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The Soldier and the Squirrel introduces children to the Purple Heart

through a loving story of a friendship between a newly wounded soldier

and Rocky the squirrel with his backyard friends. This story began as a

blog during my first year in bed after my incident. With much

encouragement, it is now a book and has been placed in the

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. Please watch the video

on the About page to learn for the Soldier & Rocky are changing children's

lives.

 

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Friday
Jul042014

Three A.M.

The apple's juices opened up inside my mouth, mixing with my tears. Three a.m. is rarely kind to me. It's when thoughts rise from the deepest sleep and toss the heart into a spin. Somehow the sweetness reminds me of life's innocence. I haven't written in a while. Perhaps an experiment with denial. But like any river, once dammed,a pressure builds, and the release can leave one startled in its wake. I woke to the book on tape still murmuring in my earbud. The rhythmic breath of my husband. The gentle nudge of Reggie's paw stretching into my thigh. The burn inside my spine from my trying too hard to be free. I'm learning, and adapting, to life in a chair. But sometimes when lost in a whirlwind of growth, life becomes blurred and feelings are forced beneath the skin. Until three a.m.It just hit me, that only months ago I could shuffle my feet to cross a room. Now my body caves likes a tree that's broken in a wind, my chest edging to the floor as my spine collapses in its fold. My face is to the floor within seconds of searching for hope, that maybe this will be the step when life will turn. So now my life is from the chair. Albeit it is a pretty cool looking little chair. A woman at the doctor's office told me so, but in a way that was all too real. As though now it was a part of me. Like a dress, or pair of shoes. The color of my hair. I am now also my chair.  My husband released his hold on me, he's learned to wait each storm - quietly bracing me to his chest until the calm.  When the storm slows down and branches are cradled by the wind. In the stillness once again, at three a.m. 

Carolyn Jordan How fragile we are, and so many of us pop out of bed in the morning not quite understanding the blessing in that. I was driving the other day and it popped in my head that the worst thing in my mind to happen to me would be to go blind, and I panicked at the thought. I wrote a college essay on how in our 20's our bodies are the enemy - not thin enough, whatever, but as we age, we learn to respect our bodies, that they are our trusted vessel and yet can also give us unimaginable pain.The adjustment you are having to make is huge, but don't stop believing that you will rise again!!!
Unlike ·  2 · Delete · Today at 6:24am
 
Louise Micaela I love you ladies so. We all have our "chair". Whether it has wheels or not. 
Meg , there's comfort in knowing we're not alone. I certainly don't like focussing on the negative, but as Bobbie says, there's a beauty within the darkness. We can only see that when life is still, and the tears subside. Especially when there's that soft glow around our eyes where tears leave droplets on our lids. I still always search for hope. I still find joy in every day. But it's only human to slip into the night when thoughts take us to that place where we are meant to be - in order to shed our skin and ready ourselves for the next turn in the road, wherever it may lead.  
Like ·  2 · More · Today at 6:29am
 
Bobbie Kogok You are right, and part of a grieving process, it's healthy.
Unlike ·  1 · Delete · Today at 6:32am
 
Louise Micaela Carolyn , sweet girl, your thoughts reminded me of this post from a while ago xoxo :

I SHOULD BE ASHAMED - FOR MY SELF

For the times I looked you in the mirror and asked why you weren't 'her'
When I turned to see my backside just to asses its girth
When I should have gently thanked you for getting me through the day
When all I should have done was love you
I should be ashamed

For the days I drove the kids to school because my brain was tired 
Perhaps the weather wasn't right or the streets could have been dryer 
For all the times I parked too close and wished I had a plaque
The only thing I wish for now is that I could take it back

I see this now because today I looked at you
And didn't wish you were someone else I just felt gratitude
For carrying my spirit
And the burdens in my heart
For staying strong when all I saw was a life falling apart
I love you more than ever before because before I could not see
Everything you are that I was ashamed to be

A miracle of God that is mine for while I'm here
On this often winding journey
Protecting me from fear
You are my link to God and all I have to do
So why should I have been ashamed of you with all you have to do?

