Getting back to the garden after a bout with cancer — 28 July 2016

It has been a bit over 10 months since my last post. No, I’m not quite dead yet, to quote Monty Python. But I could have been.

To recap, my last post was in September 2015, and was about playing covered wagon days with my four little grandkids. Then they left for Paris with their parents to live for the next year. Or two. They took my heart with them.

My husband Vic Leipzig and I went to see them in Paris in January. And that is when my first symptoms of endometrial cancer appeared. Ladies, if you have ANY post-menopausal bleeding, even a mere two drops of blood like I experienced, go see your doctor immediately. I did and that probably saved my life.

The next few months were filled with doctor visits and icky tests, each one worse than the one before. I passed them all with no problem, except the last one, an endometrial biopsy. That was NOT fun. The doctor used an instrument that felt like something between a samurai sword and an egg beater to scrape off about one square mile of endometrial lining, with no anesthesia. Holy moly, I don’t ever want to do that again. Turns out, I won’t have to.

That test came back showing endometrial cancer. Next step, yet another doctor, another exam, blood work, EKG, and surgery. I was so filled with dread that I couldn’t breathe, assuming that the worst would happen during surgery and I would die on the operating table. Note, I suffer from high anxiety.

Having cancer is very hard on the psyche. And that sapped my resolve to do anything. I only managed to get two of my four veggie beds planted before surgery. But at least I got those two planted.

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I bought tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, parsley, and lots of pretty marigolds. I needed beauty around me, LIFE.

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Veggie bed #1 looked beautiful with heirloom tomatoes, bell peppers, an eggplant, a collard plant, parsley, and a row of Blue Lake pole green beans.

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I planted butternuts from saved seeds, and acorn squash from transplants.

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I planted radishes and meslun. This is arugula sprouting in the mesclun mix. Looks just like radishes.

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This is the Garden of Perpetual Responsibility, named for the unending weeds in this patch. I have artichokes, a Fuyu persimmon tree, an dwarf Fuji apple, a butterfly garden, and pots of green onions, planters of strawberries, radishes, and mesclun, and some new pots with flowers for the bees and butterflies.
Surgery on May 2 was nothing, a minor blip in my life. It was done laproscopically by robotic arm assist, with five tiny incisions on my belly. I was in and out of the hospital in 9 hours after a full hysterectomy, and totally cancer free as far as anyone knows. The docs will annoy me with exams every three months for the next year, and then twice a year for the next four years after that to make sure no cancer cells escaped. But the cancer was stage 1b, easily and totally cured by surgery. No chemo, no radiation.

I had a prescription for pain pills, but didn’t need them. I took ibuprofen for the next few days, and needed help getting up out of bed, but I was in my garden the very next day after surgery. Digging and planting? No! Just watering. My garden gives me life, hope, strength and resolve. My garden is a delight of blossoms in February, April and May. Plus, I had planted extra flowers to tide me over psychically.

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Orchid cactus, a reliable spring bloomer.

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New flower bowls with plants to attract pollinators

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Pollinators like zinnas.

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I don’t remember what this is, but the hummingbirds like it.

DSC_1687These Mexican primroses are reliable spring bloomers, self-sowing, and drought-tolerant.

DSC_1679I got these iris from someone who was “thinning their herd.”Beautiful.

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The camellias were extra pretty this spring, but I killed one of them–the whole plant–by using water fresh from the hose that was boiling hot. I scalded the poor thing to death.

 

My recovery was unbelievable easy, and surprised even my doctor. But in an effort to get back into shape, I twisted my bum arthritic left knee two weeks after the surgery and crippled myself. I was essentially bedridden. More doctors, more tests. I assumed that I was going to finally get a knee replacement, but the surgeon said no, injected my knee with cortisone and sent me off to Physical Therapy. I have only two more PT sessions, and then I will be released. You know what they say, PT stands for Pain and Torture. Old age sure ain’t for sissies.

