Cancer Update #9

September 4, 2015

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve been home from the hospital for 4 days now. It is wonderful to be in my own house with Peter and RuiDog. The garden is lovely to sit it and, although I’m eating very little, it is great to eat real food rather than the sludge they serve in the hospital. I’m feeling rather surprisingly weak and mostly I just want to sleep. I did have a doctor in the hospital tell me my job when I got home was two fold: eat and sleep, so I guess I’m doing alright. Unfortunately I’m also suffering from my bad back – the herniated disk didn’t like the lack of movement.

I was in the hospital for 22 days! That’s a long time. It was a mixed experience like any canoe trip. I was given the big poison shortly after my arrival, followed immediately the next day with my own stem cells which had been carefully stored away. Then followed 5 rather surreal days when nothing much happened. The water was smooth, the sun shone and I had a variety of visitors. The autologous stem cell unit is very interesting. Because infection control is one of their chief tasks, all patients have their own rooms, the nurse to patient ratio is very high and the nursing staff are superb – very knowledgeable, caring and compassionate. All this seemed like overkill in those first few days. Then, right on the schedule, the water got rough and the weather turned bad. I won’t get too graphic here, but suffice to say that that the high dose chemo kills the lining of the GI tract as well as my bone marrow. So both ends of the GI tract were out of control for a few days. Very nasty. I didn’t get mouth sores (fortunately) and I only had a mild dose of difficulty swallowing – something other people get in extremis. I also suffered from very high fever. So those rapids lasted about 5 awful days. Then things got better and I was all set to go home, when I developed another high fever. I had to stay in hospital for another 5 days. Somehow this was the hardest part of the journey. I was dying to get of there by then. Overall, though, I was well looked after in a very well run unit. I also had a nice bonus. Outside my window was a beautiful garden made of huge glass flowers in a variety of colours. Very magical and full of whimsy. I loved watching how they changed as the light moved thru the day.

Thank you for your many many emails and cards full of poems, canoe trip stories, good wishes, encouragement, and love. They helped the journey tremendously. I’m sorry I’m not able to answer you individually. And many of you have written since I returned home asking how I am doing. Please take this letter as your response as I don’t have lots of energy.

If anyone wants off this list, let me know. Meanwhile I love your responses, but don’t expect individual replies back.

So I’m at home healing. I thought it would be hard to go slow, but so far, tiredness and weakness make that easy. I look forward to slowly building myself back up. Meanwhile, sleeping, reading, knitting and sitting in the garden with the dog seem to be the main activities on my To Do list.

Love,

Diana

 

 

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Cancer Update #8

August 9, 2015

Dear Friends & Family,

I finally received The Call today from Princess Margaret Cancer hospital. They have a bed for me. Unless the last remnants of the mild cold I have sends me home, I will be checking in later this afternoon. Then I begin The Ordeal – the stem cell transplant for my myeloma cancer. I anticipate being in hospital for 2-3 weeks unless I have a bad infection, in which case it could be longer. I expect to have a slow recovery afterwards.

Please do not come and visit me in the hospital. I gather that there are 5 days or so of this process which are ghastly. I will not be a pretty sight, nor will I have energy for anything except survival. Once I’m home, I might like visitors in very small doses.

I loved getting all your letters after my last update. I fully intended to respond to them, but somehow it never happened. Don’t feel any pressure to write; on the other hand, know that I love feeling a connection with you via your letters. Again, you may or may not hear back from me.

I’ve added a few new people to this list. If you don’t want the letters, let me know & I’ll take you off the list.

How do I feel? Like I’m about to head out on an Outward Bound course minus the beautiful Northern wilderness. But that feel of a journey. I put on that hospital gown and hand my flesh over to them. New people, big rapids, canoe might flip and I hope I have enough safety gear to survive.

Wish me luck.

Love,

Diana

Cancer Update #7

May 26, 2017

Dear Friends & Family,

This is kind of creepy, so skip the first part if reading about medical procedures is too icky for you.

