Saturday, July 3, 2010

As the Garden Matures, So Goes the Gardener

I'm thinking about how we age and what that means. I remember when I was going through chemotherapy and I was caught up with a passion for admiring old women. Worried that I might not get to be one, I was entranced by women in their 60s and 70s. I studied the wrinkles around their eyes, the soft flesh on their arms, the heft of their stout bodies. And I saw these women as beautiful, desirable, admirable. I wanted more than anything else to live to be an old woman. To age, by most accounts, is something to fear. In our culture, where youth and beauty is a commodity, the aging process becomes ugly, sad and frightening.

The July garden is an aging garden. In places, the plants are wrinkled and browned at the tips for lack of rain. The early blooms are limp on the stems. The soil is cracked and parched. Some of the flowers are nipped and damaged by the deer. The grass is thinning. But, like an aging woman, a mature garden is a thing to behold. Now in July, the rough and ready coneflowers make their sturdy appearance alongside the cheery rudbeckias and the phlox are emboldened by the bright, hot sun. The tomatoes ripen. The leaves of the basil grow rich and full. And for the gardener, the task of gardening becomes nothing more than clipping, watering, mowing  (if the grass will grow) and untwirling the bindweed tendrils from around the stems of the hydrangeas.

And so with little to do in the garden, it is appropriate that I choose July to advance myself into the world of the old woman. Next Friday, to hedge my bets against ovarian cancer, I'm going to have the last of my reproductive organs removed. My ovaries will be snipped and removed through tiny laparoscopic incisions. The urgency to do this presented itself a week or so ago, when doctors discovered that a few ovarian cysts were producing whooping levels of estrogen--not a good thing for a survivor of an estrogen-receptive breast cancer. The irony is I'm young again these past few weeks, since I'm hopped up on estrogen. I'm feeling remarkably well. My hair is thicker and more manageable. My skin is soft and clear. I'm sleeping through the night. I have gobs of energy. Nothing aches. This morning, I slept in until almost 10--something I haven't done since before Claire was born.

So I'll age like a garden in one season. Lush and lovely one moment. Mature and fading the next. The doctors call it surgical menopause and they use phrases like "dramatic" to describe my symptoms. I have no idea what that means but I wonder if instead of hot flashes, I'll experience something more incendiary? The other symptoms are simply too gruesome to talk about in polite company. But the upshot is this, I'm certain to be a sagging, flatulent, bone weakened, ornery, sleep-deprived old hag by the end of the month.

Okay seriously. It's not that bad. No worries. In fact earlier this week, a friend--a fellow survivor--had a terrible scare when she thought that a large mass in her ovary was cancer. It wasn't, thankfully. But for a few terrifying days, she feared for her life. The entire incident put some perspective on my situation and vanquished my pathetic petulance. Life is good and I'm going to get old enjoying more of it. And maybe my super hot flashes will provide some extra warmth to keep all my tropical plants alive through the winter. The Putterer


  1. What a beautiful post. I hope it all goes well. Thanks for sharing, you have such a way with words.

  2. May we all age gracefully, brilliantly and appreciate the wrinkles in life. Beautiful writing Beth.

    Be well,

  3. So very beautifully spoken. You have helped me put a new perspective on my own aging. Thank you.