Puzzle

Right before I opened my eyes this morning, I thought I saw the gray outline of a jigsaw puzzle.

Was I dreaming? Yes.

Was this ten-second snapshot of a dream significant? Most definitely.

I have been interested in the meaning of dreams since I was in Middle School. Naturally, I had to Google search this one, too. I didn’t dig too deeply—because it was 5am and also my scheduled writing time—and as any writer will tell you, you must fiercely protect your writing time.

For writers, while internet searches can be a tremendous resource, they also have the potential to evolve into enormous distractions. Keeping an eye on the clock, I skimmed just enough sites to learn that dream interpretation for this baby was not going to be quick.

I also learned that, for my brain health, I should probably be assembling jigsaw puzzles on a regular basis.

puzzle
Above: A dear friend, and fellow Jane Austen fan, gifted me the above jigsaw puzzle when I relapsed in 2017. Isn’t it beautiful?

I enjoy building jigsaw puzzles. The first time that I had cancer, I assembled puzzles quite frequently. I stopped when Wallace the Wonderful decided that he, too, needed to spend time with the puzzles. At night, my writing partner would prowl out to the kitchen. He’d leap unto the table where the puzzle was, and dash the partially built puzzle apart. As I believe most cat owners know, once a feline destroys a puzzle, and pieces go missing, it’s hopeless. You’re never going to find that missing piece (unless you move domiciles, in which case, it’s underneath your couch with at least a dozen hair ties).

Writing the above, I realize that I am a living, breathing puzzle. Some of my pieces have been chewed on. Some have completely disappeared.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Incomplete puzzles can be fixed. I don’t recommend this if you’re a perfectionist, but one way to solve the problem is to take a thin piece of cardboard (flattened cereal boxes work well), slide it underneath the puzzle, and trace the shape of the missing piece. Once that’s completed, and if you’re feeling especially brave, you can draw what was on that piece. You can color it in—with paint or colored pencils. You can make it whole again.

Which, incidentally, is precisely what I’m trying to do—be whole again. To heal.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued well-wishes and encouragement. Your prayers, love, and light give me hope. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

 

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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

Creativity: Kind of Like a Scavenger Hunt

I am a morning person.

I wake up between 4am and 5am. I go downstairs, fix a cup of coffee (two tablespoons of Ovaltine, please) and start writing fiction. I’m usually fairly content if left to shape my own world out of words—but, these past few mornings, I have felt a bit uninspired.

The problem? I’ve been sitting alone with my own anxious thoughts for far too long. Worry drains creativity. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a solution Saturday night while watching the first few episodes of Season Two of “Anne with an ‘E’”.

If you haven’t heard of this series, I highly recommend it. “Anne with an ‘E’” is a heart-warming, Canadian television show currently on Netflix. It’s based on L.M. Montgomery’s novel, Anne of Green Gables. As a child, L.M. Montgomery was one of my favorite authors. Montgomery’s protagonist, Anne, is an orphan with a rich imagination. Anne finds stories in everything she looks at and wherever she goes.

Anne’s personality and incredible knack for discovering inspiration has prodded me to open my eyes a little wider. There is creativity out there. I just have to open my heart to it, and never stop asking questions.

For instance, I took this photo with my phone:

morning fog

What are we looking at here? In our everyday lives, it is just a sunrise in early July, around 5am. Fog is blanketing the field across the road. It crawls slowly toward our house. Is the fog hiding something? What causes such weather? Does fog symbolize anything? Creepy, right? Or, is it just fog?

This, I think, is how you spin a new short-story.

I’ve never really believed in personal writing muses. The closest I have ever gotten to one was with Wallace the Wonderful. He thoroughly enjoyed harassing me when I was typing. He liked chewing the corners of my research books and lying on my print-outs. He’s been gone since February, but I still miss him every day.

Wallace guarding weather witch

We have a gallery of sorts, hanging on the wall, across from the kitchen table (where I write). It consists of portraits of friends and family—and, of course, there’s a photograph of Wallace. It reminds me that he’s never too far away.

