The Self Portrait Project

April 11, 2011

Me again. Jack and I recently worked on a project together and I thought I’d share it with you all. In a nutshell, we created a scrapbook for the infusion suite I spent so much time at this past year over at Baylor. The idea was that patients about to finish treatment could take a sturdy blank page and create something that represented who they were – a picture, a text, a collage – no rules other than keeping it to the page. We believed that, aside from providing some benefit to the patient via defining themselves anew, it would provide some solace to the new patients in the throes of their “WTF?!” and “woe is me” moments.

As the primary instigator, of course, I was the first to create a “self-portrait” (as we call them). Aside from a few pictures and a 4-leaf clover I glued to the page, I included this text.

To those yet to come ~

I started this journey in February 2010, diagnosed with Stage III ductal carcinoma, as a 42-year old mother, employee, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, niece, (soon to be) ex-wife, girlfriend and pet owner with shoulder-length, layered hair, a twisted sense of humor, a passion for language and an ever-present sense that, when not sleeping, I should be doing something with my hands.

Today, I am a year older and, with the exception of my much shorter hair, by all appearances, otherwise unchanged.

But I am changed. I have new scars – and not the variety of scars that men find sexy. I have my first tattoos – albeit five tiny dots, not what I expected to one day be my first – I felt the otherwise imperceptible Houston breeze on my bald scalp, there are hospital and doctor records with my name on them that I never imaged would exist and I understand the particulars of my benefits plan with an intimacy that only a benefits administrator should possess.

Beyond this, I am both changed and not. My spiritual beliefs remain as they were yet stronger as a result of having the time and inclination for closer inspection. I love wholeheartedly but a bit less recklessly. I am still an island, but now recognize the archipelago that surrounds me. And, perhaps most importantly, if I died tomorrow – hit by a bus or struck by lightning – I would be as proud of my life as I would have ever been, but I no longer mistake the fact I would be proud for the belief I could die happily.

I am still me – just more so.

Someone once told me, “The gift is in the wound.” I never once believed I required a gift so large as to necessitate this measure of a wound. I have not always, but many times, enjoyed these gifts. I also now understand that the gifts of my wounds are not always for me alone – that sometimes we suffer so others may learn. I do not believe my cancer was the manifestation of repressed emotion or some karmic payback. I have stopped asking “Why?” as if the answer would somehow quiet my search for reason and not simply spawn a thousand more unanswerable questions. I do know that it is not a disease of the weak and I marvel at the fact that so few had ever recognized my strength before.

People I know and people I don’t all over the world have spent the past year praying for a cure and, without question, I am happy today to have been “cured.” But I don’t for one second wish this had not occurred – there is so much I would not have learned.

So, to those yet to come, throw back your shoulders, stand tall and open your eyes to the wonders that surround you today and tomorrow and the day after that.

Considering the alternatives, you got a better idea?


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