Sowing Seeds of Wellness: Flourishing After A Cancer Diagnosis

Mike Verano

"A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy." - Luis Barragan

Many cancer survivors have shared with me that a favorite stress-reducing pastime is gardening. Very often these descriptions have a sacred or meditative quality to them. The experiences are ripe with metaphors and analogies. There is the cultivation of one’s spirit, the sowing of seeds of growth, the nurturing of life, the patient attending to the balance of feeding, watering and waiting. Even the seemingly endless work of weeding out the unwanted has a reverence. The reward comes as new life springs forth — the budding of potential, the sweet fragrance of renewal, the dazzling colors of hope and inspiration.

The word garden has its roots in the old Germanic word gart simply meaning “enclosure.” Webster’s more inspiring definition is “a rich well-cultivated region.” Anyone with even a hint of a green thumb knows that to cultivate means to remove unwanted growth and prepare the soil for receiving nutrients. The obvious parallel between this process and surviving cancer is why so many survivors find themselves drawn reflexively to both the garden as a place and gardening as an activity.

Once the unwanted growth of one’s cancer is addressed, how does one prepare the psychological inner terrain to receive the healing nurturance that carries one from illness to wellness? How does one maintain a sense of “serenity and joy” while living a life of recovery that it both “mysterious” and “poetic?"

In the natural world of gardening, preparing the soil starts with the simple process of tilling — turning the soil over. Ironically, in the world of survivorship, our cancer itself does much of the heavy work by turning our lives upside down. Upon examination, this shakeup, far from being an obstacle to recovery, actually sets the stage for what many cancer survivors describe as “seeing the world with new eyes.” In spite of, or perhaps due to, the challenges of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, blood transfusions etc., great discoveries are possible if one follows these basic gardening tips:

Have enough space: While supportive loved ones, support groups and online chat rooms can be comforting, it’s OK to put some distance between yourself and everyone who wants to talk about your cancer.

Be gentle: Learn self-soothing techniques and treat yourself with compassionate understanding and patience.

Soak your roots: Reconnect with that which makes you feel grounded and part of something larger than the self.

Be brutal with weeds: Remove toxic people and circumstance from your life.

Have fun with it: Worry is the ultimate poison of joy, and laughter is its antidote.
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