Dear Santa – Our Star Wars Stockings are Up…

SW Stockings

I’m so excited about this Christmas season! I hope you are feeling the magic of the holidays, too, Dear Readers.

Our decorations are dispersed throughout the house, so that nearly every room has something “merry and bright” in it. I enjoy decorating—even if it accentuates the fact that our house is quite dusty. I guess that happens when you have three fur-babies running around….

The babes and I are easily infatuated by Christmas lights and cute, corny Christmas movies.

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Oh! And Christmas carols! Berkley, is by far, the most appreciative of my singing. He’ll stop what he’s doing, and look up at me like this:

love at Christmas time

This year, Christmas is extra special, as my husband and I will be going to Christmas Eve service with my parents and my brother. There is nothing quite as beautiful as singing “Silent Night”, while the entire congregation holds flickering candles.

I have missed Advent, again—which means I have missed poignant readings from the Bible, inspiring sermons, and some of my favorite seasonal songs such as, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. I have, however, been reading the Gospel of Luke each morning. I started this practice on December 1st.

There are 24 chapters in Luke and, as you know, Christmas Eve is the 24th day of December. I can’t take credit for this idea; a Facebook friend shared it. I loved the idea so much, that I knew that I had to do it! It’s been a great reminder of what—exactly—we’re celebrating each Christmas.

cross & manger

Reading through Luke, day by day, reminds me of  Jars of Clay’s Christmas song, “Bethlehem Town”. At one point, the song says, “and did the stars shine much brighter that night, you gave birth to the death that would bring us to life”. It’s such a thought-provoking and powerful statement. We need to remember—always—that although Christmas arrives and passes quickly, the gift that we were given in Jesus, so long ago, is always available. Every moment, of every single day.

To that end, I do hope that each of you are enjoying the holiday season. Be wary of the rush. Try to stay grounded in the moment. Spend time with friends and family. Laugh. Frost some cookies. Watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and sing “Frosty the Snowman” at the top of your lungs! Enjoy this season while it’s here.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for all of your prayers, love and light. You have carried me through so much! You are, Dear Readers, a gift to me.

Merry Christmas!

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Greetings & Gratitude

Dear Readers,

I am writing this post on the very last day of November! How did we get here? I feel as though I might have whiplash from how fast this month has flown by. The past thirty days have been a blur—save for the beautiful moments that I was blessed with experiencing.

We spent Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. It was a relaxed (and may I say tasty?) holiday. It was raining when we arrived on Wednesday the 27th and the wind picked up at night. The wind was so harsh, in fact, that it reminded me of the ocean’s waves scouring the shoreline.

Luna and Berkley came with us. We discovered that Berkley is really great with kids—even allowing our youngest niece to lay her head on him for a prolonged length of time. The pair cuddled happily on the couch while Luna appropriated her grandmother’s recliner:

Thanksgiving Luna

Of course, all of this did not go unnoticed by their magnificent uncle, Sherlock:

Sherlock

Sherlock is a large, gorgeous boy, and he keeps an eye on everything—especially his canine relatives.

In addition to the great company and delicious food on Thanksgiving Day, I was introduced to “Diamond Dotz”. I’ve been searching for a relaxing, creative outlet—and, thanks to my mother-in-law, I now have one!

diamond art

“Diamond Dotz” is similar to paint-by-number crafts, but instead of paint, the artist uses tiny dots included in a kit. The dots stick to an adhesive fabric design with the use of specialized tools and wax. The craft requires patience and forethought, but the results are stunning!

I also enjoyed coloring with our youngest niece. I’ve never colored with gel pens before, but I think we both enjoyed creating bright (and glittery) art. Later in the afternoon, I played UNO (for the first time…I think it was the first time anyways) with that same niece and her brother. Let me tell you, they were stiff competition!

Finally, what is Thanksgiving without a football game? As Buffalo Bills fans, this year’s game was rather uplifting. It’s nice to see the underdog take home a win.

