Wednesday, November 26, 2014

When You See Me

It is 5 a.m.

I just woke up and for the first time in a long time, I felt "normal".  No stomach pain, no nausea.
It's been a rough couple of months (yep-even with all the wonderful adventures in the last few months).

This time of year is the hardest for me for obvious reasons.  I am reclusive and avoid anything that resembles a celebration.

Once again, all I could think of the last couple days is "I just want to be better.  I want to put up the Christmas tree.  Some lights.  I want to cook.  I want to EAT."  I know that it is Melissa saying "Wake up mom.  Enjoy your life while you have it!"

So anyway, I woke up this morning and this was in my head:

When You See Me

If what you see
When you see me
Is a shell of what I used to be

Remember this…

I lost my daughter
Then two friends
Will it EVER end?

If you haven’t called or
Seen me in awhile
You might be surprised
I DO smile

You might have noticed
I was getting “better”
(Although I was not sick)
At Christmas time
I trimmed the tree
I sent Christmas cards
I baked cookies

A light was finally shining through
Life was feeling good, not filled with dread

Then on a tragic day in January
We found my sister dead.

So if what you see
When you look at me
Is a shell of what
I used to be

Remember this

YOU could be ME

Makes me think of Melissa's favorite saying
"No matter how bad you have it, there is always someone who would love to be in your shoes"

That goes for me too.  I think about that all the time.  WHO would want to be in my shoes?  Then I think of my high school friend who lost her son.  Her ONLY child.  SHE would love to be in my shoes.


First of all, I am so blessed for the friends that have stuck around.  There are a few that I stay in touch with on a regular basis.  I am so thankful for them, especially on days like the ones I have been having lately.

I guess this poem is just a reminder that when you post things like "only surround yourself with happy people" people like me get a little paranoid.  Because, as hard as I try, my life is not always happy.  Oh, I have had some great days (and I want you to know THAT was a hard thing for me to say for a long time) but I have a lot of baggage.  Thankfully I have a wonderful husband who understands and accepts the ups and downs.

Just remember, during the holidays, there are a lot of people who are missing loved ones in their lives. They need you more than ever during the holidays.  Hard as it may be to be around people that are depressed, they need you.  Reach out.  They'll be happy you did.  YOU'LL be happy you did.

(Thanks Marianne, Jennifer, Roxy, Leanne)


And just to prove that I am trying…I will post pictures of our little tree and lights when I'm up to putting them up.  


Monday, November 24, 2014

Six years...

Six years ago today, Melissa went into the hospital.  Wow.  It still seems like yesterday.

She was having lots of pain a couple weeks before.  I remember getting up one morning to get ready for work an I was packing a bag.  Donny asked me what I was doing.  I told him that Melissa wasn't feeling great and if she called, I was going to go down to Cincinnati to help take care of her.  Not five minutes later the phone rang…she was calling to say she was in extreme pain.  I told her I was on my way.  John had already left for work, and she didn't want him to have to come home.  So I drove to Finneytown.  When I got there I told her I was taking her to Kettering Hospital in Dayton because that's where all her doctors were.  In the ER, I remember her telling the nurses that her chest was hurting.  She ended up being admitted and they put her on the Cardiac Floor.  That's where she met Mary, the nurse that made her the CD mix of songs.  (Viva La Vida being one of them!)  They ended up doing a thorosentesis to remove fluid from around her lungs.  She had been scheduled for a PET Scan that week, but they wouldn't do it because it was scheduled as an outpatient and she was and Inpatient.  Stupid.  She even volunteered to be released and she would just go right to have the PET Scan.  No go.  After about three days, she begged to be released because she and John were having their annual Chili Cook-Off that weekend.

The cook-off went as planned, and she promised me that John would do everything.  She was really too sick to host this event, but of course nothing stopped her from doing whatever she wanted to do (she got that from my dad).

A week later she was in the hospital again.  This time, for the final time.

To be honest I can't remember if we went to Dr. Romer's office first, or if we went right to the ER.  But she was admitted again.  I also recall that since she hadn't been feeling well, I had ordered our Thanksgiving Dinner at Kroger.  I knew I wouldn't have the energy to cook.  That never happened.  Ate Thanksgiving Dinner in the hospital with Melissa & John.

The fluid was back in her lungs, and they needed to do the thorosentesis again.  If you go back to November 2008 in the archives (down the right side of this page) she explains in detail the events of each day.

Too hard for me to read right now.  What I remember is about all I can handle.


This is a tough time of year.  I guess it's a good thing all of traveling is done for awhile.   We've done a lot in just a few months - starting with three visits to my dad in Florida, then the cruise (Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, Curacao, Aruba) then California (Disney, San Diego, Ellen Show), then a weekend with our Portsmouth friends at Hocking Hills, then Memphis, New Orleans and Ryan's last game.

All good things.

Here's a few of the pics from the last couple of weeks..

I've had a few issues with this lately…anytime we're out of town.  Donny wanted to buy this t-shirt for me. I told him I'd NEVER wear it. But I would take a picture of it. I must not be the only one with this problem!

