July, 2009

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Hi, I’m Julie and I had leukemia.

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

I know you’re already aware of that, but I just figured I’d remind you.  OK, really, it’s because Laura made fun of me for sharing our story with strangers when we were in Cape Cod for Kristi and Dave’s wedding last weekend.  What?!  It’s an inspiring story, and I thought it would make others happy.  Laura, however, thinks the taxi driver didn’t need to hear about it…and those people who took our picture on the beach, they could have skipped the cancer stuff…tmi as far as Laura was concerned.  But I, on the other hand, was so happy to be on a mini-vacation at the beach with my gift of life that I assumed strangers would be happy for me too!  I think they were, by the way, but it kind of became our joke while we were up there.  “Hi, I’m Julie.  I had leukemia.”, although I didn’t really put it like that.

With the taxi driver, he asked what I did for a living, and when I said I wasn’t working, my darling sister chimed in “she’s a bum!” to which I responded “no, I’m not!  I had leukemia.”  Awkward, sure.  But also uplifting!  I mean, I’m alive, right?

With the couple on the beach, they were asking if there was any special reason for taking a picture of ourselves by a tandem bike in front of the ocean.  Laura said something about sending them to our parents, if I remember correctly, and I elaborated, drawing on the symbolism of a bicycle built for two…a seat for me and my bone marrow donor!  I know, I’m a dork, but I’m a grateful, happy dork.  This weekend was mostly about Kristi and Dave, but it had special meaning for Laura and me.  Last year at this time, I flew to Boston for the day to check out the hospital.  This year, I flew there to celebrate a wedding and enjoy a serenely beautiful part of the northeast.  So, after the treatment, going into remission, rebooting my immune system with Laura’s cells, how could I not see that tandem bicycle as something much more than a spontaneous adventure?

While we’re on the subject of the bike, let me tell you that tandem bikes are NOT as easy as they look.  It seems as though it should be effortless to ride along on a trail because you have four legs pedaling instead of two.  Here’s the reality:  the person in the back might as well be sleeping ’cause they don’t do that much.  The driver, however, must steer, pay attention to speeds, monitor obstacles, operate the brakes and do the bulk of the pedaling.  What the song “Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built for Two)” doesn’t tell you is that when the second person climbs on, your balance is shot!  Then, if they move their handlebars, the driver’s seat moves back and forth as well!

Laura drove first, and I was surprised by her inability to gracefully maneuver the bike through a parking lot (i.e. I feared for my life).  We were giggling and trying to figure out just what we did wrong.  Finally, she got the hang of it and off we went.  We rode four miles on the Shining Sea Bike Path, from Falmouth to Woods Hole, past ocean views and beautiful homes.  We were the only tandem bike on the trail.  We stopped in Woods Hole to buy some souvenirs and walk around.  Then it was my turn.

Laura was not very confident in my ability.  Once, while practicing, Laura chastised me for crashing the bike.  I prefer to describe it as “laying the bike down”.  Hey, no one was hurt.  I would not give up, even though Laura was itching to get back in the front seat.  With some considerable skill and a lot of communication, we made our way back toward Falmouth.  She yelled if I changed gears without informing her, or if I decided to stop without much warning.  We paused for photos (and I told my story), and we made it back safely to the charming town of Falmouth.  Giddy with excitement about our new adventure, we chatted about what I would put on my blog, which pictures were best, what a gorgeous place it was and how we were looking forward to the wedding.

As you can judge from the photos, the weather was absolutely incredible!  Laura and I arrived quite early to the venue (not on purpose…we just didn’t know our way around town, so we gave the cab plenty of time to get us there).  It was on the grounds of an old mansion that was restored a few years ago.  We wandered around, doing a little photo shoot among the colorful flowers and trees, trying to act as though we got there early on purpose…you know, to tour the surroundings.  :)  When other guests arrived, we picked a good aisle seat, grabbed a glass of lemonade and settled in.

