wine and rhododendrons

Wine, rhododendrons and the promise of spring bring an end to winter doldrums. Finally, I can kneel and work my angst into thawed earth dark as coffee grounds, dirtying my fingers and knees until the muscles of my arms and thighs burn luxuriously. I feel alive.

The sun is riding high and buds are plumping amid warmer winds. Birds coax us to head outside where we watch the grass green up right under our feet. Dad comes to mind as I prune and preen hardened twigs from shrubs and trees; there are so many lovely rhodies for me to tend just like when I was his little kid.

Calvin cannot learn to water or prune or feed, but when I hold his hand as we stroll through the garden between verdant mounds of plum and green, he reaches out to touch their leaves, a splendid testament to how much he's like my Dad and me.

Photo by Michael Kolster


behind the lens

Six straight days of my child's seizures have allowed me special perspective on all things vexing, such as:

cold weather. the loss of my mother last autumn. dirty rugs. spilt milk. bombs exploding around the world. nights with little sleep and days without showers. the orange peroxide demagogue, his patent misogyny, hateful racism, childish goonery, incitement of violence, and fascist prattle. dead grass.
dividing walls. poopy diapers. burnt toast. robo calls. cryptic messagesbadgering, patronizing and vaguely threateningsent on the pretext of connecting. piles of laundry. childless mothers. wrinkles. mass shootings. stepping in dog shit. homeless migrants and other good folks. drool splattered floors. racists. thinning hair. starving children. puerile republican wars. plantar fasciitis. broken families. senate obstructionism. hangnails. leaves that plead to be raked. dust bunnies. cabin fever. my aching back.

A child’s chronic illness, in my son’s case refractory epilepsy, has a way of revealing the truth, which is that some of these worries don’t really matter; I can laugh them off as the farce they are. Others, even from behind the lens of epilepsy, I understand to be of greater consequence than my task at hand, than a boy who seizes and has survived. These realities deserve my compassion and concern, draw me out of my insignificant realm, beg me to use the voice I thankfully have discovered, and make me grateful for all that I have in this world.



for now he's saved

Night number three of as many fits. I’m awake, worried and weary, clutching my aching, spacey kid to my heart.

Gravity. Pull. Dread. A huge moon passes hidden overhead.

Every hour on the hour he seizes. A clock on a wall strikes two, three, four, announcing each bitter spell’s arrival. My boy’s heart pounds against my palm, his eyes full of fear, imploring me to save him from some brute force. As if some unseen hands grasp his throat, his breathing stalls, he fades, his lips pale to gray.

Nothing seems to stop this train. Nothing but a drug his body craves. And it does. And, for now, he’s saved.

Late morning brings a fourth storm that I fear will be the one. The one for which we’ll speed through sleet and rain to a dismal room with wires and leads, needles, anguish and pain. Instead we lay him on his side and we pull his diaper away. We inject the gel we hope will stop the wave. And it does. And he sleeps. And, for now he’s saved.

What might tonight bring? Today my boy lingers in some remote, unknown place, perhaps on the verge again. His odd half smile makes me quake. I watch and wait, stroke his face, kiss his neck, see him through a perfect lens, and never from too far away.

Photo by Michael Kolster


full moon cresting

At four-thirty yesterday morning, the full moon a day from cresting, Calvin's grand mal seizure ripped us out of deep morning slumber. I had suspected its arrival because of his agitation and manic outbursts on Monday, neither of which we've seen much of lately. He's also sick with a stuffy, runny nose, which, like most kids with epilepsy, lowers his seizure threshold. He was quite lackluster, a bit spacey and very quiet, so I kept him home from school. The entire day he seemed in a fog, confused and walking in circles. Looking at his wan face, I had a bad feeling he wasn't out of the woods yet. At lunch, he nearly choked on a bit of sandwich, and he kept wanting to be picked up, both signs a seizure was headed his way.

Calvin's nurse and I conspired over what extra measures to take, if any, to avoid a repeat the next night and morning. We decided to take no further action since he'd already gotten some extra Keppra that morning and the night before.

Until yesterday morning, we had all enjoyed Calvin's longest grand mal-free stint in over a year: twenty-one days. I should clarify that I'm counting days between grand mals since those are his most violent and obvious ones. His partial complex seizures, parasites to Calvin's grand mals that began appearing again late last year, are often difficult to discern causing me to wonder if I am mistaking them for benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, hallucinations and agitation. Sometimes, however, they are unmistakable.

