To “Be Still”

Last week I wrote about promises, including a promise that I made to Alderaan to play laser pointer with him every morning. As I stated previously, this promise is also a promise to me—to slow down and cherish the little moments of this life.

One reader (thank you, Victoria!) reminded me that God also calls us to, “be still”. This sounded familiar to me…but not familiar enough that I could recite the book of the Bible that it’s located in, the chapter number and/or the verse number. Curious, I asked her to point me in the right direction.

The Biblical passage that she had in mind was, Psalm 46:10.

In the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Psalm 46:10 reads as thus:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

As someone with multiple anxiety disorders, being still is not my forte. I am a restless person with perfectionist tendencies. It’s not a fun mix. Even when I am over-tired, I will force myself to check the next thing off of my “to-do” list (i.e. wash the dishes, fold the laundry).

This weekend, though, I had some help with the call to “Be Still”. My left ankle and foot were mysteriously swollen. In an effort to reverse that trend, I had to sit down with my foot elevated. It was torture! I had too much to do! Christmas is coming—I have ornaments to make (guess my family knows what they’re all getting now!). Lounging on the couch, with a bag of frozen peppers on my foot, had not been a part of my plan.

I started rehashing all of the plans that I had had. That’s when I began to wonder: does “be still” apply only to physical activity? Or does it include our thought processes as well?

My mind is never still, never quiet. I am always worrying about something. Always plotting the next chapter. Maybe slowing my body down isn’t enough…maybe learning how to silence all of the worries and the negative thoughts that clutter my mind is just as important.

At first, this next bit is probably going to seem like a tangent. Bear with me, please.

In 2008, P!NK released an album entitled, Funhouse. Included in that album was a song, “Ave Mary-A”, which also alludes to the idea of being still. Now, because I am a worrier, I will repeat the usual statement regarding sharing music: I do not own these lyrics nor do I have any rights to them.

BUT they are so important!

An excerpt from P!nk’s song is as follows:

Help me to let go

Of the chaos around me

The devil that hounds me

I need you to tell me

Child be still.

From the moment that I first heard this song, I knew that it was powerful. It quickly became one of my favorite P!nk songs. It remains so to this day.

I listened to “Ave Mary-A”, on repeat, this past weekend as the snow fell. Be still. Peaceful.

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Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love, and light. If my ankle and foot are still swollen after this entry is posted, I will have to contact my transplant team in Boston. They will be sending me for an ultrasound (at a local facility, thank goodness!) to rule out the possibility of a blood clot. Please send good thoughts. They are appreciated!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

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Synchronicity

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Many thanks to my brother for taking this picture; I only have digital clocks in my house.

I constantly see memes that refer to patience and time. I am guilty of sharing those memes rather frequently. And, while I do believe that, “things happen for a reason”, that adage has never felt as real to me as it did this past Wednesday.

We had to travel to Boston for another transplant check-up. My check-ups usually consist of two parts: lab work and seeing a member of my transplant team.

Occasionally, there are additional tests or specialists to see. This was one of those times. In between bloodwork and seeing my transplant doctor, I needed to do a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT). Was I worried about my lungs? No. Was anyone worried about my lungs? No. I can breathe; the test was simply part of the after-transplant care plan, to see if chemotherapy and/or radiation had done any damage to my lungs.

Those of you who are friends with my fiancé on Facebook know that this trip to Boston was rather speedy. There was, of course, traffic as we drove into the city, but it didn’t come to a standstill. Unusual? Definitely. We just kept moving along, driving smoothly into Boston.

We were an hour early.

Another abnormality—the lab called me back to draw my blood almost immediately. This NEVER happens. Phlebotomy is usually 20-minutes behind schedule every time we go to Boston—this day, though, there was no wait. The nurse quickly and expertly accessed my power port, drew 14 vials of blood, and sent me off to my PFT.

The synchronicity—the perfect timing of the commute and the lab work, meant that I was an hour early for my PFT. I had barely sat down in the waiting room when I was called back to begin the test. The specialist conducting the test was kind, but also quite focused on time. In retrospect, that focus makes sense; PFT tests examine your breathing—how long you can exhale, how long you can hold your breath. At least that’s what I remember…my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was triggered shortly after we began the test.