It was a beautiful wedding.  There were so many details that made it special, and the atmosphere was formal yet laid-back.  They make a beautiful couple, and it was obvious how excited they both were.  At one point in the ceremony, Kristi seemed to be distracted by something, moving around a bit before announcing that the ceremony had to be paused so her mom and matron of honor could help her get a bug out from under her dress!  :)  It was one of the highlights of the ceremony.  She was so happy and relaxed that she was laughing about a situation that might have made any other bride upset.  She laughed, we laughed, and the service went on.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a cocktail hour with delicious appetizers and some red wine.  Laura and I posed for another photo shoot, as you’ll see below.  The appetizers were spectacular, and Laura and I seemed to be in the perfect position as servers came by offering up various goodies.  Each time, we’d pretend like we had never tried it before, so they wouldn’t realize how much we had eaten.  “Oh!  That looks great!  I think I’ll try one.”, when really we already had two of them.  :)  I’m pretty sure they were on to us.  Oh well!

The other folks at our dinner table were awesome…it was very international.  Friends from Argentina, Australia, Colombia, Ecuador and Puerto Rico dined with us.  Another girl shared some stories of her time in the Peace Corps in Morocco.  Half of us were photography aficionados, and everyone had a wonderful sense of humor.  We talked and laughed from the moment we sat down.  Thank you, Kristi and Dave, for introducing us to so many wonderful people!!

Finally, the moment we had been waiting for…dancing!!!  Woohoooo!!!!  I love it when the bride and groom get out there and show their stuff, and Kristi and Dave surely did!  They danced almost the entire evening.  Seriously, that dance floor was rockin’!!!  Laura and I did our part, of course.  :)  Then came the hula hooping contest.  I hurried up to the DJ to make sure I grabbed an adult-sized hoop ’cause the child ones are way too hard.  I urged fellow hoopers to do the same.  The music began, and hips were a-swayin’.  I don’t know whether alcohol diminished their skills or if too many folks tried their luck at the child-sized hula hoops…perhaps all that practice paid off, but in any case, I won!  Can you believe it?  Yup, you read right…I WON!!  :)  Turns out that Laura didn’t wear the proper dress to hula hoop in.  I, on the other hand, took hula hooping into account when picking out my attire.  When the DJ announced that “the girl in the striped dress” won, I did a little curtsy…hahahaha, I really am a dork.  I couldn’t think of a better way to end the evening if I were writing a Lifetime movie.  :)  Girl gets cancer and adopts the hula hoop as her live-life-to-the-fullest symbol, sister donates bone marrow, girl recovers, sisters travel to Cape Cod to celebrate, girl wins hula hooping contest at wedding.  How perfect is that?

Oh, one more detail I want to share with you.  In lieu of favors, Kristi and Dave donated to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society along with another organization.  I was extremely touched (no, I’m not just assuming they did it because of my experience…she told me they did. :) ).  Kristi and Dave, Laura and I were honored to be there and celebrate your wedding day with you.  Your friends and family are wonderful.  Kristi, I was especially excited to meet your parents…I felt like I already knew them after all this time!  Laura and I were sad to leave the Cape, but I have a feeling we will relive this weekend’s wonderful moments for a long, long time.  As Patti Page sings,

“If you spend an evening, you’ll want to stay

Watching the moonlight on Cape Cod Bay

You’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod”

~”Old Cape Cod”

One more highlight to our trip.  Now, I know that things don’t buy happiness, but sometimes that perfect piece of clothing comes pretty darn close.  You know what I’m talking about…we all have something that makes us smile simply to see it in our closet.  When I was little, they were red shiny shoes.  In high school, it was a t-shirt that I eventually had to patch to keep it decent.  I can’t remember what I loved in college…I’m pretty sure I still had that t-shirt though.  There have been several dresses in my lifetime, one pair of good dancin’ shoes (see photos below), a frilly and fun black sweater, my bright green jacket and now, a black jacket.  I saw it in the window when Laura and I walked by on Sunday, and then again on Monday.  Well, I tried it on and I felt beautiful immediately!  Laura wrapped a turqoise scarf around my neck, and I looked even better (if I do say so myself)!  I can’t wait for some good, cold weather!  Maybe I’ll turn the A/C up in the house just so I can wear it.  :)

Well, I do believe this may be the longest post ever, but I had so much to share with you!!  Before perusing the photos, I highly recommend opening up another window and going to this link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rM2Xa4RUBCk.  Keep it playing as you experience our Cape Cod adventure through the photos!  What a wonderful weekend.  When you get to the bike photos, switch over to this one:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXiWvJhTwfU&feature=related.  Enjoy!!!

