Eight months after her husband, Chad, was identified with Stage 4 lung most cancers, Stacie Vanags planted 1,100 flower seeds in her Ventura yard.
“One thing referred to as me to do it,” Stacie stated of her tiny flower farm. “I wanted a sanctuary.”
Chad, 40, and Stacie, 43, had been already rising greens, tending a flock of free-roaming chickens and three cats and dreaming of constructing an city farm on their half-acre of land subsequent to the 101 Freeway in Midtown.
Then, in July 2022, Chad acquired some heartbreaking information.
Throughout a routine go to to the physician for what he presumed was lengthy COVID after a persistent cough, Chad, who had by no means smoked, discovered he had non-small-cell lung most cancers. Scans confirmed the most cancers had unfold to his lungs, bones, lymph nodes and mind. In a intestine punch, the oncologist advised him he would dwell six months to a 12 months with out remedy.
“He stated I’m incurable,” Chad stated quietly.
That was 15 months in the past.
Assembly Chad in individual, it’s laborious to imagine he has a terminal sickness. He seems to be in nice bodily form, and he surfs usually and travels the world for weeks at a time. He has had few signs or negative effects moreover lightheadedness from a focused, Meals and Drug Administration-approved medicine referred to as Tagrisso. However studying to dwell with most cancers whereas making an attempt to maneuver ahead hasn’t been simple for the tech gross sales coach.
That’s why Chad says he’s grateful that Stacie can stroll outdoors and have a tendency to her flowers if his temper turns darkish, particularly when his despair turns into overwhelming some days.
“I had a troublesome seven days throughout a browsing journey to Puerto Escondido,” he stated, standing within the backyard as he watched his spouse lower zinnias, chocolate lace flowers and strawflowers for present bouquets. “It was laborious for Stacie as a result of she couldn’t escape to the flowers. I see the backyard as a spot the place she will get a reprieve from most cancers. It offers us goal and which means each day.”
Stacie doesn’t disagree. “I missed the flowers whereas we had been in Mexico,” she stated. “There’s a resiliency to vegetation. It’s a language in itself.”
Stacie Vanags cuts zinnias and strawflowers in her yard for a present bouquet. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Occasions)
Like artistic endeavors, flowers may be interpreted nevertheless the beneficiary would really like — as an expression of affection, condolences or thanks. However their magnificence and impact usually are not unique to those that obtain them. They’re additionally a present to the gardener who tends them, waters them and watches them develop. “It’s like watching magic,” Stacie stated.
The couple, who met in Chicago in 2008 and have been married for 11 years, had been residing in a 500-square-foot house in Culver Metropolis once they drove by the Ventura home within the early days of the pandemic in March 2020. The three-bedroom home wanted work, however they instantly contacted the vendor and made a proposal after they noticed its monumental yard.
‘Nature has a manner of holding and supporting us once we least anticipate it.’
— Stacie Vanags
The lot, which CalTrans used as a car parking zone in the course of the building of the 101 Freeway many years in the past, was dotted with overgrown morning glories, citrus timber and three previous trailers. However it supplied countless potentialities. The couple envisioned constructing a home within the again and renting out the entrance. Or making a regenerative farm the place they might dwell off the land.
They received the home and spent the subsequent 11 months transforming it earlier than turning to the yard, which they remodeled right into a micro-farm they name Teaquila Farm, named for his or her love of tea and tequila.
Dianthus, marigold and chocolate lace flowers bloom at Teaquila Farm in Ventura. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Occasions)
Impressed by the 2018 documentary “The Greatest Little Farm” and the success of the Floret Farm seed firm in Washington state, the couple cleared many years’ price of gravel themselves with a rented Bobcat and amended the soil with three inches of natural topsoil and native California cowl crop seeds.
When it got here time to plant the flowers, Stacie, who had no gardening expertise, was scared however pushed ahead. “The largest factor was simply taking the leap of religion by studying the again of the seed packet and trusting within the course of,” she stated. “It’s simple to get caught up in the entire planning and logistics and by no means get began with ‘the factor.’”
