Sometimes It Goes Right.

I want to tell you a happy story, but it involves a little bit of angst, but first there is a happy thing, and it has a happy ending, okay?

OK. I thiiiiiink I’ve told you about this before, but shortly after I was diagnosed, my friend Nate gifted me with a subscription to Loot Crate. It’s a monthly subscription box full of geeky fun things, and it’s a delight to receive every month. I ADORE surprises in the mail, and it’s been a bright spot once a month, and Nate is an amazing person for doing this for me. I always love seeing what awesome things they’ve come up with. Sometimes it comes with a shirt, I once got a glow in the dark Tron pencil case (cough cough makeup bag), a plushie facehugger from Alien, a kickass bank in the shape of Hellboy’s fist, the list goes on.

There’s a point to this beside Nathan is OSSEM and I love geek things, I swear.

I was so enamored of the stuff, that when Loot Crate upped their game and offered a wearables-only subscription, I was all over it. A shirt and TWO! TWO PAIRS! of socks every month (OH MY GOD I LOVE SOME SOCKS YOU GUYS) (no really you have no idea) (seriously two drawers overflowing) and it was a done freaking deal. This month I got a pair of Nightmare Before Christmas socks (squee!), a pair of Walkign Dead socks with weapons screenprinted all over them (hee hee hee) and a baseball jersey style shirt emblazoned with the logo for Weland Yutani, the company from the Alien movies. It’s RAD.

I went to see Dylan Moran on Sunday – he’s an Irish comedian who’s been in a lot of things I love (Shaun of the Dead, Black Books), and I decided to wear the jersey. And here is where things get sad. Apparently I was having a really low mana day, I don’t know why, but when I let go of the walker to climb in to the car, I fell. Not a dramatic OHMYGODWEAREGOINGDOWN but just a ‘welp, gravity is a true theory and we all must obey’ kind of slide to the ground. The corner of the car door caught me under my arm and I grasped at it to avoid going down hard, and I heard this awful rip. It was almost comical for a minute; I knew I had to let go of the door, because I couldn’t recover from the fall, but I could hear the ripping get worse and I was inwardly cringing.

Puce was a freaking champion of champions, he was by my side in a flash and had lifted me to my feet before I quite knew what was happening. He hugged me tight and said it was okay, we were still going to go out and have the BEST NIGHT EVER, and helped me back into my apartment so I could change my shirt. I hadn’t even had the effing thing on for an HOUR. I did a pretty good job of not losing my shit. He said maybe Loot Crate would replace it. I said I hoped, but didn’t think so, because it’s not like it’s Loot Crate’s fault I have ALS and fell and ripped my shirt.

I sent them an email that night anyway. Maybe I could buy a new one? They sometimes sell their crates, later, but even though I didn’t need a whole new set, maybe they had a spare shirt I could pay for. It was worth a shot. I sent them this email and photo:

SUBJECT: A Tale of Woe-land Yutani

TL:DR at the bottom. <3 Ok so I had tickets tonight to see Dylan Moran (he's awesome, go see his show if you can), and busted out my brand new Weyland Yutani shirt for its inaugural outing. I headed out to the car, and..well ok, I have ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and my legs don't work well anymore, and as I was getting in to the vehicle they said EFF YOU and I fell. I flailed around for something to catch myself on, and instead the car door caught the shirt as I went down and it ripped. Really badly. Luckily it kiiiinda slowed my fall so I wasn't hurt, yay~! But my brand new jersey I hadn't even had on for an HOUR is now ruined. TL:DR; is there a way I can buy a replacement JUST for the shirt and not have to hope you guys sell this crate later? Even if you can't, thanks for being awesome. -Vashti

let 'er rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrip

The next day I got a reply:

Hi Vashti!

I’m sorry to hear of your woes! As a one-time courtesy for being a loyal Looter and providing a photo of not only the torn shirt but including your kitty as well, I will get a replacement out to you. Due to inventory changes at our warehouse, we ask that you allow up to 10 days for your replacement to ship. Once it has been processed, you will receive an email with new tracking information.

We would like to apologize again for the late delivery of this item. Thank you for your patience and understanding!
Thanks!

