Friday, July 31, 2015

Greetings From Orlando


I have heard (not verified it though) that Orlando is the number 1 tourist destination in the world. If this is true, I am so sad! Let's see.... Orlando or London? Orlando or Iguazu Falls, Brazil? Nonetheless, here we are, staying in a lovely hotel just steps from Disney World, where Mickey is everywhere.

Our trip to Flordia should be a fun one.

First, my best friends Julie and Shane are here, too. We hung out with them last night.

Second, my aunt and uncle from Uruguay are coming in a few days.

Third, William will be joining us in a week. I really miss my guy. I am so grateful to have a happy, healthy, peaceful and respectful relationship. I have lived the opposite, a life of sadness, chaos, high conflict, confusion and utter frustration. I am so lucky!

We have not been to Disney yet, we will do that next week. Tomorrow, we are going to Savanah, Georgia and then up to Charleston, South Carolina. Why? Because I haven't been there yet, and neither have my daughters. I love exploring everywhere and any where so why not this part of the country? (I have been to Florida several times in the past, including Orlando but I have never been to Disney World. I suppose we must, right? I mean, RIGHT?)

Travel is expensive but I cannot think of one trip I have ever regretted. It is worth every penny and then some. I could happily burn just about everything I own and just travel, live, experience, and surround myself by amazing people that I love. I'm working on that one!

I am doing well physically. I was incredibly tired and fatigued the last few days, thanks to the awful Dex crash but who can complain? I mean, I could really complain but what is the point? We flew red eye, picked up our car, came to the hotel and went directly out to the pool where the girls fell asleep and I got a poolside one hour pedi and massage. If I'm going to be tired, I'm still going to make the most out of it. It is hot and humid. And I am blessed.

Cheers!

Lizzy

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Morgan's words: Her reunion with her dad and step sisters (first time in over THREE years!)

I love writing happy stories. I love even better when my children write happy stories. Here's the latest from Morgan. This one is published on Divorced Moms. Enjoy!

Stories From A Teen: Reunifying With My Dad (Finally!)
by Lizzy Smith                    
July 29, 2015
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I have written many times about my ex cutting off all contact with the children about six months after our split. His excuse to me? They were too stressful. His excuse to his family? He was afraid I would sue him for more child support. Either excuse is shocking and horrific. Nonetheless, last weekend, 15-year old Morgan flew to San Diego for a few days to visit her step-sister, Kellie. It turned out to be a joyous reunion with her other step-sister, Nicky, and her dad! Next up, he’s invited both Morgan and her younger sister, Siena, to come back any time for a visit. A new direction? I hope so! Let’s hear from Morgan all the details…
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Reunifying With My Dad & Sisters!
By Morgan Nielsen (15 years old)

I was laughing so hard I was crying. It wasn’t because of what my sisters said, it was because we couldn’t take a single good picture of the three of us. We were in the movie theater waiting for the movie to start and my sister, Nicky, wanted to get a good picture. As she tries, she keeps moving her phone and they were all coming out blurry. We did this about five times. We took 15 pictures and only got one that was ok enough to post on Facebook and Instagram. These little moments can mean so much because you look back later and say, “Wow were dumb but it was a great day.”

I will never let me forget this important weekend, where I had the opportunity to go to San Diego to go see my two sisters and my dad. It was so amazing to see them because I missed them so much. It has been over three years since we have spent time together because my mom, younger sister and I left my dad and moved to Utah when my mom got sick. So this was amazing. Some of the things we did together was go to the beach, a movie, a Padres baseball game, and we had Sunday family dinner before I flew home (my first flights alone!). We also went shopping.

When I left for San Diego, the only thing I knew for sure is that my sister, Kellie, would pick me up and we would meet my older sister, Nicky, for dinner. The rest was kind of a great surprise.
The first thing we did when I got off the plane was go to dinner and a movie. Dinner was really nice because that is where we caught up and talked. It was funny because we ate at a restaurant called Stacked and they don’t wait on you—we ordered on an IPad and then the server brings out your food. Kellie ordered a drink and the guy came like a minute later. It was cool but surprising. After the movie I went home with Kellie and she gave me her bed to sleep in. It was so comfortable and I was so tired and I fell asleep right away. I was so happy!

