The first time I heard the song "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons was as I drove away from my first radiation appointment. No kidding. I was slowly recovering from chemo, bald, tired, finding that everything still tasted like metal and was just informed of all the expected and potential side effects of radiation. "I'm waking up to ash and dust; I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust; I'm breathing in the chemicals. This is it, the apocalypse. Welcome to the new age; I'm radioactive." This painting does not hold a lot of subtle symbolism. Radiation for breast cancer involves laying flat with arms in the posture shown here, and letting the machine do all the work. The rhetoric is that radiation is no big deal compared to chemo ----- which I did not find to be absolutely true. Honestly they both suck; it is what it is. This radioactive woman, however, holds a secret. All of that yellow paint... glows in the dark. Ha!
A grouping of my work will be on display at the Chehalem Cultural Center (www.chehalemculturalcenter.org) in Newberg, Oregon December 1, 2017 through February 3, 2018. The title of the show is No Words. Coinciding with Newberg's First Friday events, there will be an artist's reception for me and two other artists Friday December 1, 6-9 p.m. It is my understanding that local wines will be served; so if art isn't enough to get you to drive to Newberg maybe free wine will help.
P.S. There will be new art included in this show ----- pieces that are not on the website, and have not been shown before. Come check it out!
When I named this painting, I wasn't aware that the phrase "Pink Washing" was already being used to describe the practice of corporations using breast cancer awareness/fundraising as an advertising ploy, or even worse to sell products that are implicated as a causal factor in the development of breast cancer. Its frustrating and frequently outrageous, and might end up being the topic of another painting at some point.
My experience of being "pink washed" was more about the societal view of breast cancer as girly, and pink, and probably more than a little sparkly. That somehow a pink ribbon and images of smiling bald women (who always seem to still have their eyebrows and eyelashes) captures what it means to have this disease. That breast cancer isn't a "bad cancer" (is there a good one?). And how persistently people in my world wanted (and still sometimes want) to interact with this part of my life only at that level.
The pink ribbon efforts have been a great success in opening up our societal ability to even say the phrase "breast cancer" without people feeling uncomfortable. I have distinct memories as a teen of people talking about someone having cancer and dropping to a whisper, half hidden behind a hand; "breast cancer." Its so good that we're past that! What we're not past is the internal pressure we feel to escape the anxiety, via distraction and avoidance, when confronted with someone going through something horrific that we know could be happening to us or someone we love. My observation is that the pinkification of breast cancer serves as a powerful mechanism for avoidance of the realities.
If this is new for you, what you are looking at in the painting is a mastectomy. The stitch line is where the breast was removed, and the bruising above it is the result of lymph node removal. The bandage below is over the implanted drains, the bulb of which she is holding full of blood and fluids. The piece of tape on the upper arm gives notice to hospital staff to not use that arm for blood pressure, IV's, or injections, because with missing lymph nodes pressure and fluid changes, as well as infections, can cause a serious condition called Lymphedema. What you can't see is the nerve and muscle damage that has occurred and the disfiguring scars that will develop. Also not visible is what will happen as a result of chemotherapy and radiation, both long, and short term, and potential hysterectomy, hormone inhibiting medication, and other treatments none of which are without major side effects.
Breast cancer is not pastel and pretty. It is raw, and hard, and frequently barbaric. If this painting makes you uncomfortable then it is doing its job and you are seeing things a little less pink.
I entered my diptych Raise It Up: Rabbit and Raise it Up: Offering in the Aurora Colony Days Art Show. I am very honored and humbled to have won First Place in the mixed media category, and... (drum roll please) Overall Best In Show ! Wow.
There are two things that stand out to me as particularly sweet: First, I talked to several people who expressed deep appreciation for what this diptych communicates about how it feels to face chemotherapy and radiation. I am always so deeply touched when people really 'get it.' This is the reason I started putting my art out there in the first place. Second, I won ribbons! I honestly have not won a ribbon since a poster contest in the first grade. Silly, perhaps. But I am just delighted with them.
