Silver-Linings, Silver Ears

Aldie on the mantle

I really do try to see the positive in situations…but, I’m human…and, sometimes, I need a little help to see what’s right in front of me.

For instance, this past Wednesday, I was at my parents’ house (where the majority of my belongings still are). There was a pedestal mirror atop my long-neglected bureau.

In the house I share with my fiancé, the only mirrors that we have are in the bathroom. So, if someone is in the bathroom, you’re out of luck. You can try catching your reflection in the television screen, but best wishes to you. Brushing your hair into place isn’t going to happen until the bathroom is vacated.

You learn to live with minor inconveniences such as this.

Seeing my old pedestal mirror, though, I decided to take it home with me. I’d put it in our bedroom or my office—someplace where I could try to tame my wild curls whenever the bathroom was otherwise occupied. I began dusting it. As I did so, however, the mirror snapped off of the pedestal. It landed on the cement floor and cracked like a hard-boiled egg.

“Great,” I thought, recalling the superstition that breaking a mirror comes with a sentence of 7 years of bad luck.

As a life-long pessimist, I instantly started reciting all of the major and minor health problems that, due to my medical history, I could probably develop in the next 7 years. It was a depressing and anxiety-filled list. Seeking some solace, I told my fiancé about the mirror. His response was perfect:

“I guess that means you’ll be alive for the next seven years,” he said. “You have to find the silver-lining in these things.”

I had to think about what he had said for a minute or two, before the meaning of it sunk in. You do have to be alive to have bad luck—or any luck at all, really.

“I want more than 7 years,” I countered.

“Of course,” he replied, “I want you to have more than that, too.”

Point of Clarification: no doctor has told me that I have an expiration date, coming due in seven years. This is just our morbid sense of humor and how we decided to interpret a broken mirror and the superstition of 7 years of bad luck. Now, I know a broken mirror can’t guarantee health or life, but I’m going to pretend that it can. That kind of assurance, even if only a work of the imagination, is truly a silver-lining.

While searching for silver-linings, I have also rediscovered a pair of lovable, silver ears.

silver ears

During my last check-up in Boston, I asked if our cat could live with us again. I was afraid to ask since my immune system hasn’t finished developing yet. The answer, though, was, ‘yes’!

After a year of being cared for by my parents (thank you, Mom & Dad!), and losing his big brother Wallace, Alderaan (Aldie) has finally moved in with us. My brother delivered him to our front door on Wednesday night. He set Aldie in his new litter box while I prepped his dinner.

The next day, October 11th, Alderaan had his fourth birthday. He celebrated with a long nap underneath our bed. He’s a small guy, weighing in at only 11.5-pounds. Aldie is special, though. I believe he knew I had cancer long before any of my doctors even considered it a possibility.

Why do I think this? Before I was diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, if I was sleeping on my stomach, the little guy would curl up on my back—in the exact spot that my tumor would later be found. He was a heating pad, trying to ease the pain radiating from my lumbar spine.

Alderaan took care of me this past Thursday night, too. When I was too restless to sleep, thrashing around and trapped in some dream, our little feline decided to settle down on my feet. Aldie, although quite small, has the power to turn into a cinder block. He somehow becomes incredibly heavy. Utilizing this hidden superpower, he prevented me from continuing to move. I still couldn’t sleep, but it’s the thought that counts.

I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful it is to have my silver ears back.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for continuing to send prayers, love, and light my way. It means the world to me.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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This is What They Call a Birthday

first birthday cake

In the world of Bone Marrow Transplants, the anniversary of your transplant is considered to be your “New Birthday”. I just turned “One”.

I think I’m supposed to feel elated.

Or proud.

The truth is, all I feel and see are confused flashes of that hospital room.

I can’t remember much of my time as an inpatient. Preparation for a transplant is both physically and mentally demanding. The chemotherapy that I was given in Boston—just days before the actual transplant—was harsher than all of the chemotherapy that I received during cancer treatment. The Total Body Irradiation completely drained me.

I was also higher than a kite on pain meds, dreaming about being trapped in a basement…and something about cave trolls. What I do seem to remember are the challenging moments. My mind has a penchant for that. Don’t ask me to remember happy milestones or joy. I’m not wired to recall pleasant memories, although I wish that I was.

Breathing would be a lot easier if I could focus on positive details such as the pigeon that sat, every day, on my windowsill—as if it were watching over me. Was it an angel? Or just another city bird? I remember naming it, “Bird Butt”, because it always had its tail feathers pressed against my window. I couldn’t take a decent picture of it with my cellphone…so…if it was an angel, I can’t imagine that it was too impressed by me or my “creative” naming abilities.

