A Daily Dose of Joy

violet

Joy.

How would you define the word? When/how do you experience it? Do you find joy in your everyday life?

Joy is certainly part of the recipe for a happy, healthy life…and, yet, somehow…I’ve left it out.

Thankfully, while “attending” the virtual version of The Stowe Weekend of Hope (SWOH), I was reminded of just how important joy is. Usually held in beautiful Stowe, Vermont, SWOH went virtual this year due to the coronavirus. There were workshops via Facebook Live, YouTube, on specific websites and Zoom.

“Radical Remission” was one such workshop.

Led by Kristi Cromwell, the workshop explained the work of Dr. Kelly Turner—the researcher behind “Radical Remission”. As a certified Radical Remission instructor and coach, Kristi was able to share the 10 Healing Elements comprising “Radical Remission”. The element that resonated most with me, was Increasing Positive Emotions, specifically joy.

It triggered something within me—starting a short-lived existential crisis, even. Did I know what joy was? When was the last time that I had experienced it? I know I felt it at our wedding, but was joy part of my day-to-day?

Kristi challenged workshop participants to think about what would bring more joy to their lives. According to Cromwell, just 10-minutes of joy a day can make a difference in one’s health. She also suggested starting small and eventually building upwards in terms of time.

Starting small seemed like a wise idea to me…but what was I supposed to start with? What brought me joy?

The answer to this question came to me while participating in Happy Brain Life’s “10 Days of Calm and Creativity” program via Facebook. In this journaling program, Liz Wiegardt focused on assisting Heart Centered women. She shared ways to increase calm during these precarious times as well as express creativity. I loved every minute of it! Liz holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology as well as a Certificate in Applied Neuroscience and Brain Health. She is well-educated in these areas. And, and, she is a great public-speaker!

journal

It was one of Liz’s journal prompts that helped me find my “joy”. On Day 4 of the program, as a creativity prompt, she asked participants to “connect with music today…listen to your favorite song and dance!”.

Music? Dance? I had flashbacks of my teenage years.

Every morning, when I was getting ready for school, my CD player would be set to a ridiculously high volume. One of the bands that I played on repeat was a Christian rock band, Audio Adrenaline (audioa).

Somehow, as I grew older, I left the band behind. It wasn’t until earlier this year (pre-COVID), that I came across two of their albums at my parents’ house: Hit Parade and Worldwide. On a whim, I brought them home…and started listening again.

Audio_

While teenage Laura was addicted to drums and electric guitar riffs, adult Laura is in love with the lyrics. I spend more time in the Bible these days, and, as such, I can now identify the scripture that may or may not have influenced these songs.

The songs, altogether, mean more to me now.

They inspire faith.

And, on Day 4 of the “10 Days of Calm and Creativity”, they inspired JOY.

In response to Liz’s prompt, I listened and danced to audioa’s “Underdog”. THIS—dancing as poorly and awkwardly as I do—is my JOY.

It’s freeing and fun!

I am still finding joy in the fusion of music and dance. Currently, I am hooked on audioa’s song, “Big House”:

 

Come and go with me

To my Father’s house

Come and go with me

To my Father’s House

It’s a big, big house

With lots and lots of room

A big, big table

With lots and lots of food

A big, big yard

Where we can play football

A big, big house

It’s my Father’s House

– Audio Adrenaline, “Big House” from their 1993 album, Don’t Censor Me.

This song—which makes me smile—also encourages me to contemplate John 14:2-3, in which Jesus says:

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

            – As written in the the New International Version of the Holy Bible

How awesome are these verses?! An eternal home, prepared just for you and me.

Finding joy in music and in my poor dance skills, has helped me to identify it elsewhere.

I love writing. It is my creative project of choice. I’m approximately a quarter of the way through “converting” an old manuscript. And, yes, I do mean “converting” in the sense of changing the manuscript to Christian Fiction. Sure, it’s unpaid work. I believe, however, that writing is like planting a garden. You place the seeds in the soil, water and weed, and have faith that they will grow—that your efforts will yield a bountiful crop.

