The final session.

4 people showed up.

We had to do 2 paintings.

The first:



Paint what your holding on to.  The first step was to write down what I felt I am holding on to. Not as easy as I thought it would be. Do you just think of the positive things, the negative things. Are you actually holding on to the negative things, or trying to get rid of them? I made a list, deciding that your are hopefully getting rid of the negatives, holding on to the positives.

Love, Relationships, Faith.

Now what? The final answer. The painting above. The relationship as evidenced by nature living together. The nourishing sun, the mighty tree strong of trunk, providing shade for the grass and the flowers that thrive in its shadow. A central strength protecting the more frail. Someone asked about the flowers on the right being different from the ones on the left. I got tired of painting individual blotches and took a wild fancy tot he easy way out. Nothing symbolic there. What about the open space on either side of the trunk. Unless you are talking about a willow tree, there is always white space on either side of a tree trunk. Nothing symbolic there either. The moderator loved this and saw all sorts of deep meanings in it. That felt kind of good.

The second:

Amulet of Light

Amulet of Light

We were asked to paint one last time and give the painting as a gift to the person on our right. This was the gift given me.

This represents one of those things that heroes in movies hurl at the enemy in the hopes of witnessing total annihilation. It is very pretty and quite cool.

This one was easy for me. I painted a big blue canvas with a green ribbon around it, and a touch of red on the ribbon. This went to my friend of the anxiety attacks. As I said, too easy.

We had a pot luck of sorts. Difficult to have a pot luck between the hours of 10 and 12. One person brought a salad. The rest of us brought sweets, shortbread cookies, brownies, lemon tarts, and my Iranian nuts and Baghlava.

Nothing deep was discussed. It was a light morning.

One person drew a bunch of boxes in various colours representing the pack rat that she is collecting all sorts of stuff. She is gradually learning to let go of things. Cleaning the basement. Throwing things out. What an effort that is.

Another painted a bunch of flowers each representing an emotion. Red rose for love, purple iris for hope, bluebells,  and daisies. I did not take notes, so I forget what those represented. The daisy was very bright. The bluebells sweet, fragile, and pretty. Finally, a large bush of thorns. An obvious one. The thorns were paler than the other flowers. A fading past, with the other flowers representing a more optimistic future.

The last person painted something very abstract which I cannot begin to describe. She went on at length about the colours fading into one another, but I was not clear what any of it represented, and no one else appeared to be very clear either. A big was made about the right side versus the left side of the painting. She said she is holding on to herself. Letting go of her anger.

That is about all there is to say.

I am late, so very very late
So sorry to be so late

Truth be told, the therapy sessions are as interesting as ever but have evolved into very personal disclosures.  The group has also dwindled to three people, the two ladies who read this blog and me. The tone of the conversation has changed quite a bit. Much calmer, and, as I said, much more personal. We have engaged Our moderator a lot more in the conversations, finding out about his past and how he got involved in Art Therapy. A bit about his childhood, and his current life. But nothing too deep or involved – yet.

I have not take notes, not that the current participants would have minded. The intimacy of the conversations would have made the notes useless anyways.

The paintings have been more of a free for all as opposed to anything specific.

Session 5:



All our negative feelings and emotions cram themselves into our bodies and minds creating a feeling of claustrophobia.  This is hopefully broken up by the better feelings that creep in gradually into our system. The negatives are far more powerful. The better feelings being of a meeker nature tend to hang around the periphery doing their job in a much more sedate way.The red and dark blue on top are the bad feelings, anxiety, despair, anger, depression, loneliness, exhaustion, self-pity, and any others you can think of. You cannot read them on the picture just because they are hard to read on the painting itself.

The painting did not come out as I had hoped. I may try my hand at a second version sometime.

Session 6:

Blood Cell Factory

Blood Cell Factory

This drawing was prompted by two events. The first is the effects of my low white blood cell count. The second was my doodling one night while talking with Leslie.  She thinks doodling is fun and should be done more often. So This is basically a giant doodle.

The sometimes heart shaped drops represent the dwindling white blood cell count. The factory is balanced precariously and is having difficulty creating enough white blood cells. There is little significance to the various shapes and objects. I was doodling after all. The participants thought the balancing act was interesting, as is the fact that all objects are tied to one another in some way. The double hoops created a bit of conversation. I put them there because I got bored of all the straight lines. They proved difficult to work with though. Where do you go from there? The image is slanted to the right, a sign of looking to the future?

