"The Healing Powers of The Huntington"
By Matt Fong, former state Treasurer of California and Pasadena resident
September 11, 2001 changed the way America looked at the world.
September 11, 2007 changed the way I look at the Huntington.
At 6 a.m. September 11, 2007 I entered emergency surgery at UCLA hospital. Twelve and one-half hours later, I was wheeled into an ICU to recover from surgery to remove cancer cells from my tongue and a four-inch tumor on my neck. The chemotherapy and radiation treatments began at the Huntington Hospital in Pasadena six weeks later.
My normal fast paced life was interrupted, grinding to a dead stop. Business trips abroad were canceled. Meetings were postponed to indefinite dates. The blackberry was turned off. Clients and friends understood. The new priority was recovery.
It’s amazing how quickly your body deteriorates. Walking from your hospital bed to the bathroom became a personal Olympic event. Deciding on using a wheel chair, walker or cane replaced my trying to decide which airline I should fly depending on which would give me an upgrade.
Between surgery and my chemo/radiation treatments I was ‘allowed’ to regain strength. Walking down our tree-lined street in Pasadena was a treat. But my real goal was to be able to once again take my morning weekend walks at the Huntington Botanical Gardens.
My strategy to work up to the Huntington’s varied terrain was to work out at home on the treadmill. I worked my way first to ½ mile then 1 mile. I lost 45 pounds in 30 days and was still quite weak. Tubes were removed from my throat but they still remained in my stomach to assist me to eat. I had a strong desire however to get to the Huntington as soon as possible. I pushed myself hard…I wanted to see the fall leaves and their beautiful colors.
I was amply rewarded sitting as a passenger driving up the long driveway to the Huntington Library. Greeting me was a realization that my sense of smell was more acute and heightened! Passing by the security guard, I could smell the flowers and the trees – not something I was able to do before. The scents were wonderful, telling me I was alive and being surrounded by Life…the beauty of nature.
Being careful to take pockets of Kleenex, I was wearing a ski jacket to stay warm and a facemask to protect me from catching germs. I carefully walked clenching the arm of my wife, Paula, from the parking lot into the wonderful world of the Huntington Gardens. The majestic bamboo greeted me as a familiar friend as I passed by its firm green stalks.
Turning left down the path I entered the Southwest section full of cactus and aloe plants. Aloe had taken on a very special meaning. Paula, born and raised in Arizona, had learned to use aloe to treat sunburns. We experimented on my ‘man made’ sunburns from the daily radiation treatments I as receiving. She applied natural raw aloe on my head and neck to cool me off during my radiation and chemo treatments that followed. My skin never burned. I never lost my hair. Aloe and I are friends forever. As we made our way through the various aloe plants, I ‘talked’ to them and thanked them for healing me.
Walking downhill was a new challenge. I needed brakes! I was inching my way along…no more quick giant strides of my six-foot frame anymore. A person in a walker moved faster than me. I never paid much attention to the benches. Now I looked for a bench after every turn. My eyes were alive. My body and soul were being nourished in seeing the budding flowers and hearing the birds. These were wonderful reminders of the cycle of life continuing around me.
I finally made it to the lower pond. This was always my favorite place. Enjoying the turtles and relaxing in front of the lily pond to meditate were always on my ‘pond to do list’. Now it was a place I needed to rest from the long downhill walk, hydrate with some water and rest some more as well.
The filtered light through the bamboo canopy seemed to cool and calm me. The quiet breeze of fresh air cleansed me as I meditated and said lots of prayers. I felt stronger and started to make my way back up the hill.
The longer walks that eventually took place to the rose garden and later to include the Japanese garden took many more trips. I could benchmark my progress and strength knowing where I had to stop just a week before. Going up the hill was a lot of work…the first few times Paula or our daughter Jade had to pull me up or push me from behind.
Walking on the fallen leaves was always a highlight. Sitting under the willows next to the roses was a favorite rest stop. And looking at the great food through the window of the Rose Garden Tea Room almost made me drool, as I was on a liquid diet for 5 months.
Even with all the tourists and groups that come and enjoy the Huntington, I find even now that my walks through the Gardens are a private and quiet affair for me. The solace it gives, the strength it provides, and the renewal I receive…
For these and many unspoken reasons, I thank Mr. Huntington for his original generosity and those who have protected and expanded on his vision. I appreciate the many staff, trustees, donors and volunteers, who enable people like me…patients who are recovering from life’s challenges…to find a place to heal and once again, find Life.
Therefore, Paula and I are proud to donate a new bench next to my favorite lower pond allowing others who like me, need a place to sit and rest as they bask in the “The Healing Powers of the Huntington”.
P.S. My first PET scan returned negative this July…I am joining the many recovering cancer patients returning to normal life…with a grateful heart.
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