CBS Sunday Morning +


This week on CBS Sunday Morning they presented a themed show on the topic of cancer. A group of women, myself included were interviewed for a subsegment named, “The flat movement”. Read the CBS article related to the segment, A Matter of choice: Mastectomies without Reconstruction.

And watch the individual segment here.

I love the women I am surrounded by in this piece. Rebecca Pine of the Breast and the Sea is a gentle giant. Read this New York Times article, ‘Going Flat’ After Breast Cancer, where Rebecca is pictured. Thedra Cullar-Ledford is an amazing artist!  Samantha Tiger West is a local friend as well as audio and visual artist. Marianne DuQuette Cuozzo is an artist whose big heart can be seen alongside Debbie Sue (here is her FB page, no website) in this video:

 

I took this photo, last month, after filming for this segment. Samantha West had to cut out before we took this photo in front of the Equinox ad which is featured in the CBS Segment. The ad features Samantha Paige, of Last Cut, whom I follow through social media. This ad is epic! It is an epic contribution to the ‘flat narrative’.

If you have arrived here due to the CBS Sunday Morning show interview. Welcome. Poke around. Check out my art galleries and my breast cancer advocacy resume. Soon, I will resume my regular program of art making here on my artist’s blog. 🙂 Until then…

 

 

Threads, Resistance and being an art blogger

I am really happy to be a member of the group calling themselves, The Artist Circle.  We are concerned people, also artists, who think civic duty is admirable. At the same time, being artists, we often depict our experience visually.

These two ideas merged in this Call For Art on the topic of resistance.

Threads of Resistance <——- Click it!

We have a Facebook page too.

I consider myself an art blogger. I have recently come out with a book. And, I am a political person. I am also an outspoken person; I post nude photos of my body and I challenge societal norms by doing so. I do all of these things through my blog and web site, melanietesta.com. Briefly, I considered refraining from putting my name in the footer of  this Call For. I wondered if, because I have just published a book, perhaps I should remain neutral. But ultimately, I decided, art is a perfect medium to explore ideas of resistance, and Procion MX dye is the perfect media to do that, and well, I am an artist in need of goals.

After thinking all of this through, I placed my name on the list of organizers.

It is frightening to live out loud, to express our opinions and then remain present to the experience of having done so. Cancer in particular has shown me, it is time to live, out-loud-proud. In-all-respects. In light of this, I would like to say, let us please find the means and the self restraint to speak to one another and express our views without reacting to our fellows, so much as seeking to find common ground, learning to laugh together and trusting that full understanding will unfold. 

Let’s all be civil, and have discourse.

And please, let us all make art, like our lives depend on it. It does.

 

 

Loving Goodness

 

Testa Family

Happy Holidays, all. May peace reside within each of us, this year, this day, this moment. Life is short. Let’s all enjoy every minute of it.

We have just returned from a holiday visit with family. We ate great food. Lasagna, salads, bread. Ham with all the sides. Nuts, a cheese ball. Shrimps. Hugs, family, TV and talk. We took a walk with my brother and Sister in Law. And received great gifts. A great cooking pan, a bracelet I have been wanting for a very long time. Some tank tops from Buy Me Brunch. And I am happy to say, my brother and Sister in Law will be visiting Brooklyn quite soon. Life is good.

I would like to Thank You for your support and encouragement this year! I have begun blogging again and am enjoying sharing my artistic progress with you. Thank you for coming here and checking in. I am thankful to be able to teach at Craft NAPA, and I plan to blog about my adventures. I hope you will stick with me and enjoy it with me. If you want specific pictures or info, comment please!

IMG_4694

This week, I walked to Public House 61 and had coffee while stitching. I spent a couple hours enjoying myself, one stitch at a time. These last few weeks have been oddly stressful. After pulling a muscle in my back, I had an oncology appointment and, of course, my Dr. ordered scans, the first in the last 5 years. I knew it was nothing to worry about, but it did also worry me, to think this might well be cancer related. I was diagnosed 5 years ago, January 11. I do have fear of recurrence, so stitch, which slows time down to a single movement, a small action, that piles up and reveals itself over time, is meditation. It is the perfect antidote to stress.

And! No evidence of Disease at this time. I have a herniated disk, which requires much walking. Deal!! I will take it. 

The coffee shop is one mile away, they open at 7:30 A.M. So, I Gather my Sew-plies!! purses and a project, and go sew for a cuppa. And then walk home again. Win! In the photo just above this video, you can see my project bag and preferred stitching notions, wax and needles. 

I am working my newest Gather your Sew-plies!! purse. It is a class sample. I look forward to seeing where it goes.

IMG_4892 

Everything in between

   

This chair, with its lovely patina, can be found at Rex, a coffee shop on 10th street between 56 and 57 in Manhattan. It is not the most comfortable chair. But it sure is pretty.

  

I have a thing for chairs, if you have not noticed. Artistically speaking, chairs equate to nudes for me. When I started writing Inspired to Quilt, I was asked to cut back on placing nudes within the book. This was in the hope of attracting the broadest audience possible. So, I moved to depicting chairs (and birds, always birds).  Chairs allude to the human form, we rarely walk into a room without coming upon a chair. People recline, rest, wait, gather while sitting in a chair. So when I come upon an interesting chair, I draw, or in this case, photograph it. It is good form to do so, taking notes, snapping pictures, keeps items and ideas accessible.

  

There are two color ways of this chair print in my first fabric line, Meadowlark by Windham. If I get my way, there will be more. Once we alight on motifs that impress us, spark the imagination, it is a good idea to honor it and continue on the quest of expressing your appreciation of the idea. In the photograph that follows, you can see a bit of hand printed chair in the lower right.

  

While sitting in the aforementioned chair, I worked this piece. It is my goal to make my small work art quilts as similar in style and nature to my journal pages as I am able. When working with different media and hoping to carry ideas over from one format to another, we must realize there is quite a difference in media. Applying paint with a brush to paper is much different that applying dye to cloth, paper is smooth and has finishing agents that hold the paint in place, where cloth is much more absorbent, and I haven’t even mentioned the difference between paint and dye. What I am trying to suggest though is, there is no direct correlation between mediums. We need to bridge the gaps we experience as we come across them.

The journey to finding these parallels began to occur prior to writing Inpired to Quilt, and continues to this day. For example, in the piece above, the finches were drawn using a ruling pen and paint, on silk organza. Silk organza is the equivalent to tracing paper in my journals, it is sheer, it can be layered and allows what appears underneath to show through. The ruling pen itself is a parallel to a pen, and allows for fine line drawing on cloth or paper, using any color you are able to mix in either dye or paint. 

I have a good handle of the tools needed to cross media. What I am working on is creating imagery that can flow and jump off the page and find a continuum on cloth, my preferred medium. This is the fun of being an artist and following where the visual and artistic journey brings us. I continued this exploration within Dreaming From the Journal Page: Transforming the Sketchbook to Art. And honestly, I think this will be my journey for many years to come.  

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Today I went to my 4 month check up with my oncologist, all is clear. I am good to go for another four months. 

I need to ‘talk cancer’ for a moment and I hope you are ok with this. Cancer sucks. I am happy that I seem to be in remission, I have the ability to beat this and I know that not all folks do. Within my support circles, I read and keep in touch with folks who are experiencing stage four cancer, where keeping the cancer in check is the only option and some of my friends and acquaintances have passed from this disease. I do not mean any disrespect in talking about something as trivial as hair, but I find I need to.

It has been about four years since I lost my hair to chemotherapy. I was bald, I didn’t wear a wig, I didn’t feel the need to. When my head was cold, I wore a hat. I was told that my hair might return different than it had previously been, it might come back thicker, curly, it might change color, or come back thinner. Secretly, I hoped it might come back curly, as I have always had poker straight hair. Instead it came back super thin. I used to struggle to wrap an elastic around it twice, now, I bet I would need to wrap an elastic 5-6 times. I have had to change the part in my hair so that my head does not show through as much. I have been trying to grow my hair out and I realize, my hair has become my krytonite. I can handle being breastless, I had to make a choice, I did, I went with it. But my hair? Not so much.

I saved my life, I exercise, I am eating healthier, I am alive. Now, I need to accept, this is the way my hair is now. I am glad to have hair. It sure beats being bald, or dead for that matter. I don’t know if I can grow my hair out-I have gotten tired of cutting it and haircuts are expensive, here in the city, I am going to give it to the end of the summer and decide at that time. Whatever I do, I need to stop the conversation in my head, the negativity and disappointment I feel, when I look at my reflection and see how thin my hair is. The experience of breast cancer and its treatment has made me shine a fresh and bright light on beauty ideals, how they affect me (and us), and has encouraged me to break down my assumptions and become a stronger more vibrant woman. It is time to apply what I have been learning to my feelings and thoughts about my hair. 

Thank you for sticking with this post, it was a long one.

Squirrels Stories

A few months ago, I was approached by an artist and producer named Jamie Courville to see if I might contribute to a project called Squirrels Stories. Jamie says, “A linguist told me “squirrels” is the hardest word to say in the English language. Squirrels Stories is the place for the things that are difficult to talk about.” With an intro like that, how could I say no?

What follows is a cut and paste from Jamie’s web site:


 

Squirrels Stories has a new audio portrait to warm your ears JamieCourvilleMelly1 Hello. How are you? I started this project to give a voice to people living in difficult circumstances, and to let their friends and family members better understand what they were going through. Many of us are dealing with cancer in one way or another, but we are bad at talking about it. Squirrels Stories is an attempt to narrow that gap. Melanie is an incredibly talented textile artist and craftbook designer living in Brooklyn. After her breast cancer diagnosis, she chose not to reconstruct her body. JamieCourvilleMelly2 Please listen to Melanie’s story here.

You can read more about Melanie and her work on her website. She also participated in the Grace Project. For more information on living a FLAT & Fabulous life, click here.

