Saturday, September 29, 2007

Pitter patter...

After losing Pickle, we knew our family would never be the same. His place in our hearts will remain his forever and ever.

Still, we knew there would be room in our hearts and homes for another dog someday. Today is that day.

Please say hello to Nacho Pickle Cox, the newest member of our little family.

We met Nacho yesterday while we were walking Oscar around a lake in Oxford, just outside our hometown of Anniston. He is a 10-week-old, red dachshund, with one brown eye and one blue eye. His owners, a nice, young couple, do not have room in their small apartment for another dog (they own Nacho's mom and dad). They wanted a good home for the pup, and we are fortunate enough to be able to give it to him.

His big brother, Oscar, has already taken to him. The pair was inseparable from the moment Nacho arrived. They played outside for 15 minutes, and both are now napping!

I believe in serendipity. I'm not sure Jeremy and I were quite ready to open our hearts to another dog yet. We had planned to wait until Christmas before getting another dog.

But I believe in the mysterious ways of fate, and when fate plunks something obvious in your lap, you have to take the chance. Maybe we are not quite ready, but Oscar most certainly was. He needs companionship, and Nacho has helped fill that hole for him.

As I said, nothing and no one will ever take Pickle's place. We just want to share the love we gave him when he was with us as best we can. Hopefully, we'll be the best parents to Nacho and Oscar that we can possibly be.

Keeping you on the edge of your seat...

Hopefully, I'll have a big announcement tomorrow... If my husband doesn't beat me to the punch, as always!

And NO, I'm not pregnant! Crazy people...

She ain't heavy, she's my T-Rex...

Jeremy and I visited the Anniston Natural History Museum today, which now includes the famous exhibit, "A T-Rex Named Sue." It was a small town museum, but still an enjoyable experience.

For a short time, I actually entertained the idea of becoming an archeologist, which is why exhibits such as these interest me. After one archeology course, and one evening the lab cleaning rocks, that dream was quickly dismissed. Still, the findings of others intrigue me.

I was a little disappointed to discover the bones of the most completed T-Rex on exhibit today (90% complete skeleton) were not the real bones. Although, I suppose it would be unreasonable to expect the Chicago museum that owns the real bones to send out their $8.6 million prized possession on tour!

Even though they weren't the real thing, it was still neat to see that 42-foot long, 13-foot tall monster up close and personal. I would recommend the experience to anyone in the area.

The rest of the museum was semi-interesting. A small Egyptian exhibit featured two mummies, and a few artifacts.

But the main attractions were the stuffed animals. Birds, bears, snakes, bugs. They were everywhere. Taxidermy is of little interest to me, so I moved on.

Despite the modest collection, I enjoyed myself. It was nice to spend a day outside of the wild world of journalism.

Oh, did I mention the visit was partially for a journalism school assignment? Oh well...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

So far, so good...

Yesterday, Jeremy and I celebrated 6 months of marriage.


I feel like I have learned a lot during the past 6 months. But the key lesson I have learned is that there is still so much to learn.

Jeremy and I had been together a little more than 3 years when we got married on March 24. We had been living together for almost 2 years. We knew each other so well, probably better than we knew ourselves.

How could marriage possibly change anything?

Our lives, on the surface, remained the same. Same home, same jobs, same amount of time together. Yet, there was a unique change, imperceptible to anyone but us.

We knew each other so well prior to being married. But we didn't know ourselves in these new identities of husband and wife.

Who is Jennifer Cox? I didn't meet her until March 24, and I'm still working to figure it out.

As spouses, we are forced to think of each other. Every decision I make isn't just about me anymore; I have a family to think of. My actions, my thoughts will forevermore affect someone else, and his actions will always affect me.

I would be lying if I said everything has been easy. We're still adjusting to this purely unselfish lifestyle. But I think we're finding a nice balance.

Marriage, for us, has been fantastic. It has been a journey filled with love and mutual respect. And, it has been a very welcome challenge. That's what keeps life interesting.

