Many of us who live in the country have our lives punctuated by sightings of wild things. We like to think we’re civilized, eating with a spoon, paying our bills, opening the door for a friend, but then a row of bats is dangling from near the front door gutter, or a group of deer is gleaning under our old apple tree. Or, a bobcat saunters around the fire pit, hopping from one tree stump to the next, or a praying mantis’ compound eyes stare at you through the screen door. It remains a thrill at dusk to follow the trot-trot-trot of a fox prowling down the Mt. Pollux foot path, or to watch while standing still as a stone, as a bushy-tailed skunk waddles along the outside of the hoop house, its wispy fur pressing against the plastic, while I am inside about to pick kale. Once, while sitting at the kitchen table late at night, I hear scampering on the front porch, mmm bigger than a squirrel, wait, bigger than a groundhog, oh my god it’s a bear, and now it swats at the bird feeder like it’s a punching bag, and leaves muddy paw prints on the dark-stained shingles before ambling down the driveway in a bit of a huff. I am reminded how we people moved into these creatures’ places, not the other way around. Wildlife sightings and interactions heighten my senses and rivet me to the moment in ways I love: curious behaviors, unfamiliar sounds, unexpected beauty.

Because of my PICC line, I can’t swim and they don’t want me running or lift weights either, so my gym-rat routine has been suspended and supplanted by long and longer walks in the neighborhood, hills, woods, and trails that glorify this place I call home. The last few months, regardless of the time of day I take myself out for a spin, I come in contact with some kind of hawk. It’s exhilarating! This week it’s a Cooper’s hawk flying in front of me for quite a while, just a little higher than I am tall, in the farm fields across the way. Yesterday, a red-tailed hawk takes a hop, skip, and a jump along the telephone wires above my head, looking right at me when I try to snap a photo, before flying off and highlighting its glorious tail feathers. Walking to the mailbox this morning, a kestrel sits on the tip of a sumac tree, moving its head methodically side to side, surveying the dead grasses lying in lazy heaps before it leaps up, with its modest wingspan just feet away. Other large birds, maybe an eagle, maybe a buzzard, take the long flights across acres of farmland I see at a distance. I cannot be sure which kind of bird it is, but the big flapping wings, and the long, silent gliding pull me in and keep me watching.

I would not call myself an especially superstitious person and I don’t want to attach meaning to things coincidental, but it’s been a lot of hawks over many weeks, each one bringing a kind of magnificence, strength, and grace. When I decide to look up “what is the significance of seeing a hawk?” because well, why not use all my resources, here’s a synopsis of what I learn. First of all, from a biblical perspective, hawk sightings evoke divine guidance, insight, and power. I could stop us right here—all the encouragement and cheerleading I need at this moment.

There are other messages of adaptability and independence and of being reminded of my own intelligence and strength. Hawks can be harbingers of change, of piercing clarity, listening to yourself, and pursuing your dreams. They are graceful while enormously powerful and tend to go after what they both want and need. I like reading all this!

I am not too proud to be falling further into dime store anthropomorphizing, but apparently hawks know how to make a plan and carry it through by being steadfast and determined, ready to soar forward, even with danger afoot, and lean into their inherent capacity and ability to stay focused. It’s starting to sound an awful lot like our Stockdale Paradox and our mantra around “planning the dive & diving the plan.” Hawks also symbolize freedom—something which feels intermittently in short supply, like now, as I plan my upcoming, month-long stay at Fifty-Five Fruit Street! I lean into all these interpretations and also carry my Peterson Field Guide to the Birds with me now along with my binocs when I walk!  All this to say, with the best of hawk energy at my back, I have a plan for this next essential point of my dive. I have my stem cell transplant flying orders.

I finish up this second round of BLINA on 12/28/23, locking in my no leukemia in the blood or bone marrow status. Mercifully, the cartridge AND my PICC line will be removed. I have three glorious weeks to rejoice, read: swim, run, do all the poses in yoga I have had to sidestep, dance to my heart’s content, finally able to do a proper hustle that the PICC line really prevented! Of course, as importantly, time with family and friends, before I report to duty at Fifty-Five Fruit Street on January 16th. The 23-year-old stem cell donor is a perfect HLA match with the same blood type; her generously donated cells will arrive to MGH on January 9th and be frozen. This allows for any wiggle room needed based on how I respond to “conditioning.” The transplant itself is slated for 1/23/24.

Conditioning, which is a bit of misnomer, is the week-long process for someone my age, where they basically strip my marrow clear out, and prepare me to receive my young, healthy, chosen- for-me, stem cells. I remain in the hospital for 3-4 weeks and do my best to prevent graft vs. host disease. Along with my smart, confident MGH team, I have Paul alongside some of the other brightest minds in our profession helping guide approaches we can use now and during the post-transplant time for best possible outcomes.

I will likely write another post before the transplant and ask my world of family and friends to keep me in their best thoughts that day. The new cells will arrive with your love and prayers and positive vibes, which no doubt will do as much good as anything! Thank you for reading these words. May your end of the year time be filled with some divine inspiration, some sightings of people you love, some moments in nature if you can finagle it, and some open-ended time to be present to the miracles of your life.

#hawk #leukemia #stemcelltransplant #blinatubamab #birdsofprey