I hope, Dear Readers, that you, too, find some joy today and every day.

Thank you, once again, for your presence here. Of Pieridae and Perras would not be the same without you. I would not be where I am (alive) without you and your prayers. Stay safe! Stay healthy! I am sending light, love and prayers your way.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

Resources for the Curious:

For more information about SWOH, visit: https://www.stowehope.org/about-swoh.html.

To learn more about “Radical Remission”, watch Kristi’s workshop on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQnJzCPNQuw.

If interested, you can read about Liz Wiergardt and Happy Brain Life at: https://www.happybrainlife.com/about.

 

On Laughter

I’ve been writing my memoir.

Well, the first one. Having had cancer twice, albeit biologically the same cancer, this is a two-book project.

For this first book, I am using a journal from 2012. I will need other sources to cover 2010 – 2012. Good news is, younger me liked to journal and older me is a bit of a hoarder.

journal
See that gray fur? That’s Alderaan curled up in my lap. He’s becoming a great writing companion.

In 2012, I was in Course V of my treatment: Maintenance. Maintenance was the last and longest course. As I read through this journal, I am astonished by the range of emotions that I experienced. Anger. Depression. Extreme Anxiety. And, then, back again—in no particular order. These entries are not particularly flattering. I question the readability of this tome. It’s serious material, though…and I don’t plan on editing anything other than spelling, grammar and names.

That’s right. Everyone involved in cancer #1—that appears in that journal—is getting a brand-new name (with the exception of my parents and brother).

Why would I want to share the contents of my personal journal?

1 – I feel as though I am being called to do so. I really do think that this is part of God’s plan for me. I mean, I had those awful experiences for a reason, right?

2 – It’s Exposure Therapy. I carry these memories with me every single day and relive them, every night, when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) comes to call. Exposure Therapy asks the patient to confront the triggering event in hopes of slowly desensitizing him/her to it. Will it work? I guess I’ll find out….

3 – My experience might actually help someone else, someone traveling this same road. The societal norm of “grinning and bearing” it, needs to be debunked. Honesty might help some other young adult survivor to feel more comfortable with their emotions. As a cancer survivor, are you allowed to feel anger, sadness, anxiety? Yes. Absolutely. You do, however, need to dig your way out of those emotions, eventually, for your own well-being.

This attempt to document my own journey through cancer experience #1, has invoked panic. I know it is all in the past. I know it can’t hurt me anymore. Yet, it still feels real,
“fresh”, to some extent.

While working on this project, the need for levity has become apparent to me. As the adage goes, “laughter is the best medicine”.

So where can we find levity? Everywhere!

The easiest place for me to find it is by simply watching the dogs. Luna and Berkley, whenever they are outside, enjoy roughhousing. In this picture, a whispered conference has just concluded and they’re clearly “up to no good”:

trouble

Indoors, it’s Luna’s flatulence that evokes laughter. She has no shame. She’s also not one of those dogs that turns around, surprised, that she has farted. She knows what she’s doing.

Farts, in general, are often a source of amusement in our house. Yeah, it’s not exactly polite behavior, but it happens. And, sometimes, the necessary reaction is to let the dogs outside and open a window (talking about you Berkley with your “silent but deadly” farts).

I’ve never caught Alderaan farting, but I have captured some sassy-pants attitude:

sassy
Just look at that tongue sticking out!

Less smelly sources of levity include parody. This “Life is Good” t-shirt always brings a smile to my face:

dog t-shirt

It’s funny, mostly because it’s true. It is impossible to open a jar of peanut butter in this house without acquiring an audience.

I am finding, too, that gratitude has a positive impact on me while I work on this project. For instance, every morning, as the sun rises, I cannot help but be thankful for another new day.

