Arimidex Feedback

The website in questions is I have also gone to to look for patient reactions to other drugs, such as a particular statin, Tamoxafin, and Prevacid. Since I registered my own problems, I have heard from about ten women who have suffered similar side effects to Arimidex–joint problems and aching so severe that one can hardly get out of bed, much less function in life. I didn’t realize that I had registered my email address and was contactable. The women taking Arimidex and wishing they weren’t were agonizing between quality and quantity of life.

Believe it or not, I have had health professionals deny any reports of Arimidex side-effects. A nurse in a breast cancer surgeon’s office declared that she had never heard of any problems with Arimidex. One of my doctors (we get lots of docs in this adventure) emphatically insisted I continue taking it, while another emphatically insisted I quit immediately after viewing my poor bone density test, which both doctors had seen.

I did a lot of research before going off Arimidex and refusing, as well, Tamoxafin. I looked at the biggest study involving over 20,000 participants–I’ll have to look it up again and will report the results–and found that the bottom line was not nearly as scary as the way the statistics were interpreted.

The medical news uses statistics for scare purposes, and to make the news look newsier. Here’s what I discovered. Let’s consider a theoretical study of some new Big Pharma medication which proports to prevent a breast cancer recurrance, say 20,000 women. If we’re lucky, there will be a specific age range, so let’s say these women are between ages 40 and 65. 10,000 are on the med, 10,000 are taking a placebo. Let’s say that after 10 years, those on the med suffer 300, or about 3%, of the women suffer a recurrance, and 600, or about 6% of the women on the placebo suffer a recurrance. There are several ways to report these findings:

 One way to interpret these figures is to say that, even though there is only a 3% greater risk to women on the placebo, it is also correct to say that women on the placebo suffered twice the recurrances of those taking the new medication. This statement would be true no matter how many people were in the study, 100 or 10,000 or, as in one important study, 40,000. This  important discovery I learned while trying to explain how odds and risk work in my book about the measures we have to deal with in American life, Necessary Numbers. The subject was so complex, however, that I had to drop that chapter.

There is a good reason why many very very smart Ph.D. candidates in the sciences frequently flunk statistics. It’s tricky stuff, and before I listen to scare news or scare talk from doctors, who probably don’t really understand statistics either and are courted by gorgeous sales reps who sashay into their offices without waiting–how often have you seem this?–look for what are called Landmark Studies, and study the bottom line: How many in the study? Does the selection of participants really apply to you? How narrow was the study? Was it a double-blind study? Who conducted the study?  What are the real result in numbers, not risk percentages. 

To hedge your bets at any cost is a choice. I am not recommending that anyone live dangerously…I just think that believing in your choices and living each day with as much happiness as possible is right up there with the great cures of  our time, but how do you measure that?

Three Days in a Writer/Artist’s Life

Thursday: I begin every day checking my email. Today I get an order from my website for a tapestry bag, a necklace, and a fish print. I haven’t made the bag yet (I’m sold out after Christmas) so have offered to make it to spec and am waiting for a phone call. This client said she’d read my entire blog, including my breast cancer blog, and said she was moved by it. This is a wonderful way to start a day.

I spend a pleasant hour sorting a big bead order I recently bought on-line. I like sorting beads…I get to know what’s there and it has a meditation effect.

Around 10 a.m. I stop by the Mary Blocksma Gallery in the Gypsies building to hang my newest painting (Parrot Girl) in the coffee shop with sign I’d made on Word and printed out to go with it, check my mail, water the plants, and buy an oatmeal cookie from Jack, whose deli shares space with the coffee shop in front of the building.

Next I drop by the newspaper office to pick up a contract I’ve been negotiating for over a month with our local newspaper: I am proposing to write and illustrate a weekly column called “Nature in the Neighborhood.” I want to keep my rights and get paid too, so the problem was sent to the attorney’s office, a wormhole into which things apparently vanish for a very long time and emerge in a very different shape.

I still am uneasy about the rights business, so I spend a great deal of Wednesday rewriting the contract so I can keep more of my them, although not all. I drop a copy off at the paper at about 3 p.m.

By 4 p.m. I on my way to Saginaw to order two very big mats, as they are having a 50% off custom framing sale at JoAnn’s. Anyone who has had anything framed lately knows how expensive it is, so I do my own framing, buying especially large frames from yard sales and thrift shops and ordering the mats when the sales are on. While I’m there I pick up card stock from Sam’s Club, which is the only place I can find heavy enough stock with a glossy enough finish to print notecards.

I am not home long before a friend comes over unexpectly who has already seen Parrot Girl in the coffee shop. He wants to commission a portrait of his beloved holding a bird something in the manner described in a poem he has written about her. I agree to this if he’ll agree to my minimum commission charge of $300. He will think about it.

