Today marks my one-year anniversary of being cured of breast cancer. Technically, it’s the one year anniversary of getting a double mastectomy; it would be another week before I found out that the surgery was successful and there was no evidence of disease (NED).
I remember how terrified I was the day before surgery. I couldn’t concentrate, I cried several times throughout the day and I felt such a heavy weight hanging over me. Up until then, the idea of having breast cancer felt abstract; I had no palpable masses or any other visible signs of the disease. Knowing that I had to walk into an operating room the next day made the reality of diagnosis frighteningly real.
Somehow the next morning, I was able to shake off most of those feelings and walk into hospital with a relative feeling of calm, accompanied by my sister. My medical care team was wonderful; they were positive and kind and assured me that I would be well cared for. My anesthesiologist had the same first name as my good friend, Tamika, so I took that as a good sign. When the nurses escorted me to the operating room, they were blasting Tina Turner ( I can’t remember the song) but I also saw that as a positive omen.
I woke up from the surgery with slight pain; most of it was in my throat from being intubated for almost four hours. There was a burning sensation across my chest where my breasts once existed but that was quickly alleviated with Tylenol. Once I arrived to my hospital room, I spent the rest of the day processing what happened. There was a mixture of relief that I was finally through surgery and apprehension of whether they got all the cancer out. The attending physician sternly reminded me I wasn’t out of the woods until they got the final pathology report. I was annoyed that he didn’t share the optimistic opinion of my surgeon, who felt certain that my breast cancer wasn’t invasive and was still stage 0.
After an overnight stay and a cheerful visit from my surgeon, who still felt very confident about my prognosis, I was able to go home. For the first few days, I had to learn how to walk without hunching over to instinctively protect my tender chest. With the help of my sister, I threaded and emptied the aggravating drains surgically implanted in my chest to alleviate swelling. Overall, I felt pretty good physically but I was terrified to look at my chest; I wasn’t ready to see the swelling and the scars. When the visiting nurse removed the bandages to examine how I was healing, I always looked away.
A week later, I visited the surgeon’s office to have the drains removed and to get my final pathology report. On the way there, I was tearful and frightened. Because my DCIS was multifocal, I was scared that it had become invasive and I would need to undergo radiation and/or chemotherapy. Thankfully, my boyfriend was calm and very reassuring; he promised me that I would be okay and that we would get through it together.
Once I got to the doctor’s office, the nurse removed the drains (which didn’t hurt but felt very, very weird) and said I could sit up. I still refused to look at my chest and she explained that many women have a hard time getting used to how they look and I should take my time. After that she left, I nervously waited for my surgeon to arrive with my pathology report.
As soon as she walked in, the first thing she said, “Well, you don’t have invasive breast cancer.” My surgeon is very intuitive and can pinpoint with such accuracy the fears most of her patients have when they come in to see her. As soon as I heard that, I breathed a sigh of relief. As she explained the findings of the report, she examined how I was healing and then sat quietly in the chair to let me process everything. Surprisingly, I didn’t start crying like I imagined I would but instead, I finally looked down at my chest and realized I didn’t look as bad as I thought. As I looked at the "new me" my surgeon told me that I was going to feel so much lighter and faster. I had decided to forego reconstruction and opted to remain flat to avoid complications from implants and future surgeries.
As I walked out of the doctor’s office, I did feel lighter with the weight, both physically and emotional, lifted off my chest.
In the weeks and months that followed, I had to adjust emotionally and physically to my new body. Some days are easier than others and I have to remind myself that it’s only been a year since this frightening ordeal started. As I’ve mentioned before, my return to drawing abstract figurative works centered around breast cancer survivorship has been tremendously therapeutic; this practice has helped me see the beauty in the scars and the struggle of illness. I’m reminded how creating art under these circumstances is a form of alchemy; transforming feelings and experiences into a medium that others can experience and relate to.
One of my favorite collections that was born out of this experience is The Four Seasons. They are four abstract figurative line works that represent the complications and the vitality of health, illness and recovery after illness. The red form that represents Fall is like me, flat chested while Winter represents a single mastectomy survivor. The woman who purchased Winter told me she picked that one because their chest looked like hers. Other survivors told me that The Four Seasons made them feel seen; I’m very proud of that. All four of the originals have been sold but I will be making different print versions of this collection. For now, I’m offering a 4-piece collection of postcard prints in my online store. I’m hoping that they will continue to help survivors feel seen and celebrated as they deserve to be.
