When Surviving Cancer Means You Can Mow the Lawn


Surviving cancer means not just checking items off a bucket list, but also taking pleasure in doing the mundane, from sweeping a porch to mowing a lawn.

cartoon drawing of blogger and breast cancer survivor, Felicia Mitchell

It may sound strange, but I love to mow my lawn, if you can call it that.

Without herbicides, my lawn is a scruffy mixture of grass, dandelions in various stages of growth, violets or violet leaves, tree seedlings, etc. Some of the yard has reverted to nature, but I do some tending to fit in myneighborhood where lovely lawns are kept.

Every time I cut the grass, I recollect the summer of radiation treatment coupled with Herceptin infusions and early physical therapy for lymphedema. A wonderful neighbor drove over with her riding mower and cut my grass time after time. She was one of the many people who extended kindness to me during a difficult year.

Eventually, though, I wanted to test my wings (or stamina). As that challenging summer waned, I slipped out one afternoon to see if I could manage to push a mower. Being able to mow my own lawn, even if others would help me, I believed would be a sign I was getting better.

It was not entirely easy that afternoon. Over the years, it got easier, as I got my energy back after treatment and learned to manage the lymphedema. At the same time it got easier, however, I was getting older. Once in a Facebook group with “older women,” there was a discussion of mowing. I was so thrilled when a woman in her 80s said she still mowed her own lawn too. That means she is able to.

Mowing my lawn as I lean toward 70 means I am able to. It means I am not in cancer treatment. It means I survived cancer so I could not just check items off a bucket list but also do the mundane, from sweeping a porch to mowing a lawn. I joke that I pay myself every time I do it too. And, in a win-win situation, my smart watch praises me for the cardiovascular exercise.

Back in the day, before cancer, I fought with my then-husband over the use of herbicides and pesticides in the yard. At the time, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer years back. I had asked him to stop using any toxins. While the jury may be out on some lawn treatments, it seemed realistic to give them up in my yard.

Chatting with some members of my knitting group about that battle over yard treatments prior to my divorce, I said, “And all of our animals got cancer!” As I named one cat after the other, and one small dog, a friend said quietly to me, “You got cancer too.” She was right.

While my breast cancer was more complicated and cannot be blamed on yard chemicals, I do believethat in the wild dance between nature and nurture, we must do what we can to benefit our health, other humans, our pets, pollinators and so on. Let us praise our scruffy lawns along with newfound strength to tend them while we can.

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