October 26, 2023

Addicted to Your Illness?


I have spent the last six years reading, researching, and writing about cancer.  I am so fulfilled by this work, but sometimes I wonder if it is always the healthiest choice of how to spend my time.

My cancer has never been in remission and it could be with me for a long while yet. Cancer is an uninvited companion in my body, but that doesn’t mean it always has to be on my mind.  Usually my expertise about young adult cancer seems like a great asset that benefits my own care and helps others too.  But lately I’ve been wondering if I have built a little cancer trap for myself.

Right now I have the luxury of feeling well.  I don’t look or feel like a cancer patient, but I think and write like one.  What would I write about and how would I spend my time if I moved cancer from the front burner to the back burner in my mind?  I don’t even know the answer to this question. And that’s a bad sign. Perhaps while I’m feeling well, I should focus a bit more on the world beyond cancer.

So I’m giving myself a little assignment.  For the next few weeks, I’m going to write one post per week that is not about cancer.  Just for the hell of it.  Just to break my little addiction to the small world of illness I’ve built up around myself.  I hope you’ll still read and comment as I experiment with the great beyond.

Do you ever feel like you need a break from focusing on illness or that it consumes too much of your identity? Do you volunteer for cancer organizations, work in the healthcare field, blog or write about illness on top of being a patient too? I’m taking requests: What would you like me to write about in my non-healthcare posts?

Read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s to learn more about coping with life beyond illness.

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March 02, 2023

Vicodin Earrings

Surfing online, I came across this great work by 20-something Becky Stern. It is an embroidery from an MRI of her kneecap. On her website I found earrings she made out of Vicodin, a plush stuffed animal-like version of her femur, and a copper band aid. I was captivated and interviewed her a bit more about her art.

Q: What medium do you like to work in the most?
A: I don’t have a favorite medium. I tend to prefer craft processes, but
also dabble in electronics.

Q: What subject matter fascinates you?
A: I’m really interested in our relationships with technology. A lot of
my work draws this. I also think it’s really neat how low tech things
like knitting can relate to digital images (stitches and pixels,

Q: So what was up with your leg? Why did you have surgery?
A: I have bad genetic knee anatomy. My shallow femur grooves mean that my
kneecaps dislocate a lot. This time it took out a piece of cartilage
with it. It felt like there were shards of glass inside my knee before
the surgery.

Q: Some people would be grossed out by pics of their surgery. Seems like you are not. Have you always had a strong stomach?
A: My first knee surgery was when I was 8. I had another when I was 14.
So I guess you could say it grew on me. I’ve never liked it when
doctors could see parts of my body that I couldn’t, so I just ask them
for a copy of my MRIs, x-rays, surgery pictures, etc. I even have my
wisdom teeth and knee screws (that had to be removes) in an envelope.
The pictures from this last one do gross me out a little bit, but I
like to play on the grossness factor a bit in my work. The plush femur
is cute and at the same time gross.

Q: Do you plan to make other medically related pieces?

A: I’ve been working on a series of embroideries from my MRI images, and
I’ve made some band-aid earrings as well as some earrings made from my
leftover Vicodin tablets (I can’t take the stuff, it turns out it
makes me sick).

What about you guys reading this post? Do you ever have daydreams, real schemes, or actual artwork, plays, films, sculptures that you’ve made about your illness? Have you seen other illness related artwork that has stayed in your mind? Any work by young adult cancer patients?

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