The Next Chapter

English Roseum in Bloom

I promised, Dear Readers, that I would share a longer, and happier, post this week.

As many of you already know, my fiancé and I were married on Sunday, June 9th, 2019 at Ausable Brewing Company (we were the first couple to get married at the brewery). My fiancé and I had been engaged for 2.5 years—and we had wanted to get married sooner—but, you know, cancer. And, transplant. And, timing.

Then, while on the road to an appointment in Boston, we started talking, once again, about getting married. We brainstormed venues, photographers, and ways to work around my unpredictable immune system. The conversation was an exciting rush, volleying ideas back and forth. There was this moment, when we both knew, that getting married was finally possible.

Our mothers helped make this dream come true. My mother and my Maid of Honor helped me pick out my wedding dress—which my mom paid for. She helped me get dressed, pinning my flower crown and veil to my hair. My mother-in-law purchased the perfect card box for our wedding and helped decorate the brewery’s pavilion the morning of the ceremony.

We wanted a small wedding for several reasons—one of which was my immune system. My immune system is almost 21-months old now, but I am not completely vaccinated. It was a risk to have a wedding. Every hug, every handshake, although offered in friendship, could result in illness.

I was, as I am sure you can imagine, nervous about mingling with our guests. True, the gathering consisted of immediate family and close friends that would never endanger me, but I felt nauseous anyways. I kept having this recurring fear of contracting the chicken pox (because, yes, I’m not vaccinated against that yet).

My feelings of anxiety settled a bit, when Pachelbel’s Cannon in D Major started to play. I watched my lovely Maid of Honor and the Best Man weave their way through the brewery’s pavilion, joining our guests behind an old barn. I was up next. My father led me down that same path, kissing my check when we reached our Officiant, Steph.

One look at my fiancé, and happiness bubbled up inside of me. The fear dissipated and the next thing I knew, I was doing what every new bride does: I was following the directions of our wonderful photographer, Julie (owner of JMRowe Photography). Below is a small sample of her amazing work:

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My husband and I danced to Ruelle’s “I Get to Love You”, for our first dance. These pictures were captured by either our friend, Jamie, or our sister, Kate (not sure who took which picture – but am so thankful that they were shared!).

After dancing, I welcomed as many of our guests as I could. I gave hugs, shook hands. I was taken aback by all of the compliments that I received. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Stunning. Were they truly talking about me? I rarely feel beautiful…or comfortable in my own skin. Treatment has left me with so many scars, both visible and invisible. How could I be ‘stunning’?

Our wedding was nontraditional. As such, we hadn’t planned on doing any of the traditional dances (i.e. father-daughter, mother-son). It was a happy surprise, then, to have a dance with my dad.  My brother, in charge of the music, played “I Loved Her First” by Heartland. I should preface this by saying that I have always been a Daddy’s girl. I nearly started ugly-crying halfway through the song. I had put this loving, kind man through so much—almost dying on him at least twice—and, yet, there we were. I was alive—and so, so grateful to have the opportunity to dance with my dad.

KL received_481882679215704
Photo courtesy of my long-time friend, Kristy.

“You’ll always be my pumpkin,” he said when the dance ended.

Our wedding was not only the beginning of our marriage; it was also an enormous leap toward normalcy, toward healing.

The next day, while lying in the MRI machine, I began to review everything that had happened at our wedding. I had been so joyful. I had felt so loved, so blessed. Tears of gratitude began to slide down my cheeks.

I have waited a long time to be happy, to feel okay about myself, to feel hopeful. No more waiting, Dear Readers. Life is too short. As my oncologist told me after my scans, “we did a lot of terrible things to you. Now it’s time to put Laura back together again”.

Let the real work begin.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here, for your patience, and for your prayers. You have been a well-spring of support. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

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Easter Wishes

bunny on the sidewalk 2.0

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.

bunny on the sidewalk

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

(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

Joyful

snowflake

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the delay in posting this entry. This past week was insanely busy! I’m sure you’ve felt it, too; how time seems to speed up the closer we get to Christmas. Amid the feeling of being rushed, though, is the potential to create beautiful and joyful memories.