DSC_1719My Florida Prince peach tree was loaded with fruit this year. But it had the poor timing of presenting me with ripe peaches all at once, right when I was laid up and not able to deal with them adequately. Still, I got a peach pie or two and several cobblers. Turns out that I can cook even when using a walker.

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Eggs, avocados, oranges and lemons, a typical April harvest here in coastal southern California. I had so many eggs this spring that I was able to freeze a few packs of 4 scrambled raw eggs each for winter use. Our hens don’t lay from November to mid-Janurary, so I have to plan ahead.

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Artichokes, avocados and more eggs.
During May and June, I tended my poor garden in a walker, trying to keep it alive. I took only a very few photos, but I did maintain my hand-written harvest log. One of these days, I will enter the data into Excel and post my harvest totals.

I can now walk again, and am beginning to rejoin the world of the living. This has been quite a journey, one I would have rather not taken. But throughout it all, I continued to harvest and cook with my harvests. And enjoy life.

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This was a typical spring brunch of a leek fritatta with avocado on top, navel orange from our mini orchard, and an English muffin. I was really sad when we ate the last orange from our tree this spring. They were amazingly sweet this year, the best oranges I have ever eaten.

I am looking forward to still more produce from my mini orchard of about 22 fruit trees. Why have a useless lawn when your yard could be producing FOOD?

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We have been eating and giving away avocados all spring. There are about 3 dozen left.

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The Meyer lemons have been wonderful, but I am nearing the last of the crop. I need to freeze some juice before all the lemons are gone.

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Asian pears will be the next fruit crop to harvest, along with apples from my Fuji, Gala, and Granny Smith apple trees. Here is hoping that the night critters don’t get my whole crop, as they do in some years.
These were only the pics from April. More to come. Hope you enjoyed my garden update.

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I am retired from writing a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent, but I am still teaching at the Orange County Conservation Corps. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks.
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11 Responses to Getting back to the garden after a bout with cancer — 28 July 2016

  1. Michelle says:

    What an incredibly tough time you’ve had! Good to see you back and that you are cancer free. I hope you enjoy a good long stretch of good health. Thank you for your warning about such minor bleeding, I will remember that.

  2. Thanks, Michelle. The reason that I am sharing such personal info is to educate others, like my doctor had educated me. She said that cancers often bleed a little, off and on. She was speaking of colon cancer, but the same is true for endometrial cancer. If I remember correctly, there are 66,000 new cases of endometrial cancer every year in the US. If one gets to the doctor soon enough, it is totally cured by surgery alone.

  3. Scott Murray says:

    Welcome back! Glad you are back on the wagon that you get joy out of.

  4. Mary Mueller says:

    Best ever of your blogs…because you are well!!! You are an inspiration to all of us. Thank you

  5. Norma Chang says:

    As Mary Mueller said: “You are an inspiration to all of us” and I totally agree. Glad to learn that you are cancer free and your knee has healed. Enjoyed your garden tour, thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Norma. I am slowly getting back into the swing of things. My physical therapist said my knee is not progressing well enough to end therapy next week, so I will get/need a few more sessions.

  6. Jane Strong says:

    I’m glad you wrote about your bout with cancer rather than cover it up. It is good for people to know this things.

    About Asian pears: I picked about four nice ripe ones and then waited for the rest to ripen and when I next looked every single was gone without a trace. I think it was the squirrel carrying them away in its mouth.

    Another Asian pear question: for the last two years, I’ve been getting two crops a year. I live near Los Angeles. Is this weird or not? Do you ever get two crops?

    • Hi Jane. My apple and Asian pear trees have been going through two bloom cycles the past few years. I think this is highly unusual. I suspect that the global climate change that we are experiencing might have something to do with it.

  7. I’m glad to hear that your bout with cancer is over and that treatment was successful! I was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years ago, and once through treatment found that the doctors and literature don’t prepare one for the emotional aftermath — what am I to do with my life post-cancer? For me, it’s been a lesson in living fully in the present…

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