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Sometimes, it’s smaller things, like the daily calendar (featuring dogs and inspirational quotes) that a friend gave to us for Christmas. This quote, in particular, has made me reflect on life and how I live it:

“Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans.

It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.”

– Horace

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for the prayers, light and love that you have given me over the years. I hope that each of you finds a reason to smile and laugh today.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

 

It’s Staying Up Until Epiphany!

christmas tree aglow 2.0

Dear Readers,

Where did Christmas 2019 go? One minute we were decorating our tree (with our signature blend of home-made ornaments and Star Wars collectibles), and the next moment we were carrying discarded wrapping paper and boxes out to the recycling bin.

SW and homemade

I was so excited for Christmas, and it certainly lived up to my expectations. My big present from the hubby this year was a new washing machine. I know, that may not sound overly exciting to some people, but I was thrilled to be given a machine that wasn’t going to constantly screech errors at me!

Christmas for me, and many others, though, isn’t solely about the gifts.

It’s about family—sitting at my parents’ dining room table—as my father said “Grace” over the delicious meal that my mother had prepared.

It’s about attending Christmas Eve service—listening to the readings, singing along to both new and old Christmas hymns, while the candles in the sanctuary flicker, painting the walls gold and making the windows gleam.

Christmas is about embracing church family and thanking God that, yes, I can hug these wonderful, inspiring people again! I couldn’t do that a year ago. I definitely couldn’t do it two years ago when my immune system was infantile.

Yet, here I am, with only a few days left of 2019, and I’m grateful to still be here.

There was never a guarantee that I would survive Cancer #1 or Cancer #2. Neither of those experiences were easy—this last one took a lot out of me. I’m still recovering. In fact, it’ll probably take all of 2020 to feel halfway human.

According to my oncologist, the most common complaint among allogenic transplant recipients is fatigue. It’s not the kind of fatigue that you can sleep off. Neither caffeine nor sugar will help. You simply have to endure this fatigue; sometimes miserably, and sometimes proactively with appropriate amounts of physical and mental activity.

With all of that said, I am sure that you, Dear Readers, have an inkling as to what my goals for 2020 will be.

Before I was diagnosed with Relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2017, I maintained a daily, rigorous yoga practice. It was borderline Power Yoga.

yoga on the deck

As the tumor in my lumbar spine grew, I eventually lost all of the strength and flexibility that I had gained through yoga.

I’ve been taking baby-steps toward my former level of athleticism—utilizing chair yoga, restorative yoga and trauma yoga. I will continue doing these forms of yoga until I am ready for Power Yoga. By June, I intend to be doing The Wheel again!

Wally and Wheel

Also, in 2020, I will keep my mind busy with a self-created reading list (comprised mostly of books that I already own but haven’t had a chance to actually read). I’ll continue learning new languages via Duo Lingo. Currently, I’m studying Norwegian. Jeg elsker det (I love it)! Additionally, I will retrain my sometimes chemo-foggy brain through dusting off my GRE practice book and revisiting vocabulary, analogy and complex mathematical lessons. Each lesson is similar to a puzzle piece—revealing parts of the old me that existed pre-cancer.

Finally, I intend to keep the Christmas spirit alive throughout the new year. The first step in this multi-faceted plan, is to leave our Christmas decorations (except, maybe, for the tree, which is already losing a superfluous number of needles) up until Epiphany. According to the Christian calendar, Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th and marks the moment when the Wisemen (aka Magi) find Jesus.

wisemen

I mean, come on! It’s only December 30th! The Wisemen haven’t even made it to Bethlehem yet! The Christmas lights will glow in this house until that manger is discovered!

