Monday, December 22, 2014

Cancer, and Finding Peace in Veggies

Michelle, beautiful as always, with her son (my nephew), Cody

This post may seem scattered, and is probably not proof-read as well as it should be. But, my heart is heavy, and a darkness lingers. My thoughts have a need to get out, trumping all other topics I could be writing about right now (I have at least 20 drafts going at once at all times, and few of them ever actually make to publishing anyway).

Cancer. No one is safe. I'm starting to think that everything really does cause cancer; that our environment is toxic, as well as the air we breathe, all the food we eat. Too many people are dying from this horrific disease, and it seems, often, to come from nowhere.

As I write this, Craig's older sister is in the last days of her life. We are 750 miles away in Indiana as she lies on her couch in Virginia--sitting up occasionally, being attended to by various loving family members and hospice care. It's been hard to think of much else but Michelle, as each one of us knows she is dying, right before our eyes, and there isn't a single thing to be done. Soon after her diagnosis, Michelle began a blog to keep everyone updated, and she was very active on FB. Her diagnosis--stage 4 colon cancer--was a formidable shadow, but her heart and spirit remained bright and positive. Some days it was easy to forget she even had cancer. Some days, when she still looked healthy and there were still options laying out in front of her, the cancer seemed beatable. We visited her on vacation in July, and everything seemed possible.

However, in mid-September, right around her 45th birthday, Michelle's blog became silent, her FB presence all but disappeared, and she settled in for a very difficult, painful, vicious battle. Cancer began to win. It's been heartbreaking to witness, and we've been helpless.

I used to think that preventing cancer was key--eat the right things, avoid pesticides, exercise. But what are the right things to eat? And if toxins are everywhere anyway, even in the air we breath, water we drink, and products we use, how much prevention can we really hope to achieve?

Cancer is terrifying and it's enough to throw your hands in the air, especially when the person who is dying of cancer was the shining example of a 'clean' life--organic diet, lots of exercise, a health nut. Now, was Michelle that person? No, admittedly not. She always loved to wrinkle her nose at me when I professed my love of veggies...had a sweet tooth like no other, and would exercise as much as most of us ordinary people (barely). Though Michelle never claimed to be a health nut, others who are health nuts don't really seem have a pass. Just a year ago a friend of mine I'd met online WAS the poster child of health, and cancer struck her down, viciously and fast. Cancer may have plenty of 'known' causes, but it has just as many unknown causes, and it strikes seemingly willy-nilly, to more and more people every day.

There are things that are obvious. Don't smoke. I quit years ago and will never look back. Don't play with asbestos. If only that could be said with humor; but since many people have died from cancer directly because of their unwitting exposure to asbestos at their past jobs, there is no humor at all in that statement. Known causes of cancer can and should be avoided. What about the sun and skin cancer? For ages the rule of thumb was to slather on the sunscreen so that those UV rays wouldn't screw up our skin cells...but now there are studies out there that say the sunscreen itself can cause cancer. It gets tricky, and like I mentioned already, it's hard to know what things are hurting us. Red meat? Some people swear it's the key to health, but some link it to many diseases including cancer. But then, there are studies that also link cancer to the eating of grains. Studies, studies, studies!!! So many, all with conflicting information!

Though the studies seem to often conflict, and though it seems that if we listened to every 'professional opinion' we would truly just have to stop eating anything, never leave the house, and live in a bubble, there is ONE thing that I know will not contribute to any cause of cancer.

My vegetables. From my back yard. 

In a world where it's easy to feel like I have lost all control of my own health and destiny, the garden provides a small bit of calm. The more veggies I can grow in my little organic garden, and the more I can fill my diet with those veggies, the better.

Though we are entering winter and my garden is mostly gone for the season, I have some of the produce canned and frozen, and I always have my sunny summer photos to keep me inspired.

Maybe I can't predict when or how I will die, and chances are pretty good--statistically speaking--that I, too, could enter into my own fight with cancer. But while I live this life, I can fill my body up with nutrient-rich, pesticide-free food from my own little 1/6 acre of land, and feel like I've got the tiniest of handholds on a steep rock wall. Even if my veggies provide no true protection against my future demise, at least I can find peace, among my veggies-- the sun warming my body, life and energy flowing in and around me as the garden plants reach up toward the warmth-- and feel like I have something to protect me. Or at the very least, the calm I feel from the garden itself will help me see the world with clarity, and allow me to let go of my anxiety, of my helpless feelings.