One og the participants drew a circle – again! Much as I keep playing with words, she keeps playing with circles. A target perhaps? Life going in circles? She is a very positive person and is dealing with her life admirably well. At least from the perspective of a person who gets to spend two hours a week with her. She also drew a second piece. A fairy. A fairy princess maybe? The fairy was resting, dainty wings tucked to one side. Her face was very calm. The image was very resting, strangely positive. I hope to ba able to take a picture of it at some point. She may not be at the last session this week. She might go traveling somewhere. Just to have abreak.

The last painting dealt with the confusion in our lives, the swirls that we go through hoping to break though the wall that surrounds and contains the maze in a more straightforward path looking to the future. Cannot say much more about it than that.

I am perpetually amazed by the articulate nature of what people draw or paint.

We talked about a lot of stuff. How cold it will feel once my head is shaved. I have not done it yet. I have SO much hair, that few can tell I am losing any of it. I got a gift of a beautiful silk scarf from one of the ladies. I am so touched. We talked about chemo, and its effect on the brain and the body. The amazing doctors and nurses we deal with. How strong we have to be. What a strain it is on those around us. How life is worth living. How we grew up. What affected us. And so much more. The conversation was easy. All that was missing was tea and crumpets.

This week is out last session. We intend to have some sort of pot luck. I will take in some Iranian nuts and stuff. Pistachios, mulberries, and mixes. Should be fun.

Thank you for being there.

The Oncologist

We received an eMail from  our Oncologist”s assistant, Shahnaz, that we should come in ad see Dr. Hedley on Wednesday, the day before our chemo. He needs to see the blood results and discuss us taking Neulasta, a drug designed to boost the white blood cell count. It appears to be standard release in the breast cancer clinics. That is as long as you can afford the $2,800 per month price tag. This drug is not covered by our delightful universal health care system. The cost is covered by Janet’s rivate health care plan courtesy of Ogilvy & Mather.

I did the required blood work on Wednesday morning. Went to the Art Therapy session, home for a bite, the to see the ever delightful Dr. Hedley. Have I mentioned how incredibly kind and gentle this man is? Well, that has not changed from our last visit. We discussed the benefits of Neulasta, and the inevitable side effects. My chemo starts on Thursday, I get disconnected from the baby bottle on Saturday. Neulasta is set for Monday. Would I care to self-administer? Think not! I will let Shahnaz do the honours.

The CEA blood results were positive in that the numbers are declining. Dr. Hedley did not make a fuss about them. I think we need a couple more counts to determine the trend. Two counts create an indicator. Four will start creating a trend of sorts.

My white blood cell count is low. We went from 0.8, to 3.9, back to 0.8, up to 6.7, down to 0.8. The last count from Wednesday morning showed a dramatic nothingness. Up to 0.9. Neulasta it is then. The good doctor says we cannot afford to iss these weeks.

I cannot pretend I understand what these number represent. All I know is that my chart has little asterisks whenever a number is too high or too low. I cannot understand why a number would  drop from 6.7 to 0.8 in one week. and no one appears to have an explanation. There appears o be lot of, this is just the way it is. I am as accepting as the next guy, but it would be nice to know.

I have been told to rest a lot. But that has not helped. I wrote an entry a while ago about the voice as a barometer. That has not changed My voice fluctuates with the state of my health. It is almost a whisper at the moment and has been for over a week. It made a comeback after the visit with Dr. Hedley which shows that the voice is affected by physical and psychological impulses. It went back to a whisper on Thursday in honour of chemo day.

Chemo Day

I was delighted that my appointment was for 8:30 in the morning. A couple of hours on the chair, home, hopefully before noon, great way to start the day. Better home around noon that at 7PM.

What a disaster. we got there at 8:30 and had to wait for them to get in touch with Dr. Hedley to make sure we could go ahead with he treatments. His office had not updated the files. They are all so over worked, it is not funny. We had waited an hour when Janet went to investigate. She located Shahnaz who works in the breast clinic on Thursdays. The clinic is located right next door to the Chemo Daycare. This was a no brainer. Shahnaz call it in.

