My Story/My Art

In 1994, I was 28 years old and recently married. I had a small, thriving, decorative painting business on Long Island, New York. I was healthy and an avid runner. I had a lovely home with my husband Alex, with a little room as my art studio. The future was bright. One day, I was painting a client’s ceiling with clouds and sky. As always, when painting a ceiling after many hours, my neck hurt. I came home, went for a run, took a shower hoping to ease my neck pain. My husband rubbed my stiff neck. As he was rubbing he noticed a lump on my right clavicle. He asked how long it had been there. I had not noticed. I returned to work the next day, not feeling great, body ache and a little nauseous. Could I be pregnant, I thought? The neck pain was getting unbearable, I went for a massage and then I was able to see a local chiropractor where I got an x-ray. The Chiropractor didn’t like what she saw and had me go down the block to a doctor who specialized in infectious disease. He had me go to a local lab to get blood work. 20 vials later I was able to go home. I remember the nurse at the lab saying, “they are looking for something…”, from a stiff neck I thought?

Within a few days, I got a call. “You have Lymphoma…” was all I heard. I had no idea what that was. There was no internet to look up the word. All I had was an old medical book from 1946. I learned Lymphoma was cancer of the lymphatic system. I was 28 and had stage llb Hogkins Lymphoma. It was often a young person’s cancer. I found a new doctor and an oncologist. When I went to the office with my Mom, all the patients were elderly. When the nurse called my name, they looked at my Mom. During the consultation, the doctor told me I had a grapefruit size mass between my heart and my lungs. I would need a prophylactic splenectomy and several rounds of radiation. The treatment will most likely leave you infertile. I ran out of the office to my car. I cried and cried. How was I going to tell my new husband, not only that I have cancer, but we couldn’t have kids? My mom got in the car and cried with me. I went home. I just recall my husband throwing a chair in anger and fear. We then went to fertility specialists. We were going to try to freeze my eggs, but ultimately there was no time. They wanted me to have surgery and radiation as soon as possible for fear of spreading. Lymphoma was the “easy” cancer when caught quickly, but it could easily spread quickly through the lymphatic system attaching to other organs. At this time, I went into my little art studio and drew large, rough, dirty and angry charcoals. I tore them off the wall and stuffed them in my closet, not to be seen.

1997, Three years later, I had a reoccurrence. The doctors were convinced what they saw in the cat scan was just scar tissue. One doctor encouraged me to get a biopsy. The cancer was back! This time I had chemotherapy ABVD. My life stopped again. Having a child was definitely out of the question. I was 31. I met with a new team of oncologists, they became my family. I had several rounds of chemo. During this time my artwork was large pensive portraits in pencil. Then, after two years, I was cleared of the disease. My Doctor said, ”Why don’t you try to have a child?” We DID try. In 2000, My Leonardo was born. Happy and healthy. My miracle! A happy ending to my cancer journey… so I thought.

In 2014, I found a lump in my breast. My gynecologist said it looked unimpressive, but he also said with my history I should get a mammogram and sonogram. I was able to get an appointment that afternoon. Within a day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And life was on hold once again. I was told I would need to have surgery and chemo. Apparently, the cancer was from the radiation I had 20 years earlier! I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction followed by four rounds of Cytoxen and Taxol and ten years of tamoxifen. Unfortunately, the implants caused five major infections which left me sick and septic and in the hospital for weeks at a time. Eventually, I had to have the infected implant removed and eventually removed the other implant. Now living flat with Aesthetic flat closure.

My art at this time was all about my new body. Women drawn with whimsy and thought-provoking body imagery. Most the women (me) are in trees, the birds are my breasts - saying goodbye. The birdcage my sexuality, my struggles. Sometimes I’m next to the birdcage, other times on it or in it. The string with the heart on the end is my ever-present HOPE!

My art is still ever-changing. Now I’m piecing together works I did over the 20 plus years ago. I’m still putting the pieces of my life together. My scars are the map of my ongoing journey. As happy as I am to be able to live this life my thoughts of having another cancer are always there Then, I look at my Leonardo and forget it all and smile!