Could gardening be the key to help you cope with your leukaemia diagnosis?

Adjusting to life after your diagnosis? Nick York, Leukaemia Care's Patient Advocacy Healthcare Liaison Officer and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) patient shares how his love of gardening has transformed his mindset following his diagnosis.

We may all experience moments when we feel a little overwhelmed with day to day life and need to escape from tortures of the mind and body, or just need a break to regroup, reenergise, cleanse the mind and the soul. Gardening can be that escape, it can become an integral part of your life, or both as it is today for me.

When I think back to the time I was first bitten by the gardening bug, I realise this probably correlated with my own diagnosis of leukaemia. That was a time of feelings of lost control over my body, the future and difficulty with adjusting to the insidious nature of an evolving condition inside of me that was everywhere and could not be removed, adjusting to that felt almost impossible.

It was the planting of a few first seeds and plant plugs that lit the fuse that helped move me forwards. The wonder I experienced due to the determination, strength, life force of the seedling and the nurture this brought, created an open door into a new world filled with beauty and greater understanding of time and the benefits this can bring. Not to mention all the spin offs: peace, pleasure, fresh air, the outdoors, exercise the feeling of being connected, the healthy food and an endless supply of flowers.

I didn’t really know what I was doing at first, it may sound strange, but, by just paying attention to my plants I learnt from them, and followed their lead. When to water, what to feed, what grows where and when, how the seasons affect them, how to grow with them and all of the nature they attract. There is a rhythm to a garden, every plant and flower has its moment and is cherished. I have a relaxed garden everyone is welcome, friends, weeds and wildlife. They work together and paint a picture that is a retreat, a place of celebration, wonder and the odd barbeque.

This week is my favourite time of year when spring has sprung and all my familiar friends are about to emerge. I wait with excitement, and am already beginning to reap the benefits from the exercise involved in preparing for the year ahead. The many seeds I plant today will give food, and hours of calm as they are brought to flower and fruit.

I am often asked today 13 years on from receiving diagnosis of an incurable chronic leukaemia what would I say to others diagnosed today? During gardeners week my answer is, plant some seeds and try a little gardening, it may just be for you too.

Listen to your plants, and the odd gardening show, read a few books, trial and error, always garden safely if immune compromised. Wear gloves, pace yourself, protect from sunlight and keep compost moist when working it, wear a mask to avoid spores if dry. Let yourself go enjoy the circle and freedom that even the smallest garden can give you.

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