The Beauty in Broken Things

snowflake on coat
Not broken, but beautiful

We’re only fourteen days into 2019, and, already, the new year has taught me some significant lessons.

While undecorating the Christmas tree, an angel ornament broke.

The dryer is screeching…not a little bit, but a lot.

I broke a tooth.

How can I be “okay” with any of these happenings? The answer is quite simple: most broken things can be fixed. With, perhaps, the exception of these ink-stained pajama pants:

ink stain

There’s no saving these, but that, too, is okay. I only ever wear them to bed. And, if you look closer, what do those ink stains look like? Hearts. They look like hearts.

I was not happy about the angel ornament breaking. This ornament was actually a party favor from a friend’s wedding (forever ago). The angel has shown me, that although broken, she is still quite beautiful. Just a dab of hot glue, and she will be whole again. She will be ready to shine on 2019’s Christmas tree.

seashell angel 1.0

The dryer, of course, is another matter entirely. It’s teaching me patience (the lesson that I am given again and again. Someday, I’ll actually be patient). My fiancé has ordered replacement parts to fix the problem, but in the meantime, I have to hang our clean, but wet, laundry on a wooden clothes rack to dry. The drying process is longer, and the product is rather scratchy, but it works.

dryer

Let me tell you, when I can use that dryer again, I might just buy some sparkling juice to celebrate!

Finally, my broken tooth. This, was unfortunately, fated to happen. I can’t remember if I ever wrote about the dental evaluation that I had to have, prior to my bone marrow transplant in 2017. The short version: this evaluation resulted in having one tooth pulled and a few others marked as likely to cause future issues.

Well, here we are in the “future”, and a suspect tooth did as was predicted—it broke.

The break didn’t hurt, but unhealthy teeth are gateways for infection. So, Dear Readers, I will be visiting the dentist this morning for an exam. I’m not sure if any work will be done, but I will need to take an antibiotic anyways. PowerPorts—I still have mine—are susceptible to infection from dental work, especially if any plaque is disturbed and makes its way down the port line.

Similar to most people, I do not like having dental work done. The drill, the Novocaine shot…ugh. For me, though, it’s the overhead light that is most bothersome. It is a PTSD trigger. Sometimes, when I am sitting underneath that light, I think I can see other masked faces staring down at me—faces that performed my ICU surgery in 2010. These images bring me back to a time, and a place, wherein I was on Death’s doorstep.

That’s not an exaggeration. I nearly died, and no matter how much time passes, it is something that continues to haunt me.

How do you face a fear like that? I plan to silently recite a verse from the New International Version of the Holy Bible, specifically, Psalm 91:11a. I’ve written about this verse before. I find a great deal of comfort in these words, so I thought that I’d share them once again: “For He will command His angels concerning you…”.

So, 2019, I see this challenge, and I will view it as Exposure Therapy—which, in the end, will only make me stronger.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for continuing to send love, light and prayers. You give me hope and strength to see the positive in so many situations. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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Change (And Not the Kind Jingling in the Bottom of My Purse)

With the arrival of 2019, my thoughts have gravitated to—and fixated on—the concept of change. The more I have pondered it, the more I realize that there is so much more for me to learn.

For instance, there are different rates of change: sudden and gradual.

Change can occur in the blink of an eye—like an unwanted health diagnosis.

Or, change can happen so gradually, that you never even notice it—until the transformation is complete—like the undercarriage of a car rusting out.

Change, itself, varies. There are different types:

Change of mind

Change of pace

Change of heart.

Most of the monumental changes in my life, have occurred at a super-sonic speed. If given a choice, though, I would prefer the kind of change that requires elbow grease, time, and commitment. The reward for tenacity? Positive developments.

At some point during my cancer relapse in 2017, I developed foot drop. Foot drop affects dorsiflexion—which means it affects the act of walking. The hospital’s in-patient physical therapy department loaned me a plastic Ankle-foot orthosis (also known as an AFO), until I could be fitted for my own leg brace. Before discharge, I was outfitted with one, plastic brace for my weaker, left leg.

 

treatment with OR and brace
Loaner – plastic AFO

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but this plastic brace was incredibly uncomfortable. Wearing a brace on only one leg made me feel like my hips were uneven—as if I was wearing a sneaker on one foot and a kitten-heel on the other.

I push through things, though—like a bulldozer. I stopped wearing the brace too early. I stopped using my cane too early.

cane

I didn’t want to admit that I needed assistance…but, eventually, I was able to reconcile with the fact that I did, indeed, need help.

