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.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My Conversation with Melissa

Yesterday I was in the car and was thinking about Melissa…that it had been a long time since I heard Viva La Vida, the song she sends me.  Can't even remember the last time I heard it.

She took care of it today.

It was a beautiful, brisk morning.  Not a cloud in the sky. Decided to take my four mile walk.  Put my headphones on as I walked out the gate from the backyard and the DJ said "we play everything.  Right now, we have Viva La Vida by Cold Play…"

She heard me.

Whenever I hear it, it makes me smile, but it also makes me sad.  This time was no different, except that  after the song was over, I heard her.  She was talking to me.  We were having a conversation.
One thing she said was "Mom, all those hearts you see - they're from me.  I'm going to send you a BIG HEART today".

I asked her if she knew Carrie (Roxy's daughter) or Courtney (Mange and Mary's daughter) and she said she was with BOTH of them.  She also said "I'm happy.  John should be happy too".  I guess the only way to explain this conversation was like it was coming through headphones.  Or telepathy.  I could hear her say "MOM".

This conversation went on for the first half of the walk.  She sends me hearts a lot.  The first time was when we were at Grand Turk two summers ago.  I was in the water at the beach and stepped on a rock. I picked it up with my toes to look at it - it was white and had an indentation on it that was heart shaped.  I kept  it - it's at her grave now.  Since then, I have found other heart shaped rocks - but I have also seen heart shaped clouds - heart shaped spots on the ground, heart shaped leaves.  I know it sounds crazy, but every time I see one, I think of Melissa and I know she is sending it to me - so I think of her. So today was no different - I saw several heart shaped things - and every time she would say  - "No mom. That's not it".    As I was walking through Delco Park, a song came on that started with these words "Are you feeling better?  Do you feel the same?"  I felt like she was talking to me through the song…I shook my head "YES"   and "Do I feel the same …. "YES"  I'm still sad, even though talking to her I felt better.

About ten minutes later on the walk, the song "Fat Bottomed Girls" came on - and I smiled and thought of Melissa…because if we were together she would say "so you think that's me, don't you mom?"…and again she was talking to me…"MOM.  Why are you thinking of me when this song comes on?" and she laughed.  I could hear her laugh.

It was a WONDERFUL walk today.  And all the while I was looking for the BIG HEART she was sending me.  I thought maybe it would be a cloud.  But the sky was near cloudless today.

We picked up the boys and met Nick for pizza before the game.  No heart yet.

At the game, I kept looking - still a pretty, cloudless sky.  WHERE was this heart going to be.  Was this conversation I had not real?  It sure felt real.  I could HEAR her voice.  I could hear her laugh.  I could feel her smile.

Fairmont won tonight - their second win.  It was a good night, but still no heart…we were talking to Jack Meyers on the way out.   Jack is my dad's age and is still working -neat guy.  We were laughing at a story he was telling and I happened to glance to the right…and there it was.  My heart.
My BIG HEART.  She came through.  Call it serendipity…call it a coincidence.  But I call it a sign.  And a sign that she PROMISED me.

Call me crazy, I don't care.  She is with me every day…and today I talked to her.  And she talked back. A real conversation.  Something I have missed with her for almost six years.  

Thank you Melissa.  You made me smile today.  I just wish I could wrap my arms around you…
I love you and miss you more every day.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Puzzle

I was just browsing on Facebook and came across a poster that said "As I sit here and whisper "I miss you" I believe somehow you can still here me.  Then it said "Read this two ways:  1. From you to your loved one.  2. From your loved one to you.

This is the puzzle

It sits behind our corner cupboard.  Has for a long time.  We bought it for the boys three or four years ago for Christmas.  All the pieces are missing.  Behind each piece is a small speaker that makes the sound of the animal.  It is motion activated.  Ever since we lost the pieces (3 or 4 years ago) it goes off random times…like whenever we are talking to Melissa or talking ABOUT Melissa.  Or one of her friends calls on the phone.  Whenever we NEED to hear from her.  

When Melissa passed away, my sister Sue loaned us something Melissa made for her - A poster of the Maya Angelou poem "The Phenomenal Woman".  We put it out at Melissa's funeral.  When Sue turned 50 (after Melissa passed away), we still had it.  I decided to wrap up the poster and give it back to her.  It was hers.  From Melissa.  As I was writing in Sue's card "I know Melissa would want you to have this back"  The puzzle went off.

It happens all the time.  So today, when I was sitting here browsing and found the poster…
 I whispered "I miss you so much Melissa.  Every single day"

And the puzzle went off.  She's with me.  Every day.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Everything was looking pretty good a week ago Monday…the procedure for the pacemaker went well. Dad even looked better after the procedure.  Said he felt better.  Protocol was 24 hour observation.  So I left the hospital, met a new friend in Melbourne for dinner (thanks Tricia for dinner!) and grocery shopping for dad.

