The Three Sisters: Family, Friends, and Faith

We’ve been gardening for a few years, and each year we learn more about gardening and some of the history behind it.  One of our raised garden beds contains what’s called the “three sisters:” corn, beans and squash. Folklore says that the three sisters were given to the Iroquois people by the “Great Spirit” and are believed to be inseparable in a successful garden.

The corn stalks provide the beans with support as the vines reach toward the sun. Beans add nitrogen to the soil which helps all three plants grow. The large leaves of the squash help shade plant roots from a hot sun and the spikes on their leaves keep predators away.

In a cancer battle, or any challenge in life, the three sisters – family, friends, and faith – provide a human support system. Each has its role and important contribution. Like the three sisters of the garden, you can have each of these independent of the others. The real win, though, comes when you bring all three into your support and defense system.


Family: what’s to be said? Sometimes we love them, sometimes not so much. Families, like people in general, can be messy. But whether we happen to like our family members at the moment or not, there’s blood and they are part of who we are. Sadly, some people belong to families where love doesn’t exist, where relationships don't exist. That’s sad for everyone.

I'm talking here about the families that while sometimes chaotic, where disagreements occur, where people may be mad at each other for a time, these are the people who share their lives, hopes and dreams. They share their resources, their energy, their tears. These are the families that put each other first no matter what. These are the people who will carry you when you’re no longer able to carry yourself. I’ve had the great blessing of being part of such a family and don’t know what I would have done without them during my husband’s and daughter’s cancer journeys.


Many people have a lot of acquaintances. Some are work colleagues, some are neighbors, some we run into at the grocery store once a week. But it takes more than knowing someone to bestow the honored title of friend. True friends are the people who want to know what you need and will meet those needs as quickly and as best as they can. They answer your call or text at any time of the day and are willing to come to you in the middle of the night when you need them.

But they don’t overstep either. True friends don’t push for information, and they do their own research so they can have a better understanding of what you're going through. They ask for your okay before visiting and before asking questions or giving suggestions. They don’t look for praise; they’re just there when you need them. We often think of true friends as part of our family. And just like family, they become part of who we are.


Spiritual faith is different for many people. There are as many religions and beliefs as there are countries. To me, my faith is in a loving God who can give me peace in times of trouble, who gives me the guidance I need to live a good life, and who knows I’m not perfect (far from it). But faith can reach many areas of our lives.

As we go through a serious medical journey, we need to have faith in our medical professionals who may literally hold our lives in their skilled hands. We need to believe that the medicines that are prescribed will help us, not harm us. We need to have faith in ourselves; we may feel at times that we don’t have the strength to move forward. But our minds and bodies differ because the will to live is a strong one, and so we march on.

All three can support us

Family, friends, faith - our personal “three sisters.” All three can support us and protect us, just as the garden’s three sisters do for each other. I think the Iroquois Indians had a great idea in the three sisters concept, and in the Iroquois wisdom, maybe they were talking about more than just corn, beans, and squash.

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