Keith ^_^ – Team Marvel
Loot Crate Help Center – https://lootcrate.zendesk.com/hc/en-us

LOOT CRATE IS AMAZING. Keith is amazing. I am not sure what Team Marvel is, but it would not surprise me if the Loot Crate offices are divided West-Side-Story-Style into Team Marvel and Team DC and instead of fighting in alleys they play with action figures and make “pchew pchew pchew” noises at each other over their cube walls (“Cyclops got you with his eye beam!” “NUH-UH, Wonder Woman deflects it with her bracers!” “Her bracers would not be able to deflect his eye beams unless they were made of ruby quartz!” “SHUT UP NO ONE EVEN LIKES CYCLOPS HE IS LAME.” “YOUR MOM is lame!” “Craig do we have to go to HR again?” “….No. But Batman would kick Cyclops’ ass any day. He is like the Aquaman of the X-Men.” “GODDAMMIT CRAIG THAT IS IT.”), and have heated arguments in IRC over who is better, Deadpool or Lobo.

……I digress. But! Thanks to Keith, and apparently to Parmesan being a butt and refusing to let me take a picture without him walking all over everything IN THE WORLD, I have a new shirt coming. SO that is excellent. ALS can’t ruin everything when there are awesome people in the world like Nathan and Keith. My world is an awesome place with fabulous people in it.

…Deadpool would totally kick Lobo’s ass, btw. This is a fact.

ALS:FTS Video Blog Thingy Numba Seven: EXCITING NEWS YO

Clinic Day! Also, should you send me that article about ALS? (Spoiler alert: yes you should) Promising research! How my disease is progressing. And some VERY EXCITING NEWS. Like, I am nearly in tears for pretty much this entire video because I am going to lose my shit I swear to God you guys.

Wakey Wakey

A friend of mine, the one recently diagnosed stage 4, had a Celebration of Life party a couple of weeks ago. It was like a wake, only he was there.

I think that’s the coolest thing ever.

Wakes are always awesome in theory, you don’t mope and mourn, you throw a party! And talk about the good times! Yay! But there’s always a little regret; “Why didn’t I tell them this while they were alive”. And the cheer is forced, a bit. WE ARE TOTALLY HAVING A GOOD TIME BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT HE WANTED EVEN THOUGH I AM LEGIT SAD AND THIS IS SHITTY AND LOOKING AT ALL OF YOU TRYING TO KEEP YOUR SHIT TOGETHER IS MAKING IT WORSE. Or the “HOW CAN YOU BE HAPPY WHEN OUR LOVED ONE IS DEAD” crowd that just sit in the corner and sigh. They’re miserable at other parties, too. But the idea of a wake is excellent. Yes. Talk about the good times. Talk about how this person changed your life. Talk about the stupid way they used to sit in a chair and lean allllll the way back until you swore they would fall but they never did. Until that one time. And remember that laugh? Oh god. We got in SO MUCH TROUBLE that night. And allow yourself to miss them, and be sad, and be okay with it, but celebrate who they were, and be thankful that your paths crossed for awhile.

The idea is rad. So why don’t we do this while people are still alive? Someone is diagnosed with something awful, someone is going through a really shitty experience, something happens that is changing their life forever in a bad way, then help it all by throwing a party for the people that love them, invite them all to come and drink and talk about how amazing this person is.

Chad’s party was a little weird at first, like you’d expect. It’s a wake? But he’s here? Um. Wow. Okay. So we just…um. Wow, I don’t know a lot of these people. But we played a game, and they did a really awesome thing with the game to remember us all by, and it was fun. We got to talk, we got to eat, and it was a really, really fantastic excuse to get people to go out of their way for an evening to come and say hello. And for Chad it was probably awesome to have all the visits done in one shot – I know for me, anyway, coordinating visits with people is tiring, and the visits are exhausting, but you really, really love them so it’s worth it. But it would be fantastic to just show up somewhere for a couple hours and have people able to come over to you instead of scheduling ten million things and cancel some of them at the last minute because there’s no spoons or shit happened, or whatever.

So yes. Do that for your people. Divorce, diagnosis, moving far away, whatever. Uplift and encourage. WHILE THEY ARE AROUND TO APPRECIATE IT. It’s better to say this stuff to them while they’re still alive, still present, still able to have their entire day made by a kind word.