Since April 2018, I have been working with an incredible physical therapist. When I first met her, I couldn’t get up off of the floor without holding onto something and pulling myself up with my arms. Week after week—sometimes two times a week—we met to strengthen my legs and recoup a sense of balance (the tumor in my spinal cord had stolen that, too). In June of 2018, I was fitted for two new braces. Carbon fiber, light-weight, and best of all—one for each foot!

leg braces

While I can walk without my braces, I usually spend at least half the day wearing them. They support my ankles and make me pick up my feet (which tends to be a problem when you have foot drop).

All of this “elbow grease”, time, and commitment—has led to positive changes. According to my physical therapist, as of January 15, 2019 (my last scheduled appointment), I will be ready to discontinue attending physical therapy sessions.

I will, however, continue doing the at-home exercises on a daily basis. These exercises have contributed so much to my well-being. They’ve given me leg strength, confidence, and restored a sense of balance.

It is this kind of change—the type that requires work—that I prefer.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for joining me here, at Of Perras & Pieridae, in 2019. Please continue to send prayers, light, and love as I taper off of my anti-rejection medication. Your support means the world to me.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

The Eve of 2019

moon

When I was younger, I imagined that “New Year’s Eve” consisted of bright lights and glittery decorations.

It also included getting dolled up:

Luna in her Christmas collar 1.0
Luna, wearing her red, Christmas collar.

And, of course, you have to make resolutions.

To make resolutions or not? That is the question I’m considering on this last day of 2018.

Are there aspects of my life that I would like to improve upon? Absolutely! Becoming 100% healthy would be wonderful. Building enough leg strength to walk in high heels once again would also be great.

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These goals, however, are easily influenced by outside forces beyond my control. One virus, one bacterial infection, could very easily sabotage my plans to become healthy. One ankle sprain could further weaken my already unstable ankles.

While I can still pursue these goals, they can’t be my only resolutions. The margin for failure is too high. I, for one, become exceedingly melancholy when I can’t fulfill my resolutions. To be successful, I need more than just a statement of “I’m going to do this” or “I’m going to make this happen”.

I need a statement, and then, a plan.

For example, I would like to read more. If this resolution is to be successful, there must be benchmarks. There must be preparation.

Step 1 – Select thin books from my personal collection (this step is based on the premise that shorter books can be read faster. The premise is only true if the books are well-written and focus on an interesting topic).

Step 2 – Aim to read a certain number of books each month (I would start with one—just to avoid failure).

Step 3 – Record progress in a journal or agenda (Accountability is, unfortunately, a necessary evil).

While reading more would be phenomenal exercise for my chemo-scarred brain—and I will give this goal a try—I have larger objectives to pursue. I’m going back to school!

I will be enrolling in two, online courses offered by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (also known as BOCES). These two courses will form the foundation of my next goal: obtaining a certification in Medical Coding through the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). It appears (knocking very loudly on wood) that I am going to live. And, if I live long enough, I’d like to be able to retire.

This new pursuit doesn’t mean that I will be walking away from writing.

Writing is how I decompress, and process my own feelings. I will continue to post on this blog and to work on pieces of fiction.

So, after writing all of this…I guess I do have resolutions for the coming year!

lift off
2019 – moving up, and forward, with the Princess and R2D2 in a hot air balloon. Because, why not? 

Thank you, Dear Readers, for sticking with me throughout 2018. Your light, love, and prayers have made an incredible, and positive, impact on my health and my life. I am wishing each of you a wonderful and healthy New Year. Here’s to a fresh start in 2019!

 

With Gratitude and Love,

Laura

 

 

Merry Christmas Eve!

 

outdoor wreath

I am going to keep this entry short, as Christmas Eve day is often busy with cooking, cleaning, packing, and/or wrapping the last of the presents. Amid all of the items on your “to-do” list, please remember to breathe.

Remember to stop and listen to your favorite Christmas song.

Maybe keep the Christmas tree lights on for a bit longer, and really see them. Note the colors, the way the ornaments reflect the light. Try to remember the story behind each ornament. Soak it all in.

glass angel

I know I will, with a giant cup of coffee in my hand.

Merry Christmas to all of you! I am wishing that each and every one of you has a wonderful holiday.

indoor wreath

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

 

 

(Non-alcoholic) Shots of Holiday Cheer

This post is intended for everyone—and anyone—struggling to get through the month of December. That includes me. Yes, I received excellent news at my last transplant check-up in Boston, but life consists of more than just doctor appointments. I, too, need to be reminded of the beauty and the love inherent in this season.

We’ll start with an undecorated Christmas tree:

There’s something about these images that remind me of an Elementary School Christmas Concert that I attended. I had older cousins performing in this particular concert. One of them was in the grade level that performed, “O Tannenbaum”.  I look at our tree, and I can’t help but sing the English version of that song.

