Finding Undetected Vision Issues in Kids

“Mark,” a preschooler, always seemed to be getting in trouble, acting out and having a hard time learning. Turns out, there was good reason. He had double vision. Until the McGraw Lions Club screened him as a part of their “see” program, his condition had gone undetected.

“At that age, he was still not verbal enough to perform an eye chart test. We performed a vision screening for him and found he needed to be referred for further assessment by an eye doctor,” said Cathi Bernardo, president of the McGraw Lions Club.

Mark’s parents took him for a comprehensive eye exam. His eye doctor diagnosed him with double vision and prescribed glasses. Once his double vision was corrected, he not only did better in preschool, but behaved better, too.

“In one year, this small change made a huge difference in his life. Now he can start kindergarten on time rather than be held back,” said Bernardo

“If the diagnosis had been delayed, he might have struggled more. But the camera caught that something was going on.”

A Camera of Their Own.

The McGraw Lions Club bought a screening camera in the spring of 2017, thanks to funds from an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Community Health Award. Before, they had used a camera shared among 30 other Lions Clubs throughout the state. With their own camera, the McGraw Lions have dramatically increased the number of screenings they perform. With more screenings, they can identify eye disorders in more area children and help them get treatment.

Bernardo says current camera technology is a major improvement for screening children for vision problems. In the past, the screening consisted of the child covering one eye and identifying letters and numbers on a chart. The test was geared for older children who knew how to read, talk, and sit still during the test.

Now, the Lions simply take a picture of the child’s eye from about a meter away using their special camera. The camera can detect amblyopic disorders, where vision in one eye is reduced because the eye and brain are not working together properly. The camera can also detect nearsightedness, farsightedness, and other irregularities. Capturing the image takes less than 10 seconds and requires no action from the child. Even restless or non-verbal children can be screened fairly easily.

The camera produces a report that categorizes the result as either a “pass” or a “refer.” If a child gets a “refer,” the Lions recommend that the parents take the child to see an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam. The Lions do not diagnose disorders or recommend treatment.

 When Should I Check My Child’s Vision?

Children should have comprehensive eye exams early and often, starting at 6 months of age, according to the American Optometric Association.

Many parents, especially those juggling work schedules and transportation issues, struggle to get their child to the eye doctor or may put it off entirely. By providing free screenings, the Lions draw parents’ attention to the importance of eye health, helping ensure children who need professional examination get it. The Lions also help with the cost of glasses for children whose families may have trouble affording them.

McGraw Lions Club members perform eye screenings for children in schools, preschools and churches throughout Cortland County. They screen youth up to the twelfth grade, but primarily focus on children between the ages of 6 months to 6 years. The earlier in life an eye disorder is discovered and treated, the better the outcome for a child’s vision.

“About 10 percent of kids from birth to 6 are going to have something that needs to be treated. We want to detect those children and get them in to the health care system for proper treatment,” said optometrist Dr. Edward Cordes, national chairman of the Lions KidSight Foundation and past International Lions Club director.

Screenings have even proven to be life-saving, helping uncover two cases of a rare childhood cancer of the eye, retinoblastoma. Without the screening, the cancer may have advanced without the parents’ knowledge.

Knights of the Blind

In their earliest days, Lions clubs throughout the world adopted eye and vision health as a central cause. Speaking at a convention in 1925, Helen Keller, who was a Lion, challenged International Lions Club members to “become knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”

From then on, the Lions committed themselves to preventing blindness and improving the lives of those who are blind and hearing impaired.

At the McGraw Lions Club in Cortland County, the 35 members work on a variety of local community service projects. Their biggest project by far is their “See” vision screening program.

Learning at full potential

Because as much as 80 percent of children’s learning is through vision, the need for early screening is especially urgent.

“If a child is visually impaired, like Helen Keller was, that does not mean that they can’t learn or that they won’t be successful. They absolutely can. It’s just a lot more challenging. If unaddressed, it makes it more difficult for them to reach their full potential,” said Cordes.

Bernardo agrees, “That’s why we do it. We want to help these kids do better in school and catch it early.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Preventive Services Task Force, instrument-based screening is a valid method for screening very young children. For more information about vision screening, contact your child’s pediatrician or family physician.

Spotlight on Nydia Padilla-Rodriguez

She is an original member of Garth Fagan’s “Bottom of the Bucket, But” Dance Company, the precursor to Garth Fagan Dance. A longtime educator, she is currently director of community partnerships for the Rochester Central School District. She created Borinquen Dance Theatre in 1981 to serve youth and help them “find the desire to succeed through the discipline of dance.” 