I'll be showing a few pieces from this collection next weekend at the Aurora Colony Days Art Show and Sale. I'm not going to tell you which ones... come see for yourself!
This is the 160th anniversary of the celebration and so in addition to the art show there will be a parade, street faire, beer garden, living history exhibit, artisan farmer's market, and a concert in the park. In case you aren't from around here, Aurora is the site of a 19th century commune, the founders of which traveled to the area via wagon train on the Oregon Trail. It's a small town full of beautiful old homes, artisan shops and antique shops.
Here's the link: http://www.auroracolonydays.com/events/art-show-sale/
See you there!
I've been on something of a break from paint and canvas, and exploring other forms of expression. Music in particular has been satisfying of late; Mandolin, Native American Flute, Tibetan Singing Bowls, Drums. I've discovered that not only is all of this good for the heart and soul, but there are physical benefits as well. For example, the vibration generated from an 18 inch handheld drum is enough to cause lymph release when my hand and arm get puffy.
I've also been working in my garden. There is such a beautiful connection to the present moment when I'm hanging out with the plants, bees and hummingbirds. Its all so simple out there. The rhythms and patterns of coming and going, rising and falling, wild-ness to tame-ness and back again, birth and death, sun and rain, growth and decay... all in a single day in the backyard of a city lot.
Hallelujah, I've grown a tail!
(Really, if one must swim in shark infested waters, having a tail is quite wonderful indeed. It helps prevent drowning. And getting eaten by something.)
"The Lull" is about being suspended, just kind of floating, in liminal space. The ruins of what was, or what I thought was, have crumbled around me while the new has not yet quite emerged. Waiting...
I have come to love the energy of anger. Restless. Powerful. The churning heated sense of something deeply potent just waiting for release... its only a matter of when and how.
The anger I'm talking about isn't my more common experience of annoyance, irritation, or the indignation that arises when my ego has been bruised. No. This is the anger that arose when I found myself surrounded by foes ---- squaring off against cancer flanked by mercenary and unpredictably dangerous treatments. Rage. I have let the rage burn, working to neither squelch it nor exaggerate it, just to let it be. Rage can be glorious! It showered sparks when I wanted to give up; lit the path when it got dark; and singed the edges of medical establishment when necessary. It pushed me and still pushes me to be myself, to live my life, to stand up to BS in all of its forms (both internal and external), and to take nothing for granted. Its an ally, and I am grateful for its presence.
I'm a guinea pig.
The world of cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment is changing at a fast and furious pace in some ways, and remains heartbreakingly archaic in others. How has breast cancer treatment arrived where it is now? Experiments and data collection on women who were treated in the past. How will treatment continue to improve for women diagnosed in the future? Experiments and data collection on... well, me... and you, if you are a survivor.
I am thankful for the women who have gone on before, who taught medicine so much about what causes cancer and what doesn't, and which treatments work and which do not. I know that many of them suffered because there was so much that was not known, and the pathway to medical enlightenment is frequently a bloody and cruel road.
Data is collected on all cancer patients regarding diagnosis, treatments and outcomes. Giant national and international databases exist, constantly crunching the numbers and becoming increasingly complicated as treatment becomes more specific and sophisticated. But why do I call myself a guinea pig? In addition to being a small piece in the larger collective whose outcomes so far support the current standard of care, I am also part of a very large scale experiment with outcomes that won't be known for years. Right now I am prescribed an aromatase inhibitor which deprives my body of every drop of estrogen so that any leftover cancer cells can't use it to grow new tumors. Just within the last year the recommended amount of time to be on this medication changed from 5 years to 10 years. Obviously a study came out showing that chances of recurrence are lower when on the drugs longer... so, yay? Right? Wait. Does anybody know what happens further down the road in terms of heart health, brain health, general endocrine health, and other potential side effects when estrogen has been artificially stripped from the body for such a long period of time? Nope. I, and all of the other women now on ten year regimens of anti-estrogen therapy, will be providing that information to the medical world in about 20 years.