For those of you that don’t know, the first time that I had cancer in 2010, I developed an infection that shut down my kidneys and liver. I woke up on a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Eight whole years later, I still cannot be told to focus on my breathing without mentally going back to that ICU hospital bed. The medical apparatus used in the PFT exam is quite different from a ventilator—but it doesn’t matter. It was medical equipment, in my mouth, and it involved breathing.

I lost it.

If it hadn’t been for the respiratory specialist’s kindness, or her accent, I would have quit.

Her accent? Yes, her accent and her use of a particular word brought me back—first to a happy memory, and then to the present moment.

The word she used, translated into English, roughly means, “this and/or that”. In some ways, it’s the equivalent of the English, “well then”. I can’t tell you the word because I have no idea how to spell it, but I first heard it from a professor who guided me through a college internship in Canada. The professor was a light whenever homesickness tried to set in. She was from the Czech Republic and would use the word quite frequently.

Hearing that word again, in a vulnerable moment, freed me from the ICU room in my mind. Ironically, the word helped me to breathe.

When I finished the PFT, the specialist—who was from Russia—gave me a hug. I apologized for my break-down. She shook her head at me. “You’ve been through a lot. You can cry whenever you need to; cry wherever you need to.”

My lungs, Dear Readers, work. Apparently, my ears do, too, because I was able to pick out a word that I haven’t heard for nearly a decade. This, my friends, is synchronicity—when events align as if a divine plan is unfolding. 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.”

If we hadn’t arrived in Boston early, if the lab had been running behind schedule like it usually does, would I have had that particular respiratory therapist for the PFT? Probably not. It might sound crazy, but I think I was meant to meet her—because someone upstairs knew I was going to need that accent, and that word, to pull me out of a PTSD episode and guide me through the remainder of the respiratory test.

Please continue to send prayers, light and love—they’re working. My transplant doctor estimates that I’ll be on immunosuppressants for another three to six months. In that time, my team will slowly, and carefully, be tapering me off of these medications as well as all of the accompanying medications (anti-viral medications, antibiotics). The timing of it all may not be what I would have liked, but there is a pattern. There is, clearly, a plan.

 

With Love,

Laura

When Technology Takes Over

Thursday night, we did not have internet access.

About an hour later, I lost cell service.

Normally, I would not describe myself as someone addicted to technology. Just a few hours without the internet, however, proved that I am very much addicted to it. I became bored. Boredom breeds anxiety. I soon found myself thinking, “what if someone breaks in? I don’t have a working phone. I don’t know the neighbors. How am I going to get help?”

True, I should have kept my over-anxious, imaginative mind busy by reading or creating art. Instead, I chose not to. I think technology has, in some ways, made me lazy.

It’s so much easier to scroll through social media sites or use my contact list to message a friend or family member (there are only two phone numbers that I actually know; my own and my parents’). Thanks to my contact list, programmed into my phone, my brain doesn’t have to remember phone numbers.

When I want to use my phone, the slight tremor in my hand suddenly doesn’t matter. After all, I just have to press on an app button. That tremor does matter, however, when I pick up a paintbrush or a camera.

And reading? Well, I’d have to unpack a book in order to do that (because, yes, we’re still living out of boxes here).

A lot of excuses, right? I know. It’s quite embarrassing. Technology addiction, I think, goes beyond our smartphones. It enables sloth.

Think about cooking: would you rather use the microwave or the oven?

Cleaning: handwash the dishes or stuff as many as you can into the dishwasher?

How about spelling? Without Spellcheck, I can assure you that there would be many, many mistakes in this post. I blame chemo brain (also known as ‘chemo fog’) for that. The sensation of having a head filled with cumulus clouds doesn’t lift immediately when the chemotherapy stops.

