‘That poor tree was just like me,’ says breast cancer survivor of stricken Torrey pine

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is art. Everyone interprets art through their own eyes.

And sometimes, as with Del Mar’s Tara Diamond, an interpretation can leave a lasting impression.

“That’s what art is about,” Diamond said.

With October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Diamond recently shared her story, from battling breast cancer to finding inspiration in art.

Diamond discovered a tumor in 2006, and after years of alternative treatments, she was later diagnosed with breast cancer last year. After having a mastectomy, Diamond completed her yearlong chemotherapy treatments over the summer. Her doctor has since confirmed that she is cured.

“I’m just happy,” Diamond said with a big smile.

“You always wonder if you’re doing the right thing. It’s hard to know,” she added. “But I think that if you’re going through breast cancer or any kind of cancer, an integrative approach is the healthiest thing anybody can do. I couldn’t imagine the medical therapies without the alternative treatments to manage the side effects.”

This past year has been one of the hardest for Diamond. While undergoing chemotherapy, she struggled with low self-esteem and depression. But one day, while driving down Highway 101, she spotted a Torrey pine.

The beetle-damaged tree had been chopped down. Its branches and leaves were gone. All that was left was an oddly-shaped stump.

“That poor tree was just like me,” remembered Diamond, who took photos on top of the tree.

“I felt like I understood the tree and it understood me. Somebody saved the tree and somebody saved me.”

Del Mar designer David Arnold helped save the stump. He, too, spotted the tree while driving down Highway 101. He asked the crew cutting the tree to stop, giving him time to contact the city and receive support to turn the stump into art.

This took place in January.

Since then, woodworking artist Tim Richards has transformed the dead Torrey pine into a lively piece of public art at the bluffs along Camino del Mar. The stump is now “Sunset Seat,” a wooden bench where people can sit and look at the scenic surroundings. Attached is a carved red-tailed hawk — the official bird of Torrey Pines Reserve.

The art piece was unveiled in April.

“It’s a beautiful statement,” Diamond said. “It evolved into something that is so interactive for people. It’s such an experience creator.”

Diamond knows a thing or two about creativity. After all, she is also an artist.

Originally from North Carolina, Diamond completed a master’s degree in speech and language pathology at Appalachian State University. After college, she worked with children as a diagnostician across seven counties for several years.

Diamond later worked part-time as a speech pathologist to return to school and study art at her alma mater. She has worked as a photographer ever since.

In 1985, Diamond came to Southern California, where she has also worked as a painter and set designer. In addition, she studied to become a spiritual healer and psycho-spiritual counselor. She has had a private practice for more than two decades.

Having recently undergone reconstructive surgery, Diamond, now 63, is still in recovery. In recent months, she has written Arnold to thank him for saving the tree and creating new life through art.

“I now just want to tell the truth in a beautiful way that inspires people,” said Diamond, a former Carmel Valley resident who relocated to Del Mar 13 years ago. “That’s what I did in my letter. I wanted him to know how much it meant to me.”

For more about Diamond and her work, visit www.taradiamond.com.

Tara Diamond’s letter to David Arnold

Dear David,

I imagine I felt just like you when you saw the Torrey Pine being cut down to its bare beginnings this past winter. There it was, this raw structure of support merely echoing its mighty effort to reach the sky for so many years. Laying it to rest would have been a sad waste of the precious memories anchored within its roots, memories that now pass through the minds and hearts of people on the winds of change. Thank you for stopping them from destroying it.

When I first saw the remains of that day, I said to myself ... “just like me.” I was startled by how much the tree was me, how much it reflected how I felt after each treatment for breast cancer I endured this past year. One limb, one branch, one needle after another, falling to the ground of what once supported it, what once gave it its might, its beauty, its honor, its strength, now falling away, bearing what’s beneath it all, bearing what’s left.

That’s what grabbed my attention ... the tree standing there, proud of what’s left of it. I don’t know that I ever saw the tree as it was, separate from the surroundings it defined. It wasn’t until it has been cut, scraped, shaved, and carved up that I noticed the beauty of what was supporting it. Perhaps this is happening for me too.

I had to have a photo of it, so I walked over one Sunday morning, climbed it, and a nice couple took photos of me with my iPhone. I was quite lucky they came by since no one was out on such a cool morning. My hair had just started growing back on New Year’s Day and this was my first shot of it, my coming out photo ... a new beginning of what’s left from the balding shock of such an ordeal. For that short while, it was the tree and me. I felt like I belonged up there.

I didn’t know there were plans for it at the time ... plans similar to mine. I just thought its pure essence had been spared. I thought how brave of it to bare its soul to a world passing by day after day. If nothing else, it would have been a monument to longevity and history, but you championed a reconstruction, and now we see it becoming something else, something new. Now, it’s quite the monument to what we can find inside of what’s left of us if we just look.

Thank you for your knowing in an instant that this life had to be spared, that you had to stop the waste of timeless memories it held for us. Thank you for letting everyone else share in its beauty, its triumph. Thank you for letting me share mine too.

Rarely do we know what effect our art has on others. I thought you might like to know.

Sincerely, Tara Diamond

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