Friday, May 6, 2016

Hope Springs Eternal

In 2005, I planted a lilac bush in our back yard. Each year since, I've waited with great anticipation to see blossoms. It took about four years to see my first one. I'm not much of a gardener, but I've always had a personal connection with this bush. It means a great deal to me to have lilacs at this time of year. My birthday falls during lilac season, and if my lilac bush blooms, I have a much better birthday. For the past three seasons, a late frost has killed my lilacs before they fully bloomed. I'm always really bummed out when that happens.

This year, it was very important to me that my lilacs survive. Because of my emotional state with Lupron in my system, it would have been especially disappointing to me if they had not. I know that it was irrational - par for the course for me these days - but this year, my first spring after my cancer diagnosis, I began to look on my lilac bush as a sign of hope. If the blossoms survived, I would take it as a good omen. If not..., well, better not to go there.

The past month and a half didn't make it easy. If you've read my posts for the past few weeks, you know that my moods have been more bad than good. I've had a constant undercurrent of anger, which I believe is a side effect of the Lupron in my system. 

I've said ever since my first shot that it seems like Lupron imposes menopause on a man. If this is how menopausal, premenstrual, and pregnant women feel, this explains a lot.

While going through all of this, and dealing with some genuine anger issues that hormone treatment has exposed, I clung to the hope that, if my lilac bush could survive all of the spring snowstorms that we had for the past month and a half and still bloom, I could get through my emotional roller coaster and come out on the other side "in full flower" myself.

Again, I know that it was an irrational, emotional thing to cling to, but I couldn't help it. I'm hormonal. Welcome to womanhood, as my friend Deanna would say.

On March 23rd of this year, we got a doozy of a snowstorm. I took the top picture above, and posted it on Facebook with the caption, "Please don't kill my lilacs..., Please don't kill my lilacs..." The buds were barely showing at that point, but I went out in our backyard every hour, knocking snow off of the branches. I was emotionally invested in that bush, and I was gonna do everything I could to save my lilacs.

My friends in the Denver area know what the next six weeks have been like, weather-wise. We had at least three more snowstorms, the final one (we all sincerely hope!) being last weekend. Here is a picture of the same bush one week later, on March 31st.

During each storm, I faithfully went out and knocked snow off of the branches to try to save my lilacs. Each time a storm hit, the blossoms were a little farther along in their development, and therefore more vulnerable to cold.

I will admit now that, more than once, while outside knocking snow off with a broom, with snow dumping on my head, I was in tears, praying that my lilacs would survive. Somehow, I had the idea that if I could save my lilacs, things would go well for me this spring. Emotionally, at least. But the biggest test came during the past week or so.

Last weekend, two things happened, one positive, and one negative. On the positive side, thanks to my dear friend, the aforementioned Deanna Griffiths, I discovered a supplement, 5-HTP, to help regulate my moods and mute the constant undercurrent of anger I was feeling. An online quiz had told me that I was "under a dark cloud," and I certainly was. The constant assaults on my lilac bush, and my seemingly futile efforts to save it, mirrored my futile efforts to control my emotional ups and downs.

On the negative side, we had one more (again, we all sincerely hope with all of our hearts!!!) spring snowstorm. This one lasted all weekend. By this time, my lilacs were almost fully in bloom. The snow was so sticky that I couldn't knock the snow off without losing blossoms, because they were too big by then, and too heavy from moisture. But I had begun taking the supplement, and my mood had lifted. All I could do was hope and pray that my lilacs would be OK.

Monday morning, I saw something very discouraging. Frost on the mailbox and on the grass. I felt sure that, in spite of all of my efforts, I would lose my lilacs. But because of the supplement, and also because of the progress I'm making with my therapist, I thought I'd be OK with losing them. But I was kidding myself. That frost did kill the blossoms on our peach tree. Having a bush full of dead lilac blossoms would have been a crushing blow.

But as you can see, they not only survived, but we have the largest crop of blossoms we've ever had on that bush. Which makes sense, since the bush has continued to grow in spite of not having bloomed in three years. This makes me very happy, as you can imagine. I know it's not logical, but I do take it as a sign of hope.

When you have cancer, you need encouragement from wherever you can get it. When you're on hormone treatment, anything that lifts your spirits is a good thing. Spring, in general, lifts our spirits, especially if you live in an area where it gets cold in the winter. Brown turns to green. Trees start leafing out. Flowers start to bloom. The weather gets warmer. You can enjoy your patio again. All of these things have helped my emotional state recently. But the storms have been a constant reminder of the things that try to pull me down. I tried to fight against it, but I couldn't get the best of the snow or my emotions on my own. I needed help.

My lilac bush needed help, too. Both it and I have had some setbacks. But today, life is good. Hope springs eternal. 

The bush did lose some blossoms. Without all of those storms, our crop would have been larger, but not by that much. But that's not true of me. I'm experiencing a greater harvest in my life. Not in spite of the storm, but because of it.

Of course I don't believe that my lilacs' survival has any connection to mine. But it does have a profound effect on my happiness, which feeds into my general outlook. Any cancer patient can tell you that a positive attitude makes a huge difference. But my lilac bush's happy ending is not my source of hope or encouragement. It does help, though. Seeing that bush more full of lilacs than it's ever been before after so much effort and emotional investment on my part does help me feel like if my lilac bush can survive what it's gone through, I can survive what I'm going through.

Since I went public with my cancer last October, you have been the ones out in the snow, knocking the snow off of my branches to make sure I don't break under the weight of it. Over and over you have done this, and I'll never be able to thank you enough. You've been the source of my encouragement. The lilacs are just the icing on the cake. Birthday cake.

The incredible aroma from my lilac bush fills my nostrils, and I do take it as a sign of hope. But it's not my source of hope. My hope comes from the God that I worship, and who I am getting to know better with each passing day. He gives me hope that I will be able to endure whatever this winter season of life throws my way. And at the end of it all, whatever that means for me, I will come out on the other side in full bloom. And the sweet aroma of his presence will affect all who come near me. Not in spite of the storm, but because of it. Hope springs eternal, for eternity.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)


  1. What a beautiful story!! So touched by this. God is good!

  2. I'm glad that the supplement is working. I'm REALLY glad that the lilacs survived. I'm REALLY, REALLY glad that you have hope in God. Love ya!