Mile Marker 44.8

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I have forgotten names, events, the order of things. I don’t believe, however, that I will ever forget this number: 44.8.

It started on Sunday morning, around 10:30am, when Seth woke up. He admitted to having left-sided chest pain. He admitted to having had it for three days. I’m not sure how I did it (because as much as I love him, he is a stubborn, stubborn man), but I made him go the Emergency Room to be checked out. He didn’t want me to go with him, because of my lack of an immune system, so I called his best friend. Thankfully, he was able to accompany Seth to the hospital.

Seth returned home by three. The ER doctors had checked his heart and he appeared to be okay. They gave him their blessing to drive me to Boston for a transplant check-up. The appointment was scheduled for Monday afternoon, but we had booked a hotel in case the weather proved to be cruddy.

We made it to the rest stop in Williston, Vermont. Seth was tired and wanted to take a quick 10-minute nap. He fell asleep immediately.

We crossed the state line into New Hampshire, and stopped once again at a rest stop. This time, Seth needed to walk around.

I noticed that he kept checking his pulse.

We pulled out of the rest stop. Within minutes, Seth began to panic. He pulled the car over, gasping, and saying that he couldn’t breathe, that he felt like he was going to pass out. He told me to call 9-1-1. So, I did.

The dispatcher was calm and reassuring. He asked me where we were; I told him we were parked next to mile marker 44.8 on US-89 South.

The fire department and the EMTs that came to rescue us were wonderful. They took Seth in an ambulance to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC). Due to my seizure history, I am not allowed to drive. One of the EMTs was kind enough to drive me, in our car, to the hospital.

“It’s the hospital in the woods,” he said, turning down one of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s tree-lined driveways.

Seth was admitted overnight so that his breathing and heart could be monitored. He told me to find a hotel, because, once again, someone with zero immunity should probably not spend the night in an ER waiting room. I found a hotel (that thankfully had a free shuttle service since I couldn’t find a taxi or an Uber). The shuttle took me to the hotel, where I was given the medical rate and a king-sized bed. I promptly piled the extra pillows on my right-hand side, where Seth would usually have slept.

I, a cancer survivor, have never been so scared in my life.

What if it really was his heart? What if he didn’t make it? These were the questions that haunted me. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, to be filling the chair beside the bed, instead of the bed itself. I am so accustomed to being the patient, the sick one, that I didn’t know what to do. I also realized that, as close as Seth and I are, I know very little about his family’s medical history or even his own. I also couldn’t name a single medication that he was on, other than Protonix. What kind of fiancée was I?

The next morning, the shuttle brought me back to the hospital. I found Seth in a small unit connected to the ER. To pass the time until his scheduled stress test, we watched television in his room. Seth was taken away for the stress test at 8:30am.

He aced it.

Seth’s heart, fortunately, is just fine. Neither of us could drive, though, so my father and brother came to pick us up. My brother drove us and our car home. We somehow managed to pass our father twice on the highway, even though he had left the hospital first. We flashed a notebook at him, with the word, “Ferry” scribbled in it. Our father doesn’t have a cellphone—and someone needed to drive my brother home after he delivered Seth and I to our front door—so this was the best mode of communication we had:

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Our father received the message, boarding the ferry soon after us.

Although Seth’s heart is in working order, he is being treated for pneumonia. How does living with a sick person work when you’re immunosuppressed? You wear a mask and wash your hands like it’s your job. Lysol wipes and spray are useful, too. I am dying to hug Seth, but it’ll have to wait until he’s healthy again.

I am going to marry this man, after he provides me with a detailed med list.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your prayers. I hope you know that your kindness, love, and positive thoughts helped us through this harrowing experience.

 

With Love,

Laura

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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

Three

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Dear Readers:

It’s been three weeks and three days since I’ve turned my laptop on to write.
The pause in creativity has left me with a multitude of subjects on which to write. I could recount the hazy memories I do have of my bone marrow transplant—the reason for my 3-week hiatus. I could describe how I was so sick during the procedure and, so high on Dilaudid, that my nurses asked Seth to stay overnight, to help calm me down and, ultimately, to help take care of me.
I am so blessed to call this man mine.

