When I felt a lump in my armpit while showering one morning in the summer of 2000, breast cancer was the furthest thing from my mind. I was 33, still nursing my youngest son and had no family history of this. I was only concerned enough to think I should get it checked out… probably a blocked milk duct. As I looked at myself in the mirror, towel wrapped around my head, I quickly dismissed the image of that being how I’d look with no hair. The “cancer bug” had already hit our family, with my Dad and a favorite uncle having recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer. That seemed like enough. But, it bit again – this time, me.
Within a week, I had a diagnosis of stage 3, grade 3 infiltrating ductal carcinoma. What I’d felt was one of the ten lymph nodes it had already traveled to. A surgeon I’d never met was quickly found and he let me go on a previously planned trip to Seattle – which gave me time to mentally prepare for this new and unplanned, dreaded journey. I had the “full course” of treatment – mastectomy, 6 months of chemo, radiation, then ovary removal and Aromasin, an anti-estrogen medication. That was 6 years ago – although I prefer to mark the time since I finished treatment and beat this @%*&@$ disease, in March of 2001. It’s a much happier time to remember than when I was diagnosed. That was the worst day of my life – I received the diagnosis while at work, in the middle of seeing a patient – but the last day of treatment was one of the best. My whole extended family came up for a surprise visit, with dinner and flowers and a champagne toast. They, as well as my husband, Ben, and many wonderful friends, are the ones who really helped me to get through this. My kids helped too – at ages 1 and 3, they helped keep me busy enough to keep my mind off things. And, they were my whole reason for living!
I LOVE the chance to be creative, more now than ever. When I heard about this event I called and asked to be a part of it! It was a great excuse for a new creative endeavor and for a great cause as well. I feel honored to be allowed to participate, although I’ve missed getting to work alongside all the other survivor artists, since I live in Oshkosh, not Milwaukee. I’ve thought of them as I’ve painted, wondering what their chairs were turning into.
As with most things I’ve ever created, my ideas develop as I work. I only knew I wanted to use my favorite colors, periwinkle and lime green, and that the chair would look whimsical and fun. I think of this chair as a deserved resting spot for someone who’s undergone a long and tiring journey such as breast cancer. On the other hand, I think of the LeeAnn Womack song “I Hope You Dance”, a favorite of so many breast cancer survivors I’ve met… “and when you get the choice to SIT it out or dance… I hope you dance!” Like she says, may we never take one single breath for granted. I hope people can look at this chair and be inspired not to sit, but to DANCE, CREATE, and LIVE!