On Patience: Writing, Radiation, and Roses

This past March, while at AWP’s annual writing conference, I received confirmation that the tumor removed from my left breast two weeks prior was in fact cancerous. The cells were early stage and noninvasive, but the surgery had not yielded a clean margin. A month ago I had a second surgery to excise the residual cancer cells. Again the surgery did not yield the desired margin. Suddenly I was faced with a time-sensitive decision about radiation that plunged me into the trash compactor scene in Star Wars, my urgency closing in, Chewbacca sounds escaping my throat. Two weeks ago I contacted a nurse “oncology breast navigator” for guidance, and she said, “The most important thing for you to do right now is to be patient with yourself and give yourself time and space to make this decision.”


Patience? Time and space?


A few days ago, while working on an essay so fledgling it did not yet have a working title, I found myself goading the writing process, trying to hurry the essay into being because I thought it was taking too much time. Never mind that I did not yet know what this essay was about, exactly, what deeper truths it was culling from the fragments of memory rising to the page. What if I were to apply the nurse navigator’s words to my writing and give this essay the time and space it needed to emerge? What might I discover about my deeper emotional truths and, by extension, the universal truths they carry? I decided to give the essay a rest. Besides, it was a beautiful weekend, a perfect opportunity to feed my roses.


I had picked up some organic plant food from a local garden center a few days earlier because my roses looked scrawny, I thought, in comparison to the lush roses in full bloom next door. My neighbor, Amy, a seasoned gardener, happened outside as I was scraping back mulch and landscape fabric, sprinkling rose food into the soil. I asked her if the black landscape fabric might, in fact, be preventing my roses from growing faster. “They’re so scrawny,” I said.


She knelt next to me in the rose bed, took one of the twiggy branches in hand. “When did you plant these?” she asked, the way a doctor might inquire about the onset of symptoms.


“A year ago.”


“Why, Marilyn!” she said, “You’re just being impatient is all. You need to give these roses time.”


Isn’t it uncanny how our mindsets—whether we are aware of them or not—determine how we see things? How, in this case, impatience affected the very way I approached not only decisions about my health but also about my writing and my roses?


In her excellent craft book Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, Judith Barrington writes, “Living a conscious and reflective life is a prerequisite for writing a memoir of substance.” The lessons we are called on to glean from the circumstances of our lives must extend to our writing practice. Why? Because the two are inseparable facets of the same conscious life we are living. Our writing practice and our life unfold in tandem, handing us the situations we need—if we are paying attention—in order to write the next essay or memoir, to make the next life decision. When we acknowledge and shift our limiting mindsets, we approach our writing with a new level of awareness that enables us to make sense of our deeper truths, which transforms both us and our readers.


What well-worn mindsets is your life nudging you to acknowledge and shift? Could your writing, like mine, benefit from patience? Might extending patience to your writing practice move you toward a more “conscious and reflective life” that ultimately results in writing of substance? What would it mean for you to extend to your writing the time and space necessary to fully realize your unique expression of truth?


After mulling the nurse navigator’s words to be patient with myself, I postponed the start dates of my summer Writing Women’s Lives™ classes. I took some deep breaths. And from this newfound patience I made the decision to proceed with radiation. Treatment begins today at 4:00 EST and will continue for six weeks. I am sad about this. And I am scared. But I am giving myself time and space to process these feelings so that I might learn the lessons radiation has to teach me.


Later today, after my first radiation treatment, I will water the roses, and I will admire how far they’ve come since this time last year rather than see them as scrawny in comparison to Amy’s roses.


And that fledgling essay? It has since acquired a working title: “Radiation.”


To living a conscious and reflective life that reaps writing of substance,


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  • Lea Page May 29, 2013   Reply →

    Courage and strength to you, Marilyn.

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 29, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you, Lea. Deep thanks.

  • Bunny May 29, 2013   Reply →

    So, Honey, you’re on your way. And you know you’re not alone, right? You have loads of friends, and I–cack-handed and inexpert–am one of them. I will be twitching your curtain in a day or so.

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 29, 2013   Reply →

      Bunny: The curtain gets me every time, dear one. Yes, please keep “twitching” it. Much love, M

  • Ginny Taylor May 29, 2013   Reply →

    Lovely reflection, Marilyn, about so many things, besides considering how often the writing life connects to the one we are living in the present moment. Hugs today and always, and especially at 4:00. Love, G

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 29, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you, Ginster. Receiving your hugs. WMAO, M

  • Marsha McGregor May 29, 2013   Reply →

    What a beautiful reflection on life and writing. Patience. It’s the hardest virtue of all, I think. Life seems determined to teach us about it whether we are interested or not, ready or not, willing or not. Thinking of you today, Marilyn. Know that many unseen hands are lifting you.