Would I love Seth even if he weren’t a medical professional capable of understanding what my medical teams say during my many appointments? Absolutely. He is thoughtful and intelligent and a huge pain in the butt that makes me smile daily.

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017, was our first full day home. And what did he do? Seth went grocery shopping to make sure I had plenty to eat. Later, he let me bounce blog ideas off of him.

His suggestion? To write about “strength”.

This blog opened in January with the intention of exploring strength—what it means, what it feels like, what it looks like. I wrote, again and again, how I didn’t think I had enough of it to weather this cancer relapse. Seth and I disagree on this point, but I still feel as though I have never been strong and that I could use more strength. I have a year of being sequestered ahead of me, as my new immune system matures and my body recovers from high doses of chemotherapy and full-body radiation. I will spend the next year praying that my donor’s cells and my own get along. I have follow-up appointments to attend, a Hickman tunneled catheter to have removed (hopefully later this week!), and eyelashes and hair to regrow.

The truth is, I wouldn’t have gotten through the last three weeks on my own. I was blessed with parents, a brother, and friends that cleaned our apartment so I would have a safe environment to return to after the bone marrow transplant. I was showered with YOUR love and prayers. Throughout my procedure, I had my soulmate holding my hand.

Strength, as the last three weeks and three days have proven, is something to be carefully cultivated. It has many different sources, it can be replenished at any time—if only one asks for light and love when the shadows seemingly grow long.

Please continue sending good thoughts our way. They healing process has only really just begun and we need all the strength and courage we can get. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With Love,
Laura

Surprise Message

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This week, I was going to write about anniversaries and birthdays. After all, I just celebrated my 7-year cancerversary (the anniversary of my first cancer diagnosis) and, then, next week my fiancé will be turning another year older. Although these are days and milestones to look forward to, we can’t grow so attached to the countdown to them that we miss the blessings of the present moment. Even in this present moment for me—in the middle of cancer treatment—there are blessings. True, they’re often difficult to spot—but I’ve had the chance to spend more time with my family and fiancé, I’ve also met some truly outstanding healthcare professionals to whom I owe a great deal. Blessings have also come in the form of fellow survivors, nonchalantly dropping a gold and green card off at your infusion chair. The surprise message made my day!!

I am neutropenic once again, which means limited outings. I may need blood and platelet transfusions today. I am tired, teary-eyed, and nauseous. I need to go through my Facebook feed and remove the health gurus I follow, because the truth is, I’m not feeling motivated when I look at those pictures. I feel worse about my own changed body (steroids fight cancer and nausea but also cause weight gain) and my new physical limitations (I’m still relearning how to move).

It’s dark in our living room this morning. I am thinking about warming up some tater tots for breakfast…because that is the extent of my cooking abilities these days. Starches seem to help soak up the excess acid in my belly. I’ll be getting anti-nausea meds when I go into treatment (so even if the tots don’t help with the nausea), relief will be here shortly.

On Strength

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Dear Readers,

I had every intention to share something with you yesterday…but the day slipped away from me. The hinges on my door seemed to melt away, information and people spilling into my hospital room at a steady rate. There’s always so much to consider. So many decisions to make.

Yesterday was hard.

I thought it would be easy—the treatment protocol only called for steroids yesterday—but the medication makes my chest rumble with a grizzly bear’s impatience. It makes me feel like I am becoming rough, prickly, like the outside of a pineapple.  It’s the opposite of grace and gratitude, of everything that I hope to be in this life.

And maybe that’s the hardest part about cancer, Dear Readers—it’s not the drugs, or the fact that your body is trying to actively give up on you—it’s that cancer changes you. It steals whatever hope you had in youthful invincibility. It transforms your outer packaging, taking hair, fitness, any sense of self-worth and beauty you may have had. And, then, it tries to take your personality.

I could cry—whole rivers, whole lakes, maybe even an ocean. I walk this fine line between grace and hysteria, teetering over the edge from time to time. I sincerely wonder where I will find the strength to fight this, to outlive this disease this time.

The truth?

I realized that I can’t.

I can’t survive this—not without help.

