Medicine for the soul

What I do here on the farm is hard to describe in terms that most people would understand. Some times of year, it seems almost all-encompassing when checking on the sheep, feeding our many groups, and helping deliver lambsĀ  takes almost all of the time I have in a day. Yet, at other times of year, the sheep are on pasture and I need do little other than check them over once a day and maybe move them to new grazing once a week. My work load is definitely seasonal.

My co-workers are all four-legged: I spend most of my “water-cooler time” talking to llamas and border collies, and have been caught discussing the weather with a visiting fox, or the ins and outs of various watering systems with our resident raccoon. I have shepherdess friends with whom I share the joys and heartaches of my work, and look forward to Rick’s return from his job in town for other human interaction. My life is fairly well described as quiet and peaceful, since this is the ideal for interactions with a flock of sheep.

Yet crises can creep into even into such an idyllic life. About two months ago, my mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma that had anchored itself around her left eye in the eye socket. Worse, when the specialists scanned her body for any spread of the cancer into other organs, they found multiple tumors in her lungs. At her age (Mom, I will not tell, but for the rest of you, as I am approaching sixty, you can likely do the math…) this was a challenge that we did not see coming. Both of my brothers live in distant states, but thankfully, my mom lives only a half-hour’s drive from our farm. In mid-August, we began to fight.

In that time, my mom had surgery to remove most of the tumor below her eye, and then shortly afterwards pushed through a four week stint of daily radiation. Each day, I would check the sheep, take care of the dogs, then leave to pick her up and drive her to the hospital nearly an hour’s drive from her condo. After the treatment, I would drop her off at her place and make my way home, hoping to have enough daylight left to check on breeding markings in our flock. If I couldn’t make it home in time and Rick was in town, he would cover for me at the farm – or not. The focus was on the cancer and not the sheep, and this battle was a team effort – it took all of us to make things work.

In the midst of radiation, the doctors added four sessions in the chemo suites – one each week. The sessions took five to six hours to complete, and both my mom and I would return totally drained. I admitted to her several times that although she was the one receiving the treatment, I would leave there each week with no energy to even eat dinner. After our last session this past Wednesday with Rick out of town, I came home not having eaten since the night before, yet the only thing I could manage for dinner was a bowl of cereal – a BIG bowl of cereal!

Through all of this, my flock has taken a bit of a back seat. Yes, I have still been checking for crayon markings to indicate when our ewes would be due. Yes, I have been feeding those sheep who are no longer on pasture. But that is about all I have been doing. My life has been filled with my mom’s battle and lots of driving and hospital time in the past two months. The good news, however, is that it seems that the worst is now over – it seems that we may just have won this fight!

As of this past Wednesday, my mom has finished both radiation and chemo, and is now waiting for the scans that will hopefully declare her cancer-free! I spent yesterday in celebration with my sheep – nearly all day. Yes, there were jobs to do that I had put off – but that wasn’t why I was out there. The day was lovely and warm, and there wasn’t anything I would rather have done than spend some time decompressing with my flock.

As I soaked up the warm sunshine, my friends came to see me, somehow sensing that today was different than visits in the past weeks. This time, they were unhurried as they made their way to my side. Even Olive, the ever-bouncing and excited lamb, spent more time with four hooves on the ground than any time I can remember! It was peaceful and calm – just what I needed to psychologically make the transition from hospitals to rolling fields. It was medicine for the soul, and I was happy to shift my focus back to my work.

Oh, I am sure that in the coming weeks there will be more doctor appointments and other reasons to pull us back down to the hospital that we have come to know so well. But for now, my focus is back on my sheep – and the time I spend with them is not only for their well-being, but also for mine. There is no better medicine for me than a good walk with my flock – and I intend to take full advantage of it while I can!

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