Calvin slept well last night until just after midnight, the full moon mere hours from cresting, when he awoke to a complex partial seizure. I knew it was a seizure because his breathing stalled, he made the classic swallowing sounds and stared vacantly at his fingers. I watched his lips turn pale and his face flush. Fearing a subsequent grand mal, I ran downstairs and drew up a syringe of THCA oil and squirted it into his mouth, a strategy I thought I'd try in an effort to break the early-morning seizure cycle. Alas, after going back to sleep for a couple of hours, Calvin shrieked his way into a full-on grand mal. I attempted to employ a measure Michael had learned from Noni, a sage he met in Hawaii, to stop the seizure by applying pressure to the space between his upper lip and nose using the first joint of my index finger. The seizure, which had been running its course for close to two minutes, stopped within seconds.

As Calvin whimpered in its wake, we changed his diaper and wet shirt then I crawled in next to him and slowly but surely syringed in his benzodiazepine three hours early. This measure has in the past prevented further grand mals. Though Calvin didn't have another grand mal, he had two partial seizures later this morning. During the second one, which didn't stop with lavender essence or pressure under his nose, I gave him six milligrams of THC rescue med inside his bottom lip; the seizure stopped on a dime.

At just before noon Calvin seemed to be slowly returning to baseline, save a crusty nose. His nurse arrived and, seeing Calvin doing better, I took Nellie to the fields. On the way back I got the dreaded call; Calvin had had some sort of non-convulsive seizure, his lips turning blue, his eyes rolling back into his head, after which he wanted to fall asleep. Running out of options to stop the cluster of fits I decided to try giving him an extra dose of the new CBD oil we'd started using two weeks ago. Afterwards, he slept for thirty minutes or so and then, shortly after getting his four o'clock THCA dose, he had another partial seizure, perhaps before the ingested oils had had enough time to kick in.

Bent on avoiding a trip to the hospital I racked my brain for any maneuver we could use to prevent the cluster of partials rolling into a prolonged grand mal. I remembered I'd given Calvin his benzodiazepine three hours early, at 3:00 a.m., so at 4:30 p.m., an hour and a half before his usual dose, I gave him his clobazam and knocked on wood.

Now, the full moon having fully crested at noon, its gravity tugging hard on my son's delicate brain, I'm hoping Calvin's seizures, like the beautiful orb in the sky about which I'm so conflicted, will soon begin to wane.

Photo by Michael Kolster



Michael returned yesterday after ten days gone photographing in Hawaii, thanks to a generous faculty grant from the college. He spent his days on the Big Island taking uber-cool photos of lava flows, plastic beaches and jungle. If you are one of the few adults who can cross your eyes, you can view his twin images in three dimensions on his photo blog, The Daily Post. And if your mind is open, they'll perhaps transport you to a place you may not be able to reach on foot.

For me, back at home, it was a kind of staycation, hanging out with a bunch of my besties, not cooking for myself and leaving the dishes for later.

The day that Michael left, a Thursday, I spent the evening with Lauren. The two of us bellied up to the bar at our favorite Asian restaurant for a twilight glass of wine. On Friday, I had a very informal, long overdue, parent conference with Calvin's life-skills teacher, whom I absolutely adore. Over gorgeous cocktails at a favorite watering hole, we talked about Calvin's progress. We went on to discuss candidates, presidents and first ladies. She told me her daughter was doing a report about Eleanor Roosevelt, and I mentioned I'd heard somewhere that the feminist icon was a lesbian. In response, my companion said something like, Isn't everyone? and we chuckled. And while I'm not exactly sure what that might mean, I like the idea; perhaps the world would be a better place if we were all at least a little bit gay.

Saturday, I ducked in to visit Woody, who I haven't seen as much of these past six months, what with spotty nursing help and all. I brought him some homemade chocolate chip cookies in exchange for two fingers of bourbon and a couple of cubes. We shot the shit for a spell while Nellie tried lovingly to lick the ears off of his cat, Trixie, who happens to be a male.