*In the middle of writing this post, news came that Michelle's father unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack. He had been by Michelle's side for weeks. As of publishing, Michelle is still fighting, viciously, with hospice and family members at her side.

We truly never know when, or how we will leave this earth. Hold your family close, breathe in each moment, capture each memory with your heart and don't let go.

And, keep growing veggies.

*Update: Rest In Peace, Beautiful Michelle
September 4, 1969- January 5, 2015

*This post was shared at the Homestead Blog Hop


  1. Andrea...there are no words. Your family is in my prayers. I know you feel helpless, and that is totally understandable. I am so sorry that you and your loved ones are suffering. :( Just know that people care.

    1. Thank you, Christina! It means more than you know that you took the time to comment. <3 Thanks for your continuous interaction with my blog and your heartfelt comments, always!

  2. Oh Andrea, there is no right thing to say here, but I'm sending lots of love, prayers, and positive thoughts out to you and your family. The entire world of cancer is horrifying, frightening, and it can make you feel paralyzed in fear, but there is also so much goodness in the world that we can cling to, focus on, and believe in. Hoping some comfort finds your heart soon, and spring comes soon for more veggies <3

    1. Thanks so much for your sweet words, Caitlin. It means so much!

  3. Andrea, it is sad indeed that in your young life you are experiencing a loved one with cancer. There are no words to ease your grief. Take comfort in knowing she is surrounded by loved ones... my thoughts are with you during this difficult time.

    Your post hits on so many elements....and I agree with you on all levels. As a nurse I see way to often the ravages of cancer. High risk lifestyle such as smoking and IV drug use with HepC can certainly put you at higher risk for developing lung and liver cancer. Unfortunately it doesn't stop people from engaging in either. Like you I stopped smoking years ago. I want to lessen my chances of developing a chronic or terminal illness and I do believe the food we eat can either lessen or increase our risk. As a young nurse I rarely saw a women with breast it seems we all know someone who has developed it. Years ago, I ask a physician about why we are seeing so much breast cancer and his answer was we have better ways of detecting it and our population has there are just more cases diagnosed. I just don't buy it. I definitely feel our environment and the food we eat are contributing to cancer and chronic illnesses. We are epidemic on autoimmune disorders and diabetes. I think I've posted this before but...My Grandma lived a long life...she grew a big garden, canned, pickled, ate no processed foods, etc. She passed away at age 96, still living in her own home, no dementia, etc. I attribute her long life and well being to her lifestyle. She was content in her life. I never heard her say she wanted for anything, content with her garden, quilting and feeding wild birds. Over the past 9 yrs we have greatly reduced the amount of processed food we consume...opting to buy meat from local farms(yes it is more expensive...just don't eat as much of it) and growing as much fresh produce as we can. I'm canning and pickling more every year. My new adventure is to start fermenting and baking bread.

    For all of us on the journey to a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle let's not forget to learn to be content. We need to be both healthy in mind and body.

    1. Yes, Yes, and YES! Everything in your response resonates with me. I am so glad you took the time to write this, including your description of your grandmother (I do remember you telling me about her once before!) My paternal grandma lived in much the same way, and lived to 90. She did suffer dementia at the end of her life, but other than that she was extremely healthy...even after having had TB as a teenager which left lasting damage to her lungs. Trying to live a simpler lifestyle like our grandmothers is one way to try to lessen our chances of developing chronic or fatal illness--I agree with you 100%!

  4. Oh beautiful girl, how I LOVED this post. And yet it hurt my heart to read it, Yes, anything can happen at any moment, but I love how you are doing your best regardless. My prayers are with Michelle and her family - including you - during this time of pain, battle, and loss. Keep sowing, keep planting, and enjoy the garden! It is life's remedy for all that ails, at least until another life calls us homeward. (Though I plan to dig in the dirt there, as well! Wink!)

    1. Your reply has brought tears to my eyes and has soothed my anxiety...what a sweet and touching comfort you brought to my heart when I read this. Thank you. And, what is heaven without a garden to dig in? ;)