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

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A New Year, Another Chance

 

2017 is now gone.

2018 has arrived.

I would like to think that this new year will be better than the last. I would like to think that it’s a fresh start. My gut, however, tells me that neither positive change nor happiness magically arrive when the calendar starts over.

Happiness requires perseverance.

Positive change requires work.

Both require deliberate action.

For instance, and I doubt this will be much of a surprise to anyone, but I want to be healthy in 2018. Most of that is beyond my control—since the cancer I keep developing is the result of faulty genetics. I’ve had a lot of chemotherapy and radiation over the past seven years. Neither of these treatments are consequence-free. Late side-effects continue to pop up.

There are, however, some things that I can do to encourage healing. Now that I am 100 days post-transplant, I can start eating fresh fruits and vegetables again. I can reduce the amount of processed foods that I eat as well as limit my sugar intake. I can attempt to better manage my stress levels through reflexology, a modified yoga practice, and writing. I can experiment with essential oils via the aromatherapy necklaces that my brother gave me for Christmas. I can establish a consistent sleep schedule. I can go to physical therapy and relearn how to walk correctly (bye-bye cane! It’s been real.).

aromatherapy necklace

Will any of these changes single-handedly make my 2018 a year of good health? The pessimist in me says, “no”. The realist in me says, “just try it. It can’t hurt”.

I wish for you, Dear Readers, a wonderful 2018. I hope you make your resolutions come true. Please keep the light and prayers coming this way (recovery from the transplant is a long, long road). As always, thank you for your support. You have been our strength.

 

With Love,

Laura

Seized

leia and r2d2

Photo Caption: From the creative LJ (Princess Leia and R2D2 in the basket of a hot air balloon).

 

I had two seizures this past week.

One took place in our apartment, on the couch. The other took place in the Emergency Room.

I can’t tell you what the seizures felt like…or what exactly happened…because I can’t remember them at all. I know that I bit my tongue (because it hurts). I know I foamed at the mouth (because Seth witnessed it and told me about it). I know I had an MRI of my head, but, again, I have no memory of it.

The timeline of what happened and when isn’t clear to me. I can only vaguely recall the back of the ambulance and its flashing lights illuminating the front of our apartment building. I remember my parents and two of my friends (LJ and Sarah) visiting me in the hospital. Ironically, I was placed in the same room that most of my inpatient cancer treatment was administered in last winter.

I’m a bit on edge—afraid that, even though I am now on anti-seizure medication, it’s only a matter of time before I seize again. The cause of the seizures? My anti-rejection medication. The same pills that have facilitated the engraftment of my donor’s bone marrow—and thus saved my life—have shaken me to my core.

I feel as though I have forgotten something vital…that I’ve left something unfinished.

My sense of time has been affected, too. I feel as though time is slipping through my fingers, faster than ever, and I can’t grab onto it. I can’t make it pause. I want it to slow down—if only for a moment—so I can catch my breath, so I can decide what to do next. I think I expected the transplant process to grant me some insight (i.e. what to do for a career when I’m given the okay to return to work and/or if I should go to graduate school). I’m still waiting for a nudge in the right direction.

Life is short and I want to make sure that mine counts; that I am of help to others, that I leave this world a better place than I found it.

We return to Boston this coming week for another check-up. Please, Dear Readers, continue to send love and light our way. You have been our strength throughout this process. We’d be lost without you.

 

With Love,

Laura

 

Choosing Gratitude

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Dear Readers,

My Facebook newsfeed is full of Thanksgiving and gratitude posts and quotes—for which I am thankful. It’s a nice change to see positive messages. It has buoyed my spirits and reaffirmed my own desire to practice gratitude on a daily basis.

A confession? Even though I have so, so much to be grateful for, gratitude is not always an easy attitude for me to maintain. It takes energy. Persistence. And, for those of us that have been life-long pessimists (or are just plain exhausted), it requires a deliberate change in thinking. In short, gratitude requires work.

Why am I writing this? Because as important as gratitude is, I also think it’s equally important to admit that we’re all human. We’re not perfect. Sometimes, we have bad days, and get upset by anything and everything that doesn’t go our way. It’s in these moments that we have a choice to make: to allow ourselves to be overtaken by negativity or to refocus—and recommit—to a life of gratitude.

For me, Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to look on the bright side. Seth will be cooking our Thanksgiving Day meal—which means it’s going to taste amazing (for those of you who don’t know, he’s a gifted cook). I expect to have a full belly and delicious left-overs for days. We’ll also decorate for Christmas; a holiday that never fails to fill me with hope and light.

It’s easier to be grateful with good food and the love of your life nearby.

So, the next time I struggle with gratitude, I’ll replay the sights and the smells of the holiday season in my mind. I’ll remind myself to cling to good memories instead of worrying about the uncertainty of the future (which is often what impinges my ability to be grateful).

