Valentine’s Day at the MDA

Love at MD Anderson evidences itself in various ways: the valet attendant’s radiant smile greeting every anxious visitor as early as 6 am; my friend Michelle, the head phlebotomist in the blood lab welcoming me with, “Miss Carrie Pillsbury! Come on down!”eliciting laughter from patients and their families; the librarian who prepared Valentines chocolates and “Blind Dates with Books” for her patrons; and the volunteer delivering lollipops to each chemo room. What a place.

The ultrasound technician, however, stole my heart at 7 am when her scan revealed my tumor is “quite a bit smaller” and I would get details at my doctor appointment later in the day. As promised, my oncologist shared that the Taxol which rendered my face into the likeness of a smooth, white onion simultaneously diminished the tumor by 32%. While encouraged by the shrinking tumor, the real news behind the scan is that rogue cancer cells which skulked past my lymph nodes are also shrinking. The name of this game is elimination and so far, it seems, so good.

In keeping with the theme of the day, my chemo switched to a red color for the next 12 weeks. The “Red Devil” showed up for our first date today and I’ll let you know how we get along. Nurses loaded me up with four days worth of anti-nausea medicine prior to this new chemo in an attempt to heighten our compatibility. MD Anderson will monitor my actual heart from here on out to be sure it and the rest of my organs enjoy a healthy relationship.

In honor of Valentines Day, here are a few husband/wife artists  – most of whom did not enjoy a healthy relationship. In his blog post on The Huffington Post, Daniel Grant explains potential pros and cons of such a living arrangement:

Another artist will understand the art one is attempting to create, will accept the lifestyle and serve as an in-house supporter as well as an experienced eye. Another artist may also be in-house competition and one’s fiercest critic, resentful of one’s success and scornful in his or her own…Being an artist requires an ego of considerable size; two such people may find themselves clashing frequently, even if their disputes have nothing to do with their art or careers. Strong, unbending wills have destroyed more marriages than anything else.

Kahlo first met Rivera when she was fifteen years old and one of only 35 female students at a prestigious school in Mexico City where he was painting an early fresco. Ironically, his wife, Lupe, was there as well and grew jealous as this teenager watched Diego paint for hours. Lupe confronted Kahlo, but the young girl just stared back, at which point Lupe said, “Look at that girl! Small as she is, she does not fear a tall, strong woman like me. I really like her.” So did her husband, who married Frida seven years later (he was 42 at the time). Theirs was a fiery, temperamental and open marriage (she had affairs with Russian leader Leon Trotsky and French starlet Josephine Baker, he with her younger sister). They remained together – except for a quick divorce and remarriage the same year – until Kahlo’s death at 54.

Observe how Frida depicts their relationship in her painting. Rivera takes the forefront of the image in a stolid stance, the acknowledged painter of the duo holding his supplies. Conversely, the artist of the portrait repersents herself as diminutive, with barely visible feet that seem to skim the ground in an ephemeral state. She’s wrapped in bright colors of the Mexican people and bends her head (in admiration? acquiescence?) to her older, more famous husband.  This is a great read about how the artists first met; this New York Times article chronicles their relationship; and this post by Alexxa Gotthardt lets us in on the couples love letters.


Another famous artist couple is Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. Thirty-three years old when she met Pollock, Kranser was already a well-known and respected artist and leveraged her influence to introduce Pollock to iconic art critic Clement Greenburg and also artists including Willem de Kooning. Her art took a backseat when Pollock’s star (and alcoholism) went on the rise. After achieving international esteem as one of the preeminent abstract expressionists, Pollock died in a drunk driving accident; his mistress riding shotgun survived. Freed from the burden of keeping her husband afloat, Krasner returned to painting with vivacity and remains one of the few women with a retrospective show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“I happened to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock and that’s a mouthful,” Krasner said. “I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent…I’m always going to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock – that’s a mater of fact – [but] I painted before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock.”

A few other artistic couples:

O’Keefe described in a 1929 letter to Stieglitz from her eventual home in New Mexico the difficulties of co-existing as artists and spouses:

There is much life in me — when it was always checked in moving toward you — I realized it would die if it could not move toward something … I chose coming away because here at least I feel good — and it makes me feel I am growing very tall and straight inside — and very still — Maybe you will not love me for it — but for me it seems to be the best thing I can do for you — I hope this letter carries no hurt to you — It is the last thing I want to do in the world.

A benefit of the cancer is that I, too, am growing tall and straight inside, and sometimes I’m very still. I’m more curious than afraid of coming side effects, but I’m ready, partly because I know that the Peanuts clip (below) is true and I have a lot, a lot of friends pulling for me.

I enjoyed a champagne/Valentine’s toast with Eliza and Mark when we returned from MD Anderson (believing Hampton was either still at track practice or lost and at that point, what could we really do to affect his status?) We rejoiced with another toast when our only son did, in fact, survive the four-block walk home from middle school in the dark and presented me with a rose — not from him, but from his friend Adam, who was told by his mother to give the rose to Mr. Vagil the math teacher this morning. Adam refused on principle and gave it to me instead. #adamwins #chemoovercalcluations

Happy Valentines, Galentines, Hallmark Holiday and Tuesday, everyone. I’m just happy to complete phase 1 and start phase 2 of #CarriesCancerCapers.

Top image: “Bloomings” by Cy Twombley, 2001-2008



4 thoughts on “Valentine’s Day at the MDA

  1. Pam Evans says:

    Couldn’t be happier about the success of round one! And you endured it with such grace. ❤ So glad you enjoyed a toast; that photo of you three is perfection.
    Standing ready as a prayer warrior to help get you through the ‘red devil’ round. Hope that devil gives you another wonderful result when you’re done. Love you, Carrie.


  2. Eva Talbot says:

    So happy about your results! You have persevered with true grace. I know you will continue with this next phase with your awesome strength, beautiful writing and your witness of faith. Love you, Carrie Pillsbury!


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