The following story is included in a wonderful book called The Cancer Monologue Project created via The Project Life Stories.
Waiting to Get a Life
By Alice Kitselman
I've always had this hole deep inside, the question of what did I want to be when I grew up. What was my life going to look like, what was I going to be able to answer when that dreaded question came: "And what do you do?" I'd been waiting for inspiration; I'd been waiting for that moment of knowing. At the end of 2000 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and then after a battery of testing that hole inside showed up for real as a hole in my arm that was eaten away by a rare form of bone cancer. I thought I was going to die and I was never going to know what my life was all about.
This began the journey called cancer, and along with it a lot of waiting. Waiting for the results of tests, waiting for the end of grueling tests to be over, waiting for my blood pressure to come down enough to operate, waiting to heal and then to know what to do next. I didn't know which path to take; I didn't really know what to do or where to turn. I felt as if I just was making it all up, putting one foot in front of the other, moving towards healing, waiting to know when I was going to be pronounced "cured", finished, OK, here are your walking papers, you are now a graduate of cancer.
Today I sit with a group of other people who have all been touched by cancer in some manner, either directly as a survivor or as a mother, brother, wife of someone who they cherished. We are sharing our stories through writing. On the wall in front of me is a painting of a bird that stirs up many emotions. This painting was formally in the treatment room and now it is here haunting me. This painting was with me for my last four chemotherapy treatments. Somehow I just didn't like this painting. It reminded me of what I didn't have - freedom and hope. The painting is a burst of energy, a wild bird flying free, wings spread exploding off the canvas. I am reminded of being nine or ten years old, my best friend Ginger and I in our underpants and plastic top hats. I would don a special Peter Max scarf and launch myself off the counter flying, flying free and wild for just one moment before I landed on the bed. My mother always wondered why she had to replace the mattresses so often.
Back in the hospital, I was chained, waiting for yet another cancer treatment to begin, this one being the drug called Taxol. I sat waiting for the nurse to be ready to inject me and all I could do was dwell on my fears. Why was it taking so long, shouldn't we have started by now, was something wrong with my last blood tests, what would this new drug do to me, what were the side effects going to be this time, will I make it through all this and come out OK at the other end? Here is this bird flying out of what looks like chaos to me. Wild slashing lines, explosions of errie white and blues. While my life was full of chaos and fear, this bird was bursting through. This bird was going somewhere and I wasn't. I was trapped within a battle for my life. I was in limbo, I didn't feel safe, I was really damaged, I had cancer. I was about to be tethered to a slow, slow drip of a cocktail of drugs, a cocktail made of Taxol and steroids, antihistamine, anti- nausea medication, and who knows what else. My best hope for a cure, toxic medicine to ward off the cancer cells.
Now nine months since my last chemotherapy injection here is this darn painting again! I'd wished I'd never have to see it again but here it is. This time I am inspired by it as it reminds me that from fear comes hope. While I was bald from chemotherapy I took a photograph of my bald head and sent it off to people all over the world with the instructions to decorate my bald head and send it back. Each week I would receive all kinds of versions that would delight me. I would receive wonderful collages of new and different versions of hair. Fanciful hats and new clothes. One even had a key stuck into my bald head. It definitely kept my mind off of the cancer. I began to see a vision for the future; I want to make these postcards into a book along with my cancer journey. Instead of feeling desolate, I now had a goal.
From a wounded life came direction and hope. Somewhere along the way I found myself and was able to say that cancer brought me a gift. I was no longer waiting to know what I was going to do in this life-I was doing it. I was being fully myself and full of dreams and desires that would no longer be put on hold. I was going to live and live fully. I know that sounds pretty corny but when one has faced the unknowingness that cancer brings, one wants to enjoy each moment in the now.
During that winter of treatments I received a gift basket in the mail from someone I didn't even know. This lovely gift was carefully packed full of items from her home state of Maine. With this basket came a ray of hope, caring and comfort that I was not alone. I later found out that my gift giver had also been through breast cancer. So after many months of grueling chemotherapy, thirty-three radiation treatments and a trip to New York City for the operation to remove the bone cancer from my arm, something magical happened. I believe that I found my calling and I created Dragonfly's Delights, a gift basket business to bring a ray of hope and tenderness to women who are in the midst of the dizzying journey of breast cancer. The time between diagnosis and treatment is filled with confusion and fear. I hope that the baskets I now make and have delivered to women going through what I did make a difference and bring a smile. This horrible disease has brought me a real gift of knowing, a calmness, a better sense of myself as who I am, the real me, extra weight, scars, tattoos and all.
A friend said to me recently that I was becoming my art. I really wasn't too sure what this meant, after all I made art, I didn't see myself as art. But the truth is my bald head project really was a transformation of myself. I could ? and can ? really be as free as some of the portraits revealed. I can fly if I want to; fly into all the parts of myself I feel were missing or buried. Remember that hole in my arm? Well I feel now it's been filled in, filled in with the love I needed all these years. I feel that somehow my art is my ability to create and change and move forward. I was able to get past the waiting, the not knowing and just move ahead, be here now and move one step at a time. I'd always wanted a safe space to be free to be me and now I am finally in touch with a me that had been waiting, waiting to be discovered. Shoot, don't artists always wait to be discovered? I think I discovered myself!
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Copyright © 2001Alice Kitselman, owner - Dragonfly Dream TM