On Sunday, Matt and Connie arrived with their children in tow. The kids played ball with Nellie and Matt played bartender, mixing three strong gin and tonics, then mashing up some guacamole right on the spot to go with the homemade hummus they'd brought. In one brief moment, when I had my back turned on Calvin, he crawled up to the table and grabbed my cocktail, which was filled nearly to the brim. Before I had a chance to catch the glass which he was about to toss aside, he'd taken a major gulp. I've heard of far worse things happening to kids like mine, and though alcohol can be a seizure trigger, I shrugged it off as best I could and laughed at my boozin' child—something I couldn't have imagined doing several years ago. I guess I'd call that progress.

Monday's date du jour was with my neighbor, Barbara. I made it another early night since Calvin wakes around five and needs repositioning once or twice on most nights, plus it seemed to me he was due for a seizure that thankfully never occurred. Between sips of spirits and bites of arancini, fresh mozarella and chicken Parmesan, Barbara and I spoke of politics and The Peroxide Demagogue: the narcissist bully candidate who is threatening nearly every virtue of our country. At just thirty-six, and besides being a total hottie, Ms. Barbara is a college professor and an expert in world government. So while we had a good laugh about Trump the ReallyHate developer, the clown who could easily pass for a villain in the city of Gotham, we also bristled at his hateful rhetoric, his incitement of violence, and his alarming following of racist xenophobes, some eager, even emboldened, to do his bidding and "beat the crap" out of their fellow Americans. Sigh.

The next day, Akiko arrived from Jacksonville via Detroit to spend a couple of nights. It has been three years since last we saw each other, so we had a nice time catching up, nibbling on yummy dumplings and Asian slaw, talking more about politics and walking the dog. Like all of my gals, she's a gem of a young woman who I'm most honored to call my friend.

Barbara dropped in again on Thursday, her son and husband also gone for the week. At ten o'clock, we stepped outside and into a misty cold where we shivered some and pondered the world's divisions under a common moon. We covered nearly every topic staying up until almost eleven—a recent record for me. Thankfully, Calvin slept soundly again that night and, thusly, so did I.

On the last stretch, three gals made a home invasion on Friday; Lauren brought over a large mason jar full of her famous pomegranate cosmopolitan plus a spinach artichoke dip. Natasha made a tasty salad dressed with wild mushroom vinaigrette, which was so much like eating dessert that I could have licked the plate. Mary arrived with a tray of one of my favorites: deviled eggs—yum!—their fluffy yolks oddly alike the Republican frontrunner's coif. We talked kids and jobs and illicit drugs, presidential candidates and, of course, all bad things—because, to be honest, we find nothing redeeming—about Trump.

Saturday night I spent alone catching up on some much needed rest. Calvin had taken it easy on me the entire week; during Michael's absence our boy suffered no seizures to speak of and today is day twenty since his last grand mal! I promise to elaborate on that later this week.

Regrettably, on this staycation, I didn't get to see all of my lovelies. But the time has made me grateful for so many things: the ability to celebrate the good in each day and the beauty, love and compassion in others, the gift of long, seizure-free stints, the aid of an amazing nurse, and the knowledge that Michael was getting some satisfying work done in the field while not having to worry too much about me.

I love this photo of my friend Lauren and me taken spring 2014


on being pc

I'd wager some of you would have no problem calling my son Calvin a retard and, when I bristle, you’d tell me that I simply need to have a thicker skin.

That was my reply to a handful of folks who were grousing in a recent social media thread, as if aping the orange peroxide demagogue, Trump, about society being too politically correct.

One commenter, an elderly white woman, implied that I need to buck up as she has done in response to her cruel world. In pondering the unjust things that might have been slung her way, I imagined slurs and slights she has probably endured just for being a woman. Nevertheless, it appears she believes it is more commendable to tolerate offenses than lobby against them.

The thread had begun with a shared link to an online article describing the possible impeachment of two individuals in the student government of our local college over a recent fiesta, as it was described, one in which the mostly white partygoers had drunk tequila and had donned sombreros and fake mustaches in Mexican caricature. It was the third such affair involving the appropriation and misuse of the cultural identity of people of color and, though I can't say if hurt was intended, and while I have a morsel of doubt that it was, the truth is that some students felt offended, and this I lamented. The other commenters showed bitter contempt that political correctness had been taken too far.

