Today was my first meeting with the surgeon at MD Anderson. Dr. Huang and her nurses, Nancy and Ethyln, were as impressive as the information they shared overwhelming. I wept on the table, on the way home (not giving my Whataburger order at the drive thru) and as I crawled into bed next to the flowers, card and salt scrub Laran Harris delivered while I was at the doctor.
I questioned, through tears, my emotional outburst. Nancy the nurse offered her explanation: This was the end of one phase of cancer and the beginning of the next; and both phases are L-O-N-G. This surgery phase, she said, marks a slowing down. Each Tuesday, I took on “Taxol times 12” (as she called once a week for twelve weeks) and I’m about to finish AC times 4. The weeks have been active in many ways: for others who bring meals and care for me, and also personally as I gear up, recover and start over again, saying, “Thank you, may I have another.”
Now, it’s as if my cancer marathon hits a Houston pot hole. After going and going, coping and coping, growing and growing, the pace of my race and my false sense of control transfers into the hands of the anesthesiologist, oncology surgeon and plastic surgeon. I weep from relief because I feel as if my part of the battle takes a break. I weep at the realization that I’ve made it this far. I weep in fatigue and the in the hope that, although I fought to keep things “normal” for my children, they will one day realize how hard it’s been and be proud of me.
The plans for the next three weeks are as follows:
- Complete AC4 next Tuesday, ring that bell and be done with chemo forever.
- Meet with my plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction – also a process that will only begin with the mastectomy. Once we confirm there is no leftover cancer, I will either get “spacers” (balloons they expand weekly until I’m the perfect size) or have a “flap” procedure, using tissue from another part of my body, such as my ample stomach. I’m voting for Option B.
- Meet again with Dr. Huang, my oncology surgeon. In addition to finalizing paperwork, she will inject dye into my sentinel node under my right arm the day before surgery. While all indications are that the cancer has not spread, these nodes will tell for sure. A nurse measured my right arm today as a baseline because, should they have to take out multiple nodes under my arm, I will be subject to lymphedema.
- Meet with the anesthesiologist, I guess to introduce myself.
- Complete final preparations, including chest X-ray, EKG and ultrasound to confirm size of tumor. And,
- In mid-May, undergo the three-hour surgery. Dr. Huang will remove my port, Rose, at this time. #RIPRose
My gatekeepers, Ellen Schuster and Valerie Tompson, took me this morning. They asked more questions than I did, thankfully, so I think we’re clear on what’s to come. While waiting for the doctor, Ellen envisioned the cutouts of Matisse on the dressing room curtain. “Maybe you can blog about how Matisse turned to cut outs when his health made painting impossible,” she said. “It’s an example of how our pits become our wells – how what we think are the lowest points become the thing we draw from.” Smarty pants.
“A brilliant final chapter in Matisse’s long career, the cut-outs reflect both a renewed commitment to form and color and an inventiveness directed to the status of the work of art, whether as a unique object, environment, ornament, or a hybrid of all of these.” – Museum of Modern Art
Matisse is regarded as the greatest colorist of the twentieth century and the founder of a genre of art called Fauvism, which chronologically came after Post-Impressionism. According to Khan Academy’s site:
“When shown at the 1905 Salon d’Automne (an exhibition organized by artists in response to the conservative policies of the official exhibitions, or salons) in Paris, the contrast to traditional art was so striking it led critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe the artists as ‘Les Fauves’ or ‘wild beasts,’ and thus the name was born.”
Matisse applied vivid color palettes to landscapes, the human body and ordinary things – the topic of a current exhibit of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Late in his life, following surgeries for intestinal issues that left him wheelchair bound, Matisse “painted with scissors,” bringing his trademark vibrancy to works that incorporated white paper painted by assistants and cut by the artist. Although an atheist, Matisse considered cut outs created for the Chapel of the Rosary of the Dominicans at Vence, France, his masterpiece. The “Matisse Chapel” is one of four churches that Father Marie-Alain Couturier showed Jean and Dominique de Menil after World War II, convincing them of the necessity to reunite the sacred with art. Consequently, Houston’s Rothko Chapel came to be, dedicated in 1971.
In his review of the MFA Boston’s Matisse exhibit, Wall Street Journal writer Eric Gibson writes:
How does an artist’s mind work? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, but broadly speaking we can say that it [the mind] passes external stimuli through the refiner’s fire of an individual sensibility or vision.”
His words resonate with me because I feel as though I’ve been through a refiner’s fire, with cancer burning away the dross of that which matters less. Old Testament prophet Zechariah spoke for God when he wrote:
“And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
I have felt tested in MANY ways, not just health, and have called out and groaned, full of sorrow. Yet God answers every time and one of the sweetest ways was through an invitation to participate in the 30th Annual Art Car Parade last weekend. Thank you, Sarah Gish, for listening to the Spirit, which put my name on your heart, and for inviting me to join your Phoenix Rising car crew. I soared on Saturday with you and the other Flames! Matisse used scissors, paper and shapes imposed onto other surfaces to create his cut outs. He would have loved art cars.
(P.S. – After starting this post, I realized that Laran was prescient in picking the card to accompany my “coming home from the surgeon gift.” It’s a quote from Matisse!)
(P.P.S. – In honor of Holy Week, I chose Matisse’s Sorrow of the King as the top photo. While he created this as his final self-portrait which referenced one of Rembrandt‘s canvases, the work references for me the gravity of Good Friday. So, Happy Passover and Easter to you, as well.)
Enjoy this short video of the Tate Museum’s Matisse’s exhibit, learning “five things you need to know” about his cut outs, and a precious ABC13 news clip of Art Cars at my niece and nephew’s school. Learn about other chapels created by artists here. And over the holiday, make your own cut outs a lá Matisse with this tutorial.