Monday, October 22, 2012

Anniversary Fallout

Self Portrait, pencil sketch, December, 2008

I was born bald, then bald again
A  portrait from a serious time that had a happy ending.

Four years ago today, I lost "the girls' to cancer. I didn't lose my hair till December 30th, 2008, seventeen days after the first chemo treatment, just like predicted. It was a loss,much more devastating than the breasts. The breasts I would live without; they were contaminated. My hair? I cried remembering all the days I bitched I was having a bad hair day. My hair was gorgeous. It was thick and had a lovely soft wave. It looked like shit lying around the barber's chair.

 On the twenty ninth, I wishfully thought I might have made it through without hair loss. What did 'they' know? Then I ran my hand through my hair while watching TV that night and it came out in a clump. I got a buzz cut the next day and picked up the hot blond wig I had ordered when first diagnosed, September 22, 2008.

My blond wig 
 I have to stop to think about when my grandchildren's birthdays are, but these dates, I'll never forget. It wasn't the loss of my breasts, or my hair that burned them into memory, it was the overwhelming realization of just how vulnerable I really was. It was at this time, I picked up my art with gusto. I was determined to leave my kids a portfolio filled with whatever talent I had. Sounds hokey I know, but if I didn't make it through--if the treatments didn't work--I didn't want to be standing in front of the Lord explaining why I hadn't used the talent he gave me. It would have been embarrassing having taken his blessing for granted. Today, four years a survivor, I think He gave me a good kick in the ass. He also gave me my hair back as it was--well not exactly. When my hair was buzzed off, it was Richard Gere gray--they don't sell that in a paint tube. When it came back, my blond wig had been such a success at the bar, I headed straight for the salon and went  on the bottle.

Four Years Later, Here's to You Kid





44 comments:

  1. I am very moved by your post. I feel for all you have gone through, and am so pleased you are still kicking and making trouble in the blogosphere, and that I am one of your beneficiaries.

    As we have discussed, I lost an employer I greatly admired to breast cancer this year. I watched all she went through, including the loss of the "girls", the proud bearing of her bald head. She was so strong.

    Now the family is bracing for my sister-in-law's venture this week into intensive chemotherapy. This is a timely post. She will be in the hospital and no one will be able to visit her because of the possibility of infection. It is a very emotional time.

    I sent her a text complimenting her on her hair in a picture. She responded, "Wait till next week :(" I then told her that it is a temporary situation, that her hair will grow back in a more positive time - that we love the person, not the hair (even if it looks nice).

    All of us are on edge. But your post provides hope and the vision of happy endings.

    Thank you.

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    1. You are more than welcome to anything I know about this journey your sister in-law and your brother are about to take.

      I was very fortunate to have Ellis by my side and my own piss-and-vinegar, obstinate personality. I cried for five minutes, after walking back into the house after the diagnosis. After that, it was what do we do to fight this? A persistent quest for the best was on. I scheduled chemo for Monday mornings. I wanted to be back to myself by the weekend so we could carry on our social life. We did go out for New Years that year (and every weekend I was in treatment). I wore my wig. It was a relatively good one and worth the 400 or so we paid to keep my morale up. Keeping morale up is very important. I also visited all of my doctors and told them what was up and questioned how was the chemo going to affect my other ailments?

      I had/have Meniere's syndrome, which means salt is a very, very bad thing. One of my chemo drugs had a large amount of sodium in it. After the first treatment, I vomited during the night. It wasn't suppose to happen; they gave me an anti-nausea drug, but it did. I went to my ear specialist, explained the situation, and he said have them cut the sodium. They were able to do that. I also added a psychiatrist to my roster. Ellis is a strong guy, but I preferred to share my fears with a third, not-so-involved party. The shrink was very helpful. I got to rant and rave and I didn't upset him and I didn't upset Ellis. The partner of a sick person is suffering and needs attention too.

      I have never been to a cancer treatment or an oncologist's visit without Ellis--even now four years later for I'm still a bit concerned something will pop up. We're in this life together.

      Some friends were very supportive. Some friends I scared. They stopped calling. I understood given what I had learned from my parents demise from Alzheimer's--so I called them and made life easier. Keeping a full social life was very important to me. Vacations were important. I didn't want to miss anything.

      I don't know if this info helps at all Dan, but it's important to your brother and sister in-law to have the support of friends and family members at this time. It's scary and it's lonely, but it was also a big deal bonding time. The object is to stay in stride as best you can and UP the fun in life.