If this month—or, more accurately, the moments I remember of it—has taught me anything, it’s to live fully in the present moment. Cherish the time spent with the people you love. For instance, earlier in November, I had an opportunity to visit my mom at a craft sale where she was selling her beautiful, deco-mesh wreaths. Our time together means so much to me.

Cherishing every moment, to me, also means capturing quiet, but dazzling scenes like this one:

 

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Remember these experiences—as well as the look on your feline’s face as you write a blog entry—instead of cuddling with him.

Aldie on desk

Once again, Dear Readers, thank you for your presence here today. Thank you for all of the prayers, love and light that you send my way. It leaves me speechless. I hope that you each experience many wonderful moments as the holiday season enfolds!

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

 

It Started With Wind

candy jar pumpkin

Currently, Dear Readers, the solar mobile that I love (and you’ve seen in multiple blog posts), is hanging from our mantle. We brought it inside, just before last Thursday’s fierce wind and rain. What a storm!

As the wind shook the cedars, I couldn’t help but think, “these are the winds of change”. The few deciduous trees that we have on our property are now bare-limbed. There are citrine-colored leaves blanketing the backyard.

What has changed?

A lot, actually.

First, on October 8th, I had an appointment in Burlington. This appointment focused primarily on the fact that I am post-menopausal.

Not pre-menopausal.

Not menopausal.

Post-menopausal.

There are, of course, consequences for being simultaneously my age and post-menopausal. The most significant is bone density loss. While hormone replacement therapy can help, I have to be an active participant in maintaining my bone health. Weight-bearing exercises are crucial to supporting our bones, and, as such, the specialist that I saw recommended that I try walking, running and/or dancing.

Well, walking is a bit impossible when you live on a busy road that doesn’t have sidewalks or much in the way of shoulders. Running? Ha! I haven’t been able to run since Cancer Number One in 2010. Dancing? Although I would love to return to the English Country Dancing club, I’m still quite wary of being so close to strangers. Germs, you know?

I’m not, however, interested in experiencing bone density loss—so I found a virtually free solution—I became a mall walker!

The mall unlocks its main entrances at approximately 6am. I remember, from my days as an assistant manager, seeing a steady stream of mall walkers pass by the store’s gated door in the mornings. I never thought that I would become one, but this past Friday, at about 7:50am, I did! I put my leg braces on and drove over to the mall. I walked its entire floor plan twice, varying my speed in order to challenge my cardiovascular system. I know two laps around the mall doesn’t sound like much—but everyone has to start somewhere.

leg braces

Now, for Boston. I’m fully vaccinated! It went something like this: 15 vials of blood drawn, a great appointment with a member of my transplant team, followed by my two-year old shots. These were live virus vaccines—the first that I had had post-transplant.

We returned home after 11pm. I took my hoodie off and discovered that my left arm was swollen. It was so swollen, in fact, that it looked like it belonged to someone else. I spent the next day nauseous and in pain. I would rate that nausea as being on par with nausea caused by chemotherapy.

It took three days for my arm to “deflate”.

When I recovered, I celebrated by decorating for Autumn/Halloween:

I’m not short, per se, but there are things that I can’t reach from the floor. This, Dear Readers, is the exact moment that having a tall husband comes in handy.

Halloween garland

The fur babies had varied reactions to the change in décor. Every once in a while, you can catch Luna looking up at this guy, confused:

hanging pumpkin

It happens to me, too. I’m not accustomed to seeing a “pop of color” in my kitchen. Nor am I accustomed to seeing these “just because” beauties:

Every time I see these flowers, it’s like discovering a new and wonderful surprise. It makes me smile, from ear-to-ear.

