Sunday, February 27, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today I turned 32!  Wow...  and what a fun birthday it was!  Blessings upon blessings...I am a much spoiled girl!  Breakfast with friends, fun painting pottery, a delicious dinner with family, and my Oma's famous birthday cake recipe, which my Mom has perfected (3 layer with this amazingly rich mocha icing...YUM!!).  Spoiled, spoiled...and very full!  (Afterall, most of what I did today was EAT!)

I may be 32, but never too old to sit on Mom's lap!!

Isn't that a great bag from Sherri...I can't wait to use it!

And my birthday cake all lit up...there were 8 candles.  I think Mom got confused and thought I was a leap year baby...  good thing...  I had a hard enough time blowing out 8, much less 32!  :)

Unfortunately, the cake suffered from a bit of an earthquake!  But it was still such a beautiful cake...and did I mention scrumptuously yummy too?!
I'm already looking forward to a slice for breakfast...
I'll be having sweet dreams tonight!  xxxxxx

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Faith [fayth] n.

1.  A strong belief.  2.  Loyalty, belief and complete trust in God's will.  3.  Devotion.  4.  The acceptance of what we cannot see but feel deep within our hearts.

I received this frame as a Christmas present this year and immediately knew that I could not just fill it with snapshots...random pictures that I would want to change every year or so when they became outdated.  No, I knew that this frame was special, and that the pictures in it would need to tell a special story.  And for me, one of the most powerful expressions of my faith journey has been that of living through the last four years of this uncertain adventure called Hodgkin's.  The story that needed to be conveyed in this Faith frame had to be one that reminded me of God's promises to me, the fulfillment of those promises, and how He carried me through it.  And so I chose four pictures, from four significant milestones, with four significant people who walked my faith journey with me.

The picture on top is the most recent, taken with my mom this past Christmas.  Now that my stem cell transplant has been completed, and I am in the follow-up phase of that, it is my mom who weekly (and sometimes semi-weekly) drives me to Hillman Cancer Center for my check-ups and bloodwork.

The bottom picture is from 2009, from my Europe back-packing trip.  Here, Sherri and I are standing on the Zugspitze, the highest peak in the Alps in Germany.  This is where I looked out over the railing to a view that was completely obscured in clouds.  I prayed a little prayer, asking God to show me the view...and the clouds parted to reveal an incredible blue lake far below.  I stood there, enjoying the view and listening to "You Raise Me Up" on a friend's ipod, while it seemed that noone else around me even noticed the parting of the clouds.  It was just a special time with God and me.  And, when the song ended, the clouds rolled back in.  The entire trip was really such a journey of faith for me...

The picture on the right is next, from 2008.  This is just before I went into the hospital for my Auto Stem Cell Transplant, and that is my sister Erika kissing my bald head.  :)

And the picture on the left is from nearly the beginning, 2007.  I was losing my hair from the chemo and decided to throw a "buzz-cut party" with my friends.  It was great fun!  Everyone took their turn with the clippers, and in the process of buzzing my hair gave me some pretty interesting hair styles!  Peggy, who is in the picture with me, has been such a wonderful friend and support through this journey.  She also is the one who gave me the neon pink wig!  (And this frame too!)

And there it is, all put together...

...and hanging on the wall!  Doesn't it look great hanging there.  I love the combination of the blue frame and the green wall.  I already had the metal "faith" word sitting on the windowsill of my window seat, so I think the two go well together.  And speaking of the windowseat, I just love the fabric on the cushion!  It's so bright and colorful and happy!  The blue fabric on the edge actually matches the frame nearly perfectly... yay for unplanned coordination!  I made the cushion this past spring - my first experiment with cushion making.  I still have yet to finish covers for all the pillows, but I'll get there, eventually!  :)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Valentine's Bliss

Last week I was blissfully engaged in creating crafty, colorful, love-filled joy to spread around...and I wanted to share it with you, since sadly, Valentine's day is behind us now.  (But at least I have my birthday to look forward to!!!)

The kitchen table was covered in colored paper galore, bits of scraps, markers and pens while my best friend / roommate, Sherri and I handcrafted cards for our friends.  For Sherri, I strung shapes together and hung them from the ceiling fan in her bedroom for a festive Valentine's inspired mobile!  I also scattered red swedish fish all over her bed.  :)

Now, I received some fun Vday surprises too!  Yummy and beautiful heart-shaped cookies from Pam.  Chocolates and other such treats from Mom.  And these fun flowers from Peggy.  What makes these flowers so special is that they are solar powered, and when the sun hits them, the flowers happily wave back and forth while the leaves bob up and down.  It's quite a cheerful little show that they put on, and they make me smile.  :)

The red one is Sherri's and it lives in the living room, and the pink one is (of course) mine and it lives at the window above the kitchen sink so that I can enjoy it while doing the dishes...which I need to be doing.  :(

And finally, the Valentine's treats shared between my friends at the Stem Cell Clinic and me.

Happy Friday my friends!  Have a wonderful, colorful weekend!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day = PINK!

