28 women finding ways to squeeze the day, every day, while living with cancer and it’s after effects.
Every year we converge on this little retreat center in the woods, on the edge of the canal.
Every year we laugh, we cry, we eat, drink, and dance,
We challenge each other, we hold each other up.
And even more importantly, we rest, and we are cared for.
Every year I come back home feeling two inches taller.
P.S. This year, I brought a spare camera and handed it over to the group, asking them to take pictures as well. I’m so glad I did. I came home with pictures that were complete surprises to me, and this year, I was so engaged in just being present that I hardly took any pictures at all. Thanks so much to my friends for picking up the slack.
P.P.S. The link in the first line will take you to the poem I read at the retreat. It resonated so profoundly with so many of us, and I received many requests for copies. (I’m not affiliated with the writer of the poem, but when you write stuff this good, it deserves a link.)
One of the most enduring and notable rites of spring around the Seattle area is the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. The entire month of April is dedicated to all things tulip, and the valley is colorblocked in fields of red, yellow, pink and purple blooms.
As usual, we were a little late to the party this year, partly because of poor planning, and partly because I abhor crowds. We showed up the first week of May.
Most of the tulip fields were already plowed under to prepare for the next crop, but we still found plenty of beauty to go around.
What are your favorite signs of spring. Do you have any spring related annual traditions?
Oh, I love me some farmers markets. I love the festival feeling. I love the little individual stalls. I love the flowers. I love the fruits and vegetables. I love the hand made goods. I love being out and about, milling around other people admiring all these things I love.
As it turns out, this week has been designated Farmers Market Week here in the State of Washington. Farms and fresh food are definitely something worth celebrating, if you ask me.
Gem loves the markets as well. She loves the flowers, especially, and all the colors, the crowds, the blueberries, and all the energy.
Today, we went to the farmers market in Renton. This one had a bonus of a kids area, staffed with volunteers, with homemade play-dough and cookie cutters to make ornaments.
Gem was so taken with the dahlias that an elderly woman working in one of the stalls gave her one. Gem was beside herself.
Then she spent the rest of our time at the market looking for the white water-filled buckets that were used the anchor the tents.
Her flower needed water. So she she made a job for herself of finding all those water buckets, and dipped her flower’s stem in the water of every single one of those buckets at the market.
“People give you 3 months to mourn, and a year to have cancer, then they expect you to get back to normal.”
I don’t know where I heard this quote first, but I’ve experienced the truth of the statement both in terms of mourning and cancer recovery.
It’s not that I’m faced with the reality of that quote on a daily basis, but it does remind me that while the lingering effects of my cancer still impact every single day of my life, many around me have moved on; my cancer is old news and in their minds, overplayed.
I understand this perspective; I’ve been there myself. I know people whom I’ve avoided because every conversation, for years, involved detailed information about the wellbeing of their bladder or their gout.
It does get old, and frankly, there are some details I just don’t need to know.
I do try to avoid being that person who unloads in that manner, but the fact that cancer is still a part of my present life is depressing to others, as well. People want good news. Something better than “I was able to hold on to my pen long enough to write a whole page,” which is a big deal to me as a writer and avid journal keeper whose dominant arm was significantly impacted by cancer treatment, but not so meaningful to everyone else.
I don’t talk about those things anymore. I swallow my words, and put on a mask, and when people ask how I’m doing, I just say “awesome” and leave it at that.
This is where a group like the Young Survival Coalition, and a retreat like Harmony Hill, are so critical to the wellbeing of a cancer survivor like me. It’s not just a retreat away from the stresses of everyday life, it’s a coming together with other women with similar experiences and battle scars. A three day weekend where we can compare notes, treatments, ongoing issues, what works for me, what doesn’t, and how we’re coping with all of it is not just healing, it’s normalizing – in a good way.
We’re not alone in this experience. We can share without the fear of being perceived as complaining. We can make fun of our condition and laugh at cancer in a way that often makes others uncomfortable. It’s summer camp crossed with a slumber party, plus booze and minus the curfew. It’s yoga, meditation, labyrinth walking, beach combing, flower smelling, and lawn napping, followed by good food, good conversation, and tearing the best parts out of magazines for each of us to make something uniquely our own.
And it’s research. I’m looking forward to another surgery in the next few months. This one will involve 12 hours under the knife – that’s a long time – plus six weeks of recovery. It’s not something to take lightly. But I spent a weekend with 23 other cancer survivors, most of whom have already endured this surgery. I got better information on what to expect and how to prepare from these women who already went through it than from the doctor who has performed this procedure hundreds of times. And that’s to be expected. As much as these doctors know about performing this procedure, they haven’t experienced it.
I’m so thankful I have this group of survivors in my life. That we got to get away together, away from all the other stresses and demands of life for a couple days seems like a miracle. I know it took a lot of work to pull it together, but it was so worth it. I love you girls.
We officially head into summer this week, and flowers are blooming all around us.
These photos were taken last weekend on my retreat to Harmony Hill on Hood Canal. I have so much to say about that retreat, but I’m still processing. I’ll write something up when I’m ready (Update: here it is).