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Archive for April, 2008

New Arrival

Well our baby arrived Friday. She is so much fun and just cannot get enough of my attention! I know I will love her for many years to come.

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Sadly, the Caps lost in overtime to the dreaded Flyers last night in Game 7. Bell Guy and I were at the game and still had a blast. I’ve said for years that there is nothing like witnessing playoff hockey in person, and I still say that. The atmosphere was amazing – so loud at times you couldn’t hear the music that was being played. Bell Guy and I went to three games this season (two playoff games) and will probably buy a ten pack next year. He seems to really be a fan now. Although the Caps and their improbable playoff run are done this season, they are young and will be a contender for years to come.

Hopefully Ovechkin will win MVP and Boudreau Coach of the Year. They are both deserving.

I hope Montreal defeats Philly in four games. The Flyers are just like their fans – obnoxious brutal bruisers. Especially Briere.

Bell Guy at the game last Saturday.

Sold out Verizon Center, almost all wearing red on Tuesday night.

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Notice no exclamation point after “Obama” above. If he is as great as his supporters say, why hasn’t he been able to close the deal? The only “big” state (I define a big state as a state with 100 delegates up for grabs) he’s managed to win is Illinois.

I heard troubling news on the radio tonight. If Obama wins the nomination, 25% of Clinton supporters would vote for McCain. If Clinton gets the nomination, 20% of Obama supporters would vote for McCain. I didn’t think there were so many shortsighted Democrats.

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This article was on the front page of the sports section of The Post last week. It is a long read but extraordinary and worth ten minutes of your day. There are lessons to be learned from both Courtney and Justin. What a special couple they were.

A Lifetime of Undying Devotion To a Life Tragically Cut Short
Crews Did Everything In Her Power to Help Boyfriend Battle Cancer
By Matthew Stanmyre
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 17, 2008; E01

Courtney Crews wiped the tears from her eyes and took a deep breath. She stared at the softball diamond in front of her, pulled the catcher’s mask over her face and settled into a crouch behind home plate.

Every couple of innings, Courtney, a senior at North Stafford High School, gazed into the bleachers out of habit on this early-April night and searched the crowd for her boyfriend’s face. She saw her parents, trainer, teachers, friends. But the only trace of her boyfriend, Justin Whitaker, were reminders of him.

The jersey number that Justin wore when he played varsity baseball for North Stafford — No. 7 — was stenciled on T-shirts worn by many in the bleachers. The number was taped on the bunches of balloons that were tied to each end of the bleachers, fluttering in the wind. It was written on the tiny lime-green ribbons that the entire North Stafford team had pinned on their left shoulders, the same ribbons worn by supporters in the stands.

Courtney, 18, tried to narrow her focus as she caught the 50-mph pitches being hurled at her. It was April 8, and Courtney, roughly 10 weeks from graduation, was supposed to be enjoying the final moments of her high school experience, getting ready for the senior prom and making summer vacation plans with classmates. Instead, she was at the end of a 22-month ordeal, nursing Justin through his fight against non-Hodgkin’s T-cell lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer that attacks the immune system.

Justin made Courtney promise never to miss a game or an event at school because of him. She had organized buffet dinners, pancake breakfasts and talent shows to raise money toward Justin’s medical expenses. She had struggled to sleep for even a few hours most nights, yet often would have to get up at 4 a.m. to work out with her trainer, a habit that had helped her earn a softball scholarship to Hofstra University. Courtney didn’t miss a meeting of the Student Council Association, of which she was president, and she never strayed from her role as a big sister to her schoolmates and teammates.

“Courtney’s definitely outside the mold of your typical high school student,” said her leadership teacher at North Stafford, Leigh Swift. “Sometimes, when she’s in my class, I’ll look at her and I can’t even imagine what’s going through her head. It’s so much for a high school senior to think about.”

She was thinking about all of it during the game against Albemarle. Under the mask, Courtney’s face was long and blank. The girl who never had wept publicly found herself sniffing back tears. She took in deep breaths, then exhaled hard.