Of course, keeping the Christmas spirit alive involves a lot more than leaving decorations up. It requires us to practice kindness, generosity and gratitude on a daily basis. It might also take the form of small, but thoughtful, acts of friendship, such as writing letters and sending them off via snail mail. For me, part of it will consist of visiting cafes with friends—all to drink a cup of coffee and to talk awhile.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for your prayers, love and light. I do hope that 2020 is kind to each of you!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

It Started With Wind

candy jar pumpkin

Currently, Dear Readers, the solar mobile that I love (and you’ve seen in multiple blog posts), is hanging from our mantle. We brought it inside, just before last Thursday’s fierce wind and rain. What a storm!

As the wind shook the cedars, I couldn’t help but think, “these are the winds of change”. The few deciduous trees that we have on our property are now bare-limbed. There are citrine-colored leaves blanketing the backyard.

What has changed?

A lot, actually.

First, on October 8th, I had an appointment in Burlington. This appointment focused primarily on the fact that I am post-menopausal.

Not pre-menopausal.

Not menopausal.

Post-menopausal.

There are, of course, consequences for being simultaneously my age and post-menopausal. The most significant is bone density loss. While hormone replacement therapy can help, I have to be an active participant in maintaining my bone health. Weight-bearing exercises are crucial to supporting our bones, and, as such, the specialist that I saw recommended that I try walking, running and/or dancing.

Well, walking is a bit impossible when you live on a busy road that doesn’t have sidewalks or much in the way of shoulders. Running? Ha! I haven’t been able to run since Cancer Number One in 2010. Dancing? Although I would love to return to the English Country Dancing club, I’m still quite wary of being so close to strangers. Germs, you know?

I’m not, however, interested in experiencing bone density loss—so I found a virtually free solution—I became a mall walker!

The mall unlocks its main entrances at approximately 6am. I remember, from my days as an assistant manager, seeing a steady stream of mall walkers pass by the store’s gated door in the mornings. I never thought that I would become one, but this past Friday, at about 7:50am, I did! I put my leg braces on and drove over to the mall. I walked its entire floor plan twice, varying my speed in order to challenge my cardiovascular system. I know two laps around the mall doesn’t sound like much—but everyone has to start somewhere.

leg braces

Now, for Boston. I’m fully vaccinated! It went something like this: 15 vials of blood drawn, a great appointment with a member of my transplant team, followed by my two-year old shots. These were live virus vaccines—the first that I had had post-transplant.

We returned home after 11pm. I took my hoodie off and discovered that my left arm was swollen. It was so swollen, in fact, that it looked like it belonged to someone else. I spent the next day nauseous and in pain. I would rate that nausea as being on par with nausea caused by chemotherapy.

It took three days for my arm to “deflate”.

When I recovered, I celebrated by decorating for Autumn/Halloween:

I’m not short, per se, but there are things that I can’t reach from the floor. This, Dear Readers, is the exact moment that having a tall husband comes in handy.

Halloween garland

The fur babies had varied reactions to the change in décor. Every once in a while, you can catch Luna looking up at this guy, confused:

hanging pumpkin

It happens to me, too. I’m not accustomed to seeing a “pop of color” in my kitchen. Nor am I accustomed to seeing these “just because” beauties:

Every time I see these flowers, it’s like discovering a new and wonderful surprise. It makes me smile, from ear-to-ear.

So, what do you do after “the winds of change” have stopped shaking the cedars? Do you rake up the fallen leaves? Mourn the trees’ bare limbs? Or, do you dig through the “junk” drawer for a new battery, put it in the mobile, and ask your tall husband to hang it back up on the porch—all so it can illuminate the night as it once did?

mobile at night

I think you know which option I have chosen.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for your prayers, warm wishes, and light. I’m two-years-old and fully vaccinated now—and that wouldn’t have happened without your kindness, your positive energy, and all of the times that you bent God’s ear, talking about me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

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

I Promise to Play Laser Pointer

The wind was fierce—and cold—the morning that I wrote this blog post. It shook the wind chimes hanging on the front porch; their melody not the slow and calming tune that I had grown accustomed to. Instead, it was rushed.

Still beautiful, but rushed.

