Remembering Shannon

With Shannon at One Step Closer to the Cure

I recently lost my friend Shannon. We met 17 years ago when our children were placed in the same 3 year old classroom. We didn’t seem to have much in common. Shannon towered over me in height, and there was a big age gap between us too. She lived in a large, beautiful home with her husband and young son. My house was about 1/4th the size of hers, and I had (at least we thought at the time) 2 daughters. But we both loved motherhood, Disney, girl talk – and found more similarities the more we got to know each other. At the end of that school year, our children shared a 4-year-old birthday party at Toy Story 2 on ice. They were tight friends for many years after that.

Shannon first told me she had cancer in a round-about way. We were both picking up our kids from school at the same time, later than most, from the aftercare room. They were in sixth grade. We hadn’t gotten together for a few months – I thought because our kids were starting to hang out with other people. Turns out it was for more terrible reasons. That evening the kids were at their lockers getting ready to leave, and Shannon whispered that she thought she shocked my child because she was wearing a wig. I didn’t even realize her new, bobbed haircut was a wig. I had no idea she was ill. Shannon assumed her cancer was part of the parent gossip and everyone knew, but our family had no idea.

We reconnected that day – tossing our tweenagers’ drama aside and getting together without them, often to walk along the water early in the morning after dropping the kids off at school. We talked about anything and everything, both of us being very chatty people! And when the kids started high school, they ended up tight again.

Shannon had ovarian cancer, and fought ovarian cancer for ten years. And by “fight” I don’t mean she went to chemo treatments. Shannon was determined for her illness to be part of the cure for ovarian cancer. She saw top notch doctors around the country, had multiple surgeries, became part of numerous studies – and repeated over and over that someday she would be part of the cure.

A large group gathered every year in her honor at the local ovarian cancer 5k. It would take us about 90 minutes to walk the measly three miles because Shannon would stop and talk to everyone along the course – people she recognized, people she was neighbors with, volunteer teens handing out water – everyone. And I would come as the team photographer / videographer to try to document some of her spirit and the support of her family, friends and teammates.

Hopefully, when you know someone for 17 years and see them at some of their worst (heaving) moments and perhaps at some of their best moments (child’s high school graduation), you learn from them.

I learned that Shannon loved her son. This isn’t so extraordinary. Mothers tend to love their children. But Shannon also respected her son in a way I rarely heard mothers talk about. She respected his decision making, his opinion, his privacy, his space, his relationships… She was very thoughtful in what she would and would not say to him, when she would and would not butt in, when she trusted him to handle something 100% independently or when she reminded him to bring his sunscreen.

Shannon enjoyed learning from everyone. Although she had a learning difference in the classroom, she shifted her approach to learning from everyone around her. She asked tons of questions – and the good questions at that. She would ask me details about what it meant to eat kosher, and might ask me again 4 years later to be sure she still understood. She questioned my son about how it felt to be transgender and what he loved about himself and what he wanted to change about himself. She learned from doctor after doctor, and some health practitioners who were more holistic as well.

And she learned from nature. A dolphin, manatee or hummingbird sighting truly excited her. She could grow a plant from a pit, and knew when to take cactus outside or bring them inside. She took it as sign when the lakehouse her family wanted to spend time at was on a street named for a bird. I think winged creatures were her favorites – birds and butterflies – aside from her own beloved puppies at home.

Shannon had old, southern values — sometimes. She would whisper words like “fart” or “vomit” and would say “stomach issues” instead of diarrhea. (Don’t you wish everyone did??!) She believed in respecting all people unless someone really, really pissed her off by being outride rude to someone else for no good reason.

She liked a great manicure. She liked a comfortable wig. She liked a supportive bra. She liked when her sisters got together. She liked giving gifts – and she gave me one of the most generous gifts of all simply by being my girlfriend for so long.

What being the mom of a Trans Kid Taught me

Someone said to me once, “When your children are born, they are characters in your story. But eventually they start their own story line where they are the main character and you are in a supporting role.”

It may be hard for a parent to determine when their child’s story has begun, when we should let them learn from their own actions. Notice I did not say “learn from their own mistakes” because I have learned that sometimes mistakes are happy accidents in disguise.

There are many parents of transgender children who wonder, “Is this transition for attention? Is my child trying anything to get through their depression? Is this a response to abuse? Is this because their friends are doing it? Because it’s cool?”