"Legacy" is painted over the Cancer entry from a 1950 Encyclopedia Britannica (a terrifying section to read, by the way). The painting is about the women in the 50's and 60's who didn't know that drinking, smoking, chemicals and processed foods would eventually be linked to increased cancer rates; women diagnosed with cancer who were experimented on with surgeries, chemotherapies and radiation treatments many of which are no longer used because they were either completely ineffective or overwhelmingly laden with cruel side effects; women who created a legacy from which I benefit. I am now part of this legacy going forward. But it is my most heartfelt prayer that this is a legacy that will eventually end... with a cure for this horrendous disease.
This is a self portrait; me in fight mode, gloved up and ready to go. Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense system, is one of the best things I've ever done in life. And I believe that it helped me beat cancer.
Driving to Bob's Red Mill one Saturday we passed a building with a big "Krav Maga" sign outside. "What's Krav Maga?" I asked my sweetie. "Its an Israeli martial art." Hmmm... I googled it and was intrigued. At the time I was trying to do something every year that scared me, and seeing an offer on the website for a free trial class, I thought that the free class would count as plenty scary.
I signed up.
I showed up.
I made it half way up the stairs...
Holy crap! The sounds of strikes against pads, bodies hitting the floor, the smell of sweat, the staircase and windows jumping from the heavy metal playing at full volume...
I left. Quickly.
But I was still intrigued, so I rescheduled and went again. This time I made it all the way up the stairs, and had a few minutes to watch the last part of an advanced class. It sounded the same as the week previous, but now I had the visuals to go with it. Fighting my anxiety by telling myself that this was the United States of America, that I would be able to leave if I wanted to, that nobody could make me do anything I didn't want to do, and the fact that my mother would have been telling me to leave was reason enough to stay, I stayed.
We stretched. We warmed up. And then something amazing happened. I learned how to throw a punch. A real punch. An honest to goodness I-could-break-somebody's-nose punch. And then I learned how to do a groin kick. And then I learned how to defend myself against a choke; decisively and aggressively. My self concept split apart and re-coalesced around the sudden knowledge that I could be a bad-ass.
I signed up for regular classes on the spot, and over the next four years, I got stronger --- both physically and mentally. One of my favorite aspects of training were the stress drills, wherein you learn to fight under adrenalized conditions via unpredictable or multiple attackers, darkened conditions, rock music played at disorienting levels with eyes closed until attacked, etc. I learned that when faced with Fight/Flight/Freeze, I could flip the switch on Fight. Even more I learned that if you have to fight do it with 100% commitment and don't stop until your opponent is down. I learned to shut down the fear of getting hurt. I learned to stay alert to additional threats. I learned to avoid overthinking it. And I learned to be willing to do whatever must be done to go home safe.
Krav Maga didn't just teach me a skill set, it changed who I was. So when cancer reared its ugly head, I was up for the fight. I used the principles I learned every single day, and I still do. The fight keeps changing of course, and currently I am fighting the limitations of my body resulting from treatment damage, but if I can return to a regular practice of Krav Maga I will; one way or another.
Oh, and Ceallaigh is the Gaelic word for warrior. It is pronounced Kelli.
I wear a lot of hats in life, encompassing a variety of roles and relationships. I am becoming more comfortable with the whole "cancer survivor" hat, even finding silver linings in unexpected places --- like adding artist to my self identity. "Blogger" hadn't really appealed to me until I began getting requests to talk about what lies behind my art. So I'm going to give it a try. If you have gotten to this page, you have probably noticed from my paintings that I am quite frank about my experiences. Some of the images are stark and difficult to look at. To me, beautiful is not the same as pretty. "Beautiful" encompasses complexity that can include pain, tragedy, and darkness. Therefore there can be a strange beauty present in stark emotional and experiential truth. I am a seeker of beauty within pain, and of the beauty that grows out of pain. If you are too, we'll get along just fine.