Recently, I heard Trump regretting the fact that "nobody wants to hurt each other anymore." He waxed lyrical about the good old days of being able to rough up protesters, and whined about a nation that has become too PC. In my mind, political correctness is synonymous with politeness, courteousness and compassion. I mean, what is the downside of being thoughtful, respectful, sensitive and kind to others whose reality we can't truly know? Some might say taking political correctness to the extreme impinges on free speech. When it comes to inciting hatred toward certain marginalized groups—women, minorities, refugees, immigrants, the disabled—I disagree.

I noted in the thread that I’ve heard only white people complain about political correctness, citing that as evidence of white privilege, particularly of the straight male type: those in our nation who are most immune to bigotry, discrimination, oppression, prejudice and intolerance.

When one of the thread's white male commenters balked at the idea of white privilege, saying it was a load of crap, insisting that there is only one race, blaming people like me for separating the human race into categories of skin color, sexuality, sex, eye color, etc., and finally, following with the flabby platitude that all lives matter, I responded:

if there were truth to your assertion that there is only one race, how can you explain slavery and lynching and segregation? ... how do you explain the internment of innocent japanese americans? i understand the desire to live together in harmony as one race. i am all for it. but i cannot go so far as to deny that some people have it far worse than others in this world based on their race, and we cannot begin to solve those inequities until we acknowledge them rather than denying their existence.

At that point the man bowed out, saying he had better things to do like put on his sombrero.

The elderly white woman chimed in after having said that some people choose to live in racism, whatever that means. She typed:

God has made each of us different and given us each a row to hoe.

Rather than fighting a losing battle against what I saw as willful ignorance (one can only hope to change minds that are open and malleable), and though I understood her comment was not intended to refer to Calvin, I reasoned he could not be set apart, and thus I wrote:

i do not for one second believe in a god who would make calvin to suffer like he does ... if there is such a god, "He" is not merciful.

And while the conversation seemed to have been lost on deaf ears, it still feels right and fine to be a part of the greater good of us who value respect, consideration and kindness above childish impulses to express hatred, fear and contempt for that which we don't care to embrace or understand.


bright star

Sudden. She played today. She colored today. She died today. Unexplained. The switch just went off. Death. Final. Epilepsy. Caused by her 3rd vaccination set. She wasn't seizing, just sleeping on daddy's chest in the light of day on her couch, her favorite place in the world. SUDEP kills.

This, the second message my friend Susan posted yesterday on Facebook, is about her precious teenage daughter, Cyndimae. Susan's first message earlier yesterday morning read:

My angel Cyndimae died SUDEP in her daddy's arms after 3 short no meds seizures.

I told Susan in a message that I was sending her love and would soon be in touch. All night long I thought about the girl—every time I woke to reposition my semi-restless, yet slumbering boy. At midnight I peered out a window to see a bright star shrouded in mist. I named it after sweet Mae.

I first met Susan and Cyndimae in early February of 2014, just before making my first batch of homemade THCA cannabis oil to treat Calvin's seizures. While Cyndimae sat on the couch with a coloring book, crayons and a blanket in her lap, Susan showed me a few tricks to making the oil. She'd already made at least one batch for her daughter, who was suffering from Dravet syndrome, one of the catastrophic forms of epilepsy which is infamously resistant to traditional medication. In quest of the right kind of cannabis to treat Cyndimae's epilepsy, the two of them had splintered their family by moving to Maine from Connecticut, sadly leaving Cyndimae's father and sisters behind.

With the help of cannabis oils, Mae, as she was often called, eventually came off of her pharmaceutical meds, which included the powerful sedative phenobarbitol. Her seizures were fairly well controlled with a daily mix of cannabis: THCA and THC, perhaps a little CBD, though I can't be sure, and a rescue med of highly concentrated THC. Mae continued to suffer transient seizures, particularly when she was sick, but overall became much brighter and more capable in the absence of the pharmaceutical monsters.

Though I've known of children who've died from Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), I never really thought it would take Cyndimae. But it seems the ravaging that years of seizures and powerful antiepileptic drugs may have been too much for her little heart to bear, and it makes me wonder how much more of that same stress Calvin can endure.

Throughout the day I thought of Mae and of the palpable adoration between her and her mother. After hearing of Cyndimae's death, everything Calvin did took on a new quality and meaning; my frustration with his antics was tempered and my patience lengthened because Mae's death hit so close to home. I tried harder than ever to live in the moment because, really, that's all we've got.

