Vanessa Collins: Growing a Garden

Patient Expert
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Who is Vanessa?

Vanessa Collins lives with Lloyd, her husband of 37 years, and three cats in rural Missouri. Their house is on a hill in the middle of fifty acres that includes woods, a fishing lake and a lot of wildlife. “I’ve probably had RA since my late 30s,” she says, “the symptoms came and went, but eventually stayed.” She was diagnosed with seronegative RA in 2010 and has had problems finding a medication that works.

The old garden

“Before RA, I had a huge garden that was longer than the house. I tilled everything myself and it was filled with flowers and vegetables. I grew beets, cucumbers, melons, potatoes and a lot of tomatoes that I used to can. The side garden was filled with flowers like marigolds to keep the bugs away. I had a lot of containers and hanging planters on my porch.” As Vanessa's RA progressed, she lost her ability to garden.

Broken shoulder

In April 2014, Vanessa broke her shoulder. “I was going down the stairs, tripped and fell into the wall. I raised my arm and it broke my fall, but also broke my shoulder in two places, as well as my wrist. I managed to avoid surgery, but they said I’d never lift my arm again. I can now fully extend my arm and am working to increase my ability to lift from 1 pound to 10 pounds. It’s a little miracle. Still, I didn’t think I could garden.”

Asking for help

“In the spring, I realized I had to make a private flower garden on the porch. I need my flowers. I get so much joy out of them. I did something I’m not very good at and asked for help. My husband agreed immediately. He gave me a hand, but I did almost everything myself. I didn’t think I’d be able to, but I could!” Vanessa believes in “pushing the envelope a little.”

Garden therapy

“My garden is a very special thing for me. Everyone needs that. It helps me heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually. My garden is my therapy. It helps me combat negativity. When I sit on the porch, I can feel all the tension fall away.”

Feeding the rabbits

“Three years ago, I started to feed a rabbit and named it Heather. She’s been joined by Harry and Henry. They come twice a day for carrots and other treats. I make sure no one disrupts their home and in the spring, Heather brings her babies. I started writing an entry on Facebook every morning called From My Front Porch to Yours about them and other moments. It’s devotional in a way, me sharing my faith. I see God in nature.”

A little oasis

“My porch garden is a little oasis in this crazy world we live in. It’s a symbol of hope and new life. Winter with everything grey and dead is like a bad RA flare. When the flowers come out in spring, it’s about getting better. It gives me hope. I always encourage others to try to do something that they gave up because of RA.” This year, Vanessa followed her own advice and found a way back to the gardening she loves so much.