#CureBatten Forever

By Laura Edwards

Celebrities like Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Garner and Megan Fox are rallying to save the lives of two young girls diagnosed with a rare form of Batten disease. The girls, Charlotte and Gwenyth Gray, are the daughters of Hollywood producer Gordon Gray. Gray is known for movies like “The Rookie,” “Miracle” and “Million Dollar Arm.”

Now he’s trying to raise $10 million to save his kids. continue reading →

The Last Birthday Girl

By Laura Edwards
The Last Birthday Girl in 1982

On Tuesday, I’ll celebrate my last-ever birthday.

Okay, so not really. But I’ll be 29, and since I don’t care to turn 30, I’ve decided that at the very least, March 1, 2011 will be the last time I officially recognize my new age.

Despite my disdain for the number 30, chances are good that I’ll celebrate many future birthdays. Over the years, I’ve dodged plenty of bullets. I got off to a rocky start, suffering a severe brain injury at birth. Soon after, I became the first of two of my parents’ three children to have brain surgery. Then, when I was five, I took a nasty fall from the top of a high dive and landed on my back on the concrete pool deck. Eleven years later, I got in the first of three major car accidents. I’m particularly lucky to have walked away from the second. And in 2009, I had a lymph node removed during a cancer scare.

All of those things are safely behind me now. I still have scars on my head and my stomach from the intracranial shunt I sported as an infant, but a lime sherbet Popsicle and a spell in the shade took care of the diving board incident. The cars involved in the accidents really took it on the chin, but every single time, I walked away shaken, and nothing more. Oh, and the offending lymph node? It was benign.

These days, my biggest health issue is the fact that I’m an orthopedic train wreck – something I brought on myself and conveniently ignore whenever I lace up my shoes and head out for a run on Charlotte’s finest asphalt. When I look in the mirror and see signs of my ice cream obsession and a head of hair that’s not quite as blonde as it used to be, I suddenly remember that I’m not seventeen anymore. But in that same mirror, I also see a girl who got a single good copy of the CLN1 gene. A girl who also got a bad copy, yes – but that copy’s nowhere to be found in the mirror. You see, in a fight between a good copy and a bad copy of CLN1, the good copy always wins. It’s only when you’re unlucky enough to get two bad copies that you have infantile Batten disease. And if that happens, chances are you won’t even be able to see your reflection in the mirror – or anything else. Those bad copies will have stolen your sight.

I’ve had my fun with this whole ‘last-ever birthday’ thing. Now, what I really want to do is thank God in advance for each and every last future birthday He decides to give me. Life is a gift, and I don’t take a single day for granted. I can’t. But I sure do have a hell of a chance at seeing tomorrow. My sister can’t say that. Because she got two bad copies. So if Taylor lives to celebrate her 30th birthday, it’ll be more of a miracle than anything in my life ever was. And if that day comes, I’ll give her one hell of a 30th birthday party.

What Next?

By Laura Edwards

In 1984, Reynolds Price – acclaimed writer, Rhodes Scholar, Milton expert, Duke University professor of English, and my third cousin – learned he had cancer: a 10-inch-long, malignant tumor wrapped around his spine that he came to call ‘the eel.’

Imagine getting that diagnosis today. Twenty-six years ago, the eel was a death sentence. And yet 26 years later, Reynolds is still writing books and teaching his usual three courses at Duke. Seven years ago, when I was 21, I drove 10 minutes from my Chapel Hill apartment to Reynolds’ house in the woods. We spent the afternoon talking about spirituality, Scotch, ginger molasses cookies (inspired by the Foster’s Market molasses cookies I’d brought to share) and even a little writing. That day still conjures up the clearest of pictures and deep-down feelings whenever it crosses my mind.

I’m attending a great class with my mom at our church on Wednesday evenings. It focuses on spirituality in Reynolds’ works. Tonight, we discussed A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing. This extraordinary book is the story of Reynolds’ agonizing illness and astounding survival. It was published in 1994, and the first time I read it as a college student, I had no inkling of the sadistic disease lurking in my little sister’s cells. I think that I will read it again. On page 185 of the paperback edition, Reynolds makes a profound statement. At the time of my first reading, my life was free from the kind of pain and suffering that I know all too well these days. In fact, when our teacher at church, the poet/novelist Tony Abbott, brought the passage to our attention in tonight’s class, I read it with virgin eyes, as though I had never encountered it before:

“If belief in an ultimately benign creator who notices his creatures is available to you, you may want to try at first to focus your will on the absolute first ground-level question to ask him, her or faceless it. Again, that’s not “Why me?” but “What next?”

In the early days following Taylor’s diagnosis, I often plainly asked God all possible variations of that question:

  • “Why her?”
  • “Why me?”
  • “Why us?”
I was on the verge of losing my faith entirely in the wake of Batten’s entrance into our lives when I suddenly realized that I was asking the wrong question. Whether or not there was a why, I certainly wasn’t doing anyone any good, least of all Taylor, by questioning the sober reality of her defective CLN1 gene. It was on that day that I decided the only way to fight back was to start figuring out how to play the cards in my hand. Otherwise, I might as well have thrown all my chips on the table and left the game.

Here is another passage from that same page that I simply love:

“My own luck here was long prepared, from early childhood; but as with all sorts of invisible luck, there have been forced treks these past ten years when I all but quit and begged to die. Even then though I’d try to recall a passage of daunting eloquence in the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy where the baffling God of Jews and Christians says

‘I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today that I have set life and death in front of you, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life so that you and your seed may last to love the Lord your God….'”

Though she hasn’t read Reynolds’ book, Taylor gets it. She’s always gotten it. T greets each new day and bids it goodnight choosing life, no matter how tough things are between sunrise and sunset. A life with Batten disease surely isn’t one we would have chosen for her, nor is it one she would have chosen for herself had she been given a choice of cards. But they’re her cards, and ours because we love her. And because I love her, I choose life for her, too. And here’s a question for Batten disease: you gave us a good fight today. We fought right back. We’re still playing the game. So what next?