To “Be Still”

Last week I wrote about promises, including a promise that I made to Alderaan to play laser pointer with him every morning. As I stated previously, this promise is also a promise to me—to slow down and cherish the little moments of this life.

One reader (thank you, Victoria!) reminded me that God also calls us to, “be still”. This sounded familiar to me…but not familiar enough that I could recite the book of the Bible that it’s located in, the chapter number and/or the verse number. Curious, I asked her to point me in the right direction.

The Biblical passage that she had in mind was, Psalm 46:10.

In the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Psalm 46:10 reads as thus:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

As someone with multiple anxiety disorders, being still is not my forte. I am a restless person with perfectionist tendencies. It’s not a fun mix. Even when I am over-tired, I will force myself to check the next thing off of my “to-do” list (i.e. wash the dishes, fold the laundry).

This weekend, though, I had some help with the call to “Be Still”. My left ankle and foot were mysteriously swollen. In an effort to reverse that trend, I had to sit down with my foot elevated. It was torture! I had too much to do! Christmas is coming—I have ornaments to make (guess my family knows what they’re all getting now!). Lounging on the couch, with a bag of frozen peppers on my foot, had not been a part of my plan.

I started rehashing all of the plans that I had had. That’s when I began to wonder: does “be still” apply only to physical activity? Or does it include our thought processes as well?

My mind is never still, never quiet. I am always worrying about something. Always plotting the next chapter. Maybe slowing my body down isn’t enough…maybe learning how to silence all of the worries and the negative thoughts that clutter my mind is just as important.

At first, this next bit is probably going to seem like a tangent. Bear with me, please.

In 2008, P!NK released an album entitled, Funhouse. Included in that album was a song, “Ave Mary-A”, which also alludes to the idea of being still. Now, because I am a worrier, I will repeat the usual statement regarding sharing music: I do not own these lyrics nor do I have any rights to them.

BUT they are so important!

An excerpt from P!nk’s song is as follows:

Help me to let go

Of the chaos around me

The devil that hounds me

I need you to tell me

Child be still.

From the moment that I first heard this song, I knew that it was powerful. It quickly became one of my favorite P!nk songs. It remains so to this day.

I listened to “Ave Mary-A”, on repeat, this past weekend as the snow fell. Be still. Peaceful.

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Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love, and light. If my ankle and foot are still swollen after this entry is posted, I will have to contact my transplant team in Boston. They will be sending me for an ultrasound (at a local facility, thank goodness!) to rule out the possibility of a blood clot. Please send good thoughts. They are appreciated!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

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I Promise to Play Laser Pointer

The wind was fierce—and cold—the morning that I wrote this blog post. It shook the wind chimes hanging on the front porch; their melody not the slow and calming tune that I had grown accustomed to. Instead, it was rushed.

Still beautiful, but rushed.

In many ways, I have lived my life this way—rushed, and rushing myself. Alderaan is helping me to break this habit.

My fiancé and I didn’t have Alderaan (Aldie) for a great length of time before I relapsed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I knew that cancer treatment would impair my immune system, so I sent both of our cats to my parents’ house where they would be cared for (and downright spoiled). We’ve been separated from Alderaan for so long that it’s almost as though we are welcoming a new cat into our lives.

For instance, who knew that he would turn out to be an actor? He rolls—yes, rolls—down the stairs, just to antagonize Luna (the puppy). Trust me, this is an act. He may have short, little legs, but he’s perfectly capable of walking down the stairs. I’ve seen him do it at least a dozen times.

Aldie behind the curtain
Behind the curtain, preparing for the next act.

Another revelation: Aldie is an early bird. He wants to be fed breakfast, promptly, at 5:30am. Then, once his stomach settles, he wants someone to play laser pointer with him. I’m usually quite busy in the morning—especially on mornings that I have appointments to prepare for—but there’s this quiet voice that tells me to slow down, to cherish time spent with Aldie. For this one moment, the most important thing in my life, is watching Alderaan chase a red dot across the floor.

