Yesterday marked 10 years from the day of my diagnosis with diffuse large b-cell lymphoma. It was an anniversary that happily passed with little notice. I think back to the days when those milestones were celebrated with vigor, but I think I’m happier to be at a distance from the memory of those days, if that makes sense.
I write about it only to reflect on this. I discovered a lump on July 19th, 2006. I went through three different doctors, none of whom biopsied the lump. It wasn’t until I visited an internist that the lump, the side of an avocado seed, was removed and biopsied. The surgery and diagnosis didn’t come until late September (the 26th). My oncologist was furious when he found out the span of time that had passed from the first doctor’s visit to an official diagnosis.
In those years since that day, I have not been haunted by the cancer; no, that experience changed me for the better. Instead, what haunts me is question that lingers:
Had I been an insured 28-year-old mother of three young children, would I have been treated differently?
Mostly, I dwell on all the good that has come out of this decade. So much struggle, but so much joy attached to each day. I lived to raise my girls, to meet my new husband, to have a son, to start a farm, to follow a dream.
The reality of what happened and what continues to happen to other families will serve as a guide for how I choose to live my life, my vote, my practices. And a reminder of how truly lucky I was back then. And how fortunate I am today.
I’ve been spinning some yarn for my daughter, who loves to knit. And having been separated from the wheel for the better part of a year, it feels good to be back at it. My parents gifted me an old rocking chair that my great grandfather had made long ago. He was so proud of his chair and the work he put into it, from turning each spindle, to the engraving, to the sewing of the cushion (yes, my great grandfather was the seamstress in our family).
The thing about the chair is that it sits low, which I find quite comfortable. Moreover, it’s at exactly the right elevation for the wheel, making it ideal for long hours spinning. And it’s something to think about- the process of making a chair and how similar that is to the process of making yarn; how one cradles the other. That point is not lost on me.
We’ve stayed in Michigan through this time in June to celebrate a few events, including my middle daughter’s birthday yesterday, with friends and family. This last week has become kind of a farewell storm of gearing up for the big trip and meet-ups with friends and family. And the last few days have been especially fun.
Thursday eve was graduation. My girls have had the good fortune of attending a wonderful school in northern Michigan with a heavy focus on outdoor education. The educators are like family, and the girls so closely bonded with friends there. I think of the Greenspire School as a junior high where the difficult years are met with support and respect between students and among students and teachers. It was the one thing that held us here until the very last proverbial bell of the semester rang.
Yesterday, my daughter turned 14 right where I turned 14 (I’m suffer from a condition known as extreme sentimentality), on the shores of East Grand Traverse Bay, braving the chilly water to escape the thick June air. I could barely keep my toes in the water, but these kids stayed in the water for upwards of an hour swimming! My little fishies.
The evening prior, a dear friend I’ve known since high school, and the son of my farming
mentor, invited us to his farm for a send-off gathering. Following one of the best potluck dinners ever, we were met by a wall of wind and water in one of the most wicked storms I’ve seen since last August. We took shelter in the old greenhouse, seated on old wooden benches lit by candlelight. There, we told ghost stories and ate pie to pass the evening until the rain subsided enough for us to partake in the cannibal hot-tub. (Chris is now convinced we need one of these).
This cannibal hot-tub is made like an over-sized barrel with a submerged aluminum wood-fired stove. The water was a consistent and comfortable 98 degrees. Whenever we got too warm, we simply laid our heads back and let the cool rain wash over our faces. Lightning flickered in the distance and the low rumble of thunder shuddered over the churning waters of West Bay. I couldn’t have imagined a better send-off than that.
In the next few days, we’ll be loading the trucks, prepping for the long haul, and by Tuesday eve, arriving back home in New York. Having weathered the storm of this past eight months, it is finally time to put down our roots. Home awaits.
I’m trying to decide what to do with Healing Tree Farm. It has been a remarkable part of my life and has really helped me come to a genuine place of healing after a difficult health ordeal. And while the move out to New York doesn’t constitute starting over, it does feel like a refreshing next step in the direction of a dream. Do I owe that next step a renaming or re-branding? Part of me yearns to step away from the connection to illness, but another part of me feels I owe that process some ongoing recognition.
At the same time, I feel like we’ve outgrown the name, heading into a direction so well-rooted in fiber, despite our continued adoration for apple trees. I have no intention of giving up fruit-growing; I just want to broaden the scope to include a full-scale fiber operation.
When people have asked in the past about Healing Tree, I find myself feeling obligated to share the full story. In NY, there’s a kind of freedom from that, if that makes any sense. I’m no longer the girl who got cancer and started a farm out there. I’m the woman who wants to launch a fiber business.
And it’s purely psychological. Naturally, I don’t have to launch into the full story every time I’m asked about the significance of the Healing Tree, but even if I don’t share the story outwardly, it runs through my mind.
So, as we pack up the fencing and materials at the farm this week, I am engrossed in this ongoing dialogue. Remembering, reflecting, and thinking about which elements to carry on with us, and which to leave behind, both literally and figuratively. And I can genuinely say, it’s a healing process.
There’s something about Upstate New York that feels like home. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to Chris, “This place feels so familiar.” It might simply be the similarities between the landscape of the Mowhawk and Schoharie valleys and the Leelanau. Or perhaps, just maybe, it’s something more.
As I was walking through the woods the other day, I felt a calling. It was strangely unprovoked; a need to research my father’s mother’s side of the family. I was eager to learn more about our Native American heritage. And as I followed the line back, I was shocked to discover it took me to Stone Arabia, NY.
Stone Arabia is just a few miles north of Canajoharie and just east of Little Falls, NY. It was
Christening records that revealed not only our family had lived near Palatine at the end of the 18th century, but that they had come from a town just north of Albany and were likely, at least in part, of Dutch descent. (Chris is Dutch, so this was a fun discovery.)
Now, we’ll be close not only to both sides of my family ancestry, but to Chris’s as well. Let the research begin!
Photo by Doug Kerr from Albany, Upstate New York, United States – Dutch Church – Stone Arabia, New York
My best friend came to town with her photog gear and asked if she could create some portraits of us. The images are so lovely and timeless and we captured them at a place where we have many happy memories. What a nice gift before we leave this home for the new home!
March came in like a lion for me, personally. The biting cold, and the act of raising four children, compounded by the complexities of life left me feeling a bit lost. I had to find a quiet place. I needed to ask for guidance. And I did so through my grandmother, who even after passing out of this world, has always been there in spirit at times when I’ve really needed her.
Her message is still unfolding, but began with a tree. She showed me that the tree is very solid at its trunk. These are the ancestors. As she traced the trunk of the tree to the branches, stopping on the tiniest new growth, a thin whip of a branch, easily damaged by wind or cold, bendable. This is you.Do not put so much weight on this one tiny branch, came the message.
For a while I sat with this message. It made sense, but I also felt a bit bewildered that in seeking out my ancestor for guidance, she suggested I seek out my ancestors. And yet, I trusted. A few days later, two packages arrived in the mail. The books sent by my elder, Lee.
As I have sat in the quiet evening and early morning hours, reading through these books, I have found myself feeling contentment as I have not felt in some time. A kind of trust that this life is a process of finding balance; that I cannot put all of the weight of the world on my own two shoulders; that I am but a newly emerging branch of a large, looming tree, or the speck of human on the larger evolutionary timeline. There is a steady comfort in this balance, and the realization with it that we are not isolated beings, but part of the whole. The balance restored.