One year down. Many more to come.
It's hard to believe that a year ago today I got that life altering call confirming that my biopsy taken a week earlier was malignant. At 4:30 pm this day last year, I became a breast cancer patient.
What followed for the next few months of my summer was numerous trips to the radiology center for MRIs, which led to more biopsies, so many calls to my insurance company to figure what was covered, switching health insurance twice to get the right care, copious research,running around town to get and copies of images, and then looking for second and third opinions. Within all that, there were times I careened between absolute terror of my diagnosis and relief that I had caught the cancer early.
It's really true when they say a diagnosis like this changes you. While I'm mostly the same person, I've grown in ways that I couldn't have anticipated. These changes include:
One year later, I have so much for which I am grateful. The journey and the healing continues.
It's been forever and a day since my last blog post but the past year has been challenging.
A year ago this month, I was diagnosed with DCIS, an early stage form of breast cancer that was caught through a regular screening mammogram. Needless to say, the diagnosis was the scariest thing I ever experienced but thankfully I was successfully treated through surgery in September.
Leading up to my diagnosis and surgery, I was already experiencing burnout from my previous body of work of Inkscape photographs and digital portrait collages. I think the isolation of the pandemic and relying on a computer screen for social interaction made me realize how much I missed holding a paintbrush or a pencil and feeling the texture of cold-press paper on my fingertips. I realized I wanted to go back to painting and drawing again.
My craving to take a new direction with my art came at a time when I was starting a new phase of my life after diagnosis and surgery. Over time, I started developing a style of figurative art drawings and paintings that explore and challenge what it means to feel whole again. What I've been creating has been characterized by loose, overlapping bold lines, full-figured asymmetrical figures and interpretations of mythological beings, and of course, bold color. Honoring and examining my imperfections through painting and drawing has been enormously healing.
I've been composing this email for many months in my head; I was so nervous about divulging such personal news and showing this new change in my practice. While sharing this is deeply personal, it would be impossible for me to move into this new journey without explaining the inspiration behind it.
While I have been publishing my work on Instagram, I plan on restarting my blog to develop a more connected experience with my audience. In the meantime, I've added some of my originals to my online store. Special thank you to my newest collectors who have purchased my new work! Your support means so much.
And thank you for taking the time to read this. I am most grateful. That’s it for now.
One of the goals of my art practice is to discuss the realities about being an artist and to dispel myths. One of the biggest ones that I encounter and one of the ones that I find the most frustrating is when people question why I'm not a a full-time artist (i.e., why I am not making a living as an artist). As if it were that easy.
For those few who are able to make a living off of their work are truly blessed but that isn't true for most artists, as this article written in 2017 points out. Even though it is from 2017, not much has changed in two years.
I have a bread and butter job because I need to pay bills, keep a roof over my head and eat. I often invest my own money in my projects. I've been told that I shouldn't tell people that I have a day job because galleries or other art world entities would look down on me for devoting all of my time to making art. I think this is ridiculous when we live in a country that doesn't support or advocate for artists or we live in a culture where people mock the importance of what we do. While I would love to exclusively create for a living, it's not possible. How I can be creative when I have to worry about surviving? This is a reality for so many artists and I think it's silly to dismiss those who work and still come after their day job to create. That's dedication.
Please keep this in mind the next time you are skeptical at how much an artist charges for their work, their prints, and their labor. Please keep this in mind when supporting women artists, especially Black women artists who have it the toughest out of anyone when it comes to recognition and support for their work.
I am grateful for the support that I get from other artists and patrons who support by purchasing prints or donating to my Patreon/Ko-fi accounts. I am thankful to have people who cheer me on and share what I do with others so that they know about what I do. It means more than you could ever know.
Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of working with two wonderfully creative souls for a brainstorming session. The goal of our meeting was to help my friend develop a business plan and a vision for her gallery/studio space. In the process of developing ideas, it quickly became apparent what a transformative experience her studio would create for all those who would come to visit. I admired her drive and her absolute passion for what her art and what she wanted it to inspire in her audience and patrons, as well as fellow women of color artists. It also made me realize how out of touch I have felt from my own creative process in the past year.
