Click the picture for the story of Calypso, the Three Legged Green Sea Turtle, and why she's my symbol

Monday, September 21, 2015

Gains and Losses

My apologies for not writing an entry for so long. This blog was my outlet during my recovery but the past few years I've been bad at keeping up with it. I thought I'd just give you guys an update.

First of all, I've graduated with my Masters in Biotechnology from Johns Hopkins! Those of you who follow me know what a long road it's been and what a huge accomplishment it was to walk across that stage. Thank you to everyone who helped get me there.

Plus look at that handsome mug!
After graduation, the next phase of my life was in limbo. No one wanted to hire someone with little full time lab experience for the positions I was interested in. I had been looking since before I graduated but I kept at it. The next few months I was on my computer or at the computer lab, job searching 6 days a week. I applied to companies all over the US in a variety of fields so I was unsure if I would be staying in Baltimore or moving cross country.

Limbo: not as fun as it sounds.

Eventually my resume was picked up by a 24-hour Lab Testing company in northern Virginia and I was hired for a position as Sample Technician. Essentially, I sort and prep samples so that they are correctly labeled and in the required size/shape/type that the lab needs. It's complicated work and I'm rubbing elbows with people from various labs and building work experience. The crew I'm working with is awesome and supportive. The company expects a lot from us but my coworkers help to make sure everyone gets through.

It's a living...

The weirdest part about the new job is my new hours (11pm-9am). Anyone who's known me knows I've always hated mornings but my new schedule ensures that I'm up for almost every dawn. On my days off I've taken long walks around the neighborhood, seeing things in a way I never had. Here are a few of the fun pictures I took in the Hampden area of Baltimore before I moved.

Everything is prettier at dawn, even the concrete jungle.

I've moved to the Fairfax area, in a wooded suburb south of the city. It's quiet and relatively secluded and the best part: my commute has changed from an hour and fifteen minutes to twenty minutes.

 My cats seem to have settled in nicely.

Lastly, for anyone who doesn't know, my mom Anne Exner passed away last month from metastatic breast cancer. She had had breast cancer back in 2000 and beat it with chemo and radiation. A few years ago it returned and lodged in bones, and about two months ago it was discovered in her brain. My mom opted not to receive additional chemo, instead enjoying the time she had left with her husband, 4 children, and 2 grandchildren.

She was an amazing person, very talkative, friendly, always there with some kind words and some helpful advice (whether you wanted it or not). She was a nurse and worked long hours, though made sure she had time for everyone else. She was always there with a kind word and a healthy snack. She was a world traveler, an experienced mom, a hard worker, and improving the world with an infectiously upbeat quirky attitude.

She is one of the biggest reasons I am where I am today. When I was injured back in December of 2009, she quit her job and moved in with my Aunt and Uncle while I did inpatient rehab. She drove almost an hour down to Baltimore everyday for months. While I lay in a hospital bed my mom would massage my useless legs and yell "MOVE!!!" over and over while I strained to move even a toe. She had been at this almost a month when I got a toe wiggling. She ran and got a nurse and they were both jumping up and down as they watched my right big toe twitch a millimeter.

She was always my biggest advocate. She was always helping me with insurance forms, medication lists, doctors appointments, scheduling my continuing rehab... she was always chatty and cheerful so even if someone didn't recognize me they knew me as Anne's son. She helped arrange the paperwork so that I could finish my Bachelors in Biology from Colorado State by finishing my classwork at Elizabeth City State University, the school in our hometown in North Carolina. There, she and my dad were able to provide me with the support and love I needed as I healed mentally and physically. She continued to push me, getting me to explore nature. My favorite quote from her, "Nature... it's everywhere!" was her response to any animals or cool plants we saw as I learned to walk again.

Even as I learned to walk without any canes and moved off to grad school, she was still there for me. She would call to remind me of my appointments and check how I was doing in my classes. She was always willing to listen to my woes and always had the best stories to cheer me up. She is the reason I have the job I do now, helping me to go through the paperwork and making sure I had all the required documents and was prepped for my interview.

When it was discovered that she only had a few weeks left, the whole family gathered together for a weekend that was both fun and very sad. Near the end, even when the cancer made it difficult to form sentences, she'd still say the first few words of movies quoted by the family (Emperor's New Groove or Young Frankenstein). Even in her final weeks she was still trying to get those around her to smile.

She's gone now and the world is a little less bright without her. Still, the world is a better place for her having been here. Every single person at the funeral had stories of her having been a great positive influence in their lives. With lots of family and friends, she was laid to rest outside Bel Air, MD.

There have been some significant gains and deep losses but for now, things are okay. I'm in a better place and I am looking forward to an exciting new career. I always end my posts with a song so this post I'll end with one of my mom's favorite song by The Beatles.