My World of Warcraft story

Lots of people talking today about Robert Kazinsky, the hunky British actor playing Orgrim Doomhammer in the upcoming movie, “Warcraft”. He made the comment that the game, World of Warcraft, saved his life, and they discussed it seriously without the typical making fun of gaming or gamers as a whole. Some of my friends said I should share my story as well, on how Warcraft saved my life too.

 

Illidan Stormrage reminding you you’re not prepared
 I started playing about halfway through “Wrath of the Lich King”. I’d always liked role-playing games, and had heard good things so I thought I’d try it out. I had three young kids, 5/7/9, all 3 diagnosed on the Autistic spectrum, busy job, and wanted a good game to escape to at night after the kids were in bed. My oldest is the most affected by Autism, and I named my first character after him as a way to fantasize about him overcoming all his limitations. My son Alex became Alexithorn, the night elf Hunter. I played off and on for a month or so, and was having fun leveling up and exploring. I remember my first time taking the boat over to Stormwind and seeing how many other players there were (remember, this was WotLK days so realm population was big then), I met some great people and joined a guild. Then came Christmas, 2008, when everything changed.

On Christmas Eve 2008, we got the news that my wife had breast cancer. Didn’t make for a fun Christmas, and while I don’t think I was online Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I spent some time during the holiday escaping into Azeroth, using the leveling grind to take my mind off things while we waited for those first appointments to get the plan together for beating the cancer. I confided in a few trusted guildmates what was happening, one of them also with a wife fighting cancer. They were there for me, and we became friends offline as well. 

2009 was a bad year, no bones about it. My wife had surgery to remove the lump, then a grueling chemo regimen for about 6 months. After that, she had radiation to finish off the treatment in the fall of 2009. During that time, as husband and father, my job was pretty intense. I would get the kids ready for their school (kindergarten/2nd grade/4th grade), I would work full time at my job, then help get dinner and nighttime routine done for the kids. My wife would do as much as she could, but I focused on making sure she was able to have her time to recover between chemo treatments without worrying too much about the house and the kids. We had an incredible team of habilitation and respite workers through the disability programs we already had going with the kids, so that was a tremendous help as well. I also focused on keeping my wife’s spirits up, as mental attitude is half the fight when dealing with cancer. 

During this period, I spent a lot of time in Azeroth. It became my place to go to escape from the world of cancer, driving to and from appointments, helping to change IV bags at home, the stress of work, everything. My friends helped me recharge myself so that I could keep the positive attitude in real life. I imagined that I could leave my worries and troubles in Azeroth, as my character was strong and focused on saving the world from one evil or another. The mobs in the game became an analogue to me for fighting cancer itself, and I could beat that in game. Of course, then I found the Crusader Bridenbrad quests in Icecrown, and I was a blubbering mess. For those who might not be familiar with them, they were done as a tribute for a brother of someone at Blizzard Entertainment who died of cancer, and are heartbreakingly awesome. Those quests are still amazing to me, and I do them on each of my alts that have been leveled up over the years.

I guess my point is that without World of Warcraft in my life at that time, I don’t know that I would have made it through 2009 in a functional way. The stress was tremendous, and I probably would have snapped by the end of that first year. I wouldn’t have been able to keep my spirits up enough to help my wife with hers, which could have changed the course of the fight. I have so many difficult memories from that year, but they are offset by the good memories I have from friends, questing, and raiding through Azeroth and Northrend.

We won that fight in 2009, only to have it come back as Stage 4 in 2011. We fought it into remission the by the next year, where it stayed until this past summer when it woke up again. We’re still fighting, and keeping up hope for the future. Warcraft still plays a part in my life, though I don’t play nearly as much as I did that first year. Friends came back for the assault on Draenor, and will probably be back for Legion. I’ll keep fighting the demon hordes online, giving me the strength to fight the demons in real life.

For the Alliance, and Lok’tar Ogar

Andy

My World of Warcraft story

Amanda’s turned a big corner

So, my grand experiment of posting something every day hasn’t quite panned out, but I’m not giving up on posting altogether. Just maybe not as ambitious 🙂  To say things have been crazy would be an understatement, what with the kids going back to school and getting used to the changing schedules again. But, really what I’m the most glowingly happy about right now is Amanda. In the last year, she has turned a major corner and with her birthday today I see the girl I loved turning into the young lady who I’ll cherish. This will be a long post, but a lot I need to get out tonight.