Of course, there are many other Squirrels Stories to listen to. Please share these so they can reach as many ears as possible. I want to thank everyone who has participated in this project. There are a lot more stories of everyday people facing difficult situations. There is a lot of work to do. Looking forward, Jamie Courville I am always looking to produce portraits for individuals and organizations to help them tell their story. Please contact Jamie to talk about it.

4 years ago today: the vista

Four years ago today, I heard the words, ” I am sorry to say, you have breast cancer”. 

Wow. Glad to see the tail end of that one!

Today I am immersed in a quest to exercise. I want to give my body a little something extra, something to grab onto, something more than popping a pill or settling into a passive groove. In my case, lowering body fat is a good thing. I had 100% ER/PR+ breast cancer. Fat and estrogen levels are related. I have been using kettle bells and it has become a bit of a hobby for me! 

I found Artemis last year, after the need to store my plate weights and bars (New York City apartment problems). I’ve watched/read Artemis train for the Iron Maiden, an exciting journey to be sure. I am wowed. The Iron Maiden is 3 movements, a press, a pull-up and a pistol squat. Women must do this using a 24kg bell. That is 52 pounds!

Um, yeah. Wow.

I use an online training service through Iron Body Studios and WeightTraining.com. I love it. I even bought a tack-on program called Attack the Bar. I do this at home.  I use kettle bells, a Jungle Gym XT, Valslides, a door mounted pull-up bar and elastic bands. I am training Turkish Get Ups, Pull ups, presses. I love it, really. I feel confident. I experience a connection between mind and body, I am becoming aware of my food choices. Slow and steady makes the grade, small changes daily! I have all the time in the world to commit to my program. Thank goodness.

I gladly exchange a love of lifting heavy things and a new more streamlined physique for the stress of doctors appointments. Any day.

Happy Anniversary, Melly! Good going.

In the meantime, I was invited to donate artwork to Virginia Spiegel‘s The 100 Fundraiser to Fight Cancer. The above piece of artwork is my offering for the cause. 

The 100

I do hope you might consider bidding 100$ for this piece. I would love for you to own it.

October- a guest post

Today, I would like to introduce Sara Bartosiewicz-Hamilton. Sara started FLAT & Fabulous with Barbie Ritzco and I quickly joined the group, I find the group to a balm and a relief. Sara is an amazing woman, focused, direct, compassionate. I stand in awe of what she has been able to accomplish and I hold her spirit in loving grace as she attends her best friend, my hero’s, funeral this week.

Without further ado, here is Sara’s guest post:


 

Beautiful fall day in October
 
Back in the day, October meant fall was in full swing – full of beautiful colors, the leaves in Michigan changing from green to red, orange, and yellow. The fun surrounding Halloween, picking apples at the orchard, and fresh cider on hayrides. And pulling out our sweaters and getting cozy by bonfires.

October means something much different now. It is a month where the entire world focuses on breast cancer “awareness”. I would like to meet the person who is not aware of breast cancer.

It was in the fall of 2006, I found out that I have the BRCA2 mutation. I was told at 29 that I didn’t need to do anything about this. I begged to differ. I told the genetic counselor (term used very loosely as this was not a trained genetic counselor but a nurse tasked to deal with those of us who were being genetically tested in the local cancer center) to set me up with whomever I needed to talk to about a prophylactic mastectomy. And, truthfully, I thought my mastectomy would let me walk away from cancer and having to “deal” with it. I thought I would be free from the fear that I grew up with and I thought my family and I would saunter on with life, never giving cancer a second thought.ever.again.

The reality is the fear didn’t “disappear”. Eventually I had a prophylactic oopherectomy/hysterectomy at the advice of my oncological gynecologist. Afterwards, I came to the realization I had done what I could to prevent cancer – the rest is out of my hands. I can still develop breast cancer. I can still develop ovarian cancer. Because of the BRCA2 mutation, there are other cancers I am at higher risk of developing, some of which my family has a history of. I choose not to let fear rule my life and simply live life with the knowledge I must continue to be vigilant about my health and teach my children to make their health a priority.

From the beginning, I made a very conscious decision to be open about my journey – I shared in great detail in my blog and in various formats. Back in 2006, I couldn’t find other young women walking the path I did. It was isolating and trying to get support from people who had no understanding of what I was dealing with was disappointing. I was determined to leave a mark so that those coming behind wouldn’t face the same loneliness and despair I had felt. That determination is what led me to posing for The SCAR Project and, subsequently, becoming part of a sisterhood that has truly changed me in countless ways.

One of my SCAR sisters would become my best friend. I met Barbie Ritzco shortly after she posed for David Jay. She and I started working together on The SCAR Project and, a month after I chose to have my reconstruction extracted, we created FLAT & Fabulous. We wanted to create a safe place for those of us living without reconstruction after mastectomy. We envisioned a new sisterhood which would focus on empowerment and living life to its fullest, moving away from cancer and focusing on how to live the best version of ourselves. It was intoxicating as our membership grew – we only expected a handful of women we already knew. We were excited to welcome our fellow FLAT & Fabulous sisters! We noticed women we knew in other forums joined us – they had been quiet about their reality, thinking they were the only woman living without reconstruction – it caused us to realize we may not truly know how many women have been “hiding”, thinking they were alone. And as we worked to get our group out there, we heard from new members again and again I thought I was the only one.

I vividly remember the day. One of our original members happened to read a meme. Within the meme, a reference so small that it was surely missed by many but, to someone living without reconstruction, it was profound. It hinted that perhaps women choosing not to have reconstruction after mastectomy were actually in the majority. That was a game changer. While I truly support each woman making the choices right for her in her journey, the knowledge that those who choose not to have reconstruction are in the majority is mind blowing.

Barbie in front of her SCAR Project photo

I consider myself “lucky” – I have a few SCAR sisters who were living without reconstruction. I was able to talk with one before my extraction. She calmed my fears and reassured me I would be okay. Many women are given the perception that they are the only woman choosing not to reconstruct. Imagine that. Imagine thinking you are the only person in the world choosing to live a certain way. A way that is in direct conflict with the cultural expectations and confines of beauty. Choosing to do something that no one in your support groups or forums talks about – in fact, they intensely focus on the exact opposite. I am humbled by the courage and strength it took for these women to make this choice – especially as I hear the many stories of doctors refusing to perform mastectomy without reconstruction until they are psychologically evaluated, as if the only way they would make this choice is if they are mentally unstable.

Eventually, we opened a fan page – we realized that while we wanted to have a place for those living without reconstruction to find support, we also wanted to extend the message of empowerment and self-love to the masses. In addition, we use the platform to educate those around us about the choice to live without reconstruction.

This October is bittersweet. My partner, co-founder and best friend Barbie passed away at the end of September. The last conversation we had, I told her about the new website I was working on with a panel of Flat & FABulous sisters and our annual virtual 5K that we are dedicating to her and have even gotten medals for (Barbie LOVED her medals!). I would give anything to have her here to join in the celebration. I miss her and the partnership we had – incredibly unique and irreplaceable. I know she is shocked and proud of all that we have accomplished – she always was and always will be our biggest cheerleader.

Over the years, my perspective of October has changed. From appreciating the beauty of the fall to being annoyed and frustrated by the commercialization of pink. I have decided to take back the month, take back pink – if I am being pigeon holed as a “breast cancer” writer, I am going to make sure I get mileage out of the one month news outlets are interested. If the entire world is focused on breast cancer right now, I will raise my voice so others hear about the need for more research, accepting awareness has been achieved. My metastatic sisters who are literally dying. I will remind others, and kick myself in the pants, to be proactive – perform self-breast exams, stay on top of screening, discuss with your relatives your family history of cancer.

It’s okay to like pink – just be sure you understand that most of your dollars aren’t making it to an organization and, when it does, it probably isn’t being used for research to find a cure. It’s okay to hate pink – I understand your frustration. I encourage you to step beyond the pink – whatever side of the color you are on. Look at what is truly happening in the realm of breast cancer. Take a look at The SCAR Project to see what cancer is and that it doesn’t care about age or gender, read the stories of my SCAR sisters who have died – JoleneVanessaDarcie, and my best friend Barbie to realize cancer kills – it is not pink, it isn’t a ribbon. Don’t let this month paralyze you with anger or trick you into thinking if you buy a pink ribbon we are that much closer. Embrace each other, support each other and don’t take for granted a single breath you have been given.

always in my heart & on my mind, my bfffff

This week, I will be at Arlington National Cemetery, at the funeral for Barbie. I will be pondering her ultimate sacrifice for our country, grieving the loss I feel a million different ways and, ultimately, return to gratitude. Thankful for who she was, thankful for the impact she has had and continues to be, and thankful to have had such an amazing partner and best friend.

October is just a month. Pink is just a color. Live Sincerely. Be the best version of you. Be.fabulous.

being human and having a body

I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago this week. This requires some acknowledgment and some introspection on my part. In this last year, I have come to a turning point; my body, it’s pain, is no longer directing my experience, neither mentally, nor physically. 

Thank goodness. 

Becoming used to being a flat chested woman is a journey. I have learned a lot about myself, it is almost as if I have been emerging from a chrysalis, unwrapping the leaves of societal expectation (breast cancer patients are encouraged and expected to reconstruct or wear breast forms). I am learning to love the shape I am. I am learning to embrace this stronger, more fortified version of myself. This is a fantastic journey, really. By opting out of creating a semblance of a breast, by opting out of wearing the shape of a breast within a garment, and learning to love my body, my way, I am rebuilding my idea of my self, body image and my personal capabilities. 

Cancer, the treatment to rid the body of cancer, is harrowing to say the least. Luckily for me though, during the time that I was going through the worst of it, I came to the thought that, if my body could withstand the almost lethal dose of medication called chemotherapy, what else could it achieve? 

