According to my mom, I was to arrive in this world on June 21, 1972 (Summer Solstice). Instead, I was born during a full moon, under the sign of Cancer on June 27, 1972.
I was born in a hospital running on emergency generators - the great Susquehanna River had flooded as a result of Hurricane Agnes. Agnes had dumped 19 inches of rain on the midstate between June 19 and June 24, when the river crested fifteen feet above flood stage. Despite being a Water sign (astrologically speaking), I have an innate fear of drowning. As an infant I would faint during my baths! In fact, I am still rather uncomfortable being immersed in any body of water over four feet. I wonder if this is perhaps a result of my untimely birth?
I've not only been thinking about my astrological birth sign and its associated lunacy (pun intended) but also seasonal coincidences and plant relationships associated to my 2009 breast cancer diagnosis.
I began chemotherapy one week prior to the autumnal equinox and completed my treatments on the day following the winter solstice. The autumnal equinox is traditionally viewed as a time to move into darkness (toward winter). Without darkness, there can be no light. Autumn is also a time of change/letting go - flowers wither and die, seeds form, leaves fall (actions that create a path to rebirth in the spring).
Hair loss - a result of my chemotherapy - was not unlike the leaves falling. Leaves must fall for regrowth to occur in the springtime. Adriamycin, an anti-tumor antibiotic was responsible for my hair loss. As a lover of mushrooms and other fungi, I can't help but delight in the fact that one of my most potent drugs is derived from a type of soil fungus, Streptomyces.
Another of my chemotherapy drugs - Paclitaxel, derived from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree - is a plant alkaloid, attacking cells during various phases of division. A U.S. native tree is responsible for my good health - isn't that an amazing realization?
My final chemotherapy infusion took place on December 22, 2009 and lasted late into the evening. A day after Winter arrived, I was on the road to being cancer-free. And on February 1, 2010 (a day before Candlemas, the mid-point between winter and spring), I underwent hours of surgery (bi-lateral mastectomies, partial reconstruction and a prophylactic oophorectomy) to ensure a complete recovery.
On February 5th I learned my body had experienced a pathologic complete response (pCR) to chemotherapy - in other words, that cocktail of volatile drugs - derived from plants and fungi - cured me.
It has been seven years since my diagnosis and treatment and not a day goes by that I do not recognize the role our natural world played in my recovery. While working on my 172 project - one-hundred-and-seventy-two photos that represent the time I was in treatment - I have oftentimes referred back to my 2009 calendar. I began making connections immediately -- between the seasonal cycles and my treatment -- but the transition from Winter into Spring is especially significant. Springtime absolutely represented a renewal and rebirth for me in 2010. Darkness and fear were replaced by light and hope. My interest in exploring our natural world and capturing images of its beauty fully emerged...I have not stopped taking photographs from that moment.