This I Believe

Kimberly - Fort Collins, Colorado
Entered on May 8, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
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The Year of the Berry Boxes

The yard that wraps around the fence of our southwest facing lot is a flat, blank slate of mostly dead, brown grass, with long tufts of weeds poking through the landscape fabric beneath patches of overgrown landscaping in the corners. It is hideous. And, it couldn’t be more perfect. It’s a neglected yard, deserving of a fresh start, with little worth saving. This is our first spring living in this home, and I have big plans for the entire yard, which include obliterating every scrap of grass outside the fence. But, that will take years. So, I take it one step at a time. I focus on my plans for this year, the year of the berry boxes.

As I dig in the yard, working off the feeling of resentment that is finally beginning to subside more than a year after my cancer diagnosis, I concentrate on the metaphor offered by my bone marrow transplant nurse. He told me that the marrow of my bones was like soil, and that the radiation and chemotherapy would serve to render it infertile, killing the growth of erythroleukemia cells. The stem cells from my sister would serve to refertilize that marrow, allowing it to produce the blood cells that I needed in order to live. With each stab at the dirt, I lash out at the feelings of helplessness, preparing myself for new growth.

I’ve chosen berries—raspberries, strawberries, and, with luck, blueberries—for a simple reason: their red-blue coloring. I’ve toiled over the Internet for hours, generating a growing list of food sources of antioxidants, specifically one called cyanidin-3-rutinoside, found in the skin of berries. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has shown that, when unleashed upon leukemia cells, the purple pigment destroys the cancer. I have chosen berries as a part of my defense against any erythroleukemia cells that may remain, threatening relapse. I have chosen berries for a new beginning.

I have spent more than the last year of my life as a cancer and chemotherapy patient, and now, this year, as a stem cell transplant survivor. Five days of chemo and radiation to prepare, one day for the transplant, and then 100 days of recovery and a life tied to the hospital followed by monthly blood draws and doctor visits. A year is the next milestone, for which I will return to the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, away from my plants in Colorado yet again, for a round of testing, and hopefully, more reassurances. I will return from those appointments at the end of May, and the year of my transplant will have ended. On my way through the yard that I am bringing back to life, I will be thrilled to discover a week’s worth of new growth on my berry plants. I will come home to the year of the berry boxes.

I believe in closing the sadder chapters of our lives, creating new beginnings, and looking forward.