In April 2017, she received the 10th annual Woerner Kollmorgen Award for Community Service at Nazareth College.

Borinquen Dance Theatre is very unique. How did you come up with it?

The history of Borinquen Dance Theatre began at the Puerto Rican Festival in 1981 when Garth Fagan spontaneously announced that I would be offering dance classes. When he made that comment, he was telling me to go out into the community and share my artistic talent.  I had danced with “Bottom of the Bucket, But” for eight years and had experienced closure with that chapter in my life. His announcement planted a seed and allowed me to go forward to teach and help others and continue dancing but in a different capacity. I started with adults teaching exercise classes but shifted only four years later to focus on youth because of the high drop-out rate.

How has dance helped your students lead a healthier life?

Being part of the dance program helps the students learn that their bodies are like sacred temples. It is important for them to learn that living healthy is vital in order for them to manage the rigor of the classes. Dance is a form of exercise that is good for the mind, the body and the spirit. It is also fun, leads to creativity and allows you to showcase your talent. It also requires a level of discipline, though, that requires students to take care of their bodies through fitness and healthy eating.

You seem very (very) busy. How do you juggle it all?

I try to ensure that I take good care of myself first. So, that means finding time to ride my bike with my husband, going for nice long walks, as well as taking yoga and Pilates. If I can, I find the time to sit down and read a book. I prefer wellness books that reaffirm how important it is to take care of yourself and find a balance for everything I have going on in my life.

Which type of Latin Dance is your favorite?

My favorite type of Latin Dance is plena because of what it represents. The dance is closest to our roots with dancers wearing three-tiered skirts that represent our native Taino-Arawak, African and Spanish influences. Those influences are what make Puerto Ricans unique as a people. We must maintain those cultural connections for our younger generations. That’s why I close every Borinquen performance with “La Plena.”

Which type of dance gives you the hardest workout?

For the hardest workout, contemporary and modern dance genres are demanding because it challenges the use of your body and weight, defining shapes, lines and balance. This form of dance requires discipline and a willingness to work beyond your comfort zone. You really have to push yourself and take your skills to another level.

 What else do you do to stay active?

As I mentioned, I enjoy bike riding and taking walks as well as taking flamenco and other dance classes whenever possible. I recently took on tap dancing and performed with my students at Borinquen Dance Theatre’s community performance on April 29 to celebrate our 36th anniversary.

What’s the most important thing you do to stay healthy?

I try to eat a nutritious and balanced diet and to pay attention to what I’m putting into my body. I also utilize the Fitbit as a tool to keep me focused on my fitness goals. Eating well and staying active are essential. A fitness instructor once told me staying healthy is 70 percent what you eat and 30 percent how much you exercise. That has becomes my day-to-day practice.

What advice do you have for others?

Find a friend or peer to work with on staying fit. As a team, you can encourage each other, become part of some kind of program and work with each other to fulfill your goals. Sticking to a fitness plan is not easy to do by yourself. That’s why it makes more sense to team up with someone or a group of people whether at the workplace, with a friend or someone who has similar goals. Having a fitness partner also makes staying healthy fun and relieves stress, since you have more of a support system.

Could you share some of your favorite healthy eating tips?

Eating many fruits and vegetables as well as eating a lot of greens, drinking a lot of water and ensuring you have some type of protein and even some carbohydrates. You should also check your calorie intake, which helps ensure you’re eating a balanced meal. But one must be careful to not take a diet too far or skip meals, which would not constitute eating healthy.

Where are your favorite healthy spots in the community?

My husband and I like to ride our bikes along the Erie Canal. I like the canal because you can bike or walk and grab a bite to eat at restaurants which offer healthy options. I also like to walk in the Park and East avenues area. Long walks are good just to talk and relieve whatever stress we might be experiencing in our busy lives.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is a proud supporter of Borinquen Dance Theatre and granted the group a $3,500 Community Health Award in 2017.

A Big Brother Aims to Make the Rochester Tour de Cure the #1 Ride in the U.S.

Chris Gorecki is about to tackle his seventh straight Tour de Cure.

He doesn’t participate in the diabetes fundraiser because he’s an outdoor cyclist. In fact, he usually has to rent a road bike for the event.