I’ve finished the first part of my cancer treatment – 16 weeks of Induction Chemo, aka Chemo Lite. Now begins the Stem Cell Transplant. It is divided into 3 parts – harvesting cells (called mobilization (really?!! military language?)), killing the cancerous cells (& the rest of my bone marrow, hair growing cells and the lining of my GI tract) and then replanting the harvested stem cells. Part 1 has begun. Later this week I’ll be given a drug which makes my stem cells leave their happy bone marrow home and head out onto the blood vessel highway. After a few days of this treatment, the blood vessels will be crowded with stem cells and I’ll be attached to a dialysis like machine. This will take my blood out (& put it back!) and separate out the stem cells. They will be frozen and stored until needed. Enough stem cells for 2 transplants will be harvested. Once the harvesting is done, I have a slight break. Peter, Rui & I are off to see Brenda, my 96 year old mother, as well as some old friends. On June 22 I have something called a Hickman line put in. It is a semi-permanent in-out IV port. And on June 23 I begin waiting 2-6 weeks for a hospital bed. Once I’m in hospital, I’ll be given the really high dose chemo, known affectionately in our household as Agent Orange. That’s the horrible stuff (hair falls out on Day 12, sores in mouth, GI tract unhappy, more ghastly excitement yet to be revealed). Then a few days later my stem cells will be replanted. The danger in all this is infection, as I’ll have no infection fighting white blood cells. I’ll also be very weak as the red blood cells take the longest to grow back. I’ll be released from the hospital once my blood counts are at an acceptable level. And then a long slow recovery as the system rebuilds.

There was some debate as to whether I’d be in-patient or out-patient for parts 2 & 3. Initially I had thought that out-patient sounded good – loving Peter at my side, nice garden, my own bed, real food and the bouncy Rui dog. But then someone who had been through the whole process described it to me and I realized I wanted to be in the hands of experienced nurses. When I’m vomiting, needing blood transfusions and truly miserable, I want nurses who can tell me that this is all quite normal. And much nicer for Peter not to have the burden of care. However this in-patient, out-patient decision wasn’t up to me. It was looking like out-patient as I live close to the hospital and have lots of support. Fortunately (or unfortunately) my lousy kidney situation qualified me for in-patient. So I’ll be in hospital for 2-3 weeks sometime this summer. The down side of in-patient is the twiddle-my-thumbs wait. I need to have my bag packed ready to arrive at the hospital within 3 hours. Not too many out of town adventures this summer. While hospitals aren’t the best places to get a good night’s sleep, I do find the culture endlessly curious.

So how am I doing with all this ahead of me? Well, I’m afraid. No other way to say that. I feel that there is this vast cavern of darkness and spiders in front of me. Pain, ickyiness and unknowns loom. I console myself with the thought that recently I was very afraid of going off the steroids (as per The Treatment Plan) and having all my debilitating lower body pain return. Some of it has returned, but the great work I’ve been doing learning Mitzvah techniques is paying off. I’m finding new ways to hold my spine – transforming my motion – no mean task at age 61. I’m also learning to meditate – why is this so hard to learn? And most of all the next art series has begun, working title The Cancerous Body. I’m onto some exciting new visuals and madly reading the theory and history of illness. So while I sure wish I hadn’t drawn the cancer card, it’s the one I got. I’m using it to unfold the body and spirit into their next forms – maybe that is all we ever do with the cards we are dealt.

As always, please feel no obligation to reply. If you want off this list, let me know. If you do reply, I may or may not reply to you as my energy is quite limited.

Love,

Diana

 

 

Cancer Update #6

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The group show at Humber College was a great success with a buzzy opening and lots of people in attendance. For those of you who didn’t see it at the show, I have finally put the new work, Mortal Selfies, up online.I’d love for you to have a look at it:

http://www.dianameredith.com/gallery_mortalSelfies.php

The files are fairly large, so patience please as they load. In the analogue world, the viewer can move around the objects; here I’ve given you close-ups instead so that you can read the text.