Aldie spare bedroom
Another act: pretending to sleep

It’s not going to be this way forever, so I have decided to enjoy the little moments whenever I can.

My fiancé and I recently attended a memorial service, “Celebrating the Life of Douglas R. Skopp, Ph.D.”. We both deeply respected (and continue to respect) Dr. Skopp. We miss him. There were a variety of speakers at the service: Dr. Skopp’s colleagues, members of the community, former students. Some of the words that were used to describe Dr. Skopp were:

Valiant.

Noble.

Compassionate.

Extraordinary.

Some of the speakers expressed the desire to have just one more cup of coffee, or one more dinner with him—and, it hit me then, that my fiancé and I were quite fortunate to have had that very opportunity in September of 2017.

Right before my bone marrow transplant, we had had the privilege of having dinner with Dr. Skopp and his wife, Evelyne. It was a wonderful, inspirational evening—and exactly what I needed before shipping off to Boston for the transplant.

Dr. Skopp had been a mentor and a source of light for me since the first time I had had cancer in 2010. He mentioned me in the “Afterword and Acknowledgements” of his novel, Shadows Walking. To paraphrase, he felt that I was teaching others how to appreciate every day.

He was wrong about that; he was the one that taught me how precious every moment was. I was young and I was angry the first time I had cancer; his positive outlook turned my negative one around on countless occasions. He gave me hope. He encouraged me to keep focusing on healing, to keep learning, to keep living. I wish I had had the foresight to say ‘thank you’ before it was too late.

Perhaps the most significant moment at the memorial, for me, was when one of the speakers relayed some of the advice that Dr. Skopp had once given to him. It was, as follows:

“The most important promises to keep, are the ones [that] you make to yourself”.

This advice has stayed with me, every day, since the memorial. I ask myself, what promises have I made to me? Have I made any of them a priority?

The answer came to me with the click and the tap of a keyboard; continuing to write and, one day, publish some of my fiction—these are promises I have made to myself. The service rekindled my commitment to these promises.

Another important promise: to play laser pointer. Although it primarily benefits Alderaan, promising to play laser pointer is also a promise to me. It’s a promise to slow down, live this life, and love its little moments.

As always, Dear Readers, thank you for your prayers, your love, and your light. It has carried me through so much this past year. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

New Lenses, Old Frames

old frames

This past Friday I had my annual eye exam. I know—it’s hardly world-changing. And, yet, wearing the correct prescription lenses can have a transformative power. Being able to see distances, clearly, is a blessing…one I didn’t always appreciate when I was younger.

I started wearing glasses my freshman year of high school. And, because of vanity, I often refused to wear them. I would walk around without them, only half-seeing. When I did wear my glasses, I had to fight the urge to peer over or under the frames. It was a constant battle…but eventually the glasses won out.

My Achille’s heel? I liked being able to see clearly. And, obviously, I needed to wear them in order to drive safely. In college, I needed glasses in the larger lecture halls to read the white-boards and projector screens.

With my glasses on, there was no more squinting.

No more wondering, ‘hey, what’s that over there?’ or, ‘that person looks vaguely familiar. Who is that?’.

Glasses, as is their purpose, enhanced my vision—so I kept wearing them.

This most recent eye exam was a bit different. First, the eye doctor that examined me was quite thorough. She read through my medical file and took my history into consideration. I don’t remember the names of the ocular conditions that Leukemia and prolonged steroid use can cause, but she tested me for all of them. I am grateful to say that my eyes are healthy!

Surprisingly, my lens prescription didn’t change, but a new set was ordered anyways. September 2017 – September 2018 was a rough year; I picked up some scratches along the way.

Another change: normally, after an eye exam, I would have picked out a new frame. Why didn’t I this time?

Reason #1. How often are the displayed frames actually sanitized? I don’t mean to freak anyone out with my phobia of germs, but when your immune system is compromised, you think about these things.