Chris rides because his younger brother battles Type 1 diabetes. He rides for his brother’s kids (ages 6, 8 and 18 years old) and because his brother almost died from complications of diabetes.

This year, Chris stepped up as leader of the Tour. He’s serving as chair of the event for the American Diabetes Association in Rochester, New York. As chair, he’s issued an unusual challenge to the Rochester community: Become the #1 tour in the nation.

Diabetes is a serious health condition that  afflicts almost 400,000 adults in upstate New York. Diabetes can cause blindness, kidney disease and lead to heart disease and stroke. In the U.S., heart disease is the #1 cause of death and stroke #5; stroke is a leading cause of disability.

Given that diabetes is such a serious health concern, Chris was surprised at how little he knew about this disease that was hurting his younger brother, Craig, who lives in Arizona.

 “What do you mean he almost died?”

Chris recalled the day about 10 years ago when his mom called to tell him Craig had almost died. His brother had really high blood sugar levels, landed in the hospital and almost lapsed into a coma.

“’What do you mean he almost died?’” he recalled asking his mother. “I was in shock. I had no idea that diabetes was so serious that you could die from it. It was a big eye opener for me.”

Craig continued to struggle with the disease.  Once, his blood sugar levels were so low  that he passed out while at work and ended up with a broken shoulder and bitten tongue.

He also faced workplace discrimination.  Shortly after being hired for a new job, Craig’s manager found out that he had diabetes and made the work environment very unpleasant for him.  Craig had a talk with his manager and let him know that an employee could not be fired for having diabetes.  Needless to say, Craig found another job very quickly.

The ride

Before his current job—as a senior vice president at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in Rochester — Chris worked in Napa Valley and served as chair of the ADA board there.

Now living in Rochester, Chris is leading the Manning & Napier Tour de Cure. It’s the second largest ride in the country; last year the fundraiser took in more than $1 million to fight diabetes. For the Manning & Napier tour to finish at the top in 2017, the Rochester team would have to beat Chris’ old organization—the riders of Napa Valley.

Chris said he’s relishing in the competition between his old and new friends.

“’Beating Napa’ is about raising awareness,” Chris said. “It’s about learning more about friends and family who have the disease and realizing how hard it is for them to keep themselves healthy.”

“In the end, I hope something good comes out of all of this,” he added, “whether it’s a cure or something new that really helps those with diabetes.”

The disease

Diabetes is a disease where the body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin to digest sugar (glucose). You can become dangerously sick when your blood sugar is too high or too low.

To keep sugar at normal levels, people with diabetes are constantly watching what they eat, monitoring blood sugar levels, managing how much they exercise and adjusting medication.

“It’s easier to take care of yourself when you have a nine-to-five job,” Chris said. “But my brother is a bar manager, working until the early hours of the morning, and then he’s with his young kids during the day while his wife works.

“He doesn’t have a lot of time to exercise or the inclination to eat well,” he added.

In general, eating healthy and exercising are keys to controlling diabetes. Many people who have diabetes struggle to do the things that help keep them healthy. In upstate New York, tens of thousands of upstate New York adults fail to do what’s necessary to keep their disease in check, according to data gathered by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Basic steps include:

  • Checking blood sugar at least once a day
  • Having a complete eye exam, including a dilated retinal exam, each year
  • Having a health provider examine feet for sores or irritations at least annually
  • Visiting a dentist or dental clinic at least yearly
  • Staying physically active as approved by your doctor
  • Getting a flu vaccine every year

Best brother ever

When Craig was diagnosed with diabetes in his 20s, he didn’t know a lot about managing the disease. He didn’t change his eating habits, for example, or start exercising more. Chris recalled seeing his brother with an ice cream cone. He didn’t think twice since he assumed diabetes was a disease that was easily managed.

Chris Gorecki (r) with his brother, Craig

“The hospital incident was a wake-up call for him – and me,” Chris said. “Craig wants to be around for his kids. But it’s hard for him to stick to a healthy lifestyle, especially since he works nights and has a young family. But, he’s trying.”

That’s why Craig will join Chris for this year’s Tour de Cure in Rochester. Chris hopes the cycling event will get Craig exercising more. Plus, he’d love to have his little brother with him if the Rochester tour really does beat Napa.

As Chris picked up his phone, and scrolled through his brother’s Facebook page. He found a post his brother wrote about his involvement in the Tour.

