As an inquisitive young girl who loved to read, I often asked my local librarian to help me mail letters to authors of books I read. Some letters contained praise; others questions. Of course, some authors responded; some did not. But those who did reinforced my early inclination for reading, writing, and asking questions.
Fast forward decades, and the self-proclaimed nitty, gritty, city kid who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio graduated from college, met and married Bill Tomoff, and became a mother to two incredible (now grown) children, Olivia and Ryan. Our family relocated to Maryland in 1996 for Bill's new job opportunity.
Ten weeks later, the unthinkable happened. Ryan, who was two years old (Olivia was four), was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). That diagnosis began a decades-long war against cancer with Ryan ultimately surviving three battles with leukemia, a bone marrow transplant, and two tongue cancers as an adult.
As Ryan’s chief advocate throughout those days, months, and years, I became laser-focused on the mission at hand to win the fight against cancer. I became a seasoned pro at research, reading charts and labs, speaking the medical terminology, coordinating among doctors, and designing my next quilt in my head before falling into a restless sleep. One question loomed over my head, though. How could I keep up the necessary vigor and persistence to support Ryan and be the best mother, wife, sister, and friend I possibly could? I needed to create my own therapy…find glimmers of light in the darkness… in short, manufacture sunshine.
Finding the way to do that within life's small pleasures did not take long. Several revisited and newly formed passions kept my mind busy during the ebbs of wild disarray. A return to my childhood penchant for writing helped me express and release my thoughts and apprehensions. A lifelong dedication to competitive running rid my body of stress through road races, marathons, and triathlons. Quilting yielded gifts for others, especially children in need. Learning to referee soccer without ever playing the game offered a respite of distraction and meditation, as no touch of the ball could go unwatched. Travel satisfied my curiosity.
To this day, these passions stay with me and continue to bring me joy. My writings and photo journals from Ryan's cancer battles culminated in my first book, The Focused Fight, published in March 2021. I expanded my quilting with custom t-shirt quilts, affectionately called treasured keepsakes, and I enjoy writing an almost-daily blog. My latest focus is on public speaking and advocacy interests, sharing my family's story, and doing what I can to help others facing the many challenges presented by life-threatening illnesses like childhood cancer.
Often told I’m outgoing and adventurous, I try to maintain an open heart and mind and an upbeat attitude, which bodes well since I've never met a stranger even when traveling in far-flung countries around the world. My life is centered around people, especially my family and friends. They are the wind beneath my wings.
Tel Moreeb Sand Dune in Abu Dhabi, UAE