I guess I can blame the chemo on making me a little sluggish on the epiphany-front, but that is the revelation that I had last night: that I can’t do this alone. I don’t have the strength, Dear Readers. My reserves were depleted the first time I faced this cancer…but it’s okay…because strength has more than one source. There is a vast reservoir of strength and love already out there, already in existence, already fully accessible. You can call it the Universe, The Divine, God—call it whatever feels good to you—but for me, it’s God, and He has the strength necessary to carry me through this storm.

You should know, Dear Readers, that you, too, have been spoon-feeding me strength.

Strength comes to me in your phone calls, messages, and pictures—always at just the right moment when I feel myself slipping. These daily doses of laughter, of hope, are as important as air, as steroids, as chemotherapy. Please keep them coming.

Because I’m not strong.

Maybe I never was.

But, it’s okay, because the strength that will see me through this isn’t coming from some personal, finite supply. It’s coming from God. And it’s coming from you.

With Love, Laura

Every Day as Valentine’s Day

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I think, for the majority of my life, that I have intensely disliked Valentine’s Day. This dislike began early—in grade school—when the entire class would go around the room delivering Valentine’s Day cards and sweets to each other. When my classmates and I were still quite young, it was sweet. It made you feel warm and gooey inside like a chocolate chip cookie fresh out of the oven. As we grew older, however, the cooties were discovered among us. Valentine’s Day suddenly and irrevocably changed. You had to analyze every card in your Valentine’s Day mailbox for double meanings, hidden messages—because that’s how the cooties were spread—through the simple act of caring about someone.

Eventually, the cooties evolved into the “cool factor” and by Middle School, we had abandoned cute, cartoony Valentine’s Day cards. Your best friend might give you a bag full of candy, but that was the extent of our celebrations—unless you had a boyfriend or girlfriend to buy you a carnation from whichever one of the school clubs was selling them. In essence, the holiday went from being a gooey chocolate chip cookie to something burnt on the bottom of a baking sheet. It became the day that you dreaded, because if you weren’t cool, if you didn’t have many friends, you were going to be reminded of it from 7:30am when the school bus arrived at your doorstep to 4:30pm when it dropped you back off. It was the day you feared because, if your much-cooler-than-you crush found out that you liked him, it was over. You were going to be ridiculed, sometimes openly and sometimes with hushed giggles and sideways glances. It wasn’t safe to be a nerd, to be uncoordinated in gym class, to be different.

This is how I have spent most of my Valentine’s Days—in dread of my own cooties, acutely aware of my nonexistent cool factor, and worried that I might be unlovable.

Fast forward to the present year, and Valentine’s Day looks and feels considerably different. There are cards again. My best friend, who also happens to be my “crush”, gave me sweets—fresh fruit and chocolate fondue. I don’t have to worry about him finding out that I like him; he already knows. He also loves me for the very eccentricities that I used to fear so much.

Some of the holiday’s magic has been restored for me—but I know so many genuinely good-hearted people that absolutely abhor Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s the gross commercialization of love. Maybe it’s the way the day creates a dichotomy—those with partners and those without. Or, maybe, it’s because as friends and family, we’re failing each other.

While dunking the last of our Valentine’s Day sugar cookies in my coffee (Note: you must leave them out at night so they get a bit stale. It gives them a little more of a crunch the next morning), I couldn’t help but wonder why we only go out of our way one day a year to show those we care about that we do, in fact, care about them.

Why aren’t we sending ‘thinking about you’ cards in the mail?

Why aren’t we having ‘just because’ bouquets randomly delivered to loved one’s homes or workplaces?

Why aren’t we showing up on a friends’ doorstep with a plate filled with sweet treats?

I am guilty of it, too, Dear Readers—becoming so busy, so absorbed with my own personal rat race that I forget to make time for those I care about. I forget to reply to messages. I don’t make time to visit. I miss birthdays and plays and poetry readings. Even after everything I have experienced, I forget sometimes that life is short. I forget that tomorrow is never guaranteed. But in those moments when I do remember, I question, what am I waiting for? Why am I so silent? Why am I not letting my friends and family know that I care?

I am proposing another experiment, Dear Readers. It goes like this:

Each week, I am going to reach out to someone I care about. Maybe I will send a card to them via snail mail. Maybe instead of hitting the “like” button on a social media post, I’ll take a few seconds and add a comment. Maybe I will schedule a coffee date or an ice cream run. Maybe telephone calls and road trips to Target are in order. Whatever the method or medium, I am going to be more present, more involved. I am going to make certain that the people in my life know just how grateful I am for them.