I am sorry to my body for the time's I've been unkind
For all I've seen because of you how could I be so blind
For all that you have given me, my family and my name
I only have one thing to say
I should be ashamed

http://www.moanavida.com/imported-20120303161751/2013/5/17/i-should-be-ashamed-for-my-self.html
Like ·  2 · More · Today at 6:33am

 

 

 

 

 

Friday
Jun062014

The Shade

An email tonight from my mother left me in tears.  I love her so much. Her love reminds me when I get down, that the future doesn't matter when all you can do is live for each moment. 
I don't know what the morning will bring. How good or bad it will be. So I can't look forward to it. Looking back on what happened and why, does me no good. I used to bang my head against the wall (so to speak) dying to know how and why this happened. I drove my pain psychologist nuts. It did not matter how, or why. All that mattered was how am I today. How will I get through the now. Tomorrow is not mine to control. I can control my choice to react. 
The pain is the beast that controls my choices, and that is my biggest struggle. The only tool I've found to fight this, is to see how close my crashing sense of mortality brings me to God. When I flare, nothing else matters but God. He is all I have. All I live for. I know this sounds odd as a wife and mother of four, not to mention a daughter with incredible patents and a sister to a brother I adore. But without any effort, when my pain questions the meaning of life and why must I go on, it is my faith that this challenge is not selfishly for me to learn or grow. One's trial is a tool for God to help others witness their own mortality, to help others pause in reflection of their own lives. 
I never thought I'd be in a wheelchair. Nor that my greatest feat of a day would be learning how to load my chair into my car by myself by watching various YouTube videos by people like me. Folks who are young enough to drive a jeep,old enough to need an SUV, and secure enough to expose their vulnerabilities on a site where gimp-stalkers unite. 
I've accepted I am now a gimply one. We made it home from a rare dinner out that left my bones collapsing like pixie sticks. I transferred from my wheelchair to my stairlift and road it to the top, then waited for Don to bring my chair to the top landing. Then someone knocked on the front door. I can do this, I said. I held onto the banister and held my weight up to assist my steps to our bedroom. With each step my chest lowered closer and closer to the ground. By the time I reached our doorway, my trunk was parallel to the ground. My legs weighed a hundred pounds. And I needed my chair. Needed. Not wanted. Needed. 
I have come so far with my pain management, as long as I don't try to step, or walk, or sit for long periods of time. 
Tonight I realized I am now officially 95% wheelchair bound. 
I will not stop here. My latest stimulator surgery still needs time to seal in with scar tissue. Then I will dive into more therapy, and see if we can rebuild what muscle and brain connection to muscles can be rebuilt. 
So much has happened since my accident. So many turns, procedures and surgeries that have culminated in a life I never thought I would lead. What I do know, is that as horrible as I may feel at times about my new ability to memorize the paint pimples on the ceiling, when I pull my very own fully-blinged pitty-party card, I keep coming back to the fact that I know there is a plan. There has to be a plan. Or I will throw all of my blinged pitty party cards off my balcony to be shredded by various varmints overtaking this season's petunia patch. 
My faith in God, is my faith that the only thing that matters is what is in front of me, right now, in this moment, and how the loved ones in my life are faring due to present blessings or conflicts. When your life is broken down to making it through a day without tears,and looking for ways to make each moment one that may linger in others' minds, it's pretty simple to let go of the rat race I used to run with a heart so desperate to win, I never noticed the trees with shade along the way. 
My life now is all about shade. Not just for me, but for any one who wishes to get away from the race that no one wins. My friends stop by now and put their phone on silent. My home will be quiet as we visit during school hours, candles are lit and soft music will play. Things I never did before my life would dare slow down to be the silence we all need just to 'be'.  
My lesson of late is to share with my friends a reminder that life thrives when it is still. To turn off the phone while we hold hands. To look into each other's eyes when discussing a broken heart and knowing that heartache is seen by someone other than themselves. 
My gift this month is knowing that my doctors have altered my life. Pain levels, though complicated, are becoming more manageable if only I do not walk. When I lay flat or only use my chair, I can smile again -something I thought was lost for ever. I feel guilt and embarrassment that last fall my therapists got me to walk with poles and toes tied to my shins. I tried so hard to keep it up, only for my neck and spine to collapse in anguish, pummeling my optimism into the chair. The ego is a powerful foe when fighting to believe in your self. The irony is the ID can be your greatest fault when trying to find who you are once you've lost everything you've been. 
So, for now I am trying to accept different types of joy. The joy of teaching myself to load my chair into the car all by myself. The pride in dismantling my chair to bring it piece by piece upstairs on my lift to say to myself is be okay if I were alone. I find peace in smiling back at waiters who think my chair is kind of cool, or my kids friends who think my service dog is the celebrity of the school. 
So until we know if my new normal will all ever go away, it's my obligation to share the gifts I've found in the darkness of the shade. 
Micaela Bensko
Vice President www.RebuildingAmericasWarriors.org
PO Box 1931
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
c 310-990-8389 
Blog: www.MoanaVida.com 
Site: www.ReggieUp.com

