This blog is usually dedicated to art-related subjects. It’s going to get pretty personal for a while. I hope to reconnect to art as we go along, but life doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and art is often pushed around by events, and the blog is going to be the easiest way for me to communicate for a while. So please bear with me, skip ahead or come back later when I hope there will be less pain and more paintings.
Like a lot of people I joked about the end of the world, or at least a big change, due for December 21, 2112 according to the old Mayan calendar.
I did not expect my own world to crash about my shoulders. In the middle of a routine trip to the art supply store, I had a seizure. I didn’t know what it was until the doctor told me later; I thought I was just having a weird spell. But it was scary enough to get me to the ER, and begin the sequence of events that led to a fairly quick diagnosis of a tumor on my brain.
You can never prepare for hearing something like that. Denial comes fast. You must have mistaken me for someone who has time for that. Your tests are wrong. Surely it is benign, if it does in fact exist. I have too much to do to have cancer—could we reschedule that for another year? I’m supposed to be on an airplane in 6 days. You must have the wrong person.
Unfortunately, all the denial in the world changed nothing. The thing was/is still in my head.
On the 26th the doctors performed a needle biopsy. Just a little needle, didn’t sound too bad. Well, except for that whole drilling through the skull part. There had been a fair amount of discussion about the bad position of the tumor, which was located on the motor control area for mobility of the left side of my body. I’d lost use of my left arm and leg in the initial seizure, but it came back. When I woke up from surgery, though, it was gone again. The arm came back but I haven’t been able to regain feeling or control of my leg, so cannot walk.
You look for the good stuff. It didn’t affect my ability to think, reason, or speak. I immediately had asked how far away it was from the creativity center, and they said quite a ways. I’m right-handed. I will paint again.
Three days in neurological ICU was not something I ever want to do again. The hospital staff was great, but everything else was awful. Getting out to await biopsy results became a huge goal.
It took almost no time to become aware what wonderful friends and family I have. I knew I had the best husband in the world but he proves it again hundreds of times a day. Support and company from family and friends kept me from feeling abandoned.
Going home was terrifying. It is hard to comprehend what immobility does to you. Every day, every hour, of those first few days brought such huge challenges, it was exhausting beyond belief. Still recovering from the surgery, learning how to live in my house in this condition has been overwhelming.
We live in a one-story house with no stairs. I thought navigating using a walker and the fling-and-drag foot method of locomotion that currently passes for walking would be doable, if not easy. The first real obstacle came with the realization that the door openings to both bathrooms were three inches narrower than the walker. What were those people thinking? How could anyone not make such a simple measurement in advance? How could I have lived here ten years and not known?
Looking at several upcoming months of chemo and radiation, and not being able to anticipate how much my motor controls might fluctuate from bad to worse to better, it also became obvious there was no way I could get into a shower. So, in the space of a few days, the house became a remodeling zone. We have a wonderful friend who stepped forward to become the general contractor, and in just a few more days will have a new handicap accessible bathroom.
Meanwhile the biopsy results came back. Not as good as we’d hoped. Okay, way worse.
You look at something like this and every step is a choice. Fight or give up? I choose fight. The word “treatable” has such a nicer ring than “terminal.” Fight it. Chemo it, radiate it, starve it. Eradicate it and move on. I have too much to do and to live for, to give in or give up. I’m fighting.
Meet the Steroid Witch
I’ve been able to reduce the number of drugs I’m taking moment, but the two biggies remaining for months to come are steroids to reduce the swelling around the tumor, and anti-seizure medicine.
The steroids are really important and really wicked. The big side effects seem to be nausea, thirst, sleeplessness and rage. I call the rage the Steroid Witch.
In spite of everything going on, most of the time I maintain a fairly even keel, a determination to get through this, and am always working on a positive attitude. But I’ve learned to hear the steroid witch coming.
The witch is in a fury, flying easily off the handle at the unfairness of it all. She brings with her vicious hot flashes that fan the flames of rage, and she can appear without a second’s notice. The steroid witch uses bad language, has come close to throwing things, and is generally an unpleasant person with whom I have almost nothing in common. But she keeps showing up and using my mouth! I’m hoping she will learn to behave better soon.
I’m itching to paint, but I think I will start with drawing. Now that I can focus a little, I think a sketchbook, pencils, charcoal, would be just right.
For several years, one of my New Year’s goals has been to draw more. Looks like that may really happen in 2013. I’m interested to see how the act of observation and drawing helps exercise my brain. Gotta keep those connections open. If the foot won’t talk to me, I’ll focus on the hands for a while.
My favorite painting subject is usually the landscape. Can’t see much of that from the part of the house where I’m spending my time. But I’ve got vases of flowers, and I think I will draw those, along with some still life objects. I'll post pics when I can.
The Best Laid Plans
This last summer, we had a long string of back to back workshops. At the end, when we were en route home, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted for 2013. I decided I wanted to take a year to travel and teach a little less, to work on my own painting, and to develop new skills and ideas.
It’s also a convention year for IAPS (International Association of Pastel Societies). That takes a lot of my time as we get close to the convention. I worked out a good year-long plan for incorporating painting into everything else, and then began revising my five-year plan.
Looks like I’ll get that year at home, but with chemo and radiation infringing on the painting time I had planned. I guess I won’t know until I get into it how much I can bring to focus for art in order to push forward. But I am going to paint, one way or another.
Here were my broad 2013 goals as of December 20:
1. Spend more painting time at home, both studio and plein air; draw more
2. Take frequent 2-3 day painting trips with Bill so we get good time together painting and having fun.
3. Work on series of daily paintings to focus and sharpen skills; every day for 30 days, several times
4. Continue to work on making the 2013 IAPS convention the best ever
5. Give more time to the New Mexico Art League board projects
7. Organize workshops for following year(s)
8. Find ways to spend more time with family
Here is my list now:
See above list.
Updates to follow as I can. I can't take phone calls and my ability to respond may be sporadic, but I hope to keep in touch as well as possible.