So, what do you do after “the winds of change” have stopped shaking the cedars? Do you rake up the fallen leaves? Mourn the trees’ bare limbs? Or, do you dig through the “junk” drawer for a new battery, put it in the mobile, and ask your tall husband to hang it back up on the porch—all so it can illuminate the night as it once did?

mobile at night

I think you know which option I have chosen.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Thank you for your prayers, warm wishes, and light. I’m two-years-old and fully vaccinated now—and that wouldn’t have happened without your kindness, your positive energy, and all of the times that you bent God’s ear, talking about me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Not Humpty Dumpty

LP Iris and maple

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about my oncology follow-up appointment. It was at this visit that my oncologist said, “We did terrible things to you, and now it’s time to put Laura back together again.”. This declaration still resonates with me, still gives me hope that I can live a healthy, fulfilling, well-rounded life. It makes me believe that all of my broken pieces can be reassembled.

I equated myself to Humpty Dumpty in that blog post…and I shouldn’t have. Nursery Rhymes, Fairy Tales, they all have a melancholy, darker (usually forgotten) side to them.

According to Project Gutenberg (which shares literature that is out of copyright and now considered public domain!), the nursery rhyme featuring Humpty Dumpty goes something like this:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the King’s horses

And all the King’s men

Cannot put Humpty together again.

The rhyme appears exactly as it did in childhood. The real surprise is that the rhyme is attached to a story, and appears at the end of that narrative.

In L. Frank Baum’s rendition of Mother Goose in Prose (illustrated by Maxfield Parrish), Humpty Dumpty is one of the twelve eggs laid by the cunning, Speckled Hen. To summarize/paraphrase, Mama Hen leaves the nest to grab a bite to eat, and, during her absence, her wily eggs begin to kick each other for more room. Humpty is, by far, the largest egg in the nest and he’s balancing on the edge of it. Thus, when his siblings start misbehaving, he’s pushed completely out of the nest. Fortunately, for Humpty, there’s a haystack below the nest.  He rolls down it, settling on the barn floor (in one-piece).

Humpty, on the barn floor, can see the world beyond the barn’s doors. It’s beautiful!

English Roseum New Growth

He wants to see it, so he saunters (my word, not Baum’s) across the barn floor. He meets another egg—from the Black Bantam’s nest—and they set off to explore the world together. Eventually, they arrive at a large, stone wall. They can’t climb the wall, but they find a hole to squeeze through.

garden door

On the other side of the wall, is the King’s castle, lush gardens, and a pond. The eggs want to visit the birds swimming in the pond, but they cross the road at an inopportune time. As they start walking across the road, the King and his men come riding through. Humpty is able to avoid injury, but his friend is slower, and is crushed by a horse. He sits by the roadside, mourning her death.

The princess finds Humpty and gives him a tour of the gardens and the majestic palace.

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When her father and his men return home, the princess takes Humpty to the top of the gates to watch the entourage’s arrival. Humpty, sitting in a groove in the stone wall, forgets where he is, leans forward to see more, and plummets to his death.

pink flowers

Back in the palace, the King is surrounded by his men—many of whom want to ask for the princess’s hand in marriage. The King senses that he’ll make enemies if he chooses a suitor, so he declares that the princess will only marry the man that can stump him with a riddle. Every man fails—except for the last one. The princess, when no one is paying attention, gives this young man the riddle of Humpty Dumpty. The king cannot guess who or what Humpty was, and so the princess and the young man are married. It’s a happy marriage, as the pair are already in love.

Baun’s tale concludes, “And thus did Humpty Dumpty, even in death, repay the kindness of the fair girl who had shown him such sights as an egg seldom sees.”.

pink flowers 1.0

So, Dear Readers, comparing myself to Humpty Dumpty, was a wildly, inaccurate analogy.

First, I am not a runaway egg.

Second, I did not fall off of a wall.

Third, I do not need all of the King’s horses and men to put me back together again.

I need God. Doctors. Counselors. My husband and our fur babies. Family. Friends. Healing is multifaceted, because we are complex creatures. Sure, you can extricate the cancer and stitch up the wounds—but it won’t heal the spiritual being, the emotional being.

