Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Thousand Cranes

At this point, you probably understand how important art is to me.  How I have used art to understand my current situation, to guide me, and to assist me in healing.  This is not the first time that I have turned to art to create clarity when life has felt overwhelming.  After college, it was series of self-portraits that brought me to art therapy.  During the end of my first marriage, I can remember drawing a road map that detailed how to get out of depression.  When I was trying to get pregnant, I can remember laying on the gurney after what the doctors thought was an ectopic pregnancy and wondering how I would represent the event visually in my journal.  Art has been a powerful ally.

I have talked before about how isolating cancer can be.  Most days I don't feel well enough to leave my house.  Other days I am too exhausted.  And then there are those days where I just feel vulnerable.  Some friends are wonderful about calling and checking in.  Others disappear.  Social media has been extremely important in keeping me from becoming a recluse.  Through Facebook, I can connect with my family and friends bald and in my pajamas.  I have also joined an amazing online support group that has walked with me through every step of chemotherapy.  As each of us completed our infusions, we congratulated and cheered each other on in a way that only another survivor can.  I have also used this blog to share my experience - and through this blog I have connected with a larger community of survivors and people who have sent positive healing energy my way.  But, even with all of this support, cancer is still isolating.  Mortality is lonely. 

On Sunday, I was given over a thousand folded origami cranes from former students in my art therapy community.  It is difficult for me to express what this gift has meant to me.  I am in awe that so many took the time to craft each beautiful crane for me.  I look at these cranes, and I feel supported and connected.  I feel loved.  And again, I am moved by the power of art.
 I am putting these cranes in my bedroom.  So on those nights when everyone is sleeping, and I am alone wrestling with dark thoughts that keep me awake- I will look at these cranes and feel strong, hopeful, and supported.  

Thank you to everyone who participated.  Thank you to Kristyn for organizing.  I am blessed.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

13 intentions- family

It has been five days since my last chemo infusion.  I am still feeling extremely sick- but trying very hard to rally.  It is hard to believe that a little over five months ago my whole world changed.  But it did.  And now, I am just trying to figure out how to make sense of what is now normal.  I can get caught up in feeling so unique in that notion- but in reality, what is normal for any of us changes from one day to the next.  What was normal last year can no longer be normal today.  I think that sometimes pain happens when we refuse to adjust when things can no longer stay the same.

I thought I would share another page from my 13 intentions book.  This page is about holding the intention of family.   My days can become so busy- running late for school and work, quickly doing homework before dinner, bath and bedtime - impatient for the hour or two I can steal away in the dark of night to make art work.  I want to have more presence in those moments I share with my family.  Slow down and feel how blessed I am.

This is difficult for me because I am someone who enjoys moving fast.  I am not sure exactly where this came from.  I find efficiency to be beautiful.  I have often said that the real reason I am so efficient is that I am lazy.  The quicker I can get a task completed, the more time I can sit around doing nothing... but in reality, I rarely ever sit around doing nothing.  I speak quickly and hate it when people request that I slow down.  The world sometimes feels like it moves so painfully slow that I might pull my hair out. (guess maybe I should pick a different saying).  I commented once to my daughter that I was the rabbit in a world full of turtles.  She told me that the turtle won the race.  (I am going to be in such trouble when she is a teenager).  I had a moment of clarity a couple of years ago where I thought that perhaps I don't want to slow down - or stop because I am afraid.  The moment I entertained the notion, I quickly dismissed it.  I guess it was really scary.  

So, how do I slow down?  How do I stop myself from missing the beauty that is my life?  I don't just think that this is something that would be nice to change in myself.  I understand that it is crucial for my survival.  My hope is that by learning how to hold the intention of family, I can make the first steps in being a rabbit in recovery and maybe figure out what I am afraid of.

Friday, January 18, 2013

climbing out - PFC club

Yesterday was difficult emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I curled my body up under the covers and tried to feel better.  My stomach in knots, cramping, fingers hurting, and everything is spinning.  Agitated, isolated, and feeling desperate for all of this to be done.