Let me start with some background. Two years ago, Amanda was 12 and started 7th grade in junior high. Big change, but she was overall doing pretty well. She had some behavioral problems, one which resulted in some school discipline, but overall not too bad. The normal SPICE teacher (responsible for the Autism program) was out on maternity, so there was another teacher filling that role that Amanda did pretty well with all things considered. When the regular teacher came back, though, Amanda shut down. We started having a ton of behavioral problems with her, both at school and at home. She retreated away, we’d sometimes go days without seeing her other than meals, and she would rarely even say anything. Nothing we did would help, and any efforts we made to try to get through would be met with more resistance. She would say incredibly hurtful things to me and Teri, and to see how it was affecting Teri was killing me. I mean, here’s her mother, who’d walked through hell and back to beat cancer so she’d have the chance to be there for Amanda, talking with her teachers daily to try and help at school, going to hours-long IEP meetings to negotiate for Amanda to make things better, and being absolutely shit on by Amanda in return. It was bad, seriously. And as bad as we felt, I’m certain that Amanda felt twice as bad and was simply lashing out at us because she felt this was the one place she could (meaning, if she said half the things that she said to us to any normal person, she probably would have been beaten to a pulp or put in an institution).

During this time, Amanda was on a video game a lot called “Animal Jam” – an online kids’ game by National Geographic, safe chat to protect from stalkers, all that kind of stuff. She met some other kids her age on there and was able to form some friendships, something she had a really hard time with in real-world, face-to-face settings because of her socialization issues. It was also kind of a “role-playing” situation, she made a wolf character and she could act out that side of her personality. Somewhere in here she really started calling herself “Frost” as a nickname, taken from the character she made. At first, she was spending a lot of time on the game and neglecting other things, so Teri and I were concerned there (me, especially, having battled my own World of Warcraft addiction over the years…I’ll have to do a post exploring that at some point). She would lash out when we would try to limit computer time to have her do homework first. This is where some of the huge battles took place, resulting in a lot of hurt feelings and still no homework done. The quandary, of course, was trying to get Amanda to do what she needed to do to pass school but not limit her growing friendships. And for a long time, that really did not go well.

So, last year when she turned 13, I told her she could set up a Facebook account, thinking she could friend some of the other kids she was on Animal Jam with. She had an email address but rarely used it, she’d never respond when kids from school were trying to reach out. Hell, I don’t think she even opened the mail application on the Mac we set up for them. So, she poked around on Facebook and didn’t get it, and I guess her friends were on Deviant Art so she created an account there. Amanda is really a great artist, and apparently her friends she was making on Animal Jam were also into that, so there was a community that she seemed to find a place in. Soon, she started mentioning some of her friends and funny things they would talk about (which Teri and I had no idea what she was talking about, but hey, we’re old so we don’t get that “kid stuff” anymore, right?). She was still having problems in 8th grade at school, and we’d still spar from time to time over computer time, but the 2 hours she’d get from 6:30-8:30 (between dinner and bed) had become the time of day she most looked forward to.

She left her Deviant Art account logged in on my iPad (I think she’d signed in when I took her to an appointment or something) so I decided to make sure she wasn’t chatting with some 34-year neck-beard living in his mom’s basement or something. There was so much teen web-speak I had no idea half the time what I was even reading (damn, I feel older than dirt…). There were mostly normal back-and-forths with the other kids, kind of like Facebook posts for their group (and I learned Amanda knew most of the adult language we’d kept from saying in front of them…and how to appropriately use them as exclamations), and some role-playing in personal messages. The role-play was what interested me the most, in that they were essentially writing a story with each kid playing a part. Amanda was a wolf in most of her stories, hiding in shadows and emoting (“ears laying flat”, that kind of thing) but in reading through some it struck me at how she was using it to explore her own personality in a safe way. She could be any character she wanted, and she could “try on” different aspects to see what fit her. It was fascinating, and very creative. I didn’t read through a lot, as I didn’t want to invade her privacy and safe place away from me and Teri, but I did want to make sure she was being safe. Which she was, and I’m proud that I at least was able to instill some online smarts with her.

So, 8th grade finishes, and Amanda passes (barely, in a couple of classes). She was done with the junior high, and would start 9th grade in high school. She was seeing that as a fresh start, done with the awkward period between child and teen. She still wasn’t back with us, but things started to improve at least. She didn’t have homework to worry about, so she would read and draw, and spend time on the iPad chatting with her friends and then her evening computer time. She’d do her daily house core, Teri would make a calendar saying what chore they needed to do each day, and she’d mostly do it without a whole lot of cajoling. She was still a recluse in her room, but she wasn’t as nasty about it. Camp Kesem was coming around, and she was nervous about being away from her friends online all week. The night before camp, she was bawling while she was responding to messages on Deviant Art from her friends. She went to camp, though, and had a great time as we knew she would.

