Bereaved But Still Me

Laughing Through the Tears

May 28, 2019 Dawn Fuller Season 1 Episode 10
Laughing Through the Tears
Bereaved But Still Me
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Bereaved But Still Me
Laughing Through the Tears
May 28, 2019 Season 1 Episode 10
Dawn Fuller

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This month "Heart to Heart with Michael" features Dawn Fuller. She is best known as Canada’s Laugh Lady, is a Registered Clinical Counselor with 37 years counseling experience in a variety of areas, author of the book The Heart of Joshua, and the mother of a child born with serious medical problems. While learning to traverse the bureaucracy of the medical world, she advocated for her child’s health care, and even his life. Tune in as Michael talks with Dawn about the importance of laughter in dealing with grief and much, much more.

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Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

This month "Heart to Heart with Michael" features Dawn Fuller. She is best known as Canada’s Laugh Lady, is a Registered Clinical Counselor with 37 years counseling experience in a variety of areas, author of the book The Heart of Joshua, and the mother of a child born with serious medical problems. While learning to traverse the bureaucracy of the medical world, she advocated for her child’s health care, and even his life. Tune in as Michael talks with Dawn about the importance of laughter in dealing with grief and much, much more.

Support the Show.

Links to “Bereaved But Still Me” Social Media and Podcast Pages:

Apple Podcasts:


Become a Patron:

spk_1:   0:03
Welcome to heart are with Michael Future in your host Michael. Even our program is designed to empower the bereaved community with information and stories from those who have suffered the most terrible loss. Michael, himself a bereaved father, will be meeting with people from around the world to share and to draw hope from their experiences. And now here is Michael even

spk_0:   0:28
welcome to the 10th episode of the first season of Heart to Heart with Michael, a program for the bereaved community. Our purpose is to empower members of our community with resource is support and advocacy information. Today's show is laughing through the tears, and here with us to talk about it is our guest. Don Fuller Don, best known as Canada's Laugh Lady, is a registered clinical counsellor with 37 years counseling experience in a variety of areas. She's also the author of the book The Heart of Joshua and the Mother of a Child born with serious medical problems while learning to traverse the bureaucracy of the medical world she advocated for her child's health care and even his life. She has done the same for other parents of chronically ill Children through her Laugh therapy seminars. Her book about these experiences, The Heart of Joshua, was published in 1987 by the University of Toronto Press. As a stand up comic, she has appeared at Yuck! Yucks Comedy Club and Laugh Lines for the past 20 years. Dawns, presentation and media appearances on the positive power of humor have influenced the lives of thousands of people. Don welcome to the program. It's a pleasure to have you.

spk_2:   1:29
Thank you for having

spk_0:   1:31
I understand that your son was born with a heart defect. Can you tell us what he has and how you learned of it? And were there other medical issues at the time that affected yourself?

spk_2:   1:39
Joshua was born in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, which is a pretty isolated community in northern British Columbia. And, um, when he was born, something just didn't seem right to me. At the beginning, the delivery was very difficult. Met in of itself didn't mean a thing, but one of things I saw was he was blew in his face, not like a really dark blue, but they kind of if you think of skim milk that have watery blue, and I kept saying to the people at the hospital. I think there's something wrong and they kept saying, We just have gaps. The problem I ran into was that the day after he was delivered, our doctor left on vacation. So I was in the hospital for about nine days because the delivery had been so bad. And when I got home and start taking care of him, some things just didn't seem right because one of things was I never had changes. Diapers, diaper never got wet. He would sleep for hours and hours of how waking up and the talk doctor that was taking my our doctors place, the same gone. You're being overly anxious. Father, quit worrying about him. This is normal for mothers to be nervous when they have their first child, But he continued to lose weight, and I took him to several different doctors. They all told me I was just being overly worried, Mother, When our GP got back about two weeks later, I called him up and said, I think you need to see Joshua today like there's something wrong. Our doctor saw him and said, You're right. There is something wrong with heart and Prince Rupert did not have a pediatrician full time there, but luckily one had flown in to do a few days of service there, and my doctor referred him to this pediatrician. The PDS pediatrician immediately said, He's got get down to Vancouver. We have to do surgery on him or he's not gonna live. So we flew from Prince Rupert down to Vancouver, and at the age of several weeks, he underwent his first heart surgery, and that was for court, station of the aorta. He also was diagnosed with, um eventual ventricular septal defect in atrial septal defect, a distorted, a terrific sells and a buy custard seven Try custard, mitral valve. The first when you you wouldn't. When that happened, our world was turned upside down. I have had three miscarriages prior to Josh being born, and people say things like, Well, there was a reason you miscarry because there's something wrong with the baby. So when Josh was born, of course, there could be nothing wrong with him because he was born him.