Where we stayed in the French Quarter

Donny's cousin Jim happened to be in New Orleans the same weekend we were…so were the Bengals!

Stopped in the bar Tropical Isle - owned by a Pam Fortner.  Got the most popular drink in the south, the Hand Grenade. Invented by Pam Fortner.  Pretty good.

And getting me through these rough months - Andrew & Max.  Thank God for them.

Windmill Farms


Nick & Max @ Max's Thanksgiving Feast

Pamma & Max

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Thank you Coach Jim Jabir and the Dayton Flyer's women's basketball team for welcoming us to your practice tonight.  It really means a lot to us to share Melissa's story.

The photo was taken after the pink game a couple of years ago.  We followed Cassie Sant when she was at Fairmont (Melissa followed her too) and then at UD.  (Fairmont Girls Basketball now gives an award in Melissa's name - The Melissa Fortener McLaughlin B POSITIVE Spirit Award.  Cassie was the first recipient, just a couple months after Melissa passed away.

Like I said when I started, I could talk about Melissa all day.  But I only had a few minutes (the aroma of your dinner was making ME hungry!) so I want to tell you a little more about her.

Like all of you, she was an athlete.  When she was about 6 or 7, she had a couple friends who took ballet.  She begged me to go.  So we enrolled her.  After about the second week, I was dragging her to practice.  She hated it.  About the same time a friend of ours caught her after church one Sunday and said she needed some soccer players.  Although she only played soccer a couple of years, she was hooked.  She loved sports.  She played basketball and volleyball in high school.  When she went to OU, she discovered rugby.  Her new love.  After she graduated from OU, she lived in Dayton for awhile and played for the Cincy-Dayton Rugby Club.  Eventually she moved to Cincinnati and played for the Cincinnati Kelts.

It was the spring of 2003 when she felt the lump.   I'll NEVER forget that day.  She went by herself for the mammogram.  I went with her for the biopsy.  When the doctor came out and said "It's cancer" I was devastated.  I cried all the way home…and she said "Mom.  I'll be fine.  I need to get back to work…"  That was how she handled it for five years.

The original plan was to start with chemo, shrink the tumor, remove it and go from there.  The week after she was diagnosed, she went in to have a port put in (if you read the blog, she posts LOTS of pictures of procedures she had-the port is one of them).
It was outpatient surgery.  After routine urinalysis and blood tests, before the procedure, they told her she was pregnant.  So the original plan was scrapped.   The next morning she was supposed to start her chemo treatments and we went with her.  After about 10 minutes she came out.  The treatment was supposed to last for 3 hours.  She said "somethings wrong with the port.  I need to go back to the hospital".  She wouldn't let me go with her because "she had to get back to work."  But there was nothing wrong with the port - she was going to have an ultrasound to see how far along she was.  She said later the baby was waving at her.  So now she had a decision to make - terminate or go through with the pregnancy.  After stopping to talk to our parish priest (who thank God told her "Whatever decision you make God will understand") She decided not to terminate.  THEN she met me for lunch.  She got there first, and as soon as I sat down, she said "I'm pregnant".  I was devastated all over again. But she said "It's fine mom.  I'll just have a mastectomy first, then start chemo."  She was almost in the second trimester.  She played SIX games of rugby pregnant.  And the baby was fine.  Chemo would start as soon as the drains came out. Then she would be in her second trimester and the treatments wouldn't hurt the baby.  All was well.

So life went on.  She was living with her boyfriend in Cincinnati (they married the following spring), working in Dayton.  Treatments finally started in August.  She went every three weeks.  Never missed a day of work (worked late to make up the time she was out having chemo!)  And played rugby.
On October 19, 2003 she went into early labor at home after being in a friend's wedding.  Just after midnight, she gave birth to John Patrick (JP)…born sleeping.  He was the light at the end of the tunnel…and she lost him.  I didn't understand then…I have no idea how she kept going after losing her son. But she did.  She had another battle to fight and this was just another competition.  And she was going to win.

She married John March 12, 2004.  They bought a house in Finneytown.  She was in remission at the time.

In the spring of 2005, the cancer was back.  The chemo she was on gave her mouth sores, and her friends were calling checking up on her but she didn't want to talk - so she started the blog.  This is the second blog.  She took the  first blog - - down in the spring of 2008 when she was applying for jobs.  She quit the job she was working when she was diagnosed - too stressful.  Then she found a job through a Temp Service.  But she wanted a REAL job.  One that would use her degree…and she didn't want anyone to know she had cancer.  She was hired by the University of Cincinnati as the Marketing and Promotions Coordinator for the Co-op Program.  
All of that is in the blog.

Her last post was Christmas Eve 2008.  BLOGGING LIVE FROM HOSPICE.  She was pretty amazing.

I continued writing the blog - although I am not the writer she was.  She was funny and serious and her posts made you want more.  I just want her to be remembered.  I want to remember that she LIVED. Not that she died.