I’ve also used this opportunity to update my website in other places. There are three more new galleries, other than Mortal Selfies. If you have time, have a look at them too:

My MFA thesis work is here:

http://www.dianameredith.com/gallery_age.php

The ink drawings which led up to Mortal Selfies are here: http://www.dianameredith.com/gallery_inkDrawings.php

And an older project about my neighbourhood which is only now getting itself online:

http://www.dianameredith.com/gallery_theNabe.php

I’m in Week 12 of my Induction Chemo. Mostly I have no side effects from it. One of the weirdest ones I do have is that my sense of taste is altered. Some days everything tastes like cardboard; other days I can only taste strong acid, sweet and salt. I find myself wanting to add salt to everything and then remembering that it is my taste buds, not the food that is the problem. I realize, sadly, how much pleasure I normally take from good tastes. In general, though, I am in much better shape than I was prior to my diagnosis. I have more energy because I’m not so anemic; my back and legs don’t hurt all the time because of the strong steroids I’m on and I’m no longer in a state of abject terror wondering what on earth is going on with my body. Cancer is scary, but the unknown was even scarier. I am worried about my back (a herniated disc) post steroids. I’m addressing this by doing Mitzvah. It is a body alignment modality akin to Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique. I’m hoping this work will alleviate my back pain.

Meanwhile I’ve joined a cancer support group and connected with a Toronto Myeloma organization. It is great to talk with other people who have gone through cancer treatments. This coming summer I will be having the next phase of my treatment – Stem Cell Transplant. I’m not looking forward to it. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about it now to lessen the mystery. This is when the high dose chemo happens. It sounds as if there is a long recovery period required afterwards. The medical team recommends not going back to work for 3-6 months with many people needing another 6 months after that. With those time lines in mind, I have decided to permanently leave teaching at Humber College. They need to find someone to take the digital courses to the next stage. And I’ve decided it is time to give myself over to my art more fully. I’m sad to leave teaching, but also ready to move on.

I’m about to start the next cancer art series. I can’t say too much about it yet except that I’m excited about getting it going. I’ll keep you posted. Of course I’d love hear what you think of the new art; however I may not give you much of a reply as I’m in Art First mode. Also, for those of you also on Face Book with me, the silence is about to end. I’m about to announce these galleries there, so FB will know about the cancer. Lastly, if you want off this list, let me know and please feel no obligation to reply.

Cheers,

Diana

 

Cancer Update #5

March 3, 2015

Dear Friends, Family & Colleagues,

My first series of cancer art works, Mortal Selfies, are almost finished. It has been a very exciting push to get them done. The side effects from the chemo – nausea and tiredness – have been present but not overwhelming. I have felt quite energized by the task of shaping visual pieces that speak to this early experience of cancer. As I move through the treatment stages, I hope to continue finding forms that speak to my journey  I’ve written an artist statement about the work which I’ve pasted into this email. I will be getting the work up online sometime soon…

Meanwhile, I’d like to invite those of you who are nearby to come and see the new work in a faculty group show, RUBRIC,  opening next week at Humber College. I’ve attached the invitation below; however there is an additional opportunity to see the work.

Reception:

Thursday March 12 – 6:30-8:30pm

Guelph Humber Art Gallery – GH 123

Exhibition Dates

Tuesday March 10 – Wednesday April 1

Monday to Friday 12-5pm

I’ll be at the reception. The gallery will also open on Saturday March 14 from 12-4pm. I will be there and would love to see some of you then.

The Guelph Humber Art Gallery is at Humber’s North campus, off Highway 27 just south of Finch. If you are driving, take Highway 27 to Humber College Blvd. It is a bit north of Rexdale Blvd. I’m attaching a map of the campus where I’ve marked the building with the gallery in red. If you are coming by public transit, go to Kipling Subway station and take the 191Highway 27 Express.

Cheers,

Diana

Diana Meredith: Artist’s Statement

We learned that, “The personal is political,” from the feminists of the 1970s and 1980sI count myself among them. My artwork is informed and shaped by using personal experiences, especially of the body, as sources for my artwork. Mortal Selfies is a first investigation of my recent experience of multiple myeloma, bone marrow cancer.

