Mindful Moments

Dear Readers,

It’s been two weeks since I last posted. And, again, so much has happened, is happening, and will happen. It’s in these moments of change and chaos, that I try to practice mindfulness. Being present in the moment, however, requires a firm intention. Will-power. And, usually, some form of healthy distraction involving at least one of the five senses.

This, Dear Readers, is what I would like to share today: a series of mindful moments.

Sight

I’m writing this paragraph on Thursday, October 3rd. It’s barely after 6 p.m. and the sun has already slipped away. Shadows have claimed the lawn; they can’t, however, dim the golden glow of the fallen leaves decorating the driveway. The leaves are still bright—collecting streetlight, porch-light.

fallen leaves in drive

Sound

While making this observation, I’m listening to Jamie Dupuis play the harp guitar on YouTube. Dupuis takes classic rock songs—and other iconic tunes (i.e. Greensleeves, Canon in D)—and plays them on his harp guitar. It’s beautiful. Inspiring. Calming.

Touch

Berkley, a Mamma’s boy for the moment, is snuggled up next to me. His fur is coarse, wiry, and yet comforting. Luna is nearby, too—in the recliner, silky fur glowing copper in the lamplight.

cuddles with Berkley

Smell

Not everything enfolding in any given moment is pleasant. The gold leaves, the music, the dogs’ presence—these things help me to center, to find peace after a stressful day. As I am writing this, though, Luna jumps down from the recliner with a fart. Yes. A fart. To put it mildly, some smells are not soothing. It was funny, though…and laughter is an effective medicine.

Taste

This paragraph comes from the chilly (and rainy) morning of October 4th. This morning’s coffee was a dark roast—a bit bitter—but great for keeping the cold at bay. I can see, through the kitchen window, that the wind is stronger today than it was yesterday. It’s stripping leaves from the trees and ruffling more than just a few feathers:

the flock

If you’re wondering why I’m focusing on mindfulness, self-care and self-soothing, it’s because I have been experiencing an uptake in anxiety. I still haven’t found a happy balance between my home and my work life. I’m waiting for the sense of newness to dissipate and become routine…but that takes time…which is difficult for an impatient person to deal with. Also, my PTSD has been worse, as it always is, whenever a doctor appointment draws near.

Burlington.

Boston.

Two days in a row of being poked, prodded, and hoping for good results. Do I expect bad news from either of these visits? No.

Yet, for me, as a cancer survivor, there is always this sense that nothing is safe or permanent.

Please, Dear Readers, send prayers, light and good thoughts. In Boston, I will be receiving two, live virus, vaccines. These are the first live virus vaccinations I will have had post-transplant. All of the previous pediatric immunizations have been deactivated viruses (which, with the exception of Shingrix, my immune system has handled well). I’m anxious about my system’s reaction to live viruses…which is probably normal…but, still, exhausting.

So, what will I do, to calm down? I’ll be mindful. Pray. Listen to more harp guitar. Thank God for those moments when I am able to sit, and snuggle, with my fur babies.

aldie & berk

Sight. Sound. Touch. Smell. Taste. Living mindfully, moment by moment.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. It means the world to me.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

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Schedules & Seasons

Scarlet shrub

Dear Readers:

Since enacting the new posting schedule for Of Pieridae & Perras, I’ve been feeling quite a bit of pressure to create something truly amazing for you when it is time to post. I know that this pressure is self-created, but you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge! So, please allow me a moment to reflect upon what’s going on:

  • First, I feel as though this post needs to be perfect, interesting, etc. (I’ve never denied the unhealthy fact that I’m a perfectionist.)
  • Second, the change in posting has also allowed for more blog fodder to accrue. So, where do I start?

Let’s begin with how cold it was this last Wednesday morning (which is the morning that I wrote the rough draft of this post)! My favorite black-and-white sweater is just not warm enough anymore. I could see the dogs’ breath, like white clouds floating upwards, when I took them outside!

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens….”

– Ecclesiastes 3:1 (taken from the New International Version of the Holy Bible)

Everything has its season—and that includes our individual lives. I have just entered a new “season” of healing. My donated immune system just turned two years-old! It astounds me that so much time has passed since my bone marrow transplant. I think I might be even more surprised that I’m still here, still alive, still trying to create a happy and healthy life.

“Life,” as one of my favorite infusion nurses told me in 2010, “is not a straight road. There are curves and detours.”

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Cancer—and transplant—were certainly detours. The beautiful thing about detours, though, is that they redirect you to a place that you may not have gone to on your own. Due to transplant, I met a team of wonderful physicians, a Bostonian family that generously allowed my husband to stay with them while I was an in-patient, and an incredible donor that has made all of this possible.

Without her, I wouldn’t be alive.

I wouldn’t be married.

I wouldn’t have three, lovely (sometimes crazy) fur babies.

I also wouldn’t have been able to go back to work.

Dear Readers, I have a job! It’s super, super part-time (8-10 hours a week), and that’s perfect for me. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but as one of my best friends often tells me, “you do you”.  This job is the ideal training ground for me to regain some stamina as well as some confidence in my own abilities.

Goldenrod
Not sure if this is Goldenrod or Ragweed, but it’s growing through the space between our front steps. It’s tall, determined, and in a certain light, beautiful.

Since I last shared a blog post with you, Dear Readers, I have experienced some terrible growing pains (PTSD and high anxiety levels), but I’ve also found so much to be grateful for. And, today, I get to say how grateful I am for you, for your presence here, and for all of your prayers and good energy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Autumn’s Arrival?

August dandelions

It seems, Dear Readers, that the “dog days” of summer are behind us.

Luna & Berkley outside

There are subtle hints of Autumn’s harkening everywhere. The crickets are performing grand concerts every night. I’ve even heard geese honking overhead.

And, then, there’s this:

scarlet leaf 1.0

Yep. Scarlet-colored leaves. If that doesn’t announce Autumn’s early arrival, I don’t know what does.

There’s also this:

When did this happen? These must be left over from last Autumn, right? Nope. There are, apparently, trees already shedding their leaves.

Sadly, what was once green and bountiful, is now turning yellow and withering. It probably sounds crazy, but I’m going to miss my tomato plant. This is the first (outdoor) plant to flourish while in my care!

August tomato

There have been celestial changes, too. The sun is retiring earlier every night, and rising later in the morning.

August Moon

Aside from seasonal allergies, I’m excited for Autumn. I’m hoping to go leaf-peeping and apple-picking. And, oh! I must have hot apple cider with mulling spices! Let’s not forget dipping apple slices in caramel sauce.

Change is always difficult. Even positive changes can spark anxiety. I have found, though, that identifying things that I enjoy (and am grateful for) makes transitions much easier.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for visiting today. I hope there’s something about Autumn that you can look forward to, too.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Route Recalculation

tomatos 71419
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

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.

KL received_481882679215704
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

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

This is Peace. This is Panic. This Might be Primaveral.

As you know, Dear Readers, my life has been a whirlwind of diagnoses, followed by medical procedures. I’m not particularly skilled at either resting or relaxation—but I can recognize them when I see them:

peace

This picture was taken last week. I was sitting on the love-seat, editing my latest manuscript. When I looked up from the text, both of the fur-babies were sleeping. Alderaan was on the mantle, and Luna was in her favorite spot, the recliner. The fire flickered quietly on the hearth. I took a picture, to capture the moment. This, I knew, was peace. Rest. Healing.

I am so grateful for these little moments.

And, yet, while writing these words, and studying that picture, I had a panic attack. There were no warning signs; I simply, and suddenly, had difficulty breathing. I felt like my heart was wedged between my clavicle and my first rib. I’ve had panic attacks in the past, but it’s been awhile; this one caught me by surprise. For a minute I thought, like most people do, that I was having a heart attack.

The panic attack eventually passed, and with it, the chest pain. I was exhausted afterwards, and left wondering what had triggered it. My brain, although tired, conjured Alanis Morissette’s song, “Ironic”. Because, yes, it was ironic to have a panic attack while thinking and writing about peace.

I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer as to what triggered the attack. Normally, I would sift through my anxious thoughts to find the source. Identifying our fears and confronting them are, in my experience, one of the only ways to beat them. Sometimes, though, that’s contraindicated—especially when rest is required. As the adage goes, “Let sleeping dogs lie”.

If the temperature is mild, Luna likes to take brief naps in the green lawn chair on our back porch. When she’s not resting, she’s using the chair to survey her territory. I realized, recently, that she might also be observing primaveral changes. There are some signs of an early spring: the angle of the sun and the moon have changed, and, now, it is not only the blue jays’ squawk greeting the sunrise. There’s another bird, hiding in the cedar hedge. Its song is more melodic, it speaks of warmer temperatures and flowers poking through the frozen earth.

It’s early yet (and it is snowing this morning), but spring is not far away.

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These are obviously fake tulips—with price tags still on them—but I find the colors inspiring…so I thought I’d share them with you. I hope, if you need to smile, that they help.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love and light. Your presence here, at Of Perras & Pieridae, keeps me going. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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

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