I came to the realization that although my diet was pretty good, the one thing that I was not doing was exercise. Between opting out of breast reconstruction and wondering what this might do to my self esteem, I decided that exercise was a great way to create a mind/body connection. I imagined that connecting the mind and the body would help bolster my confidence and help me to accept the new shape of my body.

But how do you go from never really ‘investing’ in exercise to helping yourself embrace it? Exercise is drudgery, isn’t it? No, not at all. Actually, and I can say this in all honesty, now that I have been lifting weights three times a week for more than a year and a half, exercise makes everything better. My mood has improved, my scars do not feel as tight, I have a better understanding of what foods will pack on pounds, what foods will feel great. And lifting weights sure does sculpt and streamline your body, I must say, I like the aesthetics of weight lifting.

So back to it: how do you change the idea that exercise is drudgery? This is what I did: 

I started out by researching free workouts, fitness blogs, and basically, body types. I used YouTube for this. From there I realized that I like the shape that weightlifting can give the female form. Finding an exercise regimen that you like is key! 

I found a few websites that I like and continue to follow like, MyOhMytv, Fit and Feminist, GoKaleo, Bret Contreras, to name a few. Reading about and keeping your mind focused by reading books, blogs and watching YouTube videos is great reinforcement of your commitment and you will learn a bunch, just make sure you find quality sources, I don’t suggest reading fitness magazines that promise to reveal your abs in 20 minutes, with a restrictive, unfun diet. Beside which, fitness and fashion magazines promote a body ideal that has negative connotations, you can trust yourself on your own journey to know when YOUR body looks and feels optimal to YOU.

But here is the most important part: It is crucial to to tell yourself as you begin to work out, that exertion feels good. Remind yourself that your body is an amazing machine, that you take part in maintaining and helping it improve. You are not a victim of your body, but a participant in its abilities. And after each workout it is essential to compliment yourself on a job well done. Writing these compliments down in a workout journal can help a lot.

Creating a mental atmosphere that supports active commitment and participation to exercise is essential. I certainly do not want to go overboard-there are no ‘beast workouts’ for me, I workout three times a week and all together, each workout takes no more than forty-five minutes to one hour. This is easy. Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, preferably before 9 a.m., I lift weights, here, at home.

I am consistent.

I keep track of my reps and weight lifted so that I can look back on my progress and encourage myself to lift heavier when the time and numbers of reps seem right. I date each entry. I compliment myself (especially when I did not want to workout but did so anyway). And when someone compliments me, I write that down and date it too (I got a great compliment about the shape of my arms a few months back and I still enjoy seeing that entry in my workout journal).

I used to think that exercise was all or nothing, that if I didn’t do a workout, I would spiral into not wanting to workout ever again. This is not true. If I miss a workout, or two, or a few weeks of working out, I choose a date to begin working out again and I am patient and methodical about getting back in the game. I do not punish myself for needing, or taking a break.

I am grateful that my cancer diagnosis had the effect of encouraging me to invest in a fit body. Not only do I want to help my body resist disease, I want the confidence that comes with the commitment to getting my workout in. I want the strength of my glutes, propelling me down the street, as I rush to catch the subway, I want beautiful shoulders and I like having a metabolic ‘safety net’ when I go on holiday and eat one too many pieces of chocolate (you can’t out-train a bad diet, but if you are mostly clean in your food choices, all will be well). Most of all, I want a sense of body image that is filled with love and compassion and working out helps me connect all of these dots in the best of ways.

So, I thank my diagnosis for helping me integrate exercise into my life, but goodbye and good riddance! Let the door hit you in the ass, cancer! And hopefully, perhaps you, dear reader, might be inspired to exercise without ever needing to face the words, “I am sorry to say, we found ____________(fill in the dis-ease)”.

 

Facing my fear

MTestaQuilts

I started quilting when I was nineteen years old. I had taken a class at a local art center, it was great. I was still living at home and there was a great local quilt shop in my home town. I would go there and pull bolts off the shelf, think about how to mix color choices together, check out all the tools, read the books and of course buy stuff. This was an immensely informative period for me. It was while going through the meandering aisles of this tiny local shop that I came up with the idea of going to school to learn to become a textile designer. 

It took me six years to get a portfolio together and to muster the courage to apply to the Fashion Institute of Technology. When I did so, I created a portfolio with the requisite 15 pieces showing the depth and breadth of my artistic skills. But then , I also made my outfit-a silk blouse and a short skirt, portfolio case, I had woven the scarf I was wearing, and I might even have made the shoes I walked in with (that last part is a lie).

After I took the drawing test, I sat with two professors to discuss why I wanted to become a student at F.I.T. I told them that I had fallen in love with quilting and quilting fabrics and that I wanted to become a textile designer and work with the quilting industry. They promptly reminded me that this was a very small subset of the textile market. They also told me that they were suprised that I did not actually want to get into the fashion department through the ‘backdoor’ of Textile/Surface Design. They told me that they rarely did this and did not know if it was legal, but they accepted me right then and there, the acceptance letter that came in the mail a few weeks later was a formality.

After I left school, I blind called every quilt oriented textile house in New York City and I landed a job at a well loved and respected quilting textile house. Unfortunately, my skill set at the time was not up to the hopes of the head designer and they let me go after a six month period. Ouch. I went on quite a few interviews after that and I must say, the fashion industry (I had cast a wider net than just quilt textile houses at that point) was cut throat! I went on one interview where they asked me to take work home three times before rejecting me because my clothing was not up to their standards.

So I packed up my bags and took a job as a poster restoration artist that was based in my home town. I learned a heck of a lot while working that job. In retrospect it was quite an artistic life changer. I restored posters by Lichtenstein, Warhol, Mucha, Lautrec and on and on. I learned color mixing, I worked to deadline, I used every off hour to take workshops in surface design and quilting and to improve my artistic skill set. All while continuing to want to be a textile designer.

Then I was diagnosed with cancer and had a lot of time to think about what I really want out of life, and having a line of fabric with my name on the selvedge is still quite high on the list. This year, I have been working on creating a portfolio, putting motifs into repeat, printing the ideas on both paper and cloth, and now making these cloth samples into quilts and quilt tops to show perspective textile houses what my designs might look like in action. I have bought tickets to Quilt Market and I am going to try to make this dream a reality. If I am unable to woo anyone at Market, I have also come up with a Plan B- there is a trade show here in NYC for the broader market this coming winter. 

As my good friend Stephanie  reminded me yesterday, ‘If you have what it takes to go through treatment for cancer, you can do this’, and then she asked, ‘What is the worst that could happen?’ My response? Plan B

So wish me luck. 

 

 

A little of this, some of that.

I have been happily printing away over here. I am now even piecing a simple quite made of the printed samples like you see above. I adore printing in repeat, creating repeats, seeing the pieces of cloth come to life. And now, they are becoming a quilt! I am simply sewing these squares together, photos will be forthcoming.

Peach is a complete wonder. We are learning to communicate. We love each other and the three of us, the Man, Peach and I are a happy family. We finally found Peach’s favorite food. She asks for three feeings a day when we feed her Wellness Select in the chicken flavors. She has put on a little bit of weight and I love her little plump.

I have been playing with the idea of commemorative cloth. I took an image of Repose, the one that inspired my 2007 entry into Quilt National, and made a mirror image of it without breasts, but with scars instead. I will be coloring this image soon. The ribbons that circle the image are as close as I will get to acknowledging ‘pink ribbon culture’. I despise the commercialization of breast cancer awareness, we have enough awareness, we need a cure. Beside which, there are other cancers that need a leg up.
But enough of that.
I am unsure weather I am commemorating my breasts or my lack of breasts. I do know that I want to offer beautiful imagery of non-reconstruction, of flatness, for flatties, I want to help normalize this decision for women around the world.
I daydream of having these bandanas printed and offered for sale to raise money for a pamphlet campaign. It was so tough to decided against reconstruction at my care facility that I daydream of having pamphlets in oncologist offices across the nation that show the beauty and viability of this simple option. These pamphlets would discuss how to go about talking with doctors, how to get beautiful results and offer support to women, so that if they choose to opt out, they know they are not alone.
For now though, if you have found my blog by searching bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction, check out the Flat and Fabulous group on facebook.

(P.S. You can click on the images to make them bigger.)

Love and Happiness, filling the well.

DSC_0084My creative efforts are paying off in more than just the physical manifestation of cloth piling up and asking to be pieced. Making stuff calms and centers me. It helps me to remain true to myself, and it gives back in numerous and often, immeasurable ways.

Having been diagnosed with cancer, going to doctors appointments, settling into life post-treatment is an interesting endeavor. When I was going through treatment, I used writing Dreaming from the Journal Page as a focus to keep me steady, grounded and open to Melanie as a whole, healthy, well rounded individual. Cancer and its treatment can be all consuming, and I imagine that without a grounding force, it could be quite easy to give yourself over to your diagnosis and start identifying as a patient and survivor. I knew from the start that focusing on myself, my whole self, commiting time and energy to making artwork for the book and to writing it, was going to help me get through the difficult bits and help prevent identifying too closely with being a patient.

I will always be a ‘survivor’, but I find this sort of label to to be just a single facet of a broad and sparkling life. I am also a wife, an artist, cat mom, a woman, a friend, a human being. Life can be overwhelming. The trauma of treatment, worry over recurrence can be debilitating or even just plain distracting. When we say things like, ‘art saves lives’, I can honestly say, yes, this is true. In the last 8 months, I have been actively applying art to my daily regimen of getting used to being flat chested, taking Tamoxifen, getting Zoladex shots, healing my body, mind and spirit.

Printing cloth, steaming and ironing it, sorting through it and seeing the results of my efforts is a serious dose of Self Love. 

IMG_2513Loving what you do and refilling the well of the self is truly important and can do as much good for the body as going to museums. Last week, I went to  The Morgan Library and Museum with my friend Kailey (see photo below) and I did this as a celebration of my birthday.