As previously reported, our tree is a Fraser Fir and is approximately ten-feet tall. How do you decorate such a beast? First, I personally recommend obtaining a tall fiancé. Next, you will need to find a ladder. Put the two together, and you have someone that can hang ornaments on the higher branches.

seth decorating

Placing the tree-topper (which, in our case, is a white star) where it belongs, is a piece of cake for tall people on ladders.

a star a star

If you are shorter, like me, you get to decorate as high up as you can reach. Working as thus, you’ll eventually meet in the middle and voila! You’ll have a decorated Christmas tree for your fur babies to enjoy from a (safe) distance.

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The tree isn’t the only decoration capable of inspiring holiday cheer. We adorned the fireplace mantel with a faux Amaryllis. It burns a happy shade of scarlet.

faux red flowers

We strung lights along our stair hand-rail:

Our house has a second floor, framed in with a wooden banister. In some ways, resembles a balcony, overlooking the first floor. We spruced the banister up with a garland, bows, and ornaments.

deck the halls

In fact, we randomly hung ornaments all around the house (this one is in the kitchen):

ornament 2018

The second floor is also where we set up a special, hand-made nativity set. Every time I walk by the crèche and the figurines, I hum either, “Away in a Manger” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

away in a manger

It’s important to remember, though, that the season isn’t just about bright lights, glittery ornaments and greenery. It’s also about love:

blue jays

It may be difficult to see, but there are two birds in this picture. They are not turtle doves – just common blue jays – but they’re weathering the cold, winter temperatures together. Isn’t that what love is about? Supporting and encouraging each other – even on the coldest and darkest of days?

The season is also about hope for the future:

pine cone

This little guy fell off of our tree. It’s just a cone for now, but one day, maybe, it’ll be a 10-foot Fraser fir.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued encouragement, light, and love. I am wishing each of you a happy and healthy holiday season.

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Joyful

snowflake

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the delay in posting this entry. This past week was insanely busy! I’m sure you’ve felt it, too; how time seems to speed up the closer we get to Christmas. Amid the feeling of being rushed, though, is the potential to create beautiful and joyful memories.

For instance, last Friday, my fiancé and I went to the ICU Christmas party. The party was biker-themed. I wore a mask (because it was a bit crowded and I still need to protect myself from germs). I didn’t want to feel like a patient amid doctors and nurses, so I decorated the mask, biker-style:

biker mask

The mask came off briefly for pictures with my person, though:

christmas party
(I stole this photo from my fiancé)

Somehow, the next day, we were able to squeeze in some holiday decorating. Our tree is a Fraser Fir, it’s approximately ten-feet tall, and it smells spectacular! When I look at this tree all aglow, I reflect on holidays past and am excited for the Christmases to come. I don’t often feel joy, but when I see the star on the top of this tree, it takes me back to childhood, when Christmas was pure magic.

decorating the tree
(I stole this photo from my fiancé, too)

Decorating was cut short by a follow-up transplant appointment in Boston. The appointment was scheduled for 9:30am on Monday, and, since the trip usually requires 4.5 hours of driving one-way, we decided to book a hotel for Sunday night. I drove the first leg of the journey:

driving to Boston
(Again, I stole this photo from my fiancé)

I think I have always admired Boston. I wanted to go to grad school there, but plans change, and that’s okay. The city was incredibly beautiful Sunday night, as we walked to a restaurant for dinner.

trees of boston
(He did an excellent job with this one…so you know what I had to do) 

It was quiet enough in the restaurant, that I didn’t have to wear a mask. My only real worry was having hat hair (and my fiancé taking a picture of it):

dinner

It’s a welcome change to worry about trivial things, like messed-up hair.

My appointment went extremely well. I am now officially OFF of Prednisone! My lead doctor decided to give my body a chance to adjust to being without steroids before we begin tapering any other medications. Other notable changes include:

  • I will begin tapering my anti-rejection drug on January 1st, 2019. I will admit to being afraid of this step—afraid that I’ll develop Graft vs. Host Disease without the anti-rejection meds and/or the steroids—but it’s a step that needs to be taken.
  • It’s a little thing—but I can add honey to my tea again!
  • Masks are now only required in crowded, public spaces or in doctors’ offices. Quiet restaurants during off hours? No mask. Quiet movie theaters? No mask. Of course, this taste of freedom comes with responsibility—frequent hand-washing and the use of hand-sanitizer are both still required. I must also avoid individuals that are coughing, sneezing or are ill in any way. I also cannot be around individuals have spent time with family, friends, or co-workers that have been ill or recently vaccinated (my fledgling immune system still can’t handle the live viruses used in most vaccines).