When I was diagnosed, and this amazing community sprang up around me, I listened and read while my friends told each other about how they came to meet me, how important I was, how awesome I am. As expected? Total ego boost. But I learned a lot of things I don’t think I’d ever have known. A friend of mine credited me with getting her into our social scene, because I was the only one of the CreepyKids who came over to say hello, so she was encouraged that we all didn’t hate her and it was okay for her to be among us. Which is weird to me, because I didn’t consider myself really IN that crowd, and it would never have occurred to me that I might ever be a gatekeeper to such a thing. But she said I was, and I did, and she never forgot. And I would never have known that.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have such a party, but of course there will be a wake sort of thing. And while talking to Danielle this morning, we determined there’s going to be party favor bags. With a pair of my socks, some stickers, a tiny Japanese thing, and a container of sprinkles. All things I have too many of. All things I adore. All little pieces of me, who I am, and what I like. I think that’s an awesome idea. Once upon a time I made a Happy Box Exchange, and I made little boxes full of things that made me happy. Music, stickers, little toys, sprinkles, candy, delicious scents. Things like that. I didn’t get all of the participants to respond back in kind, but the ones that did, came in FORCE. A baking care package. Another box in kind of all kinds of music and stickers and things. It was a really uplifting experience. Happy surprises.

So imagine that, only instead of stickers and candy, it’s memories and feelings. That would be the best thing ever.

You should do it.

Assisting the Assistance

One of the most common questions I get asked is some variant of “what can I do for you?” or “how can I help?” or “what do you need?” It’s a common response to finding out someone is in distress, when the situation is too large to process at once. It’s a natural instinct, to want to exert some kind of control over a situation that makes you powerless. Okay, it sucks that you have a terminal disease, what tiny little piece can I work at to make it suck a little less? There must be SOMETHING. Anything.

You know the absolute best thing you can do, for anyone going through A Big Deal?

Take care of their caregiver.

The Big Deal sucks for the person who is center circle, no question. But it ALSO sucks for the people around them – as Dr. Doug McClure told me, “You’ll find it’s not that YOU have been diagnosed, WE have been diagnosed.” The caregiver is responsible for keeping everything together when the diagnosed no longer can. They do everything from making/getting to doctor visits to cleaning house to coordinating visits to making sure they’re wearing clean socks. Lifting spirits and lifting patients. Finding hope and finding the damn car keys.

Dying sucks, and there’s a lot of planning and work and Massive Introspective Soul Searching ™ involved, but comparatively? My job is easy. I just gotta die. Whether I work at it or not, the end for me is the same. I just have to let it happen. Danielle, though, she has to plan and prep and care and organize and clean and all the things I can’t, from here on out. It’s a really big deal in its own right. Later on in our joyful journey of doom, if I just let things happen without working at it, I’m pretty much where I was either way. If she lets things happen without working at it? I won’t eat. She worries about keeping my house clean, making sure I’m not expending too much energy, researches places to live, and is pretty much an unpaid personal assistant.

…The woman cleaned up cat poop this weekend to spare me having to spend a spoon to do so. CAT POOP. THAT IS LOVE, PEOPLE. She’s signed on to scoop cat boxes for NOT EVEN HER CAT.

It’s a tough job but it doesn’t have to be thankless. I’ve done thankless jobs, and they’re soul-draining. I’ve done really shitty jobs happily, because I was appreciated for it. It’s amazing how far a thank you goes. An honest, sincere word of thanks. A “hey, I know this thing took up all your weekends for a month and I’m sorry I can’t pay you for it, but let me take you to lunch at least”. Taking a second out of your life to say “I appreciate the hell out of what you’re doing.”

I’ve said it before: it is fucking AMAZING how helpful it is, to simply have someone just acknowledge what you’re doing is hard.

So if you want to do something for me? Do something for Danielle. Buy her a freakin’ Jamba Juice or something. Ask her how you can help share her burden. She needs people to care for her. Someone to give her a break sometimes. And mostly? People to recognize that what she is doing is HARD. She is shifting her entire life to be there for me. People need to appreciate and acknowledge that sacrifice. I appreciate the ever loving SHIT out of her, and it will be extremely helpful to me if others do, too.