What you see here is the imprint of an ancient seal. Seeing the minute detail in these seals and knowing a human, at one time, held, carved and used these little pieces of magic is amazing. What you see here is the seal itself, not the carved cylinder that creates the impression (that can been seen as a tiny bit of red at far left, but I did not capture it in photograph).

While I was at that museum I also saw the illuminated manuscript show (photographs were not allowed). I love illuminated manuscripts and this collection was amazing. I like to ingest illuminated manuscripts as if watching a movie, I want to see every detail, I like to think about the monks who painted and wrote out the pages, I wonder at the symbols, the scrolls, wonder who held and used the book. This time I was able to see an illuminated manuscript owned by Pope Leo X, and there, tucked into the scroll work on the outer left edge was a unicorn…

Sigh.

That book was almost 500 years old… maybe even older.

I am a mere 44 years old. 🙂
IMG_2515Wait a minute now.

Who is this gorgeous girl? Why, it’s Kailey, a woman who photographs things with real film. Huh? I love this young woman. I can say she has interned for me, but better still, I can say we are forging the bond of a friendship that will last a lifetime. Friendships heal us too and finding people you bond with is a gift beyond measure.

Kailey reached out to me as she was finishing high school and forging a path for college and beyond. She had a final project that required she reach out to people in an area of interest to her hoped for, eventual profession. I was one of those people. You might say I mentor Kailey, And I do, but there is so much more to our friendship.

Again, this is a relationship that fills my well.

IMG_2524And in order to fully celebrate my birthday I needed some girl time! Cricket and her girls, Elliot and Alex, came over and I took this as an opportunity to get the girls sewing and quilting. You can’t start too early! (I must say, Cricket has a jump start here and her girls see her knitting, quilting and making stuff often). Afterward we went to Farmacy and had ice cream! Vanilla with caramel sauce… Yum.

IMG_2526I guess the real point of this post is to say, I am writing a perscription to broaden and expand what fills  my well. I love hanging out with friends, going to museums, walking, lifting weights, making things, hanging out with my man and loving on a certain Peach colored being. These things help heal the rift caused by the traumas of cancer treatment and they help me leave the trauma behind.

One would think that after almost two years, I would have this aspect of my life wrapped up and tucked away, right? In my experience of cancer, the fight starts just after treatment ends. But we all know, even if we have never faced a diagnosis like cancer, that the only way out of a situation is through it. When we ‘stuff’ the effects of daily life, it only seeps back into our present through back channels.

I read an article in the New York Times called The Trauma of Being Alive, it’s quite a good one. It helped me. It suggests that you lean into your trauma. I like this term, I like the image of ‘leaning into’, it suggests being in control-being able to back away, but it seems gentle. I would push it a bit further though and say, ‘Lean into the trauma’ but also look to your passions and invest in yourself through them. 

So what do you do to fill your well? How do you regenerate, slough off  the ‘trauma of being alive’. Do you lean in, as the article suggests? When you are faced with difficult times, do you invest in yourself and your passions? Take naps, go for walks? Exercise? Bury your head in the sand? Drink some awesome beer?

How do you fill your well?

IMG_2540Maybe you lay on the rug and take salacious photographs of your furred friends!

Printing up a storm

This week has been great by way of multicolor printing. I am working out the kinks of putting images in repeat, carving rubber, cutting foam and making stencils. 

Yardage

I love upholstery yardage sheets, whenever I see them, I nab one. I love the tiny drawings of chairs, chaise lounge, sofas, sectionals. Such great shapes cultered together. The above is inspired by a yardage sheet and is printed on paper, using Tsukineko inks. Working in paper before moving to cloth seems to be crucial to my design process right now. It is a quick way to make sure the print set is working together, allows me to figure out which segment of the image needs to be printed first, and shows me how to align each print. Getting to know an image on paper also allows me to play with color choice. 

Polkadots

 

On a side note, I bought a copy of Victoria Findlay-Wollfe’s 15 Mintutes of Play. I L-O-V-E this book. I am inspired by it. Love what the book discusses. I love the mechanisms that Victoria suggests to get your quilts flowing, like I said, I really love this book. These polkadots are a direct result of Polka Dots Squared on page 43 of the book. I need many variations of polka dots, from dark to light. I want to make a throw using my own cloth.

So, I have been printing up a storm!

ReadChair

Yep. True to my obsessive compulsive self, I have been stamps in every size, shape and variable that I can imagine. All that I learned while getting my Associate’s Degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology is coming to fruition. It has been fun to experience and great to grow visual and technically while doing so.

The work I am doing with Carol Soderlund is helping me grow and expand too. When me moved to Brooklyn, I convinced myself that working with dye is not possible given the constraints of apartment life. Carol has shown me how to compact the process, while really getting the results I want to see. I feel reinvigorated in my use of Procion MX dye!

I have signed up to take Carols Color Mixing 2 at ProChem October 21-25. There are 4 more spots open (I just signed up and a friend is going with! The web site has not been updated yet and still says there are 6 openings).

I bet you want to go! I hope you do.


 

PeachAndYou

Would you like to know how much I love this little bundle of Peach-y goodness? This cat is a badass. I am sorry to swear, but this word sums up Peach to a T. She is soft, gentle, centered, intelligent, curious, amazing, belligerent, athletic, pretty, satisfied and awesome.


 

MellyTestaTigNotaro

I saw Tig Notaro at The Green Space/Sound Check a couple weeks back.. Just being near Tig, who is also a Flattie, was like being a kid in a candy shop. I crave connection with other women who have been through bilateral mastectomy, without reconstruction and who choose not to wear breast forms. 

Tig Notaro is one of my heros.

I got totally flustered and couldn’t say any of the smart or sincere things I had rehearsed in my mind prior to forcing her to take a photo with me! She doesn’t look much worse for the wear, so I think I can forgedaboudit. But geez does it make me happy that I got the photo!


 

By the way, that Tshirt I am wearing? It says

Sew?

underneath the machine and was given to me as an ironic-flat-pride-type statement. It was printed by and can be bought from Diane Muse. I love this tshirt and am going to wear it to tatters.

Breasts, and then no breasts. Year 2. Two years.


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Two years of soul searching, deep, personal work. I am healing. My body is changed. I have experienced a calyx of emotion, intellect and bodily presence.

Everything feels different. 

 Two years ago today, I had bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction due to breast cancer. I am now a flat chested woman. For the first half of my life I had breasts, now I do not. These last two years have been a lesson in bodily acceptance, body love and appreciation. It has been an interesting journey. 

IMG_1336When I made the decision to have bilateral mastectomy, I asked myself what I thought needed to occur in order to feel confident, strong and secure in my decision to be a flat chested woman, who does not see herself wearing prosthesis. The answer, exercise. Really, the week I was diagnosed, one of the first things I said to my breast surgeon was, ‘I guess I need to start exercising’. She laughed at me and replied, ‘You get diagnosed with breast cancer and the first thing you think about is exercise?’ Yes. Exactly. There are few things we actually have control of in our lives and physical activity, the ability to use the body we are given, is one of them. For the able bodied, that is.

 I have begun exercising consistently. For the first time in my life, I am aware of my body as a physical presence, not just a carrier of the brain, but a functioning participant in the process of living. Body. Mind. BodyMind (I made this up, it sounds appropriate). I have been stretching, working with kettlebells, experimenting with Jungle Gym. 45 minutes, 3 times a week. Easy. I am working with Marianne Kane, whom I adore. Marianne designs my workout programs and I purchase corrective skype sessions, so that I can be assured that I am using good form.

Then, I walk. I am eating more salad, cooking more vegetables  (we are members of a CSA) and I am experimenting with new and exciting recipes. I like to a try one new recipe a week which makes food exciting again. I have gained some weight, some muscle and some fat. I am alright with this. This seems like a good weight. I feel healthy. I am eating good food, learning what amount of activity feels right, and embracing a balanced approach to encouraging my body and mind to be as healthy as possible.

IMG_1348Being breastless and not wearing prosthesis, bucks the norms and societal expectation of even the breast cancer survivor. Most women who choose mastectomy without reconstruction wear prosthesis. This helps clothing fit better and alleviates the appearance of physical difference. I choose not to engage in presenting an appearance that is not true to my being, my self, the shape of my physical body.  I cannot honestly say that this choice has been easy, there are moments when the difference in my physical appearance has catapulted me into a roller coaster of emotion that felt overwhelming and dysfunctional. That roller coaster contains fear of judgement, fear that my gender presentation will be mistaken to negative consequence, fear of being different.

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On the flip side of this, opting out of reconstruction has made me appreciate that I am strong, mentally strong, it takes courage and strength to be different, to walk the streets as a flat chested woman. I know many women are small breasted. I know I present a female, feminine picture, and that my body, perhaps, appears slightly different than my small breasted sisters. But going from a 34DD size bra to no bra at all is, on a personal level, life changing. And it isn’t like there are many role models of well known women who have chosen not to reconstruct their bodies after cancer treatments. I mean heck, I used BreastCancer.org as my go to informational site while in active treatment and they are just now updating their content related to opting out of reconstruction after breast cancer treatment, and do you want to know why? Because -I- asked why this choice is not being acknowledged on their site.

IMG_1403I would not change a single aspect of my journey to rid my body of cancer and to embrace the beauty and stealth nature of my new shape. 

Two years ago today, I had bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction.

Cancer treatment showed me the resiliency of the human body, it has shown me that my body leans toward health and healing. Cancer has made me embark on a journey of fitness that serves to strengthen both my mind and my physical being. Cancer has helped me to accept that this is my body, my self, my one chance at living as fully as humanly possible. And most especially, that the only standards that I need to live up to are my own.

IMG_1413

I embrace my strong, independent spirit. I love this body, scarred, flat and stronger than it has ever been before. I celebrate my beauty. I am thankful to my body and glad to be connecting my bodily experience to my intellect.

