Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Is This Spring Different From All Other Springs?

I don't know why, but there are some things I have noticed this spring in the garden that are very unusual.

First, I have some lily of the valley, and usually only about 1 in 10 plants has a flower. Still, with over 1000 plants in the garden, I have many, many flowers. And yet this year, almost every plant has a flower. To top it off, today I even saw some flowers stems without any leaf. Just the flower!

Then there are the foxglove. Every fall I spread foxglove (digitalis) seeds from the flowers that bloomed the previous summer, and I did so last fall. What I am noticing now is that the ground is literally covered with a carpet of tiny green plants. Many more than usual of the foxglove seeds have germinated and are producing the beginnings of foxglove plants. There must be 10's of thousands of baby foxglove plants.

And more daffodils bloomed this year than any of the past 5 years, and the Jack-in-the-Pulpits are abundant as well. The garden is gorgeous, even though we had some very hot days that killed off the tulips.

So I am wondering if the climate -- a late warm fall & very cold winter -- is conducive to the flowering and growth of the plants. Or maybe it is something else. Maybe it really worked to fertilize the garden early this spring with the 10-10-10 fertilizer!!!

And even though I don't know the exact reason why the gardens are doing so well this year, you can bet that I will continue to fertilize.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Celebrating the Earth

As the weather gets warmer and spring flowers are blooming, I especially enjoy walking around my neighborhood to see all the lovely gardens. And since every physical therapist I speak to tells me to walk every day, even if it is just for 15 minutes, I make a point to go for walks between 30-45 minutes when my strength allows.

Yesterday was a gorgeous sunny day, with temperatures over 60 degrees around 10 in the morning. So I did my warm-up exercises, put on my walking shoes and headed out the front door.

I chose a route that took me past my favorite gardens so I could see what was blooming and what was just sprouting out of the ground. I saw tulips and daffodils and hyacinths blooming, pink and white magnolia trees flowering, and a large cherry blossom tree in bloom that I had never seen blooming before. There was an audible sound of bees buzzing at the cherry blossom tree, and I stood to look at the beauty and listen to the bees when I passed by.

Also on my walk I saw a fair amount of random trash. A plastic bag here, a bottle there, a cup here, a can there. Most yards were mostly clean, but near the curb there were bits of garbage and trash everywhere I walked.

So when I got home, I made a decision. Since Earth Day is coming, I would give a present to the Earth (and myself and my neighbors) and clean up the neighborhood. I got 2 large plastic bags, my picker-upper tool, and I retraced my walk AGAIN, this time picking up trash. What usually took 30 minutes without stopping became a 90 minute walk as I stopped to pick up every piece of plastic, paper, or metal trash along my route. I filled one bag with trash, and the other bag with recyclables -- mostly plastic cans, bottles, & cups. And before I got home, the bags were full and so heavy that I had to stop before I finished cleaning up along the last street.

So today when it was time to take my walk, I went in reverse to complete the trash collection. And I received several unexpected gifts.

First, when I passed a yard where a woman was gardening, she saw what I was doing and said, "Bless your heart." That felt nice, to be blessed. Someone else had blessed me yesterday as I started out on my mission -- a rabbi from down the street drove past me with my bags and my picker-upper tool and said, "God bless you."

Then on my return today, as I walked down the street that I had just cleaned of bits of trash, the same woman who had said 'Bless your heart' handed me a bunch of daffodils from her garden and said, "Thank you for cleaning up the neighborhood." I answered with, "Oh, this is so sweet. You are welcome." I had wanted to give the Earth and the neighborhood a present for Earth Day, and I received some of the bounty of the Earth in return.

In actuality, I prefer to think that every day is Earth Day, rather than one day a year, and I express my gratitude every day for what the Earth offers us. It was wonderful to receive the gifts of words and flowers. I didn't expect them, and I didn't need them, but they were wonderful gifts and acknowledgments from the Universe that when we give of ourselves, we also receive.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Reds Have Arrived

Spring is here and the reds have arrived!

The red trillium plants are growing in the woodlands.
The maple sap is running (and dripping) and the red maple trees are showing a red glow at the tips of their branches.
The cardinals are happily singing in the trees.

In the sunny spots, the crocus are blooming in whites, yellows, purples and stripes; the anenome are fully opened; the daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips are beginning to blossom; the forsythia and mucronolatum azalea have just opened; the wood poppy and bleeding heart are showing many buds; the magnolia and peach trees are covered with buds.

