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Love Like Liam

by apple seeds co-founder Alison Qualter-Berna

The name Liam means strong-willed warrior or protector.  When my friends Gretchen and Larry Witt named their son nearly 10 years ago, they could not know just how aptly that name would apply.

In Liam’s life, he embodied the meaning of a warrior.  He was a 3, then 4, then a 5 year old child fighting the beast that is cancer in a way that no adult could.  He looked it in the eye, with his shield and sword, and fought his best fight.  His enduring smiles told the world that he was doing ok, despite his tragic sentence.  His enduring friendship told me and my girls that he was grateful for his life, despite his short window of opportunity to embrace it.

Sydney and Maddie
In Liam’s death, he continues to be a protector.  This is clearly apparent in the way that the kids and parents who knew him infuse his memory into their lives.  I, for one, carry Liam with me every single day.  It’s hard to explain exactly how he runs so deeply within me; it’s sometimes a subconscious feeling.  I know and feel that I hug my children a little bit harder because of him as I know and feel that I seize each day a little more spontaneously as he did.  And my heart?..it cherishes this world a little more passionately because he was in it.

That is why last weekend I wore Liam’s photo on my back during the 2013 New York City Marathon. 

Everyone chooses to race or run a marathon for different reasons…my reason was simply to experience it.  I admit I did the marathon for me, as a personal challenge, as well as to provide a healthy example to share with my three kids.  But as marathon weekend approached, I kept looking for strength to battle feelings of anxiety and I found myself turning to Liam.  I kept thinking about life, how short it is, and how I want to make every day matter.  I kept thinking about the people I surround myself with and how each of them plays a distinct role in the experience of my life.  I kept wondering why certain people have to fight for their precious life and why cancer rips so many of those lives away.  I thought about my friend Julie’s daughter, diagnosed last month with liver cancer and my friend Reem’s daughter, diagnosed last month with leukemia.  Two children in one month, in my small circle of life, having to stand up with a shield and a sword to fight this #1 disease killer of children, the monster that is childhood cancer.  I thought about the thousands and thousands of children who have to look at cancer directly in the face and fight it.  Like a warrior.  Like Liam.

The fact is we can all do our part.  Together, we can actually make this better.  There are too many kids fighting their brutal battle against cancer every single day.  It is the #1 disease killer among children.   These children are victims as cancer indiscriminately rips away the core of their innocence and childlike happiness.

What’s apparent is that there is one thing that CAN help them – money.  Money for research, money for trials that will test new treatments.  Treatments that can and might save many children’s lives, or treatments that won’t cause the horrific secondary side effects faced by the lucky ones who survive.  
It is up to us to help. All we have to do is give

Liam guided me through those 26.2 miles and I believe that he carried me through the crowds.  I found myself unconsciously touching Liam’s photo on my back at various points throughout the run.  I grabbed for him during the difficult moments, like that sneaky hill on 5th Avenue at mile 23.  But I grabbed for him during the joyous ones too, like running off the 59th Street bridge onto 1st Avenue in Manhattan and feeling the throngs of this great city’s energy surround me.  He was there for it all.

Alison and friend at the NYC Marathon 2013
Liam continues to live up to his name, Prince Liam the Brave, warrior and protector.   The marathon was a reason for me to properly celebrate his amazing life, but the marathon, I think, is somehow a microcosm of how we all live in this world.  The ups and downs, the triumphs and travails, the mile 23 moments and the joyful finish line elation. Through it all, it’s helpful to be reminded of the really big lessons the littlest people can teach us -- to love the life that we have, to appreciate those around you, and to always, always, Love Like Liam.


my new york marathon experience

by apple seeds co-founder Alison Qualter-Berna

My  handstand BEFORE the race in Staten Island

Me with my friend and running buddy Katharina, right before the start.  We crossed the starting line AND the finish line holding hands. I could not have done it without her!