And, that, restoring one’s soul and self-worth, might just be the hardest part of recovery.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your presence here today. Please continue to send prayers, light and love. I am on the upswing—which is a relief—but there is still work to be finished and goals to be accomplished. Yes, it is a new chapter, but, as any reader or writer can tell you, every chapter has its own charms, problems, and plot twists. I’m hoping for only good things.

 

With Love & Gratitude,

Laura

Cocoon

butterfly necklace

I remember, vaguely, that in our third-grade class we had several butterfly cocoons in an old, otherwise empty, aquarium. We studied each cocoon/chrysalis, waiting for a butterfly to emerge. I can’t remember if any of the cocoons actually produced a Monarch butterfly…and, if it did, I have no recollection of what we did with it…but I still get excited thinking about a creature of pure beauty busting out of its protective covering.

I feel that my own cocoon is slowly breaking open.

Now, let’s set the record straight here: I am not suggesting that I am, like a butterfly, a “creature of pure beauty”. I have dark moods and acne just like everybody else. I am, after all, a human being.

Yet, like a butterfly, I have been developing–growing–inside the safety of a cocoon.

My cocoon, however, is not made of protein or silk. It consists of medications and a survival-mode mentality. It is insulated with procedure masks and latex gloves.

More importantly, though, there have been days wherein I can see the light at the end of this life stage.

I’ll be in Burlington, VT at the end of February for some “just-in-case” MRI’s of my head and lumbar spine. My next appointment in Boston is six weeks away (the longest gap in appointments that I’ve had to date)! I am slowly being weaned off of my anti-rejection drug. I am warily turning my eyes to the future and how I might live, happily, in it.

Please, Dear Readers, keep the love, light and prayers coming. My wings haven’t fully developed yet—and there is still over half a year to go before I can venture outside without a mask—but it’s coming. And, with your help and good thoughts, I’ll be ready for it.

 

With Love,

Laura

Chomping on the Bit

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Dear Readers,

I have been an inpatient on the cancer floor for over 3 weeks now.

I’m not sure where the time has gone…or, really, how I’ve spent it. I’m at a loss for what I’ve been doing or how I’ve been surviving this. Time seems to move both slowly and quickly here, measured not so much by the date on the calendar but by blood counts and chemotherapy drugs. It’s measured in new hardware—a chest power port and the Ommaya Reservoir in my head—and the fact that I can now strap on my own leg brace without assistance. It’s marked by meals that are starting to taste like metal. It’s spent coloring and reading three pages at a time (because the Ommaya still gives me bouts of motion sickness).

I look out the window a lot.

There’s an office across the courtyard and at this time of day, when the security lights are on but before the sun rises, I can see inside of it. There’s artwork on the wall and a vase of giant red flowers. I think I can make out the corner of a well-stocked bookshelf. It’s the sort of place that’s perfect for writing, for quiet contemplation.

Contemplation is something that I have been avoiding recently. True, being ill might be the perfect time to take stock of one’s life, reassess goals, make bright and happy plans for the future—but those hopeful thoughts have shadows.

What if the treatment stops working?

What if I never get to go home?

What if this is what the rest of my life looks like—tubes hanging out of my chest, 6 am blood draws, massive doses of steroids?

I want to live. I want to see what life is like on the other side of this…but, if I am being honest, I still don’t have the strength to endure this treatment. There are days when I think that I might have the resolve to do it—that there’s some steel left in my soul—but then there are mornings like this morning, and I know I am drained. There’s barely enough fight left in me to take a sponge bath or choke down a carton of milk. I know I still need you, Dear Readers, spoon-feeding me encouragement and strength. Prayers work. Good vibes mean something here; they permeate the hospital walls, they chase gloomy thoughts to the far corners of the room, they make the minutes pass a bit more gently. And I wouldn’t be here without them.

Without you, I wouldn’t be making progress.

The week ahead may look different for me. There’s chemo involved, of course—and heaping helpings of steroids still—but there is a small chance, Dear Readers, that the next step in the process has arrived. I may be discharged from the hospital as early as this afternoon (if treatment goes smoothly and if we can be exceptionally persuasive).