On Jun 6, 2014, at 10:12 PM, InfoforRAW@aol.com wrote:

Honey, I just left your blog, Who is this Lady, really is so beautiful, and so true for all of us. In a way you are lucky to be able to stop and know yourself, the rest of us race through life from one moment to the next, never stopping to figure out why.  I love you so much for helping me see life as it really is, full of such meaning, depth, reason, and questioning.  There are answers we will never know, days we will always wonder, but one thing I know, God is with you and I hope myself.  The reason for all of this will be revealed at some point of our life, or afterlife.
 
I know he gave me this absolutely beautiful daughter who challenged life both mentally and physically for 40+ years, and then an accident happened, one so difficult that it challenged her every thought and took apart every cell in her body.  She had to start reassembling herself all over again.  And she did it, not the same as before, but better in so many ways.  I love you honey, you are the beat of my heart and I thank God every night for having blessed me with you.
Mom

 

Tuesday
Jun032014

Purple Heart Home Reconstruction Project has invited you to like their Facebook Page

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All Bryan Anderson wants for the loss of his three limbs, is a house for his fellow Purple Heart recipient that works. 67 likes · 0 talking about this

Purple Heart Home Reconstruction Project

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Saturday
May312014

Gary Sinise Takes The Reigns



 

Subject: Gary Sinise Takes The Reigns
Gary Sinise Takes The Reigns!
Image
      Bryan Anderson and Gary Sinise 

Dear Friends,

There are no words to adequately express our gratitude to Gary Sinise and The Gary Sinise Foundation. As of yesterday, they have offered to make Bryan's wish come true in the rebuilding of fellow wounded warrior SSG Wood's family home. This has been a powerful reminder that even in these uncertain days of conflict, there is so much good in this world - all we had to do was believe. 
Please share these good works of this incredible foundation on all of your social media networks. Gary never publicizes what he does for our wounded, never sends out a press release. This can be our way to give back to him as well for all he selflessly does for our troops. www.garysinisefoundation.org
Always,
Micaela Bensko 

To support the Wood Family Project under the 501c3 Gary Sinise Foundation, please go tohttps://donate.garysinisefoundation.org/ and designate the cause as The Wood Family Home. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED THE STORY:

Purple Heart Home Reconstruction Project
By Micaela Bensko

All Bryan Anderson wants for the loss of his limbs, is a house for his friend that works.

Tony and Joedi live in paradise, but their home has become anything but a relaxing, or safe, place to be. Window frames are rotting through. Stairs are falling apart. The septic tank has collapsed one too many times. But it is still a home to SSG Tony Wood, his wife Joedi, and twelve beautiful kids. The house is not the only thing that has been damaged. Tony is a Purple Heart recipient from Operation Iraqi Freedom 2005.

Now back to the twelve children. Two of their children are biological. The other ten are fostered or adopted. Tony and Joedi live in Hawaii and have been fostering children since 1987. Married for twenty-six years, it seems a key to their lasting marriage has been the common goal of giving to others who did not have a home to call their own. Joedi's full time position is as a mother to all. 

Two months after Tony was injured in Iraq, another member of his team - and his best friend  - Bryan Anderson was seriously injured when the Humvee he was driving rolled over an IED. The explosion severed off both of his legs, his left arm, and parts of his right hand. It was Tony's face he saw when he opened his eyes at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It is Tony's family he would like to help by creating a coalition to rebuild the Wood family home.

Bryan says, "If anything good can come out of all of this, there's only one thing I wish could happen. I want Tony to have a home that he deserves." As a triple amputee, Bryan now travels the country in support of various charities, a most personal one being The Gary Sinise Foundation.

Bryan and Our Daughter Emma
Upon relocating to California this month, Bryan stayed with our family in Santa Clarita until his new apartment was ready. His passion for wanting to help the Wood family was contagious and we immediately began brainstorming. I called my friend JD Kennedy (former head of Veterans Affairs for our district's congressional office) - who was just 18 days away from Election Day- and by the next day we were in our living room along with Jeri Goldman of Santa Clarita Valley's KHTS Hometown Station and SCV Habitat For Heroes, and the Wood family home reconstruction project was born.

