It is hard to believe that tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Where did the year go?
Oh yeah, it’s 2020.
I still remember the night in mid-March when the country finally came to grips with the magnitude of the crisis and began to shut down. News broke that Tom Hanks had tested positive for COVID, then maybe 30 minutes or so later, an NBA game was postponed right before tipoff because a Utah Jazz player had tested positive. The NBA swiftly (and correctly) suspended the season right then and there, which had never happened before in the history of the league. Normal life came to a grinding halt. In the coming days, employees would be ordered to work from home. Schools closed. Millions lost their jobs. And the first wave was upon us in full, terrifying force.
On Sunday afternoon, I received a text message from my sister: Alex Trebek had passed away.
It was news that I had been dreading for a long time, but knew was inevitable. Nonetheless, it came as a surprise, even during a year of unpleasant surprises. I figured if anyone could survive for years with pancreatic cancer, it was Alex.
I call him by his first name because, let’s face it, to millions of people, including myself, he was family. He entered our living rooms every night and provided us thirty minutes of escape from the worries of the world. That is no small accomplishment in this day and age.
His consistency is what made him stand out. You knew what you were getting every night. Even in the midst of cancer treatments that would have broken the strongest among us, he never missed a day of work, taping right up until the end. And the quality of his hosting never diminished.
On a purely selfish level, I held out hope that I would meet him someday. It is no secret to my friends and family that I really want to be on Jeopardy! Part of the reason was to share a stage with Alex Trebek. I could have finished a Wolf Blitzer-ian $-4600 and it would have still been a thrill to stand behind the podium and take my shot against the best and brightest.
I will never get that chance, but my disappointment is a small trifle compared to the sadness of the moment. This is not just a loss for me, this is a loss for humanity. Alex Trebek was a national treasure, an irreplaceable exemplar of virtue in an age where decency and authenticity are hard to come by. Many times contestants fell flat on their face, and instead of saying “you clearly didn’t belong here,” he would say “it just wasn’t your day.” He was our biggest cheerleader.
However, what makes Alex Trebek stand out, even more than his virtue, was his humor. That was my favorite part about him.
Where do we start?
There’s this clip. And this. There’s the way he said genre. And the way he owned Conan O’Brien. He also was an acclaimed rapper.
Whoever replaces Alex Trebek will have enormous shoes to fill. They will never be Alex, but it is important that they don’t try to be. No one can replace him. But the show must go on. He would want it that way. He wouldn’t want a pity party.
Tonight, I watched the newest episode. There are only 30 or so episodes left. It hasn’t sunk in yet that he’s gone. When the last episode airs, and we enter the great unknown, it will be an emotional end.
But, despite the sadness, there is the satisfaction of a life well lived. I’m sure he is having fun (or pulling out his hair) reuniting with the SNL Celebrity Jeopardy crew right now.
I hope you are all staying healthy and have been able to enjoy the summer weather despite the pandemic.
I am happy to announce that the Ralph and Theresa Anselmo Resilience Award is a go for 2020!
Thank you so much to everyone who has supported it the last two years. Together, we have been able to help five(!) students registered with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at Northeastern University with living expenses, and in the process gain a little peace of mind.
To those unfamiliar with the award, here is a 2018 news article from Northeastern that talks about why I started the award:
This year, my goal is to fund two $1,000 awards for students registered with the Northeastern DRC. I waited a little longer this year to announce the award as I waited for additional information on what Northeastern planned to do for the upcoming year. As it stands now, they plan to have students on-campus, with additional protocols in place to keep everyone safe.
Even with the safety precautions, however, this is going to be a difficult year for Northeastern students, as they try to navigate classes, find a job/co-op, and live in the middle of a major city during a pandemic. In speaking with Northeastern administrators, they have said that this has been an incredibly stressful time for students and faculty. My heart goes out to them all.
As a result, this award will be more impactful than ever. Any amount of support you are able to provide is greatly appreciated, even if it’s just sharing the GoFundMe link with your network. I know times are tough. No amount is too small!
I hope you are enjoying summer and staying safe (or if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, enjoying winter). Even with COVID-19 wreaking havoc all over the globe, it is important to enjoy the little things when you can. For me, going outside is what keeps me sane. Not that it’s stopped me from talking to animals, but that’s another story.
A few quick housekeeping updates today. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve re-organized and added a few links to the right-hand side of the front page of this site. Some of the links no longer worked, so I’ve removed those as well.
Here are a few new links to highlight:
Optimize Yourself Podcast – I was honored to speak on Zack Arnold’s podcast in 2018 about my personal journey and to provide advice on dealing with adversity when life gets tough.
STAT News – On a whim one weekend in March, I wrote a letter to healthcare providers, during the height of the outbreak here in the northeast. My admiration for all healthcare workers, from doctors and nurses to janitors and front desk staff, remains just as strong as ever. The longer this goes on, the more we are going to need to support them once it’s all over.
I also have a couple of speaking engagements coming up this weekend, which is exciting. I always enjoy the opportunity to share my story. Although this is a small concern compared to everything else going on in the world, I really miss traveling to conferences. I miss speaking in front of live audiences. I miss meeting new people, seeing familiar faces, eating good meals, learning new things, and of course, the free swag.
This year, we were scheduled to go to Orlando, Cleveland, DC and Boston. And with the birth of my nephew last week (!), we would have gone down to North Carolina to see him. But unfortunately, that won’t be happening anytime soon.
2020 has made clear that life doesn’t always go the way we expect. Life often gets in the way of our hopes and ambitions, and we realize that everything we took for granted was fleeting all along. “When humans make plans, God laughs.”
But, life is all about how we respond to challenges. One such adjustment we have all had to make is transitioning to a virtual environment. Fortunately, several of these conferences are still taking place, and the panels I was scheduled to be on will be virtual instead. The only downside is I will have to wear a collared shirt and comb my hair. And maybe take a shower.