Yesterday, in Michael's absence, a string of friends showed up to keep me company and help out. Sarah stopped by with her son Jacob, Anne came to chat and stroll with me and Calvin, Lauren swung by to return my movie, Heather took Nellie for a run in the fields, then Matt and Connie showed up with their kids, plus chips and pita and a bowl of hummus. The stream of friends appearing throughout the day felt like a kind of celebration, and I was consciously aware that Susan and her family were being embraced by friends, family, and even relative strangers in the pediatric epilepsy community and the medicinal cannabis world. The outpouring of support for them has been tremendous, but no more so than the love and concern they've shown toward others all these years. Like a spark, it started with them.

Thank you, Susan, for being the indefatigable warrior mom you are. Thank you, Cyndimae, for being the bright star that you were and still are. You'll forever shine in our hearts and minds and remind us how to be our very best selves.

Cyndimae Meehan and her super mom, Susan



We're hoping to find some balance between Calvin's number of seizures, his antiepileptic drug doses and side effects, his behavior, development and quality of life.

Today is day eleven, which means Calvin will likely make it to day twelve since suffering his last grand mal seizure, which pretty much ties his record for the longest grand mal-free stint since March of last year. And he had a surprisingly decent day today, though as we used to say, perhaps too good to be true. We'll find out by tomorrow.

Is this ever-so-slightly-longer stint due to the increase in bedtime Keppra? Is it the ever-so-slight pause in his clobazam wean? Is it that the cannabis is working better in the face of less clobazam? Is it something about the new batches of CBD and/or THCA cannabis oils?

As usual, we can never be sure, but perhaps in time things will become clearer. For now, I'll bask in the relative balance that today has offered us all.

Photo by Michael Kolster


thirty-six hours

Today I saw a six-minute film about emergency dispatchers. As I watched it, I remembered the first time, of what would become dozens of calls to 911, that Calvin had his first grand mal seizure when he was eighteen months old. I remember the fear and panic I felt not knowing if the seizure would stop. Ten-and-a-half years later, every time Calvin has a seizure, I sit by helplessly wondering the same thing.

It has been a rough thirty-six hours, starting yesterday morning well before dawn when Calvin woke up with ants in his pants seemingly needing to seize. I say the word need because, like an earthquake which releases the pressure of tectonic plates, after a grand mal seizure my boy’s brain seems to reset to its more serene state.

Dreading the seizure, I gave Calvin his benzodiazepine two hours early plus part of his morning dose of Keppra. By breakfast Calvin was stomping, screaming and finger snapping like mad, then spacey at times, so I gave him an extra half tablet of Keppra and sent him off to school, thinking my strategies would delay the seizure a day or so.

Still wearing my morning sweatpants, I put Nellie on the leash and trudged to the fields where I met Lauren and her dog. As we strolled we talked a bit about racism and white privilege, sexism and the presidential contest, then on our way home I got a call on my old Nokia cell, the phone reserved for urgent Calvin calls. He’d had a seizure at school.

Thankfully, it wasn’t a grand mal, but still, I rushed home, threw on some jeans, tied my dirty hair into a bun and raced off to retrieve my boy, his elementary school not five minutes from our home. As I entered the building, one of the secretaries noted my worry, so she fled to the door handing me a visitor's pass so that I didn’t have to stop.

Though I wanted to, I was conscious not to run down the hallway and instead was greeted by two small boys. One of them wondered why I was there; he recognized me from a visit I’d made to his class last fall to talk about Calvin and epilepsy.

“Calvin had a seizure,” I said, then asked him to remind me of his name.
“William,” he replied, and I remembered he'd told me his brother has epilepsy.

The other boy, a cute, chubby third-grader, responded with concern.

“Your son had a seizure in school?”
“Yes,” I said, and asked if he knew my boy.
“No, I don’t know Calvin.” He went on to say, “Tell him I hope he feels better.”
“Thank you, I will.”

At home Calvin seemed to do slightly better after each round of medicine and cannabis oil. Even so, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were in for more, especially considering his odd behavior and, at times, the spacey and pained expressions on his face.

