Finding Joy with Flowers After Breast Cancer

PJ Hamel Health Guide

  • I planted pansies yesterday. It was an incredibly beautiful day, one of those blue-sky days when you experience that full-body slam of “boy, it’s great to be alive.” You know, the post-treatment moment when you thank God (or the power of your choice) that you made it, that you’re still there for your kids, still giggling with girlfriends, and every now and then waking up to realize that it’s an absolutely perfect day out there –- and you’re going to be part of it.

    I knew this day was coming; the weatherman nailed it when he said the weekend forecast was “glorious.” Here in northern New England, the times of year when we might experience “glorious” weather are limited, unless you like cold: snow, ice, sleet, wrapping yourself in layers that cover every square inch because temperatures below zero will freeze your exposed skin. Heck, I neglected to cover the tips of my ears once, and the posts of my earrings froze solid and freeze-burned my earlobes.
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    I don’t happen to love the cold; I'm not a skier, ice fisherman, or snowmobiler; I don’t snowshoe or ice climb. Me, I’m more a warm weather gal; 80°F is probably my favorite temperature, and Hawaii or Rome the two places I’d like to visit before I die. So here in New Hampshire, a sunny, 75°F day in June, with the trees barely budded out, lilacs in full bloom, and the grass having shed its drab brown winter cost for the bright green of spring–-yes, that’s glorious.

    I went to the general store and picked out a flat of pansies from the lineup in the parking lot. (I don’t know about other parts of the country, but up here that’s where you get your plants, at the general store; you know, the place that sells everything from winter boots and 1/2” hex screws to Beaujolais, animal feed, fresh-picked blueberries and, yes, plants.) I’ve always loved pansies; as a child I’d sit in my mother’s garden and pick out the faces I liked best. What, you didn’t know pansies have faces? If you can see the man in the moon, you can see a grinning pansy. Anyway, I selected six boxes –- a bright mix of deep burgundy, midnight blue, gaudy yellow, pale violet, and a lovely coral color I’d never seen before –- and brought them home.

    As I plopped down on the warm grass and started to turn the dirt under my trowel, I experienced the small thrill I always get when I’m planting something. I’m taking a life, and making it better. These pansies wouldn’t have been happy in their crowded plastic pot for long; they need the rich soil of my garden. They want earthworms under their toe-roots, the sun on their leaves, and rain bathing their velvety faces. It’s true, weeding isn’t a favorite activity; aside from being hard, it’s also a bit sad to end a plant’s life. But spring planting, on a crystalline Saturday morning … ah, that’s the best.

    I didn’t used to see life in everything the way I do now, since cancer. Plants and trees were just there, part of the landscape; birds provided the background noise. Now I see the spark of life everywhere I look –- perhaps because I know how quickly, how randomly, it can be extinguished. I take pleasure in playing God in a very minor way in my garden: growing flowers, helping them to live. It’s payback, no matter how small, for the gift of my own life: nearly lost, given back.

  • I think of that as my pansies smile up at me from their new bed. And I smile back.
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Published On: June 11, 2007