Archive for March, 2010

Running to Catch Up

Friday, March 26th, 2010

It was a last minute decision.  After two years of standing on the sidelines, I decided that this was my year.  I was going to run a marathon – and it was only 2 weeks away.  I was young, I was stupid and it was 2 years ago.  Elena was 4.  Grace was 2.  Even the girls thought I was crazy.


It was more of a challenge.  Could I actually run a marathon with no training, no experience and nothing other than pure and complete determination?  Even I had doubts.  Brooke never gave me a chance, but Elena stood on the sidelines in her “Run, Daddy, Run” shirt that we purchased for her the previous year when her mother ran the 5k.  I ran it too, only I came in last.  As I said before – no training, no experience.


Maybe it was the shoes, I thought.  Perhaps if I just had the right shoes I could finish.  Who knows, maybe I might even win.  It’s amazing the lies you tell yourself when you’re delusional.  So that night I took Brooke and the girls shoe shopping.  For this trip we went to the specialty shoe shop – you know, the one with the picture of the runner on the window.  And for the first time ever I opened my wallet and spent more than $50 on shoes.  They cost $52 – and I remember every penny.  There while the clerk sized my foot I decided to share my plan.  “I’m going to run a marathon”, I told him.  He smiled and kept lacing.  “So you caught the bug too”, he said, “About this time we get lots of people who start to train.  So have you run before?”  “Nope”, I replied.  “Oh, so do you think you’ll be ready for next year’s marathon or are you training for 2 years out”, he asked.  I told him I planned for neither – instead, I was running in the one tomorrow.  He stopped lacing.  And for the next 10 minutes I was treated to a lecture about how irresponsible it was, how I would never make it, and how I could expect to die before I reached the fourth mile.  Still, I was young – I was stupid.  I bought the shoes and thought about breaking them in on the walk to the car.  And yes, I drove to the shoe shop – the one less than a half a mile from the house.


Still the girls were supportive – even up to the starting line.  Brooke, meanwhile, planned out her visit at mile 4 to catch me before they loaded me into the ambulance.  But before then, she wanted to catch a bite to eat.  After all, I got her up at 5am for this stupid stunt, she reminded me as she dropped me off at the corner with the other runners. 


There they grouped us into mile times.  There were 5 minute milers, 6 minute milers, 7 minute milers and beyond.  I quickly took my place in the 5 minute mile group.  After all, yesterday I drove a mile in less than 1 minute – they never asked how we got there.


25 miles later, I was near the end of the pack, slowly being outpaced by 70-year-old men and women pushing baby strollers.  Still I kept running and I was still alive.  I was young, I was stupid and I was sore.  Really sore.  But as I neared the crest of the last hill, I saw a little girl racing my way.  And on her shirt was “Run Daddy Run”.  For the second year, Elena jumped from the sidelines and decided to join in.  Soon she grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the finish line, letting go only because I was too slow.  My knees ached, my head pounded and my heart was ready to burst.  But off ran Elena towards the finish line.  And as she ran out of sight my thoughts quickly shifted from the pain to the thought of losing her in the crowd.  I passed those women with the strollers, flew passed the 70-year-old men and trailed her as she neared the finish line.  Spectators that had previously cheered the hundreds of runners ahead of us now stopped and glared.  What kind of father was I to make my daughter run a marathon?  Never mind that she was beating me; this was child abuse.  Still I looked past the glares and in complete silence we finished the race, together.  First they took her finish line picture and then mine.  She even got a medal.  And as far as everyone knew, she was the youngest child to ever compete in a marathon.  At least our finish time was competitive for her class.


I couldn’t walk for a week afterwards and I’ll never run another marathon again.  Still, that picture of Elena with her medal is the picture that remains clearest every night as I sit in the backyard and tell her goodnight.  It was pure Elena.  Enthusiastic, honest and joyful in the achievements of others.  It didn’t matter to her that I was still young and stupid.

Constant Reminders

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

I can’t stand crossword puzzles. I feel the same about soduku, Solitaire, video games and trashy magazines. And right now as I write this, the woman next to me is busily playing Soduku on the back of a pile of trashy magazines on her lap. I think she’s doing this out of spite.

It’s not that I dislike numbers, cards, the television or gossip, instead, it’s the wasted time they represent. And it’s time I will never have. Brooke plans for the day when it will be easier. The day when we’ll have only two jobs, the day that we’ll have the time to relax, the day that cancer is cured. I tell her we have a mission; one that can’t wait for the last hand of solitaire or the latest Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie rumors. And so we read grant briefs at stoplights, enter donations before bed and email families even before making breakfast. Still, there’s never enough time. If only I could have some of this lady’s soduku time for another fundraiser or email – she’s not even using it.

Tonight we learned once again how little time we have. As if we needed the reminder. And a boy that was close to our heart who lost his battle with the villain we know as cancer. That’s time we’ll never get back. He’s a hero that we’ll never forget. Solitaire and soduku can wait forever as far as I’m concerned.

I sigh once again while I write. Maybe if I sigh one more time, she’ll realize the error of her ways and help us in the fight. Or maybe the next clue of her crossword puzzle will be “the main segment of childhood cancer death that is diagnosed 9 times each day”. And with 20 letters, she’ll fill out “pediatricbraincancer” and join us in the fight. But that’s just wishful thinking. I look outside and see the signs of spring. Funny how I never really noticed it on the drive here. I guess I miss much of that anymore. All I can think of are the children – all I can think of is Elena.