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  2. Tomorrow morning I'm off to see an old friend who has just been the death sentence, terminal and a short prediction. You are one impressive lady and I love the self portrait work. You also have great control of the graphite. Thanks for a wonderful post.

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    1. I'm so sorry Mick. The object is to keep the fun UP. You can't pretend your friend isn't facing what he's facing. Acknowledge it and then dwell on the funny times you shared. Laughing is very best therapy. Have you ever noticed how often I use the word 'fun' in my posts. That's what we all thrive on.

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    1. No I'm not. I did what I had to do. Ellis and I needed to have a good outlook. Ellis and I made sure we did everything we could to get that.

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  4. How strange anniversaries we can remember!
    My wig was like the hair I have now!
    I have no photos with bare head, no one has wanted me to do.
    My daughter and my husband wanted to throw away after the regrowth of hair: hair was horrible, the first time, then come back as before.!
    I was young to think of anything else that " I want survive", but the disease has changed many things ... and not all for the worse! Since then, every day is very precious to me.
    Precious, for me, the art and talent, but the joy of living is before everything!
    I wish you,Linda, all the best, for your life and for your art!

    About art:your self-portrait are both alive!

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    1. I took the photographs myself. What I was going through was part of my life. When I was putting together this post. I couldn't find the photo where I was totally bald. I got distressed--spent most of the afternoon combing through my picture and document files. It was important to me. I did it. I lived through it.

      My hair came back horrible--very curly. As soon as it was long enough I went to the salon and had it colored. It came out red! I hated it. I tried two more salons before they got the color right. Hair was very important to me--even though I thought my cranial structure was quite well formed. I think that's why I took the picture.

      I was going to get a natural hair wig that looked just like mine, but they wanted $3000 for it and I thought I was being a bit extravagant and a lot vain. Synthetic is a blond shade was good enough. I wanted to go toe-head, but Ellis thought that was tacky. I shouldn't have listened. It would have been fun.

      I thought I wanted to lick this disease, but I never thought I was in control. All I could do was to get the very best people I could find and do what they thought was the best current 'cure.' So far, so good.

      Everyday is and always has been very precious. I just didn't know it till the doctor said, "you have cancer." In that respect, he jolted me to life.

      I wish the best to you too Rita. Hand-in-hand, a sisterhood.

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  5. Great post, LW...My self portraits often don't look very much like me---yours look like you, as they should! I'm glad you took up fine art. You have used your "survivorship" well and I love always seeing what you are working on "next". Hooray for Doctors and nurses and chemotherapy. You look good as a blonde. :)

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    1. Thanks Celeste. It was a bit self-serving. I was looking backward, instead of forward, not a good thing. I was also looking to avoid boring you all to death with The Blond Kid. It just happened to be the anniversary of my loss with regards to breasts, but my gain with regards to playing archery and cross-over piano passages. Both of those things can be done a lot easier without 'the girls' in the way. Humor is THE key. :-)

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  6. Bravo for you Linda for many, many wonderful reasons! Courage and hope certainly count.
    My wife is also a breast cancer survivor. Ten years! It is so good to be able to laugh. She always says, "Each day is a gift. That is why we call it the present!" We have learned to savor each and every second!
    You rock Linda as does your art.
    Take care.
    Your art buddy,
    Michael

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    1. Ten years WOW. She has made it. I haven't gotten to five yet and the end of the third treatment phase. I will start counting survival years after that. Cancer does teach you that each day is a gift and most of our daily problems are really very petty. As I-forget-who said, 'don't sweat the small stuff'--big stuff either for that matter. Thanks Michael. I thought your fund raising idea was terrific. I have it in mind for next year. (I have to pile up stuff to offer to the cause). You'll have to tell us what you did exactly.

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  7. You are one beautiful lady, even when bald. So nice to hear such a positive story and love the self portraits,

    xoxo

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    1. Thank you. You're very kind. I do have a positive story--so far so good, but I've lost friends whose stories didn't have happy endings. One of them could have, but chose not to take treatment. she said she wasn't putting that (chemo) poison in her body to fight the poison that was in her body. How dumb was that? Made me angry. Steve Jobs was pretty stupid for a smart guy, which poses the question: How smart was he? Modern medicine has come a long way. We have to trust it. We have to support research.