That evening, after a beer with another friend at a local watering hole, I work on a full-length acrylic-on-illustration-board portrait of a particular beautiful friend. I’ve done everything by the hair and the background–the basic layer, that is–but I can’t do the hair until I decide on the background. I try blue-green and hate it. I go over that with a springier green that I like better with her pink gown.

Friday: My website client calls and we decide on bag details and I take her order. I spend two hours making the bag, beading the strap, and packaging everything up. Suddenly I realize I haven’t paid my credit card bill and panic that I’m late and my interest rates will triple. I’m right–I’m two days late. I spend the next thirty minutes on the phone trying to rectify the situation and then another thirty minutes figuring out how to pay the bill on-line and hope that my damage control was sufficient.

I can’t remember in what order do everything but here are some things that get done:

1) I realize that I really don’t want to give up ANY rights on my column, so I go on-line and google some things like self-syndication and I find out that I can ask about half the price I was asking if I syndicate. I don’t mind giving up half the price to keep all the rights, so I call the editor and suggest this on his voice mail. He calls back later in the day and says it sounds fine but he has to check it out with the attorney. Back to the wormhole.

Meanwhile, I will have to come up with my own contract but can’t find a sample on-line so I’ve ordered two books, one from and one from the library, and although I’ve written the first column and done the art, the whole thing is on hold until a) I hear from the attorney and 2) I figure out how to write a self-syndication contract.

Persistence is what wins out here. It takes a lot of patience to see a new project through to the end, but it’s all possible with patience and tenacity.

2) I suddenly realize that Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us and I have nothing in my gallery that is remotely relevant except a few pink rose cards. I spend a couple hours designing a couple of valentines, one from a painting I did some years ago of a red rose and another from a red heart that I paint with brilliant Dr. Martin watercolors. I scan it and plan it, print it, cut the cards on the paper cutter, fold them, package a couple dozen of them in little clear envelopes.

Next I roll twenty Bay City posters to restock my nearly empty supply at the gallery. Finally, around noon, I get to the gallery with a stack of cards and a bundle of rolled posters. I order Jack’s oatmeal for lunch. Yum.

3) After a nap, I am plagued by worries about my book, What’s in the Woods, for which I have done a couple hundred small watercolors, but which I’ve been blocked on for about a year. I decide to jump in and solve the problems. I work until 10 p.m. redoing the outline and simplifying the book to be a clue-book to identification, taking out a lot of the education stuff that was cluttering it up and bothering me. I did a new storyboard for the entire 48-page book while I “watched” the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.


1) I take out all the art for What’s in the Woods and realize that I have a show here. I have been planning to do Spring Show at my gallery with at least 15 new paintings (I’ve done five so far this year), but I realize that I could frame up these wonderful little watercolor studies (the Wood Thrush is one of three images on one of the studies) and, if I had the book printed by then, I’d have a really incredible show and booksigning combined. I decide to try for early June for my show, book and all.

2) I spend most of the day working out the first spread: the book design, how I will set it up. This one involves big bright winter birds. I work for hours to find a way to hand-write the captions and notations to look more friendly than type. Handwriting is hard to scan but I’ve decided to set everything up on PhotoShop instead of InDesign, using the layers to move things and add the captions. I am pleased with the results and am ready to really hit it, now that I’ve set up the format, which is the hardest part. Fortunately, I learned all the layout programs when I did What’s on the Beach? so at least I don’t have to learn a complicated new layout program.

3) I spend an hour and a half writing this blog entry. I forgot to mention that I spent time working on this website Thursday and Friday too, adding blog news and doing other webmaster chores. Now I have to get to the post office and the gallery before they close.

Life goes on.

4) I thought my work day was over but it’s not…I returned from the post office with a Netflix movie to find an email from one of my wholesale clients. I don’t get many winter orders from galleries, gift and book shops that carry my work…there are about fifty of them now. I work all winter to have something new for summer. Over the years I’ve become very fond of some of these people who have supported me, some since the beginning of my art career about seven or eight years ago, and I always like getting mid-winter news.

Bay City Snow Day

When I paint using photographs, it’s obviously important that the painting be a lot better than the photograph, and it’s always been pretty easy to do that. It was harder this time, because this new camera is so good and I set the composition up on PhotoShop, combining three or four photographs, picking out interesting shapes, making sure I had the wonderful age range represented that really is there.

I like the result…it’s pretty much what I’ve been carrying around in my head: the fabulous, almost silhouetted shapes at the top of a white hill against a white sky. It can only be Bay City because you can see the lights tower that presides over the softball field on the right. I also made sure to put in the pigeons that frequently perch in rows along the bridge lights.

