Boots and Camera, Please

spring

As you know, Dear Readers, I had my power port removed last week.

I promised, on Facebook, to write a blog post about it. I wanted to use that post to encourage others to research Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, the more time I put into writing that entry, the more triggered I became.

For me, PTSD has its roots in medical trauma. So, even a “small procedure” such as a port removal, is a big deal. It summons nightmarish memories from both of my cancer experiences and my transplant. While writing about it, I realized that I was walking the fine line between Mental Health Advocacy and Desiderata’s poetic advice, “Be gentle with yourself”.

I chose Desiderata.

I needed a break from the anxiety of it all—some solace—so I put on my boots, grabbed my Nikon, and went outside in search of spring. It wasn’t difficult to find.

We only have a few deciduous trees in our backyard. Currently, they are all heavy with buds and the promise of green leaves.

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Our English Roseum (otherwise known as Rhododendron) is starting to wake up, too.

English Roseum

The shrubs, framing the front porch, are wearing the signs of new growth:

 

new growth

I am not sure if these are Day Lilies or Irises, but they’re certainly trying to reach for the sunlight.

iris or lily

And, then, of course, there are the birds:

robin in the horse shoe pit

Although this photograph—of a cardinal amid the tree buds—was pure luck, his presence was a comfort after such a long week.

cardinal amid the tree buds

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of your prayers, light, and love. Please continue to send them; I have another follow-up appointment in Boston this week. It is imperative that my white blood cell lines are within normal limits this time.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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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 Beauty in Broken Things

snowflake on coat
Not broken, but beautiful

We’re only fourteen days into 2019, and, already, the new year has taught me some significant lessons.

While undecorating the Christmas tree, an angel ornament broke.

The dryer is screeching…not a little bit, but a lot.

I broke a tooth.

How can I be “okay” with any of these happenings? The answer is quite simple: most broken things can be fixed. With, perhaps, the exception of these ink-stained pajama pants:

ink stain

There’s no saving these, but that, too, is okay. I only ever wear them to bed. And, if you look closer, what do those ink stains look like? Hearts. They look like hearts.

I was not happy about the angel ornament breaking. This ornament was actually a party favor from a friend’s wedding (forever ago). The angel has shown me, that although broken, she is still quite beautiful. Just a dab of hot glue, and she will be whole again. She will be ready to shine on 2019’s Christmas tree.

seashell angel 1.0

The dryer, of course, is another matter entirely. It’s teaching me patience (the lesson that I am given again and again. Someday, I’ll actually be patient). My fiancé has ordered replacement parts to fix the problem, but in the meantime, I have to hang our clean, but wet, laundry on a wooden clothes rack to dry. The drying process is longer, and the product is rather scratchy, but it works.

dryer

Let me tell you, when I can use that dryer again, I might just buy some sparkling juice to celebrate!

Finally, my broken tooth. This, was unfortunately, fated to happen. I can’t remember if I ever wrote about the dental evaluation that I had to have, prior to my bone marrow transplant in 2017. The short version: this evaluation resulted in having one tooth pulled and a few others marked as likely to cause future issues.

Well, here we are in the “future”, and a suspect tooth did as was predicted—it broke.

The break didn’t hurt, but unhealthy teeth are gateways for infection. So, Dear Readers, I will be visiting the dentist this morning for an exam. I’m not sure if any work will be done, but I will need to take an antibiotic anyways. PowerPorts—I still have mine—are susceptible to infection from dental work, especially if any plaque is disturbed and makes its way down the port line.

Similar to most people, I do not like having dental work done. The drill, the Novocaine shot…ugh. For me, though, it’s the overhead light that is most bothersome. It is a PTSD trigger. Sometimes, when I am sitting underneath that light, I think I can see other masked faces staring down at me—faces that performed my ICU surgery in 2010. These images bring me back to a time, and a place, wherein I was on Death’s doorstep.

That’s not an exaggeration. I nearly died, and no matter how much time passes, it is something that continues to haunt me.

How do you face a fear like that? I plan to silently recite a verse from the New International Version of the Holy Bible, specifically, Psalm 91:11a. I’ve written about this verse before. I find a great deal of comfort in these words, so I thought that I’d share them once again: “For He will command His angels concerning you…”.

So, 2019, I see this challenge, and I will view it as Exposure Therapy—which, in the end, will only make me stronger.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for continuing to send love, light and prayers. You give me hope and strength to see the positive in so many situations. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Change (And Not the Kind Jingling in the Bottom of My Purse)

With the arrival of 2019, my thoughts have gravitated to—and fixated on—the concept of change. The more I have pondered it, the more I realize that there is so much more for me to learn.

For instance, there are different rates of change: sudden and gradual.

Change can occur in the blink of an eye—like an unwanted health diagnosis.