“My brother, my hero,” Craig wrote, noting that Chris used his story to rally folks at a Tour de Cure kickoff event in Rochester. “My brother rules. Thanks for all you do for diabetics everywhere. See you in June. He raises tons of money for diabetic research. Best brother ever.”

How to help

If you want to help raise money to fight diabetes, click HERE to register for or donate to the Manning & Napier Tour de Cure in Rochester on June 10, 2017.

Don’t live near Rochester? Click HERE to search for a Tour de Cure event near you.

If you’re a parent of a child with diabetes, click HERE to learn more about Camp ASPIRE. The camp is a weeklong summer camp for kids with diabetes.

It’s Never Too Late to Become a Runner

George Jones sang about not needing a rocking chair when he grew old and that was the tune Laura Vallone hummed when she signed up to train for her first 5K run/walk this past summer.

Laura read about the training program for seniors over age 55 in the Broome County Office for Aging Senior News weekly paper. It piqued her interest.  “I had not been able to exercise for two years due to health reasons and I thought this would be a great way for me to get started again,” Laura stated.

Laura Vallone finishes her first 5K.

Older adults don’t have to be intimidated by the idea of starting a 5K run or walk for the first time. Just follow these tips:

  1. Ask your doctor! If you have any doubts about whether or not you are physically able to start exercising, ask your doctor for advice.
  2. Starting is simple!  Some seniors think that starting to exercise is too much bother. Getting started doesn’t have to be hard! You don’t need a plan; don’t worry about what you are wearing; don’t make excuses; just open your front door and start walking, even if it’s only for a few steps!
  3. Join a group! All too often, seniors are out walking on their own. It’s much more fun if you convince friends to join you or you can join a group. Besides being more fun, groups are safer and you’re more likely to go on the walk if you’ve previously said you would join others. Some groups that you can join: Seniors Running and Walking Festival and the Broome County Office for Aging Senior Hiking Club.

Laura, for example, joined the Vestal Senior Run/Walk Festival training program, which is sponsored by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. The training program met twice a week for eight weeks and focused on proper warm up and cool down skills, basic hydration options and the overall race/walk itself.

  1. You’re not too old!  There are many people in their 90s and even over 100 years old who walk or run on a regular basis.  Even if you need to use a cane or a walker, you can still get out and enjoy a walk with others.
  2. It takes time!  Seniors who may not have had much exercise recently will need to slowly build up their endurance. Start with some very short walks, at an easy pace, and gradually increase how far, and how fast you walk. It’s also good to walk in places that have benches so you can stop to rest if needed.
  3. Beat the heat! Try walking in the early morning or early evening, when it’s a bit cooler. Wear a hat and use sunscreen. Walk in the shade whenever possible, even if that means walking on the grass. Stay hydrated, bring a water bottle and drink water during and after your walk.

Laura said the summer heat added some additional stress to the 5K event.  “The summer was very hot and humid and the day of the race it was very humid,” said Laura.  “I wasn’t afraid of failing though, I knew that I would finish the race, even if it took me a little longer,” she added.

Vince Fox, coordinator of the Vestal Senior Run/Walk event, said the heat was brutal that summer but that didn’t stop senior citizens from participating. “I always enjoy hearing the participants’ stories, like Laura’s, how they had fun, and gained the exercise benefits at the same time.” We had nearly 100 seniors cross the finish line this summer, despite the hot weather.”

  1. Wear shorts! Some seniors tend to wear heavy, warm clothing such as long pants and two layers on top. That’s fine for indoors but not for walking on warm summer days. Instead, try wearing shorts and a short-sleeve shirt that are made with cooler materials such as 50/50 blend or polyester.
  2. Treat your feet! If you start to walk on a regular basis, your feet will thank you if you get them a pair of comfortable shoes that fit well and are designed for walking (or running). Some seniors are used to going out in their dress shoes, but you’ll feel so much better in walking shoes, and you’ll still look good!
  3. Keep a diary!  Write down how much time you spent walking, or how far you went. It gives you a sense of accomplishment to be able to look back at your diary and to see your progress. Some people also like to write about how they felt and who or what they saw along the way.
  4. Enjoy it!  Exercise, especially with a group, will make you feel good. Enjoy the feeling of being healthy and meeting your goals. Even though you may get a little tired, you can still enjoy the way exercise makes you feel.  It also gives you a great feeling of accomplishment.

Laura’s daughter Lorraine is thrilled that her mother has found a passion for participating in 5K races.  In fact, she helped her sign up for another race this past summer in Pennsylvania and brought her entire family to cheer Laura on!