For instance, last Friday, my fiancé and I went to the ICU Christmas party. The party was biker-themed. I wore a mask (because it was a bit crowded and I still need to protect myself from germs). I didn’t want to feel like a patient amid doctors and nurses, so I decorated the mask, biker-style:

biker mask

The mask came off briefly for pictures with my person, though:

christmas party
(I stole this photo from my fiancé)

Somehow, the next day, we were able to squeeze in some holiday decorating. Our tree is a Fraser Fir, it’s approximately ten-feet tall, and it smells spectacular! When I look at this tree all aglow, I reflect on holidays past and am excited for the Christmases to come. I don’t often feel joy, but when I see the star on the top of this tree, it takes me back to childhood, when Christmas was pure magic.

decorating the tree
(I stole this photo from my fiancé, too)

Decorating was cut short by a follow-up transplant appointment in Boston. The appointment was scheduled for 9:30am on Monday, and, since the trip usually requires 4.5 hours of driving one-way, we decided to book a hotel for Sunday night. I drove the first leg of the journey:

driving to Boston
(Again, I stole this photo from my fiancé)

I think I have always admired Boston. I wanted to go to grad school there, but plans change, and that’s okay. The city was incredibly beautiful Sunday night, as we walked to a restaurant for dinner.

trees of boston
(He did an excellent job with this one…so you know what I had to do) 

It was quiet enough in the restaurant, that I didn’t have to wear a mask. My only real worry was having hat hair (and my fiancé taking a picture of it):

dinner

It’s a welcome change to worry about trivial things, like messed-up hair.

My appointment went extremely well. I am now officially OFF of Prednisone! My lead doctor decided to give my body a chance to adjust to being without steroids before we begin tapering any other medications. Other notable changes include:

  • I will begin tapering my anti-rejection drug on January 1st, 2019. I will admit to being afraid of this step—afraid that I’ll develop Graft vs. Host Disease without the anti-rejection meds and/or the steroids—but it’s a step that needs to be taken.
  • It’s a little thing—but I can add honey to my tea again!
  • Masks are now only required in crowded, public spaces or in doctors’ offices. Quiet restaurants during off hours? No mask. Quiet movie theaters? No mask. Of course, this taste of freedom comes with responsibility—frequent hand-washing and the use of hand-sanitizer are both still required. I must also avoid individuals that are coughing, sneezing or are ill in any way. I also cannot be around individuals have spent time with family, friends, or co-workers that have been ill or recently vaccinated (my fledgling immune system still can’t handle the live viruses used in most vaccines).

It’s a lot to process, but these are enormous strides toward being “normal” again. I don’t expect 2019 to be an easy year, but I do believe it can be a wonderful one.

homeward
(This photo is all me – as are the photos of the snowflake ornament and mask)

Thank you, Dear Readers, for taking this journey with me. Your prayers, kind thoughts, and light have carried me through so much. You are appreciated!

 

With Love & Gratitude:

Laura

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

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

This is What They Call a Birthday

first birthday cake

In the world of Bone Marrow Transplants, the anniversary of your transplant is considered to be your “New Birthday”. I just turned “One”.

I think I’m supposed to feel elated.

Or proud.

The truth is, all I feel and see are confused flashes of that hospital room.

I can’t remember much of my time as an inpatient. Preparation for a transplant is both physically and mentally demanding. The chemotherapy that I was given in Boston—just days before the actual transplant—was harsher than all of the chemotherapy that I received during cancer treatment. The Total Body Irradiation completely drained me.

I was also higher than a kite on pain meds, dreaming about being trapped in a basement…and something about cave trolls. What I do seem to remember are the challenging moments. My mind has a penchant for that. Don’t ask me to remember happy milestones or joy. I’m not wired to recall pleasant memories, although I wish that I was.

Breathing would be a lot easier if I could focus on positive details such as the pigeon that sat, every day, on my windowsill—as if it were watching over me. Was it an angel? Or just another city bird? I remember naming it, “Bird Butt”, because it always had its tail feathers pressed against my window. I couldn’t take a decent picture of it with my cellphone…so…if it was an angel, I can’t imagine that it was too impressed by me or my “creative” naming abilities.

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So much has happened in the year between naming “Bird Butt” and the present day.

