A WARNING

I am of an age advanced beyond my youthful dreams.  This age could have easily not been achieved; a battle with colon cancer in my mid forties made life a little questionable for a few years.

In 1967 when the Beatles questioned the “needing” and “feeding” by the rhetorical “you”, none of us could not imagine this question of age: we had no empathy with that piece of art.

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But we hummed the jaunty song and went along to pile on the years.

When Paul McCartney turned 64 the irony of that song tugged at me.  How odd.  Years younger than Paul, that horizon was still lost on me.  What is that fallacious mathematical question which states if you cut a space in half between point A and point B and continue to cut the resulting space in half and in half, one will never arrive at point B? There you go.

I have been fading at this age, and it has been a total surprise.  It all started last October, but is ending today.  Don’t remember any past discussion about the body in this way, but hear me and do not favor one knee over another!  Always being accused of “thinking too much”, I have figured out why my meniscus snapped last October.  Short waisted, I had been sitting on that knee and propping myself up for 60 years.  It was the “go to” solution of not being tall enough.  Hate being not tall enough, for so many reasons! 1-lee

And there went my running basically until today.  From October until April.  And what else was lost because of not running?  Good heart rate, good blood pressure, good bone mass, good weight, good mental health.  Also, our roads were cluttered because I pick up aluminum cans.

Well, today with an ace bandage wrapped around the knee in question, I ate up three miles.  Would have gone the whole four if my aluminum find had not been so bulky.  The dark time is past!

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AND TAKE THIS, CANCER!

Life is so weird.  Grand pianos from the sky can be just missing your head, and most of us wouldn’t notice.  And then there is some universal equalizer in life that smooths down the bad parts if we can simply see it, coming to us at the same time.

With Kathryn, I would have thought the message would have been received with more clarity.  It took three car accidents within months, falling down the back steps on ice, all events happening on the left side of her body, to get her to notice that something else was going on there.  And it wasn’t pregnancy.

Although the cyst was as big as a baby, the surgery was certainly not the same.  Then there was the colon cancer part.  This is where the universe presents problems, and then solutions.  Kathryn’s friend, me, has sooooo done this colon cancer thing.  Here I can help.  Colon cancer was the pivotal event in our family (my parents and three girls), and then important in my life, but not the most.

She is going to lose some body parts, for sure.  Here is another place where the universe provides:  I stitched a womb in a new series of embroideries, and gave it to her two years ago.  If she wants one, she has it.  Kathryn is my same age, and those parts mean nothing to me, but they do to some.

frankly my dear

The cancer lingo is different now then when I had colon cancer.  The last woman who did my mammogram called those years of the mid-nineties the “dark ages” of cancer (for my dad, dying in the ’70s, it must have been the Paleolithic).   Looking up what docs now call “frank” cancer, meaning that they are sure cancer is present, I would say, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”.  And keep thinking that while you do everything medical.  Brain shift in whatever age one finds oneself is required.  Feed yourself the correct narrative.

And find symbols.  Like the stitched womb, for a start.  Kathryn will find her own.

hammered aluminumCollecting hammered aluminum objects during my chemotherapy and long after, they shielded and comforted.  Also had two pairs of purple suede penny loafers during that time; wore them every day and wore them out too, but they stomped over cancer cells.

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Do you know the first life affirming thing she did from the hospital bed?  She bought a sweet little house!  She has it down.

TROUBLE COMES IN THREES: THE KITTIES

It is difficult to gauge when to start counting for three awful things.  In this last month of August, we have had several events to choose from, unhappily.   Perhaps in thinking this way, we start to “group”, hoping that the three have past and we can now breathe again.

An acquaintance recently died of colon cancer.  It hit me hard.  One of our art community,  I did business with her once a year.  She was 45.  The guilt crept in; at that age I was fighting the same damn thing, and came out the other side.  She never had a chance; by the time her cancer was diagnosed, it had moved to the liver.  She must have not had a history of this in her family like we did.  Colon cancer moves so slow initially;  this problem had been with her for some time.

Days later, Glenn’s mom died.  While we were in St. Louis taking care, my Mouse disappeared, and was never seen again.  Going on seventeen years with her, my son wailed.  She was my sister!  We spoke today about his luck in not losing many family members in his lifetime.  But many had been lost, he just never knew them.  Into my forties, I had three living grandparents.  He only ever had one.  Never knew the others.

So I thought the loss of my Mouse was it, ending the chapter of three.

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She had been around so long, it was unbelievable that she was not here.  Expressive with her white mittens, subtle with a voice more like a scratch in sound than anything else, her presence was everywhere here.  All her places.  All our routines.  At four PM we met at the pool every day to wind down.  She slept with her head on my pillow and we breathed in and out each others exhale.  We held hands.  We were bound at the hip.

The hole in my heart was so huge.  Mouse wanted to be “only kitty” and expressed this idea many times.  We had two other males for short times, they died, one from urology problems and one was bit by a snake.  They were barely tolerated by her.  After Dice died, we promised her that she could live out her life as the only.

Almost three weeks after Mouse’s disappearance, I called our vet to find out the costs of the series of shots and neutering for kittens.  Wanted to compare the price with that of the adoption fee at the shelter.  Had no idea to get kitties this soon.

Someone had found three kittens and a nine month old mother in a zipped up bag at the solid waste site.  He brought them to our vet, and they took them to adopt out.  The receptionist said they had been checked, had a feline leukemia test, were well socialized, weaned and potty trained.  And six weeks old!  We went to see them with our broken hearts.  They had such amazing blue eyes.

frida and carlos                                                  Carlos                                                                          Frida

There was a lack of communication between the two vets in the office.  We were sent off with adorable kitties, Frida and Carlos, Carlos with a little leaky bowel trouble.  They said there was nothing to do until their twelve day booster shots appointment.  Not true.  Carlos died in my arms after being with us six days.

We arrived at the animal hospital with Frida and dead Carlos last Thursday.  They kept her, streamed liquids into her.   They apologized for mistakes.

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Above is Frida about five days ago.  She is not near this fat now.  We are rotating holding her and pushing all kinds of foods and water.  If she survives we will be bound at the hip as well.

FIGHTING CANCER WITH HAMMERED ALUMINUM

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.

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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.

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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.

www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PllSO140673605746225.pdf     

Search in the box with “Lee Malerich”.

LASTING A VERY SHORT TIME

Once I was juried into a show called “Ephemeral”.  It was at Cal Tech as I remember and the show was very well done.  Fabulous catalog and invitation.  It included all media, and many definitions of the word: ephemeral.

Some works looked like ghosts.  Some self destructed.  My work at that time was about my colon cancer and its re-occurrence, so it was me, the artist that was ephemeral, not the work.  Still fit in.

Big opening, of course done without me, living so far away.  Carried off  in the absolute heights of coolness.

After a couple of weeks, the sprinkler system malfunctioned and would not shut off.  The art was recovered but the gallery walls were like soaked cardboard.   The truncated show was all over.  Ephemeral.

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