A few years ago we decided to get some farm animals. At the time, we lived on 18 acres in Lyme, NH. Building a barn, and getting farm animals seemed like the natural thing to do. It was a fun, family experiment.
We started out with three sheep, a steer named Opie, and some chickens. We figured it would be fun to have lambs in the spring, so one winter we signed up for a ‘rent-a-ram program’ and welcomed Rambo to the flock. He delivered and in the Spring of 2009 we had three pregnant sheep.
During this same time I was going through an experimental treatment for follicular cell lymphoma. After finding a random lump on my cheek on Christmas morning 2008, I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the immune system. With the help of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, I was selected as one of 58 people in the world to join a 10 year study on the effects of a combined set of immunotherapy drugs on follicular cell lymphoma. This is a cancer that does not yet have a known cure, and had an average life expectancy of 7-10 years.
Through 2009, I received 6 hour infusions of two immunotherapy drugs every other month for nine months. Just one year later the bone marrow biopsies, pet scans and cat scans revealed that the cancer was eradicated at the bone marrow level. This type of success had never been seen before with follicular cell lymphoma. I am lucky.
But what does this have to do with farm animals?
Well, one spring morning in 2009 as we were heading to the hospital for a treatment sessions, one of our sheep had their first lamb. It was little, fragile and darling. We were so excited to have our first baby lamb on the farm. Unfortunately when we got back that afternoon from the hospital, things were not looking so good. The mother sheep was unsuccessful in birthing a second lamb, and as a result had rejected the new-born. The little baby lamb was slowly starving to death.
In the midst of this discovery, my daughter needed to get to softball game, so my husband and I agreed that I should just try to do what I could on my own to help. As I tried to get the baby sheep to drink from a bottle, my daughter stopped by the barn on the way to her game. She said, “Mom, if he lives, I will call him Lucky. And if he dies, I will call him Spirit.”
I’ll never forget that afternoon. After a full day of cancer treatment, I am sitting in a mucky stall in the barn surrounded by a bunch of farm animals and flies. That song by The Talking Heads was going through my head, “This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife.” It felt surreal. I was overwhelmed with the prospect of trying to nurse this little lamb back to health. I was overwhelmed with the prospect of being dead in 7 years.
It was a sad experience trying to get this little creature to eat. This little lamb had gone too long without food that day. Within an hour he died in my arms. We buried “Spirit” in the yard after the softball game.
Flash forward to two years later. Here I am. 100% cancer-free. Our newest family experiment is affectionately called the “life simplification plan”. We are living in Cary, NC. Thankfully, you can’t keep sheep on a golf course. My daughter loves her new school, my husband is happy and in the best shape of his life, and I love my work. But the most important thing is crystal clear: we are all healthy.
So here’s to living.
If we live, we are lucky. If we thrive in the life we create, we are lucky as hell.