The field I admire—the one across the road—has been turned into square bales. I watched a farmer mow the field and bail it. I began to appreciate him as much as I did the field. He walked with a cane and, yet, somehow was able to climb up and down from the tractor’s seat. As someone that once relied on a cane to walk, I know that this was no easy task. This man was determined. A hard-worker. Someone to respect, to emulate.

Do I miss my former view? Yes.

The field, though, has not stopped giving me beautiful moments to ponder. Do I love what it has given me now, even more? The answer: a resounding yes!

Whenever the shadows are long, there is a rather large cat that prowls across the field. It has probably been doing this for longer than we’ve lived here—the tall grass kept it hidden from sight. Now, however, the feline is visible. I can’t tell if s/he wears dark stripes like my Wallace did, or if its coat is entirely sable in color. Either way, its presence gives me joy. Hope. Dare I say, happiness?

cat in the field 2.0

So, yes, I ate cake on my “First Birthday”. My fiancé bought it for me and it was rather tasty. There weren’t any candles to blow out, but I made a few wishes anyways.

I wished to become a positive-thinker (I would like to believe that I’ve made some progress in that department).

I wished to help others whenever possible.

And, finally, I wished to stockpile pleasant memories—and actually remember them.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all of your prayers, kind words, and love over this past year. Please continue to send light. The recovery process has only just begun. I have three to six more months on steroids and my anti-rejection medication. They’re both immunosuppressants, so I will still have to be cautious about what I expose myself to.

The bright side? I’m “One” now…my legs are wobbly…but I’m starting to take my first steps toward health.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

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

Repeat After Me: Joy, Peace, Love, Hope

heart-ornament-2015

It’s Sunday evening and the hours are slowly slipping away. The apartment is quiet, calm, and Wallace the Wonderful is sleeping on the far end of the couch. It should be the perfect time to write, but my eyes keep wandering from my laptop’s screen to our miniature Christmas tree. There’s something mesmerizing about the way the lights weave through the branches, illuminating the treasured ornaments hanging there. From where I am sitting, I can see the angel that my grandmother made for me the Christmas of 1994. Darth Vader is on her left, wielding a red light saber. A glass snowflake—a light directly behind it—glows emerald.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve found myself studying our tree, retelling myself the stories behind each ornament. I am amused—and a little proud—that our 2-foot tree, high on a shelf, is so beautiful, so plump with love. Tonight, though, my tree-gazing is a little different. Tonight, I am searching for the words joy, peace, love and hope among our little tree’s boughs.

The search began, in earnest, this past Friday night. I was driving home, enjoying the outdoor Christmas lights along my route, and thinking about the scene that I had just left. I had gone to the VFW to watch my brother and his bandmates perform. Although I was busy snapping pictures of their band, Midnight Moonshine, I wasn’t so oblivious to my surroundings that I didn’t notice an elderly gentleman dancing.

“He’s 92,” an informant told me, “and he does this every week. He will dance here and then when this VFW closes, he’ll dance at the next one.”

Looking at the gentleman in question, there could be no mistaking what the smile on his face meant. He glowed with joy—joy for life, joy for dancing, joy for the present moment.

It seemed like a fitting emotion to have this time of year and it was this thought—that joy somehow “fit” this season—that I began to wonder about other words that might “fit”. My commute home, in fact, became a hunt for them.

While driving by a house with blue icicle lights, the word “peace” came to mind. I thought about how, earlier in the week, Wallace the Wonderful and I had fallen asleep on the couch listening to acoustic carols as the star atop our Christmas tree slowly and serenely shifted colors.

I thought of the word “love” while at an intersection, less than a block away from home, waiting for the light to turn green. Love surprises me on random mornings with a smile and a home-made breakfast fit for royalty. It is a word that I feel in my mother’s embrace and hear in my father’s jokes. Love tastes like hot cocoa, a spoonful of fluff melting atop the liquid and infusing the entire cup with its sweetness.

And, as I finally stepped into the light and warmth of our apartment, I felt the word “hope”. It was residing in the Christmas card on the table—our first card as a couple—and it greeted me with exuberant wishes for a happy and healthy season and year ahead.

Joy. Peace. Love. Hope.

We see these words so frequently this time of year—on accent pillows and wrapping paper, wall art and billboards—that they lose all meaning. The words become part of the backdrop, unobserved and unfelt, until a 92 year-old veteran, tearing up the dance floor, reminds you to start looking for them again.