My drugs had not been prepared, since they were not expecting me to get treated. We waited another half hour and I went in to investigate. They explained that they are waiting for the pharmacy but do not have a set time. I was pretty wasted by 10:30 and went to investigate again. The people at the front desk gave me a very hard time. Interrupting me. asking me why I was asking so often. They decided to have the nurses all me in to get rid of me. I refused to go and sit in the chair inside. What is the difference between waiting outside or inside if they do not know how long the wait is?

They gave me a pager and Janet and I decided to get get a bite. I had a chicken salad sandwich on brown with all the trimmings. That and a bottle of water, and I was back in shape. The pager went off almost as soon as I had finished my scrumptious meal.

We wnet in as instructed and made our way to our station. A very young nurse, as it turn out 23 years old would look after us. She said later that she thought I would be trouble. The best thing that happened is that one of the nurses with whom I get along particularly well came by and we joked around for a while. That helped ease any notions that I would be trouble.

This is a great department. Once you go through the doors to the clinic itself. The staff at the front desk have issues. They are in the wrong job. We appear to be in their way, and they are rarely prepared to help out.

We were finally out of there by 1:30. Ridiculous I say. Had a bite to eat, and straight to bed for a couple of hours of sleep.

The nurses in the Daycare do a lot of cross checking before giving you drugs. They check your tag, cross referencing your hospital number, last and first names, and finally ask your date of birth. The do this every time they connect you to a drug. They had misplaced my 5FU drug. This is the one in the baby bottle that I get to take home with me. They found it, but all the cross referencing prevents them from giving it to the wrong person.

Not much more to say about this. Looking forward to the Neulasta. Could use the energy boost.

Thank you for reading.

We become cancer patients and are told that it is now all about us. I suspect that all chronic disease patients are told the same thing. It is a way to make us feel less guilty about our condition. We are an instant burden to those around us. And Lord knows there is a lot of guilt.

Some of us go from being full fledged contributing members of society to depending on everyone else for our daily needs. Suddenly rendered useless by the sudden waves of exhaustion that overwhelms our minds and bodies. Spending too much time in bed, with way too much time to think of our plight, which is supposed to make things easier, and often times does. Until you hear the vacuum going, that was my job. The cleaning. The cooking. All the mundane activities that you used to rue, you now want to take part of, oh so desperately.

It is all about you. Take advantage. Lie around and get better. Let others pitch in and do the work. It is probably good for them to see how much work it takes to run a house. How much work you did. Janet and I have reversed positions. She was in the main role, and I in the supporting one, making sure the laundry was done, so we never run out of underwear, and so on.

It is all about me.

I was given a present recently by a friend. Janet was not sure how I would react to it. It was a graphic novel published in 1994 called Our Cancer Year. The authors, Harvey Pekar, and Joyce Brabner, are a husband and wife team. She wrote, he was the victim, the afflicted one. He comes across as a real jerk. Why anyone would want themselves portrayed that way is beyond me. It is a bit like those shows, you know the ones, Canada’s Worst Drivers. Why would anyone in their right mind want to be on those. Hey look everyone, I am a bad driver, cheer for me.

I almost did not finish the book. The guy delayed his visit to the doctor until the tumour was very large. And he works in a hospital in the U.S., and is covered by insurance. He delays until the operation becomes more major that it should have been. A bit like not going for a regular colonoscopy when you turn 50. Not that we know ANYONE who has done that, now do we? He is then subjected to chemo treatments and all the usual stuff. He is a real jerk. At one point in the book, his wife mentions that she became an expert at crying in bed without shaking so as to wake him up.

We are so self absorbed in our own plight that we forget that others are suffering too. I remember when my mother was going through her cancer. It took her life within a year. She was always smiling making slight of her issues. We were all crying, losing sleep, wondering what the future held for her, for us. She was the matriarch. Nothing happened in the house without her say-so. She was the ruler. What would we do without her. She spent her last three weeks in the hospital. My Dad, brother and I made funeral arrangements. No sense in leaving things to the last minute. It was a bizarre experience to say the least. Baha’i rules and regulations require that the body be washed and wrapped in a certain amount of silk material in preparation for burial. Prayers are read during the process. My sisters had to do the honours. It was quite a to-do making those arrangements with the funeral parlour. We are talking about 30 years ago.

