Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cooper's triathlon

Cooper starts his 2.25-mile bike ride.

Cooper completed his first triathlon today. He was a joy to watch!

He was steady on the swimming (100 yards). Amazingly fast on the bike (2.25 miles). And his normal speedy self on the run (half a mile). His overall time was 18:54.

He placed 12th in his field of 73 (and placed 8th among boys)! I am so proud of him for trying, for finishing and for having fun. Can't you just imagine how proud angel Steve is?!

His in-person cheering section included me and Katie, Uncle Jim, Grandma and Papa, Uncle Greg, Pam (whose daughter Dylan competed) and Melanie and Jeff (whose children McKay and John Brock competed).

Throughout the morning, I was thinking of something Will said at Steve's memorial service. They are words I carry in my heart and draw from for strength.

Here is a man – so funny, so kind and caring, so sweet and super. Here is a man I am so proud to have called my friend.

Here is a man I miss so very much.

But as our precious goddaughter Katie said Sunday, “he is still in our hearts.”

You know where else he is? In Cooper’s long legs. In Katie’s mischievous laugh. In his children’s loving spirit and in their brilliant minds.
 Katie's mischievous smile and loving spirit in full force at the triathlon

Cooper and his long legs before the race

Those long legs didn't just swim, bike and run today. After the race, Uncle Jim stayed behind to gather Cooper's gear, and the children and I drove back west to Frisco for Cooper's soccer game. There weren't many subs today, and Cooper played all but the first five minutes of the hourlong game. It was one of his best games ever.

Cooper (in blue and yellow)

Coach Phil suggested that Coop compete in a triathlon before every game.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The expertise that comes from experience has value

My column from today's Briefing:

Everyone is an expert in something. Everyone’s got at least one topic that they own.
You can ask that expert anything about his topic and expect a confident answer — or the promise of quick research and then a confident answer.
If I need baking tips or rescue from kitchen disaster, I ask Melissa. Travel tips for most major cities, Jackie or Holly. Computer networks, Jim. Girl Scout leader advice, Zita. Financial markets, Layne.
Before cancer hit our family, I fancied myself an expert on Seinfeld and books for preschoolers. That’s what happens when you watch every single episode of a show multiple times. And obsess slightly over the best books to read to young children to promote literacy.
I miss those innocent days, before I knew anything about how to read complete blood count test results or what a PICC line is or how to select a hospice agency.
Since my husband’s brain cancer diagnosis, treatment and death, I’ve become an extremely amateur expert in lesions of the brain, how to coordinate care for a family in crisis, hospice issues and grief counseling.
Every few weeks, someone will pull me aside or send an email and say something like: “I don’t want to upset you, but I have a friend whose husband has a brain tumor. Can you talk to her?” or “Which hospice agency did you use?” or “Which website is best for managing volunteers?”
I hate that experience has brought me here. I hate the tumor that stole Steve’s young life. I hate that our children lost the physical presence of the world’s most devoted dad, that they struggle to remember what his voice sounded like, that they go to bed every night without his hugs.
But I hope that people never stop asking for advice. Because something good and hopeful and healing has to develop from all that pain and heartache and despair.
Of all the cancer families who’ve been given my contact information in the past year and a half (I’ve lost track of the number), just a few have followed through.
Who can blame them? Our family’s story doesn’t have the happily-ever-after ending that folks want. We witnessed lots of little miracles during Steve’s illness, but we weren’t granted the grand, showstopping miracle of a cure or even remission.
Hidden in my family’s cancer story, though, are countless details of joy, examples of God’s love reflected through a community of volunteers, and practical tips that make living with cancer a little less awful.
Saturday night at church, just after an early Easter worship service focused on hope, a friend pulled me aside. (He was one of those volunteers who helped our family during Steve’s illness.)
His sister-in-law is very ill. There is an unidentified lesion in her middle brain. She and her husband live overseas, and they were flying in the next day for better medical care.
I hate that I know what they should do.
But I am thankful that I know which specialists they need and which emergency room they should visit to get entry to the ideal caregivers.
I am thankful that the neurologist who first treated Steve in 2007 is now a friend and trusted medical adviser who never hesitates to answer my phone calls and text messages.
I am thankful that it’s possible to recognize little slivers of good that come from really awful events.
I’d like to think that one day, even, I will fancy myself an expert in hope.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, April 25, 2011

Want a Run for Steve T-shirt?

Friend Layne Smith designed this fun Steve-as-Fletch T-shirt in 2009. A group of us wore the gray shirts to honor Steve's memory in the Dallas White Rock Marathon that year. Cooper, Katie and I and many of you have been wearing the shirt ever since.