In many ways, I have lived my life this way—rushed, and rushing myself. Alderaan is helping me to break this habit.

My fiancé and I didn’t have Alderaan (Aldie) for a great length of time before I relapsed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I knew that cancer treatment would impair my immune system, so I sent both of our cats to my parents’ house where they would be cared for (and downright spoiled). We’ve been separated from Alderaan for so long that it’s almost as though we are welcoming a new cat into our lives.

For instance, who knew that he would turn out to be an actor? He rolls—yes, rolls—down the stairs, just to antagonize Luna (the puppy). Trust me, this is an act. He may have short, little legs, but he’s perfectly capable of walking down the stairs. I’ve seen him do it at least a dozen times.

Aldie behind the curtain
Behind the curtain, preparing for the next act.

Another revelation: Aldie is an early bird. He wants to be fed breakfast, promptly, at 5:30am. Then, once his stomach settles, he wants someone to play laser pointer with him. I’m usually quite busy in the morning—especially on mornings that I have appointments to prepare for—but there’s this quiet voice that tells me to slow down, to cherish time spent with Aldie. For this one moment, the most important thing in my life, is watching Alderaan chase a red dot across the floor.

Aldie spare bedroom
Another act: pretending to sleep

It’s not going to be this way forever, so I have decided to enjoy the little moments whenever I can.

My fiancé and I recently attended a memorial service, “Celebrating the Life of Douglas R. Skopp, Ph.D.”. We both deeply respected (and continue to respect) Dr. Skopp. We miss him. There were a variety of speakers at the service: Dr. Skopp’s colleagues, members of the community, former students. Some of the words that were used to describe Dr. Skopp were:

Valiant.

Noble.

Compassionate.

Extraordinary.

Some of the speakers expressed the desire to have just one more cup of coffee, or one more dinner with him—and, it hit me then, that my fiancé and I were quite fortunate to have had that very opportunity in September of 2017.

Right before my bone marrow transplant, we had had the privilege of having dinner with Dr. Skopp and his wife, Evelyne. It was a wonderful, inspirational evening—and exactly what I needed before shipping off to Boston for the transplant.

Dr. Skopp had been a mentor and a source of light for me since the first time I had had cancer in 2010. He mentioned me in the “Afterword and Acknowledgements” of his novel, Shadows Walking. To paraphrase, he felt that I was teaching others how to appreciate every day.

He was wrong about that; he was the one that taught me how precious every moment was. I was young and I was angry the first time I had cancer; his positive outlook turned my negative one around on countless occasions. He gave me hope. He encouraged me to keep focusing on healing, to keep learning, to keep living. I wish I had had the foresight to say ‘thank you’ before it was too late.

Perhaps the most significant moment at the memorial, for me, was when one of the speakers relayed some of the advice that Dr. Skopp had once given to him. It was, as follows:

“The most important promises to keep, are the ones [that] you make to yourself”.

This advice has stayed with me, every day, since the memorial. I ask myself, what promises have I made to me? Have I made any of them a priority?

The answer came to me with the click and the tap of a keyboard; continuing to write and, one day, publish some of my fiction—these are promises I have made to myself. The service rekindled my commitment to these promises.

Another important promise: to play laser pointer. Although it primarily benefits Alderaan, promising to play laser pointer is also a promise to me. It’s a promise to slow down, live this life, and love its little moments.

As always, Dear Readers, thank you for your prayers, your love, and your light. It has carried me through so much this past year. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Silver-Linings, Silver Ears

Aldie on the mantle

I really do try to see the positive in situations…but, I’m human…and, sometimes, I need a little help to see what’s right in front of me.

For instance, this past Wednesday, I was at my parents’ house (where the majority of my belongings still are). There was a pedestal mirror atop my long-neglected bureau.

In the house I share with my fiancé, the only mirrors that we have are in the bathroom. So, if someone is in the bathroom, you’re out of luck. You can try catching your reflection in the television screen, but best wishes to you. Brushing your hair into place isn’t going to happen until the bathroom is vacated.