Each image begins with a photo I took of myself – the contemporary ‘selfie’, which is used, in turn, as the photo reference for an ink drawing. The image is then brought into the computer and visually fractured. The fractured image reflects the experience of cancer diagnosis, treatment and identity in a variety of ways. Myeloma is a disease of the blood cells. These are tiny pieces of self that have fractured from the integrated body and have turned on it. Contemporary cancer treatment involves a massive use of pharmaceuticals – those fractured pieces of biochemical science targeted at particular cells. Finally, identity as a cancer patient embraces a multiplicity of fractured identities. Donning the iconic hospital gown and moving through the rituals of medical testing and oncology clinics, as well as ingesting the futuristic drugs of chemotherapy, advance one through a series of constructed identities. At the same time, the high tech of cancer science is counterpoised against the personal sensations of the diseased body and the flood of community support. These different kinds of identities fractured together to construct new facets of identity.

Before I went to graduate school at age 57, I would not have included text in a work of art. My initial art training took place within the framework of Modernism which espoused form over content. The visuals needed to speak for themselves and language was a separate entity that had no place in visual art. The ideas behind Contemporary Art changed my thinking on the use of text.  I realized that text was both a visual element as well as a site of meaning.

The four pieces that make up Mortal Selfies explore different aspects of the personal and public text that surrounds us in contemporary European-American society. Loss looks at the diary – a site of personal reflection and private exploration. Numbers reflects the experience of the modern cancer patient in treatment. Frequently, at times daily, blood tests tell the cancer narrative far more sharply than that out-moded measure, “How do you feel?” Creatinine levels, kappa light chain proteins and hemoglobin are some of the numbers that define my treatment plan. At the same time the numbers of prognosis inevitably raise the spectre of mortality on a profound level. The third piece in the series, Chemo, investigates the pharmaceutical industry. While the miracle of chemotherapy cannot be denied, the high price of cancer drugs does beg the question, “Who is making all that money?” The series ends with Cherish, a homage to the outpouring of love, support and wisdom that has come my way since my diagnosis. I use hand written text to reflect the personal nature of these emails.  Finally, each piece is defaced with that most illicit of public texts – graffiti.

Through text in various forms, fractured ink paintings and the dance between the manipulations of digital processes and the materiality of analog, I have found a visual form to encompass the early stages of cancer diagnosis, treatment and identity in contemporary, urban Canadian society.

_____________________________

http://www.dianameredith.com

 

 

Cancer Update #4

Feb 13, 2015

Dear Friends, Family & Colleagues,

I’ve been out of the hospital for 10 days and back in our home for 5. It was sad to leave the rich and generous camaraderie of friends, Amy and Maureen; on the other hand it has been wonderful to be back in our house. Our amazing contractor (happy to share his name, Torontonians) has done a superb job (under budget and in the time allotted). It is like moving into a new house. The kitchen is so well designed, it is a delight to work in – light, airy and easy to move around. We keep not bumping into one another! We’ve been having fun figuring out where things go and how the new systems will work. The old mud room off the kitchen was a rackety-packety mess, so it didn’t matter if the stinky fish grill was beside the dog leash and next to the beer bottles. The new mud room is so ordered and pristine, it is a fun game figuring out where things go.

So this is all a pleasant backdrop to our ongoing cancer challenges. I’m trying to adjust to the weekly chemo-side effects cycle, if, indeed, there is a consistent cycle. The steroids give a roller coaster ride which alternately lessen my pain (hurrah!), but deprive me of sleep and up my blood sugar (boo!) and then 24 hours later do the opposite. The chemo itself initially had no side effect and then in the 2nd week it hit me with a fatigue the likes of which I’d never had. “Weakness” somehow describes it better for me. A state of no-energy. Chemo day is Thursdays and this state of lassitude didn’t arrive until Sat, which, unfortunately, was the day we were moving home. Fortunately many friends came to help move and unpack. I went to bed. The extreme weak state didn’t lift until the next afternoon. So I don’t know if this is going to be how all 16 weeks of the induction chemo are going to unfold. One day at a time.