I would like to thank you, Dear Readers, for sticking with me through the rollercoaster ride that has been 2017. Your support has meant everything to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With Love,
Laura

Three

welcome home from bmt

Dear Readers:

It’s been three weeks and three days since I’ve turned my laptop on to write.
The pause in creativity has left me with a multitude of subjects on which to write. I could recount the hazy memories I do have of my bone marrow transplant—the reason for my 3-week hiatus. I could describe how I was so sick during the procedure and, so high on Dilaudid, that my nurses asked Seth to stay overnight, to help calm me down and, ultimately, to help take care of me.
I am so blessed to call this man mine.

Would I love Seth even if he weren’t a medical professional capable of understanding what my medical teams say during my many appointments? Absolutely. He is thoughtful and intelligent and a huge pain in the butt that makes me smile daily.

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017, was our first full day home. And what did he do? Seth went grocery shopping to make sure I had plenty to eat. Later, he let me bounce blog ideas off of him.

His suggestion? To write about “strength”.

This blog opened in January with the intention of exploring strength—what it means, what it feels like, what it looks like. I wrote, again and again, how I didn’t think I had enough of it to weather this cancer relapse. Seth and I disagree on this point, but I still feel as though I have never been strong and that I could use more strength. I have a year of being sequestered ahead of me, as my new immune system matures and my body recovers from high doses of chemotherapy and full-body radiation. I will spend the next year praying that my donor’s cells and my own get along. I have follow-up appointments to attend, a Hickman tunneled catheter to have removed (hopefully later this week!), and eyelashes and hair to regrow.

The truth is, I wouldn’t have gotten through the last three weeks on my own. I was blessed with parents, a brother, and friends that cleaned our apartment so I would have a safe environment to return to after the bone marrow transplant. I was showered with YOUR love and prayers. Throughout my procedure, I had my soulmate holding my hand.

Strength, as the last three weeks and three days have proven, is something to be carefully cultivated. It has many different sources, it can be replenished at any time—if only one asks for light and love when the shadows seemingly grow long.

Please continue sending good thoughts our way. They healing process has only really just begun and we need all the strength and courage we can get. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With Love,
Laura

A Return to Grace and Gratitude

Cuddles with Squishy

I’ve cried a lot over these last few weeks…mostly in the mornings or when hooked up to an infusion pump. I could blame the deluge of emotion on so of my current life circumstances:

  • I am physically exhausted
  • The chemotherapy that I’ve received  over the past two weeks has been anything but easy to tolerate
  • I am now neutropenic (no immune system whatsoever – which means extra hand-washing and wearing masks for the next week or so until my white blood cell count starts to recover. It means no visitors and being extra vigilant about odd physical symptoms)
  • I feel as though I have lost something of myself – I have difficulty writing; the words do not want to come to me and when they do, they are often incorrect or misspelled. The only reason, Dear Readers, that these posts make any sense is because I have both Seth and my mother proofread them before they go live. My hands tremble just enough from neuropathy (nerve damage from the chemotherapy), that taking photographs has become frustrating.

When I started this journey, I wanted to face it with both grace and gratitude. I realized, while hiding in the bathroom at the cancer center this past Wednesday prior to receiving two units of (AMAZING and REFRESHING) blood, that I haven’t done a very good job with that as of late. I haven’t approached this challenge with grace nor have I been all that grateful for each day. I suppose those two qualities are hard to cultivate when you’re doped up on medications and anemic, but let’s put the excuses aside for just a moment:

  • Every day that I have treatment, I have the opportunity to overhear and witness other survivors’ perspectives. I get to learn a little bit about what still lights their lives up, why they’re pushing forward through their own health challenges.
  • Maybe we’re all just muddling through, forcing smiles when we have to, but this past week has also made me acutely aware that like a New Year’s Resolution, a resolution to face cancer with grace and gratitude will occasionally require mental and emotional recommitment. It will require a renewal of sorts. Grace and gratitude do not just magically appear—they have to be worked toward, and, in many ways, earned.

I am crying (again) as I write this, Dear Readers. They’re not tears of self-pity or fear, but rather the tears of a breakthrough. Will it be easy to find joy on the days when all I want to do is cuddle with Squishy (yes, I am a 30-year-old woman with a stuffed unicorn toy) on the couch? Maybe…but what if cuddling is meant to be that day’s joy? Will I continue to grow frustrated with writing and photography? Probably. But you know what? Practice makes perfect and I do know, from my first rodeo with cancer, that much of this neuropathy will go away. The photographs won’t be blurry forever. The words will come back to me when the chemo regimen slows down.

Grace and gratitude—that’s how I wanted to fight this. And, with occasional reminders and restarts, it is how I will fight this.