Lots of love,


Because I can.

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

My mom leaves me notes wishing me a good day.  When I first wake up in the morning, before doing anything else, I walk to the fridge to read her note.  Some days she doesn’t leave one, and that’s when I know they were in a rush or perhaps I was awake enough to have a bit of a conversation with her when she came in to say goodbye.  When I was little, she wrote notes on the small chalkboard in my room…cute messages or pretty poems.  She would also stick them in my lunch, up through high school, when she packed a huge lunch to give me strength to run all those miles for cross country.  Yes, I’m spoiled.  Although I’m now 31, I still love reading these messages, and I admit, I expect them.  :)  Today she wrote “Have a fun day!  Love, Us”.  I read it twice, and I thought, “she wrote a fun day, not simply a good day”.  Somehow this was different.

As I prepared my yummy FiberPlus cereal with blueberries, I pondered the fact that I don’t have many responsibilities right now in my life.  Each morning when I wake up, I feel excited to start the day, but pressured to make each day worthwhile.  As you know, my to-do list is always long, and come bedtime, I often have to re-evaluate it and promise myself I’ll be more efficient the following day.  I’m pretty sure this happens to everyone, but when you’re not working, you feel as though there’s no excuse for not accomplishing everything.  That’s what I think about when I wake up, everything I should be doing…stuff that most definitely is not fun.

Today though, my mom’s note gave me a pass!  At least, that’s how I took it.  :)  She wrote to have a “fun” day, so I decided not to feel so guilty about reading all the short stories in last week’s “Washington Post Magazine”.  I made myself some coffee, and heck, maybe I’ll even use those cute sugar stirrers she brought me the other week to mix my milk in!  I wonder if I’ll have time to head over to Burke Lake Park with the pups to go for a long walk.  Or maybe I’ll try to delve further into the new book I started. I also need to check out the food section from yesterday’s newspaper.

No matter what, I won’t feel guilty because Mom told me to have fun.  She doesn’t know it yet, but her short message really made my day!  I know I’m a lucky gal because I’ve had all this time off (despite the reasons).  I do fun stuff all the time, but I’m always thinking about what I should be doing.  Not today!  Thanks, Mom.  Can’t wait to see what today holds for me.  But first, let me pour my coffee and start reading “The View from Lake Como”…because I can.

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

“Live in each season as it passes:  breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit.” ~Henry David Thoreau

It seemed the perfect quote to begin this blog, considering the incredibly beautiful July we’re enjoying right now!  I’ve been taking the dogs for walks after dinner, and each night I’m amazed by the beauty of the season:  fireflies lighting up the sky, baby deer grazing in yards and ducking under fence posts, owls hooting in the distance, the smell of grilling food and cut grass wafting through the air.  Other neighbors are out riding horses, walking their dogs, swimming in their pools, chatting with friends.  I’m so thankful that we have four seasons here in Virginia, and each one is distinctive.  I’m not sure whether Thoreau meant this phrase to apply more to the “seasons” in life, such as childhood, young adulthood, middle age, old age, or whether he referred to the seasons themselves, but I’ll pretend that it means both.  :)  In either case, it’s good advice.

I’m enjoying the All-Star Game right now, wishing I were in the stadium eating a hot dog and cheering on the American League.  Well, technically, I’m not that hungry ’cause I was spoiled today, eating out for both lunch and dinner!  It was an all-Italian day…yummy!  But I think the delicious Italian food is one of the reasons I weight twenty more pounds now than I did last year at this time.  Yup, I had my check-up today, and I weigh 141 pounds right now.  We looked through my history and discovered that last July I weighed 121 pounds, although that was a bit underweight for me.  Still, twenty pounds is quite a bit to pack on!!!  :)  I can’t blame the steroids anymore.  It’s time to up the exercise!