Here I am, 30 years later, going through some very similar issues as she did. Operation, a major one, followed by recuperation, then chemo. Oh that chemo. I am having a better time of it than she did. Still self-absorbed, effectively ignoring the feelings of those around me, or at the very least, paying scant attention. Asking the same questions over and over again, never remembering the answer. It is all about me after all. I am entitled to be self absorbed and forgetful.

The conversations in the Art Therapy sessions have reinforced these notions. Why do people not understand what we are going through? Why do we keep having to explain ourselves? Defend our plight? You have read about this in previous postings. Yet here we are totally oblivious to others. This appears perfectly normal and consistent with many dealing with chronic conditions. Does not make it right, just the way it is. The incessant questions for which we do not have answers, the constant struggles with our own emotions, the ups and downs that plague us daily.

People around us are suffering as well. In some ways more than us. We have a bit more control over what we are going through, believe it or not. I think it is always easier for the person with the chronic condition that for those around you. Hence the constant looks and questions from Janet whenever I make a move. The concerned look in my sister’s eyes when she is here and I make a move. The constant monitoring of my barometer like voice fluctuations. The phone calls and emails that come before and after chemo days, or oncologist visits. All are part of the new normal, the equation that will eventually pay dividends.

I have caught myself bringing the conversation back to my cancer when people dare talk about anything else while I am in the room. How could they be so insensitive? I did this several times, before noticing the trend. It disturbed me. The graphic novel added one more element to consider.

I asked Janet one night at 11PM whether she had cried a lot. She smiled and said of course. I could not talk about it any more. Just had to know before falling asleep. We talked about it the next day. She was home without me for 10 days. Lots and lots of time for crying. She cried with me in bed. She cried. I know how much my condition has affected those around me. Devin is always hanging around the house. As it turns out careful to say things that would not offend me or result in a heavy discussion. This has to end.

Judy dropped by for a visit. We talked about me for a while. I asked her what she was up to. To my great relief, she talked about herself, and her plans for the next while. It was wonderful to listen to her, to contribute in some minor ways to the conversation. The Art Therapy sessions always start with a taking of the pulse. Asking each of us how our week was. We started our assignment. I realised that through all these sessions, none of us had ever asked the moderator how his week had been. I asked him. We found out a lot about him. It helped that there were fewer people in the session. But still. No one had asked him. It is an exercise I have promised to follow through with.

Turn the conversation to others. Ask questions. Talk less about myself. There is something to be said about It is All About Me. But surely there also has to be a limit to it. It might be an evolutionary thing. You are dealing with your own issues, and at some point are more prepared to let the outside world intrude. Expand your field of vision. Take the blinders off. Bring a bit more noise in your life.

Cannot be anything but good for the soul.

This is a turning point in the Art Therapy blog posting. I was expecting this to happen. The only unfortunate part is that the objections have come form people who have not read the blog.

The sessions are a safe place where people are encouraged to speak their mind. Someone taking notes might appear intrusive. I take notes to ensure accuracy in my posts and thoughts. The wording of what is said is so important. Did they say angry or upset? I have an excellent memory for these things. Is there a difference between taking notes inside the sessions, or jotting down similar notes after I walk out? There is a difference in how people feel as you are taking notes in front of them. I would have hoped that the openness which I showed would have been reassuring, but it appears not to be so.

No pictures either. I am allowed to take them outside the session but not inside. Not sure how that works. It doesn’t. So no pictures. I made a point of letting everyone know I was taking notes. I gave them the blog address. I asked before being allowed to take pictures. What happened between the second session where people were so open about letting me take pictures of their thoughts, and today?

I have made a major point of being discreet in my postings. This has not been difficult. Not an imposition by any means. A given under the circumstances. I have been very careful with the information I divulge. There has been nothing of a personal nature, for instance. The participants will recognise themselves, but no one outside the group will be able to tell who is who. The nature of the blog has also been positive. At least I hope it has. Am I surprised that people are uncomfortable? No. I was hoping for a bit of largess considering the huge amount of good this is doing to so many people.