There are, of course, advantages to having technology in our lives. For instance, can you imagine hand-washing every piece of clothing you wear? Technology, medical research, and Divine intervention have saved my life at least a dozen times. I believe, though, that while technology can accomplish great things, and make our everyday lives easier, we need to do as our computers occasionally do—restart.

Restart by putting the smartphone away for a couple of hours each day.

Restart by actually cooking our meals instead of radiating them.

Restart by memorizing phone numbers and the correct spelling of words. I mean, come on, imagine a writer that can’t spell….

As always, Dear Readers, thank you for your prayers, light and love. Your encouragement has given me the strength to continue writing—both on this blog and in my manuscripts-in-progress. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Part II of the Scavenger Hunt

I don’t think this will surprise anyone, but I have many frightening memories.

They tend to surface the week before a medical appointment, usually at night, as terrible dreams. The dreams are vivid. They feel real. I wake up wondering where I am and what’s happening to me.

Which hospital is this again?

What procedure did I just have?

Why is my port hurting?

To counteract this, I have decided to purposely create a plethora of happy memories. I’ll stockpile these pleasant thoughts as though they are index cards with information to memorize. When a nightmare visits, I’ll just pull out a joyful moment and meditate on it.

Last week’s post was about discovering inspiration and creativity. This week, I’m looking for happiness, beauty, and peace.

yellow butterfly 2.0

If you guessed that the above photograph was staged, you’re a hundred-percent correct.  A friend found the above butterfly, dead, in our driveway. Despite having passed on, the butterfly’s wings were undamaged and we placed it on one of the flowering bushes in the backyard. I’m not saying that we had a funeral for a butterfly—because we didn’t—but it did appear serene amid the flowers. It was as if it belonged there.

Little moments of kindness can be rather beautiful.

Of course, sometimes kindness requires a bit more work. Those of you who are close to me know that I despise cooking. I’ll live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just to avoid it. I’m not a gifted chef and I’ve accepted this. Still…someone special had a birthday this week…so I made a cheesecake from scratch.

cheesecake 2.0

Washing all of the required dishes was actually harder work than making the cheesecake. The finished product looked edible. I couldn’t really judge if I had had a baking success until we cut into it. Fortunately, although it was a little lumpy, the cheesecake was pleasing to the taste buds. I’ll count it as a culinary win—a happy memory.

Finally, beautiful memories are made when we do something or go somewhere.

Without a functioning immune system, my adventuring in public places is limited. I can go out and about, but wearing a surgical mask and gloves is an absolute must. Breaking this cardinal rule could result in illness and potentially hospitalization.

So, this past week, when my fiancé said that he needed to go to the mall, I donned my mask and gloves and went with him.  We stopped first at a sporting goods store, so he could browse through the fishing gear. Then, because I was wearing my new leg braces (which help immensely in the mobility department), we walked down to another store. Once there, I was able to pick up some small gifts for my father’s upcoming birthday—and I was able to visit, momentarily, with an old friend. It was a wonderful, surprise reunion!

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Memories of attending one of my friend’s childhood birthday parties filled my mind. The day of her party was wintry. We played in the snow for a bit and then we went to the movies. I remember laughing. I remember the peace of falling snowflakes. I remember the magic of animation on the big screen, the salty-sweet scent of popcorn, and cushioned theater seats.

Confession: in general, I am afraid of rejoining the real world. The idea of sitting in a theater seat now, makes my heart beat frantically. I often worry that, by the time my transplant anniversary comes around, my immune system will still be too weak to fend off viruses, infections, etc… But, then, seeing people that I know and appreciate, reminds me that the world is made up of more than just germs. It’s composed of lovely, kind souls.

Sometimes, the scavenger hunt that is life, brings us to these people.

As always, thank you Dear Readers for your encouragement. I’m off to Boston tomorrow for another check-up (lab work and a meeting with my transplant team). Please keep the prayers, love, and light coming. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Words of Comfort, of Healing

 

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In response to my last blog post, someone I consider to be a dear friend kindly asked:

“…What is your favorite thing for people to say in support? Are there certain statements that help noticeably more than others? If all we have are words to help you I’d like to use the words that mean the most to you.”