Please continue to send light, love and healing thoughts, Dear Readers. Treatment marches on this coming week:

  • On Monday – I will receive an infusion of chemotherapy through my chest port, more chemotherapy through my Ommaya Reservoir, as well as two shots of Erwinnia (another chemotherapy) to my legs
  • On Wednesday – I will receive more Erwinnia
  • On Thursday – I will receive chemotherapy through my Ommaya Reservoir
  • On Friday – I will receive even more Erwinnia.

It’s going to be a busy week, Dear Readers, but it’s one week closer to our goal. It’s another opportunity to practice grace and gratitude.

 

 

 

With Love, Laura

 

The Book of Hopes and Dreams

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As a writer, I have many journals. They’re stashed in desk drawers, closets, and book bags. There are two currently resting on my bedside table. Another sits on the couch, patiently waiting for me to pick it back up. Some of these journals are for recording dreams and story ideas. Others serve as a place to list all of the people, events and places that have inspired gratitude. And, then, there’s the green and white journal that I have had since July of 2010.

This particular journal has seen some things. Its binding is creased. There are pages falling out of it. It has been shelved in a variety of places, too: a hospital room, at one of the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodges, my parents’ house, and, now, this apartment. This journal—its cover bearing the words, “Hopes & Dreams”, in permanent marker—has been my travel companion and my confidant.

When I believed in bucket lists, this was the journal that I turned to (and can I just say that #21. “Grow sunflowers and giant pumpkins” still sounds pretty good to me?).

It was a source of inspiration—a place where I recorded quotes that resonated with me, that gave me hope and strength.

It was my planner, featuring daily checklists (i.e. “Write. Something. Anything.”).

When fear cornered me, whispering of infection and complications with surgery sites, this journal heard my prayers:

Dear God, keep me together.

Please don’t let it [the surgery site] open up.

Keep me together, please.

 This journal is a time capsule, keeping my memories, my plans, my hopes together. It bears my words, my fingerprints, the pale rings of dried tears. Emotion permeates every page—including those that I filled last night.

You see, Dear Readers, this journal has become a New Year’s tradition of sorts. On the last day of each year, I take this journal from its hiding place and record those goals I hope to accomplish in the new year. I entrust this journal—this old friend—with all the beautiful moments that I dream of experiencing. Once that list is complied, the book is closed, opened only periodically when I am in need of direction.

Do I cross everything off of these yearly lists? No. To be honest, I usually can’t remember half of the things I write down. I create the list anyways, though, because I believe that there is some magic in visualizing the life that you want to live. I am not the only one that feels that way, either. Although the inspiration for this practice has been lost (I read about it while in the haze of some pretty powerful medications and cannot remember the exact source), I owe the individual(s) behind it many, many thanks. Why? Just take a look at this:

From the very first list that I wrote in 2013: #24. Go to Canada at least once.

From the list written in 2014: #10. Attend the Leukemia & Lymphoma’s event, Light the Night.

From the list written in 2015: #22. Become comfortable driving in high-traffic situations.

From the list written in 2016: #15. Build a social media platform – create a blog and post once a week.

It should be noted that I do not approach these lists with a plan to accomplish the items on them. Yet, when I periodically reread them, there are always items to check off.

Did I go to Canada in 2013? Yes, because in that year I welcomed the incredible little girl that is my goddaughter and namesake. In 2014, the opportunity to attend Light the Night manifested and I walked with a crowd of survivors, caregivers and supporters, a white lantern raised and glowing above my head. Although you will never hear me say that I am comfortable driving in high-traffic situations, I did do some city-driving in 2015 and regained a smidgen of confidence.

And, what about that final item taken from 2016’s list? Well, that’s what this is, isn’t it? My weekly post, on the blog I never thought that I would have the courage to create.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe this journal—this book of hopes and dreams—is nothing more than paper and ink. It might not have any special powers; writing my goals across its pages may not help to manifest them. But, Dear Readers, even if all of that is true, it’s okay.

It’s okay because this journal has been my mirror—reflecting my journey, reflecting my fears and my hopes.

It’s okay because this journal  has become my map, showing me the path to a happy and healthy 2017.

A Sparkling, Silver-White Lining

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I will spare you the details for now, Dear Readers, but this past week was not a good one. So as not to worry any of you, I will say that—apart from being emotional—I am okay. There’s nothing to worry about. This past week simply rerouted me on yet another detour, reshaping what I thought would be the trajectory of my life.

Again, I repeat: I am okay.

I do, however, need to write a little bit about this particular detour or, rather, the lesson that I have learned from it. After all, it has given birth to a perfect storm of emotion—of relief, of anger, of grief, of sadness. This week I needed someone to pull me out of my own mind, to look me in the eyes, and remind me that now is precisely the time to search for silver linings in otherwise dark clouds.

