Wednesday, April 29, 2009

To Everyone Else, You are Someone else

It has happened again. I just got word that another friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer.....well, at least it looks like breast cancer. She's due to have a biopsy soon. I found out in an email that she sent out. At the last part of the email, she commented "I have never smoked, never was on the pill, I breast fed all three babies and there is no breast cancer in my family."

How well I know that sentiment. We do everything right. In my case, I only had one baby who I breast fed, and I also was a vegetarian for about 4 years. I was active, I wasn't over weight (then). I biked like a fiend.....and still I got breast cancer.

You're sort of stunned. There is an aspect of "why me?" In my case, I didn't know I was supposed to be doing self breast exams...I was in my 30s. I didn't think you had to worry about that until you were in your late 40s at the earliest.

Dumb-butts abound. I remember someone saying "Well, it must have been something you did." Yeah. Right. Tell me what it is so I can scream it from the mountain tops and let everyone know what to avoid.

The bottom line is this: anyone can get breast cancer. Even men. In April of 1998, I painted this picture which is entitled "To Everyone Else, You are Someone Else." It is a title with a double meaning. My first intention was to indicate to all women, that the thought that "It's not going to happen to me, it is going to happen to someone else" is entirely incorrect because to EVERYONE else YOU are the someone else.

The majority of breast cancer diagnosis happens to women who don't have breast cancer in their families. It often just strikes out of the blue. I used to get angry at doctors who kept on warning women who had it in their families to be careful. Well, heck, we ALL have to be on guard because most of the cases are not hereditary and if they are, then those women have a little warning that they have to be careful. I had no clue. Getting cancer was the last thing on my mind.

The other aspect is that we are all something to others. Cancer touches many who are not directly related. Around the image in the center is all sorts of relationships...familial, as well as occupations, most of what I wrote are occupations typically occupied by women, but not necessarily so. Breast cancer can touch your mother, your hygienist, your teacher your....fill in the blank.

This particular painting was done for the Susan G. Komen Art for the Cure and won a prize in the New Britain Art for the Cure in 1998, I think it took curator's choice. It is not a comfortable image to look at....and yes, I took some design licenses....I put a second "arm rest" to make a cruciform figure, even though for a unilateral mastectomy you only have one. In addition, for me, I didn't have an axillary this time as I was having a mastectomy after a lumpectomy on the same side, but I got the idea from my experience. The greenish hair cap, the "donut" pillow forming a halo...all of that is what I had.

My daughter hates it. I love the color of the background....Alizarin Crimson which reminded me of the same color of CAF (the red is the Adriamycin). I don't mind that it is uncomfortable. It is a piece which is making a statement, and sometimes those pieces aren't pretty. Sometimes those pieces make you take action. At least I hope so.

Sometimes I think that that red of the Alizarin Crimson should indicate anger...anger that would make us all stamp out breast cancer and make sure that every women gets regular mammograms and takes care of themselves....and we need to take care of those who can't take care of themselves and help them through this journey which brings new discoveries....not all of them pleasant.

Monday, April 20, 2009

No Black Allowed

Recently, I had to go to a funeral. My god-mother had died from heart issues at 80 years of age. She had had many blows in her life, but she was always loving and strong.

All of my usual funeral clothes were ...too tight. I usually wear bright, clear colors, peaches, turquoises, purples, red. None of this seemed quite appropriate for a funeral in the midwest amongst people who wouldn't remember me or barely knew me.

All of this brought back some memories of when I was first diagnosed with cancer. I had only been married for three years. I was in Connecticut, which never felt quite comfortable. The thought that I might die and be buried among people I had only had short association with in a part of the country which I didn't love as much as my native Michigan, left me cold. I soon found that that worry wasn't a big husband's family is Cuban and at least among his family, preparing for death isn't common. In my family, when the first person dies, a whole plot is purchased. So.....since no plot was purchased, I could be buried where ever I wanted, and if I was lucky, there were still spots available in the Broberg lot in Athens, MI or in Augusta, MI.

