Nearly every December, when my brother and I were young, our parents would take us for a drive around our small town. The point of this little trip was to see all of the Christmas lights: multi-colored trees and shrubbery twinkling on front lawns; white reindeer forming a line in front of Santa’s sleigh; battery-operated candles glowing in otherwise dark windows.
I’m not sure what was more exiting to us—staying up late, or seeing all of the beautiful and creative light displays.
I hadn’t thought about this tradition for years, until last Friday, when my father was driving me home from an appointment in Burlington. It had been a long day of sitting in various waiting rooms (and, in my case, lying in the MRI machine for over 2 hours). By the time we reached the outskirts of the city, it was dark out.
The darkness didn’t matter, though—so many houses were aglow with Christmas decorations! The day’s frustration seemed to melt away as we caught sight of a tree wrapped in gold-colored lights. There were icicle lights, too, dripping from porch eaves. The ferry was also lit up; multi-colored bulbs sparkling in the upper deck windows.
“Do you remember riding around, looking at all the lights, when you guys were just kids?” My dad asked.
“Yeah, I do.”
What I didn’t say is that I miss it. I miss going for those rides and seeing the neighborhood all aglow. The lights were brilliant, and to a child, they were magical. To an adult, they represent hope.
Hope that I will emerge, stronger, from the darkness of a difficult, two years.
Hope for a brighter and healthier future.
Hope that I can bring back those traditions that inspired joy.
Thank you, Dear readers, for continuing to pray for me and for encouraging me through this time of recovery. Your light and love truly make a difference. The imaging from last week’s MRIs came back clear. My head and my lumbar spine are currently cancer and infection-free. More good news: upon obtaining Boston’s approval, we’re going to start spacing these tests out to every 6 months instead of every 3!
In my previous entry, I wrote about how I was determined to spend November counting my many blessings. It has taken me years to understand that blessings are not always big changes or events (although sometimes they are). The little things matter, too. In an attempt to demonstrate this, I thought I would share some excerpts from my own gratitude journal with you.
November 8th, 2018
Today, I am grateful for:
Progress in physical therapy
Finding old pictures (even though they made me tear up)
Glimpsing a flock of white birds flying across the dark-gray sky. The neighbor’s maple tree turning a brilliant shade of canary yellow.
Please note, that some of the entries in my gratitude journal are images from the day. Listed images are usually quite beautiful—something that I simply want to remember or use in a subsequent piece of writing. The birds and the sky, for instance, created a stunning contrast. It took my breath away.
Although it didn’t make the day’s gratitude list (which was an oversight on my part), check out our solar mobile. It stopped working mid-summer, but now it is illuminating the back porch once again:
I thought it would be educational (for me) to compare 2017 to 2018…so I leafed through my gratitude journal to find the closest date, which happened to be November 6th, 2017. On that day, I was grateful for:
Seth (my fiancé)
What did my fiancé do on that day? I have no clue, but considering that #2 reads, “good food”, I would wager that he cooked something tasty for me to eat. He is a man of many talents and, fortunately for me, cooking is one of them.
Why did “walks” make the list? Going for a walk may seem like such an ordinary activity—but for someone that had had a tumor in her lumbar spine—going for a walk, around the block, with a cane, was quite an accomplishment.
I have been in physical therapy since April 2018 and I am now at the point (see gratitude list for 11-8-2018) wherein my physical therapist is helping me put the “finishing touches” on my gait and my balance. Stairs beware! I’m coming for you!
Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, words of encouragement, and light. Please feel free to share your own blessings in the comments or by private message. I would love to read about them!
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.
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.
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:
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.
I do enjoy Autumn—picking apples and buying freshly made cider donuts from local orchards. There’s nothing quite as wonderful as a mug full of hot apple cider steeped with Mulling Spices. The Fall foliage, too, is breathtaking. I hope, as one reader (thank you bloomlover!) suggested, to take a ride through the Adirondacks, bring my camera with me, and try to capture some of that beauty.
When I was a child, my family would travel to Covey Hill in Quebec, Canada to pick apples. The orchard there seemed enormous! Year after year, it was busy with smiling, laughing families and couples. I remember bringing home more apples than we could eat before they spoiled—which meant Mom would bake pies and apple crisp just to use them up. The house would smell absolutely delicious.
