Saturday, March 23, 2024

The Healing Power of Art

Yesterday, my husband and I decided to take advantage of some free classes at our local library. We'd looked through a list of upcoming courses and had chosen one we thought would be enjoyable. I've loved art since childhood and thought it might be fun to introduce my husband to the healing power of art. 

I've loved art since childhood and as a self-taught artist, have grown exponentially in using different mediums throughout the years, but had never participated in an art journaling course, the one offered for this session.

We arrived at the library about 15 minutes before class began and introduced ourselves to other members of the class. There were only 10 of us and after talking, we found out 3 of us were neighbors. 

When the door was opened and the instructor came out, we were surprised to find she was very young. None of us were greeted or given instruction of any kind, so we just walked in and found a place at the long table in the center of the room. 

We waited for Bailey, the class instructor, to start but she never did. Noticing a table with some art supplies on it, I got up and walked over to see what items were available. There were markers, a few stencils, some rubber stamps, torn papers, and some magazines. Not much in the way of art supplies, I thought. Taking a few of the items I went back to my seat and waited. Others soon followed suit. 

Bailey passed out some 4x6 blank notebooks and told us to just get messy. That's all she said and then she sat down to work on her own art journal. Everyone in the group looked bewildered. They had no idea where to start. 

On the table were small pots of Mod Podge, some glue sticks, and some plastic cups of water. My husband looked at me and said, "What do we do?" I told him how to begin and then started to put some gesso on my journal pages. The ladies around watched and began to do the same thing. 

The room was quiet as people began to glue items into their journals. Occasionally, I walked back up to the supply table to get more items and as I did, I'd glance to see what others were doing. One lady had taken a red marker and written the word, "SUCKS," boldly across her journal page and underlined it several times. I assumed she meant the class sucked, which it did. 

We were all discouraged but no one said a thing. I told my husband I could have taught the class easily and if given the opportunity, I would have instructed the students on step by step procedures to build their pages. 

Bailey must have been fresh out of high school or in her first year of college. I'm not sure if she was timid or just had no idea how to teach a class. In any event, what basically happened was a group of 10 adults sat down and pretended to know what they were supposed to do. It was very sad. 

The class would have been so fun to teach! I would have introduced myself (which Bailey never did, we only knew her name from her nametag), then I would have passed out the journals, and had taken time to talk about the various mediums and supplies available. Then I would have had the students take a few moments to think about what they might want to do. Did they want to focus on a feeling, an experience, a word? And if so, how might they like to express it? Would they want to paint? Scrapbook? How would they want to convey their thoughts? I'd have also talked about the possibility of layering items for my depth and interest. 

The class was slated for an hour and a half. During that time, I completed 2 journal pages and got to know my neighbors well. Phil struggled to get one page completely done and the women across from me struggled as well. 

If given an opportunity, I'll leave a detailed review for Bailey. I hope it will help her in the future. If she's planning on getting a degree in art or art therapy, she's got a long way to go. 

Art should be a beautiful tool for  self-expression. I think Bailey needs to understand that. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Necessity is the mother of invention

Greek philosopher, Plato, once said, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Though I've heard that saying since childhood, I never truly understood it until I became a teen. That's when I realized if I needed a solution to a problem, I could usually find a way to fix it. I've employed many techniques through the years to meet my needs, most of which have involved my love of crafting. 

This morning, as I was unpacking from our recent move, I came across a set of hand crocheted breast forms. I'd ordered the forms about 9 years ago from an organization called "Knitted Knockers." The organization was formed to help survivors of breast cancer and other breast surgeries with free breast substitutes. Volunteers made the forms by crocheting or knitting breast forms that could be filled with polyester fiberfill. The forms could be easily adjusted to fit the recipient's needs by either adding or removing the amount of fiberfill in each form. It was a wonderful concept, and I really liked the fact that the volunteers were willing to give their time and energy for such a worthy cause. 

Breast prostheses are very expensive, especially the silicone ones. Even with insurance, the forms can run hundreds of dollars. When my husband was working, it wasn't a problem but since he's retired, I've had to become more cost conscious. 

Finding the forms in my drawer was a blessing, but I remembered there had been a problem with them when I initially ordered them. The polyester fiberfill was so lightweight, the forms weren't heavy enough to weigh my bra down. That meant, with any movement, the bra would ride up and the forms wouldn't be in their proper place. Instead of being on my chest, where they should rightly reside, they would end up just beneath my collar bone and sometimes, under my chin! 

In the past, I did try to find a way of weighting the forms, so they'd stay put. But nothing I tried worked well. I tried marbles, I tried birdseed, I tried Play-Doh stuffed into plastic baggies and tucked beneath the fiberfill. Besides being uncomfortable against my chest, the forms continued to shift and move. 

But today, I had a new idea. 

An older friend had given me a large bag filled with black beans. She'd received them from a government assistance program for those on fixed incomes. Since I don't usually cook dried beans, I'd let the bag sit in my pantry for a couple of years. I figured one day, I'd make the effort to cook them, but never did. Since they were that old, I assumed they wouldn't be good to cook and eat, but they might just be good for something else. 