I'm always looking for a reason to wear pink...afterall, it's my favorite - my signature - color!  And what better occassion to sport that happy color than on Valentine's Day.  Since the 14th just so happened to be on one of my days to visit the Stem Cell Clinic, I thought it would be a great excuse to sport not just pink, but the hot pink wig given to me by my hair-stylist friend Peggy waaaayyyy long ago when I first started chemo in 2007.  Even though I have about a half inch of hair growth now, I thought the wig would be the perfect antidote to the mid-winter blahs!

And it was a huge  H I T !    Now, I don't wear it often, because I don't like to attract such attention to myself.  But every once in a while, when I am feeling bold and brave, I will go pink.  Just walking into clinic, past the waiting rooms and other nurses, elicited quite the reactions!  What fun!

The nurse assistant Sandy and physician's assistant Zylphia were the first to see me.  From what I understand it had already been a crazy busy morning when I walked in at 8:30, and it was fun to watch them crack up and see the mood lighten a bit!

My nurse Linda, a cancer survivor herself, saw me next.  Her reaction was priceless..."pure sex" is what she called it!  She couldn't stop laughing about it and was excitedly anticipating my oncologist's reaction.  She always tells me that I'm his favorite patient, and knew that he would just love the wig.

When my doctor did come in for his rounds, everyone gathered around to catch his reaction.  It was great!  He laughed and laughed, and told me that it was a good omen because another patient of his was given a pink wig (not as neon of one, he was quick to add) and ever since she began wearing it she has been in remission.  That's wonderful, but for me the wig will get safely tucked back into it's storage spot until the next great occassion!  I already have my healing...

I also gave Dr. Agha a little Valentine's button to wear on his jacket lapel.  I told him he has to wear it all day today, and I think he was quite happy to do so!  I actually regifted it, as I just got it yesterday attached to the most beautifully decorated heart shaped sugar cookie from my lovely friend Pam.  Ohhh and it was so yummy too!  (The cookie, not the button!)  It didn't last till Valentine's day...not even close!  :)  Anyway, the button has a frog leaping over a bicycle and it says "I flip 4 you".  It is very, very cute!  I hated to give it up, but being that Dr. Agha is an avid bicyclist, I knew it was perfect and thought it would be more fun to make him wear it.  And it matched his tie too!

I got blessed by the Stem Cell folks too.  They had a little chinese take-out box decorated with candy hearts and full of sweet treats for each of the patients.  Sugar and chocolate always make me happy!  I had little surprises for each of them too...Valentine's inspired magnetic photo frames for the fridge, which I tied up in pink ribbon with pink nametags for each of the ladies.  Yay for spreading the love!

So, HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY to you!  Spread the love, because LOVE is the greatest afterall!!!  (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A little color...

The gray days of early February in Pennsylvania have me on the search for a little extra color.  So I looked back through my pictures, through folders of vacations and photo safaris, and found a few bright and cheerful ones.  I decided to make a collage of them...all blues and oranges...which makes me envision blue skies and bright sunshine.  Ahhh...  it makes me smile! you see the time?  Yes, it's accurate (and unfortunate)!  I've been having so much trouble sleeping lately.  I'm up most of the night and then a zombie during the day.  Ugh!  Hoping to fall asleep soon!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Learning to Leap

This is an essay that I submitted to "Real Simple" magazine last fall for their Life Lessons Essay Contest.  I waited to post this, as the judging only took place in January.  But, seeing that I didn't win, I thought I'd put it here for all to read.  Enjoy...   :)

“Make sure you jump far out, away from the rocks,” my German guide Lukie shouted over the roar of the waterfall. I trembled inside, my legs wobbling, and wondered if I could jump at all, but I smiled at Lukie, closed my eyes, and pushed off with all my might from the small ledge in the boulder. Seconds later, I plunged into a deep, swirling pool of frigid glacial-melt water thirty feet below.

I was never one to leap. I was practical, responsible, careful – a planner, a list-maker. I was the kind of person who made lists about the lists I needed to make. In college, my architecture curriculum included the opportunity to study in Florence, Italy, during the Spring semester of third year. At the time, I was strapped for cash and involved in a serious relationship with a guy at home. My school loans were already sizable, and I simply couldn’t envision the value that the study abroad program offered. Not wanting to add to my debt or leave my boyfriend behind – or to experience change of any kind – I decided to stay behind in the familiarity of snowy Ohio while my classmates gathered their passports and boarded a plane. Many evenings that following summer, I came home after work, opened the mailbox and greeted postcards of Big Ben, the Spanish Steps in Rome, or the blue waters of the Mediterranean from friends who remained in Europe for the summer backpacking. Swallowing my envy, I felt at that point that I had forever missed my opportunity.

By the age of thirty, I had passed my professional exams to become a registered architect and was well established in a stable job at a large architecture firm. I methodically saved a portion of each paycheck, sacrificing while others spent. Within five years, I had actually saved up a down payment for a modest starter home. Just as I had done all my life, I was doing the sensible, responsible thing. I was becoming independent. I was establishing equity. And then, I drastically changed direction.

