ART after CANCER

My body betrayed me.

One day I found myself clinging to life in a sterile hospital room on a closed floor in the Vancouver General Hospital. There I silently slipped into a sterile system of tubes, fluids, chemicals, warning labels and the humming of machines. My body was toxic including anything that came out of it. There was a biohazard sign lying across my private room’s toilet and anything that came out of me was put into a bucket with the bright green biohazard sticker on top. The bucket would be sealed and then taken away and destroyed. One day I threw up on the floor and everyone was shuffled out of my room. They placed a security guard outside of my room’s door until the special cleaners in HAZMAT suits were finished and had left.

I suffered many violations and indignities to my body through those times and the four and a half years since. After the bone marrow transplant the very DNA that determines who I am was obliterated. My immune system and blood that flows through my body now is not my own. It is my donor’s blood, my brother’s.

Somewhere within that, art took on a new role in my life. I had never paid much attention to my self, just concentrated on my sons and my schoolwork. Now as a brutal turn, all eyes were on me. That was the day I turned the camera lens around.

As my body struggled through it’s necessary life threatening journey I felt like a documentary journalist. This kept me sane. Instead of grief, I felt curiosity.

As I sat alone in my hospital room, an ocean away from my children and anything that was familiar, I was afraid I would be forgotten. Life went on without me. I felt like I needed to live so I could at least create enough artwork so I wouldn’t fade away into nothingness. I didn’t know who I was anymore, without my children, without my artwork, without the feel of the green grass beneath my feet. I was nothing.

Art became an act of self-preservation. I needed to know who I had been, who I was and who I was becoming. People without cancer think it’s something you beat and then leave behind. Most often cancer becomes who you are, something that cannot be separated from you, chemically, emotionally and physically. For me with my stem cell transplant I have been altered at a cellular level. I am a walking science experiment, a freak of nature, minus the nature. Even medical science calls what I went through, a rebirth.

So I decided to embrace it. I decided to ride it like an ocean wave, not sure where it will take me. As I lived with the constant flowering and blooming of bruises on my damaged body I imagined the colours in my own way. I dreamt of having long black hair again when I tired of my bald head. I created a vision of my brother’s cells taking over like small bright stars that would save my life. I drew whatever I was feeling but more often than not, I painted my power. I painted the strength inside of me that pulled me through. I took photos of and drew my pain, my vulnerability and my grief.

I created a new narrative, one where I am the heroine. I took this broken body, my betrayer, this lemon and showed it for what it truly is, beautiful.

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