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Guest Post – How Gardening Helps Cancer Patients Cope

When I was first diagnosed with mesothelioma, I knew my live was never going to be the same. In fact, I felt like it was over. I am still fighting this terrible type of cancer, but I have a lot of ways to cope with the physical and emotional symptoms now. I discovered one of them when I returned to one of my passions: gardening. Working outdoors doesn’t have to be strenuous, and it can be soothing, invigorating, and it brings joy back to my life.

A Battle with Mesothelioma

My story begins when I was growing up in West Virginia. Without a lot of money in our family, I had to work from an early age. I worked in demolition, helping tear down old buildings, and eventually as an auto mechanic. I didn’t realize at the time, but in both of these jobs I was surrounded by asbestos dust. It came crashing down with the demolished building and it floated in the air as it came out of old brakes and clutches.

Asbestos exposure caused me to develop mesothelioma, the cancer that has attacked the tissues around my lungs. It took decades to show signs, but when it did, I was laid low by shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pains. Initially diagnosed with pneumonia, I finally got the correct diagnosis and started treatment to slow the progression of the cancer.

Gardening is Good For the Soul

Even with treatment I know that beating mesothelioma is nearly impossible. This is a tough disease, even among all types of cancer. The symptoms are difficult and drain my energy and the tumors spread quickly and aggressively. What I have found, though, is that I can get relief from the anxiety and stress of this illness by working outside in the yard and by creating and maintaining my garden.

It may be that gardening takes my mind away from worrying about being sick, from my symptoms, and from the difficulties of treatment. I think there is also something to the fact that just being outdoors boosts mood. I feel better when I am in the fresh air, with my hands in the dirt and enjoying all the sounds, sights, and smells of nature.

Gardening is One of Few Ways I Can Stay Active

Another great thing about gardening is that it is one of the very few active things I can still do. The cancer and the treatments I receive have left me much weaker than I have ever been, with little energy and difficulty breathing. I can’t even walk for very long, but gardening can be done at my own pace and without being too strenuous. I have my family to help me with the more difficult chores, but doing much of the work in the garden myself gives me a chance to get a little exercise.

Gardening and being outdoors are proven to be beneficial for all kinds of people, and that includes us cancer patients. It doesn’t require a great deal of expertise, and it can reduce stress and anxiety and provide a safe and meaningful way to get some exercise, to strengthen muscles, and to prevent some of the weakness and fatigue that this disease causes. Most any cancer patient can benefit from getting outdoors and doing a little work in the garden.

By V. Anderson

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