Easter Wishes

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These wishes for a “Happy Easter” are either a day late (if one celebrates Easter Sunday) or right on time for those that celebrate Easter Monday.

Either way, Dear Readers, I hope you were/are able to celebrate Easter in the way that best suits you—whether that was attending an early morning church service and singing hymns (i.e. “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”), or hiding plastic Easter eggs in your backyard for your kids to find. Maybe you and your family celebrate with a delicious Easter dinner.

Or, maybe, the holiday is a time of reflection—to note all of the little ways in which spring has influenced our surroundings—and to ponder renewal, regrowth, resurrection. Maybe it’s finding the first daffodil or crocus brave enough to push through the earth. Maybe it’s sitting on your porch, eating jelly beans, and listening to birdsong.

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Whatever you chose to do, I hope it filled your heart with joy and excitement for spring. I hope it motivated you to be a good steward today, Earth Day. I hope that that happiness stays with you throughout the week.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here. Please keep the prayers, love and light coming. I am having my port surgically removed this coming week. Please pray that the procedure goes smoothly, that I heal quickly, and that I don’t remember any of it!

 

Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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Merry Christmas Eve!

 

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I am going to keep this entry short, as Christmas Eve day is often busy with cooking, cleaning, packing, and/or wrapping the last of the presents. Amid all of the items on your “to-do” list, please remember to breathe.

Remember to stop and listen to your favorite Christmas song.

Maybe keep the Christmas tree lights on for a bit longer, and really see them. Note the colors, the way the ornaments reflect the light. Try to remember the story behind each ornament. Soak it all in.

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I know I will, with a giant cup of coffee in my hand.

Merry Christmas to all of you! I am wishing that each and every one of you has a wonderful holiday.

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With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

 

 

Focus on the Light

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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.

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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

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?