Am I excited? I am so very excited at this small measure of freedom! I will be free to leave the confines of the hospital, returning to the outpatient cancer clinic at least three times a week for both the heavy-hitting chemotherapies and injections into my Ommaya Reservoir (because, although the tumor is shrinking, it’s still there, circulating cancer blasts in my central nervous system). I will reside at the wonderful Hope Lodge—a move that will allow me to share the same room with my significant other, to have some comfort even though I am far, far away from our apartment, from Wallace the Wonderful, and from Alderaan.

Please pray that this change happens, Dear Readers. I will miss my inpatient care team, but in many ways, since this possibility was first mentioned, I feel as though I have become more and more horse-like, chomping on my bit. It’s as if the windows that don’t open now have drafts and I can smell the promise of spring. I need more of it. Please continue to send well-wishes. Please keep us in your thoughts.

You are carrying us through this process—one step at a time.

 

With Love, Laura

Blue Skies

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The sky, as seen from my hospital room window, is a beautiful blue today—the kind of blue that reminds me of summer evenings spent wading through dew-soaked grass in search of moths. It’s the same shade that occupies so much of my partner’s eyes. It’s the type of blue that whispers of happiness, of hope.

Today was better, Dear Readers. It consisted of a heaping helping of steroids, multiple doctors’ visits, and long-talks with social workers. My hours were spent making motivational art to hang in my room, talking with my mom, and laughing with a dear friend. I needed a day like today…and I am so, so grateful that I had it.

But, you’re seeing this blog tonight because I won’t be able to do my usual Monday post tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will be in Interventional Radiology, receiving yet another cervical injection of chemotherapy. Then, after that injection, I will receive still more chemotherapy—also injections, but to my legs.

Am I scared? Yes. I am frightened all the way to my cancer-filled marrow. Cervical injections are risky, painful—in fact, I would rank them as being more painful than even bone marrow biopsies—but this is a necessary evil. This evil is going to save me.

It amazes me, in my more detached moments, that pain can heal. That it can burn away disease. That out of these ashes, something whole and healthy and capable of thriving underneath brilliant, blue skies can emerge.

If you have a moment this Monday, Dear Readers, please spare a kind thought for me. Send blue skies. Send healing prayers. Send strength.

 

With Love, Laura

Relapse

 

Dear Readers,

It’s back.

The leukemia is back. It’s in my spinal cord, but localized in one spot. The news was revealed not by surgery as expected, but, instead, by a lumbar puncture (thankfully performed by Interventional Radiology) and a 3-hour long MRI. Tomorrow, I will have an echocardiogram, a power port implanted, a bone marrow biopsy, and my first dose of chemotherapy.

My doctors have never seen Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) manifest like this. They’re consulting bigger hospitals to discern just how to treat me. At the end of the day, though, the goal is to eradicate the leukemia cells and then have a bone marrow transplant.

I need prayers, Dear Readers.

I need love and light and healing vibes. I am relying on others—on you—to be my strength in those moments that I have none. This fight will be a long one. This fight is going to require guts and stubbornness. It’s a battle that I will need your help with. I will need your encouragement. Your words of kindness, of hope, of love.

I know some of the landmarks of this path, but in many ways, it is completely new journey to me. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t hovering on the edge of being okay and complete hysteria.

BUT I plan on walking this path with grace.

I plan on cultivating gratitude and positive attitude as I go.

I fully intend to make the most of my time here, treating every day as the precious gift that it is. Even tomorrow, when I wake up in pain from the procedures, I will find something good to cling to. I will see the blessings in the day, even when my eyes are tear-filled.

Please, Dear Readers, keep my family and I in your prayers. Keep the good thoughts coming and I promise to do the same. This blog will continue to be a place of hope, of gratitude, of healing.

This will be the space that, every week (maybe not always on Mondays), where we can continue to meet.

 

With Love,

Laura