I keep trying to remind myself that on Tuesday, January 15th, I received my last full chemotherapy infusion.  I will continue to receive my Herceptin until mid September,but it doesn't come with all of the horrible side effects.  Each day I will feel better- and I don't have to worry about another round to knock me down again.  Of course, in the next couple of weeks I will need to begin worrying about surgery- but not now.  So now I have joined the PFC club... Past Final Chemo.  I am currently 4 days PFC.

We celebrated the end of chemotherapy with a lovely cake and a visit from my sister.  She took some amazing photographs of me that I am excited to play with.  (like the one above).  Breast cancer takes so much from your physical appearance - I find it to be empowering to take those images of who I am back in some way.  To manipulate them and claim them as beautiful.

Caya got in bed with me this morning and we went over her spelling words for her first ever spelling quiz.  She then looked at me and said she was scared.  She said she was scared that I was going to die.  I reminded her that I am just sick from the chemotherapy and that all of my doctors are pretty confident that I will be okay.  I also told her that if anything changes, I would let her know.  I think it is important not to make promises I can't keep.  I also think she needs to know that I am not going to hide things from her- which will only create more anxiety.  It was a hard conversation.  She said she wants me to live to be infinity.  I said I do to- but only if she lives to be infinity with me.

I wrote this poem a few months ago after being diagnosed - thought I would share it.  I dedicated it to my children.

Bleeding stars and tears

And fearing all the years

That I might be without you

Fill me to the brim

The poison rushing in

aching to be near you

cutting out the rot

this battle I have fought

with eyes that only see you

Skin tattooed and burned

Lessons I have learned

When happiness surrounds you

So mine isn't a haiku, but if you are interested in reading some beautiful haikus-
check out Recuerda mi corazon here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

13 Intentions

What do I want this year?  How do I want the year to play it self out?   I feel that the new year is such an important place to both be thankful for the year that has passed - and to visualize the things that I want for the coming year.  For the last five years, I have made a vision board on a large cork board in my bedroom.  I fill the board with visual images of the dreams that I hope the year will hold.  It is a work in progress- and I allow myself to add things to the board throughout the year.  I have received many of the things that I have placed on that board- the biggest of which being my son at the age of 42. 

At the end of 2011, my partner and I did a fun exercise- where we pretended that we were toasting in 2013, and we spoke of all of the things that we were grateful for that had happened in 2012 (even though the year hadn't happened yet).  Now looking back, I have to say that not many of those things happened.  I surely didn't wish for a life threatening illness that would wreak havoc on my body and family.  Oh well.

The other day, I saw a beautiful art journal that a very talented fellow art therapist named Gretchen Miller made for 2012, where she had laid out visually her intentions for the coming year. (I totally recommend you check out her site for more information and for a beautiful video of her intentions.)  What I loved most about this was that it wasn't just a mechanism to make wishes- but rather about setting intentions.  How do I want to be this year?  Where do I want to set my focus?  Such important questions that we all should be asking ourselves - cancer or not.  And these are things that I actually can do without too much divine intervention.

I decided that given it was 2013 - and 13 is historically considered an unlucky number - and I am hopelessly oppositional (wink wink) - that I would create a book of 13 intentions.  I wanted to complete the book to share with you, but lets face it- I am undergoing chemotherapy and things do not always go as planned.  But I did want to share with you my list of intentions and the first page of the book.

I am using collage, writing, painting, drawing, and whatever else comes to mind to express what I mean by each intention.  So far, it has been a lot of fun and at the same time challenging.  I am including a butterfly on each page.  I love butterflies.  I know that they have become a kind of tired symbol of metamorphosis- but I can't deny that ts is a symbol that resonates with me.  I feel very much like I want to emerge from this journey changed.  Something better than I was before.  I want to be able to fly where I once couldn't.  I want the way I see the world to be profoundly different- and I don't want to ever lose that perspective.

