A whole year has gone by since that big day. The day where my life changed forever, my body as well and a very long path of healing that is still continuing today. The day my cancer was removed. This blog originally started out for art- then evolved into what happens after cancer. And the scarcity of the posts, despite my slow crawl back into creating- is evidence of how much work it is.
I didn't blog as much as I should have because it was a constant journey- none that left me with the extra time to write it down as I should have.
Life lesson? Write it all down.
If you can- I have had a bad right arm too so that's another excuse.
But oh boy- what a trip.
I didn't really make any art while I was sick. I started a few drawings, but all I had was poison running through my veins 24-7. I was working full time.... and I had JUST cleaned out the spare bedroom in the house and converted it into my art room- my room with a door that I could go and create in. I finished the room and got it in gorgeous condition - organized all my supplies- and got ready to work for sewing and dyeing. I banged out a few great pieces... Then the diagnosis. I left that room untouched and intact for the next 18 months. It was a month between discovery of the giant lump in my armpit one morning and the phone call from the doctor. I found the lump on April 9, and was diagnosed on May 9, 2012. I never really examined the pathology report until recently- but the cells that they pulled out of the tumors in my armpit and breast were chock full of the nasty aggressive cells that had told the guy reading the report that they were already on their way attacking regions past my lymph nodes. That would have meant stage IV breast cancer. A cancer which very very few survive since it already metastasized past the breast. They never told me that at diagnosis. They were just all very concerned. Once it hits your lymph nodes - you become part of the special club where the lump removal is not an option in traditional medicine. Total I had 4 tumors, 3 in my breast and 1 very large mass in my armpit...and to bomb my entire body of any seed of stage IV cancer starting- they sent me on a 6 month regimen of the heaviest chemo they give a breast cancer patient. Chemo so toxic I can never ever have it again because any more would permanently damage my heart. Enough steroids to sizzle a skeleton according to my doctor.... I started chemo on May 22, 2012 and ended October 9th, 2012. (There's a cute number 9 pattern showing here).
The whole time I was so consumed with just making it day to day that I never realized how dire the situation was....until I read the pathology report again and googled a few words. Holy shit am I lucky.
I had a month off between chemo and my double mastectomy. November 9th 2012. The last day I had my own body as a whole piece. I remember waking up that morning in such a daze. I wasn't allowed to eat anything. I just wanted to velcro my children and husband to me as much as possible until surgery at 6am. I was to get all my breast tissue removed, along with the entire contents of my armpit ( 9 lymph nodes total) on the cancer side, and remove the good breast as well as a few lymph nodes on that side. To make new breasts, they cut a 5 inch football shaped section out of my stomach (replacing my bellybutton in the process! eek!) and pretty much made a skin bra out of the gut fat like Silence of the Lambs as performed by Dr. Patel. I wouldn't say my body was perfect- but it wasn't bad- now it's just a pretty looking surgical warzone with a great tummy tuck... It was a very long recovery- one of which I still very much feel the after effects of. Radiation, probably the worst of all the treatments came next from Dec 2012- Feb 2013. I was burned and the scar tissue resulting adhered to the chest wall and caused all sorts of problems that still need more surgery to correct. I am a work in progress. My goal is to have every scar covered with a tattoo as soon as possible, with no visible evidence or trace left.
Breast cancer never ever ever ever ends. Ever. It lives in every single day- every thought of every ache or pain or the fear of being at the brink again is scary. My body is forever different. Never again will I ever have full range or strength in my right arm. Reaching for cups in a cabinet is torture. I cannot have blood drawn easily anymore since chemo collapsed my veins. I am 37 with a skeleton of a 60 year old woman. ...phantom pains....the stress of making it through a bad day with a smile.... There is so much shit baggage - but even greater is the gift of every minute being alive- and even more greater is the support and love from an immense amount of family and friends and good souls..... I cannot thank the universe enough for THEM. And it never really hit me full force as it did today. On the one year anniversary of being CANCER FREE. Now I have yet to get my scans done for the 1 year mark, so I don't know if I am 100% clear- but I have faith. I feel like it's my birthday, but not really. It was such an important day in my head - and now that it's here- it's just emotion. Quiet emotion.