The comfort of the group is of paramount importance. The nature of the post will change starting with this one. You will still benefit from the highly polished and amazing art that I paint, but there will no references to others, or a description of what they have painted. There will be comments, or more likely questions opened for discussion based on what was said. These will be of a more general nature. Human beings being what we are, there will also be cross fertilization going on. There is really no way of holding back a thought process that was provoked by what was said in the sessions. These might be used to start a fresh posting based on that thought. No offense intended to anyone. No judgments. No recrimination. No antagonism. The reactions of one and all are fully understandable and do not need either explaining or defending. It is what it is. A bit like having cancer. It is what it is.

The choice of colours in our paintings is interesting. Mine are pretty stark with a dash of colour. Others exhibit much more lively or darker colours. I have mentioned the liberal use of blue and green. The first dealing with water and its attributes, the second with new life, and freshness. Both dealing with coolness and calmness. Using darker or lighter colours reflecting our mood or state of mind. Even within a painting, starting with darker colours and somehow gravitating to lighter ones brings up a host of questions. Is your mood getting better from painting? From attending the sessions? From talking? From being around people you feel safe with? Why did you feel darker at the beginning?

A thought that crossed my mind at one point that had nothing to do with anything in particular has to do with interpretation. I have had a lot of trouble with art in general. How do you know if something is good or not? Does it matter? I often look at art and wonder if this is a piece that will be famous in 10, 15 or more years. And I missed the boat by not buying it now. I was talking with a friend about this, one day, oh so many years ago, and they said that I should stop torturing myself. Art is what I make of it. What I see. Nothing more or less. We bought a piece from a student at an art show a few years ago. It is a narrow piece painted on wood showing a clothesline from which hang a number of t-shirts that are a bit torn, with an inscription in Arabic. Second from the right is a perfect t-shirt with the Roots logo on it. I asked the girl about the political message behind it. Much to my surprise, she said there was none. She just painted it. She designed those t-shirts and like the look of it all strung together. I was shocked to say the least, and based on that premise alone, had to make the purchase.

All this to say, is there a possibility we are over-analyzing or paintings? Seeing convenient truths or perceived truths where there are none? I am not sure, but at some point, felt that sometimes, the message is pretty clear. Or we just painted for the fun of it. Let it be. Not sure.

My Painting

Cancer Thistle

Cancer Thistle

The painting depicts a thistle growing inside the body of a person, well OK, a man. The thistle represents cancer with its amazing roots invading the body.The thistle has some medicinal purpose. I chose it because the thistle is full of thorns that hurt when touched or come into contact with.

I played rugby while in boarding school in England. One of the fields we played in was full of thistles. It was so bad that you were careful to tackle someone only if there was no thistle around. Added a whole new dimension to the game.

The person is balancing Anger and Tranquility on the two scales neither winning the battle but equalising each other. Anger wells up in our bodies and is quelled by tranquility.

The person is standing on a bed that gives him strength. The list includes: Steadfast, Friends, Support, Hospital, Drugs, Food, Alternative, Meditation, Visualization, Safe Place, Prayers, Faith, Strength, Attitude, Perseverance, Humour, Depression, Self Pity, Exercise, Lies, Truths, Family, Insurance, Finances, Travel, Rest, Sleep, Guilt, Participate, Cook, Clean, Shop.

There was little doubt that the moderator was moved by the piece and thought it was very powerful. But again, no discussion. We had run out of time.

The eye is not red, contrary to what it looks like, but brown. No idea why it looks red.

The Real Thistle - with Bee

The Real Thistle - with Bee

I am saddened by the events of the day. Love the people who attend. So it goes.

Art Therapy: Session 2

We had Art Therapy today. Must be Wednesday. Three people from last week did not show up, two new people showed up. Except they are not new since the moderator and one of the participants know them. Hey, how are you, long time. And so on. This is a safe place after all. Five women [...]

No chemo last week. I now have the pleasure f an extended good week. This makes up for the days H1N1 stole from me. I went to the blood clinic as usual last Wednesday after the Art Therapy session. Devin had to be at work by 3:00. We decided to give the clinic a try. [...]

Art Therapy

The good people at Wellspring allowed me to join the Art Therapy session that takes place on Wednesdays between the hours of 10 and 12. Devin and I drove Janet to work in the morning. We got to Wellspring about 30 minutes too early. We had a coffee and read the paper. Art Therapy. I [...]

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