From the Roots: The True Story of How I Beat Death and Learned to Live

From the Roots: The True Story of How I Beat Death and Learned to Live

by Marsha Therese Danzig


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From the Roots explores one woman’s decision to find grace, hilarity, and ultimately joy, in the worst of circumstances. As a result of surviving childhood bone cancer twice, Marsha endures long-term side effects that include the amputation of her lower left leg, the loss of her bladder and kidneys, congestive heart failure, a kidney transplant, and scars galore. A rebel to the core, her defiance in the face of disease, doctors, establishment, insincere people, and anyone who would steal her joy or life force offers moments of profound depth and humor. In nearly every chapter, Marsha has her dukes up, ready to fight for her spirit. Rather than another tell all about a “girl who is sick and mad about it,” this book seeks real resolution and most importantly spiritual meaning to the overwhelming losses she is describing.

The book is arranged in experimental triptychs, with poetry and prose cushioning each story. The triptychs include Spirit, Story, and Poem/Lists. The concept of three in one is woven throughout. The book is an elegant pursuit of life purpose living with loss—there are no pat answers, preachy messages, or “magical triumphant wake up calls.” Rather, there is a steady flow of an inner knowing that grace runs through Marsha’s life. She sees it, she acknowledges it, and she dances with it.

From her early childhood diagnoses of Ewing sarcoma (still a cancer with a high death rate) to her adventures in her twenties traveling through Europe as an overly romantic amputee with a urostomy pouch; her thirties and early forties spent on dialysis as she watched other women grow careers and families; her marriage and subsequent divorce—and her hilarious chats with God about her sex life—this is an inspiring, juicy, laugh out loud, yet elegant story.

Disappointment happens to all of us. Marsha decides that her right to joy and happiness outweighs the perception the world places on her about her purpose and her losses. This book is a timeless story of witnessing the unfolding of one’s spiritual petals, to see one reach unflinchingly for the sun, despite injuries to its roots, lack of watering, or damage to its leaves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510712911
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 01/03/2017
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Marsha Therese Danzig, MEd Harvard, is an author, speaker, healer, and yoga therapist. She is the founder of Yoga for Amputees®, by Marsha Therese Danzig. She works internationally as a yoga clinician, healer, and spiritual mentor. Marsha is a dancer and mover to the core. She has a fearless and abundantly hopeful spirit which infuses her life. She is a below-knee amputee who lives in Dayton, Ohio.

Read an Excerpt


Speak. Speak. Speak. You tell your story. You get that suffering spoken for. You get that hope out there.

You tell the world how you have won, over and over, and have not succumbed. This is worthwhile, says He. I trust Him, for once. Open. Open Open.







* * *

The diagnosis is not good, so they say. I am five. It is the sixties. So much death anxiety is associated with that word: cancer. I'd never heard of it before. As the adults swarm around me, day in, day out, kiddie-gloving their way around the little girl (or muscle), mounting my will, I vaguely sense that I am very seriously ... not well.

A life-size clown doll is propped up in the hospital bed next to beaming, smiling me. The two of us sit. Our smiles are real. What do I know?

I know cancer only has meaning because someone gave it meaning. And so it goes, my lifetime of overwhelm, tension, and extreme holding to stay away from, divert attention from, please God keep me from, cancer. I still don't know what it really means.

I receive bedloads of presents for something I must have done.

Oh, I know! I have cancer!

How did I get from hospital beds to this moment? I have some idea ... but I leave that up to God to tell me someday.

* * *

Accept This.

A pearl dropped from heaven

The earth opened up and swallowed her whole

And when she'd had her fill of sustaining and nurturing

She loosened her grip

The pearl walked the earth

Each bare footstep


"Don't forget. Don't forget. Don't ever forget!"


There is no separation from the love of God.

"I will prune you, cultivate you, water you. This will be hard. Behold you are gold in the palm of my hand."

Belief always starts in the body.

* * *

Before Christmas, I found the presents. I sat among them, wrapping paper piled high above my tiny head. I kept a few of the dolls, even though I knew they were for my sister. I cut their hair. Pure delight.