My counts are still good; they’re about the same they were last month.  Dr. Orloff had them test my hormone levels at my last visit, and he was quite perplexed to discover that I’m not in early menopause as a result of the amount of chemo I’ve had over the past years….wonderful news!!  It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll be able to have children, but it is a possibility, which gives me great hope.

In other news, I got to hang out with my buddy Jack!!!  It felt so good to hug him (and boy does he give good hugs!).  I look forward to getting to know him again.  Now that he’s almost two, his personality is really starting to shine through.  I love this age!

I also met up with some of my teammates from Team in Training this weekend.  My former coach, Jacque, shaved her head to raise money for members of the walk team.  She raised over $4,000, and gave $250 to 17 participants (they drew names out of a hat).  The really cool thing was that she did it after they trained Saturday AM, and everyone took turns snipping or shaving, so the whole team felt like they were part of it.  A New York Times photographer was on hand to get some shots and interview Jacque.  It turns out that she has a beautifully-shaped head and perfect features to pull off the bald look.  See photos below.  :)  That money will be really helpful to the participants as they work toward their fundraising goals, and ultimately, it will make a difference in the lives of blood cancer patients who benefit from the research and services done by The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Jacque, I look forward to training with you next year!  I think I’ll be ready to do the Nike Women’s Marathon in the fall of 2010.  Anyone interested in joining me?  Just so you know, we (the walk team) have way more fun than the run team!  They’re so serious, but we pair fun and exercise!!

Speaking of fun and exercise, I signed up for a belly dancing class!!  It lasts several weeks, and I can’t wait to give it a go!  I’m sure I’ll have some good stories to share with you once the class starts.

In job/career news, I called Vienna Women’s Center yesterday to talk about meeting with a career coach, however I haven’t heard back from them yet.  I’ll keep you posted.  I also left a message with Catholic Charities regarding a volunteer position that sounded like a lot of fun.  I would volunteer eight Saturdays a year to help Spanish-speakers apply for citizenship.  Any other Spanish-speakers out there interested in joining me?  Paulina?  Paloma?  Henry?  Kristi?  The more I think about a career, the more I realize that I don’t want it to center around what I’ve studied for so many years, Spanish.  I would love to be able to use it at work, but I don’t want to teach it, and I don’t want to spend all my time translating or interpreting.  On one hand, I’m discouraged by the fact that I spent so many years focusing on the Spanish language and culture.  On the other hand, I think about all I learned and how it’s shaped my experiences, and I realize I studied exactly what I wanted to study, whether or not it directly applies to any future job position.  I really hope Vienna Women’s Center can help give me some guidance on how to best move forward in my job search.  I’m very intimidated.  I keep reminding myself of that wonderful quote by Edward Everett Hale:  “I am only one, but I am one.  I cannot do everything, but I can do something, and I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can”.  Plus, I kicked cancer’s butt twice…I can do anything!!

OK, this has been another long one.  Enjoy the pics!!  And don’t forget to savor all the beautiful summer moments.  :)  Here’s one more quote to inspire:

“That beautiful season the Summer!

Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light;

and the landscape

Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.”

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Lots of love


How could I forget?

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Today is my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary!!!!  HAAAAAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!!!  I admire you both, and I look forward to finding the love you found together with some wonderful guy out there waiting for me.  :)  Here’s to 35 more years!!!

Love you lots,


Sunday, July 5th, 2009

I know, you missed me.  I may have been silent on the blog, but I’ve been quite busy!  Where do I begin?  Let’s start with last weekend.  Laura, Tiso, my dad and I decided to head up to Skyline Drive for a night.  Laura and Tiso got a campsite, and my dad and I stayed in the lodge at Big Meadows.  See my photo essay below.  :)   It was absolutely gorgeous up there, and even though it was just for a night, it felt like a mini-vacation.

