The Deep End of Shallow

Posted on April 11, 2015. Filed under: APL, Cancer, Just fun! | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Today is my three year anniversary of when I received a call from my doctor telling me I had leukemia and gently nudging me țo drop everything and go to the hospital. I did. Twenty-eight days later, I was released with 18 more months of treatment. That’s behind me now, but I don’t get to celebrate remission for another two years. However, three years is enough time to reflect and squeeze meaning out of the event. After all, isn’t a cancer diagnosis supposed to grant you greater meaning? While I have shifted my focus to creating more art and poetry, as well as publishing my book, I see other changes.

In my case, cancer invited me to discover my shallow side. How so? Well, I am a Buddhist who believes in life after death. In fact, if you know me, you know I am a connoisseur of ghost stories. And while I fantasize a myriad of afterlife delights, such as astral travel or telepathic communication,  there maybe some things a spirit cannot do. Being disembodied could make it difficult to savor a scrumptious bite of chocolate cake or sip a margarita wearing diamonds.

20150325_114431Consequently, I want to grab the best of the shallow with gusto. I want to polish my nails, buy more pretty clothes than I need and order the expensive dessert. This is new for me. I like to think I have tried to try to make the world a better place. Maybe it’s the influence of my Catholic upbringing that focused on dutiful social values; perhaps the 1960s when we turned our backs on materialism;or maybe just my Aquarian humanitarianism. Either way, if I was paid for all the volunteer hours I’ve logged in my life, I would be quite rich. So I surprise myself when I plan a last-minute getaway, pick up a fun shirt at full price that I could do without–and only because I just like it! Once in awhile, I get a manicure.

I wonder if the awareness of death’s inevitability force us to explore the parts of us that lie dormant? It reminds me of the book, Alive, about the Chilean soccer players who crashed in the Andes and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. The two leaders of the groups were very opposite. One was a Christian and followed the rules. The other was a “bad boy” with an attitude. Together, they eventually found their way to civilization and saved the remaining group. The effect on the leaders was ironic. The rule follower became an atheist because he felt his prayers went unanswered. The “bad boy” became a Christian because he thought there was no way he would have gotten off the mountains without help from beyond.

The change in me is more measured. I believe most of what I always have–which is probably the result of prior struggles–and my social conscience is not mute. But now I make time for pleasures; things I would have dismissed as unnecessary years ago. Maybe it’s called balance.

Cheers.

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The Cover Story

Posted on August 25, 2014. Filed under: Cancer | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Introducing...Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd

Introducing…Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd

After writing several posts recognizing illness as a smack upside the head to make fundamental changes in areas of life that hold one back, I looked at my bucket list and am I tackling #2. Number 1 was getting a website. The second item is getting my poems and “wall poems” published. This is a long-overdue project and I’m not very patient these days.

I took a chance and filled out a grant application for an Individual Artist Grant from the City of Chicago last spring and guess what! I got it, which means I can’t procrastinate anymore! Introducing Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd.  With the help of some design cohorts, the book’s cover looks great and uses a painting I created with the book in mind.

I didn’t want to send my manuscript to a zillion editors, wait for one to accept it and get sent to market my book for them, so self-publishing seemed a logical choice. BookBaby.com has talked nicely to me and can accommodate the grant budget, so I’ve given the project to them. Hopefully, all will go smoothly. I am planning on a fall release date.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Sometimes, It’s all About Numbers

Posted on May 21, 2013. Filed under: Art, Cancer, Just fun! | Tags: , , , , , , |

numbersNone in 100,000…and I’m not talking Lotto
Two weeks ago, I had my lovely monthly meeting with Dr. G. He spared me the six month bone marrow biopsy by trading it for a simple “give-me-100,000-blood-cells test.” This is a simple blood draw that gets sent to a hidden bunker somewhere on the east coast where they magically examined 100,000 cells for any trace of those immature leukemia cells. The numbers came in: O <- That’s a zero; not an emoticon. 🙂   <-That’s an emoticon.