Children didn't come over much after the diagnosis. I continued to have a habit of playing beauty shop. Little girls with long, bright blond curls would be dropped off. Mothers came to pick them up; the same little girls bounding to the door, excited about their new hairdo. I wanted them to look like me.

When I returned to school in the middle of first grade, a girl lost her contact lens. I did not know what a contact lens was. I only knew it was slightly invisible. How would they find the invisible? She had a problem, like me, only I was all better. The teacher treated me delicately. I was separate. And special.

* * *

I met love in the mirror I stepped forward just 10, then 20, then 3,000 feet I touched my hand to the flame and I was not burned

This is Gratitude To look into the mirror See Death And reflect back resurrection

This is knowledge To look in the mirror And see only Christ

This is suffering To turn your back From the mirror


Life is too short

Dress Up

* * *

Eleanor had very nice clothing, so one day I walked to her apartment. The door was open, but no one was inside. I grabbed as many items as my five-year-old body could drag down the stairs and ran back to my house. For hours I stood in my backyard trying on her clothes, pretending to be her. I hid the pile from my mother, who brought me orange slices. I wore the orange slices like lipstick, the juice oozing down Eleanor's exquisite dresses and tiny white lace blouses. Her parents came to collect the goods eventually. I never felt bad about what I had done. I had a right to look pretty, too.

Eleanor moved out of her apartment. A blond hippie moved in. I started going to her house to learn songs by Mary Hopkin and Joni Mitchell. She gave me an Apple 45 rpm record. My dachshund chewed it, but I played it anyway. No one knew I went to the hippie's apartment after school. I was in second grade. The whole school was looking for me. My mother was looking for me. I moseyed on home around four on a Thursday afternoon. I had my own life to lead.

* * *


Go by inner flow

Whisper medicine of

Love, Rhythm, Soul

Beneath a laugh full of remedy

Look through winter dream

Night mind

Use your beauty

Black cocktail gown

Truth bed

Bella red


This childhood is blurry. I don't remember much. Who my first grade teacher was, what my classmates' names were, what I learned in kindergarten. I remember ... The blades of grass.

This one sat in the front seat of the station wagon on Cambridge Road. Somehow the car was turned on, but the blade could not steer. This blade swung on the backyard swings when Father Joe met her for the first time. Now she knew what truly handsome was. This blade sipped iced coffee from her father's cup.

This blade did a lot of ungodly manner-free activities that embarrassed numerous adults. This blade rode on the back of her calico cat, Holly.

This blade turned the pink plastic crown of the dancing doll. Hoping against hope. This blade touched the sticky pine trees near her house.

This blade sat complacent, coloring, on her grandmother's front porch.

Rims of sadness surround pain and fear. Worry, seeded in large clumps, moves in its own direction, away from the flow.

It is hard work to find the blades of joy, laughter, hilarity, lightness, peace, contentment, happiness, love. But I always do.

I have often coated each sorry blade with the cloak of fierce hope. So I could own my own happiness after every broken moment.

I step back.

If He can walk through it with wide open heart, perhaps there are others who can enjoy the beauty won by arduous grace.

I see the wind blowing the weight of a remembered life in metaphors and sensations. The wind blows where it will. The field continues to grow. I love this life.

* * *

After I slipped off the balance beam during gym, I did not want to go to the school doctor, but they made me. This was more than a sprain, with swelling, heat, the familiar hard protuberance cluttering my left ankle. I already knew it was back.

My mother was on the phone with someone important. She kept mentioning my name.

I went into the piano room. I was searching for the keys to play. Bach, Mozart, a Turkish Rondo, and "Free Man in Paris." Something to know. To make me feel.

I couldn't play.

I stared at the white grand piano as the sun kept its guard.

There was a meeting of two types of light, and I was caught in the crossfire, the gray area.

She called me back into the kitchen. I already knew what was coming, but I had to hear her words.

Boston ... Children's Hospital ... biopsy ... right away ... can't wait.

Nothing about tumor. Nothing about C.

Cancer is the word, the scar, the great wondering. I bring cancer along with me, in one shape or another, to every potential friend.

I don't know how to do friendship. I am missing some skills.