You learn to live with minor inconveniences such as this.

Seeing my old pedestal mirror, though, I decided to take it home with me. I’d put it in our bedroom or my office—someplace where I could try to tame my wild curls whenever the bathroom was otherwise occupied. I began dusting it. As I did so, however, the mirror snapped off of the pedestal. It landed on the cement floor and cracked like a hard-boiled egg.

“Great,” I thought, recalling the superstition that breaking a mirror comes with a sentence of 7 years of bad luck.

As a life-long pessimist, I instantly started reciting all of the major and minor health problems that, due to my medical history, I could probably develop in the next 7 years. It was a depressing and anxiety-filled list. Seeking some solace, I told my fiancé about the mirror. His response was perfect:

“I guess that means you’ll be alive for the next seven years,” he said. “You have to find the silver-lining in these things.”

I had to think about what he had said for a minute or two, before the meaning of it sunk in. You do have to be alive to have bad luck—or any luck at all, really.

“I want more than 7 years,” I countered.

“Of course,” he replied, “I want you to have more than that, too.”

Point of Clarification: no doctor has told me that I have an expiration date, coming due in seven years. This is just our morbid sense of humor and how we decided to interpret a broken mirror and the superstition of 7 years of bad luck. Now, I know a broken mirror can’t guarantee health or life, but I’m going to pretend that it can. That kind of assurance, even if only a work of the imagination, is truly a silver-lining.

While searching for silver-linings, I have also rediscovered a pair of lovable, silver ears.

silver ears

During my last check-up in Boston, I asked if our cat could live with us again. I was afraid to ask since my immune system hasn’t finished developing yet. The answer, though, was, ‘yes’!

After a year of being cared for by my parents (thank you, Mom & Dad!), and losing his big brother Wallace, Alderaan (Aldie) has finally moved in with us. My brother delivered him to our front door on Wednesday night. He set Aldie in his new litter box while I prepped his dinner.

The next day, October 11th, Alderaan had his fourth birthday. He celebrated with a long nap underneath our bed. He’s a small guy, weighing in at only 11.5-pounds. Aldie is special, though. I believe he knew I had cancer long before any of my doctors even considered it a possibility.

Why do I think this? Before I was diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, if I was sleeping on my stomach, the little guy would curl up on my back—in the exact spot that my tumor would later be found. He was a heating pad, trying to ease the pain radiating from my lumbar spine.

Alderaan took care of me this past Thursday night, too. When I was too restless to sleep, thrashing around and trapped in some dream, our little feline decided to settle down on my feet. Aldie, although quite small, has the power to turn into a cinder block. He somehow becomes incredibly heavy. Utilizing this hidden superpower, he prevented me from continuing to move. I still couldn’t sleep, but it’s the thought that counts.

I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful it is to have my silver ears back.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for continuing to send prayers, love, and light my way. It means the world to me.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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

Happy Birthday to Meeeee

ferry tree

Last week I turned 31.

And, yes, like most women, I didn’t take kindly to the new, higher number.

I am not upset because I am getting older—aging doesn’t bother me. I am well aware that not everyone gets the opportunity to grow older. Neither am I bothered by the fact that increased age brings death closer. Truth be told, death and I have been flirting with each other since I was 23. I have lived 8 years beyond my original expiration date (July 2010).

No, 31 is a difficult number because, in my life before cancer, I had decided that 31 was the perfect age to start a family. I imagined I would have a stable, good-paying job. I thought that I would be in a healthy, happy relationship.

Check no, on the job.

Check yes, on the relationship—I have found my soulmate.

But, fast-forward to November 2016, when I was officially diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure. This is what cancer treatment can do. It can destroy cancer cells, but it also destroys anything that grows quickly—including eggs. Although still to be confirmed with additional blood tests, 2017’s 8-months of cancer treatment and then bone marrow transplant preparation (which included high dose chemotherapy and Total Body Irradiation) did nothing to help my ovaries.