The next morning we woke up and went down to the beach to meet up Nicky at a coffee shop on the beach that she works at. She made me an iced caramel macchiato, yum! A couple of minutes after I got my drink my dad showed up with his two dogs. I was so happy to see him I ran up to him and gave him a big hug. It was the first time I had talked to him or seen him in over three years. I missed him so much. I Kellie and my dad decided to go to dog beach to walk his two dogs, Ollie and Bullet. I missed the beach so much. It reminded me of my prior life before my parents’ split because we used to go at least once a week. Walking with my dad and sister seemed so normal. It was weird but it seemed like almost no time had passed. That night I went to the Padres baseball game with Kellie and Nicky. They won and after the game Nelly preformed and it was cool.

On Sunday we went back to the beach. As it turns out, we walked past an ear piercing shop and I decided I wanted to get my cartilage pierced, just like Kellie. I knew my mom would never go for it but I called and asked anyway. After she thought about it, she said yes, that she wanted this weekend to be the best ever and it would be a token memory. I couldn’t believe it!

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Bill Conley and I are featured in this month's Utah Cancer Connections magazine for our work in raising funds to cure multiple myeloma!


Local Candidate Bill Conley Aims To Raise Funds To Cure Multiple Myeloma While Building A Stronger Community 

From The Myeloma Crowd 
 
We are excited to be featured in this month’s Cancer Connections magazine (page 15). This is an excellent example of how patients and caregivers can help support the Multiple Myeloma Research Initiative (MCRI) while having fun doing it. Creative? We say yes!
 
Bill Conley, candidate for Lehi City Council, was campaigning one hot morning. Just weeks earlier, he had decided to walk every major neighborhood in the city before Election Day meeting residents and business owners. On this particular walk, his fiancĂ©, Lizzy, was at Huntsman Cancer Institute for her monthly doctor’s visit and labs. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January 2012 and, though doing well, there is no cure. This means endless monitoring, infusions, and exams. He began wondering how he could support her cancer battle in a bigger way while also campaigning.

An idea was born that included long walks, lemonade stands, donations and talking. All right up his alley.

“I have owned several businesses in my past professional career,” says Bill. “My success involved thinking outside the box coupled with a willingness to talk to people.”

Lizzy was already working with a fellow myeloma survivor, Jenny Ahlstrom, on launching and growing the Myeloma Crowd (www.myelomacrowd.org), a patient-driven web site with information for the myeloma community, tips for navigating treatment, and new medications and treatments available to patients. In addition, Jenny and Lizzy helped launch the Myeloma Crowd Research Initiative (MCRI), which aims to find a cure for the disease. In August, they will begin crowdsource funding to sponsor a potentially curative clinical trial.

“What makes the Myeloma Crowd Research Initiative unique is that it is happening now, totally transparent, and its progress is trackable,” says Lizzy. “Typically, cancer research donations go into a big bucket and donors have almost no way of knowing if their generosity makes any difference. But the MCRI is potentially a game-changer. We want a cure now. As a patient, I am not satisfied with hoping someone else cures me. I need to be part of finding that solution.”

It wasn’t long before Lizzy and Bill were walking neighborhoods together wearing neon T-shirts (the front is a large Myeloma Crowd logo, the back a Vote Bill Conley for Lehi City Council message) and talking to residents about cancer and Bill’s campaign. Lizzy also put her two daughters to work– nine-year old Siena and 15-year old Morgan. They designed posters and began running lemonade and cookie stands on select walks. The snacks are free but they accept donations for cancer research. Additionally, they can also be seen around town wearing those T-shirts. This effort is a family affair. Lizzy’s dad even joined them on a walk.

“I will be a dedicated and tireless member of the Lehi City Council if elected,” says Bill. “I live in Lehi and have a vested interest in making this city an amazing place to live. But all funds raised go straight to the Myeloma Crowd Research Initiative. Not one single penny goes to my campaign. We are doing this for the right reasons—to make a difference in the world.”