And when she got in the car for the ride home, she talked.

A lot.

Probably for the first half-hour or so, she talked about things they did. Funny things that other girls in the cabin did. The amazing skit a group did at the talent show recreating the Harry Potter puppets “Mysterious Ticking Sound” video (it’s pretty funny, you should go watch it…it’s ok, I’ll wait). Over the course of the last month, we’d see Amanda more, talking some about this and that going on, showing us some of her drawings and how she’s doing things in Photoshop. Actually kind of reaching out to us, which Teri and I have tried our best to reach right back to her. A lot of the natural hostility she’s had towards us just kind of slowly evaporated over the summer.

The first day of 9th grade last week, we were a little worried about. How was she going to at this new school? New teachers, new friends, harder classes. She came home that first day and got off the bus, not frowning…maybe not exactly smiling or grinning, but at least without what had become her trademark scowl over the last 2 years. I took her backpack and asked how school went.

“Well…umm, it was actually…pretty good” and she smiled at me.

And my heart melted.

She talked about her teachers, how much fun they were and the funny things they were doing to keep them involved. Getting to know some of the other kids. Her new SPICE teacher at this school. It was good. She was happy.

Cut to today, my little girl’s 14th birthday. Comes home from school laughing. Not just not-frowning. Not just smiling. Laughing. She had a good birthday at school. I didn’t get to talk to her much, as I had to run out to get a few things. But she saw the ribs cooking for her birthday dinner before she went to her room with the iPad to meet up with her friends online. While I was gone, Teri went up to get the iPad after her cool-down-from-school time, said she should knock out her homework before dinner since we’d do cake and present.

And Amanda replied that she’d already finished it.

She. Did. Her. Homework.

Without us having to walk across hot coals trying to get her to do it.

Dinnertime, she talked a bit, smiled and laughed as I put her rack of ribs down, inhaled them and went up to get her normal evening computer time with her friends. When she came down, it was time for cake and presents. We lit the candles and I brought it over while we all sang Happy Birthday. She tried to blow out the candles and missed most of them because she was “smiling too much and couldn’t blow hard enough”

Let that sink in for a minute. Amanda. “Frost”. Smiling too much.

Looking back at the last two years with her? Having a problem with smiling too much is a problem that I can absolutely live with 🙂

Of course, there are some things I left out here and there. It’s not ALL sunshine and roses right now. But after all we’ve gone through (and continue to go through with Teri and such) it is close enough. I’ll hold onto this day for a long time.

I’ll try to update more often. Teri goes in for a CT scan and blood tests tomorrow in prep for the next study appointment on Wednesday, see if these new drugs are doing anything other than making her feel like shit. As for now, it’s late, I need to follow up on an issue at work, get laundry, maybe get to bed before 12:30 and up at 5 or 5:30am.

Andy

Amanda’s turned a big corner

Seeing “Minions” with my little minion

Stuart, Kevin, and Bob from the Minions movie
Stuart, Kevin, and Bob from the Minions movie

Drew and I went to go see the Minions movie today. Got to admit, it was pretty good, and like any good kids’ movie these days it had a few good moments for the parents that likely went right over the kids’ heads. Nice cameo at the end to bring it all full circle. Sandra Bullock did a great job as the villain the Minions go work for, and lots of good slapstick and stupid humor that the Minions are known for. Drew loved it, and watched the whole thing…which is saying something. I can’t quite remember the last movie Drew and I went to go see, mainly because we didn’t stay for it.

He’s always had a hard time seeing movies in a theater, mainly from over-stimulation. He also tended to get anxious over the action and would have to leave. The last movie, whatever it was, he decided he wanted to see in 3D. After about 5 minutes of the movie, he said he didn’t like the 3D and wanted to go. We went out in the lobby and he decided he wanted to see the regular version instead, and the theater manager was very helpful – got us tickets for the normal version that was starting 10-15 minutes later and refunded the difference from the 3D cost. Movie started up, and within 10 minutes he was done and wanted to leave. Probably why I can’t remember what movie it was, we barely watched any of it. Again, theater manager was great and refunded the movie cost, no questions.

