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.

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.

Fish Are Theraputic: My Breast Cancer Alphabet

I knew I’d have to write about this experience, but I didn’t know quite how to do it. I didn’t think a collection of my blog entries would work and I certainly am in no position to write a guide. I haven’t done chemo, nor have I had a mastectomy, so I can’t cover all the breast cancer bases. But I can write about the ways a person can use to cope with the many aspects of this experience, including the assaults on one’s sense of humor.

So I’ve begun, with an introduction and an outline, alphabetical of course. I’ll have to provide a time-line the way big fat novels sometimes provide a list of characters or a family tree so the reader can sort her way through the time warps.

Yesterday I took out as many books about breast cancer as I could find at my local libraries–the recent ones that looked readable. I found only one that was accessible to a person whose mind, body, and soul have been paralyzed by a recent breast cancer diagnosis, and I’ll write about that one tomorrow.

Right now, it’s time for me to hop in the car and go get my 31st radiation treatment. After a bad few days last week, I’m doing fine this week, oddly enough, since I’d been warned to brace myself for worse. Try as I might to predict, or get someone else to predict, how I’ll feel tomorrow, nothing ever quite works. Everyone really is different.

Radiation Antidepressants

A is for Arms. Yes, strong arms and hot sex work best, especially when one’s sexuality is part of the “treatment area,” and lucky are they who have them on call. Being called “Wonder Woman” and regarded as newly invested with Special Powers can go a long way to staving off any feelings of sexual insecurity. Not everyone is so lucky, however. Some of us have partners, all right, but often partners are so afraid of the C word that they flee, even if they appear to be present. When this happens, try one of these simple solutions:

F is for Fish. Paint fish, go fishing, make polyclay fish, draw a lot of little fish on a piece of office paper: it just takes three lines and a dot. Your basic fish shape is even more simple than a penguin, which is the only creature I ever tried to draw until I my fiftieth birthday after which I would try almost anything. Fish are so astonishingly decorated, however, that almost any shape, color, or design is completely believable. Try to invent a new fish and it probably already exists.

P: Pudding. Yes, pudding is almost as comforting as Mother, and my radiation team nurse encourages me to gain weight anyway, because apparently it will help me heal better. I was hoping to lose weight on what I called my “Radiation Diet,”, as most of my radiated friends did, but my appetite seems unaffected and my weight has not changed at all. Sigh. Meanwhile, I have discovered that the tapioca pudding on my supermarket’s refrigerated shelf (not to mention rice pudding and, oh god, chocolate pudding) really fit the bill when I’m too tired to think up anything to cook or too tired, having thought of something, to cook it. Pudding is the ultimate comfort food, rivaling ice cream, chocolate milk, and scrambled eggs with cream cheese.

KM is for Kiddie Movies. The Incredibles, recently rentable, like Shrek 2, made me laugh out loud for almost an hour and a half just when I really needed it– lots of fun for kids but also for adults, funny but sweet, imaginative with a James Bond sort of plot family style. Combine a really good Kiddie Movie with an adult-size glass of wine and dish of Moroccan almonds for a brief but much-need out-of-body experience.

This makes me wonder if we couldn’t do an Anti-Depression Alphabet. Any contributions?

Slogging Through

I’m getting sore at last, and I get sharp stabbing pains which I’m told is fluid looking for a new path to the nodes. None of it is bad enough yet for a pain pill. Today I did the second simulation…about 45 minutes during which I was propped up on pillows and wasn’t allowed to move while new angles were calculated for the scar area. The last five treatments will concentrate there only.

Today was the last day for one of our ladies’ club…sometimes up to four of us who gather in the tiny waiting area for women. The last day is always a big one so I made sure I was there to help celebrate. As for me, I have nine treatments left, last one scheduled for April 4.

Half done!

So far, I feel really good. What is euphemistically refered to as “the treatment area” is also doing just fine: “pinking up” a little but nothing hurts. According to my weekly checkups, my right arm continues to measure the same as the left and my weight fluctuates only half a pound. I still have quite an appetite, which may prove my biggest problem–I overstocked my staples and freezer lest I get too wiped out to shop, but so far, that hasn’t happened–my radiation diet plan may just backfire.

Okay, I maintain my sense of humor, but I know very well I could never do that during chemotherapy. I am very, very lucky that I don’t need chemo, the treatment center is ten minutes from home, my treatment appears to be state-of-the-art, I have wonderful support from friends and family, and the staff at the radation oncology center are so friendly I actually look forward to seeing them. Who’da thought?


I was told that there’s only a one chance in ten that I’d get lymphedema, but here again, I’m not doing so well with the odds. I wonder what the odds are that I’d get invasive breast cancer (one in seven) AND suffer lymphedema (one in ten after surgery plus radiation)?

I’d been doing just fine, but suddenly, I’m very upset. I can’t risk permanent lymphedema because I make my living with that arm. I may decide to quit radiation if I find that my nodes are being radiated. I had no cancer in my nodes and did not give permission to have them radiated. So today I’m skipping treatment and going to physical therapy and seeing both my radiation oncologist and my surgeon.

It turns out that the hardest thing about serious illness is not just dealing with pain, loss, or even the threat of death, but the decisions that come up, often without warning, many of which are not much different than betting on odds, or deciding between the risk of one bad thing against the risk of another. Which bad thing would I hate most? What are the odds of that happening given my present treatment?

Things can change, for better or worse, on a dime. One minute I’m not in the woods, the next I’m not out of the woods.

About the picture: Here’s “She’s So Brave” after I scrubbed off all the paint layers. I’m feeling kind of raw right now, so I’ve left it that way.