Also delicious, was all of the Halloween candy we would score while trick-o-treating. Perhaps the most magical memory I have of Halloween involves my mom, one of my aunts, my brother, and two of my cousins. I was still in Elementary School at the time and I can’t remember what my costume was; my brother might have been batman. As we were going door-to-door asking for candy, we came across several black kittens. They were prowling the sidewalk in front of a little house.
I remember wanting one of those kittens more than another candy bar or lollipop. Of course, I didn’t get one. I couldn’t just scoop one up into my pumpkin candy bucket…but, just to be clear, it would have fit.
Someday, I’ll have a black cat. I think I’ll name him Simon.
As the weather grows colder, and the days shorter, it is important to remember those people, places, things that warm your heart. The very word “warmth” conjures memories of my parents’ wood stove. Nearly every Sunday afternoon, my mother would cook a pork roast in the crock-pot. Its savory scent would permeate the entire house. I think of curling up on a comfortable chair, wrapped in a blanket, and reading a new book.
This year, I’ll be doing that in front of our natural gas fireplace. I’ll probably have to share the recliner with Luna (which is not as easy as it used to be since she’s now 6-months old and pushing 45 pounds). She’s grown up so fast!
Hanging from the fireplace’s mantle, though, is something else that warms my heart—a wreath that my mother made for me.
I adore the scarecrow in the center of the wreath. The little guy brings a smile to my face.
I hope, Dear Readers, that you, too, are finding things to smile about as the seasons change. Take a moment to marvel at the beauty and the magic that still inhabit this world. Enjoy it. Store it up like squirrels and chipmunks hide acorns and pilfered bird food.
There’s a Boston appointment waiting for me this week. It includes 7 vaccinations (all inactive viruses, I believe). Please continue to send prayers, love and light. They are so very appreciated.
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.
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.
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?
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.
This past Friday I had my annual eye exam. I know—it’s hardly world-changing. And, yet, wearing the correct prescription lenses can have a transformative power. Being able to see distances, clearly, is a blessing…one I didn’t always appreciate when I was younger.
I started wearing glasses my freshman year of high school. And, because of vanity, I often refused to wear them. I would walk around without them, only half-seeing. When I did wear my glasses, I had to fight the urge to peer over or under the frames. It was a constant battle…but eventually the glasses won out.
My Achille’s heel? I liked being able to see clearly. And, obviously, I needed to wear them in order to drive safely. In college, I needed glasses in the larger lecture halls to read the white-boards and projector screens.
With my glasses on, there was no more squinting.
No more wondering, ‘hey, what’s that over there?’ or, ‘that person looks vaguely familiar. Who is that?’.
Glasses, as is their purpose, enhanced my vision—so I kept wearing them.
This most recent eye exam was a bit different. First, the eye doctor that examined me was quite thorough. She read through my medical file and took my history into consideration. I don’t remember the names of the ocular conditions that Leukemia and prolonged steroid use can cause, but she tested me for all of them. I am grateful to say that my eyes are healthy!
Surprisingly, my lens prescription didn’t change, but a new set was ordered anyways. September 2017 – September 2018 was a rough year; I picked up some scratches along the way.
Another change: normally, after an eye exam, I would have picked out a new frame. Why didn’t I this time?
Reason #1. How often are the displayed frames actually sanitized? I don’t mean to freak anyone out with my phobia of germs, but when your immune system is compromised, you think about these things.
Reason #2. I had an older frame just sitting at home—wrong prescription—but I still liked the frame. They were imbued with so many wonderful memories…it felt wrong to abandon them when they could be fitted with new lenses and put back into use.
These were the frames that I wore on my first date with the man that would become my fiancé.
They saw Montreal on our second anniversary, just weeks before I was diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
These frames saw better days, days with hope and a slight hint of youthful invincibility (very slight; I’ve never been that confident about the future).
I want and need some of that perspective back. Will old frames give me that? No, but they can serve as a daily reminder—a talisman of sorts—that it is possible to see and live in a happier, healthier world.
Please continue to send prayers, love and light, Dear Readers. It does help. If you need proof—a year ago today, I was in a Boston hospital bed being prepped for my bone marrow transplant. Today would have been a chemotherapy day (some of the toughest chemo of my life). Prayers and good wishes, thankfully, can change our circumstances. Love does heal.
As always, thank you for your ongoing encouragement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.