I’ve waited years, but finally we got a huge fluffy white snow on a Friday night, so Saturday at ten a.m. our riverside park was joyful with color against a still-pristine white.

Bay City Snow Day is acrylic on acid-free illustration board, and measures 36 by 15 inches. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Michigan Photographers Alert!

Michael Bell has shown an unusual support and respect for Michigan art and artists. Ellen Wilt, Ann Arbor artist who has twice won the grand prize at the Michigan Watercolor show and Professor Emeritus of art at Eastern Michigan University, once told me that she thinks there’s more originality in Michigan art than in any other state, including New York and California. I like it when Michigan art centers and museums make an effort to balance their exhibits between out-of-state artists and those closer to home.

So no excuses! This is an exciting opportunity you can’t afford to miss. I may even try it myself, although my photography is mostly for personal or research reasons. I based a painting on this one, taken on the 2004 Kawkawlin River Clean-up, an annual event where, lacking boat or muscle, I function as official photographer. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Deadline for submissions is June 1, 2006. There’s just one problem with this show: I couldn’t find the announcement on the Saginaw Art Museum website. There aren’t many rules, though. This is basically it:

Saginaw Art Museum – Michigan Invitational

July 9 – September 10, 2006

Open to all Michigan photographers, no age or other limit.

Work must be original in editions of less than 200,but need not be recent.

No entry fee or awards. Artist is responsible for 2-way shipping.

Selected work must be framed and ready to install.

Photographs must be labeled with name/title/year/medium.

Exhibition will be curated in-house, not juried.

Sales inquiries will be referred to the artist; museum asks no commission.

Museum insures all selected work at artist’s wholesale price while on premises.

Entry Procedure

Send resume, artist statement, SASE & up to four images (any format) to:

Michael S.Bell, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions

Saginaw Art Museum
1126 N. Michigan Ave.
Saginaw, MI 48602

989.754.2491 x204

989.754.9387 FAX

or email:

Deadline for submission: JUNE 1, 2006

Cabin Fever Art

My September in Costa Rica continues to inspire and so far I like what’s happening with the resulting art. I’m also working on a Bay City snow scene, which I’m not liking very much so far, and a portrait, which so far I do, if I don’t ruin it. That’s one of my frequent mid-project fears: When I’m halfway through a book or a painting, I either love it so much I don’t dare try to finish it, lest I do something to spoil it, or I can’t stand it and want to give up. At times like this I invoke my artist’s mantra: PROFESSIONALS FINISH!

I’m calling my palm trees “Cabin Fever” which seems to give me permission to get hysterical with color and makes it sort of Michigan relevant at this time of year. Titles do influence lookers (and buyers), I’ve discovered. I have an artist friend on Beaver Island, Cindy Rickskers, who has a genius for giving abstract paintings irresistible titles. I’ve always envied her this talent. You’d think, my being a professional writer, that I could fling titles around with ease, but Cindy’s still better. She beats me at Scrabble, too.

“Cabin Fever 1″ is acrylic on paper, with a border as part of the painting, 19″ x 21”. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Painting Like Mad

What fun. I wish I were more focused–I like the idea of doing twenty paintings on a theme, which makes for a cool show. I could easily do twenty paintings on Costa Rica, and I might, but meanwhile other ideas pop into my head–a full-length portrait of a beautiful friend whose radiance I find irresistible; or families on a traditional Bay City sledding hill after a pristine, Saturday snow. The colors don’t really go together, nor do the subjects.

But as usual, I do what I love. In the end it will be fine, just like my home, where I do not decorate but simply surround myself with loved paintings, textiles and objects both d’art and practical. They seem to enjoy each other, celebrate diversity, and welcome visitors to make themselves at home.

So here is a painting I’ve been working on since September. I don’t think it’s such a great one and it took me a long time because I got tangled up in all the leaves, but I love looking at it–it’s the view framed by the kitchen window in my Costa Rica studio. There were many more exotic views than this one from larger windows in the same studio, but this one, featuring the side of the next-door studio and a row of flowering shrubs, kept changing color and shape with the moving sun.

“Costa Rica Kitchen Window” is acrylic on paper, 16 x 20. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Parrot Girl

I emailed a jpeg of this painting to a friend who’d done the trip with me and remembered this girl as one of the most beautiful children she’d ever seen. The child’s smile had hunger in it, I thought. She’d clearly posed for the tourists before.
Her home was one of many small thatched roof homes surrounded by flowering shrubs and located between the many banana plantations owned by companies like Delmonte and Dole.

This is the second painting I’ve done of Costa Rica since my month-long stay last September.

Click on the image to enlarge it.