Or, change can happen so gradually, that you never even notice it—until the transformation is complete—like the undercarriage of a car rusting out.

Change, itself, varies. There are different types:

Change of mind

Change of pace

Change of heart.

Most of the monumental changes in my life, have occurred at a super-sonic speed. If given a choice, though, I would prefer the kind of change that requires elbow grease, time, and commitment. The reward for tenacity? Positive developments.

At some point during my cancer relapse in 2017, I developed foot drop. Foot drop affects dorsiflexion—which means it affects the act of walking. The hospital’s in-patient physical therapy department loaned me a plastic Ankle-foot orthosis (also known as an AFO), until I could be fitted for my own leg brace. Before discharge, I was outfitted with one, plastic brace for my weaker, left leg.

 

treatment with OR and brace
Loaner – plastic AFO

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but this plastic brace was incredibly uncomfortable. Wearing a brace on only one leg made me feel like my hips were uneven—as if I was wearing a sneaker on one foot and a kitten-heel on the other.

I push through things, though—like a bulldozer. I stopped wearing the brace too early. I stopped using my cane too early.

cane

I didn’t want to admit that I needed assistance…but, eventually, I was able to reconcile with the fact that I did, indeed, need help.

Since April 2018, I have been working with an incredible physical therapist. When I first met her, I couldn’t get up off of the floor without holding onto something and pulling myself up with my arms. Week after week—sometimes two times a week—we met to strengthen my legs and recoup a sense of balance (the tumor in my spinal cord had stolen that, too). In June of 2018, I was fitted for two new braces. Carbon fiber, light-weight, and best of all—one for each foot!

leg braces

While I can walk without my braces, I usually spend at least half the day wearing them. They support my ankles and make me pick up my feet (which tends to be a problem when you have foot drop).

All of this “elbow grease”, time, and commitment—has led to positive changes. According to my physical therapist, as of January 15, 2019 (my last scheduled appointment), I will be ready to discontinue attending physical therapy sessions.

I will, however, continue doing the at-home exercises on a daily basis. These exercises have contributed so much to my well-being. They’ve given me leg strength, confidence, and restored a sense of balance.

It is this kind of change—the type that requires work—that I prefer.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for joining me here, at Of Perras & Pieridae, in 2019. Please continue to send prayers, light, and love as I taper off of my anti-rejection medication. Your support means the world to me.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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

 

 

 

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

November

turkeys

When I think about the month of November, two opposing images fill my mind.

For several minutes, I recall only gray skies, laden with thick clouds. They’re the kind of clouds that are only a degree or two away from sending snowflakes spiraling earthward. I see bare-armed trees, lawns blanketed with crimson, orange and yellow leaves. I can hear the call of the wild geese flying south.

The second image that comes to mind is my grandmother’s kitchen. She’d have cardboard cut-outs of cornucopias, turkeys, and pilgrims taped to her wooden cupboards. Fluorescent light reflected off of the orange counter-tops. It was warm. It was bright. It was nothing at all like the withered, wind-raked field across the road.

But that was decades ago.

The similarities between her kitchen and mine, are not lost on me. I have wooden cabinets. My counter-tops are not currently in vogue; they’re maroon-colored. I don’t have Thanksgiving-themed cut-outs to display, but the tile back-splash features several harvest-themed images. Or, rather, the fruits of the harvest.

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I strongly disliked these tiles when we first moved in. I wanted them removed, covered up, just gone. Obviously, none of those things happened…and I am glad that they didn’t. These images have grown on me. They’re bright, happy. They allude to hard work in the field and the orchard. They’re short recipes for delicious meals and wonderful memories.

And, just like my grandmother, I can see a field across the road. The field here, though, belongs to a cat that I have often spotted prowling across it. I have taken the liberty of naming this feline, “Sneaky Pete”.

cat in the field

The clocks have fallen behind, ushering in shorter, darker days. Instead of dreading these changes, I am determined to spend my November counting my many blessings. I’ll continue to record them in my gratitude journal. When I need light or warmth, I’ll sit by the fireplace. I’ll find joy in playing laser pointer with Alderaan. I’ll hug Luna when she gives me the opportunity to do so (she’s a Daddy’s girl).

I’ll celebrate when the sun breaks through the cloud cover, when the blue jays call from the cedar hedges, when I am able to spend otherwise gloomy mornings writing fiction.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, my left foot and ankle were mysteriously swollen last weekend. I am pleased to report that they are now deflated! They’re completely back to normal, and well-supported within a foot/leg brace that I need to—and will—wear more often. I have foolishly resisted wearing my braces at home; afraid that they’d be damaged somehow. It’s time, however, to put aside that fear and accept my braces for what they really are: blessings.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of the kind words, thoughts, and prayers that you have sent my way. You were heard and I am so grateful for your love and light.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura