(Non-alcoholic) Shots of Holiday Cheer

This post is intended for everyone—and anyone—struggling to get through the month of December. That includes me. Yes, I received excellent news at my last transplant check-up in Boston, but life consists of more than just doctor appointments. I, too, need to be reminded of the beauty and the love inherent in this season.

We’ll start with an undecorated Christmas tree:

There’s something about these images that remind me of an Elementary School Christmas Concert that I attended. I had older cousins performing in this particular concert. One of them was in the grade level that performed, “O Tannenbaum”.  I look at our tree, and I can’t help but sing the English version of that song.

As previously reported, our tree is a Fraser Fir and is approximately ten-feet tall. How do you decorate such a beast? First, I personally recommend obtaining a tall fiancé. Next, you will need to find a ladder. Put the two together, and you have someone that can hang ornaments on the higher branches.

seth decorating

Placing the tree-topper (which, in our case, is a white star) where it belongs, is a piece of cake for tall people on ladders.

a star a star

If you are shorter, like me, you get to decorate as high up as you can reach. Working as thus, you’ll eventually meet in the middle and voila! You’ll have a decorated Christmas tree for your fur babies to enjoy from a (safe) distance.

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The tree isn’t the only decoration capable of inspiring holiday cheer. We adorned the fireplace mantel with a faux Amaryllis. It burns a happy shade of scarlet.

faux red flowers

We strung lights along our stair hand-rail:

Our house has a second floor, framed in with a wooden banister. In some ways, resembles a balcony, overlooking the first floor. We spruced the banister up with a garland, bows, and ornaments.

deck the halls

In fact, we randomly hung ornaments all around the house (this one is in the kitchen):

ornament 2018

The second floor is also where we set up a special, hand-made nativity set. Every time I walk by the crèche and the figurines, I hum either, “Away in a Manger” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

away in a manger

It’s important to remember, though, that the season isn’t just about bright lights, glittery ornaments and greenery. It’s also about love:

blue jays

It may be difficult to see, but there are two birds in this picture. They are not turtle doves – just common blue jays – but they’re weathering the cold, winter temperatures together. Isn’t that what love is about? Supporting and encouraging each other – even on the coldest and darkest of days?

The season is also about hope for the future:

pine cone

This little guy fell off of our tree. It’s just a cone for now, but one day, maybe, it’ll be a 10-foot Fraser fir.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued encouragement, light, and love. I am wishing each of you a happy and healthy holiday season.

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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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

Today, I am Grateful for…

banner

In my previous entry, I wrote about how I was determined to spend November counting my many blessings. It has taken me years to understand that blessings are not always big changes or events (although sometimes they are). The little things matter, too. In an attempt to demonstrate this, I thought I would share some excerpts from my own gratitude journal with you.

November 8th, 2018

Today, I am grateful for:

  1. Progress in physical therapy
  2. Finding old pictures (even though they made me tear up)
  3. Glimpsing a flock of white birds flying across the dark-gray sky. The neighbor’s maple tree turning a brilliant shade of canary yellow.

Please note, that some of the entries in my gratitude journal are images from the day. Listed images are usually quite beautiful—something that I simply want to remember or use in a subsequent piece of writing. The birds and the sky, for instance, created a stunning contrast. It took my breath away.

Although it didn’t make the day’s gratitude list (which was an oversight on my part), check out our solar mobile. It stopped working mid-summer, but now it is illuminating the back porch once again:

mobile at night

I thought it would be educational (for me) to compare 2017 to 2018…so I leafed through my gratitude journal to find the closest date, which happened to be November 6th, 2017. On that day, I was grateful for:

  1. Seth (my fiancé)
  2. Good food
  3. Walks

What did my fiancé do on that day? I have no clue, but considering that #2 reads, “good food”, I would wager that he cooked something tasty for me to eat. He is a man of many talents and, fortunately for me, cooking is one of them.

Why did “walks” make the list? Going for a walk may seem like such an ordinary activity—but for someone that had had a tumor in her lumbar spine—going for a walk, around the block, with a cane, was quite an accomplishment.

I have been in physical therapy since April 2018 and I am now at the point (see gratitude list for 11-8-2018) wherein my physical therapist is helping me put the “finishing touches” on my gait and my balance. Stairs beware! I’m coming for you!

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, words of encouragement, and light. Please feel free to share your own blessings in the comments or by private message. I would love to read about them!

 

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

Space to Redecorate

My last post was about telling the truth—my truth—how I really feel, how recovery from transplant is progressing, how the timeline is not what I expected it to be.

The adage, “the truth will set you free”, is, well, true.

Once I had committed my truth to paper, once I had shared it—I felt a tremendous sense of relief, like I could breathe again. The weight on my shoulders was a bit lighter.

It—how I felt—wasn’t a secret anymore.

I didn’t have to pretend that everything was wonderful or even okay.

Perhaps the most surprising change is that telling the truth created space in my heart. The space isn’t a hole. My heart isn’t empty or missing something. There’s just more room in it for feelings other than fear and defeat. It’s only been a week, but I’ve decided to redecorate that space with beautiful moments and images.

Among those images, is the view from our front door.

Our house is surrounded, on two sides, by thick cedar hedges. A few deciduous trees have tried to grow amidst the cedar, stretching taller and taller to reach the sun’s warm rays. Wild grape vines cling to the cedars for support.

morning hedges

The only clear view we have is out the front door and windows, which face the road and an unmown field beyond it. To me, there’s something magical about fields. I could probably attribute this affinity to the French-Canadian habitant in my bones and in my ancestry. The field’s grass is tall now, shining golden at mid-day (this photo doesn’t do it justice). Milkweed is interspersed, attracting butterflies of all colors and varieties. I smile whenever I see a winged pair fluttering between the wildflowers.