Life, Death, Something in Between

Metarie Cemetery, NOLA

Every city is a person. San Francisco, for example, is a cooler-than-you power player by day, club kid by night with a serious drug problem and crushingly low self esteem. He’s beautiful, but the kind of beautiful you regret finding in your bed in the morning when his makeup’s come off and you see what he really looks like. Sacramento is his younger sister who wants to be as cool as her older brother and tags along to his parties, but she really just doesn’t get it, and won’t, ever. She’s self important and destined to be either a politician or homeless, depending on whether she’s willing to sell out or not. Portland simultaneously hates himself and thinks he’s better than everyone else, writing mostly bad but occasionally amazing poetry, while drinking whisky flights and watching the rain mist over the concrete outside his rent-controlled studio apartment downtown. He’s beautiful, quirky, and surprisingly athletic, which is amazing considering you’re pretty sure he lives mostly on coffee.

New Orleans is a man who laughs too fast and too hard, talks too much and too long, drinks to work up the nerve to socialize and then keeps drinking until he’s sick, the sort of drunk who can turn on you without warning. He’s a fantastic pal to hang around the town with because he knows everyone and doesn’t mind introducing you, an amazing cook able to whip up the most amazing meals faster than you can blink, and overall will show you a damned good time as long as you’re buying. He’s got a timeless sort of tired beauty, the grace of a man who’s been through some really rough times, and the charm of a desperate charlatan in need of some quick cash. He spends way more than he earns in an effort to make himself seem far less tired and sad than he feels, and he dates twin sisters Life and Death. When Life has partied herself out and goes home in the morning, Death visits by day and they stroll among graveyards and quietly share memories of happier times.

He needs the love of both women to be allowed to be who he is.

New Orleans is a larger than life, boisterous, beautiful place. In some places, the beauty is plastic and painted on, but there nonetheless. In other places, it’s quiet and stately and dignified; beautiful if you notice it or not. Everywhere you look, death and life are married and inseparable. Among the touristy, horrible glitz of Bourbon Street, there’s a smell of sick and decay and deteriorating sidewalk rubble to trip you up at every turn. Among the quiet graveyards around City Park, plants grow between the cracks of the crypts, the living wander freely, and the whispering of traffic is never far off.

New Orleans remembers what it’s like to have a healthy relationship with death.

We visited a very beautiful paper and pen boutique in the French Quarter, called originally enough – Papier Plume – and spent a fair bit of time looking at the most elegant instruments for committing ink to paper. Beautiful glass fountain pens, calligraphy pens, ink of every shade, and journals of artisan paper for keeping track of your life in. Everything you need to spill your living thoughts on to dead trees. As a sort of team memento thing, we all three bought glass fountain pens. We spent more time deliberating on ink than we’d spent choosing the pens, and I’m grateful and surprised that the shopkeeps never got the least bit impatient with us. I found shades I loved, but was dismayed that they weren’t permanent ink – they would fade in light or run when wet. The shopwoman asked why I was so set on permanent ink.

Colin looked back at me for a moment unsure of how I wanted to proceed. I smiled gently. “I ..have a terminal disease,” I explained, “and I mean to use these to write my farewell letters.”

She was quick to recover, immediately understanding and warm. She expressed her condolences, particularly when I mentioned ALS specifically, as – with so many people I’m finding – someone she knew had been lost to it. We made our selections, and she sincerely wished me luck. I appreciated it, and told her so. New Orleans was such a wonderful melt of life and death, that it wasn’t awkward to have that conversation. I only mentally dwelled on it at all in order to marvel at how normal that exchange seemed, before putting it away in my memories.

Several times I felt like I ought to have been somehow overwhelmed by it all, achingly sad to know that it’s the last time I’ll be in that city, thinking on life, death, the afterlife while sitting in St. Louis Cathedral, waiting to be moved enough to weep, and never really feeling like I needed to do so. I felt very comfortable and at peace there. I did not need to mousecreep my way through social interactions, because death was a part of life there. No explanations, no apologies needed, just a warm bath of understanding at the very core of the city. Time enough to relax and revel in a healthy attitude towards death before returning to a world still terrified of it.

