Sunday, March 3, 2013

Digital Story

Here's a link to a recent digital story I created with the help of art therapist Sibel Ozer.
A Little Window of Time

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Can I Get a Witness?

The most sustaining thing for me during cancer and chemo was my connection with people.  Many have supported me by their presence, their words, their food, their cards, their gifts, their humor.  Sometimes just to have a witness gives me the strength to carry on.

I am scheduled to have my chest port removed in two days.  My doctor said the choice about keeping it or removing it “is a personal decision, not a medical one.”  So out it comes.  I remember when it was installed.  I’d been told anesthesia was optional for the procedure and I was hungry that morning so I ate breakfast.  Then when I came to the center for the procedure everyone there was horrified that I was going to go through this with only local anesthesia.  But, but, you guys are the ones that said it was optional!

I was still in disbelief of my diagnosis, just two weeks out from the surgery that provided the diagnosis.  I had Ovarian Cancer, stage 3-C.  Before that, only four days post surgery, a resident tossed over her shoulder the words, “Oh, I scheduled you to have a chest port installed before you leave the hospital.”  She had the door half closed as she was stepping out, a big smile on her face.  I said no.  As groggy as I was I wasn’t ready for the rush.  Nobody talked to me about this.  I was still trying to wrap my head around the idea that I had cancer.   Next time she came in I told her “no port.” 

I fielded a phone call from my oldest son later that day and told him how upset I was about what just happened.  He suggested I ask the doctors “to over-explain” to me.  I spoke to my husband and told him what Jesse said.  “I need them to over-explain to me what’s going on.”  He said something along those lines to the resident and that appointment was cancelled. 

The port installation was then scheduled for about ten days later.  I ate breakfast.  The staff was horrified.  With local anesthetic only I was opened up, cut, stitched, installed, closed, more stitching.  I cried through the whole thing.  One nurse came over to my head and stroked my hair.  I still had hair!  She said, “It’s everything, isn’t it?”  I had a moment of communion with her.  A moment of pure witnessing and support.

Back to having a witness.  It’s what I do for a living.  I’m a witness.  I’m an art therapist and I work with people struggling emotionally or physically, helping them to make art.  Since my own diagnosis about 9 months ago I have come to an even greater appreciation of the necessity to have a witness.  It’s hard to explain the experience of being present with someone in pain or confusion or need.  The gift is equal whether I am the person in need or the person sitting beside her/him.

I Will Be

Hedy was sitting by my bedside. She said, “You don’t remember our grandparents, do you?” No, I don’t. I almost remember a piece of furniture in the basement, an empty buffet that I was crawling inside of to play hide and seek. The scent of its interior. I remember someone telling me, “You can’t go in there, that was Bubby’s.” And wondering who Bubby was. I didn't quite remember the person of that name, but the olfactory trigger may have been there for a moment. Then it was gone and I was looking for another place to hide. I was maybe three years old.

Anyway, now I am 59 years old and in a hospital bed. I was just gutted like a fish, or in medical speak, “optimally debulked.” I’d rather say “debunked.” Hedy said, rhetorically, innocently, “You don’t remember our grandparents, do you?” And I said no. I thought, but didn’t say, “and what if I don’t get to know my grandchildren, either?” Hot tears came down my face and I had to stop them. I didn’t have the intestinal fortitude (literally) to blow my nose if I started to cry. I was held together with tape and staples from my solar plexus to my pubic bone. Everything hurt, despite the morphine-on-demand button. Sad at the truncated life I was allotted. Not much of a link to my lineage, my forebears and descendants. Disconnected from the past and the future. Not fair. There is no “fair” to any of this. Taking that idea out of the equation then, it’s just sad to think I will have such a short life.

Fast forward for another month. We have just dropped off Jesse & Juliet at the airport. They’re heading back to New York after a brief visit to the shocked couple. Matt and I are reeling from the surprise diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer, Stage III-C. Surgery. Chemotherapy. I’ve just hugged goodbye my 6’ 5” son, 32 years old. I’m already fighting tears of loss. As we drive away from the airport curb Matt tells me that next time Jesse will come alone because Juliet is working with a fertility doctor and may not be able to fly. Loose the floodgates. Now I’m really crying. I WILL get to meet my grandchildren! My body goes warm, the hot tears run. Oh, why didn’t they tell me? I want to slobber all over my very proper daughter in law and love all over her. Oh, Juliet! Oh, Jesse! How can I ever thank you for changing my entire life?

 Fast forward 6 months more. I am through chemo. My hair makes soft fuzz on my bare scalp. Juliet and Jesse are pregnant with TWINS! My five words to cancer are: “I will be a grandmother!” No, wait. I will be a Bubby.