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 29, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you, sweet Marsha. Did you get my message about Ashland Writing Retreat? And, yes: Patience is a tough gain. Feeling those invisible hands, M

  • Eileen May 29, 2013   Reply →

    thank you, marilyn, for sharing your walk down this particular path with us. this line in particular — “Our writing practice and our life unfold in tandem, handing us the situations we need—if we are paying attention—in order to write the next essay or memoir, to make the next life decision” — was exactly what i needed to read today, as i sift through the materials in my own “gardens”
    thinking of you, wishing you continued peace and strength

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 29, 2013   Reply →

      Your response means so much to me, Eileen. Thank you for taking the time. I am taking your wishes for peace and strength onward into my day. Happy “sifting” through your “materials” and “gardens.” Word gardens! Ooohhh: A bouquet of words! All best, M

  • Sonya Huber May 29, 2013   Reply →

    Thank you for this beautiful reflection right in the midst of life. Hugs and thinking of you xoxoxo

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 29, 2013   Reply →

      Thanks, Sweet Sonya. Loved loved loved your pain piece in Brevity! Was recently introduced to a “Charlie Brown” pain scale at cancer center. When the young technician asked me if I was in pain I said, “Just my heart.” She looked panicked so I added, “It’s breaking.” She didn’t “get” it. Heehee. xo, M

      • Karen Donley-Hayes May 30, 2013   Reply →

        Marilyn, that’s so funny in a black humor sort of way. And so poignant on so many different levels. There’s something you could write about (I guess cancer gives one much material, whether one wants it or not).

        • Marilyn Bousquin June 3, 2013   Reply →

          Yes, Karen, I can hardly keep up with the writing! I kinda like that end of things ; >. xo, M

  • Maryann May 29, 2013   Reply →

    You are such a beautiful and fragrant rose! I have great faith in you, and your ability to manifest and direct your healing journey. You are in my thoughts and heart, always.
    Love, Maryann

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 29, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you, Maryann. I think of you every day when I don my rose quartz necklace. Am going to try to get it past the radiation technicians today. Can’t wait to write with you soon! xo, M

  • Tania May 29, 2013   Reply →

    Marilyn, first sending all forms of love your way (from angels to power animals), for this vulnerable passage. Could so very much relate to the need to slow down and allow, the reminder that all kinds of invisible work goes on we can make visible with our words if we can bear to wait, listen in again. And, as hard as it is, especially to give ourselves the love and care we so readily extend to others. Wise nurse, wise you for listening.

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 29, 2013   Reply →

      Hi, Tania. Thank you for your love and wise words, especially the notion that we can make the invisible (truth?!) visible with our words. I love that. Off to do just that now. Warm hug, Marilyn

  • jean May 29, 2013   Reply →

    i love that you are so in the moment ..with such grace thru such a difficult time….
    i love the metaphor of the rose…it is true gardening and life do take time and patience.
    i am so glad your rose could give you the gift of the feedback you needed AND you are amazing that you could reflect in the moment to get what you needed!
    thinking of you and sending you love.. jean….

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 29, 2013   Reply →

      Hi, Jean. I just got home from first treatment. Feeling peaceful and serene. The let me hold Maryann’s rose quartz! Receiving your love. Thank you, dear, and so looking forward to writing with you soon. xo, M

  • Shirley May 29, 2013   Reply →

    Cherished Mentor, Your health update is sincerely appreciated, Marilyn. Patience: One year for roses Insufficient. Two weeks for writing class… insufficient? While I can’t speak for others, please give yourself time. For you, I’ll wait forever.

    Mind sets, how we see things … with love/hate, light/heavy, ugly/pretty, is it the same as frames of reference? What we’ve experienced? And if we’ve not experienced it, how can we use?

    With much love … Shirley

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 30, 2013   Reply →

      Shirley, this is so beautiful. Even in such brief comments your unique voice rings through. I’d have known you anywhere, even if you hadn’t signed your name. Thank you for your words, your generosity, your kindness, and your love. Gathering it all and holding it close. Much love right backatcha, M

  • Alexis May 30, 2013   Reply →

    Dear Marilyn, will be thinking of you in the weeks ahead and I am sending you all my best wishes and positive energy. Your writing made me feel both sad and hopeful at the same time….it was beautifully written. Alexis xox

    • Marilyn Bousquin May 30, 2013   Reply →

      Alexis! So good to hear from you. I think of you often and would LOVE a writing update. (And a family update, too!) Thank you for your warm wishes. Receiving them. I am getting your message the day after the first day of radiation and guess what? It was serene and peaceful. I even surprised myself by smiling right there on the treatment table. Sending you my very best and picturing you writing in your garden. I really would love an update! xo, M

  • Janet May 30, 2013   Reply →

    Thank you Marilyn for opening your heart and present moment. You can become stronger and I am certain you will. Remember to breathe, deeply in and exhaling all you need to slowly…………your pain, fear, doubts and breath. Be in the present moment, and then the next will come and be easier. You are in my mindful good thoughts and prayers.

    • Marilyn Bousquin June 3, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you, Janet. I am seriously taking your reminder to breathe to heart! (And into practice.) All best, Marilyn

  • Cathy Hamilton June 2, 2013   Reply →

    Marilyn, can you be any more amazing…..you are such an inspiration to me. I love that you are slowing down and taking the time you need for you. I love you with all of my bubbly fierceness!!!

    • Marilyn Bousquin June 3, 2013   Reply →

      Aw, sweetheart, deep thanks and love right backatcha!You know I wouldn’t be where I’m at, which is a pretty peaceful place, without your amazing breast cancer coaching. xo, M

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