spk_0:   4:27
Were you exactly in that same place, by the way three. OK, ok,

spk_2:   4:31
yeah. So you know exactly what I'm talking about them and and you know we have this happen. And not only were we flying down to Vancouver way have new absolutely nobody in Vancouver and my husband and I are both from the United States. So we did not have a support system in place as far as family was concerned. Help us navigate this in any way whatsoever. Um, I remember that my first reaction. My husband, I you're not drinkers at all, but we got home from our pediatrician's appointment to pack up and go. And I remember because it was so out of character for me, sitting down and drinking two glasses of vodka and tonic like very quickly. And that's not me. I know I normally don't react to stress that way. One of the things I know in my heart is that moms know parents. Well, mom's for sure. And the the thousands of people I've talked to over the years, the mother always knew there was something wrong, and I mean, one of things. That was really what I found really kind of horrifying was when we got down to Vancouver and people were listening to Joshua Heart because he was in congestive heart failure and what they were saying was, Are you telling me a medical professional? Listen his heart. They couldn't tell there was something wrong, And so they trained me how to listen to the heart, and I mean I can. I'm not a medical person. I could tell just by listening to a stethoscope. It didn't sound right, so there were. There were about three or four doctors and saw him in Prince Rupert in the time I was trying to get help for him, and none of them picked up on that. And that's what's really scary.

spk_0:   6:17
It's scary because thes air, this is a pretty rare condition. Have all these things going on at once? I mean, yes, the and obviously those are the noisemakers, those the things you would hear. On the other hand, having one of them is fairly is not, is not uncommon. It's not always, you know, life threatening. And so maybe they heard it said, Yeah, well, that's common. Or maybe they heard it and didn't bother them. Or maybe maybe they just weren't that good. You really can't know and and you're right and you're lucky. Moms really do know stuff. I think That's part of the DNA. I think moms know stuff. You were very lucky and very strong to have done that advocated, so well,

spk_2:   6:49

spk_1:   6:50
think I am.

spk_0:   6:53
So what did they eventually have you go through with him very quickly in about a minute. Well,

spk_2:   6:57
well, well, hey. Had the co rotation, and, um, he was doing okay and not great, but he was doing okay. And they said, Well, you can go back up to Prince Rupert and would come back down in three months for another appointment, and I didn't feel comfortable leaving. I didn't think he was okay, but we went back cause we listen to the doctors and we got back up to Prince Rupert. He took a turn for worse. Two days later, we're back in Vancouver

spk_0:   7:26
for the first

spk_2:   7:26
six months of his life. Josh spent in Vancouver General Hospital. He had four surgeries during that time, and they they, you know, a couple of times came out of the operating room to prepare it because they they said they didn't think he was gonna make it, and he rallied. And the thing was, the whole time I was there, I you know, I didn't leave his side. My husband was flying back and forth from Prince Rupert to Vancouver as he could for work, and I just I stayed there. And when Josh was six months old, they sent him home. And in the first 2.5 years of his life, I think the longest he was out of the hospital of six weeks. Hey, hey. Was seen by a, um, health nurse that drop by every single day. He was seen by our GP every week. I mean, we had incredible medical support up in print, trooper. And we were fairly new to the Prince Rupert because we had moved there from Dallas, Texas, and we found out that there was this incredible community of caring people that just would there supporting us through all that. So, you know, one of silver linings out this was we found out that there's some really wonderful people in the world when you're going through adversity.

spk_0:   8:43
No, I don't want to date this program, but Avery is watching these Now. Sees that happening right now in Texas.

spk_4:   8:49
And I'm sorry. We're gonna have to take the heartbreak here, But when we get back, we'll be talking with Don, about the unique approach that she and her husband used to face Joshua's diagnosis and its complications. We will also discuss how she and her spouse brought

spk_0:   9:01
something positive out of their struggle and how they've used that to help others in a distinctive way.

