Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Big Girl Chair

Tomorrow is my third round in the big girl chair.  It could be the steroids I have to take prior to my infusion or it could be anxiety- but I am wide awake and it is 2:30am.  What better time to ramble here on my blog!  Hopefully this will be coherent, but if not- I will delete it tomorrow.

I am having the most bizarre emotional experience around chemotherapy.  If I was my own art therapist, I would take out some wax paper and have myself draw each different emotional experience -and then overlay them to create one cohesive picture.  I don't have the emotional energy to cut pieces of wax paper- and I don't think it would translate very well in my scanner, so instead I made this piece of art on photoshop and did transparent layers. I tried to limit the amount of time I gave myself- just because I didn't want to think too much about it and become weirdly perfectionist.  This isn't about the final product.  It is about me sorting out what I am feeling.

Layer One - Date Night


Okay- so the thing I love most about chemotherapy is the five hours of uninterrupted time that I get to spend with my husband.  We talk, laugh, have lunch.  He takes care of me in a way that I feel supported and loved.  It is wonderful.  With two little ones at home, it is difficult to get time together to even have a conversation.  So, I put this image on top.

Layer Two - 1/2 way there


So with this chemotherapy infusion, I will have completed three of the six I am scheduled for.  I visited my doctor today and he was incredibly happy about my amazing disappearing tumor.  I am cautiously optimistic.   He is too.  So this layer is all about the positive emotions I have around this diagnosis.  I love my doctors and spending time with Leo (who I call sunshine).  This is definitely the next image in my layers.

Layer Three - The Uncomfortable, Painful, Yuck


This one is not for the faint of heart.  Chemo sucks.  My body aches, my stomach is a disaster area, discomfort everywhere, my head throbs, swollen, and tired through my bones.  The intense portion only lasts a week- but I still loathe it.  My hair is continuing to fall out, and my nails feel fragile.  I added a new symptom this last cycle - Neuropathy.  For sixty seconds, it felt like all of my fingers were on fire.  Extreme pain and then it disappeared.  I experienced it in my toes the next day.  My oncologist said that unfortunately, this side effect is also cumulative- so he anticipates it might be worse this cycle.  I am trying to arm myself with extra supplements and a positive attitude- but it isn't always easy.  When I look at this piece, it also represents fear.  I buried this layer under all of my happy feelings.

Layer Four - Loneliness 


This layer is about isolation.  Because of my blood counts - and the added risks due to lung complications, I am forced to stay home for nearly two weeks.  I will try to allow myself to go to my support group, but other than that I become a recluse. In the beginning, I am even too sick to spend much time with my family.  I stay in bed and feel miserable.   I sometimes feel like I could disappear.  I hate this one the most.  

The emotional journey to chemoland


I played with the transparency until I felt that the picture was what I wanted it to be.  It feels odd- chaotic- and uncomfortable, so I guess I did it right.  As for a directive, I really enjoyed it.  And now maybe I can get some sleep.  

Good night.  Wish me luck- and as we say in chemoland - No SE!!!!
(SE means side effects)  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Coloring Calaca 2

Last night I drew this calaca and actually worked on a painting - which is pretty good since I feel a complete and utter lack of motivation to do much of anything.  I know I will be out of commission for the next couple of weeks, so I am going to try to get up and do something fun with the family.  Maybe the zoo?  Which is hard to even imagine because I feel bone tired.  But possibly it is a matter of momentum, and once I begin moving it will be easier.  Hope everyone has a lovely Saturday.

If you click the skull above it will take you to a downloadable version to color.  I gave this one a mustache in honor of all of my high school clients.  Once I ran an entire group about stress with everyone in the group, including me, sporting awesome fake mustaches.  I miss my clients. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Calaca to Color

People ask how I am doing.  Physically, I feel pretty good.  I had a strange burning sensation in my fingertips a few days ago (my doctor confirmed this is neuropathy) - but I have been taking extra L-glutamine, and it seems to have gone away.  Emotionally, I am not doing quite as well.  I am already anticipating next week and my chemotherapy infusion.  It is hard to willingly allow yourself to do something that you know is going to make you feel like utter hell.  But I also understand that my tumor has been shrinking at an amazing rate.  So, I will go and pray that I will have minimal side effects.  I am trying to clean my house, get meals ready for next week, and enjoy my children.  I always feel better when I feel prepared.

