Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Artist and Breast Cancer

On May 11, 2017,  my family doctor looked into my eyes and said "Well, Carole, it isn't good news."

I knew it was breast cancer before he even opened his mouth. I expected him to say that. I was prepared. I wanted facts, not sentiment. I listened while my husband stood beside me in shock. 

How did I know? Well, a couple months earlier one of my grandchildren accidentally banged his head on my breast on the spot that had been a constant in my life since the age of 17. It was a very sore spot on my right breast. The spot would swell a little each month but the swelling and pain disappeared once my period began. This monthly swelling and pain occurred for 40 years.

I'd had mammograms which showed nothing but I knew it was different this time. 

Within a week I had an appointment with a surgeon. He discussed a lumpectomy. He sent me for more tests. He then discussed a mastectomy. A week later he cut off my right breast and removed 6 lymph nodes. 

No one can prepare a women for the pain (physical and emotional) after a mastectomy. The pain radiated from the centre of my chest, across into my arm pit and all the way down to my fingertips.

Recovery from surgery was harder than I had anticipated but at each check up the surgeon and oncologists were pleased.

Six weeks post surgery we drove two hours to my appointment with the oncologist, a young, enthusiastic doctor whom I immediately liked. She explained what type of breast cancer I had, what treatments she wanted me to have and that basically I would be sick for more than a year from the side effects from the chemo, radiation and hormone drugs I would be on for 10 years.

I left there exhausted, overwhelmed and shell shocked.

A few weeks later I had my first chemo therapy treatment. I remember sitting in the chair moments after the nurse had started my IV wondering what the hell I was doing there! Two and a half hours later I was nauseated, shaking and dizzy. The next four weeks I endured every side effect from the chemo and anti nausea drugs that is known to oncologists.  Except for one. I never vomited.

One of the side effects of the anti nausea drugs was "mood changes, suicidal thoughts". Five days post chemo I was lying in bed planning my death. If I hadn't been so sick I would taken all the sleeping pills and pain killers I could get my hands on.

At that point my husband woke up, cradled me in his arms and talked me through it. He is my hero.

Three weeks post chemo I was scheduled for the next chemo treatment. When I walked into the cancer clinic (me leaning onto my husband's arm moving along at a snail's pace feeling wretched) the oncology nurse was shocked at how sick I still was. When the oncologist walked into the office she couldn't believer her eyes. She cancelled any further treatments until I was more stable.

Five weeks post chemo my mother passed away. She had been sick but her death was unexpected. I had been too sick to go visit her. I hadn't had a chance to say goodbye or to hold her hand and tell her how much I loved her.

Seven weeks post chemo we had a memorial for my mom and spread her ashes along a trail she and my dad often walked.

Eight weeks post chemo I went to the oncologist again. This time we returned to her office full of research and statistics on our minds. We discussed my chances of the cancer recurring within 15 years. We discussed that with the type of invasive lobular breast cancer, the size of the tumour, the stage and my age that the statistics showed very little difference in recurrence with or without chemotherapy.

We discussed my desire to live my life to the fullest. I want to enjoy quality of life over quantity. The three of us cried. My doctor hugged me and reminded me that the cancer tumour had been cut out of me and that I was cancer free.

I left there knowing that I wanted quality and not quantity, especially if I was going to be so sick for the next 12 months with no guarantee of any life extension.

It's now fifteen weeks post chemo, twenty-two weeks post surgery, twenty-four weeks since being diagnosed with breast cancer and thirty-two weeks since my little grandson banged his head against my right breast. I am feeling well again, although I'm often emotionally and physically fatigued by the end of the day. I'm enjoying my kids, their kids, my friends and my husband. I am blessed.

copyright Carole Reid 2017

copyright Carole Reid 2017

copyright Carole Reid 2017

copyright Carole Reid 2017

copyright Carole Reid 2017

copyright Carole Reid 2017

copyright Carole Reid 2017

"Bald Me" self portrait 


  1. a very hard story. it's great, that your husband was (and is!) always on your side. all the best to you, carole!!
    ... I have to made a dress for dolly. soon...

  2. I couldn't love you more. Even from this far.

    1. Thank you, Annton. Distance doesn't matter when it comes to love.

  3. Hi Carole,
    Been a long time....
    I love these pieces, wish I could investigate them close up..
    Sounds like a tough old time you've had: big grown up stuff to deal with.
    I suppose we who are artists are fortunate to have our language and creative processes at times like these.
    I'm so inspired by you.
    Beth x

    1. Hello Beth,
      I wish you could investigate up close too and then have a good long visit together at a great coffee shop in town. I hate being a grown up but I gotta do what I gotta do.
      Thanks. x

  4. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I believe that you need to publish
    more about this issue, it might not be a taboo subject
    but usually people do not speak about such topics.
    To the next! Many thanks!!

    1. Thanks for leaving your comments. I'll be posting more as my energy and bravery allow.

  5. oh Carole, I am so very sorry for all your pain! losing your mom on top of it all is so heartbreaking and I know she would be happy that you are making quality of life a priority, her passing is certainly a reminder that every moment is precious. sending continued love!