Closing the Garden Gate

 I once wandered my lovely garden teeming with life.  The verdant hills covered with flowers of vibrant shiny hues and the soft whispered scent of perfume.  My spring beauty made me blush.

Then I got cancer. 

The doctors quickly went about razing my garden.  Treatment left behind cracked desiccated earth where nothing will ever flower.  I closed my garden gate.

There will be no more dancing in the sun.  Nothing will grow here. No longer will I play in the dirt or feel the rain fall on fresh green tendrils of possibilities. Spring has left my garden.


No, Cancer is Not a Gift

Breast cancer has become the Cancer Du Jour in this country.  The “IT” cancer, if you will.  There are benefits,  auctions, and television specials devoted to the the subject.  In the summer and fall, millions walk for the cause. In October, specifically, it seems as if the entire country turns pink.  Nowadays, a bald head and a pink ribbon can turn a woman into a cause celebrity.

When I was sick I received cards proclaiming, “You Make Cancer Look Good” or, my personal favorite, “Chemo–All the Cool Kids Are Doing It!”. Really?  All the cool kids are getting chemo?  I consider any situation involving a kid and chemo to be tragic.  As for adults, I do not believe the poplular cliques aspire to inject poision into their veins. Chemotherapy is designed to kill cells in your body. The treatment leaves lasting damage to your brain, your heart and your joints.  Undergoing chemo is not something that calls for a cute Hallmark card. 

Once, upon seeing my bald head, a co-worker commented that cancer was a blessing in disguise.  A vehicle for personal transformation.  She looked me dead in the eye and proclaimed that my cancer was a gift.

Really? A gift? Well, I don’t see it that way. I was pretty happy before.  I wasn’t looking to transform my person. In fact, I liked my breasts and ovaries just fine, thank you.  I was grateful for the life I was living. My work was interesting and I was blessed with a loving family and friends.  Besides, since it wasn’t my birthday or any other special occassion, I wasn’t really expecting a gift.  I certainly did not want breast cancer.

So, for the above well-intentioned co-worker and other misinformed well-intentioned folks, I submit the following:

No, Cancer is NOT a gift

No one wants to open a box of Cancer for their birthday

It is not bright and shiny like a diamond ring

I cannot bring Cancer to my friend’s annual gift swap (I’ll trade you a Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma for that lovely cashmere scarf…)

It is not an appropriate re-gift

Cancer is not eligible for a refund and cannot be exchanged in stores (as in–can I return this cancer for a head cold?)

It cannot be recycled, Freecycled or upcycled

Cancer does not sell well on EBay

You can’t hide it  in the back of your closet to sit and gather dust

Worst of all, Cancer’s return policy sucks


A Little Denial and a Heavy Dose of Pesticides

In my last blog post, I wrote about living with the fear of a breast cancer recurrence.  In 2008, I was diagnosed with the disease and I opted for a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy.  I hoped that did the trick, but I can’t be sure. Therefore, I live with uncertainty. My uncertainty is a lot like weeds in a garden. They are the troublesome spots of blight in an otherwise attractive flower bed.  Uncertainty, and the ensuing anxiety it causes, are not easy to tolerate, either.  I think that in our society we treat our fears like many gardeners treat their weeds–with a bit of denial and a heavy dose of pesticides.

By definition, a weed is a plant that is considered undesirable, unattractive and bothersome.  However, any plant that is unwanted is thought of as a weed. I once read that a rose can be a weed if you are attempting to grow corn. Weeds are not the right plant for us or, not the one that we had hoped for.  They may offend our sensibilities and upset our desire for control.  We dislike them intensely.  To rid ourselves of weeds, we spray them with all sorts of questionable chemicals just to eradicate their presence.

Uncertainty can be just as unpleasant as a weed.  People would much rather live in a world that makes sense and offers us a guarantee of a perfect future.  We believe that if we look right, act right, and do all the right things, than nothing bad will ever happen to us. 

If a seed of doubt does dare to pollute our perfect garden-well-we rid ourselves of it just as quickly as we rid our backyards of any unwanted plants.  To keep from feeling our uncomfortable thoughts we may abuse chemical substances, or engage in unhealthy behaviors. An evening spent mindlessly watching an episode of the Real Housewives is preferable to feeling unpleasant emotions.

I believe it is this very lifestyle of denial and our convoluted need to create shiny happy places with nary a weed to be seen that is causing us more harm than good.  Our sedentary escapist existence along with the abundance of chemicals, toxins and pesticides used to rid our lives of weeds are changing, or, at the very least, disrupting our natural human condition.

Take the case of breast cancer, for example.  Even though no potential carcinogen in the pesticides and fertilizers used to keep our gardens green are definitively linked to the disease, many of these chemicals have been found to cause breast cancer in mice.  Why is it that  immigrants moving to industrialized nations  develop the same rate of breast cancer as we have within one generation?  Is it the herbicides we spray on our lawns, the weed killers used around fruit and vegetable crops, or the unhealthy ways we push aside our fears and other negative emotions?  Perhaps, it is all of these that are contributing to the root cause of breast cancer’s explosion.

I find it helpful to understand that when weeds stop growing it means that the garden is dead.  Weeds thrive on good soil, lots of sun and regular water–all elements of a healthy garden.  I am not saying that a garden does not need tending, however, who is to say that the yellow flowers of a dandelion which splatter a green lawn are necessarily a bad thing?  It is the same way with uncertainty and fear.  While it is true that these are unwanted emotions, they do help us to appreciate our lives a whole lot more.  It is what pushes us to grow and keeps things interesting, engaging and fulfilling. Imagine if we knew what to expect at all times in our lives.  My guess is that we would become very bored.  Anxiety is the cost of a meaningful life, one which is uncertain and which implores us to abdicate control and live in the moment in order that we may find joy.

Recently, I read an interesting article about the benefits of dandelion weeds.  The plant features in Asian, Middle Eastern, and European traditional healing practices as well as in contemporary herbal medicine.  According to the University of Maryland, the dandelion’s leaves may play a role in improving immune system function and in promoting gastrointestinal health. 

I have also recently learned that psychiatric counselors are now more apt to advise their patients to treat anxiety with meditation and as an accepted part  of life viewed with loving compassion rather than prescribe a sedative or other types of pills.  I think this is good advice. It makes more sense to me than denial and will probably lead to a better quality of life.  

I suggest we shut off our televisions, throw away our Round Up,  and enjoy a spot of dandelion tea.