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Laura Spinella

Bestselling Author

The Unlikeliness of Today

And Other Amazing Things

Note: Posting a personal blog five days before your book launch is not a great marketing idea.

That said, caution has been tossed to the wind.

Today is a noteworthy day at the Spinella house. Middle daughter, Jamie, graduates law school. Any parent would be proud. I mean, short of having to post bail, we’re all proud of our kids’ accomplishments. But unless you know Jamie—beyond a social media image—unless you were around during the terrific tumultuous years, you cannot fathom the unlikeliness of today.

Just the Facts

Not long after moving to Massachusetts, stomachaches and malaise hit Jamie harder than that first winter. Initially, we weren’t overly concerned. It was the move… It was her diet… (she remains a chocaholic) It was middle child syndrome, the Jan Brady effect.

It was none of the above. Eventually, Jamie, thirteen by then, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.

In terms of disease, this is not a devastating diagnosis. We assumed it would be manageable. She had a great doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital. But as brilliant as her doctor was, Jamie’s UC continued to spiral. Months became years, and low doses of prednisone were steadily increased to keep the disease in check.

If your UC knowledge base is TV commercials, know it is a relentless autoimmune disease with a host of unpleasant effects, many of them unrelated to the colon. Then there are the side effects of maintenance drugs. At the height of her illness, Jamie took 17 pills a day and injected shots of methotrexate into her abdomen. Easy was not among the options. But left untreated, UC likely results in colon cancer. For proponents of a holistic approach, please know this disease does not give a literal shit about diet. Unlike its autoimmune cousin, Crohn’s, the UC intestinal tract is not wooed by what you ingest. At its worst, UC is an indestructible, fire-breathing dragon.

Jamie, a decade later, with Dan and “better options.” ????????

And then this happened… 

By 2007 Jamie was out of options. Interestingly, it wasn’t the disease that pushed us into a drastic decision, it was the meds. High doses of prednisone had taken a toll and we had to pursue the only alternative—take out the fire-breathing dragon, i.e., her entire colon.

Say what?

Yup. The whole thing. All 5-feet of this 16-year old’s colon, in a tedious 12-hour operation. At the conclusion of the surgery, she was fitted with a chic colostomy bag—the dream accessory of every girl her age. The good news is the bag was a temporary adornment. Eleven weeks later there would be another six-hour surgery to “reconnect the plumbing.” You can watch a cool, head-spinning video on the J-pouch procedure here.

Get Your Rocky Music Grooving

“Forward motion,” that was the phrase on which we functioned. We just kept trudging forward. I can only speak for us as a family, because I won’t pretend to know what went through Jamie’s mind or how she coped. At times her mother did not, and I still feel badly about the nurse I lost it on after chicken fingers were served to Jamie’s hospital roommate, when my child wouldn’t get food for a solid week after surgery.

The operation was a success. Although, the internal J-pouch, formed out of small intestine, is not without obstacles, many of which Jamie continues to negotiate. By the conclusion of the second surgery, we accepted that a best answer is not always a perfect answer.

Everything Goes South, Even Non-Colon

Despite precarious odds, forward motion continued; surprisingly, Jamie chose to go to college 1,200 miles away from home. (Perhaps there was great appeal in a change of scenery) With only a few medical hiccups, she would go on to graduate, with honors, from the University of Georgia with a degree in economics.

Post-graduation, our Southern-bred Dawg decided she was truly a Northern patriot, and Jamie returned to New England. She’d mentioned law school now and again, though silently her father and I had hesitated. You can take the colon out of the girl, but ulcerative colitis is a genetic disease that is yours to keep. Non-colon effects remain active and stress can set off “pouchitis.” Pouchitis can become chronic and jeopardize the pouch. I thought it fair to assume law school came with a lot of stress.

Applied Lessons in ‘What Doesn’t Kill You…’ 

In the fall of 2015, Jamie began the one-hour commute each way to Roger Williams University School of Law, though most students lived nearby. Law school means spending three years of your life more attached to books and buildings than… well, an ostomy bag. But Jamie’s journey would not be without bumps and a significant volcano erupted in 2016. The not perfect choice of the J-pouch proved true, and a small bowel obstruction resulted in emergency surgery. But Jamie never stopped, she never flinched. She did bitch a good bit with the insertion of yet one more nasogastric tube.

I’m certain I would have done more than that, perhaps thrown my hands up in the air and said, “Forget this. It’s too damn hard.”