Reason #2. I had an older frame just sitting at home—wrong prescription—but I still liked the frame. They were imbued with so many wonderful memories…it felt wrong to abandon them when they could be fitted with new lenses and put back into use.

These were the frames that I wore on my first date with the man that would become my fiancé.

They saw Montreal on our second anniversary, just weeks before I was diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

 

Montreal

These frames saw better days, days with hope and a slight hint of youthful invincibility (very slight; I’ve never been that confident about the future).

I want and need some of that perspective back. Will old frames give me that? No, but they can serve as a daily reminder—a talisman of sorts—that it is possible to see and live in a happier, healthier world.

Please continue to send prayers, love and light, Dear Readers. It does help. If you need proof—a year ago today, I was in a Boston hospital bed being prepped for my bone marrow transplant. Today would have been a chemotherapy day (some of the toughest chemo of my life). Prayers and good wishes, thankfully, can change our circumstances. Love does heal.

As always, thank you for your ongoing encouragement.

 

With Gratitude,

Laura

Free Write

Most of the writing that I do these days is quite strict. Skraeling, my manuscript-in-progress, is now 70,497 words strong. The protagonist, Aurora, is the first anti-heroine that I have ever created. I love the story, the challenge that it poses, the research it has required—but I miss playing with words.

To regain that sense of play (and have some fun), I decided to use this week’s blog post as an opportunity to experiment, to record observations, to simply let the words take whatever shape they wanted to. For this week only, my traditional blog post has been replaced by what is essentially a free write.

Nearly every English course that I have ever taken has employed free writing for at least one class session. Why? One plausible reason is that free writing helps students get words on the page by eliminating worries about grammar, story structure, and spelling. In free writing, these conventions don’t matter—it’s the ideas that do. Typically, free writing is not edited (but the perfectionist in me happily broke that rule). So, here it is. This is where my mind wandered to:

I recently heard Autumn’s first cricket chirp.

It seems a bit soon for the insect to resume its song. Yet, there it was, chirping a melancholy tune. Too soon, too soon, I think. I need more time. I’m still on too many immunosuppressants. The anniversary of my bone marrow transplant is approaching; my immune system is supposed to be mature by that date. My bones, and my borrowed marrow, tell me that it won’t be.

not a cricket
Not a cricket, but I thought this little guy (or gal) makes a good substitute.

I saw the first, crimson leaf on an Euonymus alatus (commonly known as a Burning Bush) yesterday.

My memory—what remains of it—pulls me back to the tan-colored, bricked buildings of our college campus. I think I see you there, amid the parade of departing students, but what do I know? I, the Woodcutter’s daughter, had to research which tree the acorn belongs to. Worse still, I had somehow forgotten that the helicopter-like seeds, the ones that spin and twirl to the ground every Fall, belong to the maple. These facts were once in my blood. How could I have forgotten?

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I have felt the comforting warmth of a favorite, over-sized sweater nearly every morning this past week.

The mornings, before the sun rises in earnest, are quite cool. I shrug into the sweater—the black and white one that my mother bought for me the first time that I had cancer—and I put the hood up. From my seat at the kitchen table, I can stare out the window. I can watch the sky as it begins to lighten, darkness melting away.

I tasted a tart apple and wanted to add cinnamon, sugar, butter, and oats.

apple crisp recipe

There’s more to the family recipe for apple crisp than all that, though. Once out of the oven, you will need vanilla ice cream to melt on top of it. Remember, innovation is acceptable, but only if it’s as sweet as a fine drizzle of caramel.

I smelled bitter, dark-roasted coffee.

morning coffee

Bitter is better at 4am in the morning. I don’t add sugar to my daily cup; God knows I have enough cavities. I only consume two cups—preferably using one of our giant mugs—and I’ll have to stop drinking after that because my heart will begin to race. My fingertips follow suit, flying over my laptop’s keyboard.

I am my own cricket, tapping out an oftentimes melancholy tune.

keyboard
Please excuse how dirty my keyboard is. The last time I tried to clean a keyboard, I accidentally fried the entire laptop. 