It is the constant reminder that I don’t want. And while it keeps us going, it is also what forces us to enjoy what we have – the warmth of Gracie’s hand in mind as we walk from school, the hug that I get before she goes to sleep (and after tickle-time), and the impatient jab she gives me now as she reminds me to close the computer and stop writing. Reminders I don’t want, but reminders I so desperately need. I hope one day we need them no longer.

Brooke’s Husband – Elena and Gracie’s Dad

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

She is an author, a cancer research advocate, an entrepreneur and a mother. She is also my wife – and I am simply known as “Brooke’s husband”.

Today “Notes Left Behind” received the recognition of the Ohio author program for prominent authors in 2009. To celebrate, a formal celebration was held at the Cincinnati Public Library atrium, complete with presentations, speeches and cookies and punch. In 2009 alone, 175 books about history, fiction, science fiction and non-fiction were penned in Ohio. There were four books about the Cincinnati Reds, eight children’s books, countless history books, one book about bugs and one book about illiteracy (which I question who will be reading). And there, in the 24 page program, was a description of our book:

Desserich, Brooke: “Notes Left Behind”, William Morrow Publishers, New York, New York 2009

Several lines below appeared my name:

Desserich, Keith: See Brooke Desserich

Brooke was the first to point it out. “Look dear, at least this time they mentioned you”, she said. She’s right. Look up “Notes Left Behind” on any major search engine or bookseller and all you’ll see is Brooke’s name as the author. I assume it is because there simply isn’t enough space to include “Keith” as well as a long name such as “Desserich”. Brooke tells me it’s because everyone likes her more. And she might be right.

When I first began the journal, we did so only for Gracie. In many ways it was my personal note to her passing on the lessons of her sister, but as more people started reading the journal it became so much more. In truth, I never planned on writing every day – it just happened that I had so much to tell. But it wasn’t until we failed to update the website one night that we realized how many people were involved in Elena’s journey. And after fielding over 20 concerned calls the following morning, we quickly realized we had to provide updates, if only to reinforce to friends and family that Elena was, in fact, all right. So we wrote. Some nights I’d write about a lesson, other times about a memory. Occasionally I’d write out of anger and desperation, only realizing at the end of the journal that it could not be shared. And so in the dawning of those few mornings I would turn to Brooke and ask her to write in my place.

She never did enjoy the journal. For her it was a chore and the cancer was something she wanted to forget. Instead she wanted to remember Elena as she was prior to November 29th, a talented and beautiful little girl untouched by the disease that would one day take her life. Still, she wrote, often in haste and usually about the events of the day. And in the book, every entry from Brooke is duplicated by a secondary entry from me that will remain private and only for Gracie. Even today, Brooke has yet to read the book or even glance over the entries I write online. For her, it is still too painful. And I understand.

In television and radio interviews, people ask Brooke about the cereal kisses, the Hello-Kitty walkie talkies and letting Elena drive in the empty parking lots. They figure she wrote these entries. She shrugs and talks of what she remembers. Later, she opens the book on the way home to recall. And then, as we drive to our house, she laughs as the memories return. In truth it was me that wrote about these memories and more in an effort to put on paper what I knew we would forget one day, both for Gracie and for us. And even I need the book to remember.

Lately we’ve decided to divide and conquer. Brooke runs the charity and I do the speeches and interviews about the book. Considering I wrote the majority of the journals and she does a much better job of managing the charity, we figure this is a good compromise. Still, there isn’t a time when I’m asked if Brooke can speak or participate in the interview. After all, she’s the main author – I’m just a ghost writer. And everyone does like Brooke better.

Today as they called us to the stage of the Ohio author’s program to present a certificate for the book, Brooke whispered in my ear. “Maybe your certificate will say ‘Brooke’s husband’ under your name.” Maybe. Still I’m used to it. And even if the certificate says nothing else, I’d be just fine with framing the description as my most significant achievement of all – husband and father.

Brooke’s husband, Elena and Gracie’s dad – after all, they’re the real stars of the family. And I’ll be just fine writing it all down.

Grandma’s Salon

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

As I look through pictures of Elena I’m reminded of how every trip to Grandma’s involved a haircut.  Sadly not one of Grandma’s haircuts ever looked good.  Crooked bangs, uneven sides – sometimes I wondered what my mother was thinking.  Each trip her hair would get shorter and shorter until her bangs would disappear leaving only a few crooked hairs remaining. 


It never really mattered to Elena.  For her it was just another opportunity to spend time with Grandma.  Brooke and I tried to hide the scissors – my Mom just bought another pair.  We tried to scold her – my Mother just feigned ignorance.  We even instructed Elena to run when Grandma came near her with the scissors.  But Elena never ran and never said no to Grandma.  As the oldest, she never ignored the attention.  Sometimes Grandma would promise to only “even it up a little” or “thin it out” and at first we believed her.  But after seeing the results, we knew that “evening it out” was nothing less than 2 inches shorter.


Only with our trip to Memphis did we ever see Elena’s bangs grow out and her hair even out.  At least in Memphis she was able to get a real haircut, 8 hours safe from Grandma’s scissors.  And now, looking back, it is easy to separate those pictures after diagnosis from those before – just look at the bangs. 


Seven months later she would begin her decline and lose even the pink highlights as a result of the chemotherapy.  And for a girl that loved her hair, this was never easy.  Her hair made her feel pretty and made her feel healthy.  Even after Grandma’s haircuts, it would grow back again ready for the next day they would spend together.  Brooke and I would cringe – Grandma and Elena would laugh.  A day at the salon – Grandma’s way.