Greenie’s back, my cancer’s gone!

(and some pretty pictures)

If I sound emotional, I was! Read the story to see why.

Watch this short video to see how happy Greenie and Slim and I are to be together again. (If you don’t know who Greenie is, check out some earlier blog posts, read page 134 of my book, Enchanted, or google “Holly and Greenie”.) Every spring I’ve been amazed and thrilled when Greenie was the first fish to show up at my dock, and clearly remembered me. But this, the seventh year, it truly felt like a miracle. Why?

The Horror Movie

Last fall, as the water was getting colder, the fish came less frequently, as usual, but I still looked for them most days. One evening I went down to the lake and found the head of a sunfish on the dock. I didn’t panic. It could be anyone, half eaten by any of the predators who frequented our lake. But then I saw the head of a bass. Slim was the only bass I’d seen by the dock. My heart sank as I reasoned that the bass was Slim, and, since they were always together, the sunfish could very well be Greenie. I imagined a mink or otter catching one of them and the surrounding fish scattering in terror, except for the mate of the victim.

I knew someday I would lose my friend Greenie, but never pictured this. Could it really be that the universe or fate or some strange power left these two heads on my dock as . . . what? A good-bye? A sign that they would not be back? I truly marveled that Greenie could have such a life – living free and long, touching the hearts of thousands of people, then dying with the one he loved while giving life to another of God’s creatures? I should be so lucky! Yet I cried and grieved deeply, as we all do at the loss of one we love, be they human or another animal.

I told just a few friends. They were shocked and very sad, but agreed it seemed likely that it was Greenie and Slim that I found that night. I went down to the lake every day in hopes that I was wrong. Only one green sunfish showed up and did not come up to me the way Greenie always did, so I had little hope to cling to. I decided then that I would not share the sad possibility with anyone else. After all, I couldn’t know for sure it was them. If they were not here in the spring, I’d have to decide whether to reveal my suspicions about their demise – a violent yet necessary part of the circle of life – or to assume they didn’t make it through the winter. Greenie was, after all, at least nine years old. Everything I’d read put a green sunfish’s lifespan at ten years max.

I knew I owed it to Greenie to write a children’s book about our friendship, but it was even harder than I expected. Gleaning six years of my diaries, I pulled out 70 pages of notes related to him and our other wild friends. I had studied the best of children’s books and knew that hard truths – be they danger, fear, or sadness – were often vital elements of a treasured story. But could I really end the book with two heads on the dock?

The Miracle

That’s where I was stuck when the ice finally went out this spring. People were asking “Is Greenie back?” I checked the lake every day, putting my hand in for anyone there to smell, but not really speculating on the chances.

On May 5th, it was finally warm enough to keep my hand in there a minute or more. Wondering how long it would be until I could swim, I wasn’t really expecting any fish. But suddenly, there they were. Greenie and Slim and a little one (presumably one of their kids?) looking up at me. I was beyond happy, and I believe they were pretty darn glad to see me, too. I brought our joy to Greenie’s ichthyologist and the few grieving friends – “the report of their death was greatly exaggerated.” Now Greenie’s book will have a happy ending!

The Cancer

Cancer? Oh, yeah. I had a little bit of breast cancer, but it’s gone. I didn’t tell a lot of people because I knew I’d be okay and didn’t want you to worry. It was a 6mm spot on a mammogram and I had complete confidence in my docs at Mayo. From diagnosis through surgery to end of radiation was less than two months – all made less scary by the support of caring friends. My heart goes out to so many whose stories are not so easy. I’m sharing mine now just to remind us of the power of early detection.

The really fascinating part of my story is that Greenie may actually have smelled my cancer before I knew I had it, like dogs and cats and pigeons can! That will be in Greenie’s book. But even if you have a critter to sniff you out, please consider a doctor. My little cancer road trip could have become a cancer journey had it not been for regular mammograms. And men, please get whatever tests your docs recommend, too!

The pictures below are proof that there is beauty around us, even during challenging times, if we can dry our tears and open our eyes.