For now, Luna, our puppy, is too high-energy to be a writing companion (plus she’s too big now to curl up on my lap). She prefers activity, like learning how to swim:

luna swimming

Someday, when she’s older and calmer—maybe, then, she’ll doze off at my feet while I type out tales. I’ll be able to pet her copper-colored ears when I’m searching for a word. I’ll whisper the options to Luna and if I’m really lucky, she’ll snore when I say one of the words. You guessed it: I won’t use that word.

Snore translation: That word is too boring, Human Mommy. Find something better.

Although I am not quite awake when dusk falls, there are details about that particular time of day that sparks my creativity. I think I can see pieces of flash fiction when studying the solar, hanging mobile on our back porch. The stars and the angels move slowly, serenely, when stirred by the breeze; otherwise, they are still, soaking up the last of the sun’s rays.

solar mobile

It’s truly the little things—the minute details—that build a strong piece of writing and fuel a writer’s creativity. I have L.M. Montgomery and “Anne with an ‘E’” to thank for reminding me of that.

And, thank you, too, Dear Readers! Your prayers and words of encouragement give me the strength to persist, to heal, to pursue my dreams. Your love and light continue to nourish my soul. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Unpredictable

We have a puppy!

luna

Our puppy, Luna, is currently snuggled up on her daddy. Daddy is clearly her favorite person. And, why not? Mama (me) is a bit stand-offish. No puppy kisses here. Mama is constantly washing her hands. Mama doesn’t—because she’s just not that mobile—get down on the floor to play. Mama often wears gloves. Mama wears a mask whenever we go somewhere as a family (i.e. the vet’s office).

luna and daddy

So, why even bother getting a dog with all of these restrictions?

First, my transplant team in Boston said that I could.

Second, a little companion to take care of, and love, is perhaps one of the best forms of medicine out there.

Third, life is too short to wait for a better/perfect time. I’ll be brutally honest with you: I don’t know how much time I will have on this Earth. Neither do you. If you stop and think about it, do you know when your last day will be? Or how old you will have grown? Make the most out of your time here. Do those things that restore you spirits and make you smile. Breathe.

My grandmother was buried last week.

A former co-worker passed away just a few days ago.

A mentor, whom I am truly grateful for, faded away this weekend like an evening star.

What can we do when presented with such loss?

We can hold on tightly to the pleasant memories and the sage advice. We can live. We can open our hearts to love. We can take chances and put up with the nuisance of washing our hands every half hour. I refuse to live my life in fear. I refuse to miss out on happiness.

I can’t live with my Alderaan right now; Luna can’t fill the hole that Wallace left behind. Despite all of that, we can be a little family. We can learn from each other, we can laugh, we can howl when Daddy leaves for work (which is a habit I probably shouldn’t be encouraging). Sometimes, though, it’s one-hundred percent necessary to throw your head back and howl at the moon.

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send light and love. I am still coping with the symptoms of Graft vs. Host Disease. On a more positive note, my MRI’s from last week showed improvement. We’re back in Boston this week (to monitor the Graft vs. Host Disease). Hopefully, we can gain control of the GVHD soon.

Thank you, as always, for all of your kindness and encouragement.

 

With Love,

Laura

Nightingales and Chickadees

 

There is a crocus blooming beneath our apartment’s front window. Every time I see it, I find myself hoping that it is spring’s herald.

crocus

My scars, and my bones, need some warmth to chase away the ache of old wounds.

My spirits could use some sunshine to lift them up.

I’ve been relying on little things to elevate my mood. In recent days, I’ve found myself laughing as tiny bubbles float upwards from our kitchen sink, filled with dish soap. It reminds me of Disney’s cartoon version of Cinderella—when she was scrubbing her stepmother’s floor. It’s been awhile since I’ve watched the movie, but I believe it was at this point in the film that Cinderella started singing a song about the nightingale.

little things desk

Unlike Cinderella, it is the chickadees in the nearby cedar hedges that make me smile. Even though the sky is often cast in gray, and it’s cold out there, the chickadees welcome every morning with a cheerful tune. It gives me the courage to pack yet another box in preparation of our move.