I didn’t have an answer.

As a writer, I always have words—or, rather, the arrangement of words—on my mind. For instance, I spent a great deal of time trying to describe the color of the Sternbergia lutea flower for my novel-length manuscript, Greenwood. More recently, I’ve been searching for the right words to describe a fictional Norwegian Forest cat named, Birkir. He has an important role in my current writing project, Skraeling.

Despite this constant meditation on words and how best to use them in fiction, I have rarely thought about what words would be most comforting to me in uncertain or frightening situations. I couldn’t answer my friend’s question until this past Thursday morning.

Many of you may remember the notice I posted regarding the week of June 25th. Namely, I wrote that there wouldn’t be a new blog post that week due to having so many doctors’ appointments in Boston. Among those appointments was a surgical procedure—meant to diagnose the potential presence of a secondary cancer. I’ll spare you (and me) the details of “what it might have been” and “what they did to me”. Instead, I’ll just say that I received an email on Thursday morning announcing that the procedure results were in. The email also listed the results…and I couldn’t decipher them.

I did what anyone with a difficult medical history would do—I panicked. I cried. Yes, I have been a patient, in various capacities, since I was 23 years old. Although my sojourn through cancer and transplant-land has been long, it does not mean that I can speak the language of the medical field. Overwhelmed, I kept scrolling through the procedure results, desperately trying to translate them.

Finally, I worked up the nerve to call the doctor’s office.

No one picked up. I had to leave a message.

Surprisingly, while all of this was unfolding, something wonderful happened. I realized that I did have an answer to my friend’s question. As found in the New International Version of the Holy Bible: “For he will command his angels concerning you…” Psalm 91:11a.

Alderaan July 2018

I was spiraling in a panic attack, but I kept repeating the verse over and over again. Soon, there was nothing else in my mind. The Bible verse was in my blood, in my lungs. It was the ocher buoy keeping me afloat in a sea of anxiety.

When I finally received a call back from the doctor’s office, I was collected enough to hear the words, “very good results”.

And, then, I started crying again—big, grateful tears.

Fortunately, I don’t have a secondary cancer. I will have to be monitored for any changes, of course, but in this present moment, I have time to rest and heal. I also now have words to comfort me when old fears rise.

pink wildflowers

Please continue to send prayers, light and love, Dear Readers. They are both needed and very much appreciated. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With Love,

Laura

 

A Temporary Absence

rain on leaves

Dear Readers,

Please note that I will not be sharing a new blog post this coming week.

As some of you may already know, I will be in Boston for several appointments on Monday, June 25th—including a surgical procedure. If possible, please send light, love, and prayers my way. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With Love,

Laura

Learn, Then Overcome.

Easter 4 2018

Did you know that a cat with a urinary tract infection (UTI) will associate the pain of the infection with his/her litter box, thus leading to undesirable behaviors (i.e. urinating outside of the box)? Treatment with certain steroids will also lead to urinating in inappropriate places.

Alderaan is currently doing this.

I think, though, that we all do it on some level—associate our personal pain with things/places/people/specific dates. Either consciously or subconsciously, we alter our behavior to avoid what we think will cause more pain. Which, in light of my life experiences, sounds a lot like anxiety. Someone once told me to imagine anxiety as living in a box. The more you try to avoid the things/people/places that make you feel anxious, the smaller your box becomes.

This year of post-transplant isolation has stuck me in a very small box (fortunately, there’s just enough room in here for a laptop and I’ve been writing my heart out).

When this year of saying “no” to visiting friends and family comes to an end, I’m going to be in a situation not at all unlike Aldie’s:

Aldie will have to relearn how to use the litter box (which is why Mommy and Daddy bought him a new one with special litter that apparently smells irresistible to cats), while I am going to have to learn how to trust my puny immune system.

I will have to overcome the social awkwardness that this year of isolation has impressed upon me. Similarly, we are doing everything we can to help Alderaan overcome his fears and return to health and appropriate behaviors.

