Finding Strength and Healing in the Garden: My Journey Through Breast Cancer

Garden Blooms Hope and Healing

Hello, dear readers. I’m Iwalani Walsh Tseu, a survivor, a dancer, and the founder of the Iwalani Foundation. Today, I want to share my story with you—a journey through breast cancer that led to the creation of a healing oasis right here in Hawaii.

After beating cervical cancer, I was vigilant about my health screenings. But life, as it often does, threw me a curveball. During a particularly stressful divorce, I postponed my mammograms for two years. When I finally resumed them, the results were alarming. Further testing confirmed it: I was facing Stage III breast cancer at the age of 48. Despite being in excellent physical shape and the owner of a Hawaiian/Polynesian dance studio, I was not immune to the effects of stress and disease.

Facing this diagnosis, I decided from the outset that my approach would be one of positivity and strength. I had three daughters in college who needed me to be their rock. So, I embraced a treatment plan that included a lumpectomy and eight weeks of radiation therapy. Thankfully, I experienced no side effects, a blessing I attribute to my overall physical and emotional health.

Nutrition played a significant role in my recovery. Having adjusted my diet years earlier after my cervical cancer diagnosis, I focused on consuming fruits and vegetables and eliminated red meat from my diet. Dance and exercise continued to be vital parts of my life throughout my treatment.

The support from my community was overwhelming. Friends, family, and dance students showed their love through gestures big and small. Their presence and the laughter we shared were crucial in keeping my spirits high.

But it wasn’t just about getting through treatment. I needed something more—a project that could offer both distraction and healing. That’s when I turned to an inheritance from my father: two acres of neglected land visible from the hospital. While others saw a junkyard, I envisioned a healing garden.

Despite resistance from my daughters, who were understandably concerned about medical bills and wanted me to sell the land, I was determined. Transforming this space into a place of peace and healing became my mission. It was a massive undertaking, involving the removal of over 500 loads of junk with the help of friends and family. The work was hard, and it turned me into a bit of a recluse as I poured my energy into the garden.

Eight years later, the Healing Garden stands as a testament to resilience and hope. It’s a serene spot where those affected by cancer can come together to relax, create memories, and find peace among over 300 types of plants, trees, and flowers.

Being cancer-free today is a tremendous blessing, but my work doesn’t stop there. The Iwalani Foundation continues to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer prevention in Hawaii. The garden is cared for weekly, ensuring it remains a welcoming space for all who visit.

To those facing breast cancer: hold onto hope and positivity. Embrace your passions, whether it’s through writing, cooking, sewing, or dancing. Remember, you don’t need to be an expert dancer—just move in ways that bring joy. And to the loved ones of those battling cancer: talk to them, dance with them, laugh with them, love them.

Together, let’s find strength in our stories and healing in our actions.