This week went by quickly, and I took full advantage of it!  Early in the week, I visited with my friend Beth and her family.  They have a new little family member, Jake, and I was quite happy to get to hold him after being banned from babies for a while.  :)  Mostly though I played with Ryan, Beth and Eric’s older son.  We had a wonderful time building stuff and playing with all his toys.  He is such an intelligent, fun little guy, and I can’t wait to hang out again!  Of course, I’m looking forward to seeing you too, Beth and Eric!  :)

Thursday, Laura introduced me to the coolest dog park ever, Shirlington Dog Park (2601 South Arlington Mill Drive).  It’s a long, narrow park adjacent to a nice creek.  There are plenty of mature trees, bowls of water and lots and lots of dogs!  Jameson, Guinness and Indie pretty much stuck together, but enjoyed the occasional butt sniff with other dogs.  Laura walked into the creek with the dogs on their leashes, (unfortunately the creek is not fenced in) but after a while, we decided that Jameson would be OK if she let go.  He was cracking me up because he would walk around with her, and then he’d run to the shore to see me, and run back to her again.  Herding is so much a part of his personality, and he considers it his job to keep track of everyone he’s with.  He even went and rounded up Guinness when Guinny lagged behind a bit.

After the park, we dropped the pups off at home with Mom and Dad, and headed out to see “My Sister’s Keeper”.  It only seemed appropriate that we go together (you have to read up on the plot if you haven’t heard about it).  The movie was actually really well done…sad, but well done.  I would definitely recommend it.  I think Laura and I may have laughed at some parts that might have seemed inappropriate to other viewers, but this was only because we were relating some things to my own experience.  I felt like I should stand up and say “It’s OK…I’m allowed to laugh…I had leukemia!  And this is my sister, my keeper”.  :)  OK, so the situation isn’t exactly the same ’cause she wasn’t genetically engineered to match me…I was very, very lucky she was a perfect match, and she will always be my “gift of life” (as if she’d let me forget that!).  :)

Continuing with an update on my busy week, I made more baby rounds on Friday when I visited Marc, Katrina and Evie.  We enjoyed deeeelicious blueberry pancakes (well done, Marc!) and a late morning walk around Old Town.  Evie is gooorgeous and very curious.  She’s so advanced, she even has her own blog!  She was born just after I went out to Seattle, so I’d been looking forward to meeting her for a very long time.  Thanks for having me guys!!!

Last night, I headed down to DC to visit Kristi and Dave (the ones getting married in Cape Cod two weeks from today!).  We tasted some wine that they might serve at the wedding (very good wine, by the way), and then we went up to the roof of their condo building (shhh….don’t tell anyone…the key to the roof was hot (as in stolen, not temperature, in case you didn’t figure that out)).  :)  WHAT A VIEW!!!!!!!  I have never seen anything like it.  We had a direct view of the downtown fireworks and none of the crowd…perfect.  Everywhere we looked in the sky, you could see fireworks displays.  The weather was cool, the chairs comfy, the wine tasty and the views spectacular!  Thank you so much, guys!!!  It was the perfect Fourth.  Happy Birthday, America!

And finally, here we are…Sunday.  Gobind and I went to the George Washington National Forest to hike up to Big Schloss.  Jameson and Guinness came along too and, as you can see from all the photos, it was a great afternoon.  Both last week and today, I was surprised by how much effort it seemed to take me when going uphill.  I have to remind myself that it’s still less than a year since my transplant, and although I feel well, I  have to continue to work up my strength.  Despite the slight weaknesses I notice in my body, lately I’ve been struck by the distinctions between last year and now.  Could I have imagined negotiating switchbacks last year at this time?  I don’t think so! Sometimes I wonder, is this a temporary gift or is this the return of healthy Julie?  I feel happy yet somewhat cautious.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing.  It feels healthy to be so aware of my body and its abilities/limitations.  I don’t want to challenge my energy level constantly and exhaust myself.  I think day hikes are ideal for building up my new cells and making my legs and butt a little stronger.  :)  And they do wonders for my emotional health…take a look at those photos…fresh air, colorful scenery and perspective you can’t get down here at sea level.

Thank you to everyone for the wonderful week!  I’m looking forward to finding out what this one holds.

Lots of love,