We're reordering the shirts this week to get ready for the Head for the Cure 5K -- a family-friendly event that raises money for brain tumor research. (Do you want to walk or run with our awesome team of 65 people? Register here! Be sure to choose "Run for Steve Damm" under the team option.)

If you would like a shirt (about $10 per shirt), please email me at by this Wednesday. Tell me the size (youth small, medium or large; adult small, medium, large or extra large) and quantity. I'll order what you want, and you can pay me when they come in -- in time for the May 14 event.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rambling man

Steve had a charming way of telling stories.

Well, I say it was charming. To be honest, sometimes his storytelling would frustrate me. I would ask a question, expecting a simple, straightforward answer. I suppose it's the journalist in me. I like an inverted pyramid style -- most important information at the top with details of lesser importance at the bottom. An editor can chop off the bottom three inches if necessary.

Steve was more of a wandering narrative kind of a guy. He'd eventually get to the answer, but he'd make a few detours first.

I would sometimes tell Steve, "Please just answer the question!"

When he was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, I reconsidered this habit (his wandering, my impatience) and a few others. Our time was limited. I soaked up every tiny detail in his circuitous tales -- because I didn't know how many more I'd get to hear.

When he snored, I stopped sighing in frustration and nudging him to turn to his side. I was painfully aware that I didn't know how many more nights I'd get to hear him snore. Instead, I would lie next to him and hold his hand or rest my hand on his fuzzy head and pray for many more nights of snoring.

This week I made a huge connection: Cooper tells stories the exact same way as his Daddy. I'll ask "What did you buy for lunch?" and he'll tell me first about what happened at recess, which may have affected what happened at the cafeteria table. I'll get snippets of conversation. And then, finally, he'll list his dessert, drink, sides and entree. (Dessert always comes first.)

I am working to maintain that patience I developed with Steve. I am savoring the details, thankful that our getting-close-to-10-year-old son is willing to share so much of his day with me. And thankful that he inherited such a sincerely charming trait from his Daddy.

Steve holds toddler Cooper on his shoulders, circa 2003. (It's worth clicking on the photo to enlarge it to see the joy on Cooper's face.)

I found this photo tonight and had to share it. Steve gets his tie cut off at Trail Dust Steak House in Aubrey, at Will and Holly's wedding rehearsal dinner, December 1994. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tri for Steve

For months now, Liz and I have been training for a sprint triathlon. Today for the first time I feel confident in my ability to finish. It's a good thing -- our race is in two weeks!

We will swim, bike and run on Sunday, May 1, in the Historic McKinney Kiwanis Triathlon.

The day before, Cooper will compete in the Historic McKinney Kiwanis Kids Triathlon.

We're participating in memory of Steve. Can you imagine how tickled Steve would be to see his 9-year-old son cross the finish line after swimming 100 yards, biking 2.5 miles and running half a mile?

And I know Steve would be proud of my training -- I often have his voice in my head as I'm practicing. (Surely by now you all know that I'm not a natural athlete.) Today I swam my best 300-meter time -- 6:19. I was really pushing myself, and the last lap was difficult. But I thought of Steve and how much he cheerfully endured to just extend his life a few months. Then I swam a little faster.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Katie's angel song

Katie made up and sang this after church today. (Drawing is by Cooper, from Thanksgiving 2010.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lost and found

Katie hugs Cooper before he leaves for a weekend of camping.

Cooper is camping, which means Katie and I have lots of uninterrupted time together.

She always cries for the first three or four minutes of their separation. Then we find lots to keep us busy and to fill the silence created by Cooper's absence. This weekend has included dinner with the Smiths, a day at the Dallas Arboretum with the Papps and dinner with the Spears family.

Katie prepared breakfast in bed for me -- bread with peanut butter and mini chocolate chips and a side of cheddar bunnies. 

In between, we've been reading, watching Tangled and talking. There's always lots of talking with Katie.

I like to keep track of her most quotable quotes, as my Facebook and Twitter friends can tell you. (When Steve was alive, we would email or text each other Katie-isms. I suppose that status updates are my substitute for being able to tell Steve.)

When Cooper isn't here to share airwave time, I have trouble keeping up with her quotable quotes. I often can't keep up with her train of thought. In Granny Weatherall fashion, she wanders from one topic to another and back again.

One of her most frequent subjects is her Daddy. While we ate a picnic lunch on the Arboretum's amphitheater grounds, she said the day could only be better with Daddy there. She said that he would have loved the beautiful flowers (so true). At dinner tonight, she imagined Daddy sitting with us.

Today she also told me about a writing assignment from school. She was asked to write about a time she lost something.

