A Return to Grace and Gratitude

Cuddles with Squishy

I’ve cried a lot over these last few weeks…mostly in the mornings or when hooked up to an infusion pump. I could blame the deluge of emotion on so of my current life circumstances:

  • I am physically exhausted
  • The chemotherapy that I’ve received  over the past two weeks has been anything but easy to tolerate
  • I am now neutropenic (no immune system whatsoever – which means extra hand-washing and wearing masks for the next week or so until my white blood cell count starts to recover. It means no visitors and being extra vigilant about odd physical symptoms)
  • I feel as though I have lost something of myself – I have difficulty writing; the words do not want to come to me and when they do, they are often incorrect or misspelled. The only reason, Dear Readers, that these posts make any sense is because I have both Seth and my mother proofread them before they go live. My hands tremble just enough from neuropathy (nerve damage from the chemotherapy), that taking photographs has become frustrating.

When I started this journey, I wanted to face it with both grace and gratitude. I realized, while hiding in the bathroom at the cancer center this past Wednesday prior to receiving two units of (AMAZING and REFRESHING) blood, that I haven’t done a very good job with that as of late. I haven’t approached this challenge with grace nor have I been all that grateful for each day. I suppose those two qualities are hard to cultivate when you’re doped up on medications and anemic, but let’s put the excuses aside for just a moment:

  • Every day that I have treatment, I have the opportunity to overhear and witness other survivors’ perspectives. I get to learn a little bit about what still lights their lives up, why they’re pushing forward through their own health challenges.
  • Maybe we’re all just muddling through, forcing smiles when we have to, but this past week has also made me acutely aware that like a New Year’s Resolution, a resolution to face cancer with grace and gratitude will occasionally require mental and emotional recommitment. It will require a renewal of sorts. Grace and gratitude do not just magically appear—they have to be worked toward, and, in many ways, earned.

I am crying (again) as I write this, Dear Readers. They’re not tears of self-pity or fear, but rather the tears of a breakthrough. Will it be easy to find joy on the days when all I want to do is cuddle with Squishy (yes, I am a 30-year-old woman with a stuffed unicorn toy) on the couch? Maybe…but what if cuddling is meant to be that day’s joy? Will I continue to grow frustrated with writing and photography? Probably. But you know what? Practice makes perfect and I do know, from my first rodeo with cancer, that much of this neuropathy will go away. The photographs won’t be blurry forever. The words will come back to me when the chemo regimen slows down.

Grace and gratitude—that’s how I wanted to fight this. And, with occasional reminders and restarts, it is how I will fight this.

Please continue to send light, love and healing thoughts, Dear Readers. Treatment marches on this coming week:

  • On Monday – I will receive an infusion of chemotherapy through my chest port, more chemotherapy through my Ommaya Reservoir, as well as two shots of Erwinnia (another chemotherapy) to my legs
  • On Wednesday – I will receive more Erwinnia
  • On Thursday – I will receive chemotherapy through my Ommaya Reservoir
  • On Friday – I will receive even more Erwinnia.

It’s going to be a busy week, Dear Readers, but it’s one week closer to our goal. It’s another opportunity to practice grace and gratitude.

 

 

 

With Love, Laura

 

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The Good That Each Moment Holds

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Dear Readers,

I am writing this blogpost from the comfort of our own apartment. Sunlight is streaming through the glass, front door and the washing machine is humming in the background. I am surrounded by familiar landmarks—photographs, giant coffee mugs, and piles and piles of both read and unread books.

This feels normal.

This feels good.

If I weren’t bundled up in a sweater and layer of blankets, if I wasn’t fighting nausea, if I wasn’t struggling for control of my left leg, I could almost forget that I have cancer. I could almost forget that I have to return to the outpatient cancer clinic tomorrow for still more chemotherapy.

Almost.

The gravity of the situation sneaks up on me, Dear Readers. It surfaces when I least expect it to, knocking the air out of my lungs. It makes me cry—almost daily—and always in the evenings when the punch of the steroids begins to fade and the exhaustion creeps in. It tries to steal the joy still inherent in my days…but I won’t let it win.

Not today.

Not tomorrow.

Not ever.

As difficult as my current circumstances are, there is still so much to be thankful for. There are blessings hidden in each hour. Every new day that I wake up to is an opportunity for grace and gratitude. AND that is what I will focus on—not on the future, not on whether or not this treatment plan is going to work in the long-term—but on the good that each moment holds.

Will it be easy? No. Absolutely not. I am going to have emotional meltdowns and days that I can’t leave my bed. Tears will be shed. Sobs will be stifled by pillows. It is in these moments that I will remind myself that life still has beauty and that no matter how difficult this journey is, it is worth it.

Tomorrow, I return to the Hematology/Oncology Outpatient Clinic for two different chemotherapies; one will be administered through my Ommaya Reservoir (my off-centered unicorn horn) while the other will be infused through my chest port. On Tuesday, I will take my last mega dose of steroids (yay!). On Thursday, providing my white blood cell count is high enough, I will receive another dose of chemotherapy through the Ommaya as well as undergo a bone marrow biopsy. The results of that biopsy will shape next week’s treatment plan.

