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Finding Hope Among the Thorns of Cancer

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We can learn a lot from flowers.

About 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a slow-growing but incurable blood cancer.

It was about that same time, 10 years ago, that spring became my favorite season.

As a native New Englander, I have always loved fall. Beautiful foliage. Cool weather. Long sleeves. Sweet apples. Fall is a great time of year.

But when I became a cancer patient, something in me starting to love the spring. Snow melts. Brown things turn green. The sun shines a little brighter. Long sleeves come off on warm afternoons.

It was about that same time, 10 years ago, that a neighbor took down an old, rotting tree. Suddenly, there was enough sunlight in a dark corner of my backyard that I was inspired to plant some spring bulbs. Crocus. Hyancinth. Tulips.

And, of course, daffodils.

Daffodils are the cancer patients’ flower. They symbolize hope. They bring a warmth and brightness that signals spring, and all that comes with it – especially the promise of new beginnings.

That sunny patch gave me something to look forward to every spring.

And then, about four years ago, I slipped on some ice and badly injured my shoulder. (Even as a native New Englander, I’m not a big fan of winter.) I spent that spring recovering from surgery, my arm in a sling, with physical therapy three times a week through the summer.

My sunny patch suffered. Weeds took over, and squirrels dug up my spring bulbs for food after a particularly rough winter. My little patch was never the same again.

But squirrels giveth, even as they taketh away.

By fall, my bulb patch was infested with long thorny stems where tulips and hyacinth used to live.

The next spring, those thorny green stems were covered in small white flowers.

By August, those white flowers were replaced by sweet blackberries.

Apparently, while eating my bulbs, a squirrel had dropped some blackberries and gotten me started on a new hobby – making blackberry jam out of all the fruit I was soon harvesting.

And the squirrel was also kind enough to leave behind one spring bulb for me.

It was a daffodil, of course.


As a cancer patient, the lessons are obvious to me:

First, even in what seems like the greatest despair, you can find hope. That photo above was taken a week ago. Like a daffodil poking up through the thickest thorns, hope manages to survive and give us something beautiful.

And second, gifts sometimes come from the strangest places. Those annoying squirrels took away my bulbs but left me blackberries. Sometimes it’s hard to see, but even cancer can bring us gifts. Maybe we take better care of ourselves. Or pay attention to things we ignored before.

Or appreciate small things, like the sweet taste of a sun-warmed blackberry.

Originally published: May 10, 2018
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