The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion

Cancer Survivor's

The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion, by Jenny Peterson

 

“‘Don’t let cancer define you, Jenny.’ So how did I not let cancer define me? Not knowing anything better, I simply kept doing what I knew to do. And one of those things was gardening….I’m not going to lie –  I had many days when I did not feel like gardening. But I decided to change my approach and focus on small, doable tasks….little by little, my relationship with plants and my garden became the thing that turned me around – body, mind and spirit. No, it wasn’t easy. Nothing about cancer and cancer treatment is easy. But it was my reality, and I was determined to find some place where I could thrive and experience joy again.”

From time to time, I like to take a break from literary fiction and literary nonfiction at Books Can Save a Life to feature a slow living book that gets me out of my head and inspires me to enjoy the moment. I especially love the unique gardening books published by St. Lynn’s Press, so I was thrilled when they sent me a review copy of The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion.

This book is especially meaningful to me because over a year ago my brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Sadly, my brother passed away in the fall.  As I thumbed through the pages of  The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion, I wished Jenny Peterson‘s book had been available earlier. It would have been a wonderful gift for my brother and his family. From now on, The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion will be part of any care package I might give to friends and loved ones with health challenges.

Jenny’s book is filled with simple and enjoyable gardening activities to restore body, mind, and spirit, especially during treatment. I thought about my brother’s small backyard garden, which was a bit neglected after his diagnosis, and how this book might have inspired him to continue enjoying manageable tasks on his tiny plot of tomatoes and eggplants.

One of my fondest memories of that difficult time was the afternoon we decided to make jam from the two old crab apple trees and the grapevines in my brother’s backyard. Joe and my sister-in-law had never picked or eaten the tiny crab apples, and we had no idea how the jam would turn out. We had fun all afternoon picking, cooking, and then tasting the deep purple and ruby colored jams, which turned out delicious.

Four jars of homemade jam

Jam made from the crab apple trees in my brother’s backyard.

 

 

Jenny Peterson is so right about the restorative powers of gardens and nature, because that afternoon my brother really enjoyed sorting and de-stemming the crab apples, the aroma of fruit cooking over the stove, and tasting the still-warm jam. I think he appreciated the little miracle of new and unexpected late-summer bounty from his backyard.

Wellness + Mindfulness + Gardening

Jenny Peterson, a writer and landscape designer with degrees in psychology and theology, is also a survivor of breast cancer and skin cancer. She wrote The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion not as a how-to gardening book, but “to encourage people who are diagnosed with cancer, going through cancer treatment, healing from cancer or living with cancer to view their gardens, plants and outdoor spaces as resources in creating the healthiest and most balanced life possible. Life can be difficult, but it can also be profoundly beautiful, and our gardens are the best teachers of this.”

So, you don’t have to be an experienced gardener, or even a gardener at all, to enjoy and benefit immensely from The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion. The activities, each centered around body, mind, or spirit, can be scaled up or scaled down, depending on needs and energy levels.

“Survivor Spotlights” feature gardening tips from individuals who have had a cancer diagnosis.

Jenny Peterson talks about her own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges during radiation, chemotherapy, and other treatments, and how she turned to her garden as both a haven and good medicine. She genuinely understands the rigors of cancer treatment and is deeply empathetic, warm, and encouraging.

CancerContents

The Garden That Heals: Body + Mind + Spirit

Her suggestions for restorative and healing garden activities include:

  • Gardening for cardio exercise, strength and flexibility, strong bones, circulation & boosting the immune system
  • Ideas for building a yoga deck garden
  • Beneficial fruits, vegetables and herbs for nourishment and strength during treatment, including aromatherapy and herbal remedies
  • Garden design, problem solving, and nature photography to relax the mind and keep it sharp
  • Sharing the garden with friends and family by hosting seed and plant sharing parties, social hours, and other events
  • Garden-themed music to enjoy
  • Prayer, meditation, and mindful movement, including labyrinths, suggested mantras, garden altars, and tea ceremonies

There is an appendix with suggested books (fiction and nonfiction), excellent health information sites, and sources for garden tools and clothing.

CancerWabiSabi

I love the Japanese words wabi sabi and have read other books on this fascinating topic, including Wabi Sabi for Writers  by Richard R. Powell.

 

I love these other books published by St. Lynn’s Press, too:

Slow Flowers, by Debra Prinzing

Windowsill Art, by Nancy Ross Hugo

The Herb Lover’s Spa Book, by Sue Goetz

If you have a personal story of gardening, illness and health, please share. I’d love to hear about your own gardening book favorites, too.

Summer day meditation, week 3

pergola, hummingbird feeder

Under the pergola

A moment of pleasure: Sitting under the pergola at my brother’s house outside of Cleveland. Taking in the Cleveland-ness of being here.

I can’t really explain this. Something in the air has a distinctive quality, maybe the humidity and the heat of Ohio, and it takes me back to summers growing up here: listening to the Beatles on my transistor radio (WIXY 1260), swimming with my friend, Nena, at Stafford Park, play-by-play of the Indians’ baseball game always in the background….

