gardening and cancer

June 23, 2011


yes, i know.  it’s so beautiful in my little brooklyn backyard.  from the wet, muddy pit that it was about 22 years ago when i first moved in to the beautiful quirky yard filled with roses, basil and burgeoning tomatoes and cucumbers not to mention overgrown patches of irises – my backyard is our own little oasis.  when i was just out of treatment – 5 years ago this summer – i wasn’t up for much.  i remember walking down the street in park slope, brooklyn near my work, and seeing a beautiful flowering vine.  it wasn’t clematis…which are vines i have many of against the fences.  i bought it immediately and sometime in the next week, planted it near the foot of my climbing yellow roses.   i don’t remember much of that summer but i remember sitting on the back rocker just watching my garden and thinking that so few people took the time to sit in their garden.   late that fall, i finally looked up the vine that i planted and, much to my horror, found out that the red trumpet vine that i had purchased and planted was deemed to be one of the most invasive vines around…it would take over and strangle all else.  without a moment’s hesitation, i went to my yard, dug up the vine, and discarded it. 

last week, i took time out from a busy work schedule to delay heading into the office – i gave myself an hour in the cool morning to get down on my knees and really focus on weeding out a patch of the garden.  one by one i plucked out the usual offenders…the rain had made them easy to grab so that their roots came out – giving me hope that i was winning the weeding game.  then i looked over and stared.  there it was.  at the foot of the yellow climbing roses…the telltale green vine that said that my excavation 4.5 years earlier was a fool’s errand.  invasive vine.  it seemed the very definition of invasive.  it was still there.  and growing.  and probably spreading.  and i started crying.  in my own garden.  a cruel reminder that you never know that what you think has been taken out of  you isn’t still growing.  i hate cancer.   i’ve gone back into my garden … but it took a few days.  i hate cancer. 



count into the middle (and then count back out again); or how to get through most anything

September 28, 2009


i am almost 4 years out from my initial diagnosis of breast cancer.  i have several ‘anniversaries’ where that is concerned:  the day i was diagnosed (and i’m so competitive that i was diagnosed during ‘breast cancer awareness month’…i became very aware!); the day i finished treatment; if truth be told, the day earlier that summer when i have very very faint memories of perhaps feeling something odd but chalking it up to the usual little bumps that any 47 year old woman feels; and the amorphous date that i wonder was the conception of this particularly nasty lump.  in the past year, a few people that i know as friends or colleagues have been diagnosed and have looked to me for some advice and support.  on a good day, i’m flattered.  on a paranoid-i-still-feel-in-the-midst-of-this day, i feel emotionally fragile.  i often remind myself that someone else’s illness is not a predictor of the future of my health.  am I odd that way?  do other people find themselves feeling that way? 

for the past year, i’ve worked very hard at pulling myself out of the emotional and physical hole i was in.  i’m not a joiner of groups (though i do like to join virtual groups …oy, let’s not go there!) so i worked out changing my eating habits and exercise habits – well, not solely by myself but not by sitting in meetings.  i needed to step up to those goals on my own.  i have grown through trying to open up to some friends and immediate family about my efforts so that i’m not too shut off.  but it’s me i need to reckon with and it doesn’t help me if i stretch myself too thin talking about goals rather than doing them.   Sometimes i wonder if i’m shortchanging myself by not joining but this is the way it is at the moment…the way it has to be.

surgery; chemo; radiation; stabilizing on tamoxifen; starting my exercise routines with baby steps and working on building that to routine; 24 hours each day of making choices for food; 30 minutes on my elliptical every other day even when, on that particular day, 30 minutes stretches in front of me like a prison sentence….all these things i have found that i work through with the same method.  it took me a while to figure it out. i was able to make it take shape when i was called upon to talk a few friends through the beginnings of their journeys of diagnosis, treatment and moving forward with life.  try not to see the whole thing stretching in front of you like an endless line.  take it in pieces.  count into the middle.  Look, you’re there!  then count out to the end.  look!  you’re at the end! then to the next.  turns out it works little and big.  what will i eat today and not destroy my efforts becomes count into the middle of the day with good choices and don’t worry about dinner.  get through lunch ok?  great.  count out to the end of the day and enjoy the well-earned fudge pop.  radiation for 5 long weeks?  too long a stretch.  count into the middle of all those weeks – you’re halfway done!  then count out again and you’re really done.  still too much?  Subdivide  whatever it takes to get through.  but here’s the real answer .. and it’s taken me almost 4 years to find it:  you can get through. 

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