A MESSAGE FROM BRYAN 

When I first met Tony, he had just re-classed as an MP from Infantry. I love meeting new people and like to think I have a pretty good judge of character. Not only was Tony one of “the good guys”, his sense of humor was razor-sharp. He was the kind of leader that had you laughing your ass of one minute, and ready to lead his team in a hot-second. He was the ultimate egalitarian that made everyone around him feel like they all mattered the same, but always functioned as a leader the guys respected. Being around Tony helped me reconstruct the harsh reality of being in a war zone, to being in a foreign country with my best friends, and with every move I made their lives were on the line. Tony gradually became a brother. Even though we were in the seeds of hell, his positive outlook and comedic timing made being in hell a lot more palatable.

Hearing about Tony’s incident was absolutely devastating. I don’t think anyone is actually prepared for that kind of news. As weeks dragged on, it was increasingly difficult to get any update from the states on his status. All we knew was that he survived and the prognosis was that he was going to “make it”.

Two months later, I was hit, and ended up at Walter Reed. Although my family was beside me, I had never felt so alone and isolated from my brothers. I had all sorts of feelings, like I took the easy way out because I didn't have to be in Iraq anymore. I felt guilty. All I wanted was information about my unit. I needed to connect with them, be a part of them if even on the telephone. Then one day I opened my eyes from my bed and Tony was standing there. It was Tony, man. Right there. And I just teared up. I was so happy to see him that suddenly I knew I would make it through whatever was ahead of me.

For the next few months we pulled one another through our healing process. Every day I knew he’d be there and it would be one more day that the world would be okay. Then, before I knew it, he was gone.

So much has happened since our days at Reed. We have both led busy lives, my work kept me traveling around the country on speaking tours and supporting different veteran charities, and Tony lived all the way in Hawaii, so it was tough seeing each other. Then one day I booked a job in Hawaii. The first thing on my list was to see Tony.

Seeing Tony was like no time had passed. The army does that to you. You have brothers for life. When I saw his house though, man, it was tough. There he was with a great wife and all these children – they have an awesome family. So much going on all the time. But I couldn’t help but see the structural condition their house was in. A military income is not that great, especially with twelve kids. Tony took pride in telling me about how whenever something goes wrong he figures it out, or his church comes together like the time their septic tank blew out. It seemed to me the only down-time Tony ever had was spent trying to keep his house from falling apart.

Through my travels and work with foundations, I've been able to help raise money for veterans for just about everything - including housing.  Most soldiers that receive houses are amputees, but in my opinion, even though tony is not missing any limbs, he is the true definition of what a soldier should be, in and out of the war zone. Tony deserves this, but not just because he was injured, but because he is one of the guys that never asks for anything. All he does is give. He gives to everyone around him. He gave in Iraq and he hasn’t stopped since.

With everything that has happened to me, losing three limbs and all, if any good can come out of this, this is the only thing I’d wish for. If I am in a position to make a difference in the life of my friend – a true American hero, it’s my hope to see other good people come together with me to make this dream of mine come true.

Bryan Anderson
Donate Via The Gary Sinise Foundation And Designate The Wood Family Home






Forward this email

This email was sent to benskophotography@gmail.com bymicaelabensko@gmail.com |  

MoanaVida.com | PO Box 1931 | Rancho Mirage | CA | 92270

 
 
Sunday
May252014

The Garden And The King

My husband wiped the evening's meal off of Donald Trump’s limo. My morning sickness was terible at night - Which somehow helped me blend in with the 2am bar patrons, unlike when our group entered Madison Square Garden for the KISS concert earlier in the evening. We did not blend in then, on a summer night in New York City, twenty years ago. Needless to say, we had a feeling this was going to be an interesting evening.

I was star struck as we drove through the city, but it wasn't The Donald that held my attention. Or his hair. It was the buildings. I was star struck by buildings. I couldn’t help it, I opened the sunroof of his limo and stood with the warm summer air patting at my cheeks. It was a brief escape for my square peg from the round hole of the New York elite It’s hard enough to feel like you belong anywhere when you are in your twenties, still trying desperately to discover who you really are and what you really want. The other wives were coiffed with  designer clothes. Their hair was Blonde. The men were silver. The driver was anxious.

I was six months along. The top of my swollen belly pressed against the sunroof frame. Something about pregnancy makes you bold - brave enough anyway to allow Donald Trump to witness my swollen ankles like elephant feet cut off at the knees; the kind they make coffee tables out of.

We arrived at Madison Square Garden. As we entered the building, the audience began to stir like bees in a hive. Word travels fast in a sea of New Yorkers. They must have seen the hair. As we walked to our seats, the crowd grew louder, and louder.