A Perfect Match
Courtney and Justin met when they were 12 years old. In one of their first encounters, she struck him out in a Stafford County youth baseball game. Later that year, they became teammates on a local traveling team composed of the best players from the teams in the youth league.

Courtney was the only girl on the team, and opponents — sometimes even teammates — picked on her. Justin was the opposite. “He was very protective,” Courtney said. “He would step in and push them off or tell them to back off.”

There was no place in the world Courtney would rather be than on a baseball field, playing catch, mud caked on her cleats, infield dust darkening her face. Justin, who wore No. 7 in honor of his favorite player, Mickey Mantle, shared the sentiment.

After that baseball season, Courtney and Justin lost touch for almost two years. They went to different high schools as freshmen — Courtney to North Stafford, Justin about three miles away at Colonial Forge — but reunited when the schools played a football game in fall 2004.

During the second quarter, Courtney spotted Justin near the concession stand and rushed over to hug him. They talked in the bleachers for the rest of the game — about baseball, school, friends — and Justin walked Courtney to her car afterward. He asked Courtney to be his girlfriend, and she didn’t hesitate.

“He seemed like the perfect guy,” she said.

They grew closer as sophomores, after Justin transferred to North Stafford. Courtney didn’t consider herself very girly, but she fluttered when Justin would open doors for her, or when she would wear a new pair of jeans for the first time and he would intuitively say, “Oh, those are new.”

But Courtney also could be herself around Justin, lounging in a sweaty T-shirt or with her hair messy from working out. Just as soon as Justin would wrap her in a warm embrace, he would playfully punch her in the shoulder. “They were like good buddies,” said Dave Gonier, Courtney’s trainer.

They cleaned up nicely, too. In a picture from their junior prom, the couple glistened, Courtney with long blond hair perfectly coiffed, her big smile bursting, and Justin with dynamic eyes and a slick black suit.

Justin had made that year’s homecoming especially memorable by the way he asked her to it. While Courtney was at softball practice, he plucked the rose petals from 11 flowers and made a trail from her driveway, into the house, up the stairs, down the hallway and onto her bed.

When she came home he was standing behind her bedroom door with one last rose and a bag of M&M’s, Courtney’s favorite candy.

Courtney and Justin had been dating for 22 months in June 2006 when he began having trouble breathing and found it difficult to swallow food. He felt a mass the size of a gumball on his throat. After being rushed to the hospital, doctors found several enlarged lymph nodes around his heart and neck. On June 12, they diagnosed cancer.

Alone with Courtney in the hospital room, Justin’s first words to her were, “I’m going to lose my hair.” Courtney told him she didn’t care about that; she just wanted him to get healthy.

Justin was confident he would. Shortly after the diagnosis, when a doctor noted while extracting bone marrow for a test that Justin had particularly strong bones, Justin deadpanned in the crowded hospital room, “I’m a man of steel.” He was wearing blue-and-red Superman boxer shorts at the time.

Justin assured Courtney that he would beat the cancer, and told her that they both needed to be strong — for friends, family members and people at school as much as for themselves.

“I always wanted to be there for him, but that made it even more like, ‘I’ll never leave you because you’re sick or anything like that,’ ” said Courtney, whose grade-point average this year is 3.8 and never has dipped below 3.5. “I just couldn’t see myself without him.”

‘Nothing Was Ever About Her’
That summer, Courtney brought Justin strawberry milkshakes and Coke-flavored Slurpees when chemotherapy treatments left him too weak to leave the house.

When Justin returned to North Stafford in February 2007 for the second semester of their junior year, Courtney sold 300 T-shirts to students and faculty members that read, “Welcome Back Justin!” She walked him through the halls, her hand in his, and gave him kisses on the cheek when they would part ways for class.

Last August, Justin found another mass on his neck. A biopsy revealed cancerous lymph nodes in his armpits, chest, shoulders and lungs. Marcie Weil, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Inova Fairfax Hospital who initially diagnosed Justin’s cancer, said the best option for a cure was a bone marrow transplant. The procedure would cost roughly $650,000, but it would allow him to receive extremely high doses of chemotherapy.

