BLAINE - Helen Worley's metaphor for coping with cancer involves nurturing a garden, not fighting a battle.
Along the way she has survived with support from her husband, LeRoy Worley; a multitude of friends and medical providers; and Nutmeg, her sweet-smelling and adorable stuffed monkey.
Nutmeg, in fact, narrates her whimsical and charming new book, "Hope Lives in a Garden: A Tale of Whimsy and Healing," illustrated by fellow Whatcom County resident Georgia Donovan.
Worley, 66, served for 10 years in British Columbia as an ordained Anglican priest after working in public affairs jobs in Canada. She has lived in Whatcom County for about a decade.
Question: How did Nutmeg find you?
Answer: My longtime friend Joan Bubbs brought Nutmeg to me in January 2010 while I was beginning to undergo radiation treatment for breast cancer.
I just fell in love with him. Nutmeg has a bean-bag tummy and he came with a lovely spiced scent. He is a beautiful brown and tan.
Q: Did Nutmeg accompany you to your radiation sessions?
A: Of course! I was told that normally only children bring stuffed animals, but I just said, "He's my buddy and he's coming with me."
Soon, during my seven weeks of some 35 treatments at St. Joseph, I began to realize Nutmeg was helping the people who were caring for me as much as he was helping me. He brings whimsy to a serious time.
Q: So your caregivers fell in love with Nutmeg, too?
A: When I was checking out, Nutmeg was monkey-napped! I had put him on the counter next to me while I was filling out paperwork, and suddenly he was gone. Arron, a technician, told me the monkey had become a member of the healing team! It was all in fun, but there was a seriousness involved.
Q: What was your next health challenge?
A: I underwent neck surgery later in 2010. If I had not undergone that neck surgery, my lung cancer might not have been found early, in June 2011. The upper lobe of my left lung was removed in July 2011. It was a totally unrelated cancer.
By the way, at the University of Washington Medical Center they decided Nutmeg needed his own name tag!
Q: Why do you dislike the word "fight" with regard to cancer?
A: A nurse told me I was a real fighter, but I said I didn't like that metaphor. Instead, I like the metaphor of gardening. There are always weeds in a garden and our objective is to create something healthy and beautiful. I may be an "indefatigable optimist," as I have been called, but that does not mean ignoring pain, fears and sadness. Indeed, my book requires delving into them.
Q: How did you find your illustrator?
A: Georgia Donovan is an artist and a good local friend. When I told her about my book, she said, "Sure, let me try!" when I asked if she was interested in illustrating it. She's a charming artist who is perfect for Nutmeg and me.
Q: Who will your book benefit?
A: All the profits will go to cancer research. I've done a lot of writing, but this is my first book. Now I'm planning a book that tells the story of how I dealt with the death of my first husband, Colin, who died in 1998 of cancer.
Author Helen Worley, artist Georgia Donovan and Nutmeg the stuffed monkey will appear at Village Books, 1200 11th St., Bellingham, at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12. Details: 360-671-2626.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.