I have a few small issues that still need to get 100% cleared by some scans in the next few weeks- but aside from that- it's the full on realization that I AM ALIVE and HERE. In June I took myself off all pharmaceuticals and the comfort food "they" told me it was ok to eat all the time (when it's not really a good thing for anyone to eat a diet like I was all the time). I was a vegetarian, but heavy with dairy. I loved my cheese. and COFFEE. Oh god ask anyone- me giving up coffee was never ever an option. But I did it. I detoxed my body of all the treatments, chemo, painful thoughts, chemicals, caffeine, bad food, radiation the best I could with a new diet of all raw vegetables and nuts and fruits. Totally vegan. I saw the movie Forks Over Knives and that was it for me. I dropped 30 pounds in a month and I have been feeling amazing in my head. Physically is another story- but good in my head is a great place to be right now. I make sure I walk 2 miles along the beach every day when I can- and there it starts my day (I replaced coffee with a glass of water with fresh lemon juice). Chia seeds are my new energy source. I breathe in the ocean and get that good salt air in my lungs. I let my day manifest there - I meditate on laundry and art and dishes and food I will make. It's a calming ritual that really has organized so many thoughts that had been scattered in my head- thank the flying spaghetti monster. When the diet and ocean walking started to kick in, so did the art. Big time.
My past year I have spent doing my best to rehabilitate a very nerve damaged arm slowly into feeling comfortable sewing and painting again. Pushing myself out of comfort zones, and that dreaded "I can't do that" zone as well. But I did it. As well as a slow crawl out of a mental hole of sadness and terror, I came out.... Slowly. I dyed a few pieces, drew some pictures, painted some things, made a couple of silly switchplates, sewed up some clothing....slowly walked back into the pool. My things end up on Etsy and if I can pay my grocery bill, we all win. I'm still getting back there, but the constant stream of paint, thread, ink, paper...... it's constant. and always there and that is just the best. At any point in the day, I can stop what I am doing and just create. I make my own time. And that's what counts, whether it exists in a 24 hour day or even 3 hours a week. Just DO IT. Please.
A lot of ability is gone- but the purity of thought and inspiration is so much more valuable. I set my art aside for the last 5 years I had a full time job- I worked 8-10 hours a day making sterile and vanilla things for other people, while my head and lungs were being saturated with unventilated solvent fumes and benzene poisons. It takes a toll on your mind working in that sort of environment. I look back on pieces of art I was doing then and they don't look right now. I wasn't happy there- but I did what I had to do for my family. I am in a much better place, with lessons learned and even though the financial stability has gone poof with the steady paycheck- I am in a MUCH BETTER place. I am home with my youngest, I make art and I do what I need to for the ones I love. No longer do I comply with toxic environments and being scared to ask for ventilation or safer conditions. I make my own now.
I traded stability for chaos and I couldn't be happier.
While my body is falling apart and the uncertainty of those 1 year scans lie on the horizon, I'm getting more to finding that melody of my own of life. Of living the way I need to, on my terms.
The post above is a song that fits the tone perfect. Whoever wrote that song crawled into my head and wrote my 1 year cancer free theme song as fitting as me wearing my pre-teens socks.
Today, I woke up with that thought of "ITS FINALLY A YEAR" since that day. That day. That day....... and then every moment from then on from changing a diaper, to washing my hands, to walking the boardwalk became a prayer of gratitude. "You are here" is what i kept hearing. I felt lighter, without so many worries as I had gone to bed the night before with.
Of course I am here, but days need to be written down a little bit more I think. Either in photographs, drawings, or journals, or on a keyboard...
I engaged myself in every single moment I could today. I saw a brilliant sky and flocks of thousands of seagulls along the Atlantic Ocean. I walked past the current Guinness Worlds Record holder for the world's tallest sandcastle. Every step both elated and painful was full of just enjoying the moments. The boards under my feet, the family I have at home. The beauty of being alive and cancer free. It was all there. And it filled me up so much I was brought to tears in the middle of the boardwalk. Good thing for my giant dark Jackie Onassis sunglasses.
If I seem like a mushy basketcase, then so be it. I'm psyched for a change that's good for once. Despite allllll the crap I feel in my bones. It's a long hard road from a toxic waste dump.
That stuff is no joke.
Better to step away from garbage than towards it.......
better art is to be on its way.....
last night's recently finished piece
11 x 14 inches
acrylic on canvas