There’s a Wallace in my Suitcase

In February and March of this year, I blogged about losing Wallace. His death was one of the lowest moments of my life—but you, Dear Readers, rescued me with both love and guidance. Many of you alluded to your own wounds and how God has provided for you. It is with these comments in mind, that I have tried to grow in my own faith.

I am excited to say that it’s working.

The first time I had cancer, I couldn’t go to church because I was often neutropenic. My immune system wasn’t functioning due to the chemotherapies I had to take. Any Sunday that I was actually home from treatment (in 2010, I practically lived at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in Burlington, VT), my dad and I would watch a religious television program together. He’d make me scrambled eggs for breakfast and I’d drown them in my mom’s delicious, canned, chili sauce. The memories I have of watching that program with my father are some of the happiest moments of my life.

Fast forward to today: I still can’t go to church because of my immune system, or rather, the lack thereof. In response—and after reading all of the advice that you gave to me—I trolled the interwebs and found the television program that my dad and I used to watch together. Episodes are posted on the ministry’s website and, best of all, they’re free to view. I started watching the sermons regularly. And, while I miss going to church, I feel as though I am starting to heal spiritually.

I think this practice of “going to church”—while sitting on the couch every Sunday—gave me the fortitude I needed to pack Wallace in my suitcase.

wally in my suitcase 2.0

This last week, I decided it was time to go through my closet once more. Even though I had removed quite a bit of clothing items, my closet was still full. Not all of my clothes were going to fit in my suitcase—so I decided to pare my wardrobe down again—especially since I planned on packing Wallace in there.

I know that sounds strange, but I think nestled between my clothes is the safest place for his box of ashes. This is not how I wanted to introduce Wally to his new home. This is not what I imagined this move to look like. But this is what it is: my beloved cat, in a wooden box, inside of my suitcase.

He’s been gone for two months now…and the wound is still raw.

I believe, though, that watching the televised sermons has had a positive impact on my outlook. My memory is not what it used to be—scarring on your brain from cranial edema will do that to you—and, so, I call it a “miracle” that I can remember the following memories at all. While surrounding Wallace’s box of ashes with my clothes, I began to remember how, whenever I used to pack my duffle bag to go somewhere, he would try to climb into it. He was such a big cat; it still amazes me that he could actually squeeze himself into my bag. My memories of opening my duffle bag and finding Wallace inside, lying on top of my clothes, made me smile. I can still remember how he used to look at me in those moments; it was as if he was saying, “bring me, too, Mom”.

So, in the next few weeks, I will be granting him that wish. I will be bringing him with me.

As always, thank you Dear Readers, for continuing to follow my journey through cancer treatment and now transplant recovery. Please continue to send light and good thoughts. I can’t begin to describe how much it means to me. Thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

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Cleaning Out the Clutter

At least once a week, I will see a meme or an article abstract on my Facebook newsfeed saying something to the effect of, “a cluttered home is indicative of a cluttered mind”. My mind, although scarred from cranial edema and a bit slower than it used to be, is constantly on the go. If I’m not mentally writing the next scene in my fiction manuscript, I’m composing an extensive “to-do” list. Or, I’m obsessing over something. So, yes, you could say that my mind is cluttered (or, at the very least, quite busy).

I didn’t realize how cluttered our apartment was, however, until we started packing our belongings up.

wall of boxes

I wasn’t going to write about our new house, Dear Readers, until everything was finalized; I was afraid of jinxing us. In any case, we’ve started packing as we hope to close the sale by the end of this month. Exciting? Absolutely. A lot of work? Oh my God, yes. So much work!

The two of us have somehow accumulated a lot of stuff. Most of my stuff isn’t even here at the apartment to pack up—it’s at my parents’ house.

My library? At my parents’ house.

My collectibles? At my parents’ house.

My favorite pieces of art? At my parents’ house.

Moving, I think, is ultimately an exercise in letting go. I’ve sorted through most of my clothes already (I still have one more plastic tub to go). Those clothing items that no longer fit—either my body or my personality—have been donated. Even if I love a particular dress or sweater, if I don’t feel comfortable wearing it in this present moment, it has to go.

Transitioning from this living space to the next one will be a process. I will keep you up-to-date, Dear Readers, on how closing (and then the actual moving) unfolds.

Please continue to send light and love. This week brings an oncology check-up in Burlington, VT. I usually get tremendously anxious about these appointments…and maybe that’s why my PTSD flashbacks have been on the rise lately…but it’ll be good to see the faces that took care of me during both my first and second cancer treatments. Gratitude, for your doctors and nurses, helps diminish the fear.

 

With Love,

Laura

Learn, Then Overcome.

Easter 4 2018

Did you know that a cat with a urinary tract infection (UTI) will associate the pain of the infection with his/her litter box, thus leading to undesirable behaviors (i.e. urinating outside of the box)? Treatment with certain steroids will also lead to urinating in inappropriate places.