Monday, July 27, 2015

On reunions with sisters and dad

What a huge weekend we had! You can read about Morgan's below in my latest Divorced Moms column. On the home front, Bill and I spent some 20 hours at Lehi Appreciation Days as part of Bill's campaign for Lehi City Council. It was fun, exhausting, and totally worth it. While we chatted up attendees in the heat, Siena and her friend went swimming and enjoyed the rides. Last night, I have to say that we cooked up one amazing dinner using up fresh plums off my mom's tree. Fresh salsa with mangos, and quinoa-kale salad from my aunt's garden. Fresh, delicious, organic food, who can dream up anything better?

But, really nothing compares with what I write about here. On Wednesday, we leave for Florida, our last big vacation day of the summer.

Cheers!

Lizzy

On Reunions and Re-Establishing Sisterly and Fatherly Ties
by Lizzy Smith                    
July 27, 2015
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When my 15-year old daughter was younger, she was timid when it came to doing anything without me, her mom. We were tight, the only thing that mattered was the two of us. After all, my side of the family lived a few states away and there was no dad or siblings. When I married my (now) ex, she started developing close ties with him, too, which was fantastic. She also got to two older step sisters, which she mostly worshiped. And then we adopted her younger sister. All of a sudden, she had a family, a large one, with siblings, a dad, two sets of grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. I was so happy to see my little girl, then just five-years old, learning to love and trust and open up.
She loved her dad like no other. Even though our relationship was a disaster from pretty much the beginning and was extremely high conflict, Morgan was secure. I watched my tiny child start coming out of her shell—diving off the diving board, fishing, being the first to dive into the ocean from a boat in the Bahamas, swimming with sharks, playing with snakes, and even diving off cliffs in Maui. She child was becoming a daredevil.
When I decided to leave my ex in the wake of my cancer diagnosis, I asked my daughter if she wanted to stay with Daddy or move with me. I was leaving San Diego and heading to Salt Lake City to begin cancer treatments, which over the next ten months would include two stem cell transplants, massive amounts of chemo, and going bald (I lost my eyelashes and eyebrows, too). “I’m going with you, Mommy!” she said without hesitating. While she loved her dad, no way could she be without me for more than just a day or two, and even that was hard.
So off we went, Morgan, my younger daughter, Siena, and I starting a new life, away from our beloved beach and this time surrounded by four seasons, mountains, and even snow (and illness). While our new life started taking shape, Morgan was nonetheless in deep pain and I could see it. She was no longer seeing or talking to her dad at all. Total silence. It took some of her mojo away. That confidence and lightness in step was heavier, sadder. And there was nothing I could do to stop it.
In my attempts to drown out the deafening silence, I did my best to distract, keeping life so full and busy, hoping she wouldn’t notice. Trips, more trips, more activities, retail therapy, Mommy-Daughter dates, snowboarding, tumbling classes—you name it. But it didn’t work. We spent many nights talking and crying, trying to understand how her dad could just vanish. “What did I do wrong?” she would ask. I had no answers.
This summer, I realized that it was time to start providing opportunities for Morgan to start spending time away from me. It was painful, I hate being away from my children, but it was time. I signed her up for several camps where she would travel alone. The first, a Girl’s Camp for five days in the mountains. The second, a writer’s camp at a nearby college. For six days, she lived in the dorms and met all new friends. The third, a Bible camp for a week. This one was very “out there”—they went boating, hiking, and played paintball. She came home happy, with bruises and contusions all over her body.
In addition, I took her on some trips recently—a cruise in March where, for the first time in ages, she was able to jump in the ocean and snorkel, go zip lining, and cave tubing. New(er) experiences. We also went to Seattle and Canada where she swam in lakes and stayed up almost all night wiring together fireworks for the 4th of July.
But the zinger was this past weekend when she completed her first flight alone. Last Friday, I drove her to the airport and while I choked back tears, I watched Morgan board a plane for San Diego to visit her (former) step sister. Kellie and Morgan were going to spend the weekend together. I was so nervous. While we have kept in touch with Kellie and saw her every summer, this was far different. Because other than Kellie, Morgan had lost contact with that entire side of the family—her other former step sister, her grandmother, aunts, uncle, cousins—and most importantly, her dad. This trip held no promises other than sister bonding with Kellie but who knew how it would all turn out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Drama queens and kings are a nightmare. Here's how to manage them without going insane yourself

My latest via Divorced Moms. When it comes to perpetual Drama Queens and Kings, just say no! Preserve your sanity. Here's how.