So, to have Drew sit through the whole movie, not even needing to get up to go to the bathroom but just glued to the movie, I’d say it was a success.

Drew’s needed a bit of extra handling lately. He’s anxious about starting 7th grade in a couple of weeks, new school and all. He’s had a problem with bullying and teasing in his last few year, some of which I think gets brought on by his own version of autism and the lack of a verbal filter sometimes. He’s a really good kid, and smarter than I was at that age, but as we all remember from elementary and middle school, that doesn’t equate to popular or well accepted. He’s going to be playing baritone sax in band (damn thing is as big as he is…), and I’m hoping he clicks with the band crowd and gets some good friendships this year.

He’s also anxious about Teri, which I can really empathize with. He’s seen her react badly to the trial drugs, and I know it worries him. He tries to put on a brave face but I can tell he’s keeping it under the surface. Like me. I swear, if I didn’t know for sure that we made him the old fashioned way, I would swear he was a clone of me. There’s so much about him, his anxieties, his talents, his strengths and weaknesses, he is a carbon copy of how I was during my formative years.

And, of course, since I’m “Dad” I have NO idea, and can’t help him with advice. What’s the old phrase, once you’re old enough to realize your Dad was right about everything, you have a son who thinks you’re wrong about everything? Seems legit…

Seeing “Minions” with my little minion

♪♪ Where have all…the white cells gone ♪♪

Man, can’t catch a break. White cell count and neutrophils haven’t changed. Teri’s had Neupogen shots the last two days and will get them again tomorrow to try and get those going, and the bone pain has already started from those. Trying to keep that under control, it’s not too bad so far. She’ll get the blood testing done again next Tuesday to see if they’re coming around. The doctor was recommending that she stay home as much as possible to reduce chance of any infections. See, this is where unvaccinated people really scare the shit out of me. Herd immunity is a real thing, people, and opting out of that social contract is directly impacting us at this point. Most of you already know my stance on vaccinations and the anti-vax crowd, so I’m not going into that here. But this is real life now, and it’s important.

I’m going to try to change topic over the next few days so I’m not as much of a downer. Not expecting much to happen at the homefront, Teri will get shots tomorrow and we wait until Tuesday to find out how it’s going. So no use dwelling on it, but it’s been rough this week so my posts have really be focusing on that. I’ll have some more fun things to talk about, I promise 🙂

Once my Xanax kicks in, that is…

♪♪ Where have all…the white cells gone ♪♪

Good labs (results) are hard to find…

So Teri’s been off the study drugs for about 3 weeks now. Was originally supposed to be 3 weeks on, 1 week off, but she had to stop the first run a week early because of the effect it was having on her. They were going to start the second run with a lower dose with the hope that she’d be able to better handle it, but her white cell and neutrophil counts were too low to start back. They wanted to see if she could recover without something like neupogen shots because she doesn’t tend to handle those well, and would test again this week.

She had a blood test yesterday morning early, but we were certain that the test was done wrong. Yesterday’s blood test, a stat order, we think was left sitting for about 6 hours before they actually ran it. We hadn’t heard from the nurses, so Teri called around 3pm and the nurses called to the lab to see where the results were. They hadn’t run them yet, they suddenly sounded panicked and said “you’ll have them within the hour”. The results came back with her neutrophils dropping from 1.2 to 0.2 (2.0 is the low end of “normal”) and they said she was at super high risk for infection. They also said there was some clotting in the blood, and we believed both of those things to be related to how the lab appeared to mishandle the blood sample. The study nurses agreed, and Teri went to a different lab for another test today. This isn’t rocket science, you have a stat order, that means you do it, right?

We have concerns about how that one was handled as well, as the listed “received” at 11:40am when she was there at 9am. Found that out when the nurses called over to find where the stat order was and the lab said it hadn’t been long enough yet. From that, sounded like the sample might have been sitting for a couple of hours as well, but who knows at this point. Anyway, this test had similar numbers with her white cell count tanking, so at the doctor’s insistence she had to go immediately to get some neupogen injections. Hopefully we can get her counts up enough to get back on the meds, or we’ll have to look at doing something different for treatment.

I’m still livid about the labs, though. Two separate times, two different labs, a stat order with a 4-hour commit was ignored, even after it was confirmed with Teri and put in the system for stat handling. Doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. She’ll likely go to the oncology office for the labs tomorrow, as they have a “stat” machine in their lab upstairs so they can process it within an hour and know how things are going.

Status