As it turned out...I needn't have worried. It did bring to mind, however, how much easier it would be if we all made it clear what we wanted to have done at our funeral before times. Cheap casket, or cremation please, whichever is cheaper...and have a BIG party instead.

I am still amused at how your mind tends to flit to such things. But, here I was. Kohls is the only place in town to get clothing, and I didn't have enough time to go elsewhere. As I have mentioned before, I don't wear black. Most of the clothes in Kohls were black, or looked somewhat like Omar the tent maker had designed them, or they were for svelt young things which when put on my body looked like a psycopath's idea of camoflaging a female tank...or that I was pregnant....or all of the above.

I was snarling in the aisles. My daughter was with me....and said "Why do you have to wear dark colors anyway?" I explained that usually somber colors were in order as a token of respect, but that it was pretty outmoded these days anyway. I didn't much care for the concept because I felt that funerals should be a celebration of life, and I wanted it to be a big party.

She said, "I'll make a note of it. On your funeral notices will be the line : No Black allowed."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Learning to Say "Yes" in English this time!

Hmmm...very very interesting...seeing my words in Hindi!

My diagnosis with stage IV recurrence of breast cancer and the experience was entirely different from the first time I had breast cancer, even though it was only 4 1/2 years earlier.

The first time, I was a new mom, I had recently left my position at the museum and had become a free-lance curatorial consultant. I had only moved to Meriden, CT only three years before and didn't know many people.

The second time around, I had been active in church, I had been involved with the Susan G. Komen Race, as well as the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. I am used to public speaking and had often been called upon to talk about the cancer experience and to encourage young women to do self-breast exams and to follow up with anything which would cause alarm.

I had started a very large neighborhood association with two other women and was very well known in the community. When I was diagnosed the second time, I felt like I had become the Breast Cancer Posterchild. Here I was, young, relatively good looking, reasonably thin, with an extremely photogenic 4 year old daughter. Needless to say, I was featured in several newspaper spreads on both the Komen Race in New Britain as well as the Relay for life in Meriden as I participated in both, even though I was going through chemotherapy.

I had lots more friends and friends who were available during the day time. The first time I had cancer, I drove myself to chemotherapy appointments and back. I scrounged to people to help me look after my daughter when I was sick. The second time, lots and lots of people offered to help. I had friends bringing food, friends driving me to appointments, and lots of people who offered to look after my daughter for me when I was at appointments (which never seemed to end), tests, or getting treatment.

It was humbling. Here I was, better able to take care of myself than I had been earlier because Taxol didn't make me as sick as the CAF treatment did. Yet, people were offering help in anything I needed. People I didn't know were sending me notes and calling me to offer their prayers.

I learned a very important lession. Leaning to say yes, even if I didn't think I needed the help. All of these people cared for me, and wanted to participate in anyway they could to help me get better. Sometimes, learning to say yes is harder than doing it on your own....and saying yes, even if you don't think you need it is an important gift to the giver.

लीर्निंग तो से Yes

थिस इस रेअल्ली विएर्द...आईटी', इ'म व्रितिंग इन हिन्दी....नोट कुइते वहत इ एक्सपेक्टेड।। ह्म्म्म।

व्हेन इ वास दिअग्नोसेद विथ कैंसर थे फर्स्ट टाइम, इ वास फैर्ली अलोने इन देअलिंग विथ आईटी। इ हद स्पेंट मोस्ट ऑफ़ माय अदुल्ट लाइफ वोर्किंग इन अ म्यूज़ियम व्हिच हद वैरी लिटिल एम्प्लोयीस। इ वास मर्रिएद फैर्ली लेट, एंड मोवेद तो अ न्यू तोवन, एंड हद ओनली लिवेद तेरे फॉर ३ येअर्स बेफोरे हविंग अ बेबी एंड लीविंग थे वर्क फाॅर्स। मोस्ट ऑफ़ माय फ्रिएंड्स वोर्केद। इ दिदं'टी क्नोव मानी पीपुल इन थे तोवन।

