It’s August, and that means it’s time to pick blackberries. This is the time of year when we get several quarts every couple of days from the unruly tangle of blackberry bushes in our back yard. It’s been so hot that the large metal bowl I like to use gets almost too hot to touch, so I swapped it out for a plastic bowl. Luckily, the heat has backed off a bit.
Our blackberry bushes are thornless, which wasn’t supposed to happen. We’d always heard that thornless blackberries don’t survive Nebraska winters, but we accepted a half-dozen cuttings from Bruce’s sister’s Kansas City plants figuring we had nothing to lose. Now they’re threatening to take over that part of the yard and we get a bountiful crop of blackberries each year, enough to put on our daily yogurt and freeze for the winter. (I would say “and to share” but I’m selfish where blackberries are concerned.)
While the blackberry bushes’ attempts to crowd out the viburnum and buffalo grass could be likened to the endless replication of cancer cells, they remind me of my cancer journey for other reasons.
First, their harvest season coincides with my treatment timeline. I had my mastectomy on July 15, 2008, and remember interrupting my blackberry picking several times to take phone calls from Bruce or Dr. Moshman as we were plotting our next steps.
One phone call that stands out for me was shortly after I started taking Tamoxifen. Dr. Moshman asked me to schedule a lab appointment to get some clotting tests. (Tamoxifen puts you at increased risk of blood clots.) Sure, no problem. I wondered why the lab tech said, “I hope you brought plenty of blood today,” until she pulled out 10 vials. I must have taken every clotting test known to mankind.
The other reason is more basic and possibly more instructive. Picking blackberries forces you to be in the moment. Sure, your mind can wander, but making your way through a blackberry patch provides plenty of sights and sounds that invite you to be here now. The flutter of wings when you startle a berry-loving robin. The intricate design of a banana spider’s web. The swallowtail butterfly weaving in and out of the neighboring dill.
Like pulling weeds, watching a baseball game or getting lost in a really good book, picking blackberries takes you out of yourself. Which is a very good thing where cancer is concerned. You can’t eradicate it from your life, but you can and should call the occasional time out.