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So much has happened in the year between naming “Bird Butt” and the present day.

The field I admire—the one across the road—has been turned into square bales. I watched a farmer mow the field and bail it. I began to appreciate him as much as I did the field. He walked with a cane and, yet, somehow was able to climb up and down from the tractor’s seat. As someone that once relied on a cane to walk, I know that this was no easy task. This man was determined. A hard-worker. Someone to respect, to emulate.

Do I miss my former view? Yes.

The field, though, has not stopped giving me beautiful moments to ponder. Do I love what it has given me now, even more? The answer: a resounding yes!

Whenever the shadows are long, there is a rather large cat that prowls across the field. It has probably been doing this for longer than we’ve lived here—the tall grass kept it hidden from sight. Now, however, the feline is visible. I can’t tell if s/he wears dark stripes like my Wallace did, or if its coat is entirely sable in color. Either way, its presence gives me joy. Hope. Dare I say, happiness?

cat in the field 2.0

So, yes, I ate cake on my “First Birthday”. My fiancé bought it for me and it was rather tasty. There weren’t any candles to blow out, but I made a few wishes anyways.

I wished to become a positive-thinker (I would like to believe that I’ve made some progress in that department).

I wished to help others whenever possible.

And, finally, I wished to stockpile pleasant memories—and actually remember them.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of your prayers, kind words, and love over this past year. Please continue to send light. The recovery process has only just begun. I have three to six more months on steroids and my anti-rejection medication. They’re both immunosuppressants, so I will still have to be cautious about what I expose myself to.

The bright side? I’m “One” now…my legs are wobbly…but I’m starting to take my first steps toward health.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Part II of the Scavenger Hunt

I don’t think this will surprise anyone, but I have many frightening memories.

They tend to surface the week before a medical appointment, usually at night, as terrible dreams. The dreams are vivid. They feel real. I wake up wondering where I am and what’s happening to me.

Which hospital is this again?

What procedure did I just have?

Why is my port hurting?

To counteract this, I have decided to purposely create a plethora of happy memories. I’ll stockpile these pleasant thoughts as though they are index cards with information to memorize. When a nightmare visits, I’ll just pull out a joyful moment and meditate on it.

Last week’s post was about discovering inspiration and creativity. This week, I’m looking for happiness, beauty, and peace.

yellow butterfly 2.0

If you guessed that the above photograph was staged, you’re a hundred-percent correct.  A friend found the above butterfly, dead, in our driveway. Despite having passed on, the butterfly’s wings were undamaged and we placed it on one of the flowering bushes in the backyard. I’m not saying that we had a funeral for a butterfly—because we didn’t—but it did appear serene amid the flowers. It was as if it belonged there.

Little moments of kindness can be rather beautiful.

Of course, sometimes kindness requires a bit more work. Those of you who are close to me know that I despise cooking. I’ll live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just to avoid it. I’m not a gifted chef and I’ve accepted this. Still…someone special had a birthday this week…so I made a cheesecake from scratch.

cheesecake 2.0

Washing all of the required dishes was actually harder work than making the cheesecake. The finished product looked edible. I couldn’t really judge if I had had a baking success until we cut into it. Fortunately, although it was a little lumpy, the cheesecake was pleasing to the taste buds. I’ll count it as a culinary win—a happy memory.

Finally, beautiful memories are made when we do something or go somewhere.

Without a functioning immune system, my adventuring in public places is limited. I can go out and about, but wearing a surgical mask and gloves is an absolute must. Breaking this cardinal rule could result in illness and potentially hospitalization.

So, this past week, when my fiancé said that he needed to go to the mall, I donned my mask and gloves and went with him.  We stopped first at a sporting goods store, so he could browse through the fishing gear. Then, because I was wearing my new leg braces (which help immensely in the mobility department), we walked down to another store. Once there, I was able to pick up some small gifts for my father’s upcoming birthday—and I was able to visit, momentarily, with an old friend. It was a wonderful, surprise reunion!

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Memories of attending one of my friend’s childhood birthday parties filled my mind. The day of her party was wintry. We played in the snow for a bit and then we went to the movies. I remember laughing. I remember the peace of falling snowflakes. I remember the magic of animation on the big screen, the salty-sweet scent of popcorn, and cushioned theater seats.

Confession: in general, I am afraid of rejoining the real world. The idea of sitting in a theater seat now, makes my heart beat frantically. I often worry that, by the time my transplant anniversary comes around, my immune system will still be too weak to fend off viruses, infections, etc… But, then, seeing people that I know and appreciate, reminds me that the world is made up of more than just germs. It’s composed of lovely, kind souls.

Sometimes, the scavenger hunt that is life, brings us to these people.