Numbers, Numbers
Well, one of the side effects of Trentenoin is weight gain BECAUSE I ALWAYS FEEL HUNGRY! I needed that like a whole in the head. If I had to get cancer treatments, why couldn’t they make me nauseous and skinny. (They tell you that people with extra weight do better with chemo.) So, I’ve put on almost 20 pounds since the diagnosis and it’s not like I could afford to. So once again, I’ve decided to ride the diet wagon. It’s a ride I know well. I get to an ideal weight about once a decade, but I have to admit, I haven’t been back there since before the millennium.

I’ve written about 40 million words on healthy eating, so I don’t need tips about the lowest calorie foods or fat-free delicacies. I need willpower advice. Hence, I am examining my cue, actions and rewards as outlined in The Power of Habit. I’m also trying to throw in a little more exercise.

Part of the issue has always been my ambitions. I never cared about sports or marathons. All the action happens in my head, which spins with Olympic potential. Runners, I will write and get paid and I will give you money to feel good about myself. However, age is catching up with me and I’m feeling more achy and unbalanced, so I need to haul around less weight. I figure, I’m just going to eat less, weigh myself once a week, walk, play basketball in the park across the street, swim and keep a list of numbers that I hope will decline. Anyone want to join me?

One More Bit on My Health
About a month ago, a sinus infection took me out for a good two weeks. After a round of antibiotics and every sinus remedy available, it cleared up only to return with a vengeance last week. Stuffiness, coughing, vertigo when moving from lying down to getting up—awful . I guess it’s because I planted flowers instead of painting them! To cope, I’ve been on Allegra for the past few years. Now I’m wondering if allergies are the immune system’s overreaction to elements, if antihistamines suppress the response, is there a link to cancer. I mean, isn’t the immune system supposed to go after cancer infiltrators? If antihistamines tell my system that everything’s cool, doesn’t that give cancer cells a green light. I’m wondering if this has ever been studied. Google…here I come.

Farewell to Five, Yes, Five Paintings!
I’ve been studying with Ed Hinkley for about four years. He’s awesome. I didn’t realize how awesome until I took a class at the Palette & Chisel downtown. Here, I receive a PDF of a barn or a forest or a river or a forest with a river. You get the picture? Then, step-by step, we all do our own rendition of the teacher’s savvy strokes. Argh. I haven’t painted anything I actually like yet and today is the last class.

HOWEVER, Ed brings out our unique styles and throws in technique as needed, which I’ve learned is more often than I realized. The result is a group of artists who don’t look like they’re in the same class. Excellent. Then a few of us participate in spring group show at August House Gallery each year. The first year, I sold four paintings. The second time, I sold nothing and frankly, I remember having a lot going on and not feeling like I got my act together. This year, I asked the “universe” for a heads up on my artistic direction by selling at least how many I sold the first time. I’m happy to say I sold five! Plus, one was to a young couple I didn’t know. Cool.

Flying Through Time

Shorline SerenityOahu Beach CrowdRed Rock 14x11-9.25x3.75How we move #2 (2)

I’ve been asked if I feel sad when someone walks away with a painting. Hell no. I’m so happy, flattered, validated that someone will enjoy a tiny piece of me, I could cry. If I want to look at it, I have pictures. And, I can paint more.

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Making and Keeping Connections

Posted on January 28, 2013. Filed under: Art, Cancer, Just fun!, Poems | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Last time I wrote, I was anticipating a dentist visit. I’m happy to report that my dentist rebuilt the broken part of my tooth so no root canal will be necessary. Yay!

