Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Do I know what that ("Ripeness is all") means?

Yes, I think I do...hi, everyone. My name is May. I'm 54 years old, and I have Stage IV breast cancer.

I had surgery in January '04 to remove a small (9mm) malignant tumor. No axillary nodes were affected, but they found a small 'nodule' in the fatty tissue under my arm, so I underwent aggressive (awful) chemotherapy followed by radiation, finishing up at the end of July. Everything looked fine. A mammogram and two CT scans in December looked fine.

Then my blood tests started to look a little funny...and to make a long story short, a CT scan-guided biopsy in early spring, 2005, confirmed that the cancer had metastasized to my sternum. A subsequent scan found a spot on a vertebra as well.

I had just taken a new job, a job I loved, and my first thought was to do whatever I had to do to keep working. I began Herceptin (that's the monoclonal antibody treatment that was touted as a cure in all the papers this fall). I was very fortunate to have minimal side effects, but it did make me tired. I made the decision to retire onto Social Security, for which my stage of cancer automatically qualified me. Just before my last day at work, I had another scan, and found out that I'd had a "complete pathological response"--what is popularly known as "going into remission"--and that I was, for now, without evidence of cancer cells in my body.

Bear with me here, as I change tack...I have three older brothers, all of whom are professional photograpers and artists of one sort or another. I had always considered myself the untalented one, as far as the visual arts went. I had, however, been toying with an idea for a long time: I wanted to put some of my poems into a visual collage; I felt that they needed a more concrete expression than they had as words on a page. So I decided to learn a bit about collage and go for it.

Well. A bit, as you probably know, doesn't get you very far. Collage is an extremely complex art. And I can't draw, can't take a decent picture, have no knowledge of design, etc., etc., etc. But I just kept plugging away, creating the bad and the awful, the decent and the too pretty, the fake and the (occasionally) fairly real. And that's where I stand right now.

For the longest time, I mixed up two quotes from Shakespeare: this, from Hamlet: "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will", and "Ripeness is all", which I thought immediately followed those words, but which is actually spoken by Edgar in King Lear: "Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither: Ripeness is all". As a sentiment, I admit I prefer my combination. That divinity lies in us all, and inspires us to proceed to the full manifestation of our true selves. Like an apple about to fall from the tree, we come to ripeness at the moment of death. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but acceptance of its truth transforms us.

If you'd like to see some of my stuff, you can go here:

Click on 'ATCs and Tiles' to see the artist trading cards and one altered formica tile I have posted, and 'Collage and Mixed Media' to see my first real 3-D collage, made this month as a Christmas gift for a friend. And come back if you want to see if a bona fide non-artist can learn to express herself visually after all!


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