention that Marty required. Rather than simplifying our life, it was exponentially more complicated, especially when taking into account the fact that I was recovering from surgery myself plus the MS that is a constant presence in our world. 

Sibling love. Or at least tolerance.

But the truth of the matter is that when you rescue animals like we do, particularly the ones who would not be adopted otherwise, it’s a sacrifice you make. I would not give up on my little man like others did before me, even if it temporarily turns my life into something other than what I had anticipated. Happily, he is on the mend and practically back to his old self again, and we remain grateful for the life decisions that led us to create our little family without human children. It’s a choice we made early on for many reasons, and without any regrets. It was (and has been) an exhausting time for us, and I can’t imagine how we would fare if we had taken the alternate path…the one where we follow the masses and the societal norms simply because most people do. 

Sitting right on top of his sister.

The universe clearly drew me to Marty, and there is a reason I felt he was the one to rescue even though I didn’t fall in love with him right away. Our lives are parallel, though, or so it seems. He already had medical issues when we rescued him, and there always seems to be something new to deal with for the poor guy. I, too, had my own medical concerns before he came home with me, and sometimes I feel like I keep having more added to my already well-stocked plate. If it is indeed true that Marty is my spirit animal and he has been given multiple lives in his short little life, then at least I can take comfort in the fact that I have several more to go myself!

He isn’t the prettiest one out there, but there is no denying his connection to me as a fighter.