Then he did it. The Donald raised his hand to the air - like Hitler with a toupee. The king of New York had addressed his subjects. (Remember, this was twenty years ago.)

The Garden rumbled. I turned to The Donald with a question mark. He shrugged his shoulders to the girl from the sunroof. He was used to all of this. The buzzing. The sunroof.  He was used to The Garden. The bees. I envied people who were used to such things. It meant they belonged to something larger than themselves.

Then the chanting began. Dah-nuld! Dah-nuld! Dah-nuld!
We followed him through The Garden like ducklings. It got louder. Dah-nuld! Dah-nuld! I had never seen anything like it in my life, Nonetheless been stared at by so many people at once. Of course, they weren’t looking at me, but still, the sense of visual invasion was so overwhelming I wanted to suck my head so deep into my neck that it would lodge in my ribcage. But Dah-nuld? He loved it.

Trump is Trump. Love to hate him or hate to love him. Either way, it spurs a response.

We finally made it to our seats. And I made it through the concert without throwing up. Until we went to dinner afterwards. And got back in his limo. It stirred deep inside, like bees in a hive. A piercing ash in the corners of my jaw bleed through my bones. Gentle waves of nausea lapped at the back of my throat. My skin clammed and faintness overtook my jovial mood. Pull over, we had to pull over. I couldn’t do this in his limo. Not Dah-nuld’s limo. My husband rang the alarm. She’s gonna blow! The limo came to a stop against the curb, I scuttled to the foo, my head just barely reaching moist wall of humid summer air. And it happened. I threw up all over Donald Trump’s limo.

I don’t think he ever knew I did that as he went home after dinner in another car. In twenty years I don’t think I have ever even mentioned it to his wife, so why not just blog about it, I said to myself. I mean how many people got to blog about the night they strolled into a garden amidst a sea of bees and christen the limo of a king? And so, I did.


Thursday
May222014

From One Purple Heart To Another


All Bryan Anderson wants for the loss of his limbs, is a house for his friend that works.

Tony and Joedi live in paradise, but their home has become anything but a relaxing, or safe, place to be. Window frames are rotting through. Stairs are falling apart. The septic tank has collapsed one too many times. But it is still a home to SSG Tony Wood, his wife Joedi, and twelve beautiful kids. The house is not the only thing that has been damaged. Tony is a Purple Heart recipient from Operation Iraqi Freedom 2005.
Now back to the twelve children. Two of their children are biological. The other ten are fostered or adopted. Tony and Joedi live in Hawaii and have been fostering children since 1987. Married for twenty-six years, it seems a key to their lasting marriage has been the common goal of giving to others who did not have a home to call their own. Joedi's full time position is as a mother to all.

Two months after Tony was injured in Iraq, another member of his team - and his best friend  - Bryan Anderson was seriously injured when the Humvee he was driving rolled over an IED. The explosion severed off both of his legs, his left arm, and parts of his right hand. It was Tony's face he saw when he opened his eyes at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It is Tony's family he would like to help by creating a coalition to rebuild the Wood family home.

 
Bryan says, "If anything good can come out of all of this, there's only one thing I wish could happen. I want Tony to have a home that he deserves." As a triple amputee, Bryan now travels the country in support of various charities, a most personal one being The Gary Sinise Foundation.

Bryan and Our Daughter EmmaUpon relocating to California this month, Bryan stayed with our family in Santa Clarita until his new apartment was ready. His passion for wanting to help the Wood family was contagious and we immediately began brainstorming. I called my friend JD Kennedy (former head of Veterans Affairs for our district's congressional office) - who was just 18 days away from Election Day- and by the next day we were in our living room along with Jeri Goldman of Santa Clarita Valley's KHTS Hometown Station and SCV Habitat For Heroes, and the Wood family home reconstruction project was born.

A MESSAGE FROM BRYAN

When I first met Tony, he had just re-classed as an MP from Infantry. I love meeting new people and like to think I have a pretty good judge of character. Not only was Tony one of “the good guys”, his sense of humor was razor-sharp. He was the kind of leader that had you laughing your ass of one minute, and ready to lead his team in a hot-second. He was the ultimate egalitarian that made everyone around him feel like they all mattered the same, but always functioned as a leader the guys respected. Being around Tony helped me reconstruct the harsh reality of being in a war zone, to being in a foreign country with my best friends, and with every move I made their lives were on the line. Tony gradually became a brother. Even though we were in the seeds of hell, his positive outlook and comedic timing made being in hell a lot more palatable.