On my many trips to Mayo in Cannon Falls, Redwing, and Northfield, I got to stop and say hello to cows.
cow and calves
They were checking me out, too, as they played in the April mud.
wildflowers
Spring wildflowers make dying leaves fade into the background.
trees reflected in water
A good time for reflection.
goslings
How could I not be delighted at the sight of fluffy new goslings!
flowers and cat
I deeply appreciated flowers, food, rides, prayers, and caring words from friends, along with snuggles from Leo and Lucky.
sunset, barn, power lines
The day after Greenie and Slim showed up, I was coming home from my last radiation treatment when this scene grabbed me. Seeing all those poles supporting and connecting power lines made me think about all the sources of power in my life.
Holly moved a big rock
Just to assure you I really am okay and am getting my energy back, I mowed the lawn, swam the lake, and moved this BIG rock. And yes, I still have my breasts and my hair. Pretty darn lucky, ha?! My sincerest thanks to all the kind folks at all the Mayos. They were amazing.

Shedding toward Happy Holidays

Last December I wrote that I was happy to be finishing up my shed rebuilding project. In April I wrote “Farewell to the Winter of Covid”.  Well, the shed project took longer and turned out to be more challenging than expected. So has covid.

 I suspect we are all feeling the same about the problems in our world. Like my shed, it’s more of a mess than we realized. The solution, of course, is to dig in and work together for the good of all. I LOVE my “new” shed and campfire spot. The deer and ‘possum have visited, and I’ve warmed my body and soul by the fire. The story is told below in pictures. Do you see any similarities with what we’ve been going through?

2021 meant letting go of things and wants and negativities that no longer felt important to me. I slowed down, thought about personal and global issues, wrote, and studied scenes I captured with my camera. With the blessing of vaccination, I loved getting back to enjoying outdoor concerts and other safe activities with friends.

But my daily swims were what kept me happy in the unprecedented heat. When the ice went out and Greenie showed up for a sixth wonderful summer with me, I had to buy an underwater camera to observe all I could about him. Especially exciting was recording the sounds he made, and his ichthyologist Peter’s conclusion that they were courting sounds! I plan to use this winter to learn more, isolate pictures from the videos, and use them to write a children’s book about Greenie and his friends. It warms my heart to be one of them! So this year my holiday picture is of Greenie and me. It was not easy to take, but so rewarding to have, especially with that magical ray of sun lighting the daisy. It follows the shed pictures, along with my wish for you.

The shed was an old pigeon coop I turned into a garden shed 25 years ago, now in desperate need of a new floor and roof.
First task – emptying. Thanks to Nancy for helping! Where did all that come from and where should it go? It felt good to give, donate, and recycle a lot.
Thanks to Ann for picking up a million crumbled shingles as I dropped them. Which was ickier, prying off three layers of sticky shingles or . . .
prying off old dusty drywall? Both!
When a monster machine wouldn’t work in my yard full of trees, hills, and rocks, my awesome neighbors came to the rescue, cutting the shed apart and carrying the walls up to the new shed site by the garage. It felt a little like an old-fashioned barn-raising, but backwards.
Thanks Ronda, Jeff, Rio, Jeff, and Dan for being safety conscious in many ways.
Temporary supports – don’t walk here, deer! It was exciting to see the view opening up!
It took me two tries (plenty of exercise!) to get the foundation level so Dane and Noah could rebuild the floor. I was so lucky to find them – guys after my own heart who preferred the challenge of reusing the beautifully weathered wood to buying a plastic shed that would never return to nature.
They worked long hours to get the new roof on . . .
and the brand-new doors I had found on the curb a few years earlier. Ready for winter!
I knew it would be even more beautiful in May with the honeysuckle blooming.
Cleaning up and leveling the old shed site revealed things long hidden.
It took a lot of digging, heavy lifting, seeding and watering, but here it is – my campfire spot with the beautiful new view I’d been dreaming of. I think the shed must be happy to be spiffed up, strong, and tucked up by the garage.
The holidays are a time to focus on peace, love, and joy. May you stay safe and have an abundance of all three. The world is a beautiful place, when we pause to look and listen, even to those unlike ourselves, with a caring heart. Holly