So, I decided that I am going to try to do as many little Calaca Coloring pages as I can to help my mind stay focused on the present instead of dwelling in what might happen next week.  Kind of like a zentangle (a kind of mindfulness doodle technique).  So, if you click on the skull above, it will take you to a place where you can download my little skull to color.  Coloring is another awesome way to calm your body, focus on the present, and regulate emotions.  And below, I am including a link to a blank skull sketch- so that you can do your own doodle!  And of course, for more calaca love visit Rebecca's blog here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Calaca

     It was a hard weekend.  Physically, I am feeling fine.  Just a few fleeting side effects, but on the whole, so much better than I was a week ago.  Emotionally, it was challenging.  I am generally a positive person.   I work with youth who are often hopeless- and it is up to me to hold hope where sometimes it may feel like there is none.   I am well versed in understanding how to be grateful- and to know that things can always be worse.  This weekend, I lost myself to fear.  I could blame it on late night internet searches, where I read the angry responses to the "pink campaigns" that often focus on awareness and don't give nearly enough resources to research.  I read about women who are stage four and are labeled terminal and how these women were often first diagnosed with stage 0-3 cancer.  I read about how 20% of breast cancer patients will go on to become stage four.   And then I stopped reading and cried.  I am convinced that I will survive and move through this.  I know in my heart that I will be one of the 80% - and that I will be stronger as a result of this.  But for a moment this weekend, I let death take residence in my psyche.

   So last night, I turned to art.  I visualized death as a clown- colorful and silly.  And then  I imagined death riding something equally non-frightening- like a bunny.  Lastly, I visualized the bunny hopping away.  After I finished drawing, I went to sleep.  Aside from a strange dream about accidentally going out of the house without any head covering and being mortified,  I slept peacefully.  I have only one week of feeling normal before I have another chemotherapy infusion and begin the cycle of nausea, pain, and exhaustion.  I am not going to waste it being afraid.

   For more calaca love, check out Rebecca's blog here:)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Taking Pictures

When I was in my twenties, I can remember weekend nights when I would tell my friends I was busy.  I would then pull down the shades and spend the evening with my camera, tripod, and a multitude of costumes.  As a fine arts major, I always had an excuse for playing dress up.  I would take many of my photographs and use them as studies for my paintings.  Although on the surface, this kind of thing might reek of some undeniable narcissism on my part- it had a lot more to do with the opposite.  I was uncomfortable in my skin and I had no idea who I was supposed to be.  Through my pictures and paintings, I forced myself to be in relationship with a subject matter that often felt incredibly foreign.  I am not sure how I became so painfully insecure.  I wish I knew so that I could do everything in my power to ensure that my daughter doesn't suffer the same fate.

At some point, I began to understand that I could really be whatever I chose.  Through painting, I understood my face.  The shape of my mouth, the color of my eyes, the line of my jaw.   I would look at others, and notice how we shared characteristics - and if I could find beauty in them, I must also be beautiful.  I began to appreciate that I did not conform to what the standard of beauty was in many ways, but it didn't matter.  I could be my own type of beautiful.  Of course, I now realize that acceptance of your physical self is a moving target.   With each passing day, the physical me changes.  I remember a few months ago having a realization that looking back at my younger self,  I can indeed see how I was so much prettier than I ever gave myself credit.   I wonder if when I am eighty I will look back at my 45 year old self and think the same thing.

Cancer is not pretty.  I pass mirrors and don't recognize myself.  A bald and moon shaped face stares back at me where I once was.  (They call it chemo-bloat) My physical body is pale and exhausted.    So what can I do to accept this new me?  Take pictures of course!   After the kids were in bed, I spent time putting on my makeup and had a photo session.  I would highly recommend it.  I don't know if I accept what I look like as of yet, and I know it will continue to change.  But forcing myself to spend time with my new self feels healing.

Hope you enjoy today's calaca:-)  For more calaca love, visit Rebecca's blog here!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Calaca for 10-11-12

Second chemotherapy session completed - four more to go - but I won't say I am 1/3rd done until after this week, since I now know from experience the next week is the hard part.  I am trying to get enough fluids, eat right, rest, and be gentle with myself.  On top of all of the physical discomfort, the sadness of my mother and sister's return home to Texas has been challenging.

This calaca is one from my monster series.  She makes me smile- which is what I need today.  Here is her cute little friend.
Hope everyone has a beautiful Thursday.  I did wake up this morning to a lovely package of delicious cookies from my sister in law with the most beautiful cards from my niece.  So things are looking up.

 For more Calaca love, visit Rebecca's blog here.
Maybe you can leave a comment of a good movie I can watch that will make me laugh this weekend.
No sadness- I am having enough of that.  Time to turn things around.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Crowning Glory

My hair has always been unruly, wild and unmanageable.  A thick curly mass that could not be forced into any of the cool hairstyles of the day.  But I would try.  I can remember attempting desperately to straighten it - only leaving it more frizzy and disastrous.   At some point in my late twenties, I realized that this war I was fighting was not one that I would ever win - and so I surrendered.  And when I did, it was magical.  My hair formed ringlets and waves, effortless curls, romantic and even beautiful.  I began for the first time in my life receiving compliments regarding my hair.  And I let it grow.  My hair became part of my identity.  When describing me, people would begin by discussing my hair.  I would dye it and spend time creating intricate braids and buns.  My hair was an extension of my creative self.  People would stop me in the grocery stores to ask me about my hair.  And I loved it.

It is essential to understand that in Mexican American culture, hair is extremely important.  Upon having both of my children, the first question my mother asked is whether or not the babies had hair- and if they did have hair, how much.  You can even buy baby wigs at the Latin flea markets in my hometown- just in case your baby was born lacking.  Hair is also connected in Latin culture with femininity.  The Latina bombshell always has long amazing hair.  This is the culture that I grew up with.