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  8. Very good work, you have a twinkle in your eyes, you can see in your paintings. felcitaciones and I will continue going to see more and keep learning. A Big hug. Iñaki

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    1. Thank you for becoming a follower Inaki. In this world, the one thing I've learned for sure is you've got to keep your twinkle twinkling. I look forward to visiting and seeing your art.
      Big hugs back.

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  9. A very moving post indeed. You seem to have learned some very powerful things about yourself through this ordeal Impressive.

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    1. I got my eyes opened by this experience. I'm grateful for that. It's made me a nicer person--although I still wouldn't call me sweet and nobody did on Sweetest Day :-) Honey and I both decided nobody really sweet lives at our house. We always think it's funny when people say, you're such a cute couple. There's nothing cute about us either. Both of us are scrappers. It does take a scrapper to get through ordeals like cancer and unemployment and some family dinners :-)

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  10. A moving story, and I am glad you are still here. I think we all do well to remember that we have a limited time on this earth and that we should live our life with no regrets. Make the most of what we have.

    Biggest hug in the world to you.

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    1. Me too ;-) You don't want to walk around thinking you could be knocked out of the ballgame at any time. It puts a damper on things. Best just to know life's a flow and to flow with it being sure to notice the joy that's all around us. We artists are lucky that way. Everywhere we look there's a beautiful picture to be made, an inspiration, even in the ugly. Big hug back to you friend.

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  11. Your self portrait is beautiful...with or without hair you look gorgeous. None of us know, when the day will come, but remembering once in a while that it is not going to last forever can help us to live by the moment ..that is what I try to do. I am glad you made it !

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    1. Thank you. it's okay, one of my first drawings back to art. I was pretty into myself those days. Bald was funny--the good part about it was bodily hair removal was totally unnecessary. I do miss that part; shaving and bikini waxes are such a drag.

      I think I may have made it, but I don't really know. Once you've had it, every now and then you do worry the treatment didn't get it all; it'll pop up somewhere else. But at least I'll be up with everybody else.

      They speak in percentages on the cancer floor of the hospital. My chances of survival will be back to 92% April 17th, 2014 when I finish taking the pill portion of the treatment, the third phase. 8% is as high as anybody in the world has for survival. 8% is knocked off the top of all our charts for accidents that can happen to any of us at any time. I thought that was pretty interesting.

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  12. Life is not beautiful, but YOU are beautiful. Inside out. This statement, this anniversary and your photos-drawings made me call out only one word 'Beautiful'. Because you can define beauty only when you are aware of ungliness.
    I have an appointment for breasts digital and ultrasound scanning on Thursday. The tests were ordered by my doctor after she felt, after we both felt, something at my breast that she can't answer for sure what it is. It's the first time that my doctor is sending me for tests. I have felt something in the past, but doctor was strong about it, it was a lipoma, no worries then. This time further tests are on the menu. I don't think about Thursday, I know that whatever the result I can't do anything right now and I don't want to worry in vain for something that can be nothing and, either way, cannot change. I'm 35, not a mother yet and I smoke; therefore I'm a good statistic on the 'wrong' side of the scale. I'm not going to lie, I'm afraid, but I'm confident it's only a false alarm.
    Thank you for this post my fair Linda. Big hugs and warm smiles.

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    1. My prayers will be with you Thursday. Don't dwell on it--just go. You're doing everything right smart girl. Maybe they'll serve cappuccino and cookies while you wait? It relieved the tension in the waiting room at the clinic I went to. All the women began chatting as they drank the coffee, nibbled and waited. Chatting doesn't give you time to worry. If you don't think they don't, you could take cookies; cookies cheer people up.

      I smoked--I don't think breast cancer is one of those that can be blamed on smoking? I used to smoke two cartons of cigarettes a week. Remind me sometime to tell you how I quit. Quitting seventeen years ago made me a lady with a very nice cushion of cash today. No matter what, you always have money to feed your vices. I gave up the vice, but kept stashing away the money. Big hugs to you Konstantina.

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  13. Impressive and moving post, Linda! Good to talk about what you went through like this, I appreciate that. Your self portraits are all beautiful! Here's to you, Linda!

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    1. Thanks Judy. It is good to talk about the experience. I think more women and men should. My oncologist's wife got breast cancer, after I was through with chemo and radiation and in the post cancer check-up stage. He confided in me at a check up that he really didn't understand what women were going through till his wife was going through it. He said it's a lot different when it's your loved one who has been stricken. He was bald at that check up;he had shaved his head for his wife. He's a great guy. He has since relocated to Florida. I figured she had had it living in the cold weather and had insisted. When you get cancer, you want what you want and don't want to hear you can't have it.