spk_3:   9:07
Hi, I'm John Montas of NBC's Hit a Cappella show, the sing Off and a cappella music. It takes a team to create a sound that many will enjoy. Just like it'll take a team to help my good friend Miles Sweitzer, an H LHs survivor. Let's help Miles fulfill his dream and make a big enough sound to bring awareness to congenital heart disease. Please visit him at Go Fund me dot com backwards slash the miles project Miles with the Why again, that's go fund me dot com The Miles Project. This is for Miles.

spk_1:   9:37
You are listening to heart to heart with Michael. If you have a question or comment that you would like addressed on our program, please send an email to Michael even at Michael at heart to heart with michael dot com Now back toe heart to heart with Michael.

spk_0:   9:52
Welcome back to heart to heart with Michael. Today we're talking with Don Fuller, mother to Joshua and author of Book The Heart of Joshua Don shared with us in the first segment about how she and her husband shock, first learned of Joshua's diagnosis and how they decided what their reactions this information would be. Now we turn our attention to the therapeutic impact of humor and how Don and Chuck used their sense of humor to overcome adversity. Don, why are you the laugh lady of Canada Had that happen?

spk_2:   10:19
One of things. That one we knew with Joshua Waas way brought him home. The doctors told us they didn't think he was gonna live to his first birthday. And if he did, then maybe had a fighting chance to make it. And so Chuck and I had to face parents of any child who seriously will have to How are you going to allow this news to effect you? And one of the things that we really wanted to do was not focus on Oh my God, she's gonna die or he's not gonna live very long. What we wanted to focus on is, however long he lives have to be a quality life. And so we made a really conscious decision to not sweat a lot of stuff that I find other parents. What about We just wanted to make each day as positive as we possibly could, and over time that kind of snowballed into. I could be doing workshops on this, you know, like the whole thing around the mind body connection we know from books like Norman Cousins and Family of Nilda. From a patient's point of view, how much what you're thinking about your life can impact your whole body. And so I started doing some research on it and started doing workshops just kind of locally for different groups. And pretty soon the word started to spread, and all of a sudden I had this this profession where I was doing workshop presentations, two groups all over the world for a variety of different reasons. Ah, lot of them were health based workshops, and people started calling me the last Lady. I never called myself the last lady

spk_0:   12:03
with other people

spk_2:   12:04
calling me the last lady. That kind of got me that that nickname

spk_0:   12:09
what goes on inside one of those workshops

spk_2:   12:13
with the workshops is that what I do is I talk about the psychological and the physical benefits of laughter. And a lot of people think that you have to be happy in orderto lap, when in fact you have to laugh in order to be happy. Because what happens when you start laughing is you start stimulating the brain. And actually, just if you stand up for Mitt Michael and then look up and look up at the ceiling and smile is broadly as you can possibly smile. So when you do that, whether it actually does the capital Aries in the brain is that expands them. It cools off the blood and creates a slightly euphoric feeling regardless of how you may have been feeling a few moments before. So we know that there's very much of mind body connection, and the laughter helps to bring about the serotonin levels and to make people feel happier than they were before that. And sometimes women, you and them, believe me, in the midst of all the horror I was going through, I didn't sit there and think of this is my wonderful opportunity for learning,

spk_1:   13:15

spk_2:   13:16
I didn't sit there and laugh all through things. But even in the hospital, I could find things to laugh about because because that's just if I didn't I believe that we didn't have joy in our lives that

spk_0:   13:32
I have to edit and something there because a lot of people tell me because I also tend to left where it would be considered not a good idea. And people say, How can you laugh? You know what's going on? I said, If I don't laugh, I'll die and I just know that I just don't know.

spk_2:   13:47
Yeah, I agree and and, you know and the intention here isn't to make people feel badly if they if they didn't laugh enough or whatever. But it's, But it's something to think about moving forward is that that you know, my gosh, we know that there's enough misery in the world to begin with, and yet there's some kind of a stigma that if people showed joy, there must be something wrong with them. I think the other ways you really thing is

spk_0:   14:16
that I tell you they're

spk_2:   14:17
miserable all the time, like like what's that you know like that That's not helping you with the life that you would want to live and

spk_1:   14:25

spk_2:   14:25
would want your Children to live. And I want our son to have every resource available to him to fight what he was fighting.

