QUILCENE — It is a sunny Monday morning, and Karen Sickel is getting dressed to go to work.
Donning black pants and top, she ties a pink tutu with a nylon mesh skirt and satin stars around her waist.
Sickel is not going to a dance class, but to the Quilcene Community Center, where she is volunteering her talents as a landscape designer to makeover the grounds.
By the time sun is over the reader board, she is directing volunteers with shovels and chains on where to place large basalt boulders, in front of the building.
Donated by Penny Creek Quarry, the boulders were delivered and placed Gary Phillips, the quarry property owner, who also volunteered his services and backhoe.
“I made the comment when we picked out the rocks that he makes it look like a dance, but don’t expect me to wear a tutu,” Sickel said.
“Then I thought, ‘Why the heck not?’ You’ve got to have fun with this stuff.”
Laughing and having fun have been Sickel’s watchwords since she was diagnosed with cancer last November, just after her 56th birthday.
Since then, she has undergone radiation chemotherapy and surgery, and on Aug. 1, started oral chemotherapy that she will take through mid-December.
But she doesn’t let it get her down.
“I’m going to get better, so why not have fun?” she said.
“I’m the lucky one.”
That’s because her colorectal cancer is only stage one — it was caught through a routine colonoscopy, which she had at Swedish Hospital in Seattle.
She also feels blessed, she said, to have a good team of doctors at Swedish and a group of friends. They include members of the Brinnon-Quilcene Garden Club who, when approached by Bob Rosen, Quilcene Community Center manager, formed a task force to do the center’s landscaping.
Sickel drew up a plan that included a blend of “hardscaping” — rocks and large earthenware pots — contrasting with clumps of miscanthus grass and sedum.
“Everything is drought-tolerant in front, and we’re using dwarf varieties in the planters,” Sickel said. “We want this to look good all year SSRqround.”
Karen and spouse, George Sickel, also donated the pots, Rosen said.
Watching them being put in place Monday was Mary Schmidt, a Quilcene resident who grew up in Port Townsend.
Schmidt, who with her spouse, Paul, have supported the center makeover, said the new landscaping is magnificent.
“I feel like Quilcene is really starting to blossom,” Schmidt said.
“It’s a wonderful community.”
Community is why Phillips, who lives on Dabob Bay, volunteered his services, he said.
Helping him was John Monroe, who also came with heavy equipment and cleaned out the front of the building prior to the start of the landscaping, Rosen said.
More boulders were placed in back of the building, where a large trellis will one day be covered with vines.
Cancer also tends to branch out into families — an uncle had colorectal cancer, Sickel said, so when she was diagnosed, she called all her cousins and alerted them.
As a result, an extended family member went in for a screening, which caught a pre-cancerous condition.
“If you have a polyp, you should go in every two years,” she said. “I was on a three-year cycle. It would have saved me from going through this.”
Keeping a good attitude, laughing and having fun are what gets you through, Sickel said.
Like making a tutu by putting two child-sized tutus together and wearing it in public.
“People driving by probably think I’m losing it,” she said as she watched another boulder being lifted off the truck.
And she has never taken a ballet lesson in her life.
_________Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.