This is a journey of a lifetime.

 

Nothing is black and white

Earlier this week Angelina Jolie wrote her op-ed piece about her decision to have bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction due to a positive test for the BRCA1 gene. I admire Angelina for her bravery and honesty in being open about her choice. I am sorry she needed to make it, of course. But happy that she has offered her talent and power to the cause. If you want to inform yourself about gene mutation, Force is a good place to start. The facility where Angelina had her tests and operation has written a recap of her treatment, which can be helpful as well, I was surprised to see some of the protocol that Angelina received.

I wish that non-reconstruction was acknowledged as an option and I think it is high time that us ‘Flatties’ had an advocate, but I understand that Angelina is doing the best she possibly can and I am ever so grateful that she is as courageous as she is. Here is a decent discussion of the types of reconstruction spurred by Angelina’s decision.

The20MultiStamp

My work with Carol Soderlund continues, I am so glad to have initiated the work. Carol has been opening my mind and perspective on using dye. She has opened up a new approach to applying dye, and has been cleaning up some bad habits that I have accrued over the years. I took Color Mixing 1 from Carol through ProChem years ago. Carol has since begun calling this class The New Color Mixing for Dyers. What I am learning from Carol now uses the book we made together in Color Mixing 1 and expands upon it, and she call this class her Color Mixing for Dyers Part 2. So, I am learning to use the book from Color Mixing 1 to apply the colors I would like to see in my work, and all of the information has begun to ‘click’. Learning is hard work and for a week or so there, I was Ms. Grumpy Pants. Carol’s teaching skills and patience is commendable.

I don’t know why the blog went centered, sorry about the formatting.
Yesterday I took a walk, bought a breakfast sandwich and a cookie (for later in the day) and then went out for press pot coffee at my favorite local dive. I have not yet gone there for a beer and sandwich, so far this is a favorite morning coffee joint, but they have great beer and I would like to try it out. Problem is, my Man doesn’t like beer! So, I will look for a gal pal who needs a night out.
I really like this piece of street art. I will have to check it out again, I think she is carrying a music mixer. When I see this type street art, art applied with wheat paste, I always want to go back on a rainy day and peel it off and take it home. I find it interesting to have found two wheat pasted pieces of street art within such close proximity. I wonder if there is an insurgence of applied street art right now. I also wish I could find out who the artists are.
I would like to create a multicolor print of birds that is stylized, like this dress, photographed through the window of a local boutique, The store isn’t my kinda thing but they do have some great prints right now and I love me some prints. I struggle to get myself to loosen up to the level of this print. It seems my comfort level is realistic looking. But I will push myself past this and try my best to loosen up and get playful. This weekend I plan to make multicolor print patterns during every free moment.  This may be a challenge as it is a long weekend and David’s birthday weekend to boot! However it goes, we will have fun this weekend, it will start with a meet up at Moma in about 2 hours.
I continue to read and research ideas related to gender and found this interesting article called Who Owns Gender, which I think is quite interesting. If you have the time or interest in reading it, I would like to hear your thoughts.
Deborah Boschert brought this article to my attention and I love it.
I am going to respond and communicate through the comments in the blog. I enjoy this, so check back if you want! Now I am off to let the fun begin.

A New Day

In the Many Mellys post, I stepped quite squarely into a hornets nest. I would like to apologize if I have upset or harmed anyone by my use of the words gender queer. While I think there are many similarities and points of connection between being a flat chested woman (as a result of breast cancer) and to be confronted with expectations about my body from anyone other than myself and the ‘spectrum’ of what it may mean to be gender queer, I understand that transgendered people may feel angry and resentful at the manner in which I used the words and for that, I apologize. I mean no disrespect.

If you get to know me in a personal way, you will know that I sometimes PUT my foot in it, I can be quite a bull in a china shop. I do not have a problem sussing through my mistakes, or apologizing if need be. I will continue to talk on the topic of opting out of reconstruction, what that can mean as a woman in our society and my feelings about being flat chested when appropriate. I am not an intellectual and my discussions will, for the most part, be from a personal stand point. I appreciate discussion and remain open to your thoughts.

And this is where I will leave the conversation for now.

DSC_0062

My work with Carol Soderlund is progressing.  We are narrowing the controls of our study. I want the color I want to print and Carol is helping me sift through the media and materials so that I can print the color and value I intend. The work we are doing together is amazing. I am seriously considering taking her ProChem workshop on the topic. I don’t know that I will NEED to take the class after I finish my work with Carol, but I do love the work she does and would like to have the experience.

DSC_0066

 We are working through the ideas and methods of batching, seeing if steaming is a good approach to setting the dye while using my current obsession of multicolor printing. I did get a bit excited last week and made some printing errors, this week, I don’t want to make any mistakes, although mistakes sure do help with the learning process.

DSC_0069

I love the pace of the work I am engaged in. I cut one yard of cloth into 16 pieces, which ends up being about 8×10″ each. This size is very easy to complete and I am blowing through cloth. When we are done establishing a methodology to get the results I want to see, I am going to have a boatload of cloth to use. And I have been wanting to make easy-peasy, jelly roll sized quilts, because who doesn’t want a stack of quilted pretties to snuggle up with? Having several Jelly Roll sized quilts, being able to switch them out and create a new, quick look in the living room? Priceless.

I guess I need to measure the Jelly Roll quilt I made last year. This quilt won’t be strips, so I guess I am just using the size as a reference and not the name or style of the quilt.

DSC_0071

Many Mellys

Brace yourself, this is a long one.

MellyBehaved

In the above photo I am wearing a Handful Bra with padded inserts and the camisole I am wearing says,

‘Well-behaved women seldom make history’.

This week, I read Stephanie Forsyth’s post called, ‘I Yam What I Yam‘, where she talks about being a potty mouth, beer guzzling, super-rad, quilter chick who doesn’t want to put on airs to please anyone else. Well? She stirred the pot and now I want to write a similar post.

I have kept this blog for many years, I was an early adopter and was blogging when few quilters had blogs. I published Inspired to Quilt in 2009 and my latest book in 2012. For years I thought my ‘audience’ was traditional quilters who had an artistic side that they wanted to indulge. I don’t think this anymore. I think I have gathered a community of artistic people and that I am a member of an artistic community who are interested in expanding and growing visually, many of these people know how to quilt traditionally, but only do so occasionally or under duress. 🙂 (I am kidding about that part.)

I have a personal history of catering to a ‘presumed audience’, with biases and traditions that do not apply to me or my work. In the face of this, I have held my tongue in fear of offending a potential reader of my blog and books.

Want to know some of my thoughts?

I don’t like the term quilt art. I think that the focus remains on quilt in the traditional sense and not art. When we show ‘quilt art’ in quilt shows, it separates us from the art world. Quilt shows provide space to show (which is wonderful), but degrades the ability of the quilt artist to be taken seriously in the art world because the focus is on conjuring as many categories as possible, so that as many quilts as possible can be shown. At the same time, quilt art is often judged by traditional quilt standards, when it does not seem that the judges are well versed in art history, tradition or technique. Many quilt shows also run along side consumer events which is an engine in itself, and a bit of a distraction from the event itself.

I argue that traditional quilting is a fabulous craft (This is not a bad word! Rather it is a respectable word used by people who hone their skills to high standards, to present beautiful and functional objects), and that art is art, non-functional in use, perhaps inspirational or confrontational and artist’s must learn many skills too, drawing, composition, color theory, history, materials and how to use them, to name a few. Artists cannot and should not work in a vacuum and I fear that many quilt artists work in the vacuum of the traditional/quilt art community.

I think it is great to have quilt shows (I both participate in and enjoy them), and understand that quilters have gone unnamed and and created works in anonymity for much too long, perhaps our need to fit as many categories as possible into each show is as a result of this. I don’t mean to say that I don’t understand how difficult it is for female art to get seen either, these shows do wonders in this respect. I just wish that the cross over between the quilt art world and the art world was not so vast and I question weather we do ourself a disservice by showing our work in insular, mixed focus environments. It is almost as if we parallel play with both the traditional quilt world and the art world.

And don’t get me started with ‘crafty art supplies’. I want my pigments and paints to mix to the color I-intend-to-mix and use, and so I want them labeled with pigment names and numbers so that I can get the repeatable results no matter what sub straight or media I use the paint on. I do not like using supplies whose real intention is getting me to purchase brand name refills.

Phew.

MellyKWest

Now onto some other topics that I would like to open up and explore in this space. It is no secret that I had breast cancer and that I opted out of ‘reconstructing’ my body. Choosing not to reconstruct and not wear prothesis is an interesting proposition. If you look at the numbers, 1 in 5 American women have (immediate) reconstruction after breast cancer treatment. This means that 4 out of 5 women are… wearing prothesis? I don’t know. If these numbers are right, there are a fair amount of Very Quiet Unobtrusive Women out there. Luckily for me, there are also a good number of women who are banding together to create community based on our Flat and Fabulous perspective. If you are flat and would like to join a private group for some support, comment and I will hook you up.

It may be a good time to read my Role/Reboot article on this topic.

So I wonder, why are all of these women being so quiet, where are they, why can’t I see them? Why are there such expectations for conformity and body image? After surviving breast cancer treatment, why is the human body, with all of its beauty and will to remain healthy, not enough? Must we put on the prothesis and carry on like nothing happened? Must we hide behind a body image standard that is no longer possible as a result of this disease? Is it because breasts make us female, womanly, feminine and without breasts we are…inadequate?

Recently I have begin to think that perhaps I am gender queer. I do not think similarly to the mainstream, I do not think you are either male or female. Gender is not a two way street. I don’t think this is a discussion about gender at all, but rather one of being human, open, compassionate, willing to accept difference and if need be to celebrate that difference. What makes this a discussion of gender is that mainstream society, and even the breast cancer community does not question the ‘breasts make us female idea’ often or thoroughly enough.