I can't wait to see what the next 6 months, and 60 years, have in store for us. As we grow in age, we must strive to grow in understanding, and to evolve together. We must remember the overwhelming love we shared on our wedding day, and every day since.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Turn, Turn, Turn...

I've spent an unfortunate amount of time talking about loss lately. But it seems whenever one light burns out, another brightens the dark.

With that in mind, I can think of no better time to reveal two thrilling pieces of news: Val and Alex are both pregnant!

Most of you know Val: my aunt/sister. We grew up together, and are only 5 years apart. She and her husband, Mark, were married in June, and live near Orlando. They couldn't be more thrilled, and I couldn't be more excited at the prospect of being an aunt in May!

Me receiving the news while walking at Mount Cheaha!

Val is an incredible third grade teacher. The way she connects with her students while maintaining her role as an authority figure is excellent.

Since we were kids, she has always looked out for me, and, whether I liked it or not, she has taken charge. She's watched over my younger cousins since they were born, and helped them all with anything they have ever needed.

Obviously, there is no doubt in my mind that she'll be a fantastic mother.

My somewhat adopted sister, Alex, and her husband, Adam, are expecting their second child in January. They've been so great with Tyler (Tyler Monster to me!), and I know they'll be just as wonderful with their second little boy!

Tyler Monster!

Mom, Alex & Me!

Please join me in congratulating them both! I'll make sure to post their progress, starting now:

What Val's baby looks like -- 7 weeks old!
(Not the actual baby!)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Echoing eternity...

I attended Greg's memorial service today, and it finally hit me like a ton of bricks: he's really gone.

Since I began following Greg's story, a lot of people have asked me how I've managed to stay with it without falling apart. The truth is, I never really accepted in my heart the words I was writing on paper. I may have written in detail about his declining health, but I never believed he wouldn't rebound. Miracles always seem to happen.

But being surrounded by his family today, for the first time without him, I realized what I had never accepted to be true. Here we are, and here he is not.

Thankfully, Greg never veiled the truth. He lived every day knowing what was in store, and he treasured every day because of it. Although he hoped, he never kidded himself into believing his time on Earth was unlimited.

I thanked Greg today for teaching me so much. He showed me that complaining doesn't make things better, but my attitude does. He helped me to be more passionate about what I do, which couldn't have come at a more crucial time in my career. He made me a better writer, and a better person, because he wouldn't let me shut him out of my heart.

Here is the last installment from my Naples Daily News series on Greg. I only hope it does him justice.

By Jennifer Brannock

Perched with a smile at the foot of winding white stairs that appeared to extend from the stage at Gulf Coast High School into the sky, Gregory Lang, immortalized in black and white, said goodbye Saturday morning.
A slide show of images, some sentimental, but most goofy, revealed the 18-year-old’s life story. Frozen moments of Greg and his girlfriend, Brianna Hanson, his family, his days as a golfer, drummer, graduate and public speaker paraded across an oversized screen, accompanied by a collection of rock music, from Dire Straights to U2.
Greg’s prized golf clubs, personalized and sent to him by professional golfer Greg Norman, stood poised beside a podium in the auditorium of his alma mater. His prosthetic leg, decorated with the Gulf Coast mascot, the shark, stole the gazes of guests at the door.
Most had never seen him without it. Or it without him.
Greg’s contagious smile shone from an overwhelming mélange of photographs that captured a life too short, but far from unfulfilled.
Saturday’s memorial service was a time for celebration and remembrance. It was a time to carry out Gregory’s final request.

