The Neighborhood

LH
Above: One of the houses comprising a Living History Open Air Museum in Canada’s Eastern Townships (the name has been lost in the chemo fog).

The neighbors, across the road, are selling their house. I don’t know their names. I’m not sure I could even recognize them if we were in the same grocery store aisle. Regardless, I’m going to miss them.

I’m going to miss the sound of a snow plow being attached to a pick-up truck early in the morning (that was my signal that there was actually snow on the ground!).

They were/are quiet, busy living their own lives. Last summer, they had their roof replaced and the effect was beautiful. Worn, darkened shingles were ripped off, and coffee-colored ones were installed. The change brightened the house’s appearance.

To be honest, I have no idea why I’m writing about this. And, still, I feel as though I must. Could it simply be an unconscious need to express gratitude? Having lived in various apartments, surrounded by loud neighbors, I am truly grateful for these quiet ones.

I wonder, sometimes, what kind of neighbor am I?

I try to be social. If I’m outside, wearing my glasses, and recognize a car going by as belonging to one of our neighbors, I will wave to them. The neighbors to our left have a magnificent outdoor patio (it’s surrounded by lush greenery and colorful flowers). Someday, I’ll drum up the courage to ask them for gardening advice.

Fort Ti
Above: A view of the King’s Garden at Fort Ticonderoga.

I did meet one neighbor, this past winter, when I hand-delivered her mail to her. An envelope, addressed to her, had been erroneously placed in our mailbox. Although it seems like such a small thing, it was terrifying to deliver a piece of mail. My immune system was still infantile! What if the person that opened the door was ill? What if this neighbor wasn’t friendly? I can’t remember her name—but I knew, immediately, that all of my worries had been a waste of precious time and energy. My neighbor was a fellow yogi! Her clothes indicated this. She also had a glow that I associate with serenity.

It’s difficult to make friends as an adult. Not because we don’t want to, but because as we age, we put walls up. We stop taking risks, stop reaching out. It’s a habit that I intend to change.

LH Church
Above: The Church at the Living History Open Air Museum.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. You are my “online neighborhood”. You bring me so much joy and courage. Please continue to send prayers, light, and love. There’s a dental appointment this week…and, well, chemotherapy and radiation do horrible things to your teeth. Also, the overhead light tends to trigger my PTSD. The good news in all of this? Once my teeth have been examined, and fixed, I should (knocking on wood rather loudly) be able to maintain a healthy mouth. Our teeth affect our overall health more than we sometimes realize. Ultimately, this appointment is just another small step toward living a healthy life.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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Route Recalculation

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Apparently (I hope I don’t jinx myself), I have a green thumb for outdoor container gardening!

I learned some things on the way to my most recent appointment in Boston:

One – Black-eyed Susans grow in colossal patches alongside New Hampshire’s main roadways. When the sun shines on them, they glow gold. I’ve never seen so many of these flowers growing together! It was breathtaking. If the traffic had been slower, I would have taken a picture.

Two – Traffic stopped for an hour on I-93 due to an accident. Someone involved in the collision was air-lifted out. Even amid the sirens of police cruisers, ambulances, and fire trucks, there was silence. Silence for the injured. Silence for the “what-if’s”. A silence that is not heard, but felt.

I learned some things while in Boston:

One – Although I stopped taking my anti-rejection medication in June, it’s still circulating in my body. It takes three months for it to clear out. Until then, I will continue to take an anti-viral, Acyclovir, as well as an anti-biotic, Bactrim. We did eliminate one medication from the list, though. Bye-bye Protonix!

Two – The second dose of a vaccine can be worse than the first dose. The first time I was given Shingrix, I also received seven other vaccinations. At the time, it was difficult to tell which vaccine site was hurting the most or which vaccine might have made me feel like a zombie. This time, Shingrix was the only injection that I received. And it hurt. I spent Thursday, on the couch, nauseous. The positive side of this? Shingrix is replacing the Chicken Pox vaccine in the post-transplant re-vaccination procedural. That’s one less live-vaccine that I’ll be receiving in September!