I want friends so I give them a try in a worried, hyper sort of way.

Will I be too clingy? Will I cry too much or not enough? This is a girl who just three years earlier had been strapped to a crib, a net covering her so she wouldn't escape. Oh, the embarrassment of it!

The day after Christmas my father took us to the Jersey Shore. The other kids were complaining about the cold and wind. I wanted to stay all day, not get in that car again. Would this be the last time I had fresh air?

* * *

Life loved her right back, and her doubts diminished. Life loved her right back, and she was watched over in the rain.

Life loved her right back, and she found she had skin that glistened.

Life loved her right back, and she was never alone. Life loved her right back, and she could sit in silence safely.

Life loved her right back, and her territory expanded. Life loved her right back, and her tenderness was a strength.

Life loved her right back, and she was welcomed in unfamiliar places.

Life loved her right back, and she belonged.


When do I get to have a girlfriend who helps me with my hair, makeup, and clothing, who does fundraisers to help me during chemo, who is jealous of ME sometimes and tells me because we're just that cool?

When do I get to walk into a room with a posse, rather than alone?

When do I get to have help when I feel tremendously awkward?

When do I get to shine in all my glory without worrying I will lose friends?

When do I get to be noticed?

When do I get to have a boyfriend?

When do I get to feel pretty?

When do I get to have a great social life with lots of friends who can't wait to see me?

When do I get to be in Seventeen magazine? When do I get to be welcomed?

When do I get to look good in all my outfits and turn boys' heads wherever I go?

When do I get to tell everyone that the most popular girl in school is actually really mean and manipulative and how come nobody can see that?

When do I get to tell someone, straight to their face, that they are so full of shit it isn't even funny?

* * *

We moved to a small suburb of Albany, New York. I walked to school in the morning. After school I went wherever I wanted to go, usually walking the borders of the road as if I were walking a balance beam. Angie, my new friend, had a Ouija board. Her maid from Trinidad practiced voodoo. Angie smoked cigarettes in third grade. We did a lot of nasty things.

White go-go boots are worn. Astrakhan, embroidered, woven winter coats are plopped on my medium-size body. I learn how to knit. I bake tiny cakes in my Easy-Bake Oven. My favorite song is anything that is not popular. I love anything in a minor key. No one else does.

I did a lot of bad things: stole batteries from Radio Shack, bit my friend Hope, played doctor with various boys in the neighborhood, locked my terrified sister Darcy in a tree house, threw things at a kid who has Tourette's, lit illegal fireworks, stole pornography and looked at it with my friends, tore apart someone's tent with a knife, lied about how long I practiced piano. At least I didn't try to drown anyone like Angie did me.

Angie and I had a séance in my father's closet, calling back the recent spirit of my dead grandfather, Joseph Michael. I never liked him much. He was so angry, but he was the only dead person I knew. My father had a bag of PG cigar wraps in a bag in his closet. If he got enough wraps, he got prizes. Above the bag were all his laundered shirts.

We called out to the spirit of Joseph, "If you are here, make your presence known." The shirts began to move. We were both oddly excited. We were so powerful.

Encouraged, we went outside to try our hand at the weather. We marched in a circle, chanting what we supposed were "Indian" songs. Our neighbor came by.

"What are you girls up to?" "We are calling on the spirit of rain to come down." It began to rain a few minutes later.

Our neighbor came out again in the rain.

"Why don't you do a dance to make the sun come out?"

So we did. The sun came out. Assured of our great power to tame nature, we went upstairs to dress the Infant of Prague in pretty, silk-collared robes, thanking the baby Jesus for all his goodness.

* * *

Feel the wind in long branches

Succumb to rain and storm

Trust in good news

Sapling wings

Ancestor worship

Allow unbending






Before I knew any different, I was happy to be happy.

I ran.

I jumped.

I laughed.

I hid only for play.

I liked the attention my smiles produced.

I was silly at inopportune moments.

I trusted ... my father, my mother, little girls, little boys, dogs, cats, rodents.

I was the tree, the fruit, the branches, the roots, the bark, the stems, the berries, the thorns, the seeds.

