(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

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

Silver-Linings, Silver Ears

Aldie on the mantle

I really do try to see the positive in situations…but, I’m human…and, sometimes, I need a little help to see what’s right in front of me.

For instance, this past Wednesday, I was at my parents’ house (where the majority of my belongings still are). There was a pedestal mirror atop my long-neglected bureau.

In the house I share with my fiancé, the only mirrors that we have are in the bathroom. So, if someone is in the bathroom, you’re out of luck. You can try catching your reflection in the television screen, but best wishes to you. Brushing your hair into place isn’t going to happen until the bathroom is vacated.

You learn to live with minor inconveniences such as this.

Seeing my old pedestal mirror, though, I decided to take it home with me. I’d put it in our bedroom or my office—someplace where I could try to tame my wild curls whenever the bathroom was otherwise occupied. I began dusting it. As I did so, however, the mirror snapped off of the pedestal. It landed on the cement floor and cracked like a hard-boiled egg.

“Great,” I thought, recalling the superstition that breaking a mirror comes with a sentence of 7 years of bad luck.

As a life-long pessimist, I instantly started reciting all of the major and minor health problems that, due to my medical history, I could probably develop in the next 7 years. It was a depressing and anxiety-filled list. Seeking some solace, I told my fiancé about the mirror. His response was perfect:

“I guess that means you’ll be alive for the next seven years,” he said. “You have to find the silver-lining in these things.”

I had to think about what he had said for a minute or two, before the meaning of it sunk in. You do have to be alive to have bad luck—or any luck at all, really.

“I want more than 7 years,” I countered.

“Of course,” he replied, “I want you to have more than that, too.”

Point of Clarification: no doctor has told me that I have an expiration date, coming due in seven years. This is just our morbid sense of humor and how we decided to interpret a broken mirror and the superstition of 7 years of bad luck. Now, I know a broken mirror can’t guarantee health or life, but I’m going to pretend that it can. That kind of assurance, even if only a work of the imagination, is truly a silver-lining.

While searching for silver-linings, I have also rediscovered a pair of lovable, silver ears.

silver ears

During my last check-up in Boston, I asked if our cat could live with us again. I was afraid to ask since my immune system hasn’t finished developing yet. The answer, though, was, ‘yes’!

After a year of being cared for by my parents (thank you, Mom & Dad!), and losing his big brother Wallace, Alderaan (Aldie) has finally moved in with us. My brother delivered him to our front door on Wednesday night. He set Aldie in his new litter box while I prepped his dinner.

The next day, October 11th, Alderaan had his fourth birthday. He celebrated with a long nap underneath our bed. He’s a small guy, weighing in at only 11.5-pounds. Aldie is special, though. I believe he knew I had cancer long before any of my doctors even considered it a possibility.

Why do I think this? Before I was diagnosed with relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, if I was sleeping on my stomach, the little guy would curl up on my back—in the exact spot that my tumor would later be found. He was a heating pad, trying to ease the pain radiating from my lumbar spine.

Alderaan took care of me this past Thursday night, too. When I was too restless to sleep, thrashing around and trapped in some dream, our little feline decided to settle down on my feet. Aldie, although quite small, has the power to turn into a cinder block. He somehow becomes incredibly heavy. Utilizing this hidden superpower, he prevented me from continuing to move. I still couldn’t sleep, but it’s the thought that counts.

I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful it is to have my silver ears back.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for continuing to send prayers, love, and light my way. It means the world to me.

 

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

Words of Comfort, of Healing

 

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In response to my last blog post, someone I consider to be a dear friend kindly asked:

“…What is your favorite thing for people to say in support? Are there certain statements that help noticeably more than others? If all we have are words to help you I’d like to use the words that mean the most to you.”

I didn’t have an answer.

As a writer, I always have words—or, rather, the arrangement of words—on my mind. For instance, I spent a great deal of time trying to describe the color of the Sternbergia lutea flower for my novel-length manuscript, Greenwood. More recently, I’ve been searching for the right words to describe a fictional Norwegian Forest cat named, Birkir. He has an important role in my current writing project, Skraeling.

