Friday, July 27, 2018

The new reality

 Distraction and escape

Instructions from John

Discovering new pieces of music; a poem about a bee sent by a friend who bought my beekeeper painting; 
IMMA booklet; a sketch for a self portrait with Daisy the cat; a photo from when we thought all was well, 
sent with a wedding thank you card; a small apple from our garden, found in the grass by my nephew

That was a long unintended hiatus from this space. The chest pain I mentioned in my last post turned out to be a symptom of lung cancer, a diagnosis I never would have expected, but had begun to fear during the weeks of tests and worrying. It is a rare form that tends to hit young fit female non-smokers like myself. As I write this I am entering a four-week break after four cycles of chemotherapy and five weeks of daily radiotherapy.

In among the uncertainty, fear and shock and feeling ill from the treatment (as fate would have it, the week around my due date was the worst in terms of side effects), there have been a lot of good moments.  First and foremost, I am overwhelmed by the love shown to us. So much help and support has come our way, in myriad forms - practical things such as lifts to and from the hospital, visits, phone calls, lunches, road trips, lawn-mowing, impromptu birthday celebrations (the first round of chemo was on my 35th birthday - we have the best neighbours in the world on this little cul-de-sac that is our Baile), the kindness of health professionals and healers. Two friends in particular got me through the weeks before the diagnosis. There are always fresh flowers in our house; we have received hundreds of cards and letters and thoughtful gifts. I have regained old friends, and so many people, even people who don't know me, have got in touch.

I have never been closer to my family; they have been amazing. My mum has been looking after me for nearly three months now and is about to go home to Germany for a while. We have spent a lot of time with my sister (who, among other things, drove me to a faith healer three times and has been cooking and baking healthy meals and treats, all with a baby and toddler to care for) and her family, and my younger sister (+bump) and her family are coming soon - even though they are in Germany, it feels as if they have been here as well, as we have so much contact - she sends me carefully selected quotes first thing each morning and has been doing research for me. She also put me in touch with this incredible woman.

John and I made it to Dublin one Sunday to see the current Freud Project exhibition at IMMA. I felt like an old woman walking around the gallery, but I was glad we went. The curator has juxtaposed paintings by Lucian Freud with works by artists including Gwen John and Marlene Dumas and writers Emily Dickinson and John Berger, among others, as well as watercolours of plant and animal cells by Lucian's grandfather Sigmund Freud and various audio recordings (of a song, a short story, an interview with a plant biologist) - a fascinating, wondrous mix.

A few months ago John bought this beautiful book as a gift for someone, then decided to keep it. Most evenings he will look up that day's page and then find the corresponding piece and play it.

I was reading too many books about cancer and healing and have returned to reading for pleasure (getting lost in Zelda Fitzgerald's life and Michael Harding's latest memoir). After weeks of feeling stuck I am also drawing and painting again and have taught three art classes from home since starting treatment. John is helping me with my paintings based on views of Galway Bay - I would always take notes of the changing skies and the sea on our way home, and he supplied the one above, with detailed information and a gentle nudge...