Parents with these thoughts are not alone, and are not horrible people. These are some of the questions that keep us awake, shaking and crying at 3am. These parents are reflecting on a major change and transition, and want to be sure steps are being taken mindfully. Going over “what ifs” in your head is not wrong, but at some point we all need to stop ruminating and move forward – move toward growth.

What finally worked for me was: Release trying to figure out WHY, and focus on WHAT is happening.

You love your child, heart and soul – and seeing them happy while at the same time they know you have their back – will eventually transcend those questions. Keep loving their heart and soul. Who cares about their clothes or haircut? All of that is temporary.

Therapists look for consistency and insistency when helping trans kids. If your child hasn’t wavered the last few years in their transition, then getting them on a path that may fight dysphoria and mental health issues seems like the way to go in my opinion.

Hold their hand and get through it together. You’ll both grow so much from the experience!! And that is not temporary. That is forever.

People ask me if I miss my daughter. I’d rather have a happy son living his true life than a suicidal daughter living to satisfy others.

Isn’t it beautiful when people are allowed to be who they uniquely are, and we accept them without boundaries?

LOVE, real love, is willing to allow those who you care for to be their authentic selves without any insistence that they satisfy you.

A Bronx Tale at Straz Center

This week I got a special treat as part of a partnership between Tampa Bay Bloggers and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida. I received two tickets to see “A Bronx Tale” in exchange for this post.

“A Bronx Tale” started their national tour in fall 2018 and is currently in Tampa, Florida. But get your tickets fast! The show is only in town through February 3!

(And I know February sounds like it’s a long way off, but it’s tomorrow…)

The show’s book is an autobiographical tale by Academy Award nominee Chazz Palminteri (who has been in over 55 movies, so you know him from something), with music by Oscar, Grammy, and Tony Award winner Alan Menken (As in Disney’s Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Aladdin, Little Shop of Horrors, Enchanted, etc…) and lyrics by Grammy Award winner and Oscar and Tony Award nominee Glenn Slater, directed by two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro (you know who he is!) and four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Tony nominee Sergio Trujillo.

I believe this was my first time going into a Straz show without knowing anything about the production, nor having seen the film. It was just date night with my husband and anything could happen. So imagine our surprise when this guy’s tale about being raised by a loving family in the home and the MOB outside the home told one of OUR stories in the middle of it!

The lead character, C, based on Chazz Palminteri, is told if he picks up a girl in a car and opens the door for her, she should unlock his door from the inside while he walks around to his side of the car – or she’s too selfish to bother with. Brian totally tested me that way on a date 22+ years ago! When we first started dating he was in college living in a dorm without a car, and I drove us around in my mom’s Toyota Camry, which had power locks. But when he was home on spring break or summer break, he’d have his dad’s car (Bessie) and she did not have power locks. So he used that test on me the first time he picked me up in the burgundy Pontiac.

“A Bronx Tale” is full of real life stuff like that – only the guy had mob ties, so for him that was also part of real life stuff. But so was learning about following his heart and passion from his dad, and standing up for what he believed in when he went against the status quo – natural parts of many lives.

The song was touching at many moments, racially charged, funny, relatable, shocking and sad at other moments. The singing ties everything together, although the dancing is athletic and wonderful when it pops up!

“A Bronx Tale” started as a one-man show, so this musical adaptation is guided heavily by C’s narration. This let’s audiences frequently know what was going on in his head. It is set in the 1960s, so the score is heavy on doo-wop style music. The show reminded me more of “Jersey Boys” than of my own time living in New York City because of the period it was set in. There are a couple of video clips on the backstory on the Straz’s website. You can also see more on the show’s YouTube channel, I like this one highlighting the kid who kicks off the production with chops. Frankie Leoni was great as young C, and another standout singer was Richard H. Blake as Lorenzo, C’s father.

I really did laugh and cry, I also was shocked into gasping a couple of times. It may not stick with me forever, but it was entertaining for a great date night! I found it very interesting that Oprah and Deepak Chopra taught me lessons about how to follow love vs. fear, but I could have learned that while watching “A Bronx Tale” in a plush velvet seat in Carol Morsani Hall for $65+ right here in Tampa!

Get tickets while the show is still around on the Straz’s website, here.

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