Lights & Love

 

angel all aglow

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.

cardboard star

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.

pine

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!

Miracles do happen…they just take time.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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Focus on the Light

 

Aldie on mantle

Thanksgiving, as a day, has passed. We’ve fueled up with copious amounts of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. We’ve visited with family and friends. We’ve laughed, we’ve been schooled in a game of chess (which is unprecedented and I still think you were cheating), and we’ve relaxed in the living room, while Bob Ross painted yet another masterpiece on the television.

The final countdown to December has begun—as has the real struggle to remain grateful.

December days seem shorter and they seem darker (because they are). You can’t change the facts, but you can change how you interact with them.

Luna napping in the sun

It’s dark? Turn a light on. Or, better yet, be a light.

I met a Light recently—just outside of Panera. I was wearing a surgical mask—as I must do in any busy, public space. I’ve grown accustomed to being gawked at, clearing crowded, grocery store aisles, and making children cry. I’m not going to lie; the worried stares and scowls do hurt my feelings. I feel shunned. Unwanted. Sometimes I dream of making, and wearing, a t-shirt that reads, “I’m not contagious, but you might be”.

What happened outside of Panera was, by far, the best reaction to the mask that I’ve ever experienced. As I was leaving the restaurant, a young man was about to enter. I don’t like touching doors, even with surgical-grade gloves on, but I held the door open for him anyways.

He gasped, “Oh, my God, are we in China?!”

My sources tell me that in several Asian countries, wearing a mask is the polite thing to do when you’re feeling under the weather. I can’t be certain if this young man thought that I was wearing a mask to be respectful of others’ health, but he started smiling. It was a kind, brilliant smile and was soon accompanied by good-natured laughter. It was infectious.

It was, honestly, a relief to laugh about the mask.

christmas lights

Although focusing on sources of light is a great way to survive the darker days of December, it’s not the only way. Can’t stand the silence of falling snow? Play some music and sing (loudly) along with it.

Need something light-hearted? Try watching a corny, holiday rom-com and giggle like a teenage girl (that’s my secret for evading both the blues and anxiety).

Of course, we shouldn’t stop counting our blessings just because Thanksgiving has come and gone. It’s not always easy to recognize the good in every day. There are days that I write absolutely nothing in my gratitude journal. The result? I get grumpy. I get stressed.

Those emotions do not promote healing. Or happiness.

I intend to finish 2018 happier and healthier than I started it. To accomplish this, I will be more diligent about writing in my gratitude journal. I’ll find the light, whenever possible, and I will be a mirror, reflecting it.

christmas lights 1.0

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send prayers, love, and light. This week is going to be insanely busy with medical appointments. It ends, on Friday, with MRIs of my head and lumbar spine. I’m not particularly worried about the results, but prayers do help me to face the machine. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

November

turkeys

When I think about the month of November, two opposing images fill my mind.

For several minutes, I recall only gray skies, laden with thick clouds. They’re the kind of clouds that are only a degree or two away from sending snowflakes spiraling earthward. I see bare-armed trees, lawns blanketed with crimson, orange and yellow leaves. I can hear the call of the wild geese flying south.

The second image that comes to mind is my grandmother’s kitchen. She’d have cardboard cut-outs of cornucopias, turkeys, and pilgrims taped to her wooden cupboards. Fluorescent light reflected off of the orange counter-tops. It was warm. It was bright. It was nothing at all like the withered, wind-raked field across the road.

But that was decades ago.

The similarities between her kitchen and mine, are not lost on me. I have wooden cabinets. My counter-tops are not currently in vogue; they’re maroon-colored. I don’t have Thanksgiving-themed cut-outs to display, but the tile back-splash features several harvest-themed images. Or, rather, the fruits of the harvest.

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I strongly disliked these tiles when we first moved in. I wanted them removed, covered up, just gone. Obviously, none of those things happened…and I am glad that they didn’t. These images have grown on me. They’re bright, happy. They allude to hard work in the field and the orchard. They’re short recipes for delicious meals and wonderful memories.

And, just like my grandmother, I can see a field across the road. The field here, though, belongs to a cat that I have often spotted prowling across it. I have taken the liberty of naming this feline, “Sneaky Pete”.

cat in the field

The clocks have fallen behind, ushering in shorter, darker days. Instead of dreading these changes, I am determined to spend my November counting my many blessings. I’ll continue to record them in my gratitude journal. When I need light or warmth, I’ll sit by the fireplace. I’ll find joy in playing laser pointer with Alderaan. I’ll hug Luna when she gives me the opportunity to do so (she’s a Daddy’s girl).

I’ll celebrate when the sun breaks through the cloud cover, when the blue jays call from the cedar hedges, when I am able to spend otherwise gloomy mornings writing fiction.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, my left foot and ankle were mysteriously swollen last weekend. I am pleased to report that they are now deflated! They’re completely back to normal, and well-supported within a foot/leg brace that I need to—and will—wear more often. I have foolishly resisted wearing my braces at home; afraid that they’d be damaged somehow. It’s time, however, to put aside that fear and accept my braces for what they really are: blessings.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of the kind words, thoughts, and prayers that you have sent my way. You were heard and I am so grateful for your love and light.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Oh, How the Seasons Do Change

October has arrived.

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.

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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.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Free Write

Most of the writing that I do these days is quite strict. Skraeling, my manuscript-in-progress, is now 70,497 words strong. The protagonist, Aurora, is the first anti-heroine that I have ever created. I love the story, the challenge that it poses, the research it has required—but I miss playing with words.

To regain that sense of play (and have some fun), I decided to use this week’s blog post as an opportunity to experiment, to record observations, to simply let the words take whatever shape they wanted to. For this week only, my traditional blog post has been replaced by what is essentially a free write.

Nearly every English course that I have ever taken has employed free writing for at least one class session. Why? One plausible reason is that free writing helps students get words on the page by eliminating worries about grammar, story structure, and spelling. In free writing, these conventions don’t matter—it’s the ideas that do. Typically, free writing is not edited (but the perfectionist in me happily broke that rule). So, here it is. This is where my mind wandered to:

I recently heard Autumn’s first cricket chirp.

It seems a bit soon for the insect to resume its song. Yet, there it was, chirping a melancholy tune. Too soon, too soon, I think. I need more time. I’m still on too many immunosuppressants. The anniversary of my bone marrow transplant is approaching; my immune system is supposed to be mature by that date. My bones, and my borrowed marrow, tell me that it won’t be.

not a cricket
Not a cricket, but I thought this little guy (or gal) makes a good substitute.

I saw the first, crimson leaf on an Euonymus alatus (commonly known as a Burning Bush) yesterday.

My memory—what remains of it—pulls me back to the tan-colored, bricked buildings of our college campus. I think I see you there, amid the parade of departing students, but what do I know? I, the Woodcutter’s daughter, had to research which tree the acorn belongs to. Worse still, I had somehow forgotten that the helicopter-like seeds, the ones that spin and twirl to the ground every Fall, belong to the maple. These facts were once in my blood. How could I have forgotten?

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I have felt the comforting warmth of a favorite, over-sized sweater nearly every morning this past week.

The mornings, before the sun rises in earnest, are quite cool. I shrug into the sweater—the black and white one that my mother bought for me the first time that I had cancer—and I put the hood up. From my seat at the kitchen table, I can stare out the window. I can watch the sky as it begins to lighten, darkness melting away.

I tasted a tart apple and wanted to add cinnamon, sugar, butter, and oats.

apple crisp recipe

There’s more to the family recipe for apple crisp than all that, though. Once out of the oven, you will need vanilla ice cream to melt on top of it. Remember, innovation is acceptable, but only if it’s as sweet as a fine drizzle of caramel.

I smelled bitter, dark-roasted coffee.

morning coffee

Bitter is better at 4am in the morning. I don’t add sugar to my daily cup; God knows I have enough cavities. I only consume two cups—preferably using one of our giant mugs—and I’ll have to stop drinking after that because my heart will begin to race. My fingertips follow suit, flying over my laptop’s keyboard.

I am my own cricket, tapping out an oftentimes melancholy tune.

keyboard
Please excuse how dirty my keyboard is. The last time I tried to clean a keyboard, I accidentally fried the entire laptop. 

Thank you, Dear Readers, for allowing me to experience writing as a creative outlet once again. I apologize if this post makes very little sense, but please know that it was incredibly fun to write! I needed to do this. And, who knows? Maybe my next novel-length project will have its roots in this text.

As always, thank you for your prayers, love, and light.

 

With Gratitude,

Laura

Words of Comfort, of Healing

 

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In response to my last blog post, someone I consider to be a dear friend kindly asked:

“…What is your favorite thing for people to say in support? Are there certain statements that help noticeably more than others? If all we have are words to help you I’d like to use the words that mean the most to you.”

I didn’t have an answer.

As a writer, I always have words—or, rather, the arrangement of words—on my mind. For instance, I spent a great deal of time trying to describe the color of the Sternbergia lutea flower for my novel-length manuscript, Greenwood. More recently, I’ve been searching for the right words to describe a fictional Norwegian Forest cat named, Birkir. He has an important role in my current writing project, Skraeling.

Despite this constant meditation on words and how best to use them in fiction, I have rarely thought about what words would be most comforting to me in uncertain or frightening situations. I couldn’t answer my friend’s question until this past Thursday morning.

Many of you may remember the notice I posted regarding the week of June 25th. Namely, I wrote that there wouldn’t be a new blog post that week due to having so many doctors’ appointments in Boston. Among those appointments was a surgical procedure—meant to diagnose the potential presence of a secondary cancer. I’ll spare you (and me) the details of “what it might have been” and “what they did to me”. Instead, I’ll just say that I received an email on Thursday morning announcing that the procedure results were in. The email also listed the results…and I couldn’t decipher them.

I did what anyone with a difficult medical history would do—I panicked. I cried. Yes, I have been a patient, in various capacities, since I was 23 years old. Although my sojourn through cancer and transplant-land has been long, it does not mean that I can speak the language of the medical field. Overwhelmed, I kept scrolling through the procedure results, desperately trying to translate them.

Finally, I worked up the nerve to call the doctor’s office.

No one picked up. I had to leave a message.

Surprisingly, while all of this was unfolding, something wonderful happened. I realized that I did have an answer to my friend’s question. As found in the New International Version of the Holy Bible: “For he will command his angels concerning you…” Psalm 91:11a.

Alderaan July 2018

I was spiraling in a panic attack, but I kept repeating the verse over and over again. Soon, there was nothing else in my mind. The Bible verse was in my blood, in my lungs. It was the ocher buoy keeping me afloat in a sea of anxiety.

When I finally received a call back from the doctor’s office, I was collected enough to hear the words, “very good results”.

And, then, I started crying again—big, grateful tears.

Fortunately, I don’t have a secondary cancer. I will have to be monitored for any changes, of course, but in this present moment, I have time to rest and heal. I also now have words to comfort me when old fears rise.

pink wildflowers

Please continue to send prayers, light and love, Dear Readers. They are both needed and very much appreciated. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With Love,

Laura

 

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

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

Three

welcome home from bmt

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.