थे सेकंड टाइम इ हद कैंसर, आईटी वास मच दिफ्फेरेंत। माय दौघतेर हद बीन थ्रौघ अ कपल ऑफ़ येअर्स ऑफ़ प्रे-स्कूल। इ वास एक्टिव इन थे चर्च, एंड इ हद स्टार्टेड अ निघ्बोर्हूद असोसिएशन (व्हिच वास ह्यूज) विथ तवो ओथेर वूमेन। इ क्नेव लोटस ऑफ़ पीपुल।

इ हद अल्सो बेकोमे वहत इ कॉल, थे कैंसर कुईं। इ वास पिच्केद उप बी थे लोकल चप्टर ऑफ़ थे अमेरिकन कैंसर असोसिएशन तो स्पेअक अत थे रेले फॉर लाइफ, एंड सिंस इ वास उसेद तो पब्लिक स्पेअकिंग, इ वास ओफ्तें कॉल्ड उपों तो तलक अबाउट हविंग कैंसर। ऑफ़ कोर्स, हविंग अ डार्लिंग ४ इयर ओल्ड दौघतेर, एंड बीइंग यौंग मेड में अन ओब्विओउस परसों तो कॉल उपों तो स्पेअक अत बेफोरे लोकल ग्रौप्स, तो हवे इन्तेर्विएव्स फॉर थे नेवसपपेर एंड अल सोर्ट्स ऑफ़ थिंग्स। लोटस ऑफ़ पीपुल हद हेअर्द ऑफ़ में, एंड क्नेव वहत दीरे स्त्रैघ्ट्स इ वास इन व्हेन इ वास दिअग्नोसेद थे सेकंड टाइम।

थे फर्स्ट टाइम इ हद कैंसर, इ द्रोवे म्य्सेल्फ़ तो चेमो अप्पोंत्मेंट्स एंड द्रोवे म्य्सेल्फ़ बेक होम। थे सेकंड टाइम, इ हद लोटस ऑफ़ पीपुल व्हो वेरे ओफ्फेरिंग तो ड्राइव में तो थे अप्पोंत्मेंट्स, और तो ब्रिंग में फ़ूड, और तो हेल्प टेक केयर ऑफ़ माय दौघतेर व्हेन इ हद अप्पोंत्मेंट्स।

अत फर्स्ट, इ दिदं'टी कुइते क्नोव वहत तो से। आफ्टर अल, इ हद मनागेद थे फर्स्ट टाइम अरौंद विथ वैरी लिटिल हेल्प, एंड थिस टाइम, थे चेमोठेराप्य वास सो मच एअसिएर। इ दिदं'टी गेट सिक्क, इ जुस्त गोत सौर एंड जुम्प्य।

आईटी टूक में अ व्हिले तो रेअलिज़े ठाट एवें थौघ इ दिदं'टी रेअल्ली नीद हेल्प, इ नीदेद तो एक्सेप्ट थे हेल्प व्हिच वास ओफ्फेरेड। बी दोंग सो, इ हेल्पेद ओथेर पीपुल व्हो वेरऐ अत अ लॉस विथ माय कैंसर, एंड नीदेद तो पर्तिसिपते इन मकिंग में वेल अगं। थिस वास अ रेवालेशन तो में।

इ ऍम ग्रातेफुल फॉर ठेस पीपुल व्हो काम तो में तो हेल्प। इ ऍम स्टील ग्रातेफुल फॉर ठिर प्रयेर्स एंड ठिर कंद ओफ्फेर्स। इ ऍम अल्सो ग्रातेफुल तो रेअलिज़े ठाट सोमेतिमेस आईटी इस अ गुड थिंग तो से "एस" एवें व्हेन यू दोन'टी थिंक यू नीद थे हेल्प बेकाउसे आईटी शरेस थे बुर्दें एंड ओफ्तें हेल्प्स थे परसों व्हो इस ओफ्फेरिंग।