Bay City Art Walk: May 5, 5-8 p.m.

When I moved to Bay City, Michigan, from Beaver Island, my artist friends all over Michigan sang, practically in chorus, “Bay CITY????” A friend who grew up around here and still lives here has frequently suggested “Bingo, Beer and Bowling” as the city slogan. That works, along with Bars, Boats, and Vehicles–American, please–this is car country. And I’m happy here. It’s friendly, tolerant, inexpensive, and just fun. We have a river AND a Great Lake (Lake Huron), and we are pleasantly lagging in “progress.”

But some things are changing to my liking. Last Monday night, several of us women started a book club, our choice for a first read being “The Kite Runner.”

And now Bay City has its own Bijou Orchestra, which, led by director and violinist Leo Najir, puts on concerts and performances of many descriptions–just last night I saw “I love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” with four excellent imported professional actors. It was performed at the newly acquired cultural center: The Scottish Rite Masonic Temple Auditorium.

Tonight I’m going to see Central Michigan University’s first ever opera, a performance of ‘The Marriage of Figaro,” a good friend and neighbor having made over thirty costumes for it when she wasn’t teaching eighth grade special education classes full time. She roped all her friends into the project–I sorted the profusion of jewels that she sewed on by hand.

And now, on the first Thursday of every month, starting on May 5, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., an Art Walk welcomes Bay City and neighbors to explore our downtown galleries: Start at Fourth Street and walk down Washington to visit
A & J Gallery, Nielsen Gallery, Garden of Art, and Jeff Ward Gallery. Find A City Studio just off Washington on Fifth Street, and on Fifth and Water find Studio 23. Click here for more information.

The painting is my latest, just finished: Acrylic on paper measuring about 15 x 24 inches. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Fish Therapy Cards

I’m up to six cards so far, and need to paint two more for a total of eight. I’ve shown them to a few people, who seem to like them just fine. I think of them as Encouragement Cards, fun colorful real art to give a little encouragement to someone going through a hard time.

There’s nothing inside but on the back is my picture, some information about how the fish cards came about, and a bit about the particular fish on that card. I hope to have them ready by the end of May.

This card I did to fit an antique oval frame with curved glass that reminded me of a pool or fishbowl.

Dream Garden Murals

It’s for a kids’ grief camp that Hospice sponsors every summer–for kids who have lost someone close to them. I was asked to do a mural that was a wall on one side that kids could cover with messages to the person they lost; the back side was supposed to be something cheerful. I worried that I got too cheerful but I guess it’s okay. I delivered it yesterday and it got a few wows.

It was very much fun to do. I didn’t draw anything except a rough sketch on a sheet of office paper for each mural. There are about six layers of acrylic craft paint on it, and I was pleased to see that the paint didn’t seem to affect the paper sandwiching the foam core. The boards warped a little, but not enough to notice. I used water-based craft acrylics I bought for 66¢ a bottle at a discount store.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


I haven’t done much on the website lately, thanks to a general wiped-out condition that’s suddenly come over me. A week after radiation treatments were over, I suddenly got a sore throat that quickly developed into a cold. I had to cancel a road trip I’d planned to celebrate and escape “all this”. Two days of packing did me in. I even, at last, lost my appetite and still find it challenging to eat anything.

It was unexpected. I thought I’d just go back to normal: Taking to the road for a 1,500-mile solo excursion is old-hat stuff for me–I do it all the time, often leaving on a dime. I love this big country with it’s web of highways and back roads that connect for thousands of miles. I’d planned to go up to Minnesota where I have many friends, all of whom dance like maniacs, even the men, and I’d planned to dance until I fell over.

Unfortunately, I fell over before I left. Had to cancel my car rental. Went to bed. Felt sorrier for myself than I had most of the past few months. Poor baby.

Art Therapy

Nothing gets me side-tracked faster than a really good sale on art materials. A few days ago I happened on a sale of polymer clay for 87¢ a block instead of the usual two or three bucks. Wow. My supply was low, I had hardly any homemade beads left, so I went bananas.

The next day I found a dozen good quality frames–from quite large to very small–across the street at a garage sale I didn’t know about until I saw the crowd waiting outside at 8 a.m., not a usual sight around here. Oh bliss–what could bring more happiness than an art supply bonanza!

So here I am, passionately painting and modeling. Pretty soon I’ll have so many beads that I’ll be able to enjoy another activity I do to relieve stress: sorting.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Back to Normal?

I miss all those support people so well trained to deal with all of us with life-threatening conditions, and the other women who were in my boat and eager to talk about it. There’s something about breast cancer that the general population can’t seem to handle. Unlike my friends hospitalized with heart attacks or near-fatal attacks of appendicitis, the subject of cancer, especially breast cancer, is usually avoided.

So I just keep painting fish, among other projects. I’m trying to destress myself–I can feel the stress in every inch of me and I can’t seem to let it go. I am going to have to do something more agressive than walk to reteach my body to relax and trust the ground to hold me up.

There has been a fish change: This one is a fantasy fish, and created with polymer clay instead of paint. I think it too may be in transition.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Ta Da!

So far, the worst week for me was the as in the last two weeks, my skin is red and sore and the breast feels tender, but I’m no longer in enough pain to take Motrin or something stronger. I use aloe straight from the plant, the lotion provided by the facility, and a St. John’s Wort salve provided to me by Keewaydinoquay, a healer claiming Ojibway roots. The last two days I felt more wiped out than usual–not sick, just sleepy. I often zone out for twenty or thirty minutes while watching tv and awake to find I’ve missed the best part.