I could never live in New Orleans, but it was delightful to be in his company for awhile. I’m grateful for the chance I was provided. Seven days being allowed to be what I needed to be, with two amazing people who love me to the ends of the earth and with whom I feel safe enough to relax my constant need to assure everyone I’m okay, and admit when I’m overwhelmed and need to sit down a bit. Seven days to live and eat and breathe and sleep for a week in a city that made me feel welcome and …normal.. enough to drop my guard in public for a little bit and just be unapologetically weak and flawed and alive.

A chance to be a dying woman in a city perfectly okay with death.

The Walk to Defeat ALS

Overwhelmed. In the BEST of ways.

I’ve gone on and on before about how grateful I am for the support I’ve gotten, how much I appreciate the support I’ve been given, how blown away at the love I’ve been shown. It’s probably become a little bit tiresome.

Well, suck it. There’s a lot more coming.

I admit I totally got press-ganged into doing the Walk in the first place. The Veterans Resource Group had a table in the cafe at work. I stopped by to chat, and met another person who ALSO had ALS for the first time. (I’ve met a fair few since then. We’re a small crew, but we run – or hobble or ride – in the same circles.) Part of the table’s purpose, besides awareness, was to recruit people for the Walk to Defeat ALS. “You should form a team,” I was told. “I bet you’d get a lot of support.”

I was of two opinions on that. On the one hand, it’s asking for something. I’m not good at that. On the other hand, a tiny irrational fear, ‘what if I form a team and no one shows up?’ While I was debating this in my head, a coworker walked up to the table to see what I was up to.

“Vashti’s making a walk team, do you want to join her?”

He looked at me, “You are?”

“I…uh. Apparently!”

And that’s how it started. I put up a poster outside my cube, I wore the red wristband, I talked openly and honestly about the diagnosis when I was asked, but I felt really weird about asking my friends to come over in support of me. I caved and asked my friends to help me name the team at least. We had a lot of really good suggestions, but in the end, The Godzilla Squad won out. On the 16th, I posted my team link.

On the 17th of August – the next DAY, for those of you playing at home – I was at 17 members and over $1000 raised.

To say I was overwhelmed is a gross understatement. So, fun fact! I’d never cried for joy before. I always thought it would be kind of cool if something like that happened to me, but I am not sentimental in the right ways, I guess, so it never happened. Until then.

The Ice Bucket Challenge gained serious momentum, and so did my team. On the 26th, I was at $3k and 26 people. A dear friend of mine in Sacramento also started a team in my name, Team Dinsdale. We met online waaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy back in the day, before the Internet was a thing, when you had to dial directly in to someone’s computer and leave messages on a digital bulletin board. In the BBS days, my first handle was Dinsdale.

Life continued its usual frantic pace, there was a lot happening, and before I knew it, it was the final weekend. I had four people staying at my house to attend, and one flew in from Sacramento to be here for me. I was spoiled absolutely ROTTEN that weekend, with homemade Ethiopian food of amazingness, fancyface ice cream and donuts for dessert, and the best company a girl could ever ask for.

And then, Walk Day. This is my team:

Because ALS isn't going to stomp itself out.
Because ALS isn’t going to stomp itself out.

Amazing people, every one.

We gathered in a spot that was strategic and awesome until the live band started playing. Right. Bloody. There. But we were VERY easily distinguishable in the crowd with the hoodies (OMG SO AMAZING LEENDAH I LOVE YOU) and Danielle, my main babe, had printed out the kitten-vs-Godzilla picture I’d been using for my Walk page, and attached them to an umbrella. And Matt. Oh my golly Matt. He had commissioned a mighty cape of DOOM and a head cover for his staff:

Matt the Majestic

IS THAT NOT AWESOME.

Yes of course it is, don’t even bother answering.

There were a LOT of people there. Oh my god so many. I’m really glad I had my team around me so I was constantly distracted by OH MY GOD HI I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN FOREVER instead of ..holy crap I am in the biggest of big crowds and this sucks. We borrowed wheelchairs,Danielle and I, because I can walk a mile, but it sucks, and I think three is out of the question. Danielle had to borrow one because her foot is borked and it hurts her a lot to be on her feet at ALL and walking three miles is similarly out of the question.