The first thing I asked my oncologist was whether or not I would lose my hair.  He said that I would.  For some bizarre reason, that was more painful than the previous conversation I had with the surgeon about losing my breasts (more about my feelings on that subject much later).   I tried looking up on the internet natural ways to save my hair, but came up empty handed.  Of course, there are those that use Cold Caps - icy helmets that freeze your scalp so that the chemotherapy drugs leave your hair follicles alone- but the cost of such extravagance was too much for me.  I couldn't stomach spending so much money for what felt like was just hair.  It would grow back.  I could take the kids to Disneyland for the price of cold caps!

There is another part of me that is quite sure that my journey has a meaning.  That there is something about fighting cancer that will define a new purpose for who I am and how I move through this world. My life has centered around serving others- and this would be no exception.  It is what I love more than anything else.  So, in some ways, I need to experience every aspect of this journey.  Unfortunately, that includes losing all of my hair.  It is a rite of passage that I am not comfortable missing.   It is also a rite of passage that has been wrought with tears.

I think that when I am bald, it becomes undeniable that I am sick.  That I am fighting something larger and more scary than I have ever fought before.  I will have joined the sisterhood.  I will be forced to face my mortality.  It will be real- and I won't be able to hide in a crowd.  Everyone will know.  This person, who has built an identity around being strong and fiercely independent, may be seen as weak or someone to be pitied.  I will be transformed into the "other"... "other" people get cancer.  I will be faced with the fact that I really can't do this alone.  And that I need people.  And that is scary.

Monday, I cut my hair into a cute little pixie cut.  Wednesday was my birthday, and it began gently falling out as I touched my head.  Saturday, I couldn't stop the shedding.  My head felt like it was on fire, irritated, and prickly.  With tears and a heavy heart, I had my little sister shave my head.  I wore a wig for the first time that afternoon.  Today I wore my first headscarf.  I am surviving.. and actually, now that it is gone, I am feeling some relief. It is time to start focusing on the next part of this journey.

My calaca for today is a little drawing I did commemorating my visit to the Ocean today in my headscarf.  For more October Calacas visit Rebecca's blog here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Birthday Calaca

Yesterday was my birthday.  For the first time in a while, I didn't for one moment lament getting older. I will cherish every birthday I have from here on out.  I promise.  But just for the record, I am planning a huge party for the next birthday.

My sister and mother are in town so we spent the day at the Academy of Science and had lunch in Half Moon Bay.  It was a lovely day.  I worried a bit about the large amounts of hair that I am beginning to shed- and I know it is part of this process.  I was going to call this process "ugly" but decided that it is best that I not judge it so harshly.  I just cut my hair very short in anticipation of the impending loss.  I will write more about hair in another post- because I think it warrants an entire discussion.  Suffice it to say that the hair issue has been difficult for me.  I am shedding tears for each escaping hair and I know this is to be expected.

So, my sister took this picture today at the museum and I felt it was perfect for my daily calaca.  I hope you enjoy it.  For more calacas- visit Rebecca's blog.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

October 2, Calaca

So this is my second Calaca in the October series.  I love October!
For more cool skulls, visit Rebecca's blog at this link.

Today I honor my mother.  It is her birthday.  She is strong, smart, talented, and beautiful.  I am super excited because she is coming with my sister to visit tomorrow.  This is one of those times where I feel like a little girl desperately wanting my mother to come and comfort me.  My mother is also a cancer survivor.  She was diagnosed with Hodgkin s Lymphoma four years ago and has been in full remission.  I remember the pictures my sister took of her shaved head - especially the ones where they are laughing after having given my mom a very cool mohawk.  At the time, I was pregnant and couldn't travel to be at my mother's side.  It was hard.  I think I have a better understanding now than I ever could have about the kind of struggle my mom endured.   I am so looking forward to her visit, but I am also already sad that she will have to leave.

Monday, October 1, 2012


     October has always been my favorite month.  So many people in my life have October birthdays- including me!  I also have a penchant for all things dark and mysterious - which October is full of.  And Halloween- a holiday devoted to dressing up and being creative- is my absolute favorite.  So, having chemo twice during the month of October completely sucks.   Halloween will fall on a day that I will be my most sick.  This is especially hard since I have little ones that count on me to make the holiday special.  I am sure I will figure something out - but I am disappointed.

   Rebecca Brooks is an awesome artist blogger who I have had the pleasure of working with in the past on the auctioned altars for Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots.  Today, she invited me to participate in a fun "la calaca a day- La Calaca Love" for the month of October.  Of course, I love all things skeletal- and thought why not?  I also love that Dia de los Muertos spirit of not fearing death- but laughing instead.  Living life without fear of death is an important thing to hold on to, especially at this particular juncture in my life when anxiety can keep me up at night.  So, I am going to try to participate as much as I can... they may not be long posts, but just a nice picture each day.   Luckily, my artist portfolio is full of them.  For more cool skulls, visit this link.
  Happy October.