The treatment made Justin lose his hair. He developed painful mouth sores and his legs ached so badly that he sometimes walked with a limp. He lost his appetite. He had diarrhea. His bones throbbed.

“You see him slowly deteriorate, and it’s torture,” said Justin’s father, Craig Whitaker, who raised Justin after he and wife Shelia divorced 13 years ago. “It breaks your heart into 80 million pieces.”

Courtney helped inject Justin with medicine through a tube in his chest, then flushed the tube to keep it clean. She made trips to the doctor’s office, where she would lay next to Justin on the examination table, snuggling close.

“When he got diagnosed with cancer she could have just said, ‘Hey, you’ve got cancer, you’re not worthy anymore,’ ” Craig Whitaker said. “And she has turned it around and been his best friend, best of everything.”

The bone marrow transplant — often a last resort for cancer patients — did not work for Justin.

By January, the cancer had spread below his diaphragm. The disease was in his pelvis, abdomen, chest, armpits and bone marrow. At that point, Weil said, “There were no other options.”

“There’s times where it gets really hard,” Courtney said. “Like those questions of why? Why him? Why now, during our senior year? I try to stay as positive as I can because I know he’s positive. He helps me portray that strong image that I have.”

Craig Whitaker’s insurance covered 90 percent of his son’s care, but with Justin’s medical bills nearing more than $3 million, Courtney intensified her efforts to raise money.

In February, she spearheaded a fundraiser at North Stafford entitled “Dinner and a Show: A Night for Believers.” The event included a buffet dinner, skits performed by students and a slideshow that made Justin burst with laughter. At the end of the night, Justin donned a graduation robe, walked across the stage in the North Stafford auditorium and received his high school diploma.

“On a scale of one to 10, Courtney’s a million,” Craig Whitaker said. “She cares about everybody else. It’s never about herself. It was all about Justin, Justin, Justin. Nothing was ever about her.”

A Final Promise
During a doctor’s appointment in February, Weil asked Justin what he wanted to do with his life. The first thing he said was that he hoped to give Courtney a promise ring. Word quickly spread among those treating him, and a group of nurses chipped in to buy a white gold ring with a small diamond stud. It cost about $250.

“Justin lived for the day he could give Courtney that ring,” Weil said. “That was the final, very important thing to him. He lived to give her that ring at the very end.”

Two weeks ago, with his health in severe decline, Justin was set to travel with Courtney’s family to a softball tournament in Virginia Beach. He decided that would be the perfect setting to give Courtney his promise ring. Weil infused Justin with two units of platelets to prevent internal and external bleeding. The platelets were “to get him through the weekend,” Craig Whitaker said. “If we didn’t, then he would have never made it through.”

As dusk approached on March 29, just off the main strip in Virginia Beach, Justin took Courtney’s hand and guided her down the beach and onto a pier that jutted over the Atlantic Ocean. The sun was dipping into the horizon, painting the sky purple, orange and pink. Justin held Courtney’s hands, stared into her eyes and gave her the ring. “He told me how much he loved me and how much he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me,” Courtney said.

Then Justin asked Courtney if she would marry him when they graduated from college. She said yes.

The weekend in Virginia Beach “made it feel like everything was getting better,” Courtney said. “It gave me a sense of feeling like he really was going to push through and beat his cancer.”

Two days later, on April 1, Justin spiked a 103-degree fever. Later that day, his father said, he began hallucinating. He had multiple seizures. He slipped into a coma.

As that was happening, Courtney was playing a softball game, batting 2 for 5 with a triple and an RBI during a 6-0 win over Riverbend. Afterward, she made the 40-minute drive north to the hospital, arriving at 1:30 a.m. and staying for nearly three hours. She left in time to work out with Gonier, her trainer, at 4:30 a.m., and made it to school on time.

Whenever Courtney’s eyelids grew heavy, she thought of Justin, of how he never blinked during chemotherapy and never complained when he was poked with needles and confronted with a fate he didn’t deserve.