Laura has credited the Vestal Senior Run/Walk Program with getting her moving again and keeping her active.  She is committed to continuing to exercise and walk —leaving those rocking chairs for someone else.

Fighting Cancer: A Teenager’s Story of Courage

Being a teenager and going through high school can be difficult. There are classes to keep up with, sports commitments and demands for your time from family and friends. And, for Brittany McNair, a cancer diagnosis.

McNair was diagnosed with osteosarcoma June of 2005, the end of her freshman year of high school. She went to the doctor after not being able to walk and after several tests, found out that she had cancer in her right leg.

The former three-sport athlete went from running daily for soccer and indoor/outdoor track to relearning how to walk. She didn’t think she’d run again.

The high school years are a time when your peers are constantly judging you. Because chemotherapy treatments caused her hair to fall out, McNair feared having her picture taken or being asked to remove her hat. She also learned to get creative to avoid the dreaded hospital visits. (More on that later.)

With the help of friends, family and a local nonprofit, McNair found a way to keep some of the normalcy of her teenage years. Her family also emerged stronger and closer as a result of it.

A Teenager's Fight Against Cancer

Brittany McNair on her 16th birthday while in the hospital for cancer treatment.

A Visit to Her Hospital Room

In August of 2005, surgeons replaced the bones in McNair’s right leg with a metal prosthesis. At the same time, they removed her calf muscles and performed knee replacement surgery on that leg. She was 15.

As she recovered in the hospital, McNair received a visit from Lauren Spiker, executive director of 13thirty Cancer Connect, formerly known as Melissa’s Living Legacy Teen Cancer Foundation. Spiker had formed the organization three years prior after her daughter, Melissa, died of cancer, and was running it from her home.

On the wall at 13thirty Cancer Connect is Melissa’s request of her mother before she died, “If you have learned anything from me through all of this, do something with it to make a difference – to make things better.”

Spiker explained her daughter’s request.

“When Melissa was going through treatments for cancer as a teenager, we noticed that there weren’t many support groups for teenagers or young adults.”

Spiker visited McNair in the hospital to invite her to join their support groups, including a popular pancake breakfast at Spiker’s home with other teenage cancer survivors. A few weeks later, McNair participated in a photo shoot for a brochure for the organization. From that day, McNair has continued to attend 13thirty Cancer Connect events.

“13thirty Cancer Connect helped me in ways I couldn’t even begin to describe,” said McNair. “I’ve made lifelong friends there, and I am so thankful for them.”

The organization welcomes individuals ages 13 to 30 who have cancer and their families. A few years after McNair joined the group, 13thirty Cancer Connect began offering fitness classes to give people who have been diagnosed with cancer a chance to exercise with the supervision of a physical therapist and get their strength back.

“Our program was able to recently expand, thanks to a $3,000 grant from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield,” said Spiker.

It was through this program that McNair started to run again.

Brittany with Lauren Spiker, executive director of 13thirty Cancer Connect

Brittany with Lauren Spiker, executive director of 13thirty Cancer Connect

Friends on the field

McNair was lucky to have friends who worked hard to keep her connected to high school (and all the drama!).

Her soccer teammates and their families took turns decorating and filling a box of goodies for McNair to have before she went to the hospital for chemotherapy on Fridays. She found the box on her front porch every Thursday.

“I would be in the hospital all weekend and my teammates would give me everything from candy to DVDs in that box,” said McNair.

McNair’s favorite? A barf bucket. (The chemotherapy made McNair pretty sick!) It was decorated with different words and phrases related to barfing.

After her diagnosis, one family gave her a laptop to help her keep up with school, but she also used it to keep up with her friends and high school happenings.

“AOL Instant Messenger was the big thing then, and I would be on my laptop all the time talking to friends so I was kept in the loop,” said McNair.

Her friends also would visit her at home and in the hospital. As often as she could, McNair would go to basketball games to watch her sister cheer, and she’d also sit on the bench and help her coach during soccer games.

A birthday to remember

McNair really wanted to be in school with her friends on her 16th birthday on Dec. 23, 2005. Usually her birthday falls during winter break, when there’s no school, but that year was an exception.

