Cancer and the cycle of life: empty nests in bare branches

Cancer and the cycle of life: empty nests in bare branches

I’m walking my dog, Freddie, again. Three months post ACL reconstruction and I’m able to walk outdoors without fear of ice and without a crutch for support. We’re going slowly, but we’re going.

When we stop for Freddie to sniff and roll in the grass, I’ve been looking up. I’ve been struck by the nests I’m seeing in the bare branches of trees. They’ve been there all along, but my eyes haven’t been seeing.

There’s a sadness to these nests, empty, exposed on bare branches that are only now barely making buds. Both the nests and the trees seem barren and empty.

But, I’m trying to think about things differently, trying to find the joy in the world around me instead of seeing, always, the sadness.

Bare branches mean that the cyclical nature of life is working as it should. It occurs to me that cancer is life working as it shouldn’t. Cancer cells are defined by uncontrolled growth. They do not move through a cycle. Instead they reproduce and grow without end.

Bare branches can signify cancer in remission. Treatment has ended the uncontrolled growth. Treatment has made it possible for bare branches to produce healthy buds.

Empty nests, however, remind me that I’m just wrong sometimes about how I see the world. An empty nest isn’t a barren place. It is, most often, a place of nurturing that has succeeded. It is a place of birth and growth and maturity. It is empty because fledglings can fly and thrive on their own.

I also imagine, from a different perspective, that the nests represent life and the bare branches cancer. Cancer, once you pass under its gates, is always with you. But we can grow and become, even in the midst of bare branches.

The branches won’t be bare for long. I’m reminded of part of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling

What is all this juice and all this joy?


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