I learned some things while feeling half-dead on the couch:

One – It’s okay to rest. It’s something that I should have done more frequently after relapse in 2017, but, for various reasons, I was unable to.

Two – There are many, beautiful things in my life. We may not have New Hampshire’s Black-Eyed Susans in our ditches, but we do have these:

blue flower

It’s Biblical-sounding, but you do reap what you sow. In my particular case, it’s Johnny Jump-ups descended from the hanging baskets that my parents gave me last summer.

Johnny

Johnny, obviously, has not had an easy life. He looks a bit beat-up. He doesn’t let it get him down, though; every morning, Johnny wakes up, and soaks up the sunshine.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for all of the prayers, love and light that you send my way. This week, I will be having a Bone Density Scan (it’s a fairly common exam after cancer treatment). I’ve had one before. It doesn’t hurt. I am, however, feeling anxious about the results.

Bone Density can be affected by many factors, including cancer treatment. Since my relapse in 2017, I’ve had massive doses of Chemotherapy, Localized and Total Body radiation, Ovarian Failure (did you know that Estrogen is essential to a woman’s bone health?). I will admit to being afraid that my once-a-day, calcium supplement and my Hormone Replacement Therapy have not been enough to counteract the side-effects of all of these (ironically) life-saving toxins. Of course, we’ll see what the scan reveals, and make a plan to deal with whatever the results are. Until then, please continue sending prayers, light, and love. Thank you.

And, to leave you on a positive note, here are some pictures of our newest (and youngest) backyard visitor:

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With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Gone Adventuring

Castle gardens

My husband and I spent the Fourth of July in the Thousand Islands—which are as beautiful as they are fabled to be. We spent the actual holiday on the St. Lawrence river, on a friend’s boat. We witnessed Boldt Castle’s fireworks from the water.

fireworks BC

On July 5th—after having brunch with a beloved friend and his significant other (both of whom I had not seen in ten years!)—my husband I played tourist. We took a one-hour boat tour of the St. Lawrence; our tour guide directing our attention to various multi-million-dollar homes built along the river. Our tour guide, with rather bad jokes, recited historical facts and the names of the present-day property owners. The boat deposited us on Heart Island, where we walked through the stunning Boldt Castle.

Boldt Castle

Instead of describing our trip in great detail, Dear Readers, I have decided to share some of the lessons that I learned during our adventure:

  1. If you’re not 100% certain of what someone’s name is, combine their name with a similar-sounding one (i.e. Laura-Lauren). As a new friend informed me, “even if I’m wrong, I’m still right”.
  2. When you least expect it, someone who knows your story and has been waiting to talk to you about their own, might appear. Listen to these people. Learn what they’re trying to teach you. Honor their story the best that you can.
  3. I’ve never noticed this before, but after the brilliance of the fireworks dissipate, the sky wears dark smudges. Both the vibrant colors, and the smudges, tell significant stories. It might even be the same story, from different perspectives.
  4. It’s okay to leave the camera and/or cellphone at home. Being in the moment, actually living it, might just be more important than digitally capturing it. And, if it turns out that you need a picture for a blog post, just steal one of your husband’s.
  5. Bad jokes, like our tour guide’s jokes, are often the best jokes.
  6. Enjoy the white lights and birch branches decorating the restaurant you visit for dinner. Appreciate these little, artistic touches.
  7. And, sometimes, when a literary agent gives you a “no” on your latest fiction manuscript, view it as a new traffic pattern—directing you to where you are needed the most—instead of as a defeat.

This coming week, Dear Readers, is a busy one—including a trip to Boston. I am hoping that my transplant doctors will remove more medications from my list. Please continue to send prayers, light, and love. They do have a positive impact.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Not Humpty Dumpty

LP Iris and maple

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about my oncology follow-up appointment. It was at this visit that my oncologist said, “We did terrible things to you, and now it’s time to put Laura back together again.”. This declaration still resonates with me, still gives me hope that I can live a healthy, fulfilling, well-rounded life. It makes me believe that all of my broken pieces can be reassembled.

