Sunday, June 6th l Christopher Farm & Gardens
NOTE: To see all photos and images, scroll down and open the PDF that contains this article!
At least fifty-five cancer patients/survivors and co-survivors gathered on Sunday, June 6th to enjoy a warm, sunny, fun and relaxing day at the Christopher Farm & Gardens to commemorate this year’s National Cancer Survivors Day - A Celebration of Life!
Originally, I planned to quickly tell the story of the day through photos... but, frankly, I was too busy throughout the day and didn’t take many photos. I suspect in the days ahead many of the participating survivors and co-survivors will be sharing photos from the day via SCCCF’s “Survivorship Through the Lens” at www.scccf.org (so you might want to check that out). In the meantime, allow me to tell a few stories with words!
I arrived early to set a few things up and to get a few kites in the air for ST&BF “Great Heights with Delightful Kits” and to greet participants as they arrived at noon. About a half-hour before the gates were to open, I had four kites in the air in what were almost-perfect kite-flying wind conditions! I took the opportunity to find a shaded spot along the edge of the alfalfa field to relax a bit and enjoy a PB&J before the day’s activities got under way and I snapped a photo of the four kites in the air:
I had just taken the last bite of my PB&J when the almost perfect southwest wind... just shut down... and I watched each of the four kites slowly fall from the sky... just minutes before folks would begin to arrive!
There’s not much you can do when you want to fly a kite and there is no wind. But I had to try. So I ran back out on the field... hoping the wind would pick up and, gradually, it did. Although its direction had shifted to more of a southeasterly direction, which I wasn’t expecting, and my ideal kiting spot was no longer ideal!
As I was running back and forth between the kites, trying to adjust them to the new wind direction, I couldn’t help but reflect on how apropos this is on National Cancer Survivors Day! When the wind switches in the lives of cancer patients and survivors, they don’t just give up and walk away. They do what needs to be done. They do what they can. They make adjustments. Sometimes the right kind of wind picks up again... sometimes it doesn’t. There are no guarantees. But there is always a chance as long as they keep trying... as long as they focus on what they can do and not what they can’t... as long as they don’t give up!
Following that slight shift in winds on that day, kiting conditions were never as good as they were early in the morning... but we made it work and we made it fun!
We had a few prizes to give away to attending survivors. Sure, we could put names of attending survivors in a hat and pull out some winning names... but what fun is that? So instead, “Bob the Builder” Hartig did a “Kite Drop.” For those not familiar with a kite drop, it consists of a mechanism that includes a sail and a release. The wind carries the mechanism along with a load (in this case, a stuffed “Bert” of “Bert & Ernie” fame with a parachute) up a kite line to a release point where the load is released and, as long as his chute deployed, Bert parachuted gracefully down to the ground.
After a demo, participating survivors marked a spot on the field that they predicted Bert would land... and whoever came closest would win!
After four kite drops, the best guess went to Sue Zalewski at 11 feet and nine inches. Other winners included Christina Newton-Ray (17 feet and eight), Linda Ansay (25 feet and 2 inches) and Cindy Becker (31 feet and 11 inches) and Amy Clarke (35 feet and 1 inch)!
As Linda, one of our survivors mentioned, not only was this a fun activity... but it got people out moving in the kite field for some activity!!! 😉
Next up was a “Vegetable Garden Tour” with Rob of the Christopher Farm & Gardens! I was not able to join in on this tour as I needed to get the lunch ready... but I’ve enjoyed other tours before from Rob and the amazing CF&G staff... and they are always informative, educational, interesting and entertaining!
Next, we enjoyed a box lunch from Cousins Subs while gathering in the Conservatory (where shade was at a premium) followed by a brief program!
I kicked off the program with a bit of local trivia by asking those in attendance, “Of all of the people here today, who do you think has attended the most National Cancer Survivors Day celebrations?”
Well... it wasn’t me, nor was it any of the attending survivors! It was Mary Schueller, RN – a longtime cancer care professional of our Local Cancer Community! As readers of this LCCU may recall, Mary retired in late 2020 but, thankfully, she has remained a member of SCCCF’s board of directors and she has remained active in some of our activities!
Mary provided some background information about National Cancer Survivors Day, pointing out that this is the 34th annual event. She referenced a letter by Ned Sharpless, M.D., Director, National Cancer Institute that appears on the National Cancer Survivors Day website that points out, “Fifty years ago, advocates joined legislators to celebrate the signing of the National Cancer Act of 1971, which accelerated research by establishing key programs and increasing funding.”
“Where we are today compared to where we were fifty years ago,” Mary observes, “the establishment of the National Cancer Institute and the amount of focus that was put on cancer research has drastically changed because of this piece of legislation.”
Mary also provided a bit of local history, recalling the first National Cancer Survivors Day event that she was involved in organizing in in 1992. She recalls, “Even before Dr. Matthews began his practice in Sheboygan, while he was still completing his fellowship at University Hospital in Madison, he came and spoke at this National Cancer Survivors Day Celebration at St. Nicholas Hospital.” About a month later, he would open his private practice in Sheboygan.
To recognize Mary for her 42-years of dedicated service and her service to SCCCF, she was presented with a “Beacon of Hope” award from the Sheboygan County Cancer Care Fund!
Next, cancer survivor Dan Kunda stood up (to well-deserved applause). Here are a few excerpts from Dan’s comments:
I’m a nine-year cancer survivor. Next year I will hopefully have my final full-body MRI. If it is clear, my doctor said he’s going to give me his blessing and send me on my way!
The words “You have cancer!” are three words you don’t want to hear! I also got to hear the words, “Paralyzed for life!” on August 10th of 2019. I remember telling the doctor, “Well…that doesn’t work for me!” I don’t think he thought I would prove him wrong… but I’m standing! I’m a little wobbly, but I’m standing.