I got pretty hooked on tv during these past months when my brain battery seemed to be running down, so I’ve celebrated the end of six months of surgeries, recovery, and radiation treatments by cancelling my tv cable contract. Yesterday, for the price of two months of basic cable service, I purchased a DVD player and a set of rabbit ears from Radio Shack, rented three DVDs from the library, and checked out ten books. Today will be my last tv day.

And I finished painting this fish: a blue-spotted grouper– swimming out of the fire.

My Favorite Breast Cancer Book

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I read the pamplets I was given and I went to numerous websites, but I was in shock, too stressed even go to the library, much less check books often offering 300 pages of tech talk, small type, bad writing, and even, sometimes, a patronizing tone. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way, because when I checked the card catalog–online these days–almost all the books were reported to be on the shelf.

This was great news for me–I could get almost everything I needed in one three-branch swoop–but , aware of the many area women suffering from breast cancer, it was not what I had expected.

Perhaps, like me, women simply find themselves overwhelmed. Six months after my diagnosis and two surgeries and 32 radiation treatments later, I have finally checked out breast cancer books. Maybe it’s the picky writer in me, or the research librarian, but I seem to find something not to like about almost every breast cancer book–the tone, the focus, the type face. The book design is off-putting. There is too much information or not enough. I have to pick through most of them looking for answers. With one, beautiful exception:

Straight Talk About Breast Cancer: From Diagnosis to Recovery, by Suzanne W. Braddock, M.D., and three others, in just over 100 well-designed pages (generous margins with plenty of white space) addresses in comfortably-sized type most of our frightened questions. Using well-composed prose, Dr. Braddock succinctly and without any patronization whatever, explains what’s going on now, what’s happening throughout treatment, and what our options are. She offers comfort in clarity, and an underlying understanding and compassion available only from someone who has been there: Dr. Braddock, a dermatologist, has had breast cancer herself.

This book even provides, in addition to simple but clear drawings, photographs of women–shown up to and including their radiant smiles–who had endured one of the wide variety of options and every one of them looks terrific: unilateral (one-sided) mastectomy without reconstruction, lumpectomy, bilateral mastectomy (both breasts removed) with reconstruction (amazing how even the nipples appear real), biolateral mastectomy without reconstruction, bilateral mastectomy with saline implants, bilateral mastectomy with tissue expanders and saline implants, bilateral mastectomy followed by an immediate TRAM flap reconstruction (using a woman’s own tissue, usually from the back).

In addition to all this, a glossary–much needed to even begin to read a pathology report–and an excellent index finish this book, which has been translated into French and German. I couldn’t find a Spanish translation, but there must be one somewhere.

Straight Talk About Breast Cancer: From Diagnosis to Recovery, 2nd edition, by Suzanne W. Braddock et. al. 2002. Addicus Books, P.O. Box 45327, Omaha, Nebraska 68145. ISBN 1-886039-60-7

To find this book, go to any online bookstore, your public library, or your local bookstore:  Here are some links (some offering this book for less than $5.00):

Fish Are Theraputic 2

Yes, I was on yet another fish painting, this one a school of Blue Stripe Snappers. How soothing it is to paint fish. I may begin an entire personal aquarium of fish. I may even venture into designing picine wardrobes.

Meanwhile, as I approach my next-to-last day and 32nd blast on Monday, I have another waiting room idea: The three walls of this small room are “papered” in cloth, which happily accepts pins and if the pins are slender enough–I took care to buy a packet of silk pins for my 31 little lake paintings that are already posted there, one each day–they don’t even leave a noticable hole. These large blank slates are begging to be filled.

So why not, I thought, fill them with fish? I would print out a bunch of tropical fish, cut them out, and leave them there with a packet of pins and an entertaining sheet of directions: Each woman who sat there could choose a fish, write her name on it (first and/or last) and pin it up. As time goes on, the wall would become covered with beautiful fish, each representing a woman who also had sat there, also fighting cancer. And here’s the kicker: Many of these women are just out of chemo, and fish, like them, have no hair!

However, having already been a drama queen at the radiation oncology center, I hesitate to suggest the women’s locker room as a site for installation art. The staff may be welcoming Wednesday, when I will no longer show up at 8:12. But who knows?

You gotta try stuff.

Click on any image to enlarge it.

Oh God, I’m Shrinking!

I didn’t mind at all being lopsided all this time as long as my right breast, the “treatment area”, was bigger than the left. I thought both were pretty damn gorgeous and it really never bothered me. I didn’t mind the scars. I didn’t even mind the blue nipple or the almost purple color much of the skin has turned. But suddenly, in a matter of four days, the right breast has shrunk so that it’s noticeably smaller and I find this incredibly upsetting.

I think sometimes I hold the stress, appearing normal, until a trigger releases it, so my painful reaction to my shrunken breast is probably due to something more. I seem to skate along pretty well most of the time–and I can even be a bit smug when I feel I’m in control–but I don’t have much left for dealing with anything unexpected. It’s part of depression, I think, to have few emotional reserves. My fabulous support team, probably assuming it’s almost over, have almost all disappeared.

But it’s not over. In some ways, it is just beginning. I have been a hospice volunteer for years, and I’ve observed that the most difficult time for persons suffering a heart-breaking loss is after everything is over and everybody’s written their sympathy card or left their casserole and, usually, necessarily, gone back to their own demanding lives.

But as hard as it’s been to be a cancer patient, being a cancer survivor is a new kind of hard, and although I’m incredibly grateful for a good prognosis, nothing will ever be the same for me. So please don’t go just yet. I don’t think I can do this alone.