It’s a lot to process, but these are enormous strides toward being “normal” again. I don’t expect 2019 to be an easy year, but I do believe it can be a wonderful one.

homeward
(This photo is all me – as are the photos of the snowflake ornament and mask)

Thank you, Dear Readers, for taking this journey with me. Your prayers, kind thoughts, and light have carried me through so much. You are appreciated!

 

With Love & Gratitude:

Laura

Lights & Love

 

angel all aglow

Nearly every December, when my brother and I were young, our parents would take us for a drive around our small town. The point of this little trip was to see all of the Christmas lights: multi-colored trees and shrubbery twinkling on front lawns; white reindeer forming a line in front of Santa’s sleigh; battery-operated candles glowing in otherwise dark windows.

I’m not sure what was more exiting to us—staying up late, or seeing all of the beautiful and creative light displays.

cardboard star

I hadn’t thought about this tradition for years, until last Friday, when my father was driving me home from an appointment in Burlington. It had been a long day of sitting in various waiting rooms (and, in my case, lying in the MRI machine for over 2 hours). By the time we reached the outskirts of the city, it was dark out.

The darkness didn’t matter, though—so many houses were aglow with Christmas decorations! The day’s frustration seemed to melt away as we caught sight of a tree wrapped in gold-colored lights. There were icicle lights, too, dripping from porch eaves. The ferry was also lit up; multi-colored bulbs sparkling in the upper deck windows.

“Do you remember riding around, looking at all the lights, when you guys were just kids?” My dad asked.

“Yeah, I do.”

What I didn’t say is that I miss it. I miss going for those rides and seeing the neighborhood all aglow. The lights were brilliant, and to a child, they were magical. To an adult, they represent hope.

Hope that I will emerge, stronger, from the darkness of a difficult, two years.

Hope for a brighter and healthier future.

Hope that I can bring back those traditions that inspired joy.

pine

Thank you, Dear readers, for continuing to pray for me and for encouraging me through this time of recovery. Your light and love truly make a difference. The imaging from last week’s MRIs came back clear. My head and my lumbar spine are currently cancer and infection-free. More good news: upon obtaining Boston’s approval, we’re going to start spacing these tests out to every 6 months instead of every 3!

Miracles do happen…they just take time.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Focus on the Light

 

Aldie on mantle

Thanksgiving, as a day, has passed. We’ve fueled up with copious amounts of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. We’ve visited with family and friends. We’ve laughed, we’ve been schooled in a game of chess (which is unprecedented and I still think you were cheating), and we’ve relaxed in the living room, while Bob Ross painted yet another masterpiece on the television.

The final countdown to December has begun—as has the real struggle to remain grateful.

December days seem shorter and they seem darker (because they are). You can’t change the facts, but you can change how you interact with them.

Luna napping in the sun

It’s dark? Turn a light on. Or, better yet, be a light.

I met a Light recently—just outside of Panera. I was wearing a surgical mask—as I must do in any busy, public space. I’ve grown accustomed to being gawked at, clearing crowded, grocery store aisles, and making children cry. I’m not going to lie; the worried stares and scowls do hurt my feelings. I feel shunned. Unwanted. Sometimes I dream of making, and wearing, a t-shirt that reads, “I’m not contagious, but you might be”.

What happened outside of Panera was, by far, the best reaction to the mask that I’ve ever experienced. As I was leaving the restaurant, a young man was about to enter. I don’t like touching doors, even with surgical-grade gloves on, but I held the door open for him anyways.

He gasped, “Oh, my God, are we in China?!”

My sources tell me that in several Asian countries, wearing a mask is the polite thing to do when you’re feeling under the weather. I can’t be certain if this young man thought that I was wearing a mask to be respectful of others’ health, but he started smiling. It was a kind, brilliant smile and was soon accompanied by good-natured laughter. It was infectious.

It was, honestly, a relief to laugh about the mask.

christmas lights

Although focusing on sources of light is a great way to survive the darker days of December, it’s not the only way. Can’t stand the silence of falling snow? Play some music and sing (loudly) along with it.

Need something light-hearted? Try watching a corny, holiday rom-com and giggle like a teenage girl (that’s my secret for evading both the blues and anxiety).

Of course, we shouldn’t stop counting our blessings just because Thanksgiving has come and gone. It’s not always easy to recognize the good in every day. There are days that I write absolutely nothing in my gratitude journal. The result? I get grumpy. I get stressed.

Those emotions do not promote healing. Or happiness.