It’s taken me many years (and a lot of disappointment and self-doubt) to realize that Valentine’s Day is so much more than glittery hearts and chocolate roses. It can be a celebration of so much more than just romantic love. Valentine’s Day can be any day, Dear Readers, so why not every day?

Wallace the Wonderful Becomes a Big Brother

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As I write this, Wallace the Wonderful is sitting on the back of the couch, nose pressed to the window. The sun is slowly peaking up and over the rooflines along the street. A murder of crows, roosting somewhere nearby, are cawing up a storm. Wallace’s striped tail twitches; all of this is clearly of interest to him—but so isn’t the small feline sitting at the opposite end of the couch.

Yes, Dear Readers, you read that correctly.

We adopted another fur baby!!!!!

Eh-hem. Sorry. I got a little excited there. Back to the story.

For the last five months, my significant other and I had been discussing the possibility of adding to our fur family. Wallace seemed to be increasingly bored, which meant he was increasingly mischievous. I imagine his thought process looked a little like this:

“Hey, Mom, I see those papers. Are you working on something? Here, let me help with that. Those are some pretty fine bite marks, right? I feel like it really adds to the story.”

And,

“Hey, Dad, you disappeared into the kitchen and left your sandwich on the coffee table. Why are you leaving it? It must not taste good. Here, let me add some seasoning. Voilà, I give you floor sandwich. Do you like it?”

Although Wallace’s hijinks were amusing, we couldn’t help but feel that he was trying to tell us something—that maybe, just maybe, he might need someone to play with. And, so, the discussion began. Should we get a kitten? Should we adopt an older cat? The decision wasn’t an easy one and we became really good at making excuses to delay it. There were autumn weddings that required us to travel, and, while Wallace the Wonderful was more than happy to go to Grandma’s house, would such a move be too disruptive for a new fur baby? Then, of course, there were the holidays to consider. How would the new cat cope with a dinner party? Or interact with a miniature Christmas tree?

Despite all of the activity, and despite all of the indecisiveness on our part, we still found ourselves trolling Petfinder. We made the occasional inquiry; was this cat available? No. What about that one? Still no.

It was then—just when we had given up on the idea of adopting another fur baby—that one of the local shelters listed a rather promising kitten. She was cute. She was spunky. So, as not to waste a moment more, we climbed into the truck and drove to the shelter.

Sometimes, Dear Readers, the best of intentions do not come to fruition. Sometimes, the Universe has a surprise up its cosmic sleeve.

The kitten we were interested in? She wasn’t in the cat colony that afternoon. The little miss was in recovery (she’d just been spayed) and wasn’t seeing any visitors.

We were disappointed, but, at the shelter staff’s suggestion, we went into the cat colony anyways. There was another, slightly older feline that they thought we should meet—a cat named Alderaan.

When we walked into the cat colony that afternoon, Alderaan roused himself from a nap. He looked up at us with big, blue-green eyes, and, as soon as my partner touched him, the little guy began to purr.

We returned to the shelter the next day—when the kitten we had been interested in was set to appear in the colony—but it was Alderaan that stole our hearts. While speaking with the shelter staff about the kitten, Alderaan reached a paw out to my partner. He let it linger on his coat sleeve, as if saying, “Hey, I’m right here. It’s me. I’m your new fur baby.”

So we brought him home.

At three years old, Alderaan is small, weighing only 7 pounds compared to Wallace’s twenty. He wears a slightly bedraggled expression, but every ounce of him is pure love bug. He loves to cuddle. He loves to purr. He loves to sit in one of the living room windows, looking out at the world, while his big brother occupies the other.

And, how has Wallace the Wonderful adapted to the duties of big brotherhood?

Well, like any first child, he’s had some issues sharing his toys (but thoroughly enjoys playing with Alderaan’s toys). He’s hissed a bit. But, by Alderaan’s second morning with us, Wallace and his baby brother were playing together, racing through the kitchen, into the bathroom, and back again. We haven’t caught the pair snuggling just yet, but it’s only a matter of time.