The first intention I tackled was health.  I chose the Kale leaf to represent the food I nourish myself with.  I drew a body on a musical composition to represent a body in harmony.  I chose the blue to represent water.  I was thinking about drinking more water- but also taking the time to drink more water.  I can be so busy in the morning that it will be almost lunch before I realize that I have not had anything to drink.  Everyone's needs come before my own.  This has to change.  I am an important part of my family, and must take care of myself so that I can continue to take care of those that I love.

I almost considered scrapping the butterfly the other day because I became superstitious around something that happened with my daughter.  I haven't shared my book with her as of yet- although I intend to when it is finished.  Out of the blue, she told me, "Mommy, when you die, you can visit me as a butterfly."  I got a little scared.  Is she psychic?  Am I foretelling my own demise?   I quickly breathed, kissed her, and told her that I promised that I would - but for now, I am right here and I am planning on being here for a long time.  I then looked at her, hoping to get some look confirming that what I said was true.  She smiled, and said, "I know."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


I think about 2012 as my bipolar year- marked with periods of tearful happiness and some of the lowest lows I have yet to encounter in my 45 years on the planet.  But there have also been those days of just being- the day to day living that happens between the thunderstorms and sunshine.  The days I take for granted. 

I am someone that generally likes to look for what might not be readily observable to most.  Some say it is because I am oppositional.  If everyone believes one particular way, I am the one trying to figure out why we are all wrong.  I understand that life is complicated.  That rarely is it black or white, but rather it is uncomfortably gray. 

It would be easy to discount 2012 as one of the worst years of my life.  The year that I was diagnosed with cancer.  The year I watched my body fall apart under the spell of chemotherapy.  My year of isolation and too many tears to count.  The year where I looked in the mirror to see someone I didn't recognize. And what is worse, I didn't carry this burden alone.  It was shared with my family.  Although I wanted to find ways to protect them, my children had to bear witness to something so hard for their little hearts to comprehend.

But 2012 was also the luckiest year of my life.  The year I was diagnosed with cancer.   Caught before it metastasized to other parts of my body and killed me.  Lucky because I have health insurance- and opted last year for the best insurance (even though we were thinking about cutting it to save money). Lucky, because I live thirty minutes from the Stanford Women's Cancer center, where I have a team of amazing oncologists, surgeons, nurses, and radiologists who are not only brilliant but also caring.  Lucky because I believe in my heart that the chemotherapy did what it was asked to do, and killed every last cancer cell in my body.  Lucky because through this experience I have been showered with so much love and support from people in all parts of my life-  high school friends, college friends, students, close friends, and family.    Lucky, because I have spent the last three months adoring my son all day and being here when my daughter came home from school.  This time with them has been the greatest gift.

I also feel blessed because my diagnosis has given me clarity.  Nothing like an introduction to your mortal self to understand what isn't working in your life.  So, I want to make some changes in 2013.  I don't want to work 5 jobs and still feel financially overburdened.  I want to be closer to my family.  I want to spend more time with my children.  I want art to be more central in my professional life.  I want to live 2013- and every year after that eyes wide open and with intention.  I am in the process of creating some art with these intentions in mind, but more on that later.

For my art piece today, I wanted to create a lucky talisman that I can bring into 2013.   I honestly feel that 2012 birthed a warrior in me that I really didn't know existed.  I am lucky that she is part of me. She is my lucky talisman.
After drawing her and adding color, I scanned her and printed her on some nice shrinky dink paper.  Baked her at 300 degrees for five minutes  and voila!  My own little pocket talisman.  I might make an even smaller one- but for now, she is perfect.

I set her up so she watches me while I am on my computer.  If she could speak she would say, "Hey You!!!   You are strong.  You can do it.  I know you can.  Don't waste your time feeling sorry for yourself.  You have been blessed with many gifts.  Use them.  You are a survivor."