Few of us will get through life unscathed by the Big-C; Cancer. Even if we escape the diagnosis ourselves the chances are high that we have family and friends who were not so fortunate. My Dad (esophagus), maternal granddad (throat), paternal grandma (ovarian) and maternal aunt (breast and melanoma) all faced this challenge and I have sadly lost count of the number of friends who have battled this disease. It’s a cruel, life changing diagnosis that leaves us all; patients and caregivers, reeling and wondering what the future will hold.
This powerful book written by my friend Jenny Peterson will look you in the eyes, pull you up and help you take the first step and then the next and the one after that. As a garden designer and cancer survivor herself she writes from experience, balancing compassion and empathy with practical ways to “cultivate hope, healing and joy in the ground beneath your feet”. It isn’t a ‘how-to garden’ book but rather has been written to help readers “enjoy your life and the world around you, even if you have cancer” . Consider this book your companion during the journey of healing. The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion is set out in three section; Body, Mind and Spirit.
Does the very thought of getting out of bed exhaust you? Does working in the garden seem an overwhelming task? Jenny has got some great ideas to help you get some gentle exercise outdoors as part of your daily routine. From cardio (e.g. hoeing weeds) to stretching (e.g. raking leaves) and ways to strengthen your bones (weight bearing exercises such as rearranging patio furniture or dragging a garden hose!) and shares how yoga has helped her together with design tips for a yoga deck garden that you could build. You’ll also laugh out loud as she relays the story of her late night planting by headlight with husband Brett …..
In this section you’ll also visit inspirational therapeutic gardens, learn about juicing your home grown veggies and discover easy aromatherapy.
Depression affects far more than just those struggling with cancer. That dark, foggy cave is familiar to many of us who have battled chronic disease, bereavement (loss of family, friends, job, marriage…) and more yet Jenny encourages you to “allow your garden to heal your mind, keep it sharp, and ultimately bring you joy in the midst of the difficulties“.
I love the ideas in this section which were practical and creative without being too taxing. Things like seeking inspiration in gardening catalogs, Pinterest boards, magazines and books all remind us of the possibilities. Then Jenny puts her designer hat on as she shows you how to sketch a new garden bed, research cool new plants and solve garden problems.
Another idea which I highly endorse is to take up garden photography; even with your phone. I know from experience that I always feel much happier after an hour of taking pictures in the garden. Instead of focusing on myself and my worries I find myself totally absorbed in the delicate petal formation of a flower, or the way the sunlight glints on a frosty branch like a thousand diamonds, or how stunning the red maple leaf looks next to a golden smoke bush…. Basically I look out and not in and that is the first step to healing the mind at least for me. Being in the garden and observing the natural world that continues its cycle whether or not we are sick is a much needed reminder that life does go on outside our personal bubble.
This second section also talks about building your personal community and ways your garden can become a nurturing gathering place. You’ll meet my dear friend and cancer survivor Rebecca Sweet in this chapter and will doubtless shed tears (as I did) reading about her Head Shaving Party but the very fact that this took place in Rebecca’s beautiful garden was in itself healing. The garden and her friends and family were wrapping their arms around her during that difficult time.
Acknowledging different belief systems, Jenny discusses prayer and meditation in the garden in a very easy-to-read/non-New Agey way. It won’t offend Christians nor turn off atheists in case you were wondering! The sounds and scent of the garden together with the feel of the breeze all helped her body relax which allowed her heart and mind to follow. Jenny also offers suggestions for the flowers you may like to incorporate in your meditation garden based on their meaning e.g. coneflowers (Echinacea) for strength and healing.
This final section also includes ideas for activities that can be meditative such as watering and deadheading flowers together with a great idea for walking a labyrinth with tips for designing one.
Throughout the book you will also notice Survivor Spotlights where you will meet men and women, learn a little about their journey and read the ways they found their garden to be healing for them.
Win a Signed Copy
I was so taken with this book that I sat and read it cover to cover in one sitting. I laughed and I cried. I was inspired and felt empowered. More than anything I felt as though Jenny while acknowledging the difficulties life could throw at us she wouldn’t allow me to wallow in a heap of self pity, but rather was willing to come alongside me and gently prod and push as needed. I don’t have cancer but know many who do. I have already given this as a gift to a friend and plan on purchasing several more.
You can order copies online or enter to win simply by leaving a comment below. A random drawing will take place on Monday February 1st 7pm Pacific Time and the winner notified by email. If you are not a regular subscriber and are concerned I won’t be able to find you feel free to include your email address in your comment. Jenny will send a copy to the winner as soon as I can relay your mailing address to her.
The drawing is now CLOSED. Thanks for taking part and congratulations to the winner LAUREL HOUNSLOW!! I’m sending you an email.