Hearing about Tony’s incident was absolutely devastating. I don’t think anyone is actually prepared for that kind of news. As weeks dragged on, it was increasingly difficult to get any update from the states on his status. All we knew was that he survived and the prognosis was that he was going to “make it”.

Two months later, I was hit, and ended up at Walter Reed. Although my family was beside me, I had never felt so alone and isolated from my brothers. I had all sorts of feelings, like I took the easy way out because I didn't have to be in Iraq anymore. I felt guilty. All I wanted was information about my unit. I needed to connect with them, be a part of them if even on the telephone. Then one day I opened my eyes from my bed and Tony was standing there. It was Tony, man. Right there. And I just teared up. I was so happy to see him that suddenly I knew I would make it through whatever was ahead of me.

For the next few months we pulled one another through our healing process. Every day I knew he’d be there and it would be one more day that the world would be okay. Then, before I knew it, he was gone.

So much has happened since our days at Reed. We have both led busy lives, my work kept me traveling around the country on speaking tours and supporting different veteran charities, and Tony lived all the way in Hawaii, so it was tough seeing each other. Then one day I booked a job in Hawaii. The first thing on my list was to see Tony.

Seeing Tony was like no time had passed. The army does that to you. You have brothers for life. When I saw his house though, man, it was tough. There he was with a great wife and all these children – they have an awesome family. So much going on all the time. But I couldn’t help but see the structural condition their house was in. A military income is not that great, especially with twelve kids. Tony took pride in telling me about how whenever something goes wrong he figures it out, or his church comes together like the time their septic tank blew out. It seemed to me the only down-time Tony ever had was spent trying to keep his house from falling apart.

Through my travels and work with foundations, I've been able to help raise money for veterans for just about everything - including housing.  Most soldiers that receive houses are amputees, but in my opinion, even though tony is not missing any limbs, he is the true definition of what a soldier should be, in and out of the war zone. Tony deserves this, but not just because he was injured, but because he is one of the guys that never asks for anything. All he does is give. He gives to everyone around him. He gave in Iraq and he hasn’t stopped since.

With everything that has happened to me, losing three limbs and all, if any good can come out of this, this is the only thing I’d wish for. If I am in a position to make a difference in the life of my friend – a true American hero, it’s my hope to see other good people come together with me to make this dream of mine come true.

Bryan Anderson

 

If you are a company or individual who would like to contribute to the Wood Family Reconstruction Project please contact:

Micaela Bensko

MoanaVida@gmail.com

Bryan enlisted in the Army in April 2001 and had a ‘ship out’ date of September 11, 2001. He
served two tours of duty in Iraq and was stationed in the Baghdad area. He attained the rank of Sergeant in the Military Police (MP), conducted police training courses in Iraq and gained
additional law enforcement experience at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary as a prison guard.

In October 2005, Bryan was injured by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that resulted in the
loss of both legs and his left hand. As a result of his injuries, he was awarded a Purple Heart.
Bryan received rehabilitation for a period of 13 months at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He is one
of the few triple amputees to have survived his injuries in Iraq.

Bryan is the National Spokesman for Quantum Rehab, a division of Pride Mobility Corp., and

travels the country making numerous personal appearances while delivering his message of perseverance and determination in major rehab facilities. In addition, he is a spokesman for
USA Cares
, a non-profit organization based in Radcliff, KY that is focused on assisting post
911 veterans in times of need.

Tuesday
May202014

The Parents of The Shooter

A short film for California State University Northridge By Alex Howard Our daughter is in the role of the mother
Wednesday
May072014

The Knife - Finding Spirituality in a World of Pain

I'm currently reading the book Midnights With The Mystic. The author is successful woman who self-professed failure at spiritual fulfillment. Her lifelong goal has been to achieve enlightenment. She tried everything - yoga retreats, trips to India, seminars with yogis and gurus - but the affects were short lived. After decades of disappointment, she gave up. Kind of. It wasn't that she didn't still ache for fulfillment, she was simply exhausted from disappointment. Ironically, it was when she gave up searching that her spiritual destiny fell in her lap.

While waiting for a plane, she noticed a young man meditating. Compelled to engage him in conversation, she learned that he studied under a mystic named Sadhguru. This book is about life lessons learned during her conversations with Sadhguru.

During my treatments at UCLA, I have learned a Multi-disciplinary approach to pain management. Medication alone is inadequate. One of the most important tools for pain management is pain psychology - using the power of the mind to combat pain signals to the brain. This can be accomplished many ways, through therapy, meditation, reading, learning, engaging in activities that help break the cycle. This can also include spiritual studies and disciplines.