The first mile.  The Verrazano Bridge takes you from Staten Island into Bay Ridge, Brooklyn where the most amazing crowds begin and their energy doesn’t end for 26 miles…

The kids waiting for Katharina and me in McCarren Park in Brooklyn.

  Coming off the 59th st bridge was the ABSOLUTE highlight of the race.  It’s when you first enter Manhattan and is the stretch of the marathon where the fans are so loud and excited, their energy almost lifts you up off the asphalt and carries you down 1st avenue.

Pointing at my sweet friend Liam on my back.  Since the day Liam died, I have not stopped thinking about him and incorporating his memory into my daily thoughts.  His death makes me want to continue my support to fight pediatric cancer, but also to more fully appreciate my children and my life.

The hardest mile… mile 23… seeing my sister-in-law Erin was just the energy push I needed at that moment they call “the wall”….

With Bobby, Sydney, Maddie and Jack after I crossed the finish line in Central Park. Joy.

Maddie with the marathon medal…proud of her mama.

  The after party and champagne celebration!

  My dad is my running inspiration. I have strong childhood memories of him going for jogs and wearing his old Saucony sneakers!

My victory handstand after the race – my usual way to celebrate a moment is to go upside down!


Wednesdays with Wendy: Things I've Learned Since My Daughter Started First Grade

Welcome to this week's Wednesdays with Wendy!

Wednesdays with Wendy: Things I've Learned Since My Daughter Started First Grade
by Wendy Bradford

There is a terribly frustrating phase toddlers go through when all they ask is "why?"
You have to sit in a car seat. Why? You can't eat all the cookies. Why? Spaghetti has to be cooked. Why? The umbrella keeps us dry. Why? You can't cook an umbrella. Why?
And there is a humiliating phase kids go through when they learn things you may have learned, let's say, 36 years ago. (I asked my daughter to double check my math.)
I have had to research the answers to many questions since my oldest started the first grade in September. Sometimes that is because she asks and I can't remember the answer. Sometimes it is that I have answered her, and I am pretty sure I was wrong. Sometimes we argue, and after I look up the correct answer, I try to distract her.
The following are not her questions. Rather they very closely resemble the Internet searches I did because I: a) didn't learn anything in school; b) have no short- or long-term memory; and/or c) drink more than I think I do.
Is the Milky Way the only galaxy?
What are "math fingers"?
Are all ballet terms French?
Does it always snow in the mountains?
How are cartoons made?
Are robots real?
Where is Iceland?
How do you grow rice?
What's the biggest TV you can have?
What happens if you never sleep?
How does a radiator work?
How is soda made?
Song lyrics from "Annie"
What happens if there is a tie for Mayor? 
Does the Mayor have a plane?
Does the secret service let the President shower alone?
I was thinking about all these because yesterday the three kids accompanied me to vote in the New York City elections. We went midday, when many people were using their lunch break to vote. It was crowded, and I was a little confused--I never changed our address since moving last year. (This can be a big problem.) 
The kids were fascinated with the process (they were with us when we voted for President last year after Sandy, traveling from our hotel in midtown back to the flood zone so that we could vote). They wanted to see what "all the other people" were doing. (This is also a big problem.) They wore their "I VOTED" stickers proudly, until they fell off in Starbucks.
The truth is that I almost skipped voting yesterday. With the three kids off for the day, I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. But the first grader asked, almost first thing after breakfast, "When are we going to vote?" (And I had to explain to my four-year-old son that there is no "boat." We are going to "vote.")
And I too, was proud that they saw once again our process of electing our leaders. We were thanked when we walked into the polling place. Just for coming to vote. Like so many of my friends who posted their voting pictures on Facebook last night, I too was choked up by the experience. 
We stopped at the drug store on the way back. As we waited for a prescription to be filled, an elderly lady walked over, and we got up so she could sit. She said to my children how generous it was we offered her our seat in the waiting area.
"That is what we do when someone needs a seat, right?" I said to my three little ones, thinking I sounded like a good mother. The mother who teaches her children manners. The mother whose children behave among adults.

"Because we are lucky," they reminded me.