I didn’t realize that I was missing, absent, until last week.
It’s been two years since I put make-up on…and, when I did…the reflection I saw in the mirror was not the pale, tired, transplant recipient that I’ve been. Nor was she the fear-ridden cancer patient.
She was me.
Over the years, I have had various opinions regarding cosmetics. At times, I felt that they were toxic, illness-causing. I have felt that they were just another way in which women (and men) are forced to adhere to society’s unrealistic beauty standards.
I have also felt the exact opposite—that make-up can be used to accentuate features, to highlight natural beauty. I have also viewed make-up as an art form; a creative way of expressing one’s individuality.
For the past two years, I have been buried under doctors’ appointments, surgical procedures, fresh scars, and Steri-Strips. I’m still trying to crawl out from underneath that wreckage…and, somehow, sable eyeliner makes me feel fierce, capable.
With the right blend of eyeshadows, I can see flecks of green in my eyes. I see trees. Nature. Magic.
Applying make-up might not be a natural process, like metamorphosis, but it reminds me of the proverb: “Just when the caterpillar thought that the world was over, it became a butterfly”.
Metamorphosis takes time.
And, sometimes, it requires unexpected tools:
Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here. Thank you for allowing me to share my feelings and thoughts. Please continue to send prayers, light, and love.
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.
Our English Roseum (otherwise known as Rhododendron) is starting to wake up, too.
The shrubs, framing the front porch, are wearing the signs of new growth:
I am not sure if these are Day Lilies or Irises, but they’re certainly trying to reach for the sunlight.
And, then, of course, there are the birds:
Although this photograph—of a cardinal amid the tree buds—was pure luck, his presence was a comfort after such a long week.
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.
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.
“Live. Laugh. Love.” It’s the recipe for happiness. And, who doesn’t want to have a happy day?
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
I wanted an older dog. I wanted an old soul that was house-trained, had good manners, and was slow-moving. Why? Because, in April of 2018, I was still slow-moving. The tumor in my spine (although radiated into oblivion) and the drop foot that I had developed while in the hospital, had left me unsteady on my feet. I couldn’t imagine taking an energetic pup for a walk.
In this, though, I firmly believe: we’re not always given what we think we want. We’re given what we need.
As is written in the Holy Bible: New International Version, in the book of Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
So, no, a puppy was not part of my plan. She was part of a bigger plan.
I needed a copper-colored puppy.
I needed someone to walk on a regular basis. I needed someone to challenge my pace. I needed a baby to feed and cuddle. I needed Luna.
Was it all cuddles and neat obedience tricks? Absolutely not. She tested my patience like no one ever has. She chewed up countless shirts and yoga pants (while I was wearing them). She destroyed all of her plush toys—even the ones that claimed to be “indestructible”.
Despite these growing pains, she has become a reliable and comforting presence.
She’s my little guardian—letting me know when there’s a stranger in the yard (i.e. UPS) or strange creatures (i.e. wild turkeys)
She’s my therapy when I’m anxious. One touch of her super-soft fur, and the world feels right again.
She’s my Netflix binge-buddy—curling up beside me on the couch, watching superheroes save the world, documentaries on Vikings, or whatever else I might happen to be obsessed with.
I cannot believe how much—and how fast—she has grown up! Born as a member of a “surprise liter”, on an April 1st that was both Easter and April Fool’s Day, she is truly special. I often wonder, “where has my baby girl gone”? She’s still here, just taller and weighing in at 55-60 pounds. Her bark has changed, too. It’s louder, it’s part howl, and it frightens wild turkeys away.
She has a big, beautiful heart.
Happy 1st Birthday, Luna! Daddy and I love you to the moon and back.
Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love and light. Your encouragement sustains me.
The month of March always seems to surprise us with at least one, mega snow storm. This year might just be the exception to that trend. It was predicted that we would receive an accumulation of 18+ inches of snow on Friday, March 22. At our house, we saw approximately two to three inches.
The snow started falling here, at 7am, covering all traces of spring.
Two days before, the cedars had been alive with the music of returning, spring-time birds. As the rain changed to sleet and then snow, I became worried for them; they had flown home too soon!
My fears were silenced, though, when I stepped outside with Luna, our puppy. The birds were still singing. The large snowflakes weren’t worrying them in the least bit. They continued to trill and whistle promises of warmer temperatures, growing flowers, and new beginnings.
This was, clearly, a life lesson.
I don’t sing very often anymore. I used to be a descant (high) soprano…but my vocal cords have changed. I can probably blame chemotherapy and total body radiation for that, but there’s no point in placing blame on past, unchangeable events. Instead, I need to be more like the birds. I need to sing—even if it’s snowing, even if I’m wildly off-key, and even if my voice cracks.
I’m not sure how Seth will feel about this confession, but the best part of our five-hour commute to Boston for transplant check-ups is turning on Pandora, and singing together. It’s so much fun! It does wonders for dispelling pre-appointment jitters. Of course, we have our favorite songs: Tenacious D’s “Tribute”; The Strumbellas’ “Spirits”; and the DREAMERS’, “Sweet Disaster”. These are just a few of the songs that we try to harmonize on. We’re also partial to Broadway musicals and anything featuring Neil Patrick Harris.
It’s a long trip though, and at night, when we’re tired of driving, we shift gears and listen to angrier-sounding music. Need to stay awake somehow, you know?