Bambi, and his friends, would say that they’re “twitterpated”.

morning field

This attempt to redecorate my heart with beautiful moments reminds me of a song that I used to listen to when I was younger. In fact, after my last chemotherapy infusion (the first time that I had cancer), I blasted the song on my brother’s stereo. Even back then, my brother, a talented musician, had plenty of speakers; I put them to good use that afternoon.

The song that this view, that this moment in my life, evokes is entitled, “Beauty from Pain”. It’s by the Christian rock band, Superchick. Some of the lyrics are as thus:

                        After all this has passed

                        I still will remain.

                        After I’ve cried my last,

                        There’ll be beauty from pain.

                        Though it won’t be today

                        Someday I’ll hope again.

                        And there’ll be beauty from pain.

                        You will bring beauty from my pain.

Although the song makes me tear up, I also find it to be empowering. Hopeful. In many ways, it’s a reminder that I can keep going…that God will use this experience for good, and that my current health situation will not be my situation forever. My transformation as a person isn’t complete yet.

As the proverb on my home page reads, “just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”. I’m still in the process of becoming a butterfly.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your continued prayers, love, and light. They are so very appreciated. We’re Boston-bound later this week for a transplant check-up and a breathing test (it’s standard procedure; I am not worried about my lungs, nor are my doctors). Please continue to send positive thoughts, though; as some of you know, Massachusetts’ traffic can be daunting. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Creativity: Kind of Like a Scavenger Hunt

I am a morning person.

I wake up between 4am and 5am. I go downstairs, fix a cup of coffee (two tablespoons of Ovaltine, please) and start writing fiction. I’m usually fairly content if left to shape my own world out of words—but, these past few mornings, I have felt a bit uninspired.

The problem? I’ve been sitting alone with my own anxious thoughts for far too long. Worry drains creativity. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a solution Saturday night while watching the first few episodes of Season Two of “Anne with an ‘E’”.

If you haven’t heard of this series, I highly recommend it. “Anne with an ‘E’” is a heart-warming, Canadian television show currently on Netflix. It’s based on L.M. Montgomery’s novel, Anne of Green Gables. As a child, L.M. Montgomery was one of my favorite authors. Montgomery’s protagonist, Anne, is an orphan with a rich imagination. Anne finds stories in everything she looks at and wherever she goes.

Anne’s personality and incredible knack for discovering inspiration has prodded me to open my eyes a little wider. There is creativity out there. I just have to open my heart to it, and never stop asking questions.

For instance, I took this photo with my phone:

morning fog

What are we looking at here? In our everyday lives, it is just a sunrise in early July, around 5am. Fog is blanketing the field across the road. It crawls slowly toward our house. Is the fog hiding something? What causes such weather? Does fog symbolize anything? Creepy, right? Or, is it just fog?

This, I think, is how you spin a new short-story.

I’ve never really believed in personal writing muses. The closest I have ever gotten to one was with Wallace the Wonderful. He thoroughly enjoyed harassing me when I was typing. He liked chewing the corners of my research books and lying on my print-outs. He’s been gone since February, but I still miss him every day.

Wallace guarding weather witch

We have a gallery of sorts, hanging on the wall, across from the kitchen table (where I write). It consists of portraits of friends and family—and, of course, there’s a photograph of Wallace. It reminds me that he’s never too far away.

For now, Luna, our puppy, is too high-energy to be a writing companion (plus she’s too big now to curl up on my lap). She prefers activity, like learning how to swim:

luna swimming

Someday, when she’s older and calmer—maybe, then, she’ll doze off at my feet while I type out tales. I’ll be able to pet her copper-colored ears when I’m searching for a word. I’ll whisper the options to Luna and if I’m really lucky, she’ll snore when I say one of the words. You guessed it: I won’t use that word.

Snore translation: That word is too boring, Human Mommy. Find something better.

Although I am not quite awake when dusk falls, there are details about that particular time of day that sparks my creativity. I think I can see pieces of flash fiction when studying the solar, hanging mobile on our back porch. The stars and the angels move slowly, serenely, when stirred by the breeze; otherwise, they are still, soaking up the last of the sun’s rays.

solar mobile

It’s truly the little things—the minute details—that build a strong piece of writing and fuel a writer’s creativity. I have L.M. Montgomery and “Anne with an ‘E’” to thank for reminding me of that.

And, thank you, too, Dear Readers! Your prayers and words of encouragement give me the strength to persist, to heal, to pursue my dreams. Your love and light continue to nourish my soul. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Reminders

I was given a large binder of reading material the first time I went to Boston for a bone marrow transplant consultation. I procrastinated when it came to reading through it because it was just too much—it was overwhelming, frightening. As the date of the transplant has approached, I have started looking through the binder, specifically at the list of items I can and can’t bring with me to the hospital.

The list is quite extensive. There are so many rules, so many things I can’t bring (including a hairbrush). Patients are, though, encouraged to bring “Images/items that help remind you of your goal of getting well.”

The space in my suitcase is limited, so instead of packing multiple reminders, I filled a USB drive with pictures that I hold near and dear. As long as neither the USB drive or my laptop is fried in the cleaning process (which will take place as soon as I arrive), I can look at my reasons for undergoing this bone marrow transplant whenever I need to. I will smile. I will cry tears of joy and gratitude for all of these good things and people that are in my life—despite cancer.

Not shown above, are the family pictures I have saved on the USB drive. Pictures of my family, of Seth’s family.

Thank you—to all of you—for the positive thoughts and continued prayer. It means the world to us. Please keep the love and light coming.

With Love,
Laura

The Good That Each Moment Holds

Unicorn Snow Globe 2

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

HL Window View - edited

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