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Mary Catherine’s Story

Through adversity we grow, our growth maybe in tight rings like the tree that faces a drought, but those trees have the strongest core and will withstand the winds of the hurricane when they ar older.


It all started out when Mary went in for her college cross country phyiscal on July 28. Her doctor felt a mass in her pelvis and sent her to get a CT scan that day. The scan showed what was thought to be a large ovarian cyst. So then she was referred to the University of Minnesota Gynocology department. They also thought it was a cyst and scheduled surgery for August 8. It was supposed to be a 2-3 hour surgery and 2-3 day hospital stay. It turned into a 11 hour surgery which she recieved 7 pints of blood and 2 units of plasma. What they had found was a ganglioneuroblastoma tumor which was roughly 11cm by 11cm though at the time they weren't sure what it was. She was in ICU for a day and recieved 2 more pints of blood post-op. She had 35 staples starting an inch sbove her belly button, down around her belly button and down 6 inches. She was in the hospital for a total of 9 days. During those 9 days we heard bad news then good news. There were various tests and scans donewhile she was there and we left feeling cautiously optimistic. Then on Monday Aug. 21 we went back down for the results of the test. What was found was that the tumor had spread to her bone marrow in her left hip and femur. Also the tumor that was left was cancerous. So now she is starting chemotherapy on Monday Aug. 28 at the University of Minnesota Hospital. She will be there for 3-5 days every month for the next 4-6 months. She will probably have all of the common sypmtoms of chemo - hair loss, nasea, tiredness. Her tumor is rare - .15%. 50% of these tumors are found by the age of 1, another 45% by the age of 10, another 3% by the age of 16. Also only 5% of these tumors are found in the pelvis. Thank you all for all of your support - we love you all.

Latest Journal Update

Surprises and Celebrations

First for the Celebrations…

I’ll go in reverse chronological order:
1. Jenny Agnew WON the Division II NCAA Cross Country Nationals last weekend. Jenny and her twin Melissa, who placed 5th in Nationals last year, were Mary Catherine’s prodigies in high school CC. Jenny and Melissa have been oh so gracious in remembering us and in remembering Mary in their glory. My daughter Sarah was streaming the race while giving me the play-by-play (stride-by-stride?) over the cell phone. Both of us were crying as Jenny entered the finish chute leading by over 15 seconds. Victory.

2. Sam, Mary’s youngest bro, was Confirmed 3 wks ago. So much fun to celebrate with family and church mentors. There wasn’t a dry eye when Sam and his classmate Aliste presented the family of their friend Kaitlin with the Confirmation stole they made for her. Kaitlin was killed walking to our high school football game last year. The occasion was bittersweet for us also because we were remembering 2010 when we had celebrated Zac’s Confirmation with a big bash. Mary was on her couch, smiling in the midst of the laughter and love. Relatives from Indiana to Oregon and Washington came to celebrate Zac but also to say good bye to Mary. Mary rarely wanted to be the center of attention so the occasion lent itself so well for relatives to surround her without making it blatantly obvious. All these memories flooded us as we prepared for Sam’s Day, recalling that a mere three weeks after Zac’s Confirmation, Mary was taking her Victory Lap.

3. Sam played both offense and defense on our varsity 9 man football team as a sophomore, earning an All-Conference Honorable Mention. We celebrated that Grandpa Hook could make it to one of his games this year. Sam was also in the fall school musical Oklahoma.

3. Sarah is swimming hard upstream in her first year of medical school at University of Minnesota, Duluth. We were present to celebrate her White Coat Ceremony, a solemn occasion where the “first year’s”  don their white coats and are challenged to uphold the ethics, compassion and responsibility that these coats symbolize.  Read more on this under Surprises below.

4. Mary’s bro Zac is a freshman at University of Minnesota, Morris. We are celebrating that he is thriving there. He is challenged academically and has found great friends. 

5. We celebrated as our Godson Joe Hoechst married Amy in Madison, WI this summer. Of course all the attendant Virnig family stories were duly recounted and new ones added to the archives.

6. We were so blessed to celebrate both Zac's Onamia High School graduation and Sarah's college graduation from U of ND, Grand Forks in May. It is so unbelievable to remember how young the kids were when Mary was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma... 9,12, and 15 yo. How can it be?

And now for 
the SURPRISES…

1. In mid- September Arden brought me home 2 Manx kittens to join the other 13 of our own I had yet to find loving homes for, claiming something about new genetics and mousing in the garage. (they are still in the house).

2. One week later Arden brought home a TODDLER! I had gone to visit my Dad and taken him to watch his granddaughters/my nieces run a Cross Country meet. When I returned home, I exclaimed, ”Arden there are diapers in our house!” And so we now share our lives with Bella who lived with us 3 weeks when her foster father had radiation and surgery for newly diagnosed cancer, and now a couple days/ week when he has dr appointments. What follows is Arden’s account of taking 23 mos old Bella with us to Sarah’s White Coat Ceremony:
  
So back to the white coat ceremony, we had Zac, Sam and Bella with us and there was a balcony so we thought this will work out great. We can keep Bella contained and we can easily step out when necessary.  We looked around and it was quite obvious that several other parents and surrogate parents had come to the same conclusion.  Well the night before I had wrestled Bella through Sam's football game so I wasn't too thrilled about the rematch at the ceremony. My arms still had lactic acid accumulation from last night.  After about the third speaker Bella seemed to become tired she grabbed her blankie and her sippee cup and crawled into Patti's lap. We were ecstatic---until we watched the sippee cup arch through the air and seemingly stop in space before it plunged to the floor.  This was held in the concert hall with wonderful acoustics. You wouldn't believe how long it takes for that cup to hit when you are listening for it.  The first med student in the row had it rocket past his shoulder and blow a large splat of milk out the side of the cup onto his best pair of dress pants.Our whole family cowered behind the railing until one dared peer over the side and determine noone was wearing the cup.  Then the 4 of us slunk down in our seats holding our sides laughing uncontrollably. Immediately there was a mass exodus of toddlers from the balcony as their families could all see themselves in the same boat. Our 50 something reflexes just aren't tuned for that kind of speed anymore.  Sarah smiled up at us and said to the med student beside her, " Yup that's my family."  So currently we have Reese's the wonder lab, Loki the 5 month old siberian/alaskan husky cross, two grey and white manx kittens and Ghengis the cat sharing territory with an ambitious almost two yr old and a 16 yo football player. Oh my, everybody seems to either need to poop at the same time or eat.

Blessings to all of you, my friends.
Through tears this day,
Patti :) who is still warmed to call herself ^^Mary's ^^ Mom