Happy Birthday to Meeeee

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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

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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

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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

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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.

City Squirrels Prefer Organic Peanut Butter

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I saw something…unexpected…this past week.

It happened on a day that the weather had been dreary. The sky was overcast, a gunmetal gray, and it was misting. The leaves coating the driveway had become slick, treacherous. My steps were slower, my mind torn between focusing on my footing and the worries of the week.

And that’s when the flash of movement in my periphery vision occurred.

That’s when I stopped walking.

That’s when I saw a squirrel dragging a jar of peanut butter up a tree.

Yes. That’s right. I saw an average-sized squirrel dragging a jar of peanut butter (it was an organic brand, by the way) up a maple tree. As I watched—a little in awe at the squirrel’s determination—the poor thing continued to struggle with the jar. It was trying to lift and climb at the same time and while it was a noticeably difficult task, the squirrel didn’t give up. It wanted to bring that jar home to its nest. It didn’t care that the jar was nearly double its size or that the tree was taller than our apartment building. It kept on going, and when the challenge became too much, the squirrel would rest for a moment, catch its breath, and then continue onward and upward.

You’ve got this, Squirrel! I caught myself thinking.

It’s probably a bit…strange…to cheer for a squirrel, I will give you that. But, in my defense, it’s not every day that a squirrel a) finds a jar of peanut butter, b) hauls it up a tree, and c) I’m in the right spot, at the right time, to witness it. The sight of that squirrel not only lifted my spirits, it made me question, do I approach the gifts of this life—do I attack my dreams and goals—with as much enthusiasm as that squirrel did a jar of peanut butter?

If I am being honest, the answer to that question is a very weak-sounding “sometimes”. Sure, sometimes, I do take steps to attain my goals. I mean, hey, it only took me two years to create this blog, but I finally carried this peanut butter jar home. Conversely, a lot of the time, I only think about what I want to accomplish and then never actually take the necessary steps to achieve those dreams.

So, dear readers, as this week unfolds I am challenging myself—and inviting you—to think about what it is you want. Do you want organic peanut butter? Almond butter? Hazelnut spread? Identify what sparks your creativity, what goals and dreams you hope to accomplish in this life, and then put yourself in the place of that squirrel. Ask yourself: are you determined to carry that jar up a tree, no matter how hard it’s going to be?

If the answer is “yes”, then I hope I’ll see you out there, climbing.