Shifting gears in this blog post, there is one soul in this house that is quite happy to see snow falling. No joke, our baby girl turns 1 on April 1st.
I’m sure Luna would love snow for her birthday, but she may have to settle for canine-friendly cake. Peanut-butter flavored, of course.
Thank you, Dear Readers, for visiting Of Pieridae & Perras today. Your encouragement means the world to me. Please continue to send prayers, love and light. Stay well, keep singing—spring is coming (eventually)!
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.
There’s healing to be found in nature.
I’d also like to wander through the halls of Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay.
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.
I try to write my blog posts well in advance of Monday morning…but, sometimes, I don’t have any creative and/or meaningful subjects to write about. The product of such a dry spell is something like this post:
I’m writing this entry on the afternoon of Friday, February 8th, 2019. I usually don’t write this late in the day; in fact, it feels a bit strange to be doing so. I am at the kitchen table, in my usual spot, facing the window. It’s one of those rare winter days in which the sun is actually shining…but it’s also lightly snowing.
Yes, small-talk about the weather. Feel free, Dear Readers, to send me ideas and/or requests.
Starting from where I left off yesterday, it’s now a brand-new morning—with no sign of snow. The sun has begun its ascent, and the dark sky is turning cotton-candy pink. There are already birds diving into the cedars. It was windy yesterday, but today the wind is fierce, cold. I imagine, as the house creaks in resistance, that this is the wolf of the fairy tales (see The Three Little Pigs). The windchimes, hanging on the front porch are singing. It’s not their usual melody; today’s song is unnerving in its pace.
Luna is at the point in her puppyhood wherein she doesn’t like the wind anymore. She’ll snore on the couch, the wind will blow, and she’ll get up to howl at the back door. These are the moments when her mother’s bloodline—coonhound—shows. I look at her, when she uses this grown-up voice, and I can’t help but wonder where our puppy went.
I don’t know what Alderaan’s thoughts are regarding the wind. He divides his time between his bed and the mantle. When he stretches out atop the mantle, it is clear that he believes he’s the king of this house. I’m not going to tell him otherwise.
But I will tell YOU this—
My fledgling immune system kicked viral %*&.
I bounced back from the viral cold faster than my fiancé did. Apparently, my new immune system is light-years ahead of my old one. In the past, prior to my bone marrow transplant, my fiancé would have a cold for two days; I would have the samecold for two weeks. Although I still have a few lingering symptoms, I am pleased with my immune system’s performance. It gives me hope; if Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia ever tries to develop again, my new immune system will certainly recognize it as a threat. It will destroy the malfunctioning cells, before they have a chance to become a problem.
With all of that said, my new immune system is still growing—I will be receiving additional pediatric vaccinations in the near future—but, already, it’s proving itself to be dependable, capable.
I’m certain that my transplant team will be happy to hear this.
I will be sharing this news with the team later this week. Please pray for safe travels and good news. Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of the prayers, love, and light that you regularly send my way. I am so, so grateful for each of you.
Those of you who have followed this blog since it’s inception, know that I often write about medical appointments and/or health developments. Some of those posts were difficult to write. Living through those events was, at times, quite frightening. Today, though, I’d like to share a light-hearted fear—something that can be laughed at.
Some pertinent background information:
I am not a gamer, but my fiancé is. It’s through his interest in gaming that I was introduced to Rust.
Rust is an online, multi-player video game. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which survival is neither easy nor guaranteed. In Rust, players must scavenge for food, weapons, and clothing. Players make their own outfits from the various materials that they find (i.e. wooden barrels, metal buckets). Occasionally, players discover hazmat suits—which are helpful in high-radiation zones. It is the end of the world, after all.
So, what does any of this have to do with me? It has come to my attention that every time I carry a letter out to the mailbox—in the wee hours of the morning—I am dressed like a character from Rust. My outfit does not adhere to any fashion standards…it’s just a quick ensemble, pieced together to survive the cold.
I don’t bother getting properly dressed to put mail in the mailbox. Instead, I throw my thick, winter coat on, over my pajamas:
My coat is respectable enough, but the pajama pants that I wear with it, vary from silky black material, to Christmas-themed, to gray with pink, dark gray, and white polka-dots.
I wear snow boots.
This ensemble is topped off with a Star Wars hat:
Every time I open that front door, I pray for three things:
Dear God, please keep Alderaan (our cat) upstairs where he is safe. Dear God, you know my heart will shatter if he sneaks outside and becomes a road pancake.
Dear God, please do not let me fall.
Dear God, please don’t let anyone take a picture of me.
The road we live on is well-traveled, and I am afraid that one of these days, a commuter is going to snap a picture of me with their cellphone. I’m dressed so ridiculously in the morning, that I feel as though the picture would go viral—especially if it’s marketed creatively:
Woman believes she lives in Rust.
Woman dressed to scavenge, bust geodes, and build her base.
Woman in Rust wears a surgical mask—it’s the end of the world!
Clearly, my marketing skills are a bit rusty. Pun intended.
I’m not actually afraid of having my picture taken; in fact, I find this “fear” to be rather amusing. It is so insignificant compared to other fears that have plagued me in the past! And, sometimes, it just feels good to laugh at the workings of my own imagination.
Thank you, Dear Readers, for visiting Of Perras & Pieridae today. I hope the description of my morning, Rust-like, attire makes you smile.
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:
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.
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.
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 InternationalVersion 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 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.
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.
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!
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.