Just after midnight this morning Calvin awoke agitated again. Fearing an imminent seizure, I gave him another half tablet of Keppra, and when he had a partial seizure at two o’clock I drew up a syringe of THCA cannabis oil, squirted it into his mouth and chased it with some juice. Eventually, he calmed down and slept with his arms around my neck until four a.m. when he again awoke in an inconsolable state. I managed to give him his benzodiazepine early, and while that helped, he never went back to sleep.

This morning, right before the bus arrived to take him to school he had a brief fitful attack. It wasn’t like any seizures I’ve seen. Unable to rule it out as having been one, and my gut saying it probably was, I popped yet another half tablet of Keppra in Calvin's mouth and sent him off to school; if this is going to be the new normal—and I'm not saying it is, but it does seem to be trending—as much as it makes me feel uncomfortable, I can't keep Calvin home every day he has a non-life-threatening event.

He’s at school now. His teacher and aid say he's being somewhat quiet yet insistent on putting his fingers in his mouth and slamming his forehead into his palms, which I’ve begun to sense are harbingers of an impending seizure, if not some kind of seizures themselves. Good news is it is day eight and so far we seem to have thwarted the punctual, now weekly, grand mal. Bad news is I know it is still to come, and when it does I'll be sitting by helplessly, wondering if it's going to stop, wondering if I'll have to call 911.


patch of light

A miserable wind ekes its way through cracks in window frames and under doors. It was meant to be “warm” today, but at thirty-six degrees it has begun to snow. Most of what had dropped this season had already melted revealing dead grass, crumpled brown leaves and sidewalks strewn with sand and salt. Last week, purple crocus spears pushed their way through thawing mulch, the only color in a barren March world.

I sit at my desk on this gloomy day wondering what to write, and as I do my eyes wander to a photo that Michael gave me years ago, which sits in a corner window sill. In it, he and I relax in the sun near a favorite place called The Lookout, his head in my lap, our dog Jack at my side. Pregnant, I was in the initial weeks of my first trimester, and Michael fashioned a photogram of a single white dot symbolizing our unborn child, then set it adjacent to the shot of us three and encased it in a raw wooden frame.

The image of that single dot, that patch of light, had held so much hope, so much promise, and I’d ask myself: Will it be a boy or a girl? Will she be blond or he brunette? Next summer, will we be basking at the beach, our child playing with yellow buckets and plastic spades? What might his first word be?

Alas, life offers no guarantees. Our boy came six weeks early missing part of his brain and barely able to breathe, as if the reams of troubling medical reports, test results, endless worry and dread were pressing on his birdlike chest.

It was a day like today, twelve years ago, a month after Calvin's birth, that I was propped in the hospital bed holding him, gazing out a window into a forest veiled in snow, trying in vain, or so I thought, to get my son to nurse so we could finally take him home. He was so wee and frail. Michael held vigil while our dog Jack laid on his bed in the corner of our labor and delivery ward room. Outside, leaden skies leeched all color from the scene. Trees were black. Snow was white. Stones were ashen grey. My heart sunk wondering if we'd ever get to take Calvin away.

The days were long and lonely, the three of us being cut off from friends and family and home, living in an antiseptic room with a helpless child and no way of knowing the hardship that was in store. Winter seemed never-ending and I rarely left my boy's side except to venture out into its cold for a spell just to breathe and feel alive.

But as I look at this photo twelve years later, and think of my son who has come so far—walking and, though not talking, signing a few words, and able to recognize and love his parents and his home—I see the patch of light and in the glass a reflection of the outside world, and it makes me wonder again what promises it might hold.


interview with a mother

My dear friend Elizabeth Aquino is mother to two active teenage boys and a young adult daughter who has suffered from refractory epilepsy since she was an infant. Elizabeth writes an engaging blog called a moon worn as if it were a shell in which she explores parenting, poetry, disability and politics. Besides love for our disabled children and for our writing, we share another passion: advocating for the use of cannabis oils to treat our children's seizures.

Recently, Elizabeth got hired to work and write for Weedmaps, which runs the site marijuana.com and is developing another site, cannabis.com, which I believe will serve the medical marijuana community. In her first interview, she delves into my life with Calvin and into the process of making cannabis oil to treat his epilepsy. It's a straightforward account which includes a couple helpful links for doing it yourself. You can read it here.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for giving me the opportunity to share my story.