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’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.
Ten years ago, I was living in the rural outskirts of Traverse City, building garden beds as a leisurely summer activity with my three toddlers. I could never have imagined how much my life would change in the coming decade. By the end of that summer, I began feeling ill with trouble breathing and nightmares about dying. In September of that year I was diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma and began immediate treatments, lasting into the following year.
Little did I realize that a single event, a phone call that I picked up while standing at the kitchen counter, in which a surgeon very plainly announced the diagnosis with little emotion in his voice, that my life as a farmer would truly begin. Not out of a desire to farm, specifically (although I have always wanted this life), but out of a need to find answers; alternatives to biocides used in fruit production.
This morning, I looked out at the calm waters of Lake Michigan and the sunlight spilling
over the hilltop through the windows, and felt my heart swell for the little apple whips beginning their first full season as individual trees. These trees represent so much more than the salvation of a single apple variety. They are also the culmination of a decade’s long effort toward restorative agriculture. Progressing toward a desire to save not only rare apples, but also to satisfy my own desire to see my children play among the orchard trees the way I once did as a child, but free from the worry of toxins.
Farmers, generally, whether they spray or use alternative growing methods, are some of the best people I’ve ever known. And this little travelling orchard is representative of not only my hope for the future, but of my admiration for my fellow farmers. I know the struggles we each endure regularly, the set-backs and failures that make this business challenging, and the pioneering spirit that keeps it all moving forward. Because this business of growing is as much about growing food as it is growing from within.