I will be honest; my first thought when I heard that particular sentiment—of finding good amidst the bad—was a big “f*&k you”.

Yes, I know. My response (although unsaid) was neither kind nor gracious. I also share it with you knowing that that brave and wonderful soul that triggered that response is probably reading this, probably slightly amused because I rarely swear, and probably more than a little relieved that I finally agree.

Because, Dear Readers, I do wholeheartedly agree. The cold rain of tears, the haze of anger—as necessary as those emotions are at times, it’s hard to see anything through them. Yet, in the moments of calm between shifting weather patterns, a faint glow can be found on the horizon line. Hope can be found.

As I write this, I am reminded of this year’s first snowfall.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to bed in one world—a world of worn out lawns and shriveled leaves—and awoke in another. This new world glistened with ice and snow. Children’s giddy laughter and the rushed search for hats and mittens ushered in a new day, a new season.

We didn’t receive much snow—an inch at the most—but, as I drove home from work that afternoon, I saw that it had been just enough for the students at a nearby elementary school to build miniature snowmen. The children had, despite having so little material to work with, fitted the playground with at least three of these happy, little creatures.

The children’s ingenuity was heartwarming then, and it is heartwarming now, even though that first snowfall and their creations have melted away. Why? Because the children didn’t look at the meager snowfall and think despairingly, “Oh, this isn’t enough” or, “Oh, this isn’t what I hoped for”. The children looked at the snow and thought, “let’s try”. And, then, they set to work creating something beautiful.

In this life, we do not always get what we want or what we dream of. We like to fool ourselves into thinking that there is a set route with specific milestones along the way—school, career, marriage, home, children, growing old with the ones we love—but more often than not, that’s not how life unfolds.

Maybe you drop out of school, or maybe you make it through only to find that there are no jobs in your field.

Maybe you can afford two houses, or maybe you can barely pay your rent.

Maybe you have a child before you’re ready, or maybe you find out that motherhood might not be in your particular stack of cards.

Life, ultimately, is not as ordered as we would like to think. It disregards plans and expectations. As one of my incredible infusion nurses once told me, “Life is full of detours and this is just a detour”. If there is a silver lining in any of this, it is the sparkling silver-white one found in miniature snowmen. It is the knowledge that life can be wonderful, as long as we listen to the voices of reason and are open to the beauty inherent in all that we already have.

Like children on a wintry playground, it’s not about how much snowfall you’re given—it’s about what you do with it.

City Squirrels Prefer Organic Peanut Butter

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I saw something…unexpected…this past week.

It happened on a day that the weather had been dreary. The sky was overcast, a gunmetal gray, and it was misting. The leaves coating the driveway had become slick, treacherous. My steps were slower, my mind torn between focusing on my footing and the worries of the week.

And that’s when the flash of movement in my periphery vision occurred.

That’s when I stopped walking.

That’s when I saw a squirrel dragging a jar of peanut butter up a tree.

Yes. That’s right. I saw an average-sized squirrel dragging a jar of peanut butter (it was an organic brand, by the way) up a maple tree. As I watched—a little in awe at the squirrel’s determination—the poor thing continued to struggle with the jar. It was trying to lift and climb at the same time and while it was a noticeably difficult task, the squirrel didn’t give up. It wanted to bring that jar home to its nest. It didn’t care that the jar was nearly double its size or that the tree was taller than our apartment building. It kept on going, and when the challenge became too much, the squirrel would rest for a moment, catch its breath, and then continue onward and upward.

You’ve got this, Squirrel! I caught myself thinking.

It’s probably a bit…strange…to cheer for a squirrel, I will give you that. But, in my defense, it’s not every day that a squirrel a) finds a jar of peanut butter, b) hauls it up a tree, and c) I’m in the right spot, at the right time, to witness it. The sight of that squirrel not only lifted my spirits, it made me question, do I approach the gifts of this life—do I attack my dreams and goals—with as much enthusiasm as that squirrel did a jar of peanut butter?

If I am being honest, the answer to that question is a very weak-sounding “sometimes”. Sure, sometimes, I do take steps to attain my goals. I mean, hey, it only took me two years to create this blog, but I finally carried this peanut butter jar home. Conversely, a lot of the time, I only think about what I want to accomplish and then never actually take the necessary steps to achieve those dreams.

So, dear readers, as this week unfolds I am challenging myself—and inviting you—to think about what it is you want. Do you want organic peanut butter? Almond butter? Hazelnut spread? Identify what sparks your creativity, what goals and dreams you hope to accomplish in this life, and then put yourself in the place of that squirrel. Ask yourself: are you determined to carry that jar up a tree, no matter how hard it’s going to be?

If the answer is “yes”, then I hope I’ll see you out there, climbing.