Whereas Chad was in India capturing what he describes as a “mission-based, purpose-driven journey journey present” along with his brother, Stacie spent three weekends layering her backyard plots with natural compost after studying Erin Benzakein’s ebook “Floret Farm’s Lower Flower Backyard: Develop, Harvest & Prepare Gorgeous Seasonal Blooms” and watching YouTube movies. With an emphasis on range and flowers that dry properly, she planted 20 varieties, together with zinnias, statice, honeywort, candy peas and cress, through the use of panorama material and a blowtorch to chop the material and stop fraying. She estimates she spent about $800 on seeds, natural compost, seed starter soil, seed trays and a drip system, which Chad put in. “I’m the methods man,” he stated jokingly.
A lot to Stacie’s delight, the backyard took off after Southern California’s unusually moist spring this 12 months. However she isn’t the one one who has benefited from her harvest. It’s a therapeutic sanctuary for others.
“Somebody reached out to me on Fb yesterday and requested me if she may come over and lower a bouquet as a result of she’s been struggling currently,” stated Stacie who works for a digital therapeutics firm. “Nature has a manner of holding and supporting us once we least anticipate it.”
There have been others. Throughout her inaugural rising season, Stacie invited neighbors and associates to chop bouquets throughout casual U-Decide periods. She just lately created centerpieces for a child bathe for 75 folks. Trying forward, she hopes to create flower preparations for native companies, host workshops on-site and develop a company wellness program that focuses on the advantages of flowers on psychological well being. The expertise has empowered her to think about subsequent 12 months’s rising season, which she hopes will embody dahlias, foxglove and amaranth.
Stacie stated she by no means supposed to develop flowers. “It was like nature was telling me, ‘You’re going to wish this,’” she stated. “I can go away my tears within the backyard.”
As somebody who’s impartial and enjoys working alone, Stacie has used the act of planting the flowers and watching them develop to assist her course of Chad’s most cancers prognosis. “Seeing the wonder and resilience of flowers has given me immense consolation and hope throughout a reasonably robust time,” she stated. “I can’t think about my life with out them now.”
“The flowers are undoubtedly a reprieve for her,” stated good friend and neighbor Sean McFatridge. “I’ve by no means heard her speak about how she is struggling. I feel the flowers are a coping mechanism for her. Whereas Chad focuses on squeezing all the things he can out of life, Stacie makes use of the flowers as a therapeutic follow.”
For Chad, most cancers is the top and in addition the start. He talks overtly about his prognosis to encourage others to dwell authentically. His movies on Instagram, the place he “paperwork the start of the top” of his life, have gone viral, and he has amassed greater than 102,000 followers. Nonetheless, he admits having debilitating anxiousness, which he calls “scanxiety,” earlier than the follow-up scans that observe his most cancers.
However being open about his well being has additionally introduced life-changing connections with others. “Most cancers has taught me that persons are good,” Chad stated. “I recognize folks extra now than ever earlier than. And I give much more hugs.”
Every week after Chad was identified with most cancers, McFatridge knocked on the couple’s entrance door and invited them to attempt his new CrossFit health club down the road.
Chad was nonetheless reeling. “I used to be indignant and advised him that I had been identified with lung most cancers and wasn’t as much as figuring out proper now,” Chad recalled.
An hour later, there was one other knock on the door. McFatridge had returned. This time, he wasn’t promoting door-to-door health club memberships.
“He stated he couldn’t cease occupied with me and wished to know if he may do something to assist,” Chad stated. Then McFatridge and different health club members began a meal practice for the couple. “It turned me round,” Chad stated.
Scenes from Chad and Stacie Vanags’ tiny flower farm in Ventura. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Occasions)
Immediately, except for the adjoining 101 Freeway that continues to be a relentless, a lot has modified at their Midtown Ventura homestead. The light siding of their house is now painted a heat grey. The entrance yard is crammed with California native vegetation and pollinators. Strawflowers and seeds dry on the patio and eating room desk. Butterflies and birds flock to the flowers that bloom in even rows within the yard.
And Chad has outlived his dire prognosis.
Is it potential to soak up resiliency and hope within the face of a terminal sickness? Stacie thinks the flowers have helped; like nature and the ocean, they remind her that “there’s one thing higher than me on the market,” she stated.
“I didn’t hunt down the flowers,” she added. “I’m satisfied they discovered me.”