Survivor’s Surprises

I haven’t really wanted to talk about it, not wanting to appear pathetic, but I’m feeling almost swept away by the power of it all. I’m feeling physically quite a bit better, although my right breast feels radioactive, amazingly hot to my touch, while the left one is equally cold.  I have to keep exercising to maintain the range of motion in my right arm–a definite tightening of something continues there. I’m still experiencing joint pain, although that is letting up.

But hardest is the emotional part. It’s not over. I’m very shaky these days. I’m going through the furious stage of loss I think. A good friend from MN visited this weekend and observed I got easily pissed off about this and that. She thought it was healthy and great. I’m not so sure. But it does feel like a loss process. The loss of what? Freedom from the medical world that once it’s got its grip on you, does not let go? The illusion of perpetual health? Worry about recurrance?

After the chinup stage and all the support, I’m now dealing with the reality of being a breastcancer survivor, which is not as physically or emotionally painless as I’d assumed. It’s hard not to get depressed. I cry easily. The support is pretty much gone, at least the daily support and the sweet med people who cheered me on, so when even a small loss or rejection comes along, I collapse.

I’ll get through it like everything, but I’m not Lance Armstrong. People like him inspire and depress simultaneously, although I did cheer him on and was happy to see him win. But now I feel as if I’m dealing with a small death…everyone thinks it’s time to get over it but the grief is not so easily assimilated. A hospice volunteer for many years, I’m now doing hospice work on myself.

Wesley’s Merganser

Dewey discovered Wesley, an older man who lived with his wife in a trailer east of Mount Pleasant. Dewey built Wesley a little studio at one end so Wesley could continue his work after he’d been ill and couldn’t get around quite like he used to. Wesley’s wife has since died, followed recently by Wesley himself. I met him a few months prior, just before Christmas, about a year ago, when he gave me a blackbird he’d carved. He was in a wheelchair by then, but cheerful and hospitable. I was moved by the modest circumstances in which Wesley created such prolific and impressive art.

I have always loved Wesley’s work–usually carved life-size, or even larger–and I’ve seen quite a bit of it, from the woodpecker Dewey gave me many Christmases ago to full-size bears to sharks to porcupines, all carved roughly and painted without much fuss, but oddly winsome. I don’t usually like carved animals, but Wesley’s charm me way past resistance.

This merganser was the only Wesley that I could afford in the Tamarack that day, but I fell in love with it. For one thing, I knew what it was and I was pleased that Wesley must have known as well. (So many people see Mergansers flocking on Lake Michigan but never really look at them.) I think I paid under a $100 for it. It must be a hardwood–quite heavy for its 16 x 14 size. I think he has a look in his glass eye, which I didn’t quite catch in my painting, that says he knows something he knows I’d like to know, and if I hang around long enough, someday he might just tell me.

A New Project

I’ve decide to do a little watercolor of each thing I love and write the story of how I got it (or made it), and why I keep shlepping it from coast to coast, house to house, through my meandering life. This is a way for me to pass along my art with the merest of storage requirements.

It should take quite a long time for me to paint everything, which is as it should be, as I intend to enjoy all this stuff for years to come. But perhaps it will be easier for me to let it go when eventually I will have to if I’ve made a record of it.

I’ve started out with a 9 x 12 size, which I can reduce in PhotoShop to whatever I like if I want to print it out. It’s just hard to paint on anything smaller when I’m doing large objects.

My first experiment is a bowl my own mother made when she was a girl. A singer who mostly makes music, she rarely produced anything else in the way of art, so this is a rare treasure. I can’t remember when she gave it to me, but I’ve had it for at least fifteen years. I love the rich deep glaze and treasure it especially because I don’t think that I have any thing else she has made–the things she sewed for me when I was younger unfortunately no longer fit me. The bowl is signed on the bottom, without at date, “Ruth Enss.”

 Click on the image to enlarge it.

Beaver Island Sketchbook

I didn’t visit Beaver Island last year, the first time in fourteen years that I hadn’t been there for at least the month of July, so this trip was a special treat. My house, which I sold two years ago, i found had been razed and replaced by a huge two-storey job with several livingrooms and as many bathrooms.

My friends said they cried when my house came down–we had made so many memories there. I’d held numerous writing workshops, parties, and a meditation workshop there. I’d put up friends, Buddhists monks, and a medicine woman–Keewaydinoquay– before I turned my guest room into a bookstore, and after that a gallery called Beaver Island Arts. I’d learned to paint there, sold my art and books for years, met many interesting people.