“That’s what’s keeping me going,” she said.

When Courtney entered Justin’s room in the Inova Fairfax intensive care unit two days later, on April 3, Justin’s face and stomach were swollen. Tubes snaked across his body to his mouth and wrists. He did not move, other than the subtle rise and fall of his chest as a ventilator pumped air into his lungs. She asked Craig Whitaker how Justin was doing. “He’s dying,” he said, tears in his eyes.

Courtney buried her face into the chest of Justin’s best friend, North Stafford senior Zac Briley, and sobbed. The words shocked her. She couldn’t believe that Justin’s condition could get so much worse so fast, just four days after he had given her the ring.

Briley’s birthday was April 7, and Courtney and some friends had made him a birthday cake and posters that morning at school. Before dismissal, she again made the drive to the hospital, knowing that Justin had been taken off life support at midday.

Around 4 p.m., Courtney kissed him on the forehead and said, “I love you.” Teary-eyed, she left the hospital because she didn’t want to see him take his last breath. Justin’s parents and other friends and family remained in the room, where Justin died just before 5 p.m. Courtney’s father called and told her Justin was dead just as she pulled into the driveway of her home in Stafford.

By 6:30, about 600 people had congregated at the North Stafford baseball field for a candlelight vigil. Some people sobbed, some wept silently.

When Courtney arrived, wearing a blue North Stafford letter jacket, she grabbed a microphone and the crowd fell silent. “I know we’re all sad,” she said, “but the last thing he wants to do is look down and see all of us in tears.”

‘Do It for Justin Whitaker’
The next day, between innings against Albemarle, Courtney stood off to the side in the dugout. Sometimes she would plop down in a chair and duck her head. Other times she would stand alone, staring into the distance.

“I think I can be strong enough to get through all of it because I have such a great support system,” Courtney said later. “But I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to move on past the fact that he’s not here.”

Courtney had the option of postponing the game earlier in the day, but she firmly stated that she wanted to play. Justin would have wanted her to, she said. She had even slipped out of school during lunch to help prepare the field.

Courtney collected one hit and drove in a run during North Stafford’s 9-0 victory. In the stands, Craig Whitaker cheered on Courtney. Each time she ran back onto the diamond between innings, she slapped a rectangular wooden board hooked to the chain-link fence that read “DIFJW,” short for “Do It for Justin Whitaker.”

After the game, Courtney walked to the baseball field, where she chatted with players and friends. Soon she was alone, still muddy and sweaty in her catcher’s gear, gazing into the North Stafford dugout. There, in the far corner, a single white, orange and blue uniform hung from a hook. It was jersey No. 7.

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me: pope bleh bleh bleh. he needs to take his bigoted ass back to the vatican.

bell guy: i know. i would rather meet jesus. he would be a lot nicer. the world needs more peace and love.

me: jesus? ICE deported him last week. sorry.

bell guy: lol

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Great

From: “Amy Liu” <amy@blogged.com>
To: dailybriefingblog@yahoo.com
Subject: Daily Briefing Rated 8.2 (GREAT) on Blogged.com
Date: Tue, 15 Apr 2008 12:50:43 -0700

Dear Eliot,

Our editors recently reviewed your blog and have given it an 8.2 score out of (10) in the Society/Culture category of Blogged.com.

This is quite an achievement!

http://www.blogged.com/directory/society/culture

We evaluated your blog based on the following criteria: Frequency of Updates, Relevance of Content, Site Design, and Writing Style.

After carefully reviewing each of these criteria, your site was given its 8.2 score.

We’ve also created Blogged.com score badges with your score prominently displayed. Simply visit your website’s summary page on Blogged.com:

Click on the “Show this rating on your blog!” link underneath the score and follow the instructions provided.

Please accept my congratulations on a blog well-done!!

Sincerely,

Amy Liu

Editorial Department

amy@blogged.com

http://www.blogged.com

I’m flattered. Especially since I do not blog as often as I used to. Here’s to the future!

– eliot

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Remember

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