It was a FANTASTIC walk. Well. Roll. I got pushed. The chair was surprisingly easy to wheel myself around in, but I had a lot of people willing to help me out. There’d been cold and rain suddenly, but it cleared up in time to be LOVELY for the walk day. Even a little too warm to wear the hoodies all day, for they were made of fleece and are SO COMFY AND WARM but maybe not the best when standing for a while in direct sunlight. Megan was the smart one, she held the umbrella. Some surprise faces showed up – I didn’t expect my older brother there, he told me he had to work but then didn’t have to! – and met a couple new friend-of-friend faces and did not at ALL have time to introduce everybody to everybody. We walked a really pleasant stroll along the waterfront, and groups connected and drifted as we walked.

We finished, exultant, and some of us stayed for a picnic, and some of us had to get back on the road.

I am so. so. so incredibly grateful. I am grateful to everyone who came. Everyone who couldn’t come but donated. Everyone who couldn’t come OR donate, but thought about me.

In the end, my team was 49 members strong, more than 35 of whom showed up to walk, and $5460 raised.

I’ve always strived to be the kind of person someone would care deeply about, and like having around. I …I guess I managed that, if the support and love I’ve been shown is ANY kind of indicator.

I love you all. You’re amazing and the world is lucky to have you in it.

Talking the Talk

I had the second talk today, for Intel employees. I mentioned the talks briefly before, but lemme recap.

The leader of the Veterans’ Resource Group here where I work contacted me to see if I’d be willing to help. Veterans are twice as likely to get ALS and we don’t know why yet, so they’ve dedicated this quarter to raising awareness. Part of that awareness campaign was two scheduled events where they brought out the technology available to assist ALS patients, tried to drum up support for the Walk to Defeat ALS, and talked about ALS in general. He asked if I’d be willing to just give a short talk about my diagnosis, how it came to be, and how technology has come into play. I came to his attention because of the news story on voice banking, and he thought that was a wonderful way to introduce ALS to Intel folks – apparently I am the only Intel employee currently working, who has ALS. He asked if I’d share my story. Of course I said yes, no big deal.

I thought a lot about what to say. I didn’t want to just stand up there and talk about my diagnosis. I didn’t even really want to talk about myself much, except to say, this is what ALS is, and if you have any questions at all about what it’s like, or how you get diagnosed, or anything, please ask, because I want people to know this stuff. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and most of the information that is correct is cold and clinical, hard to put a face on. And I didn’t want to be a Sally Struthers pity party campaign of DON’T YOU FEEL AWFUL LOOK AT THIS HORRIBLE STUFF YOU SHOULD GIVE US MONEY AND FEEL BAD.

And so instead I talked about the tech. Both times, I didn’t manage to stay on script, but this is more or less what I said. And I wanted to share it here, because it’s valid and important to me.

After a 6 month chase including MRIs, a spinal tap, a biopsy, and several impressions of an electric voodoo doll, I was finally diagnosed with ALS. (As it was stated) ALS is also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, after a then-famous baseball player gave a speech telling America that he considered himself the luckiest man alive.

That April 1st, as I sat in the neurologists office and tried to process the news, the first thought in my head was not that I felt particularly lucky. The first thought was actually, “I have to wait until tomorrow to tell people, because NO ONE is going to believe me when I call them on April Fools’ Day to tell them I have a terminal disease.” And my second thought was, “Ok, now what.”

Some people interpret this as courage; I think it’s actually closer to pragmatism. If anything, working here has honed my natural ability to deal with crises with grace. I *can’t* panic; I’ve suddenly lost the luxury of time, and in less than a year I went from perfectly healthy to planning advance directives and making decisions about feeding tubes and ventilators. And it’s become a full time job figuring out how the heck am I going to AFFORD all of this. Dying of ALS is a very expensive endeavor in the States. There’s all of the mobility equipment I’m going to eventually need, there’s the two story house I had bought a handful of months before I was diagnosed that now has to be sold because stairs are becoming impossible. There’s going to be hospice care, and figuring out who I can rely on to get me to medical appointments.