Thank you, Dear Readers, for allowing me to experience writing as a creative outlet once again. I apologize if this post makes very little sense, but please know that it was incredibly fun to write! I needed to do this. And, who knows? Maybe my next novel-length project will have its roots in this text.

As always, thank you for your prayers, love, and light.

 

With 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

Creativity: Kind of Like a Scavenger Hunt

I am a morning person.

I wake up between 4am and 5am. I go downstairs, fix a cup of coffee (two tablespoons of Ovaltine, please) and start writing fiction. I’m usually fairly content if left to shape my own world out of words—but, these past few mornings, I have felt a bit uninspired.

The problem? I’ve been sitting alone with my own anxious thoughts for far too long. Worry drains creativity. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a solution Saturday night while watching the first few episodes of Season Two of “Anne with an ‘E’”.

If you haven’t heard of this series, I highly recommend it. “Anne with an ‘E’” is a heart-warming, Canadian television show currently on Netflix. It’s based on L.M. Montgomery’s novel, Anne of Green Gables. As a child, L.M. Montgomery was one of my favorite authors. Montgomery’s protagonist, Anne, is an orphan with a rich imagination. Anne finds stories in everything she looks at and wherever she goes.

Anne’s personality and incredible knack for discovering inspiration has prodded me to open my eyes a little wider. There is creativity out there. I just have to open my heart to it, and never stop asking questions.

For instance, I took this photo with my phone:

morning fog

What are we looking at here? In our everyday lives, it is just a sunrise in early July, around 5am. Fog is blanketing the field across the road. It crawls slowly toward our house. Is the fog hiding something? What causes such weather? Does fog symbolize anything? Creepy, right? Or, is it just fog?

This, I think, is how you spin a new short-story.

I’ve never really believed in personal writing muses. The closest I have ever gotten to one was with Wallace the Wonderful. He thoroughly enjoyed harassing me when I was typing. He liked chewing the corners of my research books and lying on my print-outs. He’s been gone since February, but I still miss him every day.

Wallace guarding weather witch

We have a gallery of sorts, hanging on the wall, across from the kitchen table (where I write). It consists of portraits of friends and family—and, of course, there’s a photograph of Wallace. It reminds me that he’s never too far away.

For now, Luna, our puppy, is too high-energy to be a writing companion (plus she’s too big now to curl up on my lap). She prefers activity, like learning how to swim:

luna swimming

Someday, when she’s older and calmer—maybe, then, she’ll doze off at my feet while I type out tales. I’ll be able to pet her copper-colored ears when I’m searching for a word. I’ll whisper the options to Luna and if I’m really lucky, she’ll snore when I say one of the words. You guessed it: I won’t use that word.

Snore translation: That word is too boring, Human Mommy. Find something better.

Although I am not quite awake when dusk falls, there are details about that particular time of day that sparks my creativity. I think I can see pieces of flash fiction when studying the solar, hanging mobile on our back porch. The stars and the angels move slowly, serenely, when stirred by the breeze; otherwise, they are still, soaking up the last of the sun’s rays.

solar mobile

It’s truly the little things—the minute details—that build a strong piece of writing and fuel a writer’s creativity. I have L.M. Montgomery and “Anne with an ‘E’” to thank for reminding me of that.

And, thank you, too, Dear Readers! Your prayers and words of encouragement give me the strength to persist, to heal, to pursue my dreams. Your love and light continue to nourish my soul. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Unpredictable

We have a puppy!

luna

Our puppy, Luna, is currently snuggled up on her daddy. Daddy is clearly her favorite person. And, why not? Mama (me) is a bit stand-offish. No puppy kisses here. Mama is constantly washing her hands. Mama doesn’t—because she’s just not that mobile—get down on the floor to play. Mama often wears gloves. Mama wears a mask whenever we go somewhere as a family (i.e. the vet’s office).

luna and daddy

So, why even bother getting a dog with all of these restrictions?

First, my transplant team in Boston said that I could.