How To Handle The Drama Queens (And Kings) In Your Life
by Lizzy Smith                    
July 21, 2015
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When I was first diagnosed with cancer and left my alcoholic husband, he accused me of being a drama queen (among other things). Me, a drama queen? Call me all kinds of things but “drama queen” never fit. I could either let that accusation destroy my spirit (more than it already was—after all, I was grappling with a potential death sentence and had uprooted by entire life to seek treatment), or ignore it. But before I could decide either way, I had to understand what a drama queen really was.

Drama Queen Defined
A drama queen is self-centered. She lets small setbacks become emotional, outlandish events. She involves as many people as possible. She is neurotic and exaggerated in her responses. A drama queen  enjoys the stimulation of becoming angry, emotional and exaggerated. Tears, anger, unhappiness and frustration actually cause a drama queen a sick kind of joy. She demonstrate diva-ish behavior and her needs and wants, regardless of how minor or inconsequential, trump most everyone else’s.

So was I a drama queen?
Based on this definition I was most emphatically not a drama queen. During my entire marriage, my needs and wants came dead last. I never worked harder or more selflessly in a marriage where I got just about nothing in return but emotional outbursts of a drunk husband (or a husband desperately in need of a drink and resentful that I was standing in his way). Upon diagnosis, I dropped everything to seek treatment but, according to the hubby, I was selfish because my needs finally came ahead of his. Truth was, my behavior was called self-preservation. And, besides, I truly don’t know how one can overstate the severity of a cancer diagnosis. Dramatic? Hell yes!

So now that I could ignore that accusation, I looked around me and realized that there were a few drama queens in my life (in addition to the hubby was the ultimate drama king). One of them was my nine-year old child who can’t possibly exaggerate her needs at that very moment. The other is a “friend” who I’ll call “Alice.”

The drama queens in my life
The first example is a child and as her parent, it is my responsibility to redirect that behavior so that it stops. Because I don’t know too many people who think drama queen behavior is fun or appropriate.
The second, Alice, is an adult. Truth be told, if I could cut Alice out of my life, I would. But for a variety of purposes, I can’t. And it isn’t my job to redirect another adult’s behavior.
But in both cases, there are ways to manage these people so that it doesn’t negatively impact me or my home.

How to manage drama queens

1. Their emergencies aren’t your emergencies
Just because a drama queen demands immediate attention doesn’t mean you need to give it. In fact, by addressing their endless needs for help and attention, you are feeding that behavior and encouraging it to continue. Because drama queens needs to be constantly tended to and they will keep looking for someone who will give them immediate attention. If you simply don’t go alone with it, you can claim your sanity. If this is your child, ignore the behavior. If they need you to jump and take them to Target to get school supplies for a project they forgot about, don’t do it. Maybe next time they’ll learn to plan ahead.

If it’s an adult, “no” is a powerful word. Practice it often and use it. Case in point: Alice once called me and, in near hysterics, asked me to come to her home. Between tears, she said that her husband had taken the wrong car to work and she needed someone to take her to his work so they could switch cars. Um… so I was on the way to an infusion appointment and, really, what was the urgency? She had a nail appointment she was going to miss. Let’s see… my chemo infusion or her nail appointment… I was stunned at her audacity. And then I remembered the word NO. “I can’t, sorry but good luck!” And that was that. Next thing I knew, she had called a mutual friend and had her deal with the whole car issue. Our mutual friend called me after the drop-off and vented for 30 minutes.