I equated myself to Humpty Dumpty in that blog post…and I shouldn’t have. Nursery Rhymes, Fairy Tales, they all have a melancholy, darker (usually forgotten) side to them.

According to Project Gutenberg (which shares literature that is out of copyright and now considered public domain!), the nursery rhyme featuring Humpty Dumpty goes something like this:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the King’s horses

And all the King’s men

Cannot put Humpty together again.

The rhyme appears exactly as it did in childhood. The real surprise is that the rhyme is attached to a story, and appears at the end of that narrative.

In L. Frank Baum’s rendition of Mother Goose in Prose (illustrated by Maxfield Parrish), Humpty Dumpty is one of the twelve eggs laid by the cunning, Speckled Hen. To summarize/paraphrase, Mama Hen leaves the nest to grab a bite to eat, and, during her absence, her wily eggs begin to kick each other for more room. Humpty is, by far, the largest egg in the nest and he’s balancing on the edge of it. Thus, when his siblings start misbehaving, he’s pushed completely out of the nest. Fortunately, for Humpty, there’s a haystack below the nest.  He rolls down it, settling on the barn floor (in one-piece).

Humpty, on the barn floor, can see the world beyond the barn’s doors. It’s beautiful!

English Roseum New Growth

He wants to see it, so he saunters (my word, not Baum’s) across the barn floor. He meets another egg—from the Black Bantam’s nest—and they set off to explore the world together. Eventually, they arrive at a large, stone wall. They can’t climb the wall, but they find a hole to squeeze through.

garden door

On the other side of the wall, is the King’s castle, lush gardens, and a pond. The eggs want to visit the birds swimming in the pond, but they cross the road at an inopportune time. As they start walking across the road, the King and his men come riding through. Humpty is able to avoid injury, but his friend is slower, and is crushed by a horse. He sits by the roadside, mourning her death.

The princess finds Humpty and gives him a tour of the gardens and the majestic palace.

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When her father and his men return home, the princess takes Humpty to the top of the gates to watch the entourage’s arrival. Humpty, sitting in a groove in the stone wall, forgets where he is, leans forward to see more, and plummets to his death.

pink flowers

Back in the palace, the King is surrounded by his men—many of whom want to ask for the princess’s hand in marriage. The King senses that he’ll make enemies if he chooses a suitor, so he declares that the princess will only marry the man that can stump him with a riddle. Every man fails—except for the last one. The princess, when no one is paying attention, gives this young man the riddle of Humpty Dumpty. The king cannot guess who or what Humpty was, and so the princess and the young man are married. It’s a happy marriage, as the pair are already in love.

Baun’s tale concludes, “And thus did Humpty Dumpty, even in death, repay the kindness of the fair girl who had shown him such sights as an egg seldom sees.”.

pink flowers 1.0

So, Dear Readers, comparing myself to Humpty Dumpty, was a wildly, inaccurate analogy.

First, I am not a runaway egg.

Second, I did not fall off of a wall.

Third, I do not need all of the King’s horses and men to put me back together again.

I need God. Doctors. Counselors. My husband and our fur babies. Family. Friends. Healing is multifaceted, because we are complex creatures. Sure, you can extricate the cancer and stitch up the wounds—but it won’t heal the spiritual being, the emotional being.

And, that, restoring one’s soul and self-worth, might just be the hardest part of recovery.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Please continue to send prayers, light and love. I am on the upswing—which is a relief—but there is still work to be finished and goals to be accomplished. Yes, it is a new chapter, but, as any reader or writer can tell you, every chapter has its own charms, problems, and plot twists. I’m hoping for only good things.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

The Little Things

What can you write about after sharing a moment as joyous and as monumental as your wedding day? I can’t match that. I’m not even going to try. I was, however, recently reminded that the” little things” in life are as significant as the “big things”.