The Power of the Blog
A few weeks ago, I received a comment from a young woman who also had been diagnosed with APL. Within hours we exchanged emails, phone numbers and had a great conversation about our shared experiences. She lives in the area and will celebrate her two-year anniversary in a couple months. (Congratulations, Marci.) If you’ve ever suffered from ANYTHING, you know how rewarding it can be to share details with someone else who has gone through the same thing. Thank you, Marci, for sharing.

tret0808

Evil Potion

Tretinoin is Back on the Menu
Three weeks without Tretinoin and my scaly, red skin cleared up. I even had a little more energy. The achiness and fatigue still hung on, but I felt better overall. Amazing. Now, after another week of the evil potion, I am back to lying in bed until 11 a.m. and lathering on oodles of lotion. Urgh.

Since the drug is also used to treat psoriasis (in lesser quantities), I have now have great skin. Not that I have a skin problem, but there’s definitely an improvement. Now if I could just make it less scaly.

On an even brighter note, I went for my second haircut! I’m keeping the short look. It’s really thick, but the salt and pepper is not exactly close to my formerly dark blond hair. I’m wondering if this is the new color or the interim color. We shall have to wait and see.

Other than those symptoms, I’ve only had a few moments of chemo brain…like when I totally zoned and got a call from a friend I’d scheduled a lunch date with. She called me from the designated restaurant at the designated time wondering if she’d mistaken the time or place. She didn’t. I left the house and luckily was there in less than ten minutes. Sorry, Susan.

To Flu Shot or Not
With the doomsday reports about the flu epidemic, I considered getting a flu shot, but decided to pass. After all, my system has been pummeled by drugs over the past year and I think I’m better off risking it. I still feel a little guilty—kind of like I decided to leave the door unlocked. None of my doctors have even suggested it. They have asked if I want one, and when I say, “not really,” they move to the next question without even telling me to wash my hands. It’s like they want to tell me not to get one, but they can’t. So far, so good. I haven’t been sick…knock on wood.
IMG_6815Another Poem in a Painting
I started art classes again and last week, I finished another poem in a painting. This one was a challenge to lay down the poem in the piece, so we made some adjustments. Here’s the text:

Counteract
Who counts
the bodies?

How many missing limbs
equal one?
Which body bags,
lost tags
add to the tally?
Bodies that fall
seconds before the declaration?
or minutes
after the truce?

Who counts the body
of knowledge lost
in clouded memories?
Who counts
the piece in the parent
when the epaulets show
through the peephole?
Or the low voice on the phone
asks for his parents?
Who counts the child’s body
if it’s the enemy’s?

How many are missing in action?
Covered under smoldering ash?

Who counts the spirits
when bodies become armor?
when eyes become empty bowls?
when people become photos?

I now have about 15 paintings with one of my poems in them. I’m excited about getting my book of poetry together and will include them. I’ve got about 80 pages so far. That should be enough. One has to stop somewhere.

20130126_211001_resizedReliving the 80s
Last night Scott and I went to the Old Town School of Music for a student/teacher tribute to Madonna and Prince. It was pretty funny and brought back memories of my kids listening to Madonna songs. I’d read about it on www.gapersblock.com, which often has events that you’re not likely to find in the Tribune’s art section. The show was great fun. There’s so much more soul to a low-budget show than the big-budget program. However, we bowed out a little early. I was yawning and Scott had met his 120-minute limit for sitting still in one place. That’s another good thing about small productions: You don’t feel obligated to stay longer than you want to just because of the price of your ticket.

100_2715Pink Flamingos…Here we come!

Scott and I are SO overdue for a vacation, so we booked flights for a Florida fly/drive trip. Our friends are snowbirds and invited us for a visit. They live south of Tampa from December to March-ish so we are flying in and out of Tampa with a mega road trip through the state. I also have a friend in Jacksonville, so I am looking forward to seeing her and soon basking in some sun.

