New Lenses, Old Frames

old frames

This past Friday I had my annual eye exam. I know—it’s hardly world-changing. And, yet, wearing the correct prescription lenses can have a transformative power. Being able to see distances, clearly, is a blessing…one I didn’t always appreciate when I was younger.

I started wearing glasses my freshman year of high school. And, because of vanity, I often refused to wear them. I would walk around without them, only half-seeing. When I did wear my glasses, I had to fight the urge to peer over or under the frames. It was a constant battle…but eventually the glasses won out.

My Achille’s heel? I liked being able to see clearly. And, obviously, I needed to wear them in order to drive safely. In college, I needed glasses in the larger lecture halls to read the white-boards and projector screens.

With my glasses on, there was no more squinting.

No more wondering, ‘hey, what’s that over there?’ or, ‘that person looks vaguely familiar. Who is that?’.

Glasses, as is their purpose, enhanced my vision—so I kept wearing them.

This most recent eye exam was a bit different. First, the eye doctor that examined me was quite thorough. She read through my medical file and took my history into consideration. I don’t remember the names of the ocular conditions that Leukemia and prolonged steroid use can cause, but she tested me for all of them. I am grateful to say that my eyes are healthy!

Surprisingly, my lens prescription didn’t change, but a new set was ordered anyways. September 2017 – September 2018 was a rough year; I picked up some scratches along the way.

Another change: normally, after an eye exam, I would have picked out a new frame. Why didn’t I this time?

Reason #1. How often are the displayed frames actually sanitized? I don’t mean to freak anyone out with my phobia of germs, but when your immune system is compromised, you think about these things.

Reason #2. I had an older frame just sitting at home—wrong prescription—but I still liked the frame. They were imbued with so many wonderful memories…it felt wrong to abandon them when they could be fitted with new lenses and put back into use.

These were the frames that I wore on my first date with the man that would become my fiancé.

They saw Montreal on our second anniversary, just weeks before I was diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

 

Montreal

These frames saw better days, days with hope and a slight hint of youthful invincibility (very slight; I’ve never been that confident about the future).

I want and need some of that perspective back. Will old frames give me that? No, but they can serve as a daily reminder—a talisman of sorts—that it is possible to see and live in a happier, healthier world.

Please continue to send prayers, love and light, Dear Readers. It does help. If you need proof—a year ago today, I was in a Boston hospital bed being prepped for my bone marrow transplant. Today would have been a chemotherapy day (some of the toughest chemo of my life). Prayers and good wishes, thankfully, can change our circumstances. Love does heal.

As always, thank you for your ongoing encouragement.

 

With Gratitude,

Laura

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No Accidents

On August 21st, 2018, I had MRI’s of my lumbar spine and head. Imaging was followed by an appointment with my neuro-oncologist. She is a wonderful doctor and, in addition to making sure that my brain is disease-free, she monitors me for seizure activity.

It, apparently, has been six months since my last seizure.

The medication that my doctor placed me on has worked thus far. And, as long as I continue to take that medication as prescribed, and remain seizure-free, I am allowed to drive.

Yes, they’re letting me behind the wheel again!

steering wheel

But, whoa, girl! You can’t just get in a car and go….

In many ways, I feel as though it’s been a lifetime since I’ve driven anywhere. It’s like I’m 15 years old again, driving my father’s Chevy S-10 around our yard, narrowly avoiding trees. Driving did not come naturally to me and, now, I have a lot to relearn.

I stopped driving shortly before I was officially diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The tumor in my spinal cord (which no one knew was there until February 2017) made manipulating the brake and gas pedals extremely painful. I was too slow braking and I knew I was putting my life—and others’ lives—in jeopardy. To me, it was an unacceptable risk. So, I stopped driving.

That was in my Civic Coupe—the car from my single lady days, if you will. My fiancé and I traded our respective vehicles in when we realized a bone marrow transplant in Boston was inevitable. We needed a vehicle that a six-foot-five-inch tall male could comfortably sit in (the Civic was too small). We needed something that was fuel efficient (his truck, although loved, was not). We ended up with a sedan. Boxer engine. Slate blue. Great MPG.

wheel

Now that I am allowed to drive again, it’s my turn to get comfortable with this trade-in. For someone with spatial awareness issues, though, adjusting to a change in vehicle size is a challenge. To be on the safe side of things, I prefer to drive with a co-pilot. I like to stick to quiet roads. No rush hour for me, please.

Sitting behind the wheel again, though, has surprisingly stirred up some memories from my high school Driver’s Education class. I can picture the manual that we were assigned to read. I can remember driving through one of the small towns near our high school. I can remember struggling with parallel parking. On one of these voyages—in the Driver’s Ed car packed with four students (one driving and three in the backseat)—the instructor asked a rather serious question.

I can’t remember the exact wording of the question but the answer was, “There is no such thing as an accident. There are only collisions.”