The small things often teach us important lessons.

I heard—or read—at some point in my life, that if you talk to your houseplants, it will help them grow. I’m not good with plants; my thumb is not green. Curious, though, I decided to talk to the potted tomato plant on our porch.

Would it work? Would whispering words of encouragement to my little plant help it grow?

Whenever I water it, I tell my tomato plant that it can grow tall. I tell it that it can sink it’s roots deep.

tomato plant

Thus far, my tomato plant has lived well-beyond the average lifespan of most of the plants that have been left in my care. Not only is it taller, it now sports several yellow flowers!

On a darker note, I don’t like ants.

I squish them, and then flush them down the toilet.

Why do I go to such extremes to get rid of them? Because, like talking to plants, at some point in my life, I heard that ants will come back for their deceased. I had my doubts about this as well, but, then, I observed this:

ants

Yes. This blurry picture is of a rather large, black ant—trying to carry the crumpled body of another ant home. These insects, which I abhor, have a code. A code of honor. They come back for their fallen.

These little things—plants demonstrating the power of words, ants exhibiting determination to care for each other—albeit it for only a second, it takes my breath away.

Words matter.

Tone matters.

Caring for each other matters.

We have the power to do such good in this world! And, if we follow Mother Nature’s cues, we might just become better people.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Please continue to send prayers, love, and light. We’ve only started trying to put Humpty-Dumpty (that’s me) back together again.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

The Next Chapter

English Roseum in Bloom

I promised, Dear Readers, that I would share a longer, and happier, post this week.

As many of you already know, my fiancé and I were married on Sunday, June 9th, 2019 at Ausable Brewing Company (we were the first couple to get married at the brewery). My fiancé and I had been engaged for 2.5 years—and we had wanted to get married sooner—but, you know, cancer. And, transplant. And, timing.

Then, while on the road to an appointment in Boston, we started talking, once again, about getting married. We brainstormed venues, photographers, and ways to work around my unpredictable immune system. The conversation was an exciting rush, volleying ideas back and forth. There was this moment, when we both knew, that getting married was finally possible.

Our mothers helped make this dream come true. My mother and my Maid of Honor helped me pick out my wedding dress—which my mom paid for. She helped me get dressed, pinning my flower crown and veil to my hair. My mother-in-law purchased the perfect card box for our wedding and helped decorate the brewery’s pavilion the morning of the ceremony.

We wanted a small wedding for several reasons—one of which was my immune system. My immune system is almost 21-months old now, but I am not completely vaccinated. It was a risk to have a wedding. Every hug, every handshake, although offered in friendship, could result in illness.

I was, as I am sure you can imagine, nervous about mingling with our guests. True, the gathering consisted of immediate family and close friends that would never endanger me, but I felt nauseous anyways. I kept having this recurring fear of contracting the chicken pox (because, yes, I’m not vaccinated against that yet).

My feelings of anxiety settled a bit, when Pachelbel’s Cannon in D Major started to play. I watched my lovely Maid of Honor and the Best Man weave their way through the brewery’s pavilion, joining our guests behind an old barn. I was up next. My father led me down that same path, kissing my check when we reached our Officiant, Steph.

One look at my fiancé, and happiness bubbled up inside of me. The fear dissipated and the next thing I knew, I was doing what every new bride does: I was following the directions of our wonderful photographer, Julie (owner of JMRowe Photography). Below is a small sample of her amazing work:

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My husband and I danced to Ruelle’s “I Get to Love You”, for our first dance. These pictures were captured by either our friend, Jamie, or our sister, Kate (not sure who took which picture – but am so thankful that they were shared!).

After dancing, I welcomed as many of our guests as I could. I gave hugs, shook hands. I was taken aback by all of the compliments that I received. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Stunning. Were they truly talking about me? I rarely feel beautiful…or comfortable in my own skin. Treatment has left me with so many scars, both visible and invisible. How could I be ‘stunning’?