And even more stressful that figuring out money, I have to tell a lot of people about my diagnosis. When a coworker asks if I’m limping because I’ve hurt myself, I have to tell them why I’m limping, and I find more often than not that it usually entails an explanation of what ALS even IS. When I told people of my diagnosis, while their first reaction is always “I’m sorry” – which feels lame to you? But it helps, it really, truly does – the SECOND thing out of everyone’s mouth is always some variant of: “What can I do to help.” I have never realized how many amazing people are in my life. When I was diagnosed, I knew I’d need someone to lead my care team when I couldn’t, and when I looked up, my best friend had her bags already packed and checklists in hand. When I realized that it’s become so much more difficult to do the simplest things like go to the store, I have a plethora of people offering to take me. My little brother moved his entire family from California to be here for me. Casual acquaintances have become friends. And my coworkers have become my invaluable allies.

I have the very good fortune to be working here at Intel. Our benefits are actually really good, especially when you compare them to the nightmare that is Medicaid. And most importantly? The people I work with are an incredible asset. You have two things we really need if we’re going to defeat this stupid disease. First? I’ll be honest, …we need your money. Research takes money to fund, and did I mention how expensive having ALS is? But second, and probably most importantly, you have intelligence and innovation. If you look at the tech available to make living with ALS easier, and compare it to what is POSSIBLE, you’ll see an almost comical shortfall. Eye gaze tech allows ALS patients to use a computer after their ability to move has gone, but it costs thousands and thousands of dollars, and the best stuff isn’t covered under insurance. There is good technology available, and there’s AMAZING technology POSSIBLE. And you’re just the people to help us push this tech to the next generation and make it available to everyone that needs it, not just those that can afford it.

Ever since that April diagnosis I have been shown time and again that I am completely surrounded by people who are willing and able to make this disease suck less – for myself and every other person with ALS.

And because of that, I realize that I am actually very, very lucky.

Making Video about Audio

I’ma geek out for a minute about voice banking. Ready? Here we go.

Voice banking is one of the most amazing things to happen for people with ALS, or any kind of degenerative disease that robs someone of their voice. Model Talker allows you to record your own voice, from which they’ll make a synthetic version for use with a text-to-speech program. It effectively lets you “talk” with your own voice, after the disease takes away your ability to speak.

It’s amazing and important and I’m SO GRATEFUL that it exists and that I’m allowed to participate in it. It’s currently in beta, and anyone can apply to be a part of it. ModelTalker is a program you install on your computer, and then you record yourself saying prompted phrases by speaking into a USB microphone headset. It’s best to bank before the disease hits your voice, so that your computer generated voice is as true to your natural voice as possible; so the sooner people with ALS know about it, the sooner they can start banking. It’s a fairly sizable time commitment – I understand there’s about 1600 phrases to record before they have enough sounds to create your voice from. The sentences I’ve seen so far include lines from The Wizard of Oz, and the phrase “There’s more than one way to remove a tooth.” I’ve only just started; I recorded the calibrations and the first ten sentences last night. They’ll listen to the samples, and suggest changes, and then I’ll record the next set. I will be sitting at my desk and recording goofy sentences for hoooouuuuuuuuurs.

But it will be TOTALLY WORTH IT, when my computer generated version of me calls someone a fuckwit for the first time.

This technology is SO IMPORTANT. It’s completely dehumanizing, being unable to properly communicate with others, and that idea frankly scares me. The fact that speech synthesis exists at all is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but we need to take it a step further. Just look at Dr. Hawking, his voice..it’s become a joke, how robotic his communication is. To have to rely on a robotic voice to tell someone you love them? To try to explain to your loved one why you’re crying with this…fake, cold, not-really-a-voice? That is the worst thing, and I can’t even imagine the stress that adds to an already horrible situation. ModelTalker gives you back some semblance of who you were, to continue to be who you are. It gives you back a little bit of what this stupid fucking disease takes away from you.

I was contacted some weeks ago by my local chapter of the ALS Association wondering if I would like to be part of a local news story about voice banking.

I said yes, please.

They’re going to come to my house next Thursday and film me doing some recording, and then interview me about it. I’m really happy to have the opportunity to evangelize about this technology, to let people know it exists, and it’s out there for free. Technology is solace for people with ALS. It helps us travel when we can no longer walk. It helps us communicate when we’ve lost the ability to speak.

It helps us continue to be human, for just a little bit longer.