spk_0:   14:32
There were so many times, and I needed to laugh. I needed to let something go, even if it seemed to somebody else inappropriate. There's always something, even if it's just something that's incongruous. There's always something that'll get you going and you will feel better and you will have that experience. And then you find also that it's, um it's contagious.

spk_1:   14:54
Yeah, and

spk_2:   14:55
the thing about laughter is that last it's a relief. So you know, when you cry your release

spk_0:   15:02

spk_2:   15:02
you laugh, when you really you really

spk_0:   15:04

spk_2:   15:05
You know, when you throw up, you release.

spk_0:   15:07

spk_2:   15:07
are more more receptive to you if you're laughing, if you're vomiting on the mic,

spk_0:   15:11
that's probably true. I actually have not tried that, but it's probably true. So what are the benefits that you get from learning about laugh, laughing in the face of adversity, some real benefits, something people can take home with them?

spk_2:   15:29
Well, you know, the thing is that when you laugh what you do is you actually get some of the benefits of jogging without having to go out and buy the outfit,

spk_0:   15:40

spk_2:   15:40
it does. It brings your blood pressure up above normal, and then it drops below normal. Another thing. And this is a really big one. Is that that with a lot of people, um, under stress, they quit breathing properly,

spk_1:   15:56
and a lot of people end

spk_2:   15:57
up in hospital emergency rooms because they're not breathing properly

spk_0:   16:01
and they're

spk_2:   16:02
hyperventilating. What laughter does is it makes you spell airs about 70 miles an hour, and then you inhale as about, you know, full lung capacity. So what you're doing is you're getting your respiratory system gear down so that that anxiety is so revved up that you end up in the hospital emergency room.

spk_0:   16:21
Did you know that generally, is that is that Is that a well known thing? Because it's amazing. Yes.

spk_2:   16:28
Yeah, it's very simple. Well, as a clinical counsellor, I do a lot of work with. People suffer from anxiety,

spk_0:   16:34

spk_2:   16:34
one of the things I'll have them do is do breathing exercises, because what happens when you get like what's called in a regular hijack and the Regulus have reactive part of our brain. And what happens when people are under high stress and anxiety? The Religulous, all it knows is that there's not enough oxygen up here. There's too much carbon dioxide. Something outside of me is wrong, and I need to react. Which hyper ventilator. You start hyperventilating, and it revs up anxiety more and the adrenaline's running through your body and then by anxiety. It's like being on a hamster wheel. You can't get off. And so, by doing laughing or doing the breathing, that's actually going to insulate your lungs, going to get rid of the oxygen. And actually you bring to get rid of the carbon dioxide. That's what's gonna go help people to calm themselves in a way they will help them deal with whatever they're having to deal with.

spk_0:   17:35
I wish that were more widely known because it seems like such a simple idea and way could all we've all been there. We've all been there. I mean, whatever the anxiety is, whether it's economic or physical or health or whatever, laughing is really very important, and joy is really very important. And when you're talking about how you were going to set the future for Josh. I was thinking that when the l was born, my daughter, we said one thing I remember talking to my wife about it, I think the the 3rd 4th day I said, We're just gonna raise There's normally as we can, Um, and we're gonna concentrate on being normal and keeping things as normal as possible and not worry about all those other little things. And then when she had her first cold, I called the doctor in a panic. He said, All babies get colds, Relax. And from that moment on, that's just what we went. And

spk_4:   18:18
we always found something to be happy about it. We sent something to keep with us that was gonna just pull us over to the next to the next moment. In our final segment,

spk_0:   18:26
I would love to hear more about another method of coping that you've been trained in and the results that you've seen

spk_5:   18:37
forever by the Baby Blue Sound collective. I think what I love so much about this CD is that some of the songs were inspired by the patients. Many listeners will understand many of the different songs and what they've been inspired. Our new album will be available on iTunes. Amazon dot com. Spotify I love effect that the proceeds from this CD are actually going to help those with congenital heart defects. Music Home

spk_1:   19:06
Tonight Forever

spk_4:   19:10
Heart to Heart With Michael is a presentation of hearts, Unite Theglobe and is part of the hug Podcast Network Hearts Unite Theglobe is a non profit organization devoted to providing resource is to the congenital heart defect community to uplift, empower and enrich the lives of our community members. If you would like access to free resource, is pretending to the CHT community please visit our website at www congenital heart defects dot com for information about CHD, the hospitals that treat Children with CHD summer camps for CHD survivors and much, much more.

