She’s determined to win

Bonnie Belec
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Breast cancer survivor draws strength from flowers and fundraising

Linda Ryan fiddles with her impeccably well-kept hair as she discusses the challenges of battling breast cancer.

Each piece flies up and down as a warm breeze blows across her manicured garden bringing with it a variety of scents from an assortment of flowers, shrubs and trees.

Ryan says while she was going through chemotherapy she was more worried about her “healing place” then her own survival. “I couldn’t come out here. I was devastated. I was afraid everything would die,” she said, sitting underneath a bright yellow umbrella.

A tag team of gal pals, headed up by her neighbour, weeded, whacked and watered Ryan’s garden until she was well enough to get back at it. “They were like little sprites. I knew they were here, but I didn’t see them. It was a hard time for me. I tried not to let it get me down,” she said during an interview at her home Thursday.

As the soon-to-be-retired Metrobus employee talks about finding the lump in her breast in 2009, not being diagnosed until 2010 and having her breast removed — as well as losing her mother-in-law to the disease around the same time — she’s remarkably stoic. But when she reveals her hair never grew back and she has to wear a wig she becomes emotional.

“I mourn my hair every day. I said to my husband I just want my hair back,” said the 54-year-old as she fought back tears.

“I just want to feel the wind in my hair again. When I take my wig off and the makeup off, I go back to that. I look like someone who has had cancer.”

“It’s like I’m getting ready for Halloween. Putting on a wig and drawing eyebrows,” she said.

Ryan said she used to go to the hair salon every week, and being a non-smoker and non-drinker, considered it her guilty pleasure for years. “So for me to lose my hair was a pretty big deal. If I had my hair I’d feel whole again moreso than having a breast. Everyone sees your hair.”

Ryan said the wig is almost exactly like her real hair minus the freedom.

She continues to draw strength from her garden, and has found a special plant that has taken her somewhere she never thought she’d be.

“I wish I could have done this without having been affected, but I think to reach this place, I think it does take that experience,” she said.

That place is the driving force — along with a strong pack of volunteers, good friends and a few fairies — behind the fundraising campaign for breast cancer in Atlantic Canada — Pink Days in Bloom.

This is the third year for the event which is held every weekend in a different community in the province between June and August primarily at garden centres.

The idea came from a plant Ryan found in a gardening magazine in 2010 as she was recuperating from surgery called the  Invincibelle Spirit pink annabelle hydrangea. The plant is sold by a company called Proven Winners in the United States and since 2009 for every plant sold — up to $1 million worth — $1 is donated to breast cancer research. More than $640,000 has been raised.

 “I had a gut feeling about it. I don’t know what it was, I was just drawn to it like a magnet. It’s really weird,” she said, laughing. “I love my garden and I truly believe they are really, really healing and I thought

I have to get that plant. I couldn’t find one in St. John’s so I went to (Pat’s Plants and Flowers) in

Bay Bulls and she had a bunch of them.”

Ryan said she and the owner, Pat Puddester, embarked on a journey to bring the first Pink Days in Bloom to the province and they haven’t looked back.

She said the campaign has grown to include 17 garden centres participating this year and many towns, businesses and residents joining in by decorating their properties with anything pink or making donations.

The Newfoundland campaign — dedicated solely to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Atlantic — has raised more than $30,000.

Ryan said she’s also trying to get pink blooming trees planted across the province and country and for nurseries to donate a portion of those sales. Ryan said three have joined up and her employer was the first to plant one in May.

“I have a vision of all these beautiful pink blooming trees in the future without breast cancer and I like to say money really does grow on trees for breast cancer,” she said enthusiastically.

Ryan also has a rivalry flourishing between Landscape Newfoundland and Labrador and Landscape Nova Scotia to see who will have more landscaping companies join Pink Days in Bloom.

Since launching Pink Days Ryan has been invited to several trade shows and industry gatherings to share her story and the secrets behind its success in Newfoundland. She just returned from Grand Haven, Mich., where she gave a presentation to a convention hosted by Spring Meadow Nursery, which is a major grower for Proven Winners and the Invincibelle Spirit — the plant that changed her life.

While there she met Tim Wood, product development and marketing manager for Proven Winners at Spring Meadow Nursery, who designed the plant and whose mother died from breast cancer.

“He was very emotional to know that his idea was being fuelled with this much success in Newfoundland,” said Ryan.

“But I said, ‘You have no idea what it has done for me. It has lifted my spirit and gave me something to focus on. It got me to a place I never thought I’d be.”

Pink Days in Bloom returns to Pat’s Plants and Gardens in Bay Bulls Saturday and Sunday with the town and several businesses contributing to the campaign by offering donations to people who purchase everything from flowers to boat tours and meals.

One will also be held Saturday at Hickey’s Plaisance Gardens in Dunville, Placentia.

To view all of the events this summer for Pink Days go to

Organizations: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Atlantic

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Bay Bulls, Atlantic Canada Bloom.This United States Grand Haven Plaisance Gardens Dunville

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Recent comments

  • Mickie Blackwood
    July 05, 2013 - 08:28

    Linda is truly an inspiration and just as beautiful a human being as the flowers she grows in her garden. Her positive spirit is a lesson for all.

  • Sherry
    July 05, 2013 - 06:50

    Hi I was wondering where I can get those "Flowers or is it a tree" she is watering int he picture they are very pretty. Thanks...and your hair looks great!!