Handling change—even positive change—productively and with ease, is not my forte.

We’re still hoping to close on the house by April 30th. I’m not sure if that will happen, but that’s the goal. I didn’t understand how involved (and stressful) the home-buying process was until we began it. I guess, maybe, most things in life are like that. We don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into until we’re in the thick of it.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for sticking with me. I appreciate your presence here as well as your commentary. Please continue to send love and light.

 

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

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

Protective Service, Courtesy of Wallace and Alderaan

Selfie with Aldie

Well, Dear Readers, it’s been a little while since I’ve posted anything here.

I have an excuse: Radiation Therapy.

I am grateful for the nine, exceedingly quick sessions of radiation—not only because I am hoping that is has killed what remains of the tumor in my spinal cord, but because it has given me some peace of mind regarding the radiation scheduled to take place in Boston. Although there is a huge difference between localized radiation and total body irradiation (which I will receive in Boston), I feel a little more prepared now. I know what the machine sounds like. I know what radiation itself feels like.

Am I still frightened? Yes. Very much so.

As the days march onward and September 15th (my new admission date) creeps ever closer, it gets increasingly difficult to sleep. I have been waking up at ridiculous hours—3am, 4am. 5am is now sleeping in for me.

Wallace

I spent this past Saturday night at my parents’ house. I think my boys—Wallace the Wonderful and Alderaan—could tell that something was on my mind. Around 3 am, Aldie claimed the foot of the bed. Around 5:20am, Wallace jumped up by my pillow. My boys surrounded me, as if guarding me from all the nightmares that regularly visit me.

Naptime

Why is this important? Cats jump up on beds all of the time; why would this night be any different than other nights? As the date of the transplant approaches, I realize that I still need strength. I need to know that protection is nearby. I need to be reminded that support is easily found…if only one looks for it.

Dear Readers, please keep my family, Seth and I in your thoughts and prayers. Please keep the light and love coming. This has not been an easy journey nor has it been short. Please hang in there with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The Book of Hopes and Dreams

angel-centerpiece-1-1232

As a writer, I have many journals. They’re stashed in desk drawers, closets, and book bags. There are two currently resting on my bedside table. Another sits on the couch, patiently waiting for me to pick it back up. Some of these journals are for recording dreams and story ideas. Others serve as a place to list all of the people, events and places that have inspired gratitude. And, then, there’s the green and white journal that I have had since July of 2010.

This particular journal has seen some things. Its binding is creased. There are pages falling out of it. It has been shelved in a variety of places, too: a hospital room, at one of the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodges, my parents’ house, and, now, this apartment. This journal—its cover bearing the words, “Hopes & Dreams”, in permanent marker—has been my travel companion and my confidant.

When I believed in bucket lists, this was the journal that I turned to (and can I just say that #21. “Grow sunflowers and giant pumpkins” still sounds pretty good to me?).

It was a source of inspiration—a place where I recorded quotes that resonated with me, that gave me hope and strength.

It was my planner, featuring daily checklists (i.e. “Write. Something. Anything.”).

When fear cornered me, whispering of infection and complications with surgery sites, this journal heard my prayers:

Dear God, keep me together.

Please don’t let it [the surgery site] open up.

Keep me together, please.

 This journal is a time capsule, keeping my memories, my plans, my hopes together. It bears my words, my fingerprints, the pale rings of dried tears. Emotion permeates every page—including those that I filled last night.

You see, Dear Readers, this journal has become a New Year’s tradition of sorts. On the last day of each year, I take this journal from its hiding place and record those goals I hope to accomplish in the new year. I entrust this journal—this old friend—with all the beautiful moments that I dream of experiencing. Once that list is complied, the book is closed, opened only periodically when I am in need of direction.

Do I cross everything off of these yearly lists? No. To be honest, I usually can’t remember half of the things I write down. I create the list anyways, though, because I believe that there is some magic in visualizing the life that you want to live. I am not the only one that feels that way, either. Although the inspiration for this practice has been lost (I read about it while in the haze of some pretty powerful medications and cannot remember the exact source), I owe the individual(s) behind it many, many thanks. Why? Just take a look at this:

From the very first list that I wrote in 2013: #24. Go to Canada at least once.