Alderaan is currently doing this.

I think, though, that we all do it on some level—associate our personal pain with things/places/people/specific dates. Either consciously or subconsciously, we alter our behavior to avoid what we think will cause more pain. Which, in light of my life experiences, sounds a lot like anxiety. Someone once told me to imagine anxiety as living in a box. The more you try to avoid the things/people/places that make you feel anxious, the smaller your box becomes.

This year of post-transplant isolation has stuck me in a very small box (fortunately, there’s just enough room in here for a laptop and I’ve been writing my heart out).

When this year of saying “no” to visiting friends and family comes to an end, I’m going to be in a situation not at all unlike Aldie’s:

Aldie will have to relearn how to use the litter box (which is why Mommy and Daddy bought him a new one with special litter that apparently smells irresistible to cats), while I am going to have to learn how to trust my puny immune system.

I will have to overcome the social awkwardness that this year of isolation has impressed upon me. Similarly, we are doing everything we can to help Alderaan overcome his fears and return to health and appropriate behaviors.

September, after all, is coming.

crocus

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send light and love. For those of you who knew about my struggle with unexpected weight loss (a big no-no in transplant land), I can assure you that I put some pounds back on and am now at an acceptable and healthy weight. My doctors are pleased with my progress and we will be starting my pediatric shots in May!!! I know; it’s an odd thing to be excited about. But I am excited.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sticking with me through this.

 

With Love,

Laura

Punxsutawney Phil is my B.F.F.

Sunshine pours through the windows. The sky is a brilliant shade of azure. This is the sort of afternoon wherein the promise of spring can be felt on the breeze. And, yet, here I am, just finishing a cup of hot cocoa. I’m securely wrapped up in blankets; feeling wintry. I think this is how the groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, must feel every February when we wake him up. Disorientated. Disgruntled. No wonder why the little guy always seems to see his shadow—cursing us with yet another 6 weeks of winter.

I don’t think Phil is a spiteful groundhog. The poor guy is just trying to do his job.

I feel as though Phil and I in the same boat. Except, unlike Phil, my job isn’t to predict the weather. My job, in this current moment, is to heal. Today, healing looks like sitting on the couch and writing a blog post. Tomorrow, healing might consist of something completely different. The day after that—who knows?

magic

For now, though, I’m going to follow in Phil’s footsteps, curl up, and take a much-needed nap.

Please continue to send light and love, Dear Readers. It makes an enormous difference in our lives.

 

With Love,

Laura

Springing Ahead

gerbera

With the time change this past weekend, I began to think about the future. Usually, when I think about it, my mind becomes fear-filled. I’m not quite sure what happened, but this time, I started day-dreaming about the possibility of happier times. I thought I’d share some of the day-dreams that made me smile:

  • For those of you who don’t know, we’ve been house-hunting! Eventually, we will find the perfect house to turn into our own home. So, step one, find and get the house. Step two, hit day 365 post-transplant, obtain Boston’s approval, and bring Alderaan to his new home. Step three, once Aldie has adjusted to the change, we will adopt a (rather large, cuddly) canine that is feline-friendly.
  • Get Boston’s approval to play in the dirt because, although I do not have a green thumb (it’s more like the thumb-of-impending-plant-doom-and-death), I would like to garden. I want to plant giant sunflowers and hollyhocks. I want to raise string beans and snow peas. I am curious about growing Hops.
  • I am excited for the dietary changes that September will bring. I can’t wait to add honey to my tea! I miss honey—just like I miss Goat and Feta Cheeses. Some caramel popcorn would be nice, too.

I am well-aware that you cannot live in the future. We must live in the present. And, yet, in this present moment, I am tired of living in fear of another relapse and/or developing some secondary cancer. This isn’t my first rodeo with cancer, so I know that these fears will never entirely go away. I can, however, choose to ignore these dismal thoughts (unless it becomes apparent that there actually is something wrong with me). Instead, I can summon courage and stubbornness, boldly filling my mind with springtime sunshine, daisies, and the chirp of robins.

We were supposed to go to Boston this coming Wednesday for a check-up, but as many of you probably already know, we’ll be getting a Nor’easter instead. So, we’ll be playing it safe and staying home. I know I don’t really get a say in this, but I refuse to die in a car crash on my way to a cancer/transplant appointment. I mean, how ironic would that be?  So, no. No Boston this week, but I will call later today and reschedule the appointment. Please send light and love.

 

With Love,

Laura

Love as a Purpose

vday-flowers-4-1708

First and foremost, Dear Readers, I would like to thank you for responding to last week’s post. Your condolences are appreciated. Your words of advice and encouragement to keep writing buoyed my spirits. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

After reading through the various comments, however, I began to notice some patterns—especially when discussing how to find one’s life purpose. God was mentioned quite a bit. As was love.