Only collisions.

It’s an odd thing to remember, I suppose—but I do believe that nothing is entirely accidental. As I wrote in my last post, there is a plan. We simply don’t know all of the details. It becomes a bit clearer, I think, when circumstances begin to collide.

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send prayers, light and love. Your positive thoughts give me strength; you fuel and fan the little spark of hope in my heart. It glows brighter because of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

Free Write

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

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

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

I recently heard Autumn’s first cricket chirp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

apple crisp recipe

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

I smelled bitter, dark-roasted coffee.

morning coffee

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

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

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

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

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

 

With Gratitude,

Laura

When Technology Takes Over

Thursday night, we did not have internet access.

About an hour later, I lost cell service.

Normally, I would not describe myself as someone addicted to technology. Just a few hours without the internet, however, proved that I am very much addicted to it. I became bored. Boredom breeds anxiety. I soon found myself thinking, “what if someone breaks in? I don’t have a working phone. I don’t know the neighbors. How am I going to get help?”

True, I should have kept my over-anxious, imaginative mind busy by reading or creating art. Instead, I chose not to. I think technology has, in some ways, made me lazy.

It’s so much easier to scroll through social media sites or use my contact list to message a friend or family member (there are only two phone numbers that I actually know; my own and my parents’). Thanks to my contact list, programmed into my phone, my brain doesn’t have to remember phone numbers.

When I want to use my phone, the slight tremor in my hand suddenly doesn’t matter. After all, I just have to press on an app button. That tremor does matter, however, when I pick up a paintbrush or a camera.

And reading? Well, I’d have to unpack a book in order to do that (because, yes, we’re still living out of boxes here).

A lot of excuses, right? I know. It’s quite embarrassing. Technology addiction, I think, goes beyond our smartphones. It enables sloth.

Think about cooking: would you rather use the microwave or the oven?

Cleaning: handwash the dishes or stuff as many as you can into the dishwasher?

How about spelling? Without Spellcheck, I can assure you that there would be many, many mistakes in this post. I blame chemo brain (also known as ‘chemo fog’) for that. The sensation of having a head filled with cumulus clouds doesn’t lift immediately when the chemotherapy stops.

There are, of course, advantages to having technology in our lives. For instance, can you imagine hand-washing every piece of clothing you wear? Technology, medical research, and Divine intervention have saved my life at least a dozen times. I believe, though, that while technology can accomplish great things, and make our everyday lives easier, we need to do as our computers occasionally do—restart.

Restart by putting the smartphone away for a couple of hours each day.

Restart by actually cooking our meals instead of radiating them.

Restart by memorizing phone numbers and the correct spelling of words. I mean, come on, imagine a writer that can’t spell….

As always, Dear Readers, thank you for your prayers, light and love. Your encouragement has given me the strength to continue writing—both on this blog and in my manuscripts-in-progress. 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

Puppies and Patience

Luna has had her dinner and is now sleeping on the couch.

There are moments when she completely melts my heart—like chocolate chips in freshly baked cookies.

And, then, there are other times…that, let’s just say, she’s teaching me patience.

Even on the days when this copper-colored puppy tries to use me like a chew toy, I am grateful for her presence. She’s a tremendous amount of work, but don’t all good things require work?

nap

Unbeknownst to her (or maybe she can sense it), Luna has been saving me from anxious thoughts. I can’t ruminate on how painful this particular flare-up of Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD) has been, when there’s a little dog that needs to be taken outside.

With her running around my ankles, I don’t have the time to bemoan (or concentrate on) the fact that my recovery plan is now slightly behind schedule.

Besides, there have been some positive developments on the GVHD front! Although I cannot lift my arms straight up over my head, the inflammation in my shoulder joints is now under control. The swelling in my left arm has gone down and I am much more mobile. My liver enzymes, while still not quite within normal range, are almost there. I’ll finish this week on 30mg of Prednisone and decrease the following week to 20mg. At that time, I should be back (or as close as I can currently get) to my old self.

I have never been a patient person, but some things—like worrying—have to wait when there’s a puppy around. Our Luna is as bright as a little moon, and she is illuminating our lives in ways that I couldn’t have predicted. She is both a challenge and a blessing.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for the encouragement, the light and the love. Please continue to send good vibes this way. It’s appreciated.

 

With Love,

Laura

Unpredictable

We have a puppy!

luna

Our puppy, Luna, is currently snuggled up on her daddy. Daddy is clearly her favorite person. And, why not? Mama (me) is a bit stand-offish. No puppy kisses here. Mama is constantly washing her hands. Mama doesn’t—because she’s just not that mobile—get down on the floor to play. Mama often wears gloves. Mama wears a mask whenever we go somewhere as a family (i.e. the vet’s office).

luna and daddy

So, why even bother getting a dog with all of these restrictions?

First, my transplant team in Boston said that I could.