FlamingBirthdayCake1Birthday #59

This week, I will be 59. Geez. Creepy. Although, I’m truly lucky to have lived to be 59. Part of me wants to have a huge party and another part of me wants to roll into a corner with a candle  and a chocolate cake. I’ve always wanted a “garden” party, but a Chicago January is not the time to host an outdoor party. Then I thought maybe I’d have a 59-1/2 year party. After all, that’s an age when one can start eying those retirement funds, but that would encroach on my daughters’ birthdays, which both land in July. Plus, my oldest will be 40, which actually makes me feel older than being 60!  😛

I think I’ll save the party for the big 6-0 and settle for the chocolate cake.

Considering it took me a few weeks to gather up this much to say, I think my days are winter-slow. Oh sure, I have stuff to do. We finally cleaned up the holiday tree and ornaments, but the frenzy is over and it’s sort of quiet. I have learned to appreciate that.

Stay warm. Have fun. Thanks for reading!

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September 5, 2012 Extreme Family Reunion… Before Chemo Returns

Posted on September 6, 2012. Filed under: Art, Cancer, Family, Just fun! | Tags: , , , , , , |

OK….My brother arrived a few weeks ago from Dubai. My in-laws arrived with their spouse last week. One couple came from Austin, Texas on Friday evening and the other couple via Hawaii from Sydney, Australia on the previous Tuesday. Saturday we had breakfast at my mother-in-laws. We visited the Art Institute of Chicago for the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit. We saw the movie Hope Springs (which I’m happy to say that it didn’t portray our six-year marriage. we celebrate September 30). That night, we all descended on the poetry slam where I read my love poem to Scott.

Before the slam, we went to the Shedd Aquarium while I got a few things done at home and prepared for the Labor Day Brunch that we’d decided to throw for 15 people. Crazy, right? Take that, leukemia!

The brunch guests were all family and people who feel like family. They are aware of my diagnosis, so I took comfort in having a great excuse for embracing imperfection. One of the highlights was Veronica training Anthony and Alyssa in server skills to help take drink orders—complete with paper mustaches, bow ties and the obligatory towel draped across their arms. Our last meal together was snarfing down pizza at Giordanos. It was all awesome. With my background, it’s refreshing that siblings and in-laws are mature enough to get together without drama and dysfunction—even the kids. But I know the drama is the fun part, so I’ll go on to other topics.

Cancer Drama
Today, after my two-week hiatus, I was back in the Cancer Center at 9 a.m. for the beginning of the end. This time it’s the Daunorobicin and Atra with nausea medication. And of course, the PICC line, that 15-inch tubing that goes into my upper arm, through my veins and into my heart to dump the drugs. This is my fourth insertion, so I don’t know why my anxiety level was higher than ever? Maybe because it’s my fourth one and I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with it?

Picc a Vein, Any Vein
OK…the Picc line means you don’t have to be pricked every time they take something out or put something in your veins, but it is damn inconvenient too. I had to buy lightweight blouses for summer with longer sleeves to cover it. Then I started wearing short sleeves with a bandage. It seemed to me it’s better to look like you’ve got tennis elbow than chemo treatments. Then I started to not give a shit, at least around the house…which meant if someone rang the office bell, I felt I had to quickly install the wrap. Then there’s bathing. I have to put this rubber armband around my arm because the insertion point cannot get wet. Getting it wet is on the “Call your doctor immediately” section of the discharge instructions. This little ritual gets old fast.

Plus, the procedure is intimidating. You are clothed in a gown, and I don’t mean chiffon, and taken to a surgical room where four people stand in basically hazmat suits acquiring and sorting their collection of overpriced medical supplies. My arm is laid out perpendicular to my body for a straighter path to the heart. They wash it down with green stuff that makes me look like the Hulk’s cousin. They tell me to look away so I don’t breathe on the site and infect myself with my own germs. A physician’s assistant warns me that I’ll feel a “prick and burn, prick and burn, prick and burn” over and over as the numbing Lidocaine is injected. Meanwhile, I huge alien craft descends to three inches over my chest to reveal my inner workings on a screen the PA uses to feed the line through. I can’t help wondering if this equipment will be found to cause cancer in another five years. I want to go to my happy place. But this isn’t going to last much longer and I don’t want them thinking I’ve passed out. Bad form.

