Friday, August 20, 2010

Kate Kessler's thoughts about not battling cancer

I'm a survivor of cancer. And I've had six kinds. The reproductive trifecta -- cervical, fallopian and ovarian. I'm also the winner of the skin cancer trifecta -- basal, squamous, melanoma.

The first time I was told that I had cancer it was cervical, and it didn't cause a great deal of anxiety. The second diagnosis was a double diagnosis. That was a whole different thing, because the ovarian was inoperable.

Shortly after I’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I was reading an interview that had been printed about Michael Landon, Little Joe on  the Bonanza series, and the title of the interview was "The Battle of His Life." And it struck me that the words were so wrong. That the philosophy was wrong. How can you fight something that’s part of yourself and win?

I don’t know if it’s because I’m female, feminist, an avid gardener -- maybe a dog in a past life, because there’s nothing I love better than digging holes in the yard. But for me a garden metaphor works so much better than a "battle" or a "war."

I’m not really a New Age person. I’m the most cynical, skeptical, pessimistic person you could ever imagine. And I would have gone for Western medicine’s big guns if they had been able to help me. But surgery and chemo and radiation weren’t getting all of the things that were growing, and so I had to turn alternative. And I started thinking of my body as a garden. And you need to keep it clean but healthy. And fertile for good things to grow. I literally started a garden at about the same time, and it was so cathartic for me to dig in the dirt and pull out rocks and weed runners and things that didn’t belong in my garden. I put little seedlings in and nurturing those became part of my healing from this cancer.

I think I’ll probably always have cancer cells running around in me. I got the short end of a genome stick. I think my job is to keep my garden as healthy a  place as possible so that my immune system will keep them at bay.

Something worked for me. When I went back a year later, I was told that the places where the tumors had been embedded along my abdominal lining were now scar tissue. I'm going to cry. Because it's been twelve years, and it still stalks me. My lymph fluids were now clear and I had scar tissue where I had had cancer. That's pretty miraculous stuff.

Kate and pack, ready to head out on the Appalachian Trail.


  1. Thank you Kate, it is reaffirming to hear such a positive story about cancer. I use similar analogies in dealing with my inoperable desmoid tumor. May your garden always flourish.


  2. You are an inspiration, Kate.

    Thank you for a different perspective on what it means to live with cancer. I will remember this for now, not if/when it comes back.

  3. Thank you dear Kate. May your memory be a blessing.