Second, a little companion to take care of, and love, is perhaps one of the best forms of medicine out there.

Third, life is too short to wait for a better/perfect time. I’ll be brutally honest with you: I don’t know how much time I will have on this Earth. Neither do you. If you stop and think about it, do you know when your last day will be? Or how old you will have grown? Make the most out of your time here. Do those things that restore you spirits and make you smile. Breathe.

My grandmother was buried last week.

A former co-worker passed away just a few days ago.

A mentor, whom I am truly grateful for, faded away this weekend like an evening star.

What can we do when presented with such loss?

We can hold on tightly to the pleasant memories and the sage advice. We can live. We can open our hearts to love. We can take chances and put up with the nuisance of washing our hands every half hour. I refuse to live my life in fear. I refuse to miss out on happiness.

I can’t live with my Alderaan right now; Luna can’t fill the hole that Wallace left behind. Despite all of that, we can be a little family. We can learn from each other, we can laugh, we can howl when Daddy leaves for work (which is a habit I probably shouldn’t be encouraging). Sometimes, though, it’s one-hundred percent necessary to throw your head back and howl at the moon.

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send light and love. I am still coping with the symptoms of Graft vs. Host Disease. On a more positive note, my MRI’s from last week showed improvement. We’re back in Boston this week (to monitor the Graft vs. Host Disease). Hopefully, we can gain control of the GVHD soon.

Thank you, as always, for all of your kindness and encouragement.

 

With Love,

Laura

A New Home

We closed on our house!

It doesn’t quite feel like home yet, but, given some time, it will. We will fill these rooms with laughter and happy memories. We’ll add new colors. We’ll play music and celebrate the holidays with family and friends.

Owning a home, for me, is so much more than signing a stack of papers. It’s more than a financial commitment spanning a handful of decades. I realized, while watching the wild bunny in our backyard, that buying a house is an immense leap toward rebuilding my life.

backyard bunny 3.0
(Sorry that the quality of this picture isn’t better.)

Buying a home is another step toward recovery.

It’s an act of hope—hope that I will not relapse again, that the bone marrow transplant will be 100% successful, and, ultimately, hope that I will live long enough to leave my mark on this house.

I know. It sounds a bit pessimistic, but this is how you think after surviving cancer. You are constantly looking over your shoulder to see if the disease is following you. Amidst this worry, you learn how to breathe again. You learn how to live. Or, at least, you try to.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of your support and encouragement. Please continue to send light and love. Alderaan is back at the vet’s office. Poor little guy had a urinary tract blockage. We’re hoping that he’ll be discharged today.

 

With Love,

Laura

Nightingales and Chickadees

 

There is a crocus blooming beneath our apartment’s front window. Every time I see it, I find myself hoping that it is spring’s herald.

crocus

My scars, and my bones, need some warmth to chase away the ache of old wounds.

My spirits could use some sunshine to lift them up.

I’ve been relying on little things to elevate my mood. In recent days, I’ve found myself laughing as tiny bubbles float upwards from our kitchen sink, filled with dish soap. It reminds me of Disney’s cartoon version of Cinderella—when she was scrubbing her stepmother’s floor. It’s been awhile since I’ve watched the movie, but I believe it was at this point in the film that Cinderella started singing a song about the nightingale.

little things desk

Unlike Cinderella, it is the chickadees in the nearby cedar hedges that make me smile. Even though the sky is often cast in gray, and it’s cold out there, the chickadees welcome every morning with a cheerful tune. It gives me the courage to pack yet another box in preparation of our move.

Handling change—even positive change—productively and with ease, is not my forte.

We’re still hoping to close on the house by April 30th. I’m not sure if that will happen, but that’s the goal. I didn’t understand how involved (and stressful) the home-buying process was until we began it. I guess, maybe, most things in life are like that. We don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into until we’re in the thick of it.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for sticking with me. I appreciate your presence here as well as your commentary. Please continue to send love and light.

 

With Love,

Laura

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