In a few more minutes, I’m down the hall for a blood draw. By the way, Scott is with me because we don’t know exactly how I’ll feel when I leave today. Besides, he’s good moral support. After my blood is declared healthy enough to pollute, I get IV anti-nausea drugs. Then comes the daunorubicin. It’s in a HUGE syringe that gets injected into the Picc line slower than our dripping bathroom faucet. It’s also red and makes you pee red after a few days. This could be alarming if you didn’t expect it. The session was followed by a weird pressure in my back on only the right side. The nurse took my vitals again and my blood pressure was a mean 183/109! At the beginning, everything was normal. So we waited a bit to see if this was a passing phenomena. It was. On to the pharmacy where I picked up one week of Atra meds for $1800. Geez. Luckily, Blue Cross is my friend, right now.

Kudos to Effleukemia
On a more positive note. One of my fellow cancer comrades/fellow bloggers, who also cycles just scored a column for Cycling Illustrated’s online mag. That’s cooler, but even cooler is that he inspired me to do something similar. I’ve got the cancer card. I write and paint. What the hell! I need to leverage my diagnosis. It has to be good for something! So I spent some time googling sources. I didn’t find much, but I didn’t get that far because I was kind of pooped from treatment. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

My friend Karen arrived from NYC on her way to Hawaii as well and stayed with her sister in the remote burbs. Hopefully, we will get a chance to catch up. In Florida, Kathy is patiently waiting for a window to open so she can visit.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012: Maintaining Coolness

Posted on August 2, 2012. Filed under: Art, Cancer, Just fun! | Tags: , , , , , |

After treatment on Tuesday, I caffeined up for an afternoon of actual work. As usual, I was energized by evening, so Scott and I went for a walk for well over my minimum mile. I even got the urge to sprint a half block before pooping out.

Yesterday, my friend Maria picked me up and kept me company during treatment. It went so FAST! Our conversation truly made it feel as if I’d been there a fraction of the time.

Nurse A has taken care of me for several days in a row. She is very attentive and professional, but looks as if she’s just celebrated her sweet 16 birthday. In trading weekend plans, Nurse A said she was excited to have Lallapalooza tickets and asked if we knew what it was. Maria and I traded glances amused that we were perceived as “old people.” Not that we aren’t…or at least I’ll admit to it. We reassured Nurse A that we knew all about Lallapalooza and asked who was playing. We could see Nurse A run through the list of bands in her head searching for the old-school names we might recognize. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Black Sabbath came to mind. I did not mention that about 10 years ago I was on the board of an organization that invited Billy Corrigan, of Red Hot Chili Peppers, to read his poetry at the Art Institute and I was happy he’d gone back to music—although I did have the urge to establish our “coolness.”

Afterwards, Maria had a yen for breakfast ,so at Nurse A’s suggestion, we drove over to the Original Pancake House on Green Bay Road. I had the spinach crepes, which were great. After that, I was ready to crash, so I took a nap when I returned home. I needed to be recharged to get to my art class later that evening.

I was pleased to bring my finished Letter to Picasso painting and then identified one more little spot to tweak. I also started another “poem painting” based on the idea that being a parent is like being a potter. Stay tuned for the JPG. As usual, the class is as social as instructional and relaxing.

Meanwhile, Scott was a Veronica’s place installing a Magic Jack phone he found for her birthday. For dirt cheap, she can use her Internet service for unlimited local and nationwide long distance. She’s been using her iPhone, but she lives in a reception vortex, so too often Veronica sits on her stoop to make calls…not fun in the winter.

Today, I’m back in the merry-go-round room. This morning’s blood work came back good, which allowed us to order up the arsenic drip. I wonder if there’s a drug to maintain one’s cool factor?

Let’s see what else I can get done here in the next few hours.

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    About

    A writer and cancer survivor chronicles her renewed dedication to art and words..

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