Cancer Is Like a Garden

It is spring, and people with green thumbs are turning their thoughts to the gardens they will be planting and tending as the cold of winter transitions to the warmth and hope of spring. I have never been a gardener because of the tending part — I am not the type of person who could be on constant watch for weeds peeking through the carefully planted rows of vegetables or arrays of flowers.

Although I could be, because cancer survivorship is pretty much the same thing.

I carefully tended the garden that is my children, making sure they had what they needed to thrive. I created quiet spaces for them to study in, made sure their lunches were full of the nutrition their bodies asked for, made sure often over their protesting moans that they got enough sleep and kept them safe from harm. Yet despite all my efforts caring for my garden a malicious weed — cancer — still invaded my daughter’s body.

We do many things to get rid of weeds. Like surgery taking out tumors, we pull a weed out of the ground hoping we will get it all. Like chemotherapy, we use toxic substances to get to the source of the growth, trying to eliminate it permanently. Unfortunately, the hard truth is that like a weed, once cancer has invaded we are on constant watch that despite doing all the right things to get rid of it, it will come back.

As we move farther along the path from her cancer diagnosis my daughter’s life is blooming. Milestones we thought she would never reach are being achieved and added to as each year passes. I wish with all my heart that all of the people who love her could simply admire the blooms and revel in her success. I wish SHE could fully live in the beauty she has created, that she did not have times when the memories pull her back to the nightmare. Most of all, I wish someone could tell us that the weed is gone forever.

But no one can.

There is no breast cancer or any cancer for that matter anywhere in my daughter’s family history. We all took for granted that we had skipped that genetic threat and that if we controlled for things that science has shown can contribute to cancer risk that we’d be okay. I took for granted that when asked the question about where I’d be ten years in the future responding “Sitting at my daughter’s bedside as cancer takes her life” would not be anywhere in my list. But the biggest thing I took for granted is that I would go before my children. That I would never have to experience the kind of loss that has no comparison.

I watch my girl tend her own garden these days, making sure her one-year old daughter has all the things she needs to grow. We talk a lot and I know she is not taking even a minute of this experience for granted. She knows breast cancer could have taken her life and still could. She knows breast cancer treatment could have taken away her chance to conceive and carry a baby. She knows she has to watch for weeds, that’s she will always have to be watching, but that doesn’t stop her from admiring what she has created. 

I admit that before the breast cancer diagnosis I had many assumptions about how my garden would develop. But now, as I stand on the side lines watching my daughter and breathing her in, I cannot express the admiration I feel for what I grew. She is simply magnificent, and I will never take her being here for granted. Ever, ever again.

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