I was the tree missing twigs and buds.

I was the tree among others.

I did not tell myself:

You are not enough to exist as is.

You have too many scars to be beautiful.

You are unwelcome in these parts.

You are too inexperienced for your aged branches.

You don't know what to do.

You won't be helped.

You are not as pretty as that tree, or that one, or that one.

Your success is measured by the number of leaves you possess.

You can be torn down easily; this world is so unfriendly.

You are too sensitive to the elements.

You aren't well-bred.

You don't hold your branches correctly.

You have no faith.

You have not produced enough seeds.

You are too accepting of your circumstances.

You are allowing others to encroach upon your space. Protect!

You are not following your divine purpose.

You are too serious. It is just a branch. Get over it.

You are responsible for the ones who planted you.

You must be vigilant.

You are not allowed to rest when there is so much work to be done.

You should not be too grand.

You have no right to enjoy the sun when others are hurting.

You need to be stronger.

In those former days,

I was naked and unashamed.

I knelt before the Sacred Oak.

I loved her.

I was naked still.

So was she.


The bird's wing was caught in the pavement Her wings flapped uncontrollably, her eyes staring off Her talons, hooked into the small granules of molten tar, trapped her She was in the center of the storm, That place where anyone could trample her dreams Or end her life As I reached down to release her talons and wing out of the tar, She surrendered Her airy frame and downy soft body surprised me I expected her to be heavier I took her to a rock at the edge of the road She staggered for a moment, shook out her wings, and took off, her back toward me Sometimes freedom needs our help to fly.

* * *

I never feel like I am drowning when I swim. My butterfly stroke is powerful. My shoulders are huge. As I get older, that is somehow not an asset for a girl. Who knew? I compete with myself, under the water, to the edge of the pool. I am everything I cannot completely be above water — free flowing, fiercely strong, vocal, determined, pushy, alone without it being some conditional fault of mine.

Someone in fifth grade stains a desk with her blood. I hope the teacher doesn't make me sit there. Other than that, I just don't care. I don't care what I wear, how I act, who likes me. I have my bad girl posse. I wear no socks in February.

There were very few days when I was not upside down, all those years on 7 Imperial Drive. I started with handstand holds against the wall. They evolved into hand-walking marathons down the curved driveway in front of our slate-gray suburban home. First fifty steps, one hundred, then two hundred. Handstands led to backflips, front flips, handsprings, back handsprings.

I practiced back- and front flips until I got them. I was constantly spraining a finger or an ankle. I didn't care. I twirled everywhere. I could run a front flip over my family room couch, landing on the hardwood floor. Backflips off the diving board were a piece of cake. Butterfly was my favorite stroke. My bell-bottoms were torn into rags at the bottom, dragged with mud. The other girls were discovering makeup. I didn't understand. Who cared about what a boy thought of you when you could do a full aerial into a backflip then top it off with a handspring? Could any of the boys in my eighth grade class do that?

My parents went out for a late dinner. My older sister, a teenager, decided to have a party. There was kissing and drinking and loud music. She told me to go upstairs, leave her alone, and especially not to tell Mom and Dad. I went outside to our flat backyard, where I began to walk on my hands back and forth, underneath the wide window in the "party room." All the kids could see were my feet, going back and forth. My sister was not happy, but I kept it up, using blackmail: "If you make me stop, I will tell." I wouldn't have noticed the rocky lump in my ankle if it had not been for backflips.

I would not have noticed the flaming red of my lower left bones or the swollen mass of flesh that I could penetrate with deep thumbprints, if it had not been for the handsprings. I would not have done anything if it weren't for the day my father noticed that lump, the one he had seen on that same ankle in 1967. I said it was nothing, but I already knew. Anything to hold on. Anything.

* * *

If I open

Will I be remembered?

If I try nothing But stand Fingers spread Saying, "Hear me. Let me be seen."

Will I be a fortress still? Where is that root of strength encouraging me

Power Free I can only wait one more second The breath has ended Another is on its way

Now. Fear. Now. Don't stop. Now. Leaf unfolding. Now.



Excerpted from "From the Roots"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Marsha Therese Danzig.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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