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

 

 

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Merry Christmas Eve!

 

outdoor wreath

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

Remember to stop and listen to your favorite Christmas song.

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

glass angel

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

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

indoor wreath

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

 

 

(Non-alcoholic) Shots of Holiday Cheer

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

We’ll start with an undecorated Christmas tree:

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

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

seth decorating

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

a star a star

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

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

faux red flowers

We strung lights along our stair hand-rail:

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

deck the halls

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

ornament 2018

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

away in a manger

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

blue jays

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

The season is also about hope for the future:

pine cone

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

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

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Joyful

snowflake

Dear Readers,

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

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

biker mask

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

christmas party
(I stole this photo from my fiancé)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

With Love & Gratitude:

Laura

Lights & Love

 

angel all aglow

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

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

cardboard star

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

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

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

“Yeah, I do.”

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

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

Hope for a brighter and healthier future.

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

pine

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

Miracles do happen…they just take time.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Today, I am Grateful for…

banner

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

November 8th, 2018

Today, I am grateful for:

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

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

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

mobile at night

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Silver-Linings, Silver Ears

Aldie on the mantle

I really do try to see the positive in situations…but, I’m human…and, sometimes, I need a little help to see what’s right in front of me.

For instance, this past Wednesday, I was at my parents’ house (where the majority of my belongings still are). There was a pedestal mirror atop my long-neglected bureau.

In the house I share with my fiancé, the only mirrors that we have are in the bathroom. So, if someone is in the bathroom, you’re out of luck. You can try catching your reflection in the television screen, but best wishes to you. Brushing your hair into place isn’t going to happen until the bathroom is vacated.

You learn to live with minor inconveniences such as this.

Seeing my old pedestal mirror, though, I decided to take it home with me. I’d put it in our bedroom or my office—someplace where I could try to tame my wild curls whenever the bathroom was otherwise occupied. I began dusting it. As I did so, however, the mirror snapped off of the pedestal. It landed on the cement floor and cracked like a hard-boiled egg.

“Great,” I thought, recalling the superstition that breaking a mirror comes with a sentence of 7 years of bad luck.

As a life-long pessimist, I instantly started reciting all of the major and minor health problems that, due to my medical history, I could probably develop in the next 7 years. It was a depressing and anxiety-filled list. Seeking some solace, I told my fiancé about the mirror. His response was perfect:

“I guess that means you’ll be alive for the next seven years,” he said. “You have to find the silver-lining in these things.”

I had to think about what he had said for a minute or two, before the meaning of it sunk in. You do have to be alive to have bad luck—or any luck at all, really.

“I want more than 7 years,” I countered.

“Of course,” he replied, “I want you to have more than that, too.”

Point of Clarification: no doctor has told me that I have an expiration date, coming due in seven years. This is just our morbid sense of humor and how we decided to interpret a broken mirror and the superstition of 7 years of bad luck. Now, I know a broken mirror can’t guarantee health or life, but I’m going to pretend that it can. That kind of assurance, even if only a work of the imagination, is truly a silver-lining.

While searching for silver-linings, I have also rediscovered a pair of lovable, silver ears.

silver ears

During my last check-up in Boston, I asked if our cat could live with us again. I was afraid to ask since my immune system hasn’t finished developing yet. The answer, though, was, ‘yes’!

After a year of being cared for by my parents (thank you, Mom & Dad!), and losing his big brother Wallace, Alderaan (Aldie) has finally moved in with us. My brother delivered him to our front door on Wednesday night. He set Aldie in his new litter box while I prepped his dinner.

The next day, October 11th, Alderaan had his fourth birthday. He celebrated with a long nap underneath our bed. He’s a small guy, weighing in at only 11.5-pounds. Aldie is special, though. I believe he knew I had cancer long before any of my doctors even considered it a possibility.

Why do I think this? Before I was diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, if I was sleeping on my stomach, the little guy would curl up on my back—in the exact spot that my tumor would later be found. He was a heating pad, trying to ease the pain radiating from my lumbar spine.

Alderaan took care of me this past Thursday night, too. When I was too restless to sleep, thrashing around and trapped in some dream, our little feline decided to settle down on my feet. Aldie, although quite small, has the power to turn into a cinder block. He somehow becomes incredibly heavy. Utilizing this hidden superpower, he prevented me from continuing to move. I still couldn’t sleep, but it’s the thought that counts.

I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful it is to have my silver ears back.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for continuing to send prayers, love, and light my way. It means the world to me.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Oh, How the Seasons Do Change

October has arrived.

I do enjoy Autumn—picking apples and buying freshly made cider donuts from local orchards. There’s nothing quite as wonderful as a mug full of hot apple cider steeped with Mulling Spices. The Fall foliage, too, is breathtaking. I hope, as one reader (thank you bloomlover!) suggested, to take a ride through the Adirondacks, bring my camera with me, and try to capture some of that beauty.