My priority right now, other than coping with chemo and going to a million doc appointments is my art. I have the good fortune of a deadline in early March – my Humber colleagues and I are having a faculty show then. I hope to have the first pieces of my cancer series done then. The body has always been my subject – now more than ever. It is a long shot with the chemo-side effects dance in the foreground, but it is a good goal to aim towards. If I can’t make it, so be it. With that in mind, I’m going to sadly put off the many Toronto friends who have offered to come and visit. Art first.

When I saw the oncologist last week, I asked her about the myeloma treatment plan buying me time. “Yes,” she said. “I hope to buy you 10 years.” Ten years. It is strange to have a number attached to the days of ones’ life. Of course we all have a number attached, we just don’t know what it is. Granted, I too, don’t really know what my number is; nonetheless statistics and all that. So what would you do with 10 years? Somehow the important aspects of life immediately become sharper and more in focus. Yes, Peter and I cherish each other more consciously every day. I cherish my circles of community – intimate friends, family, wider circles of friends, former students, new choir friends, colleagues, and old friends in far away places. You make this all much sweeter. More art making. The “one day at a time” mantra demands being more present and that makes me more alive. On the other hand I’m still in the whirlwind of all this and haven’t a clue what it all means.

I love getting all your emails, cards, letters, books, teabags and love; with art & chemo on the table, I may not be able to respond.

Love,

Diana

 

 

Cancer Update #3

Feb 2, 2015

Dear Friends, Family & Colleagues,

I’m finally being discharged from the hospital later this afternoon. I will have been here for 9 days – long enough. I’ve had the opportunity to see our medical system operating up close. I’m pretty wowed by what good care I have received given these days of medical cut backs. The democracy of a big city hospital ward at work is breathtaking – all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds up close & personal. Two women died  in the room I’m in during the 9 days. Almost what shocked me the most was how I wasn’t shocked. The hospital handled it very discreetly, the bed was washed and the next person was brought in, usually within a few hours. The nurses and other staff, on the floor I’m on anyway, maintained good humour and kindness throughout.

So my treatment plan, as it is called, has begun. I have started chemotherapy, albeit at this point the lite version known as Induction Chemo. I will be doing it once a week for 16 weeks.  At then end of that phase, I begin a drug which makes my stem cells grow madly. They harvest those cells via a dialysis-like process. The cells are frozen and stored. Then I’m tested to see if my body is up for the Big Chemo. If all is well, they hit me with High Dose Chemo. That’s when the big side effects occur. Then they re-seed my body with the stored stem cells. If all went according to plan, the process, thus far, would take me until the end of July. Then a month or 2 of recovery. Depending on the strain of cancer I have, I may get another round of High Dose Chemo and reseeding a year or 2 afterwards. I’ll also probably be on a maintenance dose of chemo thereafter. This cancer is treatable but not curable. This all seems to be about buying time. I think the oddest thing for me is the idea of living for ever more on these powerful drugs. Was I really once a hippie who said I’d never sully my body with legal pharmaceuticals? Sigh.

At least three people on this list are currently going through cancer treatments and many others of you have family and friends who have done so recently. You all know much more about this than I do. What has struck me in this early phase is how when I first hear the word ‘cancer’, I really hear ‘death sentence’. Yet almost immediately I see that, like almost everything else in life, this is not so simple, not so black and white. Really I have embarked on a journey and it is everything to do with how I live that journey. Just like the rest of life. So here I am, very suddenly, on a new phase of my life. The experienced nurses here keep telling me the mantra is ‘one day at a time.”

Your supportive letters continue to come and I so appreciate them. Back today to our temporary home in the warm welcoming basement of Amy and Maureen and then later this week we move back to our renovated house.

& finally a little bit of showing off – Humber College made a video about a number of their faculty this past fall – I’m one of them: http://mediastudies.humber.ca/feed-video-archives.html scroll down to find “Diana Meredith’s Story”

Lastly, although I’m being quite open about all this – feel free to pass the news along to others – I would like to keep any references to it all off  FaceBook.

Love,

Diana