On the morning of her birthday that year, McNair’s mom – Jennifer Arnold – noticed that her daughter felt hot. So Arnold took her temperature. If McNair had a fever, that meant she’d have to go to the emergency room and would automatically be in the hospital for 24-48 hours. When Arnold came back, McNair’s sister was in the room.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” said Arnold. “I figured they had just been talking before Brittany’s sister went to school or something.”

Arnold looked at the thermometer and it read a normal temperature. Arnold made McNair take her temperature again, but this time she didn’t leave the room.

“The thermometer said she had a fever just like I thought,” Arnold said. “Brittany’s sister took her own temperature, and the girls tried to trick me!”

McNair’s friends ended up visiting her in the hospital and celebrated her birthday there.

It wasn’t the first time her friends or family were willing to intervene on McNair’s behalf.

 “I don’t know why it was such a big deal.”

When McNair walked into the school cafeteria to take her regents exam, the proctor wouldn’t let her in because she was wearing a hat.

“I don’t know why it was such a big deal,” said McNair. “I guess they were worried I was going to hide notes in my hat or something.”

McNair refused to take off her hat. She didn’t want to tell the proctor that she was embarrassed of her bald head. Eventually, one of her friends stepped in and explained why McNair wanted to keep her hat on. The proctor let her into the cafeteria to take her test.

After she sat down, a different proctor also asked her to remove her hat. Again, she refused. This time, a math teacher intervened and said that she could keep her hat on.

That night, Arnold attended a basketball game to see Britany’s sister cheer. The same math teacher approached her and apologized. He hoped that her daughter did well on the test.

“Brittany hadn’t told me that anything had happened at the regents test so I was trying to think of what could have possibly happened,” said Arnold, adding that she was also thinking , ‘Well I’d be more concerned that she didn’t do well because of all the work she hasn’t been doing.”

It wasn’t the first time McNair fought requests to remove her hat.

Learning to embrace her bald head

Like most 16-year-olds, McNair was eager to get her driving permit. She went to the DMV to take the written test and after passing it, stood in line to have her picture taken for her license. The photographer told her to remove her hat. McNair refused.

“My dad started arguing with the people at the DMV to let me keep my hat on and eventually they did and took my picture,” said McNair. “After that, when people looked at my I.D., they were confused to see that I was wearing a hat.”

McNair was determined to learn to drive during her sophomore year. Since she was still relearning how to use her right leg, used two feet instead of one to apply the brakes or use the accelerator.

“Looking back on everything from when I was diagnosed and going through chemo, I would tell other people going through the same thing to take pictures and rock the bald head,” said McNair. “Those are the two things I wish I had done.

Non-traditional Christmas

Arnold thinks back fondly on Christmas that year. It was a few days after McNair’s birthday fever and she was still in the hospital. She and her husband agreed to bring both McNair and her sister three presents to open at the hospital; they could open the rest when McNair returned home.

“My husband and I made two trips from the hospital to the house and back to pick up more presents because the girls didn’t want it to end, they were having so much fun,” said Arnold.

Brittany, her father (David), and younger sister (Alexis) on Christmas Day. Alexis is now a Pediatric Oncology nurse at Golisano Children's Hospital. She was inspired by the nurses who cared for Brittany.

Brittany, her father (David), and younger sister (Alexis) on Christmas Day. Alexis is now a Pediatric Oncology nurse at Golisano Children’s Hospital. She was inspired by the nurses who cared for Brittany.

When McNair came home on New Year’s Eve, her parents said she and her sister couldn’t open the rest of their presents until the next morning. They wanted the girls to have that feeling of waking up and seeing presents under the tree.

“The girls went to bed at 3 a.m. on New Year’s Eve and then woke up a few hours later to open presents,” said Arnold. “It wasn’t a traditional Christmas, but we made the most of it and that’s what made it so special. “

Changing the family dynamic

Mother and daughter smiled and laughed as they recalled those special memories. “Brittany’s cancer diagnosis definitely changed our family dynamic for the better,” said Arnold. “We’re all incredibly close and I love it.”

Brittany with her mother, Jennifer Arnold in September 2016.

Brittany with her mother, Jennifer Arnold in September 2016.

McNair, now an avid runner, made her athletic comeback October 2014 running the Bandana Bolt 5K at Seneca Park, thanks in large part to 13thirty Cancer Connect’s fitness program. Her mom joined her for the race as a fellow runner.

“With this new awesome fitness program that I’ve been doing for a couple years now, I’m slowly regaining my strength in my leg, regaining confidence and regaining the old me that was that former athlete,” said McNair.