So I gave you the part between the diagnosis and the beginning of the blog.  She tells her story so much better than I do.  I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you remember to B POSITIVE.  She always said "no matter how bad you have it, there is always someone who would love to be in your shoes".  No matter what's going on in your life, or how the season is going…things could be worse.

Although we expect an amazing season from the you this year.  Good luck.  We'll see you at the games!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Not sure where to start here…so I'll jump to the middle of the week because I want to remember our first grandson.  John Patrick McLaughlin.

He was born October 19, 2003, about  2 months early.  Too soon.   We should have been celebrating his 11th birthday Sunday.  But instead, we remembered him.  We told Melissa & John we would never forget him.  So we remember.  Happy Birthday JP.  We love you and miss you EVERY day.

It was a whirlwind week.  At least it seems that way now.  Donny had a conference at Disneyland in Anaheim.  We stayed at the Disneyland Resort Hotel-very nice.   He was busy all week, I had Downtown Disney to keep me busy.  And a pool.  And two books.  Very relaxing week.  Until Saturday.  Had tickets to Disneyland - we got there at 7 a.m. - back to the hotel around 9 p.m.  Wore my Fitbit Flex (tracks my steps) - we walked over 7 miles that day!  Disneyland is a lot smaller than Disney World - but POSITIVE there were a million people there that day.  The lines for food were as long as the lines for rides.  Fortunately we got there early enough to miss a lot of the lines.

LOVE Toon Town…it feels like you're walking around in a cartoon!

and of course nothing better than the Disney Parade!

LONG day.  Got back to the room around 9 p.m., just in time to see the end of the Notre Dame/Florida State Football game.  Should have stayed at the park a little longer.  We are Notre Dame fans and they lost in the final seconds…

Had to get packed and ready to get up early the next morning.  Picked up a rental car and headed for San Diego to the USS Midway Museum, then lunch with a good friend (rugby) of Melissa's, Kyra, Dane and Hunter.  

Bunks.  Talked to one of the docents - (she works in the library on the ship) - she said when Dad was on the Midway, they didn't have bunks, they had hammocks.  

on the flight deck...

San Diego skyline

Hunter…Kyra and Dane's son

Great visit, then on the road again.  Up I-5 (I think it's the Pacific Coast Highway) to Burbank.
We originally were going to drive up Route 1 along the coast - would have taken a couple more hours and we  were both exhausted-so stayed on I-5.  Checked in around 7.  The desk clerk pointed to my shirt and said "My wife played agains them"… I forgot that I had an Old Girls Rugby shirt on.   He said his wife played for UK and Lexington.  Told him about Melissa and gave him a FORT bracelet and card.

Up early again to get ready for the Ellen Show.

Nicest thing about the Ellen Show?  We met some really nice people before, during and after the show.
We we very early for the show, so we took a walk. Found a little Mexican Restaurant a few blocks from the studio.  Sat outside and two couples sat next to us.  They were military friends…Marines.  Met in Japan and remained friends.  One couple lives around LA, the other was visiting from Florida.  Talked about our kids, grandkids, gave them FORT bracelets and cards.  
Later, we met four women from NY.  Mom, two grown daughters and mom's sister.  FORT bracelets and cards to them too.  
Gave ellen one too.
On the shuttle on the way back to the hotel, two women, friends from Oregon (Barb & Georgia), were on a girls getaway.  We picked them up after a tour of the studios.  AND they got tickets to Conan OBrien show.  We talked on the way back to the hotel,  about where we were from, then what airports we flew in to…then somehow we talked about flying into Atlanta.  Barb said "I flew into Atlanta a few years ago to do a 3 day Breast Cancer Walk".  You know where THAT conversation went!

A woman in line in front of me as we were going into the studio had a teal rubber bracelet on.  I asked her if it was for Ovarian Cancer.  She said "No. my son died.  I wear it for him"  And you know where THAT conversation went.  Her son, Terry, was in the military.  Had PTSD.   Suicide.  She goes to Compassionate Friends too.  She got a FORT bracelet and card too.

When we got back to the hotel, Marcus (desk clerk when we checked in) was there.  He said "My wife remembers your daughter.


So we come almost 2000 miles to California, and in every city we were in, someone knew Melissa.  "FORT".  Irvine - Doug & Peggy.  San Diego, Kyra & Dane.  Burbank, Marcus' wife.  Somehow, it doesn't surprise me.

And it doesn't stop there.  All the cards & bracelets we gave away…MORE people will know her. And that makes me happy.

If you are just reading for the first time - I thought this would be a good picture to share of Melissa.  Shows her personality.  

This picture was taken at Octoberfest in Cincinnati with the Naked Cowboy.  It was just a few months before she passed away.  Only a few weeks before she went into the hospital. This was Melissa.
Happy. Full of life.  Just how I try to remember her.

No pics of Andrew and Max this time.  

That will be soon.

As much as I love vacations, I am always anxious to get home.

There's no place like home.

Love you pretty girl.  You are remembered.