LONG AFTER CANCER, THE DOGWOOD LIVES ON

I am one of those fortunate people who searched and found a church family I truly love. Many of us can spend a lifetime and never find one.

I grew up in the same church for 60 years. I attended as a child, but lost interest as an adult. I kept my membership until both of my parents passed, and then began to look for a church that suited me better. I have only belonged to this church for a few years and joined after I was diagnosed with cancer. What a wonderful blessing this church has been!

I have a hearing ear service dog named Sita, who means the world to me. Most people do not realize that with the separation of church and state, service dogs are not legally protected by the American with Disabilities Act. Theoretically, a church has the right to turn the dog away. The only other public place that can do this by law is a private country club. I had attended several churches with Sita and never had a problem. However, I told my sister that I wanted a place to worship that not only tolerated my dog, but accepted her.

I honestly have never been in a church as welcoming as this one. Much smaller than my original church, everyone knows everyone else and we truly pride ourselves on being a family.

The wonderful congregation here has accepted and loved Sita, and considers her a member. She even has her own nametag! They have prayed with me through all my bone marrows, which I have twice a year. They support me during the times my chemo is not working. They also celebrate with me when I am in remission and know that the precious chemo is doing the job!

The most recent gesture of this wonderful church brought me to tears. Our choir director presented an informative and moving service for Earth Day. She pointed out that our particular church lawn needed some trees. In order to celebrate Earth Day all year, she suggested that the people in the church plant a tree in honor of special events such as graduations, weddings and memorials for loved ones who had passed away.

The following Sunday, she brought a dogwood tree and surprised me. She and the church members planted it in honor of my precious canine and me. I had just had a book published “Paw prints on my soul: Lessons of a service dog.” The name “dog” in dogwood signified Sita and my book. It was one of the few times in my life I have been speechless! I was really overwhelmed.

I went home and looked up the “Legend of the Dogwood.” It had been a long time since I had read it. I was fascinated as I realized that in Jesus’ time, the dogwood was a great size. Allegedly, this tree was used to build the cross that Jesus was crucified on. The tree was ashamed and became much smaller. Each dogwood flower has 4 petals shaped like a cross. In the middle of the flower is what resembles a crown of thorns. At the end of each petal are nail dents the color of Jesus blood. (GodVine).

Whether one believes this or not, the dogwood tree is indeed special. I always have loved them and the gorgeous petals on them. As I reflected on this gift

from my friend, I realized something else. The tree could be in celebration of my cancer. What I mean is I know I will someday pass on and so will you. So will every one of us. But the tree will remain long after my death and grow bigger and stronger. It is a true celebration of the Earth and signifies how everything goes back to the earth and grows again.

I think every cancer survivor should have a tree planted for us to keep growing and being enjoyed after we are gone. Or those without cancer too. The earth truly gives back and so can we.