Despite this constant meditation on words and how best to use them in fiction, I have rarely thought about what words would be most comforting to me in uncertain or frightening situations. I couldn’t answer my friend’s question until this past Thursday morning.

Many of you may remember the notice I posted regarding the week of June 25th. Namely, I wrote that there wouldn’t be a new blog post that week due to having so many doctors’ appointments in Boston. Among those appointments was a surgical procedure—meant to diagnose the potential presence of a secondary cancer. I’ll spare you (and me) the details of “what it might have been” and “what they did to me”. Instead, I’ll just say that I received an email on Thursday morning announcing that the procedure results were in. The email also listed the results…and I couldn’t decipher them.

I did what anyone with a difficult medical history would do—I panicked. I cried. Yes, I have been a patient, in various capacities, since I was 23 years old. Although my sojourn through cancer and transplant-land has been long, it does not mean that I can speak the language of the medical field. Overwhelmed, I kept scrolling through the procedure results, desperately trying to translate them.

Finally, I worked up the nerve to call the doctor’s office.

No one picked up. I had to leave a message.

Surprisingly, while all of this was unfolding, something wonderful happened. I realized that I did have an answer to my friend’s question. As found in the New International Version of the Holy Bible: “For he will command his angels concerning you…” Psalm 91:11a.

Alderaan July 2018

I was spiraling in a panic attack, but I kept repeating the verse over and over again. Soon, there was nothing else in my mind. The Bible verse was in my blood, in my lungs. It was the ocher buoy keeping me afloat in a sea of anxiety.

When I finally received a call back from the doctor’s office, I was collected enough to hear the words, “very good results”.

And, then, I started crying again—big, grateful tears.

Fortunately, I don’t have a secondary cancer. I will have to be monitored for any changes, of course, but in this present moment, I have time to rest and heal. I also now have words to comfort me when old fears rise.

pink wildflowers

Please continue to send prayers, light and love, Dear Readers. They are both needed and very much appreciated. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With Love,

Laura

 

There’s a Wallace in my Suitcase

In February and March of this year, I blogged about losing Wallace. His death was one of the lowest moments of my life—but you, Dear Readers, rescued me with both love and guidance. Many of you alluded to your own wounds and how God has provided for you. It is with these comments in mind, that I have tried to grow in my own faith.

I am excited to say that it’s working.

The first time I had cancer, I couldn’t go to church because I was often neutropenic. My immune system wasn’t functioning due to the chemotherapies I had to take. Any Sunday that I was actually home from treatment (in 2010, I practically lived at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in Burlington, VT), my dad and I would watch a religious television program together. He’d make me scrambled eggs for breakfast and I’d drown them in my mom’s delicious, canned, chili sauce. The memories I have of watching that program with my father are some of the happiest moments of my life.

Fast forward to today: I still can’t go to church because of my immune system, or rather, the lack thereof. In response—and after reading all of the advice that you gave to me—I trolled the interwebs and found the television program that my dad and I used to watch together. Episodes are posted on the ministry’s website and, best of all, they’re free to view. I started watching the sermons regularly. And, while I miss going to church, I feel as though I am starting to heal spiritually.

I think this practice of “going to church”—while sitting on the couch every Sunday—gave me the fortitude I needed to pack Wallace in my suitcase.

wally in my suitcase 2.0

This last week, I decided it was time to go through my closet once more. Even though I had removed quite a bit of clothing items, my closet was still full. Not all of my clothes were going to fit in my suitcase—so I decided to pare my wardrobe down again—especially since I planned on packing Wallace in there.

I know that sounds strange, but I think nestled between my clothes is the safest place for his box of ashes. This is not how I wanted to introduce Wally to his new home. This is not what I imagined this move to look like. But this is what it is: my beloved cat, in a wooden box, inside of my suitcase.

He’s been gone for two months now…and the wound is still raw.