A month earlier in May of 2009, my best friend Sherri and I daydreamed about all of the goals we wanted to achieve in life. We both dreamed of backpacking through Europe, traveling by train, staying in hostels, and going wherever a whim might take us. I also shared that I wanted to travel to Munich, Germany, with my mom and sister to see where my mom lived as a little girl. As Sherri scribbled our list in her journal, I privately wondered, would it ever really be possible for me to steal away from the responsibilities of life to take a trip like that?

A month later, I met with my oncologist to review the results of my most recent PET/CT scan. For the past two years, I had been receiving treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As I sat in the exam room, my doctor looked at me with concern showing in his kind eyes, to tell me that my most recent radiation and chemotherapy treatments weren’t effective. My only remaining option was an Allogenic (donor) Stem Cell Transplant. He told me that I would need to have my bloodwork compared to that of my sister to determine if she could be a match. If not, the hospital would search for a matching donor among the Bone Marrow Registry.

For hours on end, my doctor and his team thoroughly reviewed the overwhelming magnitude of what the transplant would entail. Flinching, I heard the nurse rattle off, “No travel – for years possibly,” because I would have a low immune system and an increased risk for contracting infections. Not hearing her next words, my mind flashed to the list Sherri and I wrote.

“How soon will the transplant take place?” I asked.

“If your sister isn’t a match, it could take six to eight weeks to find and schedule a donor.” Six weeks. The words resounded in my ears.

The surprising calm I felt in my heart shocked me as I knew I was about to do the first radically impulsive thing of my life – to give up the tangible security of a house for the intangible promise of an adventure. If not now, when?

The plan formed quickly over the next few days. I would be going on extended disability leave for the transplant anyway. Surely my office could spare me for six more weeks. Within two weeks, my faithful traveling companion Sherri and I had received the blessing of both of our employers. Our jobs would be held for us, and we were free to go.

The blessings continued to flow in as I shared with family, friends, and coworkers about the Europe trip I was about to take. Their generosity was overwhelming. My sister donated a travel stipend that she had received as a bonus at work, a gift that perfectly covered the cost of two Eurail passes. A benevolent coworker shared his unused frequent flier miles so that I could purchase our roundtrip tickets. Coworkers took up a collection, hosted a casual day, and put on a raffle to raise money for me. On my final day at work, my work family presented me with a generous check and told me that, in addition, many kind coworkers had willingly given their own vacation days to add to my own to cover the entire duration of my six weeks abroad. I could barely speak the words “thank you” through the lump in my throat, stunned at their extreme charity and selflessness.

That night, our brand new, carry-on sized backpacks sat open on my kitchen table as Sherri and I stuffed them with our six changes of clothes and an extra pair of shoes each, travel guides, maps, and an assortment of other gadgetry. Early the next morning, we caught the first of our series of flights to Greece. As the arrangements for our expedition had unfolded rapidly, we only knew that we were landing in Athens, the following day catching a ferry to the island of Santorini, nine days later flying from Athens to Barcelona, 26 days later meeting my family in Paris, and 42 days later flying home from Paris. These dates were the only fixed points in our nearly non-existent itinerary. We had reserved rooms for our first few nights in Athens, Santorini and Barcelona. The rest, we would make up as we went along! With my house savings transferred to my checking account, we skipped excitedly down the boarding ramp to our plane and the start of a life-defining adventure.

With each day, new sights, sounds, places, tastes, feelings, and experiences bombarded me. There was the unforgiving heat of Athens, the breathtaking grandeur of stained glass cathedrals, and the soulful, melancholy sounds of the accordion echoing off the stone buildings and cobble streets in the Bari Gotic. There was the thrill of stepping off the train in Reims and searching for a place to sleep, the hustle of the crowds on the nighttime streets in Venice, and the sticky, sweet taste of chocolate crepes eaten in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. I had never envisioned myself lunging over waterfalls, cliffs, and canyons in Switzerland, or racing off a mountain while air currents carried my parachute high above steep hillsides where sheep grazed. Certainly, I never imagined standing on a peak in the Alps, where I looked out over clouds below me and asked God to show me the view, and then watched the clouds part before my eyes to reveal a brilliantly blue lake far below.

And since we were living the dreams of our list, we were joined in Munich by my mom and sister. I had hoped – but never expected – to witness the unbridled joy on my mom’s face as she explored the familiar rooms of her childhood apartment or to hear the stories she told as we stood in front of her school.

More than any of those unforgettable experiences, though, I never anticipated learning the value of letting go, of simply being, and of not dictating the activities of my day based on responsibility, obligation, or the expectations of others. I was liberated, carefree, and living life fully and abundantly.

On a Friday in late August, Sherri and I flew home. I was to be admitted to the hospital on the following Wednesday, after another PET/CT scan. Tuesday, I met with my doctor before admission to review the results of the scan. He walked into the exam room, grinning. “What did you do in Europe?” he asked. And then, a smile playing in his twinkling blue eyes, I heard him say what I’d never dreamed of hearing: “The tumors are shrinking. You don’t have to come to the hospital tomorrow. Your transplant is cancelled.”