“There’s a reason you can learn from everything: you have basic wisdom, basic intelligence, and basic goodness.”
Autumn arrived. Outside, the maple trees turned from green to crimson and gold. Their coat of leaves drifted with the wind and tumbled to earth. Undressed, the bare branches revealed damage from last winter’s ice storm: broken boughs, asymmetrical growth, and scabbed bark. Nature, with its flair for serendipity, transformed the skeletal imperfections. Now, the trees act as scaffolds to support the silk castings of fall spiders. Backlit by the morning sun, these shine like spun silver.
My appreciation for the beauty of the natural world is tempered by my health. I have a blood cancer, multiple myeloma. The disease environment in which I now live comes with complications. In the last five years I received treatments aimed at reducing the damage caused by this incurable malignancy. The cancer markers remain stable following extraordinary chemotherapy and an autologous stem cell transplant. I continue to take low dose oral chemo and steroids. I am healthy… after a fashion.
At this point in the disease milieu, my concern is fatigue. Since diagnosis in 2007, I have endured a low-grade anemia. The cancer is the biggest culprit for this condition due to imbalances between red, white, and platelet blood cells. However, the drugs, for different reasons, also contribute to my inconsistent stamina. And then, of course, there’s my age, sixty-six.
Accordingly, I pace myself with autumn chores. Tilling, pruning, and raking come with the season. Some days, my energy slumps. Other days, due to steroids, my endurance soars. In such circumstances, it’s easy to over exert myself. In fact, I have done so on more than one occasion, leading to a strained back. Therefore, it is incumbent on me to manage the fatigue. Restraint and timing are my friends.
Still, the multitude of leaves must be addressed. I gather them on a large tarp and drag the collection to the gardens for mulch. I limit myself to an hour’s worth of effort. This work is a gift disguised as tedium. The scuttle of a metal rake on the desiccated leaf litter mesmerizes me. The crisp autumn air, pungent with decaying leaves, is intoxicating. I am drunk with solitude and the seamless progression of one season to the next.
I accept my illness as part of the overall order. It is not an anomaly, a mistake, or a bad break. It is here to stay. I must live life with dignity similar to that exuded by the damaged trees persevering on my land. Nature transformed their calamity into renewal. Why, I ask, can’t I do the same?
Do I consider my cancer to be a gift? Hmm… I don’t know. I have acquaintances whose illness follows a path full of fear and pain. They might wrinkle their nose at such an assertion. Harsh lessons do not guarantee a positive metamorphosis. Nonetheless, I understand the sentiment when others express it, for my illness is not devoid of rewards.
One thing is certain; cancer puts me in contact with an emotional core that focuses my attention on what is important. I am more forgiving of others and myself. If that helps me mitigate some of cancer’s ugliness, then maybe I’ve learned something, not to mention that raking leaves is a lot more interesting.