This weekend, assuming I can solve the challenge of looking like a real human being, I will be speaking on two panels. On Saturday, I will be participating on the Drug Discovery Roundtable at the MDA Engage LGMD Symposium, an online, one-day event focused on the latest research and clinical advances in Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy. I am excited to share my perspective on how patients can participate in clinical research during this exciting time in LGMD drug development.
Then on Sunday, I will be participating on a panel for the NORD Living Rare Forum. This is the event that was originally going to be held in Cleveland this past May. I’m glad that the conference is still taking place, even in virtual form. NORD conferences are always a great time. The title of my panel is “Psychology of Rare: PTSD, Depression, Evaluation, Diagnosis and Therapy”, a heavy topic but one that is relevant to the rare disease community. It is a topic I know well, for better or worse, and I am confident that it will be a valuable discussion for all attendees.
All in all, I am keeping busy to the best of my ability. I am hoping and praying that we will soon be able to see one another safely again. In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy.
That is probably the understatement of the year. It has been an awful last few months.
Right when we start to think we have the COVID-19 pandemic under control, the enduring virus of racism and injustice comes back to the forefront. It may get temporarily overshadowed by other news stories from time to time, but let’s face it, it never went away. It is a scourge we have dealt with as a country for hundreds of years.
It is hard to put into words the sheer horror of watching George Floyd murdered on video, his life expiring in agonizing fashion for all the world to see. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is the most disturbing video I have ever watched. I was left without words, but many emotions. Horror. Sadness. Frustration. Despair. Anger. Lots of anger.
In times of tragedy, words disappear. I’ve wanted to write something for weeks, but everything I wrote felt incomplete. It still does. This is the best I can do.
I wanted to share a piece that I wrote a few months ago, and had intended to share before the craziness of the last couple months. However, I figure it’s more relevant now than ever!
This is a story about my spiritual journey – the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. Faith has sustained me in some of the darkest moments of my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have peace. I would be a rudderless ship on a stormy sea, devoid of hope. It’s as simple as that. But the path to get to this point was not an easy one.
Please share with anyone who might benefit from hearing this message.
When I lived in Boston, it became a running joke that I was an accidental trend-setter. Every neighborhood I either lived or worked in became popular as soon as I left.
In 2008, I lived in an absolute dump of an apartment on Boylston Street, right behind Fenway Park. (It sounds cool on paper but trust me, it was a dump.) A year later, I moved out, and almost overnight, luxury apartments and restaurants popped up out of thin air.
In 2010, I was working for Thomson Reuters in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood. At the time, the building complex I worked in, a cluster of 100+ year-old brick buildings, was surrounded by lifeless parking lots. There were only two or three bars nearby. I left to go to another job, and once again, a new neighborhod pops up out of thin air, and is now one of the busiest places in the city.
Same thing with Oak Square, Brighton and Central Square, Cambridge.
I hope you are all staying safe and healthy during this unsettling time.
I find myself in a perpetual state of stress and anxiety. I have let go of the outcome and am trying to focus on what I can control, but it is easier said than done!
One of the ways I deal with anxiety is to write. It is my outlet. Lately, I have been thinking about all the healthcare providers I’ve interacted with over the years. Many of them are likely on the front lines right now, exhausted, but purpose-driven.
I see people applauding healthcare workers on TV every night. I live in a pretty remote area, so I’d be clapping to squirrels and birds (and possibly a roaming bobcat). To show my appreciation to healthcare workers, I decided to write a letter instead.
Although Rare Disease Day (Feb. 29th) has come and gone, the afterglow remains. It is one of my favorite days of the year now, right up there with Christmas, Easter, my birthday, and any day when I have a fantasy baseball draft.
I always try to attend or take part in a Rare Disease Day event when possible. This year, I had the honor of participating on a panel with my fellow rare disease advocates at MassBio’s Rare Disease Day celebration on Friday, February 28th.
It was a whirlwind of a day, but tremendously gratifying. To be in a room full of rare disease advocates, family members, state representatives, industry and nonprofit leaders, and other stakeholders was an empowering experience. We represented dozens of different diseases, but shared one purpose: to celebrate those living with a rare disease and to raise awareness for the thousands of diseases that often are forgotten and overlooked.
Monday marked the seven-year anniversary of the passing of my former coworker and dear friend, Carly Hughes. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. I had to double check. But it’s true. Seven years.
I was afraid that as the years passed, I would forget her. Although I may not remember exact conversations, I remember how she made me feel. She always made me laugh with her pranks and tall tales. She also knew how to get under my skin, in a way that was both effective and non-threatening. I still laugh thinking about how mad I got when I came to work one day and she had turned my desk around to face in the opposite direction.
Carly was a caring soul, one who always looked out for other people. There are many stories of her heroic dedication to her friends. Most of all, she knew how to be there for someone going through a tough time. She understood the importance of physical presence in an era when we live our lives behind our devices.
In the process of writing my book, I came across notes and old emails that helped take me back to 2011, when she joined Visible Measures and our friendship took off. By jogging my memory, these notes allowed me to live in the moment, as if it were happening all over again. I still to this day have not seen anyone drink a large Dunkin’ Donuts Iced Coffee as fast as Carly.
I still think about her often. Her passing feels like a lifetime ago, but I’m happy that the memories remain, as does her legacy. Words can’t adequately express what she’s meant to me. (I tried.)
There is a foundation named in her honor, and on the website are several stories about her that will warm your heart.
I’ve accepted that I’m never going to understand how someone so full of life could be taken from us at 24 years of age. Only God can answer that. But I’m happy to have her as a guardian angel, watching over me and giving me encouragement when I need it.