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

The Next Chapter

English Roseum in Bloom

I promised, Dear Readers, that I would share a longer, and happier, post this week.

As many of you already know, my fiancé and I were married on Sunday, June 9th, 2019 at Ausable Brewing Company (we were the first couple to get married at the brewery). My fiancé and I had been engaged for 2.5 years—and we had wanted to get married sooner—but, you know, cancer. And, transplant. And, timing.

Then, while on the road to an appointment in Boston, we started talking, once again, about getting married. We brainstormed venues, photographers, and ways to work around my unpredictable immune system. The conversation was an exciting rush, volleying ideas back and forth. There was this moment, when we both knew, that getting married was finally possible.

Our mothers helped make this dream come true. My mother and my Maid of Honor helped me pick out my wedding dress—which my mom paid for. She helped me get dressed, pinning my flower crown and veil to my hair. My mother-in-law purchased the perfect card box for our wedding and helped decorate the brewery’s pavilion the morning of the ceremony.

We wanted a small wedding for several reasons—one of which was my immune system. My immune system is almost 21-months old now, but I am not completely vaccinated. It was a risk to have a wedding. Every hug, every handshake, although offered in friendship, could result in illness.

I was, as I am sure you can imagine, nervous about mingling with our guests. True, the gathering consisted of immediate family and close friends that would never endanger me, but I felt nauseous anyways. I kept having this recurring fear of contracting the chicken pox (because, yes, I’m not vaccinated against that yet).

My feelings of anxiety settled a bit, when Pachelbel’s Cannon in D Major started to play. I watched my lovely Maid of Honor and the Best Man weave their way through the brewery’s pavilion, joining our guests behind an old barn. I was up next. My father led me down that same path, kissing my check when we reached our Officiant, Steph.

One look at my fiancé, and happiness bubbled up inside of me. The fear dissipated and the next thing I knew, I was doing what every new bride does: I was following the directions of our wonderful photographer, Julie (owner of JMRowe Photography). Below is a small sample of her amazing work:

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My husband and I danced to Ruelle’s “I Get to Love You”, for our first dance. These pictures were captured by either our friend, Jamie, or our sister, Kate (not sure who took which picture – but am so thankful that they were shared!).

After dancing, I welcomed as many of our guests as I could. I gave hugs, shook hands. I was taken aback by all of the compliments that I received. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Stunning. Were they truly talking about me? I rarely feel beautiful…or comfortable in my own skin. Treatment has left me with so many scars, both visible and invisible. How could I be ‘stunning’?

Our wedding was nontraditional. As such, we hadn’t planned on doing any of the traditional dances (i.e. father-daughter, mother-son). It was a happy surprise, then, to have a dance with my dad.  My brother, in charge of the music, played “I Loved Her First” by Heartland. I should preface this by saying that I have always been a Daddy’s girl. I nearly started ugly-crying halfway through the song. I had put this loving, kind man through so much—almost dying on him at least twice—and, yet, there we were. I was alive—and so, so grateful to have the opportunity to dance with my dad.

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Photo courtesy of my long-time friend, Kristy.

“You’ll always be my pumpkin,” he said when the dance ended.

Our wedding was not only the beginning of our marriage; it was also an enormous leap toward normalcy, toward healing.

The next day, while lying in the MRI machine, I began to review everything that had happened at our wedding. I had been so joyful. I had felt so loved, so blessed. Tears of gratitude began to slide down my cheeks.

I have waited a long time to be happy, to feel okay about myself, to feel hopeful. No more waiting, Dear Readers. Life is too short. As my oncologist told me after my scans, “we did a lot of terrible things to you. Now it’s time to put Laura back together again”.

Let the real work begin.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here, for your patience, and for your prayers. You have been a well-spring of support. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

If You Get Dizzy

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I feel as if time has sped up and, in many ways, is leaving me behind. I’m not sure when the change in pace began—or why—but suddenly the buds on the maple tree outside of my front window have changed to fiery red leaves. Suddenly, my younger cousins are saying “I do” and changing their last names. And, yes, suddenly, I am at the end of my twenties.

Getting older isn’t the problem; I am still here, living, breathing—and that in itself is a miracle. I have earned every scar on my body, every frown line on my forehead. No, the problem is not my age or the dreams deferred or altogether lost to cancer. The problem, when I stop long enough to really think about it, is the pace of this life. I feel dizzy, like a dog spinning around after its own tail, trying desperately to check off everything on my daily “to do” list. I am so busy, even, that I am missing not only the finer details—for instance, the way the poplar leaves are falling like golden confetti on the sidewalk—but the bigger moments, too, like the fact that Wallace the Wonderful and I now share a home with a man that is, I swear, the best thing since pancakes with cheddar cheese on top.

How does this happen? How can we be alive and not present in our own lives? How can we stop the dizziness?

I recently took up English Country Dancing. Joining the dance group is, clearly, an extension of my love for Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride & Prejudice and my obsession with the 2005 film adaptation starring Keira Knightley. There’s something magical about donning a Regency-inspired gown. There’s something that defies time in the clap and thud of footsteps on a hardwood floor.

Am I good at English Country Dance? No. I struggle with knowing my left from my right (which I plan on remedying by buying initial rings, one “R” and one “L” and wearing them to every practice session and ball).

Is English Country Dance part of my career plan? Certainly not. I am not going to get rich by mastering moves such as the “set” or the “Duke of Kent”. There isn’t a future for me in dance, but there is fun.

And, that, I think is the first way to halt the “dizziness”: make time for fun. Schedule it if you have to, but stop the endless career planning, house-cleaning, familial obligations for just one second and do something that makes you feel alive. Step outside of your routines and take a long, steadying breath. Center.

Finding center, of course, is not as easy as it sounds. It’s taken years of practicing yoga to realize that “centering” isn’t just about breathing and finding calm in a stressed body; it’s also about mental and spiritual alignment.

What is important to you?

Where is your heart?

What makes you feel alive?

Those are difficult questions to answer, and even having the answers doesn’t automatically guarantee a prolonged sense of center, calm. It’s all too easy to be pulled away from what matters to us—to grow dizzy from competing obligations and interests. Maybe it shouldn’t be as surprising as it is, but English Country Dance provided some insight into this, too.

My first experience with English Country Dance was at the Macomb Ball this past September. One of the many incredible events included in the annual Battle of Plattsburgh celebrations, attending the ball had been on my bucket list since 2011. Although it took me five years to summon the courage to actually attend, the wait was worth it; the ball was everything I had hoped it would be. The gowns, the vaulted ceiling of the ballroom, the music—it was magical.

It should be noted that I had no intention of dancing. I just wanted to watch the ball unfold, like a scene from Pride & Prejudice. Instead, I was pulled out onto the dance floor by one of the callers (aka instructors) and encouraged to take my first steps as a dancer.

“If you get dizzy,” my dance partner advised after a spin or two, “it helps to keep eye contact.”

There are moments in this life, amidst our regular routines, that are so vivid, so infused with color and sound, that even as they are unfolding you know that they’re important, that they mean something. That moment—when my dance partner uttered those words—I knew I had been offered something important, something that had applications beyond the ballroom.

We get dizzy sometimes—with the pace of our lives, the obligations and cares that often preoccupy us. And in the midst of all of that, when breath seems short, refocus. Keep eye contact with what means the most to you, where your center lies. It won’t stop the dizziness from happening in the first place, but it might make the room stop spinning for a little bit.

So, as this week unfolds with its three article deadlines and all the other obligations on my plate, I may just have to slip on my dance shoes, practice my “set”, and remember to keep my eyes focused on all that is near and dear to my heart.