For me, this is an old topic. A tale about warriors and shields, an idea put forth by my friend Judy. A tale from the 1990s and I mean to discuss this now because of friends engaged in this battle.
It is not the 1990s anymore. With my last mammogram, 2011, the tech had all my old info available. She told me that I was a miracle. She referred to that decade as the Dark Ages for cancer. Years ago, a doctor shook my hand because he had never met anyone who survived a metastasis of colon cancer.
My father died in 1974 at age 47, after many years of dealing with this humiliating disease. When it started in on me in the nineties, the docs asked lots of questions about him. Where in his colon was the disease? Was it right sided or left sided? We knew nothing. If that information was somewhere, we didn’t know how to find it. At that time there was a rudimentary form of genetic testing, but my doc asked me to think about whether we should do that or not. Was it good for the world to know that I had the gene for colon cancer?
Because I was so young (42, 43, 44) Mayo Clinic Jax was very aggressive with me. With the first operation, 40 percent of my colon was taken. That fact has made absolutely no difference in my life. Fearful of this, probably more than death, that “bag” gave my father so much trouble, and it fairly separated him from the rest of us.
I was to have three more operations and learned a little about dealing with the medical community. I remember telling a friend, a radiology technician, while standing in a line at a buffet, that there was now a lesion on my lung. She got this odd look on her face. I did not know exactly what a lesion was, but she did.
Later I had one third of my lung removed. Of course Mayo had been looking closely, but they had been doing CT scans only from about my waist down. Very lucky that this lesion was seen. I insisted on full body CT scans after that and no one argued with me.
My tumor was rated Dukes B2: it was in the colon, involved the colon wall, but did not extend outside it. Never had any lymph node involvement. How did it get to the lung then?
After my first operation the tumor was deemed so localized that they removed it and we did nothing. A year later was the lesion. Then we did six months of chemotherapy, not at Mayo’s but in Columbia, SC.
I did everything to fight my cancer. It was used as the topic of my art, I integrated it into my life symbolically and removed it symbolically (I bought two pairs of fabulous purple suede penny loafers which could stamp out cancer cells as you would a fire on grass. Wore them until they were in shreds). I had four surgeries and chemotherapy. It was on my chemo trips to Columbia that I began buying hammered aluminum in thrift shops. Started with ice buckets, I loved their double walls. I went on to corner the market in my area.
A trip to the oncologist was paired up with a trip to the thrifts. I also took work to my photographer, etc. I could do anything after chemo, save getting my words out all lined up perfectly. That was a little weird.
The point was to integrate the beast, to direct its removal symbolically, talk about it, and go on. Women join groups, they are good at that. It is healthy to speak about these things. I absolutely loved chemo in a group situation. Here were these people, removed of pretense, sitting in lounges fighting the beast together. It was like being in a huddle on a football team.
I had an exhibition at the Mayo Clinic. They were interested in promoting the correct mind set for healing. They were impressive that way. As an artist, whatever was going on in my life was subject to being featured in my art, and that turned out to be a very healing idea. An then of course, there was all this metal armament that I bought.
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