spk_1:   19:50
You are listening to heart to heart with Michael. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on Michael's program, please email him at Michael at heart to heart with michael dot com. Now back to our program

spk_4:   20:06
Welcome Back to Heart to Heart with Michael and Program for

spk_0:   20:09
the Briefed. We've been talking with therapists and comedian Don Fuller, Don and her husband, Chuck, have approached what was devastating news with strength, humility and above all, I think humor. We're going to focus next on the therapy techniques that Don has become trained in to help others survive trauma. So why don't you give us a brief overlook of some of the things that we can do? The

spk_2:   20:28
number? One thing I would say with Greece is, don't anybody else have anybody else tell you what the timetable is for Greece? Because one of things

spk_1:   20:37

spk_2:   20:37
know from many years of work and my own personal experiences is there is no time frame for grief. And a lot of times people think there should be, Um, you know, having a child that seriously ill changes, changes everything in your life, and losing a child changes that much more. And what's really important for people to understand is that telling their story to other people is one of the most therapeutic things taken. Dio, if they confined an organization or group that they could go and talk to seeing a counselor is really helpful, and there's lots of different counseling modalities that you can use for grief. Two of the ones that I use around trauma and grief. Our cognitive behavioral therapy and E MDR and cognitive behavioral therapy, summed up in two sentences, is What do you say when you talk to yourself? What do you think ing in other words, and and you don't have to believe everything you think. And

spk_1:   21:41

spk_2:   21:41
a really hard one toe learn, because people think if they think something, it makes it true automatically, which is not is not necessarily true. So it's challenging some of those beliefs because one of the things you run I ran into a lot with parents who have lost Children is there's the weather thing. What if I had done this? What if I don't that guilt that

spk_0:   22:02
never have, No

spk_2:   22:04
matter how much you've advocated for that child, No matter how much you have done for that child and you lose the child, your guilt is a companion that stays with you. And guilt isn't helpful because I remember in the hospital one day I was saying tennis. Well, I did this when I was pregnant. I did this. You think that will cause Josh's heart problems and she took me by the shoulders and she said Dawn. Don't do this to yourself. It's helpful to It's not helpful to your son. And that was really a powerful statement because I realized I was using so much energy feeling guilty. I wasn't using energy, help my son in any way I needed to help him. So that's that's one piece of it. And then another thing I do is something called DMG yards, eye movement, desensitization, reprocesses. And this is been found to be really helpful for people who have gone through trauma. And the best way for me to describe the process is that when you start thinking about trauma that you've been through, regardless of what their trauma might be, the way that people normally react to it, at least in the beginning, is too. It's like they're still in the trauma. It's kind of like when soldiers come back from war and they used to call it shell shock because I kept finding to the world. It's the whole thing about post traumatic stress syndrome

spk_0:   23:28

spk_2:   23:29
Recognize today what what Cmdr does is it helps people almost refile that trauma because it helps them go from being reactive to the Thomas. So being in the middle of the trauma. And so if you think about being in a movie theater, you're in the movie prior to having a MDR. And so you're reacting like the actors would react to the movie. Afterwards, you're in the audience watching it, so it's not like you forget what happened. But you don't have that debilitating trauma response that you had prior to having

spk_0:   24:10
mdbo. It removes you, pulls you outside of the trauma toe. Look at it

spk_2:   24:16
right. It's exactly what

spk_0:   24:20
I wish. I had known that

spk_2:   24:22
Yeah, it's a MDR is a fairly new therapy. It was started by a woman named Francine Shapiro in California. Problem, I think maybe about 20 years ago. So it's any on the whole therapy spectrum. Insulin, the newer ones. But it's really helps people a lot with trauma.

spk_0:   24:40
Is that something you can do in your own? Is that something you need a guide for that?

spk_2:   24:44
Oh, you have to account

spk_1:   24:46
because, I

spk_2:   24:46
mean, I have a lot of training.