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  14. Cheers!

    You are building a legacy, as well as using your talent.

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    1. Yes. You got it. Exactly my intent. :-) By the by, I did catch the head you posted. I haven't had a chance to visit to tell you so. It caught my eye immediately, as does all your work. It's distinctive.

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  15. You're such an awesome woman Linda. Cheers!

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    1. Thanks Agnes, but not awesome. As you know we'll, you do what you have to do.

      It was nice seeing your last two posts yesterday. I was wondering if work had consumed you. You were missed.

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  16. Wow, Linda, thanks for sharing this with us. My respect for you grow every time I visit. I think one of the things I appreciate most about you is how REAL you are - about life, about art, about joy, about struggle. When I get discouraged by a world of pretense (one that I admittedly participate in at times) I know I can come here and see/get/hear at least your corner of the world as it is. You are a refreshing blogging-friend to have!

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    1. You're very kind Minnemie. I'm a lot too straight forward and "out there" for my family. I get a lot of 'not to be blogged moms.' :-)

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  17. My god in heaven, linda, you have been to hell and back. My admiration for you has sky-rocketed [and it was high before!]. You are one brave and beautiful [in and out] woman!

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    1. The ordeal was a trip. But you take it and you hope modern medicine has had enough 'practice' to get you through it. You do what you have to do if you want to keep doing. Nothing heroic, just plodding along playing the hand that's dealt. We all do it. :-)

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  18. I am so, so glad that you are here to tell the tale. I admire how you face things head on and tell it like it is. You can deny all you like but you ARE inspirational and awesome and beautiful!

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    1. Thank you Sharon. I'm speechless. I think you've embarrassed me with your very kind words.

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  19. Been trying to reply to this but I've had massive computer probs.

    It's been a hard road you've been on, my friend, and I will either sound patronising or flippant if I try to say anything really meaningful. We've both trodden the path, survived, and know why we have to pack stuff into every waking moment. We're still here ...high-fives!

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    1. Nothing meaningful to be said. Cancer can happen to any of us say the statistics. It happened to me; it was part of my life. Simple as that. Knocked me for a loop, but set me straight on what needed doing next and doing immediately--I had to use that drawing talent God gave me and I had taken for granted for most of my life. I always thought drawing was so easy, everybody and anybody could do it. Look around at these blogs and you can see I was right. :-) But what talent is is the doing and few of us get off our duffs to do develop it. Cancer gave me the push, the kick in the head I needed.

      What are you out of your mind? Who wants to be packing something in every waking moment? Not me. That would be exhausting. There are plenty of good moments lying on the couch with Honey on a rainy Saturday watching every old movie we come across and dining on sandwiches and soup. What you learn when you're threatened like that is that a rainy day is sunny, sunny days can be rainy, doing nothing is doing something, doing something can be pretty nothing. RELAX. LIVE. LAUGH. :-)

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  20. This post am sure reaches the heart of many of us who have been touched by cancer either ourselves or someone very close to us......I know what a horrible journey it is but seems like you have made it with courage, dignity and consideration for those around you which is sometimes easier said than done. To have found your desire to paint and draw from this experience is a silver lining and a precious gift to have been given... we are all lucky to have art in our lives however we came to it... it is such wonderful thing to be able to do and you are so right, such a shame not to use and build upon the talent we have been given.

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  21. Came to see your blog after your visit to mine... I had my 5 year anniversary this past June 4th... for me it was kidney cancer... but the life altering effect was the same... determined to pursue my art and leave something for my grand children and great grand children to have so they'd know their Granny. Once you've faced down cancer and all that goes with it... not much scares you anymore does it?

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  22. Hi Kyla
    What a lovely, inspirational Blog.

    I have a friend who has just kicked the Big C after 12 months treatment. She's waiting for her hair to grow back as she doesn't look as good without hair as you do. Like you, she is always joking and looking out for the funny side of life.

    Sadly my horse has just been diagnosed with mammary tumour and is to be PTS on Monday. No second chance for her as she is 26 years old and I can't put her through the trauma of surgery.

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  23. A thousand well wishes, and a million kudos. Continued peace with you.
    (nice blog, glad I came across it)

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