This week, my mom is in San Diego for the Lysosomal Disease Network World Congress (Batten Disease is classified as a lysosomal storage disease). One of the presenters on the program is Sandra Hofmann, MD, PhD, whose infantile NCL project Taylor’s Tale has funded since mid-2007. Very few families attend this particular conference because it is so technical, but this is my mom’s second go-round, even though Taylor was diagnosed less than three years ago. That’s my mom – she won’t accept precedent, and she won’t miss a single opportunity to give kids like Taylor an edge. My mom and I joke that we stick out like sore thumbs at these conferences (I majored in English in college, and my mom majored in music), but we hold our own. We simply have to. We can’t offer anything in the lab, but what we can do is advocate for children with Batten disease – and all children with rare diseases – and understand enough of the research landscape to maximize our ability to support it with our fundraising and awareness efforts.
All of us – children like Taylor and families like mine and our friends and loved ones – are currently stuck in a car traveling down a single highway. We’ve been told what lies at the end of the highway by those who’ve gone before us – that this is a fatal disease and that the best we can do is provide comfort to those who suffer from it – and make as many happy memories – as much for us as for them – as we can. But I have a little bit of my mom in me, and I don’t like that itinerary. I don’t like the idea of a highway without exits and a car that travels at its own speed and doesn’t bother to tell me when it’s going to speed up or slow down.
I can’t have a new car, though – T’s genes are what they are. So the best I can do is keep my eyes open for an exit. I don’t know if there is one exit or if there are many, if they are marked or if we will have to rely more on our instincts. I don’t know if the exit will be created by enzyme replacement therapy, or gene therapy, or stem cell transplantation or something else – or if there will be more than one exit – but I know that something’s out there, and that we’re close, much closer than when I first got shoved into the car by invisible hands that day in the summer of ’06. See, though I may spend each and every day working toward a greater understanding of the science, I’m still a creative, and I don’t deal in black and white. I don’t deal in absolutes, and I like to throw a little color in there whenever I can. It may take a little imagination to help find the exit(s), but maybe that’s my role – I’ll leave the miracle-making to the ones in the lab. I don’t like the route that was chosen for us. And I’m not backing down.