In meditation class this week, our teacher read Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, who is from my hometown.

Summer morning meditation, week 2

Pond with Buddha

Meditation at the pond, 7:30 am.

For my mindfulness meditation class, this week we are to record one pleasurable moment each day.  Here are two:

Friday morning: helping a medical student find information about adolescent health. Enjoying her youth, beauty, enthusiasm, the unfolding of her potential. She will help many people.

Saturday morning: visiting the backyard pond, enjoying the coolness.

I’m thinking that a great book to read, lying in the hammock next to the pond, would be The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Matsuo Basho.

Please share your recent moments of pleasure in the comments.

Summer evening meditation, week 1

Tonight I attended the first of five mindfulness-based stress reduction classes, which include instruction in meditation. Four years ago, I took a similar series of classes; this summer I hope to renew and re-commit to my meditation practice.

We followed our breath for several minutes. We ate a raisin, mindfully. We practiced the body scan (progressive relaxation of each part of the body, preferably while lying down.) I thought I was totally relaxed, lying on my yoga mat on the hardwood floor. But when our instructor read Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” I found myself lying in a field of grass, giving myself up to it as if I were a kid.

That was my second encounter with Mary Oliver today. The first occurred in my wanderings around the Internet, where I found out she will publish a new book of poems this fall, “A Thousand Mornings.”

When I came home from class, my son had just arrived with fresh-picked raspberries. I ate some with whipped cream. Mindfully, of course.

She wanted to decode her beautiful, quirky genome

…we are each of us temporary depositories of information that has an almost eternal life, and which is passed on and on and on…           Lone Frank, My Beautiful Genome

Staring at the luminous model of the strand of DNA on my computer screen, a sculpture of great beauty, perfect function, and masterful design, I wondered. Who is the designer? And is this a question that even makes sense?

I say perfect function but, when it isn’t perfect, there can be disease, pain, suffering. Or simply quirkiness that doesn’t amount to much, just makes you a little different – a bit of rheumatism in your right big toe, for example, so you can’t wear high heels.

My medical librarian colleagues and I were learning how to search the data generated from the Human Genome Project and other ongoing genetics-based research. Our instructor, a bioinformatics librarian with a PH.D. in molecular biology and years of research under her belt, showed us how to look up the gene associated with cystic fibrosis in humans. We found a map of the gene’s location on a specific chromosome and links to places where you can order a clone of the DNA for research.

And over the course of the two-day class, our instructor, who is also a storyteller, told us the tale of research into the human genome, the explosion of data that’s resulted in a very short time, and how far we’ve yet to go.

My Beautiful Genome book coverA few months later, I discovered Lone Frank’s My Beautiful Genome: Exposing Our Genetic Future, One Quirk at a Time and added it to my reading list. Over the next weeks, I’ll be reading and discussing it on Books Can Save a Life as I decide whether or not to explore my own beautiful, quirky genome. I’m reasonably certain I will explore my genome unless I’m persuaded otherwise. It’s not a matter of if, but when. There is so much turmoil and confusion surrounding consumer-based genetic testing, I may wait until things settle down a bit.

The lure of this kind of knowledge – the secret of my own, one-of-a-kind, unlike-no-other-in-the-history-of-the-world genetic makeup – is something I don’t think I can resist for long, though.

As with everyone else, it’s personal.

My genetic make-up was of special concern years ago when my husband and I were deciding whether to have children. We’d gone to a genetic counselor to find out the chances of our children inheriting my mother’s schizophrenia. Fortunately, they were quite low. The counselor could tell us this by simply taking a family history and looking at the heritability data of the grandchildren of people with schizophrenia.

More recently, I was curious to know what the Human Genome Project and other research has revealed about the heritability of schizophrenia, and what a look at my signature genome might tell me. I’ll be exploring that, among other things, as I make my way through My Beautiful Genome.

Possessing this kind of personal genetic knowledge will become commonplace, I believe, and learning how to live with it ethically, in a way that will benefit humanity, will be one of the great adventures of our time.

Do you think we’re overreaching, like the mythic Prometheus? Wanting to know more than is good for us and we can responsibly handle? Please comment if you have thoughts about this.

Mindfulness Meditation

In My Beautiful Genome, Lone Frank talks about how everything we perceive is filtered through our brains, which are influenced by our genes, and how our behavior may be genetically determined. I just happen to be starting a mindfulness meditation class that will take place over the next several weeks. It will be my second time through this type of meditation instruction, a refresher that will bolster the meditation practice I began five years ago. So, while I read My Beautiful Genome,  I’ll also be highlighting some of my favorite books about meditation. If you’ve tried meditation yourself or have a practice, please join in the discussion.

Quote from My Beautiful Genome: Exposing Our Genetic Future, One Quirk at a Time, by Lone Frank, Oneworld Publications, 2011.

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