Told him I'd be back around 8 the next morning - he told me to sleep in and come at 9.  I was there at 8:30 and he said "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? I'm ready to go!"  Nurse came in and said she was getting his discharge papers ready.  I had just enough time to book my flight home.  Got a somewhat reasonable flight for Saturday afternoon at 4.  Nurse came in, gave us the discharge papers and new med list, which included 2 new meds (not new to dad, but back on previous meds- one med taken off the list).  I told him I'd take him home, drop him off and go pick up the meds.  But he wanted to go with me.  Walgreen was on the way home, lets just stop.  So we did.  And of course he wanted to go in with me.  I remember thinking as we were walking in that his eyes looked glassy.  I asked him if he was ok and he said "yes".  He was a little slow, but that has been normal for him this summer.  I mean, he is 84…

So we get back to the pharmacy - dad sits down.  They say its going to be 20 min.  About 10 min later, they say it's ready.  I get up to pay, and dad comes up and stands next to me at the counter.  Next thing I know, dad's arms are buckling, his legs are buckling and he is going down.  I yell for help and the two  people behind the counter come out to help.  Dad insists that he is just tired and not to call paramedics.  But I insist that they call the paramedics.  They are there in about 5 minutes, take his blood pressure - and they say it's 66/37.  That explains the fall.  I think.  He's back to the hospital.

In ER from 10-4:30.  Not a very good experience.  In fact, a horrible experience.  I understand that dad's problem was not a priority.  But while he was in ER the only thing he asked for was water (which he never got-for six hours) and to go to the bathroom.  And the nurses acted like they didn't want to be bothered with him.  He didn't get anything to eat while he was there either - I got something from the vending machine for him.  So frustrating, and SO glad to get him into a room.

That was Tuesday.

Wednesday I was able to talk to a Case Manager at the hospital who was wonderful.  She looked up dad's records and saw that he had been admitted SIX times in two months.  She said "we're sending him home without figuring out what's wrong".  They were all from falls.  She ordered a Physical Therapy evaluation, and we talked about in-patient rehab.

That afternoon, the PT came in - the evaluation didn't go well.  The exercises while he was laying in the bed were ok - but as soon as he stoop up - his heart rate went up to 160.  She recommended in-patient therapy.  I went back to the Case Manager and she gave me a list of facilities to visit.  The first one I went to was perfect for dad (the staff was friendly, compassionate, efficient-it was clean and everyone there looked happy - staff and patients!), and just a block from the hospital.

Thursday the attending physician came in and said "we've adjusted his meds and he's ready to go home with physical therapy".  I was not happy.  "He is not going home with PT.  The PT recommended in-patient therapy and I've talked to the Case Manager and already picked a place for him to go".  The doctor then said "are you saying I'm lying?"  WTF?  "No.  I'm saying that the PT recommended in-patient therapy, and the Case Manager is already setting up in-patient rehab."  He turned around walked out of the room and in five minutes he was back.  "He's going Saturday for in-patient therapy".

Thank you.

So what happens to patients who don't have an advocate at their bedside?  Dad would have been sent home had I not been there.

Thankfully, he was moved to rehab on Saturday morning, in time for me to catch my flight home.

              Getting ready to go to rehab-HAPPY to be in real clothes finally!

His new home…temporarily!

getting comfortable...

This was the hard part…leaving.  

He is in good hands.  I really believe that.  From the housekeeper to the Case Manager and everyone in between (physical therapist, occupational therapist, nurses, speech therapist-hope I didn't miss anyone). I met several of them before I left.  I think they could tell that I was very emotional about leaving him. They promised me that they would take care of him.

Already had a conference call where I could ask questions.  I talk to him multiple times every day.
Sometimes he sounds tired - but he's getting 3 hours of therapy a day.  They are working to get him ready to go home.  I hope, and he hopes.  One day at a time…

I try to make all my posts related to Melissa because this is still HER blog.  It's easy to do that with this post.  Every time I go to Florida, dad asks for the FORT bracelets and her card (with her picture and the blog address).  Pretty much everyone at the VFW and City Limits has one.  Now he wants them for everyone that is working with him at Life Care Center.  In fact, when I was talking to him the other night, someone stopped in the room and asked for a bracelet!  I told him they were already in the mail.
He never stops talking about Melissa.    He misses her too.

 One of my favorite pictures of Melissa and Grandpa!

It will be a week Saturday.  Medicare will pay up to 100 days (100% first 21 days, 80% after).  I'm hoping that he will be strong enough to go home, because that is what he wants.  If not, we'll decide what to do then.  For now, I'm happy when he sounds good.  

Today is August 21.  On August 21, 1897, my grandma, Mildred Eilerman Rotert was born.  
Happy Birthday Grandma! (I'm sure she's celebrating in heaven!)


And of course, a post isn't a post without something about Andrew and Max.

Happy 5th Birthday MAXWELL IRVIN!!!

Yesterday, August 20, was Max's 5th birthday!  He started school August 19.  Incarnation, Early 5s.

Took the boys swimming at their neighborhood pool before the party!


Max is the man...

Andrew & GG


Missing you Melissa…today…tomorrow…ALWAYS!