On April 3rd, my significant other and I will travel to Boston for the initial bone marrow transplant and tissue-typing consult.

I will need your continued support, Dear Readers, through all of this. I will need your prayers. I will need all the light and love that you can spare. I will do my best to keep you up-to-date, but please know that if you don’t hear from me, I am undoubtedly thinking about you and continuing to count YOU as a blessing.

With Love, Laura

Days Like Today

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The ride from the hospital to the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge is a short one…but I cried big, chemo-y, alligator tears the entire way there. I shed still more happy tears yesterday, while simply sitting in the truck and listening to the radio. I’ll probably keep on crying—because my heart is that full of gratitude.

There was a part of me, Dear Readers, that believed that I was never going to see the outside world again. I was terrified that hospital pumps and the ding of call bells was all that the future would hold for me.

Thank God I was wrong.

Thank God for the excellent team that cared for me while I was inpatient on Shep 4 (the Hematology/Oncology Cancer Floor).

Thank God for YOU, Dear Readers, and all of the prayers and well-wishes that you have shared with me. You truly have been spoon-feeding the strength that I need for this fight. You are carrying us through this storm, one step, one comment, one prayer at a time. NONE of this would be possible without your words of encouragement, without your continued love.

I wish that there were other words that I could share with you—words that could somehow capture the essence of what I am feeling. “Thank you” does not suffice. “This means the world to us” is not enough. In truth, my entire being is overwhelmed with gratitude. Even as the chemotherapy knocks my blood counts down, my veins are full, singing with excitement. My heart is lighter than it has been in weeks. I am so incredibly blessed.

Waking up in the same room as my significant other? A blessing.

Having breakfast with him, in the Hope Lodge’s dining room? A blessing.

Watching him fall asleep in a recliner while I write this? A blessing.

Hope Lodge is the house that saw so much of my first treatment—seven, intense months of it to be exact—and while I never thought that I would be back here, head shaved, port in my chest, doing this again, I am grateful to be here. I feel as though I could press a hand against the wood molding around our door, and all of the peace and healing this home has to offer would somehow sink into me, somehow bolster my resolve to keep moving forward. I look out the window and I see a hill of snow and a set of steps that, even with my left leg brace on, I conquered just this morning. I look at the artwork adorning the walls, and I see more than color and shapes—I see life.

I see life, Dear Readers.

I am not sure that I will ever feel strong enough for this fight, but days like today—I feel gratitude. I feel God’s grace. I feel hope, sending out new roots.

Please continue to send love and light. Although I will be in the capable hands of my outpatient Hematology/Oncology team, tomorrow will bring with it another round of chemotherapy. Pray that it works. Pray that we send this cancer packing once and for all.

 

With Love, Laura

 

Unexpected Wins

 

I can’t lie to you, Dear Readers. I just can’t. I was absolutely terrified of what Monday, March 6th, 2017 might bring. I was internally trembling at the idea of having yet another cervical injection of chemotherapy into the back of my neck. I was afraid of waking up on the table (again) with a needle lodged in my spinal cord, moaning. I was dreading the resulting headache and pain. The risks associated with the procedure kept running through my mind. I was worried, too, that the day’s treatment regimen of additional shots to my legs would make me nauseous. In short, I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive Monday.

And, yet, not only did I survive it…but Monday was a win.

It was an unexpected win to be sure, but it was a win because I have been blessed with an outstanding care team—everyone from my oncology nurses and doctors on the floor, to the Interventional Radiologists performing the cervical injection, to the volunteers and support staff that take the time each day to repair my fraying seams.

In many ways, I feel as though I am a tapestry being ripped out, woven back together. These repairs they’re making to me—they mean something. I am not sure what I will look like at the end of this process, or what image might emerge among the woven threads, but occasionally I catch a glimpse of it.

I see something vibrant, as red as the dye a dear friend used to color my hair with. It’s the shade of scarlet that my LNA’s used in the poster that they made for my room.

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I feel a blanket of love, as bright as the rainbow of cards and well-wishes that flooded my bed yesterday afternoon.

I feel calm, in my mother’s warm embrace, in the way my partner holds my hand while we watch television at the end of the day.

Not every day will be like this past Monday. There will be more painful procedures to come. There will be nausea, fluctuations in weight, hair loss. There will be tears and heartache. Suffering is, after all, an inevitable part of this journey, of being human.

But there will also be wins. Small wins. Landslide wins. Wins that no matter what shape or size they arrive in, we have to seize with both hands—even if our finger strength is weak. Even if we need someone to help us hold on.

I hope, Dear Readers, that this week brings you some wins, too. I hope you feel loved and appreciated.  I hope you know that, each day, your messages and prayers are giving me the strength to face this challenge with both grace and gratitude.

 

With So Much Love, Laura

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