Brain Cancer: Blooming as we can

It’s been a pretty good  weekend here in the land of brain cancer. Friday evening’s mail brought the hoped-for CD with Richard’s scans (actually two CDs containing 20 recent MRIs and CT scans), the final piece needed to complete our application for the tumor vaccine clinical trial at University of California-San Francisco that seems to offer the most promise for treating the glioblastoma growing in Richard’s right brain.

Saturday morning we walked to the Post Office, hand in hand, not as fast as we once would have  walked because the tumor has slowed Richard’s brain and his coordination. But we walked, he carrying the huge envelope with 168 pages of  his medical records, all carefully sorted and clipped by category: radiation reports, surgery reports, pathology reports, etc., plus the CDs, the application forms, our check for the outside evaluation fee and the cover letter “explaining what the patient and family hope for” as per the application instructions.

The latter  seems pretty self-evident:  We’d like him to survive grade IV brain cancer, something few people manage to do. I tried to articulate our hopes thoughtfully, allowing that we’d like a miracle, but we’d settle for less:

… What we hope for is more time for Richard to enjoy life, what he terms, “walking about on the face of this earth,” time for him to complete more of his sculptures using native rock, steel and wood (, time for us to simply enjoy each other. 

After we mailed the packet off via Express Mail to arrive on Monday, we walked back home, again hand in hand, happy to have set the process  in motion. We hope to hear something  by the end of next week, and then we’ll know whether he’s headed into another brain surgery and vaccine injections in San Francisco, or whether he’s headed for stereotactic radiation surgery to slow the tumor at University of Colorado Medical School east of Denver.

The wind was howling  when we walked to the Post Office, but by the time we got home, it was balmy, so I spent the rest of the day in the yard, beginning my spring cleanup in our dyland native meadow “lawn.”By dinnertime, I was exhausted, but rejuvenated by hours of communing with the thriving native plant community of our yard. (The photo below shows our native meadow yard in June, when the wildflowers are just beginning their summer-long show. It’s still pretty  brown now, the perennial grasses and wildflowers waking up slowly in this year of record drought.)

Unlike a lawn, this native grassland doesn’t need (or like) being mowed. It needs essentially no maintenance, except a once-a-year trim. Before we restored this bunchgrass grassland with its dotting of wildflowers, I researched the biological history of our place, learning what it was like when it was wild, before the railroad came to our valley and platted out town with its streets and lots. Turns out our place was a windswept grassland favored by pronghorn antelope for winter and spring grazing. 

Pronghorn no longer graze in town, so e very spring, I pretend I’m a herd of pronghorn and “graze” our restored grassland to keep it healthy, cutting back last year’s dried grass and wildflower stalks clump by clump, hand-thatching the bunches of grass with a small rake. Without that annual cutting-back, the grass bunches get too dense and the wildflowers get buried.

It’s a lot of hand work, a lot of squatting and clipping and hand-thatching, but it’s only once a year and more than worth the effort for the treasures I find as I cut back last year’s dried flower stalks and seed heads, and save them to spread on other parts of our property still in need of restoration. Treasures like the beautiful native nipple cactus (Mammalaria species) in the photo below that I uncovered yesterday, revealing its crown of pink flowers, wide open to invite pollinators. 

That tiny cactus, about the size of a golf ball, seems like a good symbol of what Richard and I hope for as we walk these difficult days: that we’ll have more time to find the cactus flowers buried in last year’s grass clumps, the grace notes that remind us that mere survival is not enough. To really live, we must bloom at every chance we get.