Taking the crocheted forms from my bedroom, I went into the kitchen and removed the fiberfill. It only took a couple of minutes to pull the stuffing out and pop it into the trashcan. I looked carefully at the forms. They'd been masterfully crafted and the volunteer who'd made them had even sewn on a small protective flap that could be tucked into the top of the form to hold in the contents. 

With the flap up, the bag of beans on the counter, and a box of Ziplock bags, I got busy. I tried to guess how many beans to put in each form to make them even but also constitute the typical B cup I'd been before surgery to remove my breasts. It was nearly impossible to do it without a funnel. After spilling beans all over my kitchen floor, I took a few minutes to think. There had to be a better way. 

I found a small plastic measuring cup that I used for measuring liquid Tylenol for my grandchildren. I emptied out one form and guestimated how many cups of beans I'd need. 8 tiny measuring cups seemed about right so I put that exact amount in the plastic bag, zipped it up, and tucked it in the breast form. Then I did the same for the other form. Placing a form in each hand, I weighed them against each other. They felt perfect!

I cleaned up my mess and took the forms into my bedroom. Pulling out a mastectomy bra, I slid a form in each of the breast pockets. Lifting the bra, I could tell the weight was sufficient and felt very similar to my silicone forms. 

Slipping the bra on, I fastened the hook and paid attention to how the bra felt. It didn’t' feel lumpy or uncomfortable. In fact, it felt much more comfortable than my old silicone forms. Hmm...maybe I was on to something. 

Looking into the top of my pantry, I noticed several other bags of dried beans. I had green and red lentils, Pinto beans, Navy beans, and Chickpeas. Maybe the lentils would have been a little better than the black beans, but since I eat lentils fairly often, I didn't want to waste them on the homemade boobs, plus, it would have taken much more of the lentils to fill up each form. 

I think my invention is pretty good. The plastic will keep the beans from sprouting with the heat of my body against them and keep them from escaping barring bumping into something sharp. The zipper on the bag should hold well, unless I failed to press it properly when sealing, so I should be good at least for a few months before I need to do a self-check. 

Bean boobs, ha! How funny! Necessity is definitely the mother of invention, but you could also say survivors find ways of making things work especially since many things related to cancer are so expensive. 

I'm not ashamed to admit I did this. I'm sure there are others out there who are more inventive than I am. Maybe I'll discover an even better process in the future, but until then, my pantry will be my go to source. My pantry is normally full, too. I'm a prepper at heart. But prepping doesn't just revolve around food, water, and survival items like that. Women who've endured double mastectomies know we only have two choices - to go flat or to wear prostheses. I go flat most days, but when I want a little projection, beans work pretty well. When innovation meets creativity, you never know what might happen!

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Annual checkup time

In 11 days I have to go for my annual checkup at the cancer treatment center. It's a visit I kinda dread and am kind of excited for at the same time. I dread it because I don't like being around the visual reminders that cancer is real and ugly and relentless. It's so hard to walk the halls of the treatment center and see the expressions on the faces of the men and women there. I can instantly tell those just beginning treatment. They look bewildered and lost while those who've become veteran cancer patients display expressions of boredom or frustration. 

The cancer center is set up like a bicycle wheel. The center of the wheel is the hub of the treatment facility where the administration team works. There are receptionists and administrative staff here. They greet guests, help with financial issues, give out directions, and do whatever they can to aid patients during their stay. The spokes of the wheel are specific medical services like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, imaging, holistic health services, the labs, etc. It's a well-organized building and patients learn their way around quickly. 

For the past few years, when I go for my checkups, I've felt out of place. I've even noticed other patients looking at me with that "what are you doing here?" look on their faces. On the outside, I look pretty healthy. I don't show outward evidence of ever being a cancer patient, but on the inside, they have no idea what I've been through. 

This week, I've had some concerns I know I'll need to bring up to the doc when I go for my appointment. I've been having terrible hip pain, deep in the joint of my right hip. It's been so bad I can hardly walk. I also found a large lump on the back of my neck. I don't want to think those are bad omens, but it's hard not to let my mind wander there. 

I'm sure, when I bring those things up at my appointment, the doctor will pay close attention. She will more than likely order some imaging tests. I'm due for a PET scan again, but if blood work looks good, they may not want to do one. I'm kind of hoping they do. I'd rather be on guard looking for potential problems than discover them too late and have to figure out what to do about them then. Being proactive just makes sense to me, cancer isn't something I want to gamble with. 

But I'm going to try my best not to dwell on the what ifs. You can't live in that land and hope to maintain your sanity. So, I guess I'll just keep on with my daily routine until my appointment comes and see what the doctor has to say. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I would appreciate your prayers. 

Another Month is Almost Over

I was looking at the calendar today and realized we're halfway through the year already. Where has the time gone? It seems I blinked and...