For the past year and change, I had been working long hours at my day job and at the end of the day and on the weekends, I felt physically and mentally depleted. This, of course, left me little energy to really pour into my creative work. Sure, I was creating and remaining committing to making the art but what lacked was the mindfulness behind the process. It was mostly: create something, then share on Instagram with a short caption and then move on to the next thing. I wasn’t putting as much into writing on my blog to give more context behind what I was doing and it was starting to feel soulless. I was just another body on the internet just throwing stuff out there.
It wasn't until I received the exhibition opportunity through Rutgers and the curators inquired about doing an artist talk that I started to slow down to pay attention to what I really was saying with my work. It was immensely gratifying that people were interested in knowing more about the person and the thought process behind what I was creating.
Thankfully, I have had a chance to slow down and take time off to focus, really focus, on my work.I’ve decided to recommit myself to my long-range goals and how I want my art to be impactful. I already know that I don’t want to limit myself to just art gallery shows; they’re too fleeting and sometimes feel more like a “scene” instead of an immersive, thoughtful experience. This is another reason I’m excited about my collaboration with Rutgers because the exhibition will include a discussion with a professor and their class I’ve always longed to create something cerebral with my work and this opportunity is the perfect springboard for that.
I also promise to write more. I was pretty good with blogging and then fell off and fell into the trap of just relying on clever Instagram captions to get by. In hindsight, I realize I was limiting myself. I wasn’t really sharing my creativity with the world and I was missing out on that problem solving and hashing-out that writing brings forth.
So with that said, my promise to myself and to you is that I will recommit myself to my work and to my audience.
I've been listening to Sade's Soldier of Love on heavy repeat, not only marveling at the gravity of the song but how dope the music video for it is. If you've seen it, you can see the connections and how I was inspired by the #grayish ##landscape and the red smoke.
The song is powerful as it speaks to the resilience of spirit in the face of recurrent disappointments in love and the determination to soldier on it spite of it all. I've been clinging to this song in light of all the crazy shit I read in the news, particularly in light of the daily reports of sexual assault/harassment allegations. These are daily reminders of how tough is it to be a women, a women of color, a Black woman in a society that increasingly tries to make you feel powerless. I'm grateful for the reminders of the women who put on a brave face when they are battered and can face the #storm. I say that at the risk of further the perennial "strong black woman" stereotype that is tiresome and unhelpful. There is a power in the willingness to be vulnerable by taking off the mask of invincibility.
One of the inspirations behind this newest piece was one of the promotional posters for my new favorite show Queen Sugar featuring two of the lead women actors Dawn Lyen-Gardner and Rutina Wesley. The show is shot with such indescribable beauty and sensitivity that it's hard not to be inspired by it. What stays with me about the show is how the characters, in spite of their very relatable flaws, have such capacity for hope and growth. This capacity for growth is what we have to hold on to these days when the news seems so seemingly stark and replete with bad news about hurricane aftermaths and mass shootings.
This piece is also the latest in my series featuring Black women and I was excited to create a work featuring two women together, reinforcing the importance of unity and solidarity and how when we come together, what we create is phenomenal. I'm also continuing with my continued intrigue with an interstellar theme because I think it also signifies limitless possibilities. A good friend told me that he likes to study cosmology and the nature of the universe because it puts things in perspectives when it comes to our place in existence, an idea which I love. Looking to the stars helps keep my sanity and the concept of incorporating Black imagery with it lends to the idea of possibility of expansion.
I'm noticing that fire is an underlying theme in this latest round of #Inkscapeportraits. Maybe on a subconscious level, I feel like every woman has something burning within her, be it #desire, rage, #vivacity, etc. I find this especially to be the case with the #women that may seem to be reserved on the surface but if you take the time to look her in the eyes, you see something powerful within.
Solely living off my art is a luxury that I can't afford. Having a day job, however, doesn't make me any less of an artist. Bills and responsibilities are real. So is my passion for what I create.
Every day it's a new scandal with the new regime in The White House. I don't know we are going to get through the next four years. In the mean time, I'm just offering this small commentary on his latest disaster...this one involves him leaking classified info to the visiting Russian ambassador.