I don’t believe that these are two separate answers. I was raised in a Christian household. As such, one of the first things I learned was that “God is Love” …as is written in the first book of John. I’m not sure when or how I forgot that, but I needed all of you to remind me of it.

Loving self, loving others, love as life’s purpose—it requires work. When energy is a problem, I think that that type of love might be one of the first things to be kicked out. It’s probably one of the last things to be let back in, too.

To be clear, over this past year, I never stopped loving my fiancé, our respective families, or our friends. I never stopped loving my boys (Wally and Aldie). But, during my first cancer experience, I did stop loving myself. I was 23 years old and I absolutely hated God. Why was He allowing cancer to happen to me? Why was I suddenly living the life of Job? Fortunately, by the time I relapsed last year (2017), that anger had cooled. My faith had grown just enough to allow me to lean on God again—to ask for prayers and to believe that they would be heard.

Now, I am well-aware that there are other viewpoints, other belief systems out there. If you think what I’m posting today is a bunch of bull, that’s okay. You’re entitled to your opinions just as I am entitled to mine. I do not mean to offend anyone with this post. But, to tell the truth, I really like this idea of love being my purpose here on Earth.

I like the idea of taking care of others—for instance, cleaning out my closet and donating gently used clothes to those in need. I enjoy writing articles, pro bono, for non-profit organizations. Some of you mentioned that the hole Wally left in my heart won’t close up until I find another animal to love. Thankfully, I still have Wally’s little brother, Alderaan. Once we’re given the “okay” from my doctors to live in the same house again, I am sure his presence will help mend my broken heart. If it doesn’t, well, I guess I’ll just have to adopt a dog and give it a warm and loving home (Alderaan is a daddy’s boy after all. See evidence below).

There is peace, for me, in this mission to love—and I am so grateful, Dear Readers, that you brought it up.

Please continue to send light and love, Dear Readers. The road to recovery is still 7+ months long.

 

With Love,

Laura

I Think This is What the Bards Might Have Called a ‘Quest’

in memory 2.0

 

I am going to be honest with you—this past week sucked.

Monday: Spent living in fear that Wallace was going to die.

Tuesday Morning: Finding out that Wallace was not responding to the medications; his red blood cell counts were still dropping.

Tuesday Afternoon: Giving the “okay” to euthanize him. I watched Wallace pass out of this world. He was exhausted, just melting into the exam table. Leaving him behind in that room was by far one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

Saturday: Picking up Wallace’s cremated remains from the veterinarian’s office.

This week has felt like someone was performing a bone marrow biopsy on my heart. That is, to say, it has hurt beyond description.

Losing my Wally has made me question a bunch of things in my life—this blog for instance. Am I doing a disservice to my fellow cancer and transplant survivors by constantly writing about gratitude and having a positive attitude? I was born a pessimist; a positive attitude is not my natural state of mind. Positive thinking, however, is far healthier than fear and/or worrying. I will admit to using this space as a means of forcing myself to change my perspective. I fear that by doing this, though, I have diminished my struggle as well as the struggle of my fellow survivors. The horror of cancer treatment doesn’t end with the last bag of chemo or the last radiation appointment. The torture doesn’t end…but I don’t write about it because a) I want to shield you from it, and b) if I dwell on it, I’ll be sucked into the fear of relapsing again. I’ve been using this blog like a life jacket–and although I’m treading as best as I can–keeping my head above the water has been difficult.

I’ve also been questioning my role in this life. Why the hell am I still alive? What am I here for? There has to be a reason why I keep outliving my various expiration dates (July 2010, February 2017). People are going to start thinking that I’m some sort of android if I keep surviving all of this s*&t.

Maybe this is just my overwhelming grief for Wallace talking, but for the longest time I thought my purpose was to be a writer. Nabbing a literary agent, however, has proven to be a thankless and utterly depressing task. So, I have to stop myself and ask, am I doing the right thing? Am I on the right path? And if not this, then what?

Dear Readers, I have no doubt that my good MRI results on Thursday/Friday are your thoughts and prayers working. Last year, on this very day, I was diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I told you that I did not have the strength to fight cancer again. It was the truth. I didn’t have the strength. But YOU carried me through. Now I’m asking you to lend me some advice (in addition to continuing to send light and love).

How did you know what to do with your life?

How did you find your purpose?

When you’re grieving, how do you find peace?

As always, thank you for your support. Your comments and encouragement have meant the world to me.

 

With Love,

Laura

One Red Blood Cell at a Time….

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As those of you who follow me on Facebook already know, one of my boys has not been feeling well. We brought Wallace to the veterinarian’s office on Tuesday, February 13th. He had some bloodwork done at that time, but the vet asked to keep him for two nights for observation. Wally had, after all, lost 5 pounds since his last visit. More concerning, however was the fact that he was anemic.

