I Tried to Warn You….

flowering tree

In a previous entry, I wrote that you must be careful when in the presence of a writer. Be careful with your word choice. Be careful about how you behave. Basically, Dear Readers, if you do anything intriguing and/or deviant, and a writer witnesses it, they will immortalize it in a short story, poem, novel, or blog post. It’s just how the literary world works.

Last week, I went to an ice cream stand. While waiting for my order, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of men discussing the weather.

“We complain when it’s below zero,” one man stated, “and we complain when it’s in the 90’s.”

Why does this matter? Because, when writing, this is how settings are constructed. A generic line like this could be used in a variety of ways and in multiple genres. Best of all, it’s credible—because it was actually said. Sure, it needs some spice to make it “pop” off of the page. Giving the man a name is a good place to start. Describing how he conveyed this sentiment would also be helpful (i.e. was this statement presented matter-of-factly? Was his voice monotone? Did his hands move when he was talking?).

One of my college English professors once instructed us that, “writers are thieves”. I agree with this credo whole-heartedly. As students, we were encouraged to people-watch. Observation, learning how others utilize body language and facial expressions during interactions, is how a writer constructs believable characters. It’s a source of inspiration.

What are some of the best places to people-watch? Anywhere. Everywhere.

Pay attention to accents and colloquial terms. Take note of unique fashion-choices (i.e. an ensemble of leopard-print pajama pants, feathered slippers, and a leather jacket).

Remember, though, that there’s more to the world than human behavior. If you’re world-building, consider the environment in which your characters live. What season is it? What grows there?

wild strawberry

Are there any animals roaming around?

turkey and song bird

Yes, Dear Readers, I am writing about writing. What you’re not taught in college, though, is that you need one of these:

writing companion

A patient writing companion is a must. Isn’t he handsome?

If you’re not a writer, I imagine that you may have found this post quite dull. Or, maybe it’ll be the spark that rekindles a long-forgotten dream to write. Either way, I do appreciate your presence here. Please continue to send prayers, love and light. I am scheduled to have some MRIs next week. I need these scans to show that there hasn’t been any change.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

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Nineteen Months Post-Transplant

morning fog

The field across the road is covered by mist. It’s the kind of blanket that envelopes the earth so completely, that you can’t see the grass. You can’t see if the neighborhood cats, Sneaky Pete and Tux, are on the prowl. You can’t see if the Wild Turkey Gang has returned (they’re probably distantly related to Boston’s Brookline Turkey Gang) .

The mist hides things—creating a blank canvass, not at all unlike the (almost) blank page that I’m currently looking at. I’m at a stand-still, questioning what I should fill this page with….

Maybe, since I requested prayers, I should tell you how my appointment in Boston went?

It went great!

The white blood cell line that I was worried about, was still elevated. I suspected that it would be. This particular cell line, known as your Eosinophils, usually indicate allergies when elevated in a normal person. In a transplant recipient, it can indicate the presence of Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD).

I have allergies. I’m allergic to Alderaan (our cat) and I’m allergic to Spring.

However, because I was inexplicably losing weight, there was a possibility that I had GVHD in my GI tract. The only way to confirm this was with an Upper GI Scope—which, I obviously didn’t want.

So, what did I do? I ate ice cream before bed nearly every night.

I put some pounds back on. I’m still not at my fighting weight, but according to my lead transplant doctor, “You look great for being 19 months old”.

My reward for the difficult job of wiping out whole pints of cookie dough ice cream? A decrease in my anti-rejection medication! AND I get to discontinue my prescription Daily-Vite tab (Hello, gummy vitamins. I’ve missed you). I’m also no longer taking Folic Acid (which, ironically, had the highest co-pay). The amount of Magnesium-Oxide that I have to take has been reduced from 400mg three times a day, to once a day.

This is beautiful, wonderful, progress!

Did eating ice cream on a daily basis really instigate these positive changes? No. I believe it was all of the prayers, light and love that you, Dear Readers, surrounded me with. Your presence has had a positive impact on my life—on every life that you come in contact with. Please remember how powerful you truly are.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

What Cup are You Drinking From?

We all have our own eccentricities. We have habits that we can’t remember when, or why, they started. In fact, our quirks may be so embedded in our day-to-day lives that we can’t even recognize them anymore.

One of my quirks (which I am aware of only because it involves conscious decision-making) is to pick my coffee cup each morning, not by how much coffee it will hold, but by what it says. For instance, I pick this coffee cup when I need to feel stability, positive energy, and/or need to smile.

LLLmug

“Live. Laugh. Love.” It’s the recipe for happiness. And, who doesn’t want to have a happy day?

morning coffee

You may remember this coffee mug from a previous post. Yes, I drink from this cup when I’m writing—and particularly when characters have some bad karma coming their way. I invest a lot of time and energy into crafting my fictional characters; it hurts to injure and/or kill them. Sometimes, though, the plot requires suffering. As a writer, I do what I have to do.

Similar to some of my characters, and the unfortunate events that befall them, I, too, need healing. It is at this moment, that I reach for this handmade coffee cup:

htp mug 2.0

Made by Healing Touch Pottery, the stone embedded in this cup’s handle is believed to encourage healing. My body, mind, and soul need a lot of that.