I always liked to think of myself as a spiritual person. My childhood was littered with experiences that would be considered supernatural I suppose. Some quite frightening. Then at the age of twenty-four my mother and I both experienced a visit from my grandfather after he passed away. So, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that another realm exists and that life goes on even when our bodies don't. This is one of the greatest blessings of my life. But accessing this spirituality during my challenge has not been that easy.

In the beginning of my challenge all I could do was call out to God and beg for relief. I prayed. My parents prayed. My friends sent prayers. But little changed. In fact, my condition only seemed to get worse. Ultimately, the result of prayers was not what anyone expected, but in essence had set up the foundation for what has become the greatest spiritual awakening of my life.

My mother would hang her head in dismay as to why her prayers were not working. She was sure that she prayed so hard, she believed in God so deeply, why was I still suffering? How could her God allow her daughter's agony to endure?

In Midnights With The Mystic, the author describes an interaction she had with Sadhguru the first time they met. She asked him why - after so many years of trying - she still had not found lasting enlightenment? His answer cut to my core. He said to imagine your mind as a knife that is coated with cake. Then try to use it without creating a mess. Until the knife is clean and without clutter, it will be impossible. The metaphor for spirituality is that we all come to this journey with so many pre-conceived notions planted by society, that it seems impossible to discover true enlightenment, which can only occur when you realize who you truly are as an individual apart from ego and personality and everything your family and friends have imprinted upon you from birth. You need to clean off the knife.

Well, no wonder this is so hard!

During my challenge, when the world prayers seemed unanswered, was when everything I was seemed to be stripped away from my bones. Everything I believed in was shattering. My identity dissolved into pools of tears on my sheets. Yet, because of this , my knife is finally clean.

Before all of 'this', seeking true spirituality was akin to banging my head against a bible. As much as I tried to follow the discipline of my Catholic upbringing, I just could not accept too many of its doctrines. So I opened my mind to endless avenues, trying to stuff my brain with new methods of practice and theologies but nothing felt genuine enough to 'stick'. So I stopped trying, gave up, and figured leading a life with good intention and loving those around me just might be enough. Little did I know, I wasn't too far off.

Maybe being stripped of everything we think we are could be the beginning of everything we are meant to be?

I don't know what this spiritual journey will bring, but so far it is proving different than before. What I learn is absorbed. My body and mind respond when I listen to music and sounds that accompany teachings. Meditation is no longer just a closing of the eyes accompanied by monkey-brain - it is an opening of a gate to a world that was always there. Call it Buddhism, but I dare not give it yet a name. One thing I do know is I have finally found a path that is my own. It does not belong to anyone or any place outside of who I am. Who I really am. This process may take a very long time. But at least I know I'm on my way, protected by a knife that i have worked so very hard, to clean.

Sunday
May042014

Broken Words

I now have spinal cord stimulator leads along my entire spine. Well, almost my entire spine. My tailbone feels a little left out, as does the base of my skull. I consider them virgin territory. As for the rest of it, this has been the most painful recovery from any surgery I've had to date. During this time, my therapy dog, Reggie has undergone surgeries to remove malignant tumors along his back and side. Our backs mimic one another with trailed staples - taking the dog looks like its owner thing a little bit too far.

Blogging has been therapeutic. Each procedure or surgery has left me needing to explain the process for others, or purge the experience in words - somehow diluting the impression it left on my soul. But this last time, something shifted inside. After surgery the pain level was so high I had little left to say. Words evaded me, lurking behind thoughts too far away for me to grasp. I had the feeling you get when you have studied a topic for so long that you wonder how much could possibly be left to learn, or to share with others. How much more can one human being go through before words are so fragile they break into letters and randomly fall from the sky. I tried to pull them together - to write about the addition of more leads into my spine and drilling of my vertebrae. I wanted to describe what it's like to lay face down on an operating table while surgeons insert metal wires through your skin without anesthesia. My fingers grasping into the sheet and tears flowing into a puddle beneath my nose. How the anesthesiologist could not find tissues, explaining they had to keep me awake so I could tell them where I felt the electric currents in my spine before I went to sleep.

I wanted to write about sleep.

I wanted to write about something different. About how every night in every dream I walked and ran and could only vaguely recall a time when the only coats I saw - were white.