Every hot flash tells me that any hope for a biological family is now gone.

I grieve for this dream.

2018, however, is not going to be the year that I give up. It’s the year that I am going to move forward. Maybe I can’t have a biological child (who would really want my genes anyways?), but Seth and I will spend time researching adoption. We will make plans. We will move toward that goal, together, and make whatever changes are necessary to be eligible to adopt.

There are so many children in need of a safe and loving home; someday, we hope to provide just that. Until then, we’ll be crazy cat parents to these two majestic creatures:

 

As always, Dear Readers, thank you for your love and continued prayers. You are our strength and the light guiding us on this journey. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Gratitude & Homesickness Hold Hands

 

I slept through most of Blizzard Stella. As the storm’s fluffy snowflakes began to drift earthward, I let the pre-medications and chemotherapy take me away. I burrowed underneath my hospital blankets while my significant other stretched out in the recliner beside my bed. I closed my eyes, falling asleep to the sound of his breathing.

I’ve missed the sound of him sleeping.

Maybe that’s a strange thing to say or to miss…but I do. I miss the comfort of each inhalation and exhalation. I miss walking into our apartment living room, to find him sprawled out on the couch, mouth wide open, reddish hair sticking up in every possible direction.

I am homesick this morning, Dear Readers—for all of the little things that make our life beautiful. I miss the sound of Wallace the Wonderful and Alderaan charging through the living room on the way to their food dishes. I miss the squeal of the tea kettle and the giant mug in the cupboard that reads, “I Freaking Love You”. I miss the scent of our laundry detergent. I miss the taste of chocolate chia pudding (with a dash of cayenne and cinnamon in it).

I miss my clothes.

I miss feeling comfortable in my own my body—the body that didn’t have a 24/7 accessed chest port or an off-centered unicorn horn sticking out of her head.

I miss my life.

Most days, I try not to think about home. I try not to think about the future at all. Yet, here I am, pinning for the comfort of a thick sweater and the orange glow of the Himalayan Salt Lamp in our bedroom. I find myself wondering if my immune system will allow us to fill our screened-in porch with flowers again or if I’ll even be able to sit outside in the sun, sans mask, to write.

It’s the little things that make a life wonderful…and it’s all the little things that I am missing today.

If I am being honest, Dear Readers, I know why this is happening. We received good news yesterday—the tumor is shrinking! Treatment is working! My oncologist is reaching back out to his colleagues in Boston (where I will eventually be transferred) and additional plans for my ongoing treatment will be made. And, while I am beyond relieved and grateful for these positive developments, it makes my status as a hospital inpatient a bit more difficult to bear. It makes the clock’s hands tick louder. It makes each infusion and injection feel a bit more important…because I want each subsequent treatment to work just as well as the preceding ones. I feel as though there is pressure building, an impatience for this cancer to be gone, because I want to be home. I want to be healthy. I want this chapter of my life to finally close and be behind me once and for all.

I don’t mean to sound like an ingrate. I know that this is the privilege of good medicine and responsive genes allowing me the luxury of homesickness. I know, that even in this sadness and discomfort, that I am profoundly blessed.

And, maybe that’s the lesson of this day: that gratitude and homesickness can hold hands. That having something to be grateful for, having hopes and dreams for the future wouldn’t be as sweet if not tempered by the prospect of loss. That, even amid our uglier emotions, there is an opportunity to cultivate still more gratitude and grace.

I hope this week has been kind to you, Dear Readers. I hope, that if you find yourself in a situation of mixed emotions, that you give yourself permission to feel or at least acknowledge the existence of both. Because we’re human, because we’re beautifully complex, because our emotions are a part of our experience here.

As always, thank you for your continued prayers, warm wishes and good thoughts. They are working! I can’t do this without you.

With So Much Love to You, Laura