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A Cactus that grows and destroys the desert in a heart: excerpt from “Today Cancer, Tomorrow The World”

September 24, 2012

This picture was taken when I was receiving chemo during the winter of 2012.

Part One

A local named Driveway Dave stood by his van and said, “Fred, you need any plants?”

He was called Driveway Dave because he once lived in a van parked in a nearby driveway near Pleasure Point. Now, he was in his late sixties, retired, and spent his days hanging at the beach, throwing a ball for stray dogs, talking to anyone who moved. He was a good natured guy, who cared about others.

I put my board on the surf racks and went over to him. He opened the van’s back doors. There were all these different cactus plants and some flowers. I spotted a dried and stunted stub of a nearly dying cactus was in a Popeye Spinach can. Its plight touched me. When I was a kid and watched Popeye cartoons, I asked Mom to buy spinach. She did. I hated it! Still do–and I don’t trust people who like creamed Spinach, they’re duplicitous. But it was the can that made me want to get the plant. I vividly remember Popeye being nearly defeated by Bluto in the cartoons. Popeye squeezed a can of spinach and a leafy stream shot up in the air into his mouth and powered him with super-human strength. That’s whaty I needed from the gro0wth of this cactus. I took it home.

I looked at my cactus and thought of myself too. I have cancer and you don’t feel good either and we’ll grow together.

Part Two

Months later, after I recovered from chemo, I tired to strengthen myself for an upcoming operation by paddling in the ocean. When I got back from my surf session, I was sweeping the dirt and leaves from the deck of our house. Lying on the steps was the little cactus plant Driveway Dave gave me. Our cat must have knocked it off the railing a few days ago. It had spilled out on the stairs. Its leaves shriveled and its roots dried out in a small pile the dry dirt. The cat or wind must have knocked it off the railing. . This frightened me. It was a bad sign. Like finding a dead baby bird that dropped from a nest. I picked up the six-inch plant, scooped up some of the dirt, got some water and placed its dry roots back into the moist soil. Then I put it in the shade thinking it already had enough sun. I need you to get well, I thought. The cactus looked wasted. I checked on it for the next couple weeks. No signs of life—it was still brown, no new leaves, and resembled a brown stick with a flaking bristles of a faded green brush on its tip.but the water I put in the can was always gone. So I wasn’t giving up on this cactus. We had gone through chemo and cancer together. Was the dead cactus a sign that my tumor was going to reappear in my body? I tried to believe the death of this plant was insignificant. But, I couldn’t help but believe if my green buddy didn’t bloom, I wasn’t going to make it.

Part Three

I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away the little cactus. For weeks its dried stem with withered leaved look more like a frayed stick. I couldn’t throw it away in the garbage. It was like tossing something I believed into a garbage can. And I’ve never done that. One day, I thought of just heaving it into the woods. But I just couldn’t find it in myself to abandon this plant. I kept putting water into the Popeye Spinach can, and the water kept disappearing. So, I hoped the plant, even though it looked so dead, had a little root of life still tingling in the soil. After all, he was a cactus! They’re used to hard times in dryness. I thought we went through the Big C together, I rescued him at the start of my treatment, nurtured him along, then an uninvited circumstance knocked him from the railing and he looked like he died. This struck a highly vulnerable cord within me. I tried to dismiss what happened. After all, it was just a plant. But we were connected somehow. I couldn’t give up on him. I kept watering and watering. If you looked at the plant, you’d think I just hadn’t accepted the inevitable—it looked as dead as can be. Then, one day I check on my little cactus. I spotted a tightly wound coil of green in the center of my little cactus’ bud, a growing green amid the withered dry leaves! He’s alive! My little buddy pulled through.  His bud of growth was a spread out a warmth from the center of my chest and rose like a force from a pivot with a mallet and sent a puck and rung the bell atop the tower of a feat-of-strength carnival in my head. We won in our game of chance. I was so relieved and happy! I cried over my little plant. He was back with me again!

I suspected it but couldn’t admit it, but I knew it now, this was more than me hoping the little cactus would live, I believed if this little uprooted plant it was an ominous sign that cancer was going to return and I wasn’t going to live. And he returned to me. The cactus was MY HOPE.

 

Me and my buddy of growth.

Part Four

I have to get the PET SCAN tomorrow. They will shoot glucose into me. Cancer likes glucose. If there’s a glow in my tumor area, then the Big C’s heartless body is beating; if not, then in that darkness my light is born. When I was ill, I felt an unwanted presence lurking inside me. I was out of balance. I didn’t feel all of me. There was the numb of a finger over my lens preventing a clear shot of any picture around me. Now, the only presence I feel inside me is gratitude for others who cared for me—that’s it, gratitude. Cancer can’t be grateful because it’s never satisfied. It’s self-destructive.

I went outside to check on my cactus buddy. He was greener, had another circular layer of leaves, and his fan of purple outer leaves had returned. I smiled and felt like a child, amused by something cute.

I panted heavily breaths out,” Eh, eh, eh, eh,” each “eh” scrunches my face tighter and tighter, and the drip-irragation of tears just flow. This has happened to me often throughout my battle with the Big C, sometimes just going through the hardship of a cure and devatsted and exhilarated by my pumping heart of being here and being nearly taken away from all and returning and the hearing music that moves me and then being flashed back into all the movies and lines and heroes that inspired me and the , and the and the–endlessly unwinding of everything that tightly winds again and springs me. I go into a constant daydream where I’m in  the Stanford Cancer Center and dancing to  “She’s My Baby” by the Travelling Wilbury’s and I imagine myself wearing box gloves and dancing in the middle of the lobby and up the stairs and into the Infusion Clinic and through the rooms of recliners where I laid and had chemo drip into me and out down the hallways from a-f clinics for all the different types of cancer and f-to-a-ingback again and dance out through the doors, waving my arms and punching out at the blue skies and bursting forth with all my leaves into the ever-facing sun.

It was nice to know something outside of me was growing again.

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