As she approached the podium, Ann Lang placed her son’s favorite teddy bear on top of his golf bag for all to see.
Greg, she said, had been speaking to her from Heaven all day. Ann addressed the crowd confidently without a speech, because, she said, Greg would tell her when to stop talking.
“The last time I spoke publicly, Gregory was standing next to me,” Ann said, composed and peaceful. “Guess what, Gregory is still standing next to me.
“He always will be next to me.”
She wanted to remind the crowd of over 100 friends and family members why they were there.
Greg didn’t want his loved ones focused on the cancer that cost him his life Monday. His message of positive thinking and hope, and his perpetual playfulness, even in his final days, are to be Greg’s legacy.
“Gregory hated negativity,” Ann told gatherers. “Now, he’s watching you all from Heaven, so go out and do good things, and be positive.
“Do what’s right. And, if you’re not sure what’s right, talk to Gregory.”
On the front row, Greg’s immediate family – his sister, Kaitlyn, adopted father, Tim, and stepbrothers Tim and Peter – embraced Ann as she returned to her seat.
She had done her job. Now, her son can be at peace.


A few weeks ago, Greg and his 17-year-old girlfriend made each other important promises. Greg promised to stay alive until their 11-month anniversary on Sept. 8. Brianna promised to be by his side.
Although he was silent, in an irreversible coma, Brianna felt his presence. He kept his promise, so she kept hers.
Greg and Brianna said their private goodbyes that day. She took with her his favorite clothing item, a faded gray T-shirt from Key West.
“It still smells like him,” she said, smiling.
As she received hugs at the front door of the auditorium, Brianna found herself staring at her boyfriend’s portrait over well-wishers’ shoulders. She allowed herself to cry.
“That smile…” she whispered, trailing off. “Always that smile.”
Robbed of her love at the start of her senior year at Gulf Coast, it would be easy for the teen to slip into a state of depression and mourning.
But Gregory begged her not to, and, if she can, she will listen.
Friday, she braved her first day back at school since Greg’s passing. She cried, and she ached. But she pressed on, just as he had hoped she would.


To call attendees of Saturday’s memorial “mourners” would have been an insult to Greg. Though there were plenty of tears, Greg’s friends and family made sure there were lots of laughs, too.
Lutheran Pastor Bill Miller spoke of his 10-year history with Greg as a journey of joy. He gleefully recalled a time when Greg, as a young boy, removed his prosthetic leg and raced around the carpet, bragging to the pastor that he was the fastest crawler in the world.
Greg’s attitude, Miller said, never changed. He didn’t complain when he lost his leg as a result of foot cancer at the age of 3. He embraced it, and became the champion of carpet racing in his own home.
“I’m sure he’s hitting a few hole-in-ones right now. I’m sure he’s hitting some double-bogeys, too,” Miller said, chuckling. “He is rejoicing.”
Throughout the service, rock-and-roll favorites of Greg’s, such as “Beautiful Day,” by U2, and “Spirit in the Sky,” by Norman Greenbaum, blared over the auditorium speakers, reminding guests of Greg’s silly and spontaneous style.
“This is the way Gregory wanted it, and I honor my son,” Ann told guests.
Greg’s drum teacher and friend, Drew Conner, treated gatherers to a unique tribute. Conner, who said he spent time in Africa furthering his spirituality, played a rambunctious tune on the bongos, and encouraged the crowd to clap and sing along.
“We love you, Gregory!” he yelled in tandem with his drumming.
“Let’s send Greg a spiritual telephone call,” he urged guests.
Two specially selected songs marked the conclusion of the service. “Now We Are Free,” by Enya, was chosen in honor of Greg’s favorite movie, Gladiator.
In his final months, Greg often quoted a prophetic line from the movie: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”
At the 2001 funeral service for Greg’s father, Gregory Weber Sr., who also died of cancer, Ann, Greg and Kaitlyn attempted to play U2’s “Beautiful Day.” In what Ann calls a stroke of serendipity, the CD accidentally skipped to the song “Walk On.”
“And if the darkness is to keep us apart, and if the daylight feels like it's a long way off, and if your glass heart should crack, and for a second you turn back, oh no, be strong. Oh, oh, walk on, walk on.”
Those lyrics still hang on the wall in Greg’s bedroom. Ann could think of no better way to end the day than with the inspirational song.
“Every one of you made Gregory feel at home here in Naples,” Ann said, smiling. “I want to thank you all for that gift to my son.”