Are my scars, gotten through battle with breast cancer just too scary to contemplate? Is it freightening to know, to see, to understand that women get scarred from breast cancer?

Please watch this video:

The Scar Project from Sara Dehghan on Vimeo.

I really like and appreciate the work David Jay has done with The Scar Project. He has opened the door for a more thorough discussion of breast cancer, reconstruction and opting out of reconstruction. The above video rubbed me wrong when I first watched it. Now that I have had some time to think it through, I understand that what rubbed me wrong. David Jay was shocked to see the removal of a breast. Women’s breasts are sacrosanct, revered, used (and abused). David Jay made me realize that society is not acclimated to seeing women have scars, get scarred, or be scarred. As more women like myself begin to talk about our experience, and embrace the choice of Going Flat, as I like to call it, this body image will gain greater acceptance. And hallelujah! (When one of the plastic surgeons I interviewed said that ‘reconstructed breasts looked good in clothing’, he meant it, and to me, the amount of time spent on creating the look of breasts without the sensation or function is not worth the risks).

All of this is to say, my feminist head had been reared and I don’t feel like holding back anymore! Breast cancer is not going away any time soon, unfortunately. If I can be a voice for a simple, noninvasive and really quite beautiful result-bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction, I will and gladly. (In fact, I am actively doing this, the breast cancer support forum I use has no pages on what to expect when opting out of reconstruction, no pages on what to discuss with your surgeon, if you need a plastic surgeon, or what testing proceedures to expect after having bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. I asked why this is and now they are creating content that says more than, “Some women decide not to have reconstruction and opt for a prosthesis instead.” And I got myself invited to a luncheon presented by City of Hope where I hope to make connections and to network on behalf of women who opt out. Doctors and nurses fall prey to societal expectations of the female form too! And I have the energy to speak out.)

MellySassy

And last but not least, goodness gracious, have I been having fun lifting weights! I have never been into exercise, but when I was diagnosed, I knew it was the one thing that might help me fight disease, it is an action that I can accomplish to help my body function as well as it possibly can for as long as possible. This space will not become a fitness blog, not by any means, but I will discuss my gains, how it makes me feel and I may well show my ‘guns‘ every now and again.

I am tired of not being fully present to myself. Not voicing my thoughts, needs, concerns. I have faced my mortality and do not want to live by half. So, thank you Stephanie. Thanks for speaking up on your own behalf and helping me do the same. And hey, if you, dear reader, don’t agree with me? Speak up! Minds are made for changing and my opinions and thoughts are no more important than yours.

working out the kinks

MTestaFruit

I am working hard behind the scenes here, at Studio Melly.

A few months back, I was printing some birds from The 20 only to find that my wash out rate was too high while printing with Procion MX dyes on cloth. I wasn’t getting the intensity of color, or the bold, bright colors I had come to expect. All printing with MX dyes came to a halt as I looked for help. 

MTestaFruitC

I contacted Carol  Soderlund, telling her of my frustrations. I have been a student of Carol’s, I took her Color Mixing 1 course and have and use her book of 1000 repeatable colors. I use the nine colors she uses so that I can mix and use colors from her book if I choose to. Beside which, I understand the usefullness of working in a limited palette and the 9 colors Carol gathered together and uses in her classes have equivilents in the other media I use, so, she did the work of gathering the colors and I use them! I am a good student that way!

I connect with Carol as my teacher, and happier still, as a friend.

I reached out to Carol, seeking help in identifying and applying solutions to my lapses in Procion MX dye use.  

And, OMG. Thank goodness I did!

Carol is tutoring me through most of  Color Mixing 2 class ( which she will be teaching at ProChem this October, and, even though I am being tutored, I want to sign up and take!!!).

What a resource!

Carol is leading me through ‘Procion MX bootcamp’ (I made that up, I am reading too many fitness blogs!). It is fantastic. I am now getting the results I expect to see. And it wasn’t that I didn’t know all of these things before, I got lackadaisical. Not a good idea, Procion MX dye requires our full attention when we use it. 

MTestaFruitT

It seems I need Tune Ups all over the place: One of the things about cancer or living with the effects of treatment, is facing the need for acceptance. Self acceptance. I accept I had cancer. I accept my energy levels, intentions, focus, abilities have changed as a result of cancer treatment.

I have never had to manage energy before! And as a result, accepting these changes as I experience them is interesting to say the least.  Contemplating these changes can be a burden, and sometimes even a joy, I suppose it is down to the moment and whatever emotions are present at that time. But even still, I now have discussions with myself about my abilities and limitations. (and yes, I understand my output is above average, so I am mourning the loss of a small percentage of ability but this does not mean that I don’t continue to hold myself up to previous standards). I am able! Thank my lucky stars. I am just changed. 

My cognitive function is just, well, different. I hope that mental function in those realms will increase, open, expand and think that working with multicolor printing from start to finish is great mental food. Creating these images is like mental candy, they are very stimulating to make. I love figuring out what needs to be white, how I might add shading, what needs to stay and what needs to go. And it does not escape me that I am building little puzzles. Little intricate puzzles, I am thinking from the back, forward. I am mentally stretching.

In fact, this is intentional, I want more and better brain function! And I figure, if I can nudge the process along while having some good visual fun, why not?

So, not only am I learning proper printing technique with Carol, I am hoping to expand my brain box at the same time! Not too shabby.

MTestaRoses

 

Strong Curves

Strong Curves

The week I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I realized the only thing I wasn’t doing to be the healthiest person I possibly could, was exercise. When I told my breast surgeon that it was time to start, she laughed at me and said, “you get diagnosed with breast cancer and you think it means you should start exercising?” I raised my shoulders in a shrug, ‘Yeah!’  

I have never related to running and have no interest in spending time on tread mills. I started reading about how to lift weight, the effects on the female body, and I started surfing the web for women’s weight lifting and fitness blogs. The results I saw in women who have been lifting weights for a while were amazing, muscle definition, strength, pert pretty butts, who knew! I found Marianne Kane’s website, myomytv and began working with her over the internet. We use skype to work on proper form, email to ask questions and now, after 6 months or so, I too am seeing some great results in my own body.

During this time, Marianne turned me onto Bret Contreras and Kellie Davis who just recently came out with Strong Curves: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Better Butt and Body. Bret calls himself the Glute Guy, which is his area of study in sport science, he is passionate about The Bum and this book is a testament to his passion. Beside which, how funny is it that he calls himself the Glute Guy? And Kellie? She is awesome, her body is gorgeous, and if you check out her web site, she wasn’t born with perfect genes and gorgeous glutes, she earned them with hard work.

This book is a veritable bible for training women (although it could be used by men too). Strong Curves is 320 pages long, it is filled with full color photographs of each exercise, contains several 12 week programs to get you started. It also explains how to use the information within the book to maintain and build upon what you have learned. I admit, there are a few paragraphs that might have been edited out, but (or Butt-as the case may be) even if they were edited out, the book would not be much shorter for having done so and the information it imparts is well worth the read. If you are looking for an exercise program that will help you get the results you want? I thoroughly suggest you purchase this book. I love my copy so much, I had the binding removed, the cover laminated and a spiral binding placed, now my book opens flat.

And if I ever have a question on what exercise to substitute for a Romanian Deadlift? I know where to turn (and so does Peach, who wanted to be included in this post). I may even join Marianne, Kellie and Bret’s online community called Get Glutes.

 

Still Here, after all these years.

Peach

I have been quiet for a long time. I am well. I am feeling better and better and have been sinking deeply into my creative process.

To be honest, recovering from cancer treatment and getting used to being a flat chested woman is not easy. There are the physical concerns, feeling as if I have a tight rubber band around my chest, feeling physically constrained from the cording or Axillary Webbing. And there is getting used to not having breasts in my relationship with my husband. All of this takes time and patience. I am not one to easily step back and allow time to work its wonders, I am a go-get-em sort of gal, so I am working on my own sense of timing while pouring myself into my work and feeding other aspects of my person.

This blog and The Clever Guild site have gone fallow during this period. While I apologize for this, it seems it is plainly needed and beneficial. Since I started this blog almost 10 years ago, I have never allowed myself the luxury of letting go and not checking in. While I hope to start investing in the blog and my virtual narrative soon, I would like to ask for your understanding while I gather my pieces, parts and selves back into a healthy whole again.

Luckily, I have found a Chinese medicine practitioner who will be helping me with my scars and range of motion issues.I had my first appointment yesterday and I have high hopes of feeling some relief in my body while working with his protocol. He would like me to do stretches, scar massage, and Chi Gong in addition to weekly visits for a few more weeks. It feels good to step away from western medicine doctors and take some more control back.

Miss Peach continues to fortify our hearts and illicit big love within our family and home. Today she will be having some blood work done in preparation for her next heat cycle and hopeful respay.

MTestaFloral

 This is a strike-off of a multicolor set using paint on paper. I rather like the design, it taught me a bit more on setting up repeats and creating an all over feel for the eventual image. I have been delving into mediums that help create the correct texture for printing with a brayer. Initially I thought it would be tough to figure out, but I think I almost have that down too. I am just trying to figure out the proper ratios so that the paint dries as quickly as possible.

MTestaStamps

See? I have been quite busy over here! I don’t know how many stamps, stencils and images I have made in the last two months, I could count them, but no.

MTestaPrints

I much prefer to continue carving, cutting and figuring out the repeats as I go.

 

Continued Story.

PeachYawn

 It seems Peach has done another awesome thing. She found David and I, specifically. 

Last week I had several conversations with the veterinarian who ‘spayed’ Peach. It turns out, the spay was incomplete and uterine tissue was left inside her body. This tissue is producing estrogen. Peach needs to go into heat again, so that a specialist might be able to find the tissue and remove it. There is no guarantee that Peach will make enough estrogen in order to go into heat, but as this is the best case scenario, we hope that she does. If she does not, we need to regularly screen Peach for mammary carcinoma, in other words, breast cancer. Sigh.