Our wedding was nontraditional. As such, we hadn’t planned on doing any of the traditional dances (i.e. father-daughter, mother-son). It was a happy surprise, then, to have a dance with my dad.  My brother, in charge of the music, played “I Loved Her First” by Heartland. I should preface this by saying that I have always been a Daddy’s girl. I nearly started ugly-crying halfway through the song. I had put this loving, kind man through so much—almost dying on him at least twice—and, yet, there we were. I was alive—and so, so grateful to have the opportunity to dance with my dad.

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Photo courtesy of my long-time friend, Kristy.

“You’ll always be my pumpkin,” he said when the dance ended.

Our wedding was not only the beginning of our marriage; it was also an enormous leap toward normalcy, toward healing.

The next day, while lying in the MRI machine, I began to review everything that had happened at our wedding. I had been so joyful. I had felt so loved, so blessed. Tears of gratitude began to slide down my cheeks.

I have waited a long time to be happy, to feel okay about myself, to feel hopeful. No more waiting, Dear Readers. Life is too short. As my oncologist told me after my scans, “we did a lot of terrible things to you. Now it’s time to put Laura back together again”.

Let the real work begin.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here, for your patience, and for your prayers. You have been a well-spring of support. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

I Promise to Share Something Happy Later in the Week

 

english roseum

Dear Readers,

Today, I will be lying in an MRI scanner for two hours. I will then have an appointment with my neuro-oncologist. This will be followed by an appointment with my hematologist-oncologist.

Please send prayers, love and light. These scans need to show no changes from the previous ones.

I hope to share another post with you (something entirely unrelated to health), later this week. As always, thank you for your presence here.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Sometimes, I Dream in French

Moon

In my waking life, I am not fluent in any language other than English.

I studied Spanish throughout Middle School and High School. Occasionally, a Spanish word will come to my mind. For instance, during one of my follow-up appointments in Boston, my fiancé and I had dinner at a quiet restaurant. It was so quiet, in fact, that we could hear the conversation unfolding two tables away from us.

Seated at this particular table, were two men discussing culture shock—and how, even though they had grown up in the U.S.—traveling abroad, for an extended period of time, made their home country feel foreign to them. At one point in their conversation, one of the men said that he had never learned the Spanish word for “you’re welcome”.

Somehow, despite the dust of decades and chemo-fog, a light turned on in my brain. De nada. De nada is how you say “you’re welcome” in Spanish.

Lesson here, Dear Readers: be careful what you talk about when in the presence of a writer.

These “light-bulb” moments also occur with French (which I studied in college for a short time). For instance, there have been many days this spring in which I have lamented the loss of my umbrella. There are times, though, that I don’t use/think the word ‘umbrella’; I think, mon parapluie.

Textbook and poems

When Luna refuses to listen to me, I can sometimes capture her attention by speaking in French: Allons mon petit chien! Does she know that this short sentence means, “let’s go my little dog”? No. Absolutely not. Luna’s not bilingual. She does, however, notice the change in my speech, and this prompts her to focus on me, for approximately one second. Luna is sixty-one pounds of stubborn independence, so I count that one second as a victory.

Alderaan, our cat, might understand French. I often tell him: Je t’aime mon petit chat. This phrase is usually greeted with a purr and a head bump.  Realistically, his reaction might not demonstrate an understanding of the language. Maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe it’s just the fact that declarations of love have a particular tone.

I think, Dear Readers, that by using these short phrases on a daily basis, it sets my brain up for dreaming in French. I think that while I’m sleeping, my mind is trying to dig up the words that I wanted to find—and use—during the day. Although, only ever half-understood and half-remembered, my French dreams are usually my best dreams.

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Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Please continue to send prayers, love and light. I have made leaps and bounds these past few months, but I still have a long way to go before I am back to “normal”. Whatever “normal” is….

 

With Love and Gratitude,

Laura

Fierce

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.

gray t-shirt

With the right blend of eyeshadows, I can see flecks of green in my eyes. I see trees. Nature. Magic.

tank top

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:

cosmetics

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.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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