And, let’s not forget the mugs that make me giggle:

potter mug

As some of you know, I became a Harry Potter fan later than the rest of my cohort. I was in my late twenties when I finally sat down to read the second book of the series. From there, I couldn’t stop reading. For a time, I read non-stop, until there was nothing left to read. Fortunately, it’s a series that is easy to revisit.

unicorn mug

You may not know this about me, but I have very little confidence. My self-esteem has flat-lined over the past few years. I don’t feel strong or brave, so, having a coffee mug that tells me, “I’m Fucking Magical”, gives me a much-needed boost. It makes me believe that I might accomplish good—or maybe even great things—during my day. It buoys my spirits, energizes me, and makes me feel special.

Of course, there are some mornings, wherein I just need love:

love you mug

This mug helps me on the mornings when I feel as though my tank is empty, as though there’s nothing left of me to give or share. I take a sip of coffee from this cup, and, somehow, I feel loved and capable of sharing love with others.

I believe, Dear Readers, that love—to be cared for deeply by someone or something (i.e. a pet)—is as essential as food and water. So, too, is being kind and caring toward others.

As always, thank you so much for your prayers, love, and light. You have carried me through so much and I am so, so grateful for your presence here.

 

Love & Gratitude,

Laura

In Five Years….

If my fiancé is home, and awake, “The Office” is usually on. I’ve watched nearly every season of the television show with him. Occasionally, though, something strikes me as being new or important. Today, it was an episode in which the women of the office attended a meeting regarding gender in the workplace. Although the question was never actually asked (I re-watched the episode 3 times to be certain of this), the women started providing answers to the query, “where do you want to be in 5 years?”.

I’ve heard this question in the past—during job interviews and/or while preparing for job interviews. I’ve never considered applying it to my personal life. My knee-jerk response to the question was, “I want my novel published!” (I shouted that answer, in case you’re wondering.)

My fiancé smiled at this, but then suggested, “What about being alive?”

Although I am frequently haunted by my medical history, I have somehow taken my life—and the fact that I am still alive—for granted. I’m not certain how that happens. If I had to guess, I’d say that I get swept up by various anxieties, day-to-day chores…and forget that our next breath is not guaranteed.

But, yeah, still being alive in 5 years is a good (if not great) goal. Being alive and cancer-free is an even greater goal. Being alive, cancer-free and GVHD-free, is perhaps the greatest goal.

What will I do with this new-found health and appreciation? I’ll visit the ocean, walking out into the water until I am ankle deep in it. I will listen to the roar of the larger waves. I will watch the smaller waves lap the shoreline, forming lace-like patterns atop the sand.

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There’s healing to be found in nature.

I’d also like to wander through the halls of Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay.

Boldt Castle

And, maybe, while I’m there, I’ll visit the ballroom and take a moment to  feel like a princess. I’d like to watch freighters navigate the St. Lawrence’s wide, wide waters. On the Fourth of July, I’ll like to admire the fireworks, lighting up both the night sky, and the river’s current with flashes of white, blue, and red.

So, Dear Readers, where would you like to be in 5 years?

Thank you, once again, for your prayers, love and light. Your kind words and thoughts have a positive impact. Please, don’t ever doubt that.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

On the Ice

icicle 01.25

Both of our sidewalks—and our driveway—are currently miniature ice rinks.

They’re slick, slippery, and challenging to walk on. I’ve nearly wiped out on four separate occasions. Due to this, I’ve decided to be a bit more cautious and use a ski pole to help me get to where I need to go. It’s slow-going, but to quote a popular adage, “it’s better to be safe, then sorry”.

I imagine, that those of you who live near us, are experiencing similar conditions.

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When I look outside at this ice—especially the large patch next to the garage door—it summons memories of winters past.

ice next to garage
Underneath that dusting of snow, is ice

There were several winters in which my father made a shallow ice rink in the side-yard. My brother and I were still in grade school at the time—and huge fans of “The Mighty Ducks”.

The goal—the reason for creating an ice rink—was to teach us how to skate.

Our parents bought us hockey skates, because they have better ankle support. They were black with white laces. The blades glimmered, new. Our father used to play hockey in high school, and later, in a men’s league, so we’d don his old helmets. He’d skate with us, keeping an eye on us as we pushed chairs across the ice.

little icicle

I will admit to not being good at it. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that I can’t skate.

Why? How could such a thing happen when I had the best skating coach that a little girl could possibly ask for?

I was afraid of falling. Because of this fear, my body would tense up, rigid. I seem to recall that my knees should have been slightly bent, a bit relaxed, even. I couldn’t do that. Relaxing, to me, meant giving up control.

Control is believed to be power; but, it’s a complete myth. We’re never 100% in control of our lives. Sure, we can have a direct impact on how our lives unfold via the choices we make (to pursue an education, to apply for a particular job, to eat healthy foods and exercise). We can control what lens we use to view the world. Viewing the world through a positive lens can make life feel and look better; conversely, viewing it through a negative lens, can make it quite awful.

I, obviously, didn’t know any of this when I was a little girl on that ice rink. I remained tense, hoping to keep every ounce of control that I thought I had. There are consequences for not relaxing. In the adult world, it’s called, “burn-out”. As a little girl in skates, it was a missed opportunity.

Learning how to relax—giving my mind and my body a break from stress—is now at the top of my priority list. It encourages healing (which I have plenty to still do). I don’t need to control everything about my life; “burn-out” and “missed opportunities” are too steep a price to pay. As another adage reminds me, it’s important to, “stop and smell the roses”. Relax, slow down enough to notice the little things in life—which, more often than not, are the most beautiful things.

more icicles

Will I ever wear a pair of skates again? I don’t know. Maybe. We’ll see.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for the prayers, light, and love that you send my way. This past week was full of appointments—and your good wishes carried me through. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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