Yes You Can

Jamie is many things besides this story and aside from a defective part. (All Spinella children have many wonderfully defective parts ????????????) But I did feel today’s mortarboard called for a reminder of the impenetrable mortar that is the girl who loves a white board list and her father affectionately calls “Home.” Whether it was a hospital stay or a flight from Atlanta, Jamie has had many homecomings.

Today she graduates with her Juris Doctor, from the honors program, magna cum laude, and as a future prosecutor. Why a prosecutor? She can give you the intellectual answer to that. I say it is because, for so long, Jamie has perfected and excelled at the art of making certain the “bad guy” doesn’t win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

16 Comments

  1. Bambi on May 18, 2018 at 9:06 am

    Many, many congrats to Jamie! She has been through so much but she has determination and a will to make her life amazing! I admire how much strength it took her to overcome the challenges of her UC. I can also relate to the many challenges there are with bowel issues like she has dealt with. My husband just got through almost a year of dealing with a fistula that happened because of a complication from surgery last April. It’s not an easy thing to cope with and all that it entails. I know with us a positive attitude and taking it a day at a time got us through. My husband had several inches of his small intestine removed in February and a reconnect. He is doing amazing. I know you all are celebrating Jamie’s degree and ALL her victories! Woo hoo!!! Best wishes for her bright future!

  2. Susan Marshall on May 18, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Thank you so so much for sharing that story. I am blown away, By your strength and by hers. Seriously how proud you must be. She is one strong young lady Thank you for sharing that with us, I really enjoyed reading it

  3. Susan Peterson on May 18, 2018 at 9:38 am

    Jamie has gone through quite the journey! Like characters in the novels that I love, she has persisted with bravery and resilience! Sometimes it is through struggles and adversity that our true character is revealed. I know you’re proud of Jamie, and so am I! Enjoy this very special occasion!

  4. Saralee Rosenberg on May 18, 2018 at 10:14 am

    Do not for a minute think that Jamie’s strength and courage were random reactions to her challenges. They were nurtured by her loving family who never let her falter. And though she alone had to agree to be resilient, her never being alone was what ultimately gave her hope. Congratulations on her law school graduation and the greatest test of all. Mojo! May the criminals she prosecutes learn from her own life’s trials.

    • Laura Spinella on May 18, 2018 at 4:41 pm

      You’re very kind, Saralee. Oh, I already pity the defense council table–plus she looks quite fetching in those sleek power suits! 😉 Thanks for popping you; you’re the best-est. XO

  5. Brian Kearns on May 18, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    What an amazing story…..Congratulations!!!….wouldnt want to be a bad guy In Jamie’s jurisdiction….let the criminals and Defense Attorney Bar be put on notice!
    Best wishes moving forward!

    • Laura Spinella on May 18, 2018 at 4:42 pm

      Thanks, Brian! I wouldn’t either. Thanks very much for your good wishes!

  6. Pam Gardner on May 18, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    Wow! What a girl you have. She will make a fabulous prosecutor!

    • Laura Spinella on May 18, 2018 at 4:43 pm

      I hope so. I don’t know that I’ve had fabulous advice for her over the years. But we often did come back around to, “There are a 1,000 steps..” I think she might have gotten to 500 today. 😉 Thanks so much!

  7. Karin p Gillespie on May 18, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    What an amazing blog post! I knew Jamie had it rough but seeing it all spelled out here makes her journey seem incredibly inspiring. Probably gets some of it from that great mom of hers. Congratulations, Jamie. Hope I get to meet this tenacious kid of yours one day.

    • Laura Spinella on May 18, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      I hope you do too! I think they would love that! ???? Yes… tenacious.

  8. KATE ROCK on May 19, 2018 at 1:11 am

    Congrats to Jamie. She’s a bad ass warrior and so is her mom. Thank you for sharing this very personal story.

  9. CHRISS on May 19, 2018 at 2:35 pm

    This is beautifully told! I myself have middle child syndrome and the tenacity to do what i set my mind to! Congrats!!!!

  10. barbara claypole white on May 22, 2018 at 10:11 am

    What a wonderful post. Congrats to the proud graduate and proud parents!

    • Laura Spinella on May 22, 2018 at 10:17 am

      Thank you, Barbara! It was all her–except maybe the clean wash, and all the meals… and the roof over her head and… Oh, okay. Yeah. I’ll take some credit! 😉

  11. Fiona Heath on June 1, 2018 at 4:59 am

    This is very humbling, Laura. You have an amazingly tenacious daughter.

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