“Why did you say yes?” I asked. It took her a long time to respond. “Good question, I won’t be doing it again,” she promised. Sheesh, I hope not!

Just know that drama queens (children and adults) can be incredibly abusive. You cannot allow this behavior to continue. If this is your child, you have a duty to stop it cold.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On lemonade stands, raising funds for myeloma & running for Lehi City Council

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Our Lemonade Stand Fundraiser for MCRI: A Family Affair                  

BY LIZZY SMITH for www.myelomacrowd.org

I tend to keep my daughters very busy during summer months. So in addition to travel plans (we just got back from a very fun road trip to Seattle and Canada, and we are leaving for Florida in two weeks), camps, and lots of physical activities, Bill and I decide that they should also learn a bit about giving back to their community. What better way to do this than raise fund for the Myeloma Crowd Research Initiative (MCRI)?

So we have planned a series of lemonade and cookie stands in our neighboring town, Lehi, Utah. Bill is running for Lehi City Council  and has vowed to walk every major neighborhood in the city before Election Day meeting residents and business owners. He ordered up neon T-shirts with one side the Myeloma Crowd logo and the other a Vote Bill Conley Lehi City Council. I often join him on these walks and we are impossible to ignore. On one particular evening, we started off Bill’s walk with our lemonade and cookie stand. We raise $70 for my personal MCRI fundraising page!

Here’s how we did it:

1. My two daughters, 15-year old Morgan and 9-year old Siena, baked cookies the day prior. We kept it simple, buying ready-made cookie dough.

2. On the day of our event, we loaded up our car with a five gallon water bucket filled with lemonade, cups, our cookies, a table and signs that we were raising funds for cancer research.

3. While Siena and her two friends managed the donation table, Bill, my parents and I held up signs for Bill’s candidacy and the fundraiser.

We are hosting another lemonade stand next week on the same evening of a “Meet the Candidates” night. Since Bill will be at this event, we’ll set up across the street an hour prior and when we are done, attend Bill’s event and meet Lehi residents and discuss Lehi issues.

This is a fun activity that is also a family event. We all have a vested interest in helping find a cure for myeloma, after all. It is teaching my children some important lessons about what it means to do something selfless, and we have fun together doing it.

Consider doing something fun with your family and raising money for MCRI. For ideas to get you started, click here. Share with us your family activities or fundraising efforts at info@myelomacrowd.org.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Renewal. What remarriages can offer children

There is no question that divorce is beyond difficult for children. In my case, even though my marriage was high conflict and abusive, filled with alcoholism and rage, it was still hard on the children. They loved their dad, though they both knew that it was a really terrible situation. Keeping them in that environment was irresponsible and it was one of the biggest reasons I left-- because I knew that if I stayed, they would learn some really bad life lessons on what relationships and marriages should look like. The thought of it was terrifying, actually. What if they ended up with a husband like the one I was married to? It was an intolerable idea.

Now when one remarries, it is a mixed bag. First, the children know that their dreams of their parents getting back together are over. And that is devastating. And then there is combining a new home, new expectations and parenting, new dynamics and traditions.

But it also offers HOPE and that is huge.

This weekend, William's daughters came down and stayed at the house. On Saturday night, William and I had date night. Morgan and Siena were home watching TV and William's daughters arrived while we were out. When we got home, we sat up and watched TV, all six of us on the couch. We were laughing, commenting on the show, and just hanging out. Morgan said, "This is some serious family bonding time." I could feel that she was, well, excited. Excited for the future, for a new family and step sisters and all of it.

On Sunday, we went to church and brunch, and later, we celebrated William's birthday with a house full of guests. It was simple and fun. And it brought me something powerful, too-- hope. Excited for the future. I've always dreamt of having a home filled with children, grandkids, boyfriends, dogs, and people around. Maybe we can achieve that. We don't have a dog yet, but we do have Princess our cat. And we are all subtly working on William about the dog.

It's called progress. And on this Monday morning, despite heat and sun and looming treatment on Wednesday and Thursday (infusions are so time consuming), I am excited for the future.