"So, I wrote about how I lost Daddy. And how I'll find him again one day in heaven."

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Tonight we're packing Cooper for a two-night campout with his Webelo buddies.

Now, I feel Steve's absence all the time. There's really not a moment in the day when I'm not consciously aware that my one true love is gone. On top of that, there are moments when that feeling is magnified. Without fail, those moments include shopping for and packing for Cooper's camping trips. Because that's the sort of task that Steve loved. Because I'm not a camper. Because I have questions about how to fit a reel onto a rod. Because I think little boys should have their daddies with them on camping trips.

As Cooper and I triple-checked the suggested packing list with his bags, we realized we'd overlooked an item -- a pocketknife. Cooper doesn't yet own a pocketknife.

I consulted friend and Scout dad Layne, who recommended a knife from the Scout store. I can't make it there tomorrow, though, so Cooper and I were talking about other options in time for his 4 p.m. departure.

"Did Daddy have a pocketknife?"

"Great idea, Cooper!"

So from under Steve's bathroom sink I pulled out the divided leather tray that holds personal items exactly where Steve left them -- keys, wallet, money clip, watch and a pocketknife.

I picked up the little knife, showed it to Cooper and started to sob uncontrollably.

And then our sweet son, only 9 but almost as tall as me, patted me on the back and said, "Oh, Mommy, it's OK to cry. It's OK." 

Then he hugged me. And I cried even more.

"Mommy, I don't have to take that knife. It's safer with you. I can borrow one this time."

As my crying slowed -- though not stopped yet -- I started to explain the knife. It's engraved with the word "Dixon" and a line drawing of a truck.

I told Cooper that Daddy had worked for Dixon Paper Company about 17 years ago.

"Was it a good job?"

Oh, no. It was an awful job. The people were great. The job not so much.

"Did it pay well?"

Oh, no. We were broke. I worked two jobs -- at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal at night and as a receptionist for a slightly shady financial company in the mornings. Steve had just started classes at Texas Tech, beginning work on the MBA he eventually earned.

But, man, were we happy. We were just married. When our schedules allowed, which wasn't often, we would play tennis at a nearby park, go to the movies, walk the dog, cook and bake, explore nearby towns (like Post and Levelland and Quitaque).

As I held that little knife, a gift when Steve left Dixon for a health care administration job in Lubbock, I thought of our life 17 years ago. All of our plans for babies and travel and careers and a long life together.

"Stupid tumor," I said aloud. (I say it in my head often.)

"I know!" Cooper said. Then he started some sort of unskilled martial arts moves that made me laugh. "I just wish we could have kicked it!"

Then I put the pocketknife away.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Head for the Cure 5K

A few weeks ago, a volunteer with the Head for the Cure Foundation contacted me. She had heard and read about Steve, and she asked if I would put a 5K team together in his memory. 

Of course I answered, "Yes!" What a great way to pull the Run for Steve team back together, add new runners and walkers to the team, and raise money for brain tumor research at M.D. Anderson, where Steve received treatment. And what an appropriate way to honor Steve's memory -- with a sport he loved and the hope for a cure for those cursed brain tumors.

Forty-one of us have already registered for the race, scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday, May 14, at Frisco Square. Isn't that awesome?!

I'd like to invite you and your family members to join us on the course -- as runners or walkers (or a little of both) or as supporters along the way. I'll be in touch with team members about T-shirts (if you don't already have a Run for Steve shirt) and a meeting place the day of the race.

If you can't or don't want to come out to the race, you can donate money instead. Money will benefit the Brain Tumor Trials Collaborative at M.D. Anderson.

Or, if you can't make it to the race and can't donate right now, you can send good thoughts and prayers to team members. 

Whatever your level and ability to participate (see the details below), please know that our family continues to feel the love from an amazing community -- the incredible group of friends and family members who supported us during Steve's cancer battle, during the immediate days after his death and still today, as our family continues to grieve and adjust to life without Steve here on earth.

Please choose the "Run for Steve Damm" team. (You'll receive a discount for being a team member.)

3. To donate to Head for the Cure, click here.

Our team goal is $1,000. We've already raised $300 thanks to generous friends. Thank you!

Will and Steve after a Dallas Half Marathon (I see this photo in the kitchen every morning. It inspires me to keep setting and working toward goals. It reminds me of the power of friendship. And it makes me smile, even when it makes me cry.)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

London and Paris photos

I don't want to force our spring break vacation photos on anyone. But if you'd like to see more than what I've already posted, you can find photos here. (No pressure to look at them all! I won't quiz anyone!)

Tuesday in London
Wednesday in London
Thursday in Paris
Friday in London
Saturday in London
Sunday in London