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

A Belated Valentine’s Day Post

I probably should have written about Valentine’s Day as last week’s post…but, the idea didn’t visit me in time. So, here we are now, post-Valentine’s Day, and I would like to write about love.

Love is a subject that I think nearly every artist attempts to define and/or explore through their medium of choice. We paint our interpretations of it. We sing about it. We write about it.

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As children, romantic love is often presented in fairy-tale terms. You know—prince in shining armor, princess trapped in a tower, sort of thing. This particular image of romantic love is repeated in storybooks, TV shows, movies. Why is this important? Because we subconsciously carry this image into adulthood.

I am reminded of this whenever I hear Coldplay and The Chainsmokers’ song, “Something Just Like This”. Please note that I do not own any rights to the following lyrics:

 

I’m not looking for somebody

With some super human gifts

Some superhero

Some fairy-tale bliss

Just something I can turn to

 Somebody I can kiss

I want something just like this.

 

This song, easily found on YouTube, captures so much of how I feel about the subject of love, and how I think it should look. It helps that the song itself has a great beat and the vocals are smooth. It’s incredible.

Even if you haven’t heard this song before, you might be familiar with the adage, “You must love yourself, before you can love someone else”. This adage has always bothered me. I believe that it is absolutely, 100% possible to love someone else, even if you don’t love yourself. As someone that struggles with accepting herself, I had no problem falling in love with a tall, hard-working, ginger.

I think that this adage needs some modification. Perhaps it should be, “You must love yourself, before you can believe that someone else truly loves you.” Whenever I hear someone say, “I love you”, it catches me off-guard. I am not referring solely to romantic love. If a good friend or a relative says those three little words, my mind instantly fills with questions: How can you love me? I’m not perfect. Why would you love me? What can I possibly offer you?

Love is complicated.

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Admitting that the emotion is not an easy one to have, or to express, brings me to the ever-popular Biblical verse, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As it reads in the New International Version of the Holy Bible:

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 

It’s beautiful, right? That’s probably why I have heard it recited at nearly every wedding ceremony that I’ve attended. When you look closer, though, it’s a tall order—a challenge. Kindness is most likely the easiest part of it; but patience? You know how I feel about that word. “Not easily angered”? Oh, boy, I need to work on that one, too. When I was younger, my father would tease me, calling me, “the little rooster”. I do have a temper, Dear Readers, I’m just skilled at hiding it.

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What I appreciate most about 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, is the last verse: “It [love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Yes, THAT is love. It’s not meant to be one day of the year. Love shouldn’t wax and wane like the moon; if it’s real, it should be ever-present. It should be durable; weathering life’s storms with hope. It should, and can, persevere.

Love is rescheduling an appointment in Boston because there’s foul weather along the usual route. Love is knowing that risking a car accident is simply not worth it. Don’t worry; I’m feeling well (knock loudly on wood, please) and will see my transplant team in March. During the time between today and that new appointment, I will continue tapering my anti-rejection medication. I’ll be 18-months old in March, which means I’ll be receiving six vaccines. Yeah, I know, ouch.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love and light. You have made this journey possible.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Until Death Don’t We Part

 

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I didn’t post last week.

And, to be honest, I am very tempted to take the easy way out of this and attribute my silence to poor time management. It isn’t too much of a tall tale, either; I am, after all, swiftly becoming a gifted procrastinator in my old age. I could write a whole post about that—the intersection of perfectionism and procrastination—but, in the spirit of this blog, I’ll give you the truth, even if it’s difficult to do so.

My intention when creating content for this blog was to always have my rough drafts written by Wednesdays, final edits completed by Sunday evenings, and new posts published and shared across social media bright and early on Monday mornings. On paper, it sounds like a fool-proof recipe for consistent blogging. In actuality…things happen…and while there was a very rough draft in existence by Wednesday, it seems the Universe had other plans (or maybe I should say blog topics?) in store for me.

What, you ask, could have persuaded me to discard my rough draft?

Well, there was a barn involved, with light and music filtering through every open window.

There was laughter, a fire pit, and a borrowed blanket spread across my knees.

There was, in short, a wedding.

Weddings, as I am sure you all know and have experienced, can be absolutely wonderful. They’re celebrations—of love, of beginnings. There’s usually good company, good food and good entertainment involved. They’re a chance to dress up and let loose. And, as this particular wedding taught me, they can be perspective-shifting.

Prior to traveling 7+ hours to attend the wedding in question, prior to pinning my hair up or blowing bubbles as the couple walked down the aisle holding hands, I was stressed. I was emotional. I was overtired. I had planned to share some of that—the recent loss of a much-loved great uncle, the helplessness of watching from afar as my grandmother lay ill in the hospital, the fact that suffering and death has become as routine in my world—the world of cancer survivorship—as brushing my teeth. I had even committed some of that anxiety and grief to paper, but it never progressed beyond a first draft. The words, instead, were hushed by the soft shadows spilling across the wedding venue’s lawn.

I could still take the easy way out of this post—it’s not too late yet—and tell you that I spent too much time writing and rewriting a newspaper article in the days before the wedding. I could blame last week’s silence on that…or I could tell you that the venue was decorated with wooden signs, painted with quotes about love and belonging.

I could tell you that I should have checked-in a little less with friends and family before the wedding…or I could tell you that my significant other sat beside me during the ceremony, holding my hand—just as he did at his uncle’s funeral in January.

I could tell you that I should have focused on my blog instead of packing and repacking my suitcase in preparation for the wedding…or I could tell you that at that funeral, the minister eulogized that “grief is the price of love”. While I can’t remember her exact words (and I wish I could), it was clear that, even in our happiest moments, the seeds of sorrow are sown.

So, yes, I could blame my silence on procrastination, or I could simply tell you that it takes time to focus, not on loss and suffering, but on love. On fond memories. On laughter. On hope. To love—our families, our friends, our partners—is a decision. And, like any decision, there are consequences for it. The decision to love is, ultimately, the root of our pain, but it is also the salve that lessens the ache.

You will suffer because of love. You will know tears and loss. And it’s okay. It’s okay to mourn, to be hurt, because it means you were there—all there with that person—using that wonderful heart muscle of yours. When the tears slow a bit, though, remind yourself that love doesn’t just go away.

Remember the moments that made your face and belly hurt from laughter.

Let your ears be filled with the echo of comforting, past conversations.

Summon up all the memories you made together, letting them burn bright and warm when suffering comes to call.

It took me a whole week to find these words, to change my perspective, but I am determined to have more of those moments, more of those conversations—no matter the price.

I am choosing love.