I know that there are no guarantees in life, we have, just this moment, to live as fully as we are able. I love this little being and honestly hope she goes into heat again, that the surgeon can find the tissue, that we are able to lower or obliterate her odds of getting breast cancer. I am happy that she found us, that I can advocate for her. I am happy to love her. I wish that breast cancer could take a lesser seat of prominence in my life, but I accept what life has given me and us.

The veterinary office that helped Peach through her Trap and Rescue ordeal is shrugging off monetary responsibility for this portion of Peach’s care, though the vet who did the work, has said that she will pay for Peach’s re-spay out of her own pocket. I am glad that the doctor has taken an ethical stand, I am considering how to let the veterinary office know of my dissatisfaction. Speaking out is a new path for me and is directly related to my cancer experience. I have less tolerance for bad behavior now, and I want the world to be a better place, so speaking out is called for. There are many gifts related to the cancer experience and I bet part of the reason Peach found her way into our hearts, apartment and life.

IMG_0370

As I make more and more multicolor stamps, I am finding new and interesting ways to build images. Previously, I would draw the image, cut it out of a single piece of fun foam, mount and print the image. Now I am doing more of a call and response, I might cut a simple drawing in two colors, then cut additional layers to darken or shade an area of the image. Next I will work on incorporating textures into the background.

IMG_0377

 Creative flow is interesting. I work away at an idea as if a hound on a mission. Then I run up against a learning curve, as I did while working on The 20. This is when I switch gears, trying to access the intuitive thoughts that might solve the original creative conundrum. This post has two cogs in that wheel.

As I try to workout the Procion MX dye wash out troubles, I began making multicolor stamp portraits (the image of David in the middle of this post, and also this self portrait). Now, needing a break from the portraits, I have decided to carve a set of alphabet stamps. It is at times like this when I need to complete a project or two so that I can get back to what is really bothering me! This week will be geared toward finishing up my side projects and solving my Procion MX whoas.

 

Two Years

InspThe20

 

Two years ago today, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. What a roller coaster this has been. Diagnosed, book contract, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, making art, writing about it, Switzerland, Dreaming from the Journal Page, getting used to being a flat chested woman. Oh, did I mention the love and care that I was showered with while doing all of this? No. Well, I was, and am, really. I often think that cancer teaches me that I am loved beyond my ability to grasp or comprehend. There is grace in cancer and this is the gift it gave me.

Today, this month, I am focusing on settling, releasing, accepting who and what I am now. These last few months have been filled with anxiety and depression, neither of which I handle very well. None of us do. So instead of focusing on what I cannot change, or even the things I can change, I choose to immerse myself in making. I am focused on The 20 Common Birds in Decline, because I love birds, they calm and center me, I have a physical memory of drawing their heads, wings, evaluating where light hits their eyes. Making helps me to relax and relaxing is what I seek. 

It takes a fair amount of time to let go of the intensity of medical need, appointments, follow up visits, managing side effects and I am not out of the woods yet, I still receive monthly shots, infusions once every six months (next week will be the 3rd out of a total of 4), and I experience the effects of medically induced menopause. Ugh.

So I am making a concerted effort of focus on immersing myself in what makes me happy, content, able to look beyond this difficulty and to balance the crap with the fantastic. It is time to reset my outlook. Cancer sucks, but life, life does not and that is what I have now. Thank goodness.

Thank you for your love, care, appreciation and support. It has not gone unnoticed. I tend to keep the cancer narrative to myself, but I find I start feeling quite alienated by doing so. So there you have it. These last few months have been tough and I am ready to let it go.

 Phew. 

Quiet hum.


I am changing the surface of this Breastplate by stitch, differences in stitch and thread quality as well as scale. This is the first application of stitch that I can see so far. This first application of stitch is hand dyed DMC 6 Strand embroidery floss.

My plan for this Breastplate is large stitch, geometric designs, 6 strands…

As I look at it from here, I wonder if I might use 2 strands in the breast portion, cutting the thread scale down. I think it would create a nice contrast.

Remember I bought that 500 gram cone DMC 6 Strand Embroidery floss, last month. That was money well spent. I may continue to dye threads until I run out of the cone, it won’t be long now. I have been dyeing threads in groups of 48, so my stash is growing exponentially. It is fun to watch, to open the orderly boxes of floss and look at the colors within.


 

I have my eye on this ebay item. I have not bought much on ebay, never direct from China and I don’t know what to think of this type of purchase. So I keep looking at it. Have any of you bought a similar item?

Right now I have an affection for wooden spinning tops. I went to etsy and found this store. I am in love with these tops. I want every single one and all of the top related items!  

My Mom and I will be going to a craft fair next weekend. I will wait to make a purchase, but that man’s tops are tops!

Hand stitch

Stitch, hand stitching is such a quiet endeavor. I love it for that reason. I love keeping the apartment so quiet that you can hear the needle break through the cloth. Over and over again. I also love the way stitch changes the nature of the cloth you work. 

This is a set of breast pockets that I am making in my own name. This will be a dense mix of thread and imagery, hand stitched ‘paint’ (no paint will be used, just hand dyed thread).

I am extending the deadline for the Breast Pocket Project, right now I need about 800 pockets to meet my goal. 200 pockets are a great accomplishment, and I did ask that you send the pockets during the week of the 22nd, which is today or now. I know many more pockets are on their way to my neck of the woods as I type, but if you have it in you to make more pockets, please do.

Bethany

Last week I put a post up on Facebook, asking if anyone knew of a uniboober or flattie in need to a pocket. Jennifer West responded, asking for a single pocket to be made for her cousin Bethany.  Here is what Jennifer said about Bethany:

My dear cousin Bethany died of breast cancer on Sept. 15 of this year. She was a brilliant soul: sweet, spunky and fearless. She had one breast removed and was in remission when the cancer returned with a vengeance and spread to her brain. The world will miss her.

It is so very sad to hear that another woman has died from this crazy disease. Rest peacefully Bethany, we will not forget and we miss you.


In the first few weeks after being diagnosed, I wondered, Geez, I am vegetarian, I am a healthy weight, what more can I do, should I do, to be even healthier? I looked at my breast surgeon and said, “I guess I need to start exercising”. She laughed at me and said something to the effect of, being diagnosed with breast cancer makes you want to exercise? And, well, yeah. I already eat healthy, I walk a lot, and as far as a life threatening disease goes, the one thing I can control is what I do with my body and how I eat. So exercise has been a major focus for me since I was diagnosed.

Months ago, I asked on a breast cancer board, what sort of exercise the other women were doing. One woman pointed out a website that, at first, was a boon, but then turned out to be a bane. The great part about finding that site was that it taught me that in terms of exercise, you are the person you need to compete with. You exercise because it makes you feel good and over time, you will also look better.

I fell in love with the host, I loved her gangly body and sheer excitement in cheering us on and encouraging us, but then…she got a boob job. And a lip job. And hair extensions. And a nose job. And now she still cheers folks on with excitement but I can’t see her anymore.  I watched with fascination as she made these changes to her already fantastic physique. Was she making these changes to get more followers? Did she have to get such big ones? I couldn’t get past the idea that she did it in response to the patriarchal demands that our society places on us as women, especially if we don’t know how to parse and separate ourselves from our culture. So I moved on. (No links to that site, she doesn’t deserve your attention.)

So, I started to get serious and began researching exercise after breast cancer, and you might think that with all this ‘awareness’ going on that someone would have an exercise program suited to the 12% of U.S. women who will be diagnosed in their lifetime. I found a research paper on weightlifting for women at risk of lymphedema after breast cancer treatment on the Journal of the American Medical Association. Then I found Marianne at MyOhMyTv. I watched her videos, read her posts and decided she was on my team, she is a feminist, who is smart and savvy, knows how to introspect about her own fitness goals and she is a founding member of Girls Gone Strong (here is the Girls Gone Strong Facebook page), all of the members of this group are on my fitness blogroll! I contacted Marianne, telling her of my needs as a survivor, and asking if she would be willing to work with me as an online client. I emailed the study results to her, she read them over and agreed.

I haven’t been working with her for long, but I am being consistent and I am seeing some initial results. Just this morning, as we were snuggling and waking up, David said, you are feeling tighter! And I have to say, I also feel more balanced, centered in my body, my endurance has improved, and yes, I am tightening up all over the place. It feels good.

I will be talking more about body image, society and the female form in the next few posts, and I do hope you are interested.

Jingle McEver

 

Last week I was contacted by Morna McEver Golletz through Facebook. She asked for me to put a name to a pocket. And when Morna told me her mother was named Jingle McEver, I knew I needed to put more than a name to this pocket, I had to honor Jingle’s memory with a full blown and beautiful pocket. Jingle was mother, a teacher, a watercolorist and an inspiration. Later in life, Jingle became a Uniboober.

Morna said these things about her mother: 

“Her name is Jingle McEver. She’d be so happy to be doing this.”

and

“…she’d love that you’re from Brooklyn. Her favorite grandmother (and great grandmother and family) settled in Brooklyn after coming to America from Germany.”

“…my mom was an artist from early in her childhood. She taught art and painted, largely watercolors, until she could no longer. She was also a grand encourager of creativity and art in her five daughters.”

I feel honored to make a pocket for a woman who is so highly esteemed. I feel honored to make a pocket for a woman named Jingle. Thank you Morna.


 

As I get used to being a flat chested woman, I seek imagery of other like minded women. Jodi Jaecks made international news for fighting to be allowed to swim in her local pool without a top. Margaret W. Smith had a preemptive bilateral mastectomy because she tested positive for the BRCA2 mutated gene and members of her family had been treated for breast cancer as well. There is also the Scar Project which shows some mastectomies as well as some reconstructed images of women. And then there is the photographer Carly Ries who is working on a series of photographs of women who have gone through treatment for breast cancer. 