I believe, though, that watching the televised sermons has had a positive impact on my outlook. My memory is not what it used to be—scarring on your brain from cranial edema will do that to you—and, so, I call it a “miracle” that I can remember the following memories at all. While surrounding Wallace’s box of ashes with my clothes, I began to remember how, whenever I used to pack my duffle bag to go somewhere, he would try to climb into it. He was such a big cat; it still amazes me that he could actually squeeze himself into my bag. My memories of opening my duffle bag and finding Wallace inside, lying on top of my clothes, made me smile. I can still remember how he used to look at me in those moments; it was as if he was saying, “bring me, too, Mom”.

So, in the next few weeks, I will be granting him that wish. I will be bringing him with me.

As always, thank you Dear Readers, for continuing to follow my journey through cancer treatment and now transplant recovery. Please continue to send light and good thoughts. I can’t begin to describe how much it means to me. Thank you.

 

With Love,

Laura

A Television Fanatic

Alderaan and his chair

Caption: Photo courtesy Mat Perras.

 

It turns out that there’s a side to Alderaan that we didn’t know existed. While enjoying his extended stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s, he’s taken up TV-watching.

He likes nature programs—especially if they feature birds. Reportedly, Aldie was watching one such show, and ran up to the TV to swat a bird. He lived on a farm before he was rescued and adopted…guess he still has the instincts of a hunter/survivalist….

 

aldie waking up

Caption: Photo Courtesy of Mat Perras

Then, later this past week, Alderaan discovered a program on the evolution of cats. There was no swatting the television this time. Instead, he just watched the show, super interested, as the screen showed domestic cats his size and, then, his much larger brethren (lions, tigers, panthers).

There are days when I feel as though I have missed so much—too much—of Aldie’s development from the equivalent of a teenaged cat to a middle-aged feline. But, then, I hear anecdotes about his interest in TV and it makes me smile.

I can’t wait to have our little pal back <3.

 

Please, Dear Readers, continue to send light and love.

 

With Love,

Laura

Love as a Purpose

vday-flowers-4-1708

First and foremost, Dear Readers, I would like to thank you for responding to last week’s post. Your condolences are appreciated. Your words of advice and encouragement to keep writing buoyed my spirits. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

After reading through the various comments, however, I began to notice some patterns—especially when discussing how to find one’s life purpose. God was mentioned quite a bit. As was love.

I don’t believe that these are two separate answers. I was raised in a Christian household. As such, one of the first things I learned was that “God is Love” …as is written in the first book of John. I’m not sure when or how I forgot that, but I needed all of you to remind me of it.

Loving self, loving others, love as life’s purpose—it requires work. When energy is a problem, I think that that type of love might be one of the first things to be kicked out. It’s probably one of the last things to be let back in, too.

To be clear, over this past year, I never stopped loving my fiancé, our respective families, or our friends. I never stopped loving my boys (Wally and Aldie). But, during my first cancer experience, I did stop loving myself. I was 23 years old and I absolutely hated God. Why was He allowing cancer to happen to me? Why was I suddenly living the life of Job? Fortunately, by the time I relapsed last year (2017), that anger had cooled. My faith had grown just enough to allow me to lean on God again—to ask for prayers and to believe that they would be heard.

Now, I am well-aware that there are other viewpoints, other belief systems out there. If you think what I’m posting today is a bunch of bull, that’s okay. You’re entitled to your opinions just as I am entitled to mine. I do not mean to offend anyone with this post. But, to tell the truth, I really like this idea of love being my purpose here on Earth.

I like the idea of taking care of others—for instance, cleaning out my closet and donating gently used clothes to those in need. I enjoy writing articles, pro bono, for non-profit organizations. Some of you mentioned that the hole Wally left in my heart won’t close up until I find another animal to love. Thankfully, I still have Wally’s little brother, Alderaan. Once we’re given the “okay” from my doctors to live in the same house again, I am sure his presence will help mend my broken heart. If it doesn’t, well, I guess I’ll just have to adopt a dog and give it a warm and loving home (Alderaan is a daddy’s boy after all. See evidence below).

There is peace, for me, in this mission to love—and I am so grateful, Dear Readers, that you brought it up.

Please continue to send light and love, Dear Readers. The road to recovery is still 7+ months long.

 

With Love,

Laura