For information on the Gregory Weber Lang Foundation, promoting cancer research and awarding scholarships to students triumphing over adversity, contact Colonial Bank, (239) 352-3075.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bravery and triumph...

Many of you readers know I have been following the story of a Naples 18-year-old who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February. Over the past several months, I have been so blessed to not only get to know Gregory Lang and his family, but to feel a part of it.

This family has experienced more pain than can possibly be imagined. Yet, they press on, and encourage others to do the same. Greg and his family have inspired me so much, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

I first heard Greg's story in March. I approached it with the same level of detachment most reporters need to get through the day. Here was a kid, in the midst of a blossoming romance, and with limitless potential, and he was sentenced to die. Getting involved with such a sad story was not an option, in my head.

Then, I heard the story. And I met the Langs.

My life will never be the same.

Greg and his 16-year-old sister, Kaitlyn, suffer from a rare genetic mutation, known as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a hereditary condition which typically results in the patient having recurring and severe bouts with cancer. It is the same condition that robbed them of their father, Greg Weber Sr., a few years ago.

Greg lost his foot to muscle cancer at age 3. Kaitlyn beat leukemia at age 8. Greg was diagnosed with cancer again in 2005, and again in 2006.

Hearing this story, and meeting Greg, Kaitlyn and their mother, Ann, who has now lost a husband and a child, I knew I couldn't let it go.

There's wasn't a story filled with self-pity and depression. It was one of hope and fierce love. It was one I needed to hear, and to tell.

The Langs opened their homes and their hearts to me, because they wanted me to tell Greg's story of bravery. Even though I knew how the story would end, I couldn't refuse, and I found myself falling deeper in love with their family every day.

Greg died this morning, but he will always be with me. Every time I think my situation is hopeless, I'll think of his eternal optimism and strength. Every time I meet someone who wants to make this world a better place, I'll remember how Greg made me want to write those stories, and the way it makes me feel to tell them.

Every time I think love is gone from the world, I'll think of the Langs, and of Greg and his girlfriend, Brianna, and how true love transcends time, fear, and evil.

And, because I let down my guard and became a part of their lives, I'll probably go ahead and give them a call, thanking them for that gift.

The Lang family charged me to tell the world how great Gregory was, and how he, as one person, felt he could change the world. In accepting that responsibility, I got so much more than I could have imagined.

In Gregory, I found a friend, an inspiration, and hope. The world he changed wound up being mine.

Be at peace, Gregory. You were too good for this world.

Below is the story I wrote about Greg's passing today. To see a fantastic slide show of him by Wasim Ahmad, or for a list of all of my Greg stories, click here.

Long brave fight ends: Greg Lang dies of cancer

Originally published — 10:11 a.m., September 10, 2007
Updated — 4:50 p.m., September 10, 2007

Editor’s note: Gulf Coast High School graduate Gregory Lang has battled cancer since he was 3 years old. In February, doctors said Greg had about six months to live. Greg, his sister, Kaitlyn, and their late father, Gregory Weber Sr., suffer from a rare genetic condition, Li- Fraumeni syndrome, causing recurring cancer. Greg’s battle with cancer ended when he died this morning. The Naples Daily News is following his continuing story.

Ann Lang told her son not to struggle when the time came to let go. She told him not to worry.

She promised him everything would be fine, and said not to be afraid.

“I told him not to fight the feeling if it came over him, but simply to just grab his wings and go because we all would be OK,” Ann wrote last month on the family’s blog,

“ He smiled and said, ‘OK, Mom.’”

Gregory Lang took his mother’s advice Monday morning.

He died painlessly in his family’s Naples home, surrounded by loved ones, his aunt, Nicole Halabi, said. He was 18 years old.

Greg was never scared of the cancer that permeated his frail body. In spite of his emotional and physical pain, he never let the disease poison his positive outlook.

He may have lost his life, but Gregory Lang triumphed over cancer.