This morning I scrolled through my Facebook feed - the first thing I do each day - and stopped on images posted of an event with many of my friends. In that moment, I felt sad. In that moment I resorted to my childhood when jealousy made me quiet. When I turned a shade of green. Perhaps this might be a good sign, that a feistiness still lurks beneath; a longing to still belong. But I don't like this feeling, because it is much like the feeling of being left behind. And in that moment I did not like myself. I wondered who I am. Of course I can't control the fact I'm unable to go anywhere. I should be happy for loved ones enjoying life!

When dealing with a chronic condition, life sheds many skins. Dinner and a show is a picnic on pillows with our children parading a fashion show in A Capella song. Drinks come with bendy-straws and lunch with the girls is to-go.

Don't get me wrong. Treasured friends visit and have gone above and beyond all measures to make sure I feel loved. I could not be more fortunate than to have the support system I do. So, in moments when my I feel the self-pitty sneak in, I need to remind myself that this is not the end. I am so close to understanding what my future will be. This last surgery should be the final straw in this camel's broken back. Healing from this one will take about six months, and therapy begins again. I can now take gentle steps for a couple of minutes at a time. If I bend forward and face the floor as I stand I can actually bare a stride. It may look funny, but to me it is a sign. That perhaps one day soon I will be posting images from the outside world with friends. Until then, there is a very exclusive, invitation-only party with my dog I must attend.

Thursday
Apr102014

Soft Tissue Sarcoma 101

"Mommy, where are the posters of dog breeds, and all the pictures on the walls like at our vet's?" My daughter's eyes scanned the walls. I explained this is not a fun vet to see. It's a specialist that people only go to when their animals are too sick for posters of breeds. She continued to play a game on my phone, squealing gleefully at the dive bombing of alien invaders. I imagined each explosion the disintegration of cancer cells beneath Reggie's uneven skin.

The last two surgeries have left concave bowls of excavated tissue beneath his fur. The girls pet his back and pucker his skin as they get to the surgical site - a putting green of velvet baby fur left behind from a razor's edge. They pushed gently into the bubble of flesh at the end of the scar where sutures lurked beneath, then watched the skin regroup. A game of sorts that Reggie did not mind. The pain is gone for now. I tried to explain the layers of muscle and fat, and how the doctor had to stitch below the skin and staple it on top. Staples are out now, but the puncture wounds left over from the prongs make him look like he could spring a leak at any time.

The oncologist walked in. A gentle but confident presence. She offered her hand with the expression you only find in places you don't want to be - An apologetic raising of her eyebrows before any words could be exchanged at all. I wondered how many times she said hello this way. I imagined what it must take out of you to specialize in veterinary oncology and greet each new patient with regret. Regretting they had to meet you at all.

She took him back for weight and X-rays. The good news was he lost two pounds. Those who know Reggie, he is what we call my little tater tot. A husky long haired dachshund who was supposed to be a miniature. Until he grew to nineteen pounds. So this was good news. Then, better news. It looks as though the cancer has not yet spread to his lungs. Soft tissue sarcomas most often enter the blood stream and then go directly to the lungs. X-rays are not 100%, as microscopic cells could be present, but I chose to look at it as a positive in what has been a pretty trying month. However, upon a call to my vet back home, this doctor learned the surgeon who performed his second surgery never tested the tissue removed from the site. He said he thought he saved it, but upon inquiry discovered it had been thrown away. Thrown away. I just had to say it again to make sure I heard myself correctly. My jaw hit the floor. My eyes filled with haze. She allowed me to stir. Then continued.

The prognosis is that Reggie needs a third surgery plus CT scan, performed just prior to surgery and after anesthesia, that will tell exactly how deep to go into the tissue this time and how far it has advanced since his last surgery. During surgery they will assess the health of the tissue by monitoring it under a microscope. Certain tissues with cancer are visually recognized, but others cannot be determined unless viewed microscopically. IF this surgery goes well, the doctor feels there is a 95% chance he will not need radiation. Surgery will include a necessary two day post-op stay.

If Reggie does need additional treatment, this kind of cancer does not react as well to chemo as radiation. With chemo, he would take a pill every day for a year.
Radiation would be the likeliest avenue for this kind of cancer. It is an aggressive cancer as it develops a root system. So it can go deep and once it goes into the blood stream it goes directly into the lungs. It is a slower moving cancer, but that still just means it's a matter of months rather than days or weeks.

They will know once they do this surgery if radiation will be needed.
Radiation would be performed at another facility. Reggie would stay there during the week and receive daily treatments for a month. We would be able to pick him up on weekends.

I sit here tonight with Reggie's chest rising and falling into my arms. His trusting eyes closed for now, a retreat from visions of vacant walls. For now, some peace.