Those of you who are fur mamas can probably imagine how poorly I took this news. My thoughts leapt to the absolute darkest outcomes. If it weren’t for Seth, I wouldn’t have been able to rein my anxiety in.

He advised, “Hope for the best, but expect the worst”.

I know. Such a mantra isn’t exactly a hopeful, sunshiny, double-rainbow motto, but it was calming. It was logical. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I think—and I can’t say this with any degree of certainty—that this is the mantra that he used repeatedly throughout my cancer treatment and bone marrow transplant.

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Fast forward to Thursday, February 15th. The vet called asking permission to run some x-rays. Specifically, he was looking for masses (yes, cancer masses). He also wanted to run a thyroid test.

On Friday, February16th, we were told that there were no masses found and that Wallace’s thyroid test came back normal. But, Wallace’s stay at the veterinarian’s office wasn’t—and isn’t–quite over. He apparently has an autoimmune disease that is destroying his red blood cells. It’s most likely based in his bone marrow. Usually, cats who develop this disease, recover quickly once steroids and antibiotics are introduced to their systems. This is not the case with Wallace. He is eating better, he is interactive, bright-eyed, but his red blood cell counts continue to decline.

I feel that there is some irony in the fact that my fur baby has some sort of autoimmune disease that affects his blood. So much of his illness reminds me of my own cancer experience…with the exception that I could have blood transfusions when my red cell counts were low.

Thankfully, my veterinarian is invested in Wallace’s well-being. He wants to do everything he can to give Wallace a chance to respond to the treatment. There is still a chance that if the vet can reverse the loss of red blood cells within the next few days, Wallace will be okay.

It’s only a chance, but it’s something. I keep repeating to myself, “Hope for the best, but expect the worst”. I know he’s a mortal creature, and has to die at some point, but my heart is going to completely shatter if I lose this cat anytime soon.

Please, please keep Wallace in your thoughts.

I go to Burlington, VT on February 22 and 23 for some precautionary MRI’s. I’ll also be having some bloodwork done. It’s really just a standard checkup, but as most survivors will tell you, even simple checkups can ignite all-too familiar fears. The usual nightmares preceding visits like these have already begun.

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send light and love our way. You give us hope to persevere. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Cocoon

butterfly necklace

I remember, vaguely, that in our third-grade class we had several butterfly cocoons in an old, otherwise empty, aquarium. We studied each cocoon/chrysalis, waiting for a butterfly to emerge. I can’t remember if any of the cocoons actually produced a Monarch butterfly…and, if it did, I have no recollection of what we did with it…but I still get excited thinking about a creature of pure beauty busting out of its protective covering.

I feel that my own cocoon is slowly breaking open.

Now, let’s set the record straight here: I am not suggesting that I am, like a butterfly, a “creature of pure beauty”. I have dark moods and acne just like everybody else. I am, after all, a human being.

Yet, like a butterfly, I have been developing–growing–inside the safety of a cocoon.

My cocoon, however, is not made of protein or silk. It consists of medications and a survival-mode mentality. It is insulated with procedure masks and latex gloves.

More importantly, though, there have been days wherein I can see the light at the end of this life stage.

I’ll be in Burlington, VT at the end of February for some “just-in-case” MRI’s of my head and lumbar spine. My next appointment in Boston is six weeks away (the longest gap in appointments that I’ve had to date)! I am slowly being weaned off of my anti-rejection drug. I am warily turning my eyes to the future and how I might live, happily, in it.

Please, Dear Readers, keep the love, light and prayers coming. My wings haven’t fully developed yet—and there is still over half a year to go before I can venture outside without a mask—but it’s coming. And, with your help and good thoughts, I’ll be ready for it.

 

With Love,

Laura

Just Some Quality ZZZ’s, Please

Squishy

Confession: I’m 31 years old and I sleep next to a stuffed animal every night. More precisely, he’s a unicorn named Squishy. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been tremendously anxious lately. So, in an attempt to calm my nerves, I sprayed Squish (that’s his nickname) with lavender-scented perfume. It helped…a little…but I still didn’t make my big goal of sleeping in until 6am. I made it to 2:22am.

Like a lot of people out there, I don’t sleep well. I tend to be restless. When I do dream, I usually have outlandish nightmares (and not the good kind that can inspire writing projects).

Why am I sharing this? Because I am on the hunt for ideas to help me sleep.

When you, Dear Reader, have difficulty sleeping, what do you do? Do you listen to music? Do you have a glass of warm milk? What works for you? What doesn’t work? I am open to suggestions, so please send them my way!

We go back to Boston this week for another check-up. We will also be going to Burlington for a neurology appointment. It’s going to be a busy week; please keep the light, the prayers, and the love coming. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura