Finding The Colour Again

Life has been rolling along recently with loads of travel, with celebrations and lots of love. I was shortlisted for the Mamamia Writers Comp, which was some lovely validation for the writing of this blog. I also received an “Australian of The Year” nomination. Which despite making me laugh for weeks also left me secretly chuffed.

I seem to be relishing life at the moment.

As I approach the three year mark since I found my grade three lump in my left breast, the colour is FINALLY returning to my life, despite living with the ongoing side effects (hairloss, menopause, brittle painful bones, digestive issues, lung scarring, medication side effects, continued weight gain) from treatment for early breast cancer, I’m finally emerging from the sinkhole.  This despite not even being finished with surgeries yet, as I’m still on a public waiting for reconstruction.

It’s taken some woop arsed counselling sessions, some anti-depressants, and the immersion of myself in the things I used to love to do when I was a teenager. I bought a ukulele in Hawaii and I’m enjoying learning some basic chords and having a sing along.  Painting has been such a feature of the last few months. Commissions are coming in thick and fast so I’m finally ready to set up a business.

Here’s a grab of the stages of my latest painting. 

I’m no longer thinking about if the cancer comes back. I’m no longer worried about death. I’ve reached the point of que sera sera … the future’s not ours to see, and all that. So thanks Doris Day and thanks cancer for reconnecting me with my creative side which I lost for 26 years.

“Finding the Colour Again” for Angie. Original watercolour by me. 115cm x 100cm. Inspired by the photo titled “Take What You Want and Pay For It” by Marina McDonald.

Marina’s original photograph which she entered in the AIPPA can be accessed here.

Anyone who wants to follow me on Instagram can find me at lisamcdermidfineart.


Cutting My Losses

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Cutting my losses

It’s a very strange feeling to be over 16 months out from chemotherapy and yet be back to square one with the hair where it all began to fall out in April 2013 from FEC – D chemotherapy.  Punk Chick and JRF helped me treat the hair loss as a celebration of sorts, a path to wellness. “Piece of cake!” I said, since it wasn’t going to be permanent.

In retrospect, what a genius idea it was to document that process for the SHITTY TITTIE CHEMO CUT CHALLENGE.  None of us had any inkling that so much of my hair would be killed off permanently by my life saving chemotherapy.

Just yesterday, I had the pleasure of lunch with the radiant, rainbow coloured, hairdresser Punk Chick and my dear sisterlike friend Kenny. They agreed my head could do with a shave as there wasn’t a lot of other options holding out for me in haircut land.  So this had to be. A clean slate. Starting afresh, moving on, and all that.

My recent attempts at hairstyling. With deepest apologies.

My recent attempts at hairstyling. With deepest apologies.

As it stands, this must be about Shitty Tittie Chemo Cut Fourteen, and hopefully one day very soon, I won’t think of this as a chemo cut anymore but just as “my cut”.  The association between this and chemo is very strong. But so was the constant reminder of cancer from looking like I had the hair of the Three Stooges.
(Yes, all of them together) And many people still thought I was still having active treatment anyway.

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The family that shaves together stays together!


I’ll continue ingesting Minoxidil and Spironolactone through the summer and then I think I’ll just forget about it. The hair specialist says the hair I have is likely to fall out once the meds stop.  But I have so much to be thankful for and it’s time to direct my energies to more important things.  You know, like things that actually matter.

So for now I’ll run with the slogan ,  “the family that shaves together stays together”.  Or something like it.


This is us. This is me.

Twenty three months ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Around the same time, 650kms away from me lived a woman roughly my age, married and raising two young children, who was also just diagnosed with breast cancer. We met in an online community for young women with cancer, a group that has connected me with women that will be lifelong friends.

Marina is one of them.

We had the same chemotherapy regimen and she would read my blog to see what laid ahead for her because I was a week further along.  Despite going through exactly what I was going through, incredibly, when I struggled to get out of bed, Marina posted to me little gift packages with the sweetest cards. When I started to burn from radiation, we texted photos of our chests to each other and she shared what she had learnt from treatment. When my hair never grew back, she sent me her beautiful silk hair scarves (pictured) that she wasn’t using anymore. Later on, she brought me her wig when she visited me in my hometown.

This is us in my home town.

This is us in my home town.

Despite us both having aggressive, nodal positive breast cancer, we are positive for still being here, and now inextricably linked by our shared experience and friendship. Marina is such a brave woman and she has taught me a lot about myself.

Earlier in the year, Marina jumped on an extraordinary opportunity to tell her story through Canon’s “Shine a Light” promotion. Several months after we had completed our treatment, the Australian journalist Lisa Wilkinson chose Marina as her subject to photograph as a symbol of what matters to her. Shining a light on breast cancer was what mattered to her, and she wanted to capture an image of an incredibly strong survivor.

In the video below, Marina articulates the message that people see her as she is now. She doesn’t want to shy away from how breast cancer and a double mastectomy has physically transformed her.  Here, Marina is coming out of the other side of her breast cancer.  As if to say, “this is me, I’m happy with who I am, take it or leave it”. Bravery in spades!

A month ago, I had the pleasure of flying to Marina’s city. She wanted to enter an image of me in the National Photographic Portrait Prize (2015) in Canberra because she finds my story compelling.

This year the competition received the biggest number of entries in its history. Sadly, Marina’s images didn’t make the top two percent of thousands of submissions and although disappointed she didn’t make the cut, we wait with anticipation to see the final images selected when it is exhibited next year.

What is clear though, is Marina’s passion for photography and her incredible talent for it will go far. Marina turned to photography earlier this year as a positive focus in her life after the horrors of last year, and she has achieved so much in such a short time.

What was of interest in my story to Marina, was the cruel irony in me creating the Shitty Tittie Chemo Cut Challenge which can be viewed here, virtually celebrating the loss of my hair to chemotherapy with such positivity.  

And yet here I am fifteen months later, overweight and menopausal, wearing my wedding ring on my necklace because It doesn’t fit my lymphedema swelling in my hand from surgery. I am still without eyebrows, and if you zoom in you can see the facial hair I have from the hair drugs I take.  Let us not forget that ghastly hair!

But it’s not about the hair to me.  It’s about the other things that it represents; the loss of health, youth, fertility, breast sensation, beauty, intimacy, womanliness, femininity.  I think Marina has captured the essence of all of that so well. It can be seen in the tension in my eyes and forehead, in the anger with the wig. She HAS really nailed it. My story.

So, this is me. Take it or leave it.

TAKE WHAT YOU WANT AND PAY FOR IT: Shitty Tittie Chemo Cuts #1

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Artist’s statement: The image title is derived from a Spanish proverb which is particularly pertinent to Lisa’s story. I met her in an online support community for young women with breast cancer. She had had long, thick, blonde hair for 37 years before chemotherapy commenced. Though grateful to be in remission, she has paid dearly; her hair and eyebrows have not regrown. Lisa’s suffering emerges from her desire for the return of her hair, not in the longing for her breasts that have been lost to cancer.

KEEP YOUR HAIR ON: Shitty Tittie Chemo Cuts #3

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Artist’s statement: I met Lisa in an online support community for young women with cancer. When she wept after being told the loss of her long, luscious blonde hair and her eyebrows after chemotherapy was permanent, her hair specialist suggested she should be grateful ‘for her children’s sake’. This image depicts Lisa’s deep anger at this lack of empathy and her dissatisfaction with the solutions suggested to her – wigs, hats and scarves do not console her for the loss of her femininity.


When I look at Marina’s images I get choked up in the same way Marina did when Lisa Wilkinson showed her her images for the first time. There is grief and loss captured here, but there is also acceptance of self.  

I can’t thank Marina enough for asking me to be involved in this project.

Thank you also to our gorgeous friend Candy for her assistance with the titles and words. I would never have reached that 100 word limit on my own!

Links


http://www.canon.com.au/en-AU/Personal/imageSpectrum/SHINE#/

http://www.portrait.gov.au/exhibitions/national-photographic-portrait-prize-2015


Chemoversary Edition

This week saw the passing of three hundred and sixty five days since I completed my Fec-D chemotherapy regimen.

Yes. It’s my “Chemoversary”!   And tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999.

No, no, no, I won’t be doing that!   Instead, I will, on this splendid Sunday evening, present to you a bathroom selfie titled “Shitty Tittie Chemo Cut Thirteen – The Chemoversary Edition.”

With around 3-6% percent of women who have the drug Taxotere (Docetaxol) going on to have poor hair regrowth post chemo, and with doctors stumped about what the mechanism is that leads to thinning and baldness in some patients, I’m guessing this makes me pretty spesh and unique.

The illustrious “Chemoversary” bathroom selfie. Pensive. Nostalgic. Sometimes saddened but often amused (In a shaking my head in disbelief kind of way).

But there is more to life than having long, thick hair.

For example, wiping hairs out of your face on windy days is such a pain.  So is getting a long hair in your mouth while you are eating.  That stuff one can do without.   Who needs to waste time purchasing hair accessories?  Who really wants the risk of getting their hair caught in power tools?  That is dangerous!    Or braiding or platting hair.  Pffft!   Or tying it back with scrunchies. So 1980’s anyway. Those things are all so, so overrated!  And quite frankly, pony tails belong on ponies.  There I said it!

There is also much, much more to life than supporting the hair dressers of the good land in which you live. (Sorry Punk Chick – It was my dream to visit you every couple of months for a new do to make up for my abmissal hair dressing tally from the 1970’s to 2013). But in 369 days, and after a bit of fuzz trimming, this is where we are at. I ain’t going to be helping you pay your bills any time soon!

Thank you to all the people who felt sorry for me. It truly helps to know you hold some sort of nostalgia for my hair loss too.  Thank you also to the people who finally conceded defeat and stopped telling me it was early days and would grow back normally with more time.

To get a little nostalgic for my lost hair you can see what it started out like prior to chemo and finished up as in the video here… 

Huge thanks to my girlfriends Candy, Marina and Angie who sent me or offered to send me their wigs from across Australia.  An incredibly real version of Lady Diana and Ab Fab Patsy arrived at my front door via Australia Post.  I’ll share some pics of these at some stage.  I have embraced these wigs a few times in my own house with the blinds pulled down.  I even ventured out in public in the company of trusting girlfriends, when late one night we went out for dinner in town on one of the coldest and quietest nights of the week.  At this stage, they still feel a little like wearing a dead marsupial on my head.  But I might persist.  Might being the operative word.

For anyone who ever finds themselves in this situation of hair not returning properly post chemotherapy, there are women world-wide who will share their stories and offer support and advice. Click here to be taken to the resource “Ahead of Our Time” from a group called the Taxotears.  Permanant hair loss can be one of the hardest psychological issues to deal with post cancer treatment.

Thankfully, I’m getting to the stage where I’m starting not to care so much.  But it has taken many months to get here and I’m not shedding Taxotears anymore.