September, after all, is coming.

crocus

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send light and love. For those of you who knew about my struggle with unexpected weight loss (a big no-no in transplant land), I can assure you that I put some pounds back on and am now at an acceptable and healthy weight. My doctors are pleased with my progress and we will be starting my pediatric shots in May!!! I know; it’s an odd thing to be excited about. But I am excited.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sticking with me through this.

 

With Love,

Laura

Just Some Quality ZZZ’s, Please

Squishy

Confession: I’m 31 years old and I sleep next to a stuffed animal every night. More precisely, he’s a unicorn named Squishy. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been tremendously anxious lately. So, in an attempt to calm my nerves, I sprayed Squish (that’s his nickname) with lavender-scented perfume. It helped…a little…but I still didn’t make my big goal of sleeping in until 6am. I made it to 2:22am.

Like a lot of people out there, I don’t sleep well. I tend to be restless. When I do dream, I usually have outlandish nightmares (and not the good kind that can inspire writing projects).

Why am I sharing this? Because I am on the hunt for ideas to help me sleep.

When you, Dear Reader, have difficulty sleeping, what do you do? Do you listen to music? Do you have a glass of warm milk? What works for you? What doesn’t work? I am open to suggestions, so please send them my way!

We go back to Boston this week for another check-up. We will also be going to Burlington for a neurology appointment. It’s going to be a busy week; please keep the light, the prayers, and the love coming. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Windows

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We’ve had our littlest fur baby, Alderaan, for almost three weeks now. He continues to be a love bug, crawling into my lap and head-butting my chin whenever he wants to cuddle. He enjoys playing with his big brother, Wallace the Wonderful, and he absolutely adores his human daddy. But I’ve noticed something interesting about this bundle of light gray fur: he stands his ground.

What do I mean by that? Well, Dear Readers, each morning as I drink my coffee and continue laboring away on the most recent rewrite of my novel, Alderaan will climb onto the back of the couch, set his front paws on the windowsill, and stare out at the street. I suppose there’s nothing peculiar about that—most cats window watch—but what caught my attention is how much my little love bug trembles whenever people or dogs pass by. His whole body will shake with fear, but unlike Wallace who will run for cover (Mommy isn’t judging you for that, Wallace!), Alderaan stays his ground. He will not budge. He will not break eye contact. Alderaan endures this discomfort until it passes, only relaxing when the perceived threat on the other side of the window vanishes from his field of view.

This little cat’s courage astonishes me and it has made me question, can I do the same? Do I have the wherewithal to stare down the parts of my life that are scary and/or uncomfortable? Do I tremble and endure? Or do I tremble and run?

By most accounts, I live a good life. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and most importantly, I am loved. But I struggle with anxiety. I struggle with the weight of my cancer experience. I continue to struggle—every day—with the task of rebuilding my life. Most days, if I am being honest, I take Wallace’s approach and run for cover.

Example? The past two months, I have been in an inordinate amount of pain. It started with isolated hip pain and has progressed to include both legs. I am stiff, loosing flexibility, and, the way I ache—it reminds me too much of my stint in ICU and the pain of relearning how to walk. I’ve been pretty good about ignoring that similarity. I am, in fact, quite gifted at pushing ugly feelings and emotions down. But last night it came rushing out of me. Last night, despite medication, despite aromatherapy—I woke up sobbing, shaking. I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t make it stop.

It was Alderaan that came to the rescue. There was a purr rumbling in his throat and a reminder: these memories surface for a reason. Emotions pushed down for too long will inevitably come roaring up out of us. And we have a choice; to see them for all that they are or to run from them.

I am choosing to see them.

I am choosing to see the similarities in the past and the present and to remind myself that “now” is not “then”. That the situation is different. That I am different.

I wanted 2017 to be a year of growth—of building resiliency, of strength—and the Universe, through this inexplicable leg pain and the memories it is triggering, has presented me with that opportunity. I may tremble at what I see, Dear Readers, but I will not avert my eyes until I can look at my past without fear, without judgement, without reliving it.

A little cat showed me how to do it.