As always, thank you Dear Readers for your encouragement. I’m off to Boston tomorrow for another check-up (lab work and a meeting with my transplant team). Please keep the prayers, love, and light coming. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Happy Birthday to Meeeee

ferry tree

Last week I turned 31.

And, yes, like most women, I didn’t take kindly to the new, higher number.

I am not upset because I am getting older—aging doesn’t bother me. I am well aware that not everyone gets the opportunity to grow older. Neither am I bothered by the fact that increased age brings death closer. Truth be told, death and I have been flirting with each other since I was 23. I have lived 8 years beyond my original expiration date (July 2010).

No, 31 is a difficult number because, in my life before cancer, I had decided that 31 was the perfect age to start a family. I imagined I would have a stable, good-paying job. I thought that I would be in a healthy, happy relationship.

Check no, on the job.

Check yes, on the relationship—I have found my soulmate.

But, fast-forward to November 2016, when I was officially diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure. This is what cancer treatment can do. It can destroy cancer cells, but it also destroys anything that grows quickly—including eggs. Although still to be confirmed with additional blood tests, 2017’s 8-months of cancer treatment and then bone marrow transplant preparation (which included high dose chemotherapy and Total Body Irradiation) did nothing to help my ovaries.

Every hot flash tells me that any hope for a biological family is now gone.

I grieve for this dream.

2018, however, is not going to be the year that I give up. It’s the year that I am going to move forward. Maybe I can’t have a biological child (who would really want my genes anyways?), but Seth and I will spend time researching adoption. We will make plans. We will move toward that goal, together, and make whatever changes are necessary to be eligible to adopt.

There are so many children in need of a safe and loving home; someday, we hope to provide just that. Until then, we’ll be crazy cat parents to these two majestic creatures:

 

As always, Dear Readers, thank you for your love and continued prayers. You are our strength and the light guiding us on this journey. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

A Happy Birthday

birthday-cake-1-1495

I spent my twenty-fourth birthday in an outpatient cancer clinic. I had a lumbar puncture that day—in which a chemotherapy agent was injected directly into my spinal cord. After that, I was led out to the infusion bay where I was to receive still more chemotherapy, this time as an infusion and with the use of an IV pump and the ash-split (picture two tubes with plastic clamps and nozzles) hanging from my chest.

I don’t remember being upset about spending my birthday that way; treatment had, at that point, been my regular routine—my life—for seven months. It simply made sense to be at the cancer clinic and if the receptionist, when checking me in, or the nurses, when verifying my identity before administering my chemo, wished me a “Happy Birthday”, then great. Wonderful.

You can imagine, Dear Readers, my surprise when, after settling into an infusion chair, additional members of my care team began to arrive in the bay. I didn’t have time to ponder their appearance because it seemed, suddenly, as though everyone—the medical assistants, the nurses, my oncologist, anyone that wasn’t in the middle of an appointment with another patient—had gathered around me, singing “Happy Birthday” in beautiful chorus. One of the research nurses rolled out a cake that she had baked and decorated with buttercream frosting. A helium balloon was tied to my chair.

If I didn’t cry in that moment, I have cried nearly every time since when recalling that day. The memory of that birthday—the first birthday I shouldn’t have had—has become a touchstone for me. In moments in which I feel alone, I remember my care team filling that infusion bay. On days when I question my right to be here, to be alive, I think of their bright smiles, their singing, their wishes for a good day, a healthy future. When I fall into the trap of dreading the aging process, of thinking that I haven’t accomplished enough for my age, I remember the flood of gratitude, the lifting of my heart, that that one balloon and cake perpetuated.

As I embark on my thirtieth year of life, it would be dishonest of me to say that I have no concerns, no sense of loss. The truth is, I do grieve the life that I thought I would have had by now (i.e. stable career, marriage, house, planning a first pregnancy). I do often wonder if there’s been some cosmic error and I’ve been mistaken as an adult when I’m really just a big kid with no idea what she’s doing. I feel all of those things, I think of all of those things. But I also know that each successive year is a gift.

We were not guaranteed our first birthday.

We were never promised that we would see our eighteenth birthday.

We were not assured that our thirtieth birthday would ever arrive.

Will remaining positive about aging be easy? Certainly not. Will there be moments when nostalgia strikes and blinds me to all of the wonderful things currently unfolding in my life? Sure. But, I refuse, absolutely refuse, to take this birthday for granted. I refuse to be ashamed of the laugh lines appearing on my face. I refuse to be angry toward the aching and often pain-riddled body that has carried me this far.

Until my next birthday arrives, this will be my best year.

This birthday—this big, beautiful milestone of a birthday that almost never happened—is a gift I fully intend to embrace.