A lot of the things I have had to go through these past months, basically learning to walk all over again, were many of the same things I learned through cancer and from many of you cancer survivors! Some days you got to suck it up! Some days you got to cry! Some days you might feel like the bottom of a shoe and that might be a good day! I have learned that sometimes we may have to travel the journey on our own... but we are never alone. All you have to do is reach out and get some help from one another. We support and encourage one another to do the best we can, and that’s all that anyone can ask of us and it’s all we can ask of ourselves!
Next up, Felicia Shaw shared a Haiku that she submitted as a note of appreciation to the Christopher Farm & Gardens for recent visits:
Nature’s beauty scenes
with sound produce inner peace
during trying times
Here are a few excerpts from Felicia:
I really only had a 20% chance of survival and that was eleven years ago and I am cured! I am one of those people how has residual effects from my cancer and cancer-treatment and always will. Some days are good and some days are not-so-good! But I’m here and I am grateful to be alive!
It was a bit of bad luck for me and for all who had to hear those words. But the thing about bad luck is usually what follows is a bit of good luck... that’s our silver lining!
So... what would be our good luck after having to go through cancer? Well… the people, like all of you; the survivors, the co-survivors that we meet along the way and the doctors like Dr. Bettag and the nurses that treat us! The activities, like “Together we Live with Cancer” and “Survive, Thrive and Be Fit!” And the places that we meet, like CF&G! These are all part of our silver lining!
What does that bring us then? Well, we get some good luck that brings us a way to SURVIVE, a way to THRIVE and a way to BE FIT! So, we are lucky… and that’s a big bit of good luck for all of us!
As I was thinking about this, I thought of another Haiku to end with. And, the hint is, there happens to be seven syllables in “Christopher Farm & Gardens!”
Cancer is a cloud
Christopher Farm & Gardens
a silver lining
Then we heard from Amy Clarke. Here are a few excerpts from Amy:
I was diagnosed in 2012 with stage III rectal cancer. I was 33 years old at the time and one of the younger ones at many of the activities that I participated in, which made it a little more difficult to process everything. My treatment included chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. On the last day of chemo, Alan proposed to me right in the treatment room! That was wild!
Eventually we moved to Colorado and, more recently to northern Wisconsin, but I’ve always stayed in contact with Tim and the group through the newsletters where I’ve seen a lot of your faces and read many stories. So even though I don’t know all of you and haven’t met many of you, I consider you all part of my family.
2020 was bad for all of us. It was made worse for me when I found out the rectal cancer had come back and metastasized to my lung. I come back to be treated by Dr. Matthews and I’ve gone through more chemo and have had the upper lobe of my lung removed.
Finding out that I have it again sucks! But I’ve accepted it and have continued on. I am a very happy person, and I come to events like this to see other people and live as happy as I can.
I’ll be going back home to Superior where, by the way, I have 39 chickens to take care of! And I’ll come back to see Dr. Matthews again in about a month. It’s something now that I’ve accepted, but coming to events like this, seeing people l like you, I realize we can get through it. Even if I have to live with this for the rest of my life, it’s a journey, and one we’ll all get through, some way or another!
We concluded the program by showing our appreciation to Mr. Jay Christopher, owner of the Christopher Farm & Gardens, along with Erika and Rob and all of the wonderful staff! This marks our 25th visit to this peaceful, relaxing, healing and fun property since our first visit on May 17, 2017!
To show our appreciation, we took up a collection which will be used to provide the entire Christopher Farm & Gardens staff with a lunch!
Erika Lusthoff, CF&G Director is always eager and anxious to get to work and to advance the mission of the CF&G as she nurtures and directing the healing energy that grows throughout the Gardens!
As she accepted the “Beacon of Hope” Award, she remarked:
On a weekly basis we have a staff meeting where everyone gathers and we go through what needs to get done in the week. My favorite part is sharing the comments and the feedback from those, like all of you, that visit. And I always share the photos. Although our staff may not typically be out here when we have events, your comments help make them aware that what they do is important, people enjoy it, and it matters! Thank you for helping us make this place special and for giving us memories!
Lastly, we presented a “Beacon of Hope” Award to Jay Christopher and the Christopher Farm & Gardens!
Jay Christopher Excerpted Comments:
The Farm & Gardens was really inspired by my father, Walter, who was an attorney by trade. But really, he was a horticulturist at heart. It was the weekend trips that we would take to Wisconsin, to Iowa, to Indiana to find those specimen plants for his garden. I can remember as a child, we had church members that would come out and picnic in the backyard, and it was always such a treat for everybody.
He never did see his dream of owning a hobby farm.
We really are humbled by all of you coming out and visiting the gardens!. That’s what they are intended for. The enjoyment that the staff gets through the feedback from you after you’ve visited is just overwhelming!
This is designed to be a place where people can get away, they can relax, they can think, they can self-heal. These are all important aspects of the Farm & Gardens. And we continue to grow, particularly on the educational side. To be able to put together a program with someone like Rob, who led the Vegetable Garden Tour earlier today, is an important aspect of the CF&G. We have a very accomplished and knowledgeable staff. To be able to communicate what we are doing out here and what you can be doing in your garden also, those are very rewarding moments for us.
Then it was time for a bunch of big kids to board the Dairyland Express – a 16-inch gauge amusement park train that was built in the 1950s and has been fully restored. Passengers rode the quarter-mile loop that winds its way through scenic surroundings. Highlights include a waterfall, spruce haven, train station, depot and a 92-foot tunnel, which houses the train when not in use.