When I was a child, my family would travel to Covey Hill in Quebec, Canada to pick apples. The orchard there seemed enormous! Year after year, it was busy with smiling, laughing families and couples. I remember bringing home more apples than we could eat before they spoiled—which meant Mom would bake pies and apple crisp just to use them up. The house would smell absolutely delicious.

Also delicious, was all of the Halloween candy we would score while trick-o-treating. Perhaps the most magical memory I have of Halloween involves my mom, one of my aunts, my brother, and two of my cousins. I was still in Elementary School at the time and I can’t remember what my costume was; my brother might have been batman. As we were going door-to-door asking for candy, we came across several black kittens. They were prowling the sidewalk in front of a little house.

I remember wanting one of those kittens more than another candy bar or lollipop. Of course, I didn’t get one. I couldn’t just scoop one up into my pumpkin candy bucket…but, just to be clear, it would have fit.

Someday, I’ll have a black cat. I think I’ll name him Simon.

As the weather grows colder, and the days shorter, it is important to remember those people, places, things that warm your heart. The very word “warmth” conjures memories of my parents’ wood stove. Nearly every Sunday afternoon, my mother would cook a pork roast in the crock-pot. Its savory scent would permeate the entire house. I think of curling up on a comfortable chair, wrapped in a blanket, and reading a new book.

This year, I’ll be doing that in front of our natural gas fireplace. I’ll probably have to share the recliner with Luna (which is not as easy as it used to be since she’s now 6-months old and pushing 45 pounds). She’s grown up so fast!

Hanging from the fireplace’s mantle, though, is something else that warms my heart—a wreath that my mother made for me.

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I adore the scarecrow in the center of the wreath. The little guy brings a smile to my face.

I hope, Dear Readers, that you, too, are finding things to smile about as the seasons change. Take a moment to marvel at the beauty and the magic that still inhabit this world. Enjoy it. Store it up like squirrels and chipmunks hide acorns and pilfered bird food.

There’s a Boston appointment waiting for me this week. It includes 7 vaccinations (all inactive viruses, I believe). Please continue to send prayers, love and light. They are so very appreciated.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

This is What They Call a Birthday

first birthday cake

In the world of Bone Marrow Transplants, the anniversary of your transplant is considered to be your “New Birthday”. I just turned “One”.

I think I’m supposed to feel elated.

Or proud.

The truth is, all I feel and see are confused flashes of that hospital room.

I can’t remember much of my time as an inpatient. Preparation for a transplant is both physically and mentally demanding. The chemotherapy that I was given in Boston—just days before the actual transplant—was harsher than all of the chemotherapy that I received during cancer treatment. The Total Body Irradiation completely drained me.

I was also higher than a kite on pain meds, dreaming about being trapped in a basement…and something about cave trolls. What I do seem to remember are the challenging moments. My mind has a penchant for that. Don’t ask me to remember happy milestones or joy. I’m not wired to recall pleasant memories, although I wish that I was.

Breathing would be a lot easier if I could focus on positive details such as the pigeon that sat, every day, on my windowsill—as if it were watching over me. Was it an angel? Or just another city bird? I remember naming it, “Bird Butt”, because it always had its tail feathers pressed against my window. I couldn’t take a decent picture of it with my cellphone…so…if it was an angel, I can’t imagine that it was too impressed by me or my “creative” naming abilities.

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So much has happened in the year between naming “Bird Butt” and the present day.

The field I admire—the one across the road—has been turned into square bales. I watched a farmer mow the field and bail it. I began to appreciate him as much as I did the field. He walked with a cane and, yet, somehow was able to climb up and down from the tractor’s seat. As someone that once relied on a cane to walk, I know that this was no easy task. This man was determined. A hard-worker. Someone to respect, to emulate.

Do I miss my former view? Yes.

The field, though, has not stopped giving me beautiful moments to ponder. Do I love what it has given me now, even more? The answer: a resounding yes!

Whenever the shadows are long, there is a rather large cat that prowls across the field. It has probably been doing this for longer than we’ve lived here—the tall grass kept it hidden from sight. Now, however, the feline is visible. I can’t tell if s/he wears dark stripes like my Wallace did, or if its coat is entirely sable in color. Either way, its presence gives me joy. Hope. Dare I say, happiness?

cat in the field 2.0

So, yes, I ate cake on my “First Birthday”. My fiancé bought it for me and it was rather tasty. There weren’t any candles to blow out, but I made a few wishes anyways.

I wished to become a positive-thinker (I would like to believe that I’ve made some progress in that department).

I wished to help others whenever possible.

And, finally, I wished to stockpile pleasant memories—and actually remember them.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of your prayers, kind words, and love over this past year. Please continue to send light. The recovery process has only just begun. I have three to six more months on steroids and my anti-rejection medication. They’re both immunosuppressants, so I will still have to be cautious about what I expose myself to.

The bright side? I’m “One” now…my legs are wobbly…but I’m starting to take my first steps toward health.

 

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