Pink Traviata

“Truths and roses have thorns about them” – Thoreau

As I write, two roses adorn my workspace. Having this little bit of nature at my desk helps pass the long days of COVID quarantine work. But there is also deeper meaning from these blooms, aptly named “Secret”.

These two roses came from my yard – my little piece of the planet. Three new rose bushes sit atop a hill in my yard.  They were planted this May after my first surgery for breast cancer.  I wanted to find a way to honor the loss of part of my body and it seemed fitting to add a plant to my yard to remind me of the growth that has come through this experience (credit goes to my sister who suggested the idea of a plant or tree).  The night before my surgery, I got some finger-paint and made prints of my breasts (I know this sounds strange, but hear me out).  I wanted to have some tangible reminder of this physical part of my being that nourished my children and was a part of my physical identity as a woman. 

New rose bushes in the front yard planted along the walkway.

A few weeks after surgery, I went to a local nursery and found three rose bushes.  One was called “Secret” which is described as having “perfume worth bragging about”.  The blooms were a cream color brushed with rich pink on the tips.  New growth is set off by mahogany-red new foliage. The next was called “Pink Traviata”, named for a mutation of a variety called Traviata.  The bloom is a deep pink old fashioned flower with overlapping petals.  The final rose “Sweet Mademoiselle” has double blooms with color that varies.  In the heat, they are a lighter pink.  When first brought home, they were a vibrant pink.  Getting the roses into the car, two of the “Sweet Mademoiselle” roses broke off, one fully bloomed and another in the bud stage.  I was very sad about it, but decided it was somewhat symbolic given that my cancer had been fully formed on my right side (leading to the mastectomy) and there was a small sign that something “of concern” was on the left (leading to the double mastectomy).  It turns out, the left side showed cancer, DCIS, in the left, so it was a good decision.  When the roses were planted, one of the prints was placed into the soil around the plants. 

Sweet Mademoiselle and Pink Traviata roses with oak leaf hydrangea.

Throughout my recovery, the blooms have continued.  I look out the window on a regular basis to see if I can spot a touch of color indicating a new bloom is ready.  I’ve brought many inside keeping them at my desk and the side of my bed.  As I leave my house (only occasionally due to COVID) for medical appointments, I can keep track of the roses on a more regular interval.  They get a morning drink of water and, just this past week, they got some extra nutrients for the soil.  The roses have been a source of encouragement and symbolic meaning.

Pink Traviata
Pink Traviata, a double bloom of deep pink.
Though the leaf was chewed beyond recognition, the rose still bloomed.

Over the past few weeks as temperatures climbed into the 90s every day, the roses sent out new foliage. I am reminded that the main job of a leaf is to make food for a plant, using sunlight for energy and to take water from the ground and carbon dioxide from the air. The rose has struggled with unwelcome insects chewing the new leaves, blooms, and stems.  Each morning during watering, the rose is given a shower with specific focus on getting rid of the unwanted pests.  Sometimes this takes surgical precision with the delicate stream from organic insecticidal soap. It isn’t lost on me how similar this is to my recent surgery experience. The part of my body removed was designed to provide nourishment, just like the rose’s leaves. Like my rose bushes, there are unwanted pests and other challenges. Sometimes those must be removed. With the skilled radiologists seeing what needed to be removed and surgeons trained to remove it, I am able to have the unwanted part of me removed.  Also symbolic, in order to cut the rose, I must also contend with the thorns. Henry David Thoreau once said, “Truths and roses have thorns about them”.

This morning, the bushes were filled with blooms.  I marveled at how beautiful the blooms were.  It seems the insects had left some of the blooms alone to fully bloom.  The leaves; however, did have some large bites out of them, but I can make peace with that given that the rose isn’t diminished by the loss of a few leaves.  Making peace with pests and invasion, of all sorts, seems to be one of my jobs these days.

“Take time to smell the roses” – Proverb

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