I intend to finish 2018 happier and healthier than I started it. To accomplish this, I will be more diligent about writing in my gratitude journal. I’ll find the light, whenever possible, and I will be a mirror, reflecting it.

christmas lights 1.0

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send prayers, love, and light. This week is going to be insanely busy with medical appointments. It ends, on Friday, with MRIs of my head and lumbar spine. I’m not particularly worried about the results, but prayers do help me to face the machine. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Snow Day

garage roof

As I write this, we are experiencing our first real snow storm in the house that we purchased in May. The natural gas fireplace is doing a lovely job of keeping us warm. The evergreen-scented candle in the kitchen is helping to usher in wintertime cheer.

We live on a well-traveled road, which, we both assumed would be one of the first roads plowed when it snowed. Turns out, that’s not what happens in this corner of the world.

This does, however, allow for observation (a writer’s favorite hobby; we have to get material somehow!). There appears to be two kinds of drivers traveling this morning: the fearless, who drive at break-neck speeds, and the responsible, who drive according to the road conditions.

It’s now 6:39am, and conditions have just improved—a snow plow has rumbled down the road.

shrub with red berries

Snow plows make my heart fill with excitement. I think it’s a lingering response from my childhood. Snow plows often meant school cancellations. I appreciated days off from school like every other child. As an elementary student, a snow day meant playing outside with my brother. As a middle school student, I’d use the time to write (yes, I was writing stories even back then). I would also draw my characters in my sketch book. It was a great tool for remembering what each character looked like.

Adults usually don’t have snow days, but I have decided to make today my own personal snow day. I won’t be building snowmen because a) we have a dog and I’m not interested in discovering any “treasure” that she may have left behind, and b) I can’t walk correctly in my snow boots.

paw prints_

It is the perfect day, however, for painting.

I’ve been chipping away at a Christmas-themed art project, but something has been missing. I played Christmas music while painting…and still the spirit wasn’t there. I think I needed the magic of the snow to inspire me.

I moved my artistic operation downstairs, to the kitchen table, where I could paint and watch the snow accumulating in our backyard. The snowflakes, as they fell, were mesmerizing. It was calming. Peaceful.

icicles

I still haven’t finished the art project…but maybe the goal of a snow day shouldn’t be, “let’s see how much we can get accomplished”. That was the motto I had in middle school and high school; I guess I’ve never been able to properly relax. Thankfully, this self-declared “snow day” proved that I can sit and admire the falling snow. It also proved that sitting down to catch my breath, is not the end of the world. In fact, it is a beginning—a lesson that this winter, even during lengthy winter storms, I can use my time to restore both my body and my soul.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued love, light and prayers. Your encouragement keeps me going. I am almost completely off of steroids! It may not seem like a big deal, but, for me, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

 

With Gratitude & Love,

Laura

Today, I am Grateful for…

banner

In my previous entry, I wrote about how I was determined to spend November counting my many blessings. It has taken me years to understand that blessings are not always big changes or events (although sometimes they are). The little things matter, too. In an attempt to demonstrate this, I thought I would share some excerpts from my own gratitude journal with you.

November 8th, 2018

Today, I am grateful for:

  1. Progress in physical therapy
  2. Finding old pictures (even though they made me tear up)
  3. Glimpsing a flock of white birds flying across the dark-gray sky. The neighbor’s maple tree turning a brilliant shade of canary yellow.

Please note, that some of the entries in my gratitude journal are images from the day. Listed images are usually quite beautiful—something that I simply want to remember or use in a subsequent piece of writing. The birds and the sky, for instance, created a stunning contrast. It took my breath away.

Although it didn’t make the day’s gratitude list (which was an oversight on my part), check out our solar mobile. It stopped working mid-summer, but now it is illuminating the back porch once again:

mobile at night

I thought it would be educational (for me) to compare 2017 to 2018…so I leafed through my gratitude journal to find the closest date, which happened to be November 6th, 2017. On that day, I was grateful for:

  1. Seth (my fiancé)
  2. Good food
  3. Walks

What did my fiancé do on that day? I have no clue, but considering that #2 reads, “good food”, I would wager that he cooked something tasty for me to eat. He is a man of many talents and, fortunately for me, cooking is one of them.

Why did “walks” make the list? Going for a walk may seem like such an ordinary activity—but for someone that had had a tumor in her lumbar spine—going for a walk, around the block, with a cane, was quite an accomplishment.

I have been in physical therapy since April 2018 and I am now at the point (see gratitude list for 11-8-2018) wherein my physical therapist is helping me put the “finishing touches” on my gait and my balance. Stairs beware! I’m coming for you!

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, words of encouragement, and light. Please feel free to share your own blessings in the comments or by private message. I would love to read about them!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura