This is What They Call a Birthday

first birthday cake

In the world of Bone Marrow Transplants, the anniversary of your transplant is considered to be your “New Birthday”. I just turned “One”.

I think I’m supposed to feel elated.

Or proud.

The truth is, all I feel and see are confused flashes of that hospital room.

I can’t remember much of my time as an inpatient. Preparation for a transplant is both physically and mentally demanding. The chemotherapy that I was given in Boston—just days before the actual transplant—was harsher than all of the chemotherapy that I received during cancer treatment. The Total Body Irradiation completely drained me.

I was also higher than a kite on pain meds, dreaming about being trapped in a basement…and something about cave trolls. What I do seem to remember are the challenging moments. My mind has a penchant for that. Don’t ask me to remember happy milestones or joy. I’m not wired to recall pleasant memories, although I wish that I was.

Breathing would be a lot easier if I could focus on positive details such as the pigeon that sat, every day, on my windowsill—as if it were watching over me. Was it an angel? Or just another city bird? I remember naming it, “Bird Butt”, because it always had its tail feathers pressed against my window. I couldn’t take a decent picture of it with my cellphone…so…if it was an angel, I can’t imagine that it was too impressed by me or my “creative” naming abilities.

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So much has happened in the year between naming “Bird Butt” and the present day.

The field I admire—the one across the road—has been turned into square bales. I watched a farmer mow the field and bail it. I began to appreciate him as much as I did the field. He walked with a cane and, yet, somehow was able to climb up and down from the tractor’s seat. As someone that once relied on a cane to walk, I know that this was no easy task. This man was determined. A hard-worker. Someone to respect, to emulate.

Do I miss my former view? Yes.

The field, though, has not stopped giving me beautiful moments to ponder. Do I love what it has given me now, even more? The answer: a resounding yes!

Whenever the shadows are long, there is a rather large cat that prowls across the field. It has probably been doing this for longer than we’ve lived here—the tall grass kept it hidden from sight. Now, however, the feline is visible. I can’t tell if s/he wears dark stripes like my Wallace did, or if its coat is entirely sable in color. Either way, its presence gives me joy. Hope. Dare I say, happiness?

cat in the field 2.0

So, yes, I ate cake on my “First Birthday”. My fiancé bought it for me and it was rather tasty. There weren’t any candles to blow out, but I made a few wishes anyways.

I wished to become a positive-thinker (I would like to believe that I’ve made some progress in that department).

I wished to help others whenever possible.

And, finally, I wished to stockpile pleasant memories—and actually remember them.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of your prayers, kind words, and love over this past year. Please continue to send light. The recovery process has only just begun. I have three to six more months on steroids and my anti-rejection medication. They’re both immunosuppressants, so I will still have to be cautious about what I expose myself to.

The bright side? I’m “One” now…my legs are wobbly…but I’m starting to take my first steps toward health.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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Space to Redecorate

My last post was about telling the truth—my truth—how I really feel, how recovery from transplant is progressing, how the timeline is not what I expected it to be.

The adage, “the truth will set you free”, is, well, true.

Once I had committed my truth to paper, once I had shared it—I felt a tremendous sense of relief, like I could breathe again. The weight on my shoulders was a bit lighter.

It—how I felt—wasn’t a secret anymore.

I didn’t have to pretend that everything was wonderful or even okay.

Perhaps the most surprising change is that telling the truth created space in my heart. The space isn’t a hole. My heart isn’t empty or missing something. There’s just more room in it for feelings other than fear and defeat. It’s only been a week, but I’ve decided to redecorate that space with beautiful moments and images.

Among those images, is the view from our front door.

Our house is surrounded, on two sides, by thick cedar hedges. A few deciduous trees have tried to grow amidst the cedar, stretching taller and taller to reach the sun’s warm rays. Wild grape vines cling to the cedars for support.

morning hedges

The only clear view we have is out the front door and windows, which face the road and an unmown field beyond it. To me, there’s something magical about fields. I could probably attribute this affinity to the French-Canadian habitant in my bones and in my ancestry. The field’s grass is tall now, shining golden at mid-day (this photo doesn’t do it justice). Milkweed is interspersed, attracting butterflies of all colors and varieties. I smile whenever I see a winged pair fluttering between the wildflowers.

Bambi, and his friends, would say that they’re “twitterpated”.

morning field

This attempt to redecorate my heart with beautiful moments reminds me of a song that I used to listen to when I was younger. In fact, after my last chemotherapy infusion (the first time that I had cancer), I blasted the song on my brother’s stereo. Even back then, my brother, a talented musician, had plenty of speakers; I put them to good use that afternoon.

The song that this view, that this moment in my life, evokes is entitled, “Beauty from Pain”. It’s by the Christian rock band, Superchick. Some of the lyrics are as thus:

                        After all this has passed

                        I still will remain.

                        After I’ve cried my last,

                        There’ll be beauty from pain.

                        Though it won’t be today

                        Someday I’ll hope again.

                        And there’ll be beauty from pain.

                        You will bring beauty from my pain.

Although the song makes me tear up, I also find it to be empowering. Hopeful. In many ways, it’s a reminder that I can keep going…that God will use this experience for good, and that my current health situation will not be my situation forever. My transformation as a person isn’t complete yet.

As the proverb on my home page reads, “just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”. I’m still in the process of becoming a butterfly.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love, and light. They are so very appreciated. We’re Boston-bound later this week for a transplant check-up and a breathing test (it’s standard procedure; I am not worried about my lungs, nor are my doctors). Please continue to send positive thoughts, though; as some of you know, Massachusetts’ traffic can be daunting. 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

Thanksgiving in June

Thank you, Dear Readers, for reaching out to me with a wonderful list of book titles, podcasts, YouTube suggestions, movie recommendations, and songs. You truly lifted my spirits! Although I can’t say that I feel 100% recharged, I do feel as though I am free to find beauty in the world around me again.

I mean, come on, look at these irises! They were a complete surprise to me. I had no idea that they were even growing around our front porch until Luna led me to them.

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I still do not have an immune system, so gardening is not an option for me. BUT I can enjoy observing what’s already growing here (I can also dead-head—while wearing gloves—which may be an experience that finds its way into a fiction project).

Speaking of fiction, I have been writing and submitting again. My novel, Greenwood (once known as Weather Witch), is now in the capable hands of Entangled Publishing. Hopefully, this time, it will exceed expectations, be on par with the trends of the literary market and find its way into a shareable format.

It would be a dream come true to see it published.

If that doesn’t happen, it’ll go back to hiding in my desk drawer…or excerpts will find their way to this blog. I always meant for Of Pieridae & Perras to include my fiction. Maybe it’s time to start sharing it….

Thank you, again, for sending me so much positivity. I am so grateful for each and every one of you. Your support has given me—and continues to give me—strength. Please continue to send light and love.

 

With Love,

Laura

Springing Ahead

gerbera

With the time change this past weekend, I began to think about the future. Usually, when I think about it, my mind becomes fear-filled. I’m not quite sure what happened, but this time, I started day-dreaming about the possibility of happier times. I thought I’d share some of the day-dreams that made me smile:

  • For those of you who don’t know, we’ve been house-hunting! Eventually, we will find the perfect house to turn into our own home. So, step one, find and get the house. Step two, hit day 365 post-transplant, obtain Boston’s approval, and bring Alderaan to his new home. Step three, once Aldie has adjusted to the change, we will adopt a (rather large, cuddly) canine that is feline-friendly.
  • Get Boston’s approval to play in the dirt because, although I do not have a green thumb (it’s more like the thumb-of-impending-plant-doom-and-death), I would like to garden. I want to plant giant sunflowers and hollyhocks. I want to raise string beans and snow peas. I am curious about growing Hops.
  • I am excited for the dietary changes that September will bring. I can’t wait to add honey to my tea! I miss honey—just like I miss Goat and Feta Cheeses. Some caramel popcorn would be nice, too.

I am well-aware that you cannot live in the future. We must live in the present. And, yet, in this present moment, I am tired of living in fear of another relapse and/or developing some secondary cancer. This isn’t my first rodeo with cancer, so I know that these fears will never entirely go away. I can, however, choose to ignore these dismal thoughts (unless it becomes apparent that there actually is something wrong with me). Instead, I can summon courage and stubbornness, boldly filling my mind with springtime sunshine, daisies, and the chirp of robins.

We were supposed to go to Boston this coming Wednesday for a check-up, but as many of you probably already know, we’ll be getting a Nor’easter instead. So, we’ll be playing it safe and staying home. I know I don’t really get a say in this, but I refuse to die in a car crash on my way to a cancer/transplant appointment. I mean, how ironic would that be?  So, no. No Boston this week, but I will call later today and reschedule the appointment. Please send light and love.

 

With Love,

Laura

Still an Elf

still-an-elf-photo5-1094

There is something truly magical about Halloween—and I am not referring to ghouls, goblins or foaming, green potions. I am, simply, lauding the fact that Halloween is the one night of the year that we are each invited to stretch our sorely underutilized imaginations and be whatever it is that we want to be.

We can save the world as firefighters or superheroes.

We can be our polar opposites and don the masks of villains.

Or, we can reconnect with the parts of ourselves that we thought were gone, lost when the world turned cold and ugly.

For me, the last few Halloweens have felt a bit like taking a ferry ride on a windy day. I couldn’t find my sea legs; I couldn’t find a costume that really felt like home. I tried ascribing my uneasiness to the fact that I was branching out—replacing my usual elvish and princess costumes with devil horns and sparkly tops. And, yes, the high heels fit, but it didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel like me.

One of the hardest parts of cancer survivorship to grasp—and live with—is the way in which it impacts your sense of self, your sense of worth. Even after your hair grows back and the scars begin to pale, it’s hard to see beauty in the mirror. It’s hard to see anything, really, beyond the ghost of bandages and hospital gowns. The eyes that stare back at you cannot see the teenage version of you that dressed up as Arwen from Lord of the Rings. Those eyes no longer belong to the little girl that, for nearly every Halloween, was some version of a princess.

It was with this thought in mind—that I could never be a princess, never be an elf again—that I prepared for this Halloween weekend. I needed a costume, preferably a cheap costume, and yet no matter how many times I searched Pinterest, nothing was really speaking to me.

And, just as the panic was starting to settle in to stay, I found one of my elf ears.

The ear was sitting atop my old desk, inconspicuous among a stack of well-worn books and pens, as if I had simply taken it off and forgotten to put it away. I knew, even as I picked the ear up, that I couldn’t be Arwen. I was missing an ear and, even if Arwen’s silvery dress still fit, there was no way I could step into that role. Arwen was beautiful. She glowed. And what did I look like? What did I do? I had circles under my eyes from not sleeping well and scars from procedures that Arwen’s character would have never even heard of.

No, I couldn’t be Arwen.

But I could be an elf…missing an ear…if I donned a head bandage splattered with faux blood.

It’s silly-sounding, I know, but there was peace in parting my hair and pinning it up like an elf’s. There was something grounding about watching my face transform in the mirror, glowing gold and silver with make-up. There was something empowering about putting on my one ear and covering the other—the missing one—with gauze.

I’m still an elf.

Maybe I can’t be Arwen anymore. Maybe I am tired now and have seen too many ugly things—but I can be the elf that went to battle. I can be banged up and bloodied, and I can still be beautiful.

Because, dear readers, that’s the magic of Halloween. We can be anything we want to be—including ourselves.