“Goodness will always triumph over evil,” Ann said in July. “As long as he stays positive, the cancer cannot win, even if it takes him from us.”

Greg became a community celebrity following his terminal diagnosis in February.

Fellow Gulf Coast High School students rallied around him, hosting a fashion show in April to raise money for his scholarship/cancer research foundation, The Gregory Weber Lang Foundation.

At his high school graduation in May, classmates erupted in applause and rose uniformly in ovation as Collier County School Board Chairman Steve Donovan awarded Greg his diploma.

Most recently, community members raised more than $5,000 for the foundation at a karaoke fundraiser at Porky’s Last Stand on Marco Island. Despite his weakening condition, Greg attended the event with his family and girlfriend, 17-year-old Brianna Hanson.

Early last month, doctors informed the Lang family the cancer had spread from his bones into his lungs, and the end was drawing near. But the pain never crippled Greg’s sense of humor, his charm or his drive to promote positive thinking in the face of adversity.

“Gregory can’t change his nature, even when his body is failing and ready to die,” Ann wrote on the family’s blog on Aug. 28. “He just can’t do it.”

Hospice of Naples workers began pumping painkillers into Greg’s body intravenously two weeks ago. Saturday, he slipped into an irreversible coma.

Thankfully, Ann wrote Sunday, her son had heard all she had to say.

“We have all said what we have needed to say and, as I have said before, it’s now between Gregory and his God.”

Greg is survived by his mother, adopted father Tim Lang, sister Kaitlyn, brothers Peter and Tim, and his girlfriend, Brianna.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Gulf Coast High School auditorium. The public is invited to attend.

For information on the Gregory Weber Lang Foundation, promoting cancer research and awarding scholarships to students triumphing over adversity, contact Colonial Bank, (239) 352-3075.

Jennifer Brannock can be reached at

© 2007 Naples Daily News and NDN Productions. Published in Naples, Florida, USA by the E.W. Scripps Co.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Because I can't...

Please take a look at my mom's blog for a tribute to my Picadilly. This would have been his fifth birthday.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Go APPS... Fight APPS...

Appalachian State University is officially in the history books. Not that us true fans had any doubt! Commentators are calling Appalachian's 34-32 victory over the University of Michigan the biggest upset since Knute Rockney's Fighting Irish in 1929! Oh yes, it is great to be a Mountaineer!

Here's what others are saying about the game: on sophomore quarterback Amanti Edwards:

"He opened his sophomore season by orchestrating perhaps the biggest upset in modern college football history. Playing in front of more than 109,000 fans at the Big House, Edwards completed 17 of 23 passes for 227 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran 17 times for 62 yards and one score."

My former editor Dave Osborn:

"The Appalachian win has huge ramifications for college football for years to come. I often said that Michigan won games before they entered the stadium, meaning, many teams lost to the Michigan mystique and therefore felt they couldn't beat them. Now all of that is blown out of the water. When teams line up against Michigan, they'll know that they're not unbeatable."

More from on App's saucy students:

"Shortly after Appalachian State pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in modern college football history by winning at Michigan on Saturday, the goalpost came crashing down.

More than 600 miles away. In Appalachian State's own stadium.

A few minutes after the Mountaineers stunned No. 5 Michigan 34-32 in the Big House, a group of Appalachian State students climbed a fence and tore down a goalpost in their own house. They carried the goalpost more than a mile from Kidd Brewer Stadium to the front yard of Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock's home.

"It's all right," Peacock said, after celebrating with hundreds of Mountaineers fans in the parking lot outside the school's football stadium late Saturday night. "As good as today was for Appalachian State, they can take it up there and put it down. I can't wait to get there and see it."

Razing the goalposts was the just the beginning of a raucous celebration in this small college town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina.

A campus tradition is to jump in the duck pond behind the dining hall after the football team's big victories. Well, beating the mighty Wolverines in front of more than 110,000 fans certainly called for a quick swim.

In the nude, which is what more than a few students did."