But now, although my place is gone, the island with its many natural wonders is still there. Even on foot I was able to reach my favorite beaches, woodlands, wetlands, sweet grass patches, and sunset views. The last day I was offered a car, so I got to spend a perfect summer afternoon on Donegal Bay, my favorite swimming beach in the world.

And I hung out at the Beaver Island Lodge, where the owners, Ray and Nina Cole, always let me sit and paint either out on the lawn or at one of their lovely patio tables overlooking Lake Michigan and Garden Island. Several of my paintings hang inside their lovely dining room and my Lake Effects posters, both beautifully framed, welcome visitors at the front desk.

While I painted the lake, one of my favorite views, yet again (I have done it often at different times of day), a flock of wild turkeys crossed the lawn and then reappeared an hour later on the beach. I’d never seen turkeys on a beach before, and earlier that morning I witnessed another Beaver Island first for me –a pileated woodpecker.

Click on any image to enlarge it.

Kawkawlin River Clean-Up

I don’t do much but function as the photographer, artist, and general recorder of things, occasionally fishing out a beer bottle, plastic trash bag, or even rooting out a tire or two from the cattails. As last year, I was a passenger in Tom (known as Toad) Starkweather’s dingy, The Toadtanic, featuring a 2 horsepower motor that threw up at the slightest contact with the pervasive weeds.

This year I tried something new: a new friend who buys for the Saugatuck Historical Museum in Saugatuck, Michigan, Judy A., gave me a lovely Arches 6″ x 10″ sketch pad called a Carnet de Voyage Travel Book. It’s 15, 140-lb. pages easily take watercolor sketches on both sides. Judy suggested I use an extra-fine sharpie to draw, which amazingly does not run, even when painted on top of.

I find I prefer to paint first and draw around the color shapes and then write on top of that, but on the river everything went by so fast that I drew first and painted afterwards. So far I’ve only painted two: one of the river and one of our friend Bill, who joined us for the first half-hour. Please note that I did these in a rocking boat! Those two big men plus me in the boat made quite a load, but there were places so shallow that I got out and pulled those two guys myself!

Click on a picture to enlarge it.

Arimidex Side Effects

And here I thought my struggle was over–that the difficult, gambling decisions had been made. Home free, worry free, until my next mammogram six months down the road. But not. (Did I mention that I passed my first check-up and mammogram in June? Now THAT was a relief!)

After my body froze up and I felt like a corpse, every joint and even my muscles aching all day, I decided that I would take my chances, give up the Arimidex (which, I might add, costs $225 a month!), and instead, after my body gets cleared and back normal (if it ever does), start taking Fosomax. It turns out that Arimidex commonly causes joint and muscle pain and also can cause osteoporosis. My bone density test showed that I already have osteoporisis in my spine and ribs, and so I’ve decided to go for the Fosomax cure.

Of course, my doctor would also like me to go on a statin for high cholesterol and one of those anti-GERD drugs so the Fosomax won’t cause acid reflux problems, and so it goes.

I feel like what my friend Tom calls an “organ recital.” I think what I’m irritable about, though, is having to re-deal with all this stuff. It’s all a gamble: Do I want a long miserable life or a short happy life? Or I might luck out and have a long happy life, who knows? The odds are better that I won’t suffer a recurrence than that I will, but they aren’t terrific. Still, the odds of actually dying of breast cancer are pretty low no matter what I choose.

So although I am not as mobile as I was a few months ago, and feel as if my body is aging years instead of months, I can still function independently. I can still live each day and find much to enjoy. As will be evident in my next few entries.

Surprising Side-effects

I’ve been on Arimidex for six months now, and I feel as if I am a hundred years old. Every joint aches–every finger, toe, shoulder, arm, leg, foot and neck joint hurts all day. It’s especially bad when I’m inactive for an hour or more–I can hardly get out of bed in the morning.

 So I’m having to decide whether quality of life is worth the risk of reducing the quantity. I’ve still not been able to find a study that zeroes in on my age group, diagnosis, and treatment, analyzing the risks of not taking anything vs. one of these two five-year daily chemotherapies.

I thought I was out of the woods. I healed so well from all my treatments so far, but this one I can’t live with. I’ve read similar complaints from other women taking arimidex.