In the shady places, the plants and flowers are beginning to appear. I can see the tips of many Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants starting to peep out of the ground. Today I counted 116 red trillium buds and 23 white trillium buds, with more plants that have yet to uncurl their leaves; also 14 dog-tooth violets; 4 flowering shoots of 'Dutchman's Breeches' which haven't bloomed for 2 years; 7 bloodroot flowers; 25 columbine plants, and a similar number of cardinal flower plants.

Now about that bloodroot. I wrote last year (on my 3rd blog entry in May 2008) about the sudden disappearance of the bloodroot from my garden. And in the area where it disappeared, where there were over 50 plants just 2 years ago, there are still NO SIGNS of the plant at all. And yet, across the yard near my trillium there have always been a few bloodroot plants (including last year), and this year there are 7 beautiful white, daisy-like flowers.

The sky has been blue all week, the grasses are greening, and the reds have arrived. It is a symphony of color, all to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Multiple Myeloma Treatment -- Saying Emphatic 'NO' to a Double Bone Marrow Transplant

One thing I do know is that doctors don't know everything. A good doctor will admit this. Some doctors like to think they do know everything, including what will happen to you if you do this or that, or don't do this or that. And yet, they cannot predict the outcome of a particular treatment for a disease, or specify a prognosis for an individual other than statistically.

So when the doctors in Arkansas at the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy recommended last May that I undergo a double bone marrow transplant, I asked why. They told me the only way I would be cured was if I got a double bone marrow transplant. And yet, on further questioning, it turned out that not all patients who underwent the double bone marrow transplant that they specialize in was actually cured. I did ask what the mortality rate for the transplant was, and I was told by the doctor that is was 1%. But when I went home to read the literature they provided, I learned that I hadn't been told the whole story.

Yes, the mortality rate for the bone marrow transplant is 1%, if one is talking only about that piece of the procedure. But the overall procedure includes first killing all of the bone marrow with heavy duty chemo, and the mortality rate for that was given as 4%. Then 1% for the transplant. And then they did the procedure again, with chemo, for which there was a 3% mortality on the second try (for the people who got that far). So given all of these percentages (based on 2005 data), the overall mortality rate for the double bone marrow transplant procedure is 8%.

So then I asked the doctor, "Why would I elect a procedure that would have a 1 in 12 chance of killing me, especially when there is no guarantee of a cure?" The doctor answered by telling me that the statistics are much better now, 3 years later, with an overall mortality from the procedure of 3% rather than the 8% quoted in the literature. And I still say -- "OK, with a procedure that has a 1 in 33 chance of killing me, why would I elect to do it?"

There are no guarantees in life, except that life will end. We like to think that we are immortal, and doctors like to think that they have the power to give life, but they are not in charge. They are certainly not in charge of me.

Part of learning whether a double bone marrow transplant is truly helpful to patients should involve following a sample of people who elect the procedure, and comparing them with a sample of people who do not. But when my mother asked the question, "What about the people who did not have the double bone marrow transplant -- how long did they live?", the doctor answered that there was no current data on these people. While the doctors could show that people who survived the double bone marrow transplant would live longer than myeloma patients used to live without the transplant, the doctors couldn't tell me how patients fare these days with newer treatments other than the bone marrow transplant.

In my own oncologist's words, a double bone marrow transplant is overkill. "If you survive the procedure, you will live longer." And I say, "Longer than what?" Certainly longer than if I were to die from the procedure. It's not like I can clone myself and find out what would happen if I do this, or what would happen if I do that. I must choose a course that I am comfortable with. Not the course that a particular doctor wants, because a doctor does not have to live with the consequences of my choice. I do. And I was told that it would take about 6 months for the overall double bone marrow transplant procedure, and then about 1 year for the body to recover. For the people who live through it.

And right now, at this time in my life, I choose quality of life in the present moment. I am face to face with my mortality. I know I will not live forever. None of us know what will claim our life, or when our last breath will be. Just that it will be.

And I will forgo the chemicals and creating a battle ground inside my body. For I choose to live in peace. Loving all of myself. Accepting that which I face. Not being afraid of it, or of what life has to offer. And I have never been so happy, so clear, so at peace and at ease with my life and my choices as I am now. For I know that I am always at choice to make a new choice, for I am the one who is creating my life.