From the list written in 2014: #10. Attend the Leukemia & Lymphoma’s event, Light the Night.

From the list written in 2015: #22. Become comfortable driving in high-traffic situations.

From the list written in 2016: #15. Build a social media platform – create a blog and post once a week.

It should be noted that I do not approach these lists with a plan to accomplish the items on them. Yet, when I periodically reread them, there are always items to check off.

Did I go to Canada in 2013? Yes, because in that year I welcomed the incredible little girl that is my goddaughter and namesake. In 2014, the opportunity to attend Light the Night manifested and I walked with a crowd of survivors, caregivers and supporters, a white lantern raised and glowing above my head. Although you will never hear me say that I am comfortable driving in high-traffic situations, I did do some city-driving in 2015 and regained a smidgen of confidence.

And, what about that final item taken from 2016’s list? Well, that’s what this is, isn’t it? My weekly post, on the blog I never thought that I would have the courage to create.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe this journal—this book of hopes and dreams—is nothing more than paper and ink. It might not have any special powers; writing my goals across its pages may not help to manifest them. But, Dear Readers, even if all of that is true, it’s okay.

It’s okay because this journal has been my mirror—reflecting my journey, reflecting my fears and my hopes.

It’s okay because this journal  has become my map, showing me the path to a happy and healthy 2017.

The Wallflower Co-Hosts a Dinner Party

wallflower-post-1203

The clock on my laptop tells me that it’s six-thirty-six in the morning. The world outside the apartment windows is still cloaked in darkness, still relatively sleepy and quiet. Inside, too, the night lingers. The living room, in fact, is illuminated only by the light of my computer screen and the glow of our miniature Christmas tree. There’s a steaming cup of coffee beside me and the knowledge that some thirty minutes away, my mother is doing the same thing—drinking coffee and memorizing the patterns of light and shadow that the Christmas tree casts on all of the walls.

This, for me, is the magic of the holidays: quiet moments when life is suddenly more than a busy work schedule and a multitude of adult responsibilities. It’s the first snowflake falling to the ground. It’s a cup of hot cocoa at the end of a long day. It’s a candle flickering in a frosty window.

I was more than a little surprised, then, when I experienced that same sense of magic not in a moment of stillness, but in a moment of laughter among good friends and family.

For the last 29 years, I have been a wallflower. Invitations—to weddings, birthdays, house parties—usually cause me a great deal of anxiety. What will I wear? Will I know anyone there? Am I going to have to talk? When asked to socialize, I usually claim the seat farthest from the action. I prefer listening to others’ stories instead of telling my own. I enjoy soaking in the light of my family’s smiles and the melody of my friends’ laughter.

So what happens when a wallflower co-hosts a dinner party?

Well, there was anxiety involved. Who would I invite? Would anyone even want to come? And, what about all of those family members and friends that I couldn’t invite due to space limitations? How would they feel?

There was also a tremendous amount of cleaning involved. Not-so fun fact: writers are not great housekeepers unless there is a deadline looming.

Yet, despite all the worries and work, when the doorbell rang announcing the arrival of the first guest, there was magic. I felt it glowing in the porch lights, caught in the planters filled with freshly cut evergreen boughs. I could taste it in the delicious food that my partner was serving. I could hear it in the conversation and the laughter warming our apartment. By the end of the evening, my eyes stung with gratitude for the small group surrounding me, for the bright memory we were making, and for the opportunity to step into a role that I could have never had without any of them.

Can I tell you a secret, Dear Reader?

Occasionally, wallflowers dream about having the courage to host a party. They imagine decorating their space. They imagine welcoming friends and family into their homes, taking their coats, and making sure that their guests are well-supplied with food and drink. They imagine having a day, an evening, when not everything they say is a potential mistake. Wallflowers, sometimes, dream of participating, of being fully present and not just an indistinct figure in the background of a faded photograph.

This, then, is the magic and the gift of a dinner party: it coaxes the wallflower to bloom, at least temporarily, and only in the presence of those she holds dear.