Second, a little companion to take care of, and love, is perhaps one of the best forms of medicine out there.

Third, life is too short to wait for a better/perfect time. I’ll be brutally honest with you: I don’t know how much time I will have on this Earth. Neither do you. If you stop and think about it, do you know when your last day will be? Or how old you will have grown? Make the most out of your time here. Do those things that restore you spirits and make you smile. Breathe.

My grandmother was buried last week.

A former co-worker passed away just a few days ago.

A mentor, whom I am truly grateful for, faded away this weekend like an evening star.

What can we do when presented with such loss?

We can hold on tightly to the pleasant memories and the sage advice. We can live. We can open our hearts to love. We can take chances and put up with the nuisance of washing our hands every half hour. I refuse to live my life in fear. I refuse to miss out on happiness.

I can’t live with my Alderaan right now; Luna can’t fill the hole that Wallace left behind. Despite all of that, we can be a little family. We can learn from each other, we can laugh, we can howl when Daddy leaves for work (which is a habit I probably shouldn’t be encouraging). Sometimes, though, it’s one-hundred percent necessary to throw your head back and howl at the moon.

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send light and love. I am still coping with the symptoms of Graft vs. Host Disease. On a more positive note, my MRI’s from last week showed improvement. We’re back in Boston this week (to monitor the Graft vs. Host Disease). Hopefully, we can gain control of the GVHD soon.

Thank you, as always, for all of your kindness and encouragement.

 

With Love,

Laura

We’ll Build Upward from There.

In my thirty-one years on this Earth, I have had to learn how to walk three times:

  1. As a toddler, just like everyone else.
  2. After a ten-day stay in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) when I was 23 years old.
  3. And, when I was 30, after developing drop-foot during in-patient cancer treatment.
treatment with OR and brace
Relearning how to walk with a leg brace February/March 2017

Learning how to walk as an adult is downright painful. It’s also a slow process. I thought that I had successfully “gotten back on my feet” when I was able to ditch my cane, but after having an appointment with my neuro-oncologist in January of 2018, I realized that I needed help.

My doctor had me flex my foot into a ninety-degree angle. She then pushed down on my toes; I didn’t have the strength to resist her. I couldn’t keep my foot at the correct angle. My ankles weren’t strong enough. My balance was off. If I knelt down on the floor, I had to use something to pull myself up with. My doctor issued a referral for physical therapy. I let the referral sit on my desk from January to April.

Why? Because I didn’t want to be a burden. With my recent seizure history, I can’t drive. Due to the fact that I still don’t have a functioning immune system, I have to be very selective about who drives me (they must be 100% healthy). These parameters often result in me asking the same people, again and again, to take me places. In my mind, physical therapy was just another appointment that I would have to pester someone to take me to.

I don’t like asking for help—even when I need it.

So, I delayed setting up a physical therapy appointment…until the beginning of this month. My fiancé was urging me to take care of myself—and that includes rebuilding leg strength and balance.

I had my first session this past Friday. My therapy plan focuses first on stabilizing and strengthening my ankles. We’ll build upward from there. I am excited about it. My therapist is one of the kindest souls that I have ever met. You can tell she loves her job; best of all, her joy is contagious.

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send light and love. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love,
Laura

Learn, Then Overcome.

Easter 4 2018

Did you know that a cat with a urinary tract infection (UTI) will associate the pain of the infection with his/her litter box, thus leading to undesirable behaviors (i.e. urinating outside of the box)? Treatment with certain steroids will also lead to urinating in inappropriate places.

Alderaan is currently doing this.

I think, though, that we all do it on some level—associate our personal pain with things/places/people/specific dates. Either consciously or subconsciously, we alter our behavior to avoid what we think will cause more pain. Which, in light of my life experiences, sounds a lot like anxiety. Someone once told me to imagine anxiety as living in a box. The more you try to avoid the things/people/places that make you feel anxious, the smaller your box becomes.

This year of post-transplant isolation has stuck me in a very small box (fortunately, there’s just enough room in here for a laptop and I’ve been writing my heart out).

When this year of saying “no” to visiting friends and family comes to an end, I’m going to be in a situation not at all unlike Aldie’s:

Aldie will have to relearn how to use the litter box (which is why Mommy and Daddy bought him a new one with special litter that apparently smells irresistible to cats), while I am going to have to learn how to trust my puny immune system.

I will have to overcome the social awkwardness that this year of isolation has impressed upon me. Similarly, we are doing everything we can to help Alderaan overcome his fears and return to health and appropriate behaviors.

September, after all, is coming.

crocus

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send light and love. For those of you who knew about my struggle with unexpected weight loss (a big no-no in transplant land), I can assure you that I put some pounds back on and am now at an acceptable and healthy weight. My doctors are pleased with my progress and we will be starting my pediatric shots in May!!! I know; it’s an odd thing to be excited about. But I am excited.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sticking with me through this.

 

With Love,

Laura