All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life. —M. C. Richards


A former co-worker of mine who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer (which he went on to survive) mentioned to his doctor that he should probably quit his singing group while he tended to cancer business. His doctor told him, “Don’t stop doing the things you love. It sends the wrong message.”

Art is my first love. As soon as I held my first crayon, I was home. I haven’t given it as much time as I should through the years, being misled into thinking that school and work and relationships and bills and a whole lot of things like that were more important at given times. But just before I got my diagnosis, I happened to be enrolled in a ceramics class at the local community college. Though that class finished before I began treatment, I remembered reading about my co-worker continuing to sing through his treatment and I felt there was something about that that resonated with me. I rifled around in my art supplies and found a sketchbook in mint condition and decided that I would draw one thing a day through chemo, no matter what. Kept that promise, too. Once or twice the output wasn’t much. But that wasn’t the point. Later on, once I had me some hair, I went back to the ceramics class and it has felt as important to my recovery as anything else I’ve done. I urge every patient out there to consider this. Whatever your art is, get with it now.

My husband plays in a volunteer orchestra that puts on several concerts a year. I decided I wanted him to keep going, too. I didn’t want me
or mine sending the wrong message. Once he had a rehearsal while I was still recovering from my surgery, so I asked a neighbor to bring her crocheting over and be in the house with me while he was gone. She got a big piece of work done sitting in front of our fire while I slept upstairs. I didn’t make it to that particular concert of his, or the one after. But I did show up at the one after that, wearing my head scarf.

Live music is plentiful and cheap where I live and I go out to see a lot of it. I’ve even been to see my oncologist play out. Because it follows that in Portlandia one’s oncologist has a goatee and plays guitar in a rock band. In fact, his band is made up wholly of gynecological oncologists and they call themselves
N.E.D. which stands for "no evidence of disease" and is the term of art now used instead of remission. Their poster used to hang in my cancer center, them posing all badass in black leather and sunglasses with the slogan, “Six Doctors You Don’t Want to Meet in a Hospital.” No kidding.

So I keep playing with clay, going out to hear live music, making our holiday cards every year and getting to the museum just as often as I can. One or more of these things is working. ###

Illustration from my sketchbook.