Monday, January 16, 2012

New Cancer Victory Garden!

I always start off my week by lighting candles of hope for all involved with a cancer journey at the website I send out that hope to everyone, the person with the diagnosis, all caregivers (professional, family, friends), plus all involved in the oncology research community. I always leave that website with a mix of feelings, yes, gratefulness, but also feelings ranging from melancholy to deep determination.

Today I had the exquisite pleasure of segueing directly from determination to pure inspiration and joy when I next opened up my Gmail email account (cancervictorygarden (at) gmail (dot) com) that I reserve for this blog to find a beautiful message from a young cancer survivor who embodies everything I had hoped to achieve with my CancerVictoryGardens blog. :-)

This young woman's own 'cancer victory garden' story and accompanying photographs brought tears to my eyes, tears of everything, from remembering tears of fear, tears of loss, tears of tentative hope, tears of resilience, tears of determination, tears of accomplishment, tears of wonder from self-discovery, tears of joy, tears of tentative hope again, tears of loving and being loved, tears of happiness from knowing I may have made a difference to one person. There are probably even more types of tears in that mix, too, but those give you some insight into the broad sweep of being inside my long cancer journey.

I am printing her story in its entirety. It is as clear as a bright, sunny day during a Michigan winter! Her accompanying photographs perfectly capture and convey the beauty and joy she has found in her life.

I'll sign off and then urge you to keep reading below my name where I am deeply honored to introduce and share Donna's Cancer Victory Garden in New Jersey. I hope the magic of the internet allows another person with a cancer diagnosis to find inspiration to live, and to live well after cancer by nourishing your own Cancer Victory Garden, no matter how small (start with one package of seeds in a pot) or where you live in this wide, wide world.  :-)

Cultivating health through a garden's nourishment of both body and soul,
Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Submitted by Donna H. of Camden, New Jersey
In 2008, during a routine mammogram, an eagle-eyed radiologist discovered my invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. A double mastectomy and 4 rounds of chemotherapy followed.  I thought my life was over before it ever really began.  I was filled with regret over all my past missed opportunities and I grieved for things I believed that I would never have, such as a child of my own.  I struggled to find the strength to face my disease and endure treatment.  
During my recuperation from surgery, my mother bought me a pack of seeds and a pink gardening kit.  I was unimpressed.  I lived in an apartment and I had cancer.  I wasn’t in the mood to take on a new hobby, especially one that might involve bugs! My mom would not be deterred. She planted the seeds in a tray and placed it in my laundry room.  She left me strict instructions about watering, and when and how to repot the seedlings when the plants were large enough. 
So as not to disappoint her, I half-heartedly followed her instructions. I watered the tray of seeds and placed them in a sunny location.  I checked on them every day. After a few weeks, a funny thing started to happen.  I found myself looking forward to watching the progression of my little flower seedlings.  I was happy and more than a little excited when the plants were big enough to be transplanted.  After a few more weeks, as I neared the end of my chemo treatments, the flowers began to bloom.  .  I realized that the flowers symbolized so much for me about life and renewal and health.  I was transfixed by the lovely profusions of colors and textures and smells.  I rejoiced in the blossoms as much as I rejoiced at the end of chemotherapy. 
From then on, the strength and beauty found in something so delicate inspired me.  I discovered that I felt calmer and could forget about cancer when I tended to my flowers. Each day brought a new discovery about the plants. I realized that I loved digging in the dirt and caring for my plants.  (Bugs be damned!)  I enjoyed learning about the rhythms of life and how a little light, some water, and lots of love can produce something wondrous.  It felt good to feel the warmth of the sun on my bald head and my arms felt more flexible after a few rounds of weeding.  
Today, I have my own house with a little backyard. I grow flowers, organic vegetables and all sorts of plants.  This year I even I added strawberries.  My beautiful baby girl, whom I adopted last fall, enjoys being next to me outside while I weed, water and tend to my garden.   We take pleasure in nature and our souls benefit from all the beauty around us.  And my mom? She couldn’t be happier for her daughter, the gardener.  

(Donna receiving chemotherapy)
(Donna's first flowers from the seeds given to her by her mother)
(Donna's adopted daughter Bella, the perfect name for this beautiful baby)

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