spk_0:   24:48
So how else can we deliver therapy? How does it get there? Do they have to be face to face

spk_2:   24:52
for some people doing it in a face to face having his best. But there's also people lived in nicely is areas where they may not be able to access counseling as easily, which is why it's really exciting that that there's other venues available, like the telephone or doing it through a computer that wasn't available 30 years ago. You know, I'm, you know, obviously a big believer in journaling. And it's what the hard Joshua came from with me journaling what was going on in my life with Josh. Um, you know, I think one of the biggest tributes who can pay to a child that has passed on is that you live life to its fullest because that's honoring that child's life. And, um, finding ways that you can do that

spk_1:   25:41

spk_2:   25:42
really important for different people. It's gonna be different things, you know, For some people, it may be traveling. When

spk_1:   25:49
the heart

spk_2:   25:49
of Joshua came out, I was getting phone calls from people all over Canada and the United States talking, lying to talk to me because they felt like I was the only person in their lives, and I wasn't even really a person there live who understood what they were going through which in a way was was nice that they felt they could call me and talk to me, but made me really sad that they didn't think they could talk to their doctors. They didn't think they could talk to other family members or whatever. And this happened a lot over the first few years after the book came out.

spk_0:   26:24
Well, at the risk of making you sad, how can people reach out to you who really want to?

spk_2:   26:28
They can go to the website Yale therapy group dot com. That's why a l e t h e r a p y g r o u p dot com and click on the link to me. Um, and if they want to do some counseling, that way we can talk about how we can set that up.

spk_0:   26:54
We talked a little bit about guilt, and we talked about laughter, and a lot of times people feel guilty if they feel happy at any time after somebody dies and it could be years later. I've seen this. And remember, I specifically know this because recently, on one of the support groups that I'm a part of on Facebook, somebody ask the question. Do you feel guilty and immediately? People said, Yeah, I feel guilty and everyone be happy again And and I totally disagreed with that there and in other places. I think that my daughter was probably the happiest person that every new and I think my father told the worst one liners. But whenever I start doing the same puns and bad jokes that my father did, whenever I start thinking of how my daughter would be singing and dancing most of her life, I feel them very close to me. And I like that.

spk_2:   27:35
And that's a really interesting phenomenon that happens for people is I can't laugh because of I laugh. I'm gonna be disrespecting that person's life. They're not here to laugh with me, but, no, you're actually honoring it. In my opinion, you're honoring the fact that you're going forward and you have never forgotten that person. That person will always be very close to you, and you're gonna go to the G, you know, especially around birthdays, stuff, you know, like

spk_0:   27:59
this person

spk_2:   28:00
would be so in so age right now. You know, I'm not Polly, and I don't think that you could be happy all the time. I

spk_0:   28:07
but it's not wrong.

spk_2:   28:08
It it's that is raw, and you have to be happy toe under that person. We sat on the days he wanted be said, but But don't get stuck in that sadness, because if you get stuck in that sadness, you're not present for anybody else, and you're certainly not even present for yourself.

spk_0:   28:31
We've pretty much reached the end zone, but I want to give you the last thing on this in 10 seconds. House Josh. And how old is it?

spk_2:   28:37
Joshua is great. He's 38 years old. He is married to a wonderful in there about the other 14th anniversary. They have two Children, a 10 year old daughter and a three year old son, and, um, people that don't know that we're related. I could be of events that he his name comes up in. People will say, Do you know Josh Fuller because he's kind of well known in this town?

spk_0:   29:01

spk_2:   29:02
isn't he the most positive person you've ever met in your entire life

spk_0:   29:05
and graduations? You want you want right there you want? And that also concludes this episode of Heart Dart with Michael I can't stop giggling again. I want to thank Don for sharing with us her hope in her story, and I hope that she's brought some of

spk_4:   29:19
that hope to the people who are listening to us here. Please join me on the heart to heart with Michael Team in Pal talk every week following our program, I'll talk with you soon and remember, Until then, it's OK to laugh.

spk_1:   29:33
Thank you again for joining us. We hope you have gained strength from listening to our program. Heart to Heart with Michael can be heard every Thursday at noon Eastern time. We'll talk again next time when we'll share more stories. If you would like to continue today's discussion, please join us right after the program in the hug podcast chat room on power talk.