I am glad that women can have their bodies reconstructed after breast cancer treatment, many women need and want these options. But for those of us who do not, I am happy that we have some trailblazers who are putting images of their bodies out into the public realm. Seeing images of women who choose not to reconstruct their body is important, beautiful, simple, empowering. 

We, as women, are bombarded with images of how we should look, products we should use, exercise programs to loose weight, fashions that will only look good on size 0 models (0?? What. Who wears size 0? Should we dissolve into the ether next, become totally invisable?)  We see these images and headlines so often, we can forget that they are telling us to be something other than what we are. I have yet to see an ad by the ‘pink ribbon people’ that uses imagery of a single breasted or flat woman. This needs to stop.

It makes me happy that women are bucking the norm and going flat. Putting their images out into the public eye. Normalizing the choice that many women are forced to make in a lifetime, without pandering to the need to fit in and have an acceptable body image. It is about time. 

 

 

 

Her name here:

 

I fell in love and I wasn’t even thinking about it. That is the way with love, don’t you think? It’s a backdoor experience.

I really must thank Libby for sending me all of those pockets. I love the small pre-constructed squares. Libby has some master rippers over there. These pockets have snips of thread left in the needle holes. Pockets as canvas. For painting, stenciling, stamping, embroidering? I am on a creative tangent and I am using pockets to explore artistic themes. Pockets are a quick and dirty size.

Quick and Dirty Breast Pockets <———————Um? I like those 5 words together.

The above pocket was stenciled and embroidered. This pocket needs a name, anyone know a uniboober who needs representation? Leave a comment, first names only, all names considered! I will be making pockets for the foreseeable future.

Round Up!

I participate in a pool program, offered by my hospital to help survivors recover. I love this program, I go once a week, I connect with other survivors in a predominantly physical but also, at times, emotional level (which works best for me, I can’t go deeply into the emotional side or breast cancer or its treatment, I would rather enter into a more physical connection with other survivors) and we stretch, play and laugh together. Teri, our instructor is well versed in Range of Motion issues and the exercises that will help with them.

I made sure to ‘represent’ for us Flatties, and I squealed when they mentioned me specifically. 

I would never have thought that an aspect of the cancer experience would madke me feel so passionate. I firmly believe the ability to ‘Go Flat’ is an issue of women’s rights. This is an issue of body autonomy, women must have complete control over the only thing we can control, our bodies. As a result, Going Flat must become normalized. Women who forgo reconstruction should not wear breast forms for any other reason than having a preference to do so.

When the beautiful, deminuitive 75 year old fella pool program attendee, looked at me and pinched her ‘bubby’, which is what she calls her breast form, telling me she hated wearing it for the last — years (more than 2 decades). I fell in love with her, and fell in love with being a feminist, again. Her daughter keeps telling her to put the breast form away. But she does not feel able to leave the breast form behind! 

She called me brave. A teacher. She looked at me in awe.

And I am brave, many women cannot imagine leaving home without their breast forms. Others very much want to leave them behind, but feel pressure to wear them for their jobs, and for the people in their lives who expect them to look a certain way. As more women like meMargaret  W. Smith and Jodi Jaecks put their bodies and their choices out there, normalization of this bodily form, this aspect of women’s lives, will occur. Society will  re-member the full array of shapes that an individual woman’s body can take in a lifetime. But no woman should feel compelled to wear forms because our society is misogynist and ignorant and has set up an expectation of what the female form should look like. Especially in light of breast cancer.

Breast Pockets are being made around the world!! I have put out a challenge for folks to make 1000 breast pockets to raise awareness for the women who choose not to reconstruct their bodies after breast cancer and to pave awareness for those who would like to put their forms aside entirely. October 22 is the deadline, you can make pockets in whatever way you choose, paper, cloth, mixed media. You can use this pattern, if you feel the need. If I have not answered your email (they are piling up) on where to send them, please be a greasy wheel!  😎

The above pocket was made by my good friend Elliot (who will be turning 9 on October 31) and can be seen here with her sister Alex, snuffling

Alex (who is 5 years old) and Cricket (we will leave her age up for debate!) also made some pockets. I have heard from folks as far ranging as Hong Kong, Australia, Finland, Canada and here in the U.S.  I really hope to get 1000 pockets made in a very short period of time. Will you please help?

To update you on my knitting world, my Boardwalk is coming along just fine! I need to knit about 5″ of stockinette stitch before the neck detail will start. I love the Malabrigo yarn I am using. The color stacks up beautifully. I am hoping this pattern will become a favorite, one that I can knit again and again.

And one last thing.

My mother has begun a new venture, a store featuring ‘Coastal Inspired Items for You and Your Home’ (I love this summation) called The Captain’s Chest. I am so very proud of her for doing this and would love for you to click over and see what she has in stock, perhaps you’ll see something you cannot live without! My mother is passionate about coastal living, entertaining, food and family and she does a beautiful job combining all of these into this new endeavor. Please check it out.

Breast Pockets: A morph

Many people have contacted me and are making pockets to raise awareness for the breast cancer survivors who have decided against reconstructing our bodies! This is fantastic. I would love it if you too, might make a pocket! If I can get 1000 pockets, I will call the reporter I met on Monday and ask her if she will do a story! Please talk about this project on your blog, Facebook, by tweet, on Pinterest, wherever you think you might spread the word.

Just a few words on how I began doing this. I have been working with stitch and embroidery for a few months. At the same time, I am deconstructing and reconstructing the clothing that I own so that I can continue to wear them. Lots of women’s clothing is fitted , darts are used to accommodate the shape of the bust, my wardrobe has a fair amount of fitted garments that no longer hang properly on my frame, so I am taking them apart, removing the darts and putting them back together. When the darts are taken out, the breast pockets need to be temporarily removed and reattached after the dart is removed. I often have at least one set of breast pockets on my work table as a result.

That got me thinking about breast pockets, breast forms, prothesis, bra pockets and (of course) how I could make this into an artistic statement.  

The pockets we will make for the 1000 pocket project are not meant to be useful, they are an artistic statement, a showing of numbers and a way to create awareness that relates to real women and their choices related to the disease. The pockets should be ‘pocket shaped‘, or, as a pockets appear on the blouses in your closet. These pockets can have raw edges, you can fold the seams under as you would if you were going to sew it on a blouse, you can make a “pillow case” style pocket and hide all the raw edges, you can make it out of paper, you can knit pockets, it doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you do it. And please do it in memory or support of someone you know who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and decided against reconstructing their body, it does not matter if she wore breast forms. 

I would like to take the reporter I spoke with on Monday up on her offer to do a story about non-reconstructed breast cancer survivors, can you help a girl out? So far, about 40-50 people have ‘signed on’. Which means we need another 850 people! Let’s make a huge pile of pockets and help the women who decided against reconstruction know, they have your support. 

Breast Pockets-with deadline! 1000 pockets in 3 weeks?

I feel passionate about being a ‘flattie’, a woman who chose not to reconstruct after breast cancer treatments and doesn’t want to wear breast forms either. I am getting used to being flat and am experiencing the stares of curiosity that is a normal part of our humanity but also a showing of how few women chose to ‘go flat’ after breast cancer treatment. You may have read a recent article I wrote for Role/Reboot, an online magazine questioning gender in society. Here is the link:
 
 
The article pretty much sums up why I think women are hesitant to put their breast forms aside. I am active in an online forum for breast cancer survivors and the women on this board really would like ‘Flat Awareness’ to occur. We cringe at the thought of Plastic Surgery Reconstruction Day (October 17, search google-!) We don’t want foreign objects in our bodies. We don’t want to wear forms to maintain a ‘socially acceptable body image’.  We want to be accepted as women who have decided against reconstruction and we want to push this image into being widely accepted in the societal visual lexicon of what a female body can look like over the course of a lifetime. This isn’t just a choice for women who are ‘of an age’ (i.e. having no stake in the game, and believe me, this is often the response I hear when I say that I decided against reconstruction, it goes like this, ‘Oh! My mother (aunt, grandmother) decided against reconstruction but she was _ _ years old.’). We want to turn the repressive body image pressures off and create a new sexy, strong and beautiful but we are flat or half flat!
 
Today, I participated in a taped segment about my hospital’s Breast Cancer Survivors Pool Program. This is a local ABC News at 5 program. And believe me, I made sure I would be taped with no towel covering up my beautiful flat chested body. I went to represent me and my fella flat chested survivors. Hopefully, my interview will make the 90 second segment! At the same time I spoke with the reporter about the Breast Pocket project to raise awareness for those of us who decide against reconstructing our bodies. The reporter said, “If you can get 1000 pockets, contact me, we will try to do a story.”
 
 
I seek a physical representation of the women that you know, who made the decision not to reconstruct their bodies after breast cancer by way of making breast pockets (explained below).
 
Women who decide against reconstructing their bodies often wear prothesis or breast forms, as they are also called. These breast forms need pockets sewn into bras, camisoles and swim suits in order to hold the form in place. These forms can be quite heavy, uncomfortable, they shift, rub against our scars, often contribute to the dreaded, under-studied and life long struggle with lymphedema. Many of the women on the cancer boards I frequent do not want to wear forms, these women often feel compelled to keep up a ‘good image’ in their workplace and on the streets of their hometowns. We want to see acceptance of our choice and to let other women who have to make this decision to know that it ain’t all bad! So, won’t you please make a breast pocket in the name of your friend, mother, aunt, sister? Lets break the walls down, stop being quiet and making nice, lets build a world where it is acceptable to go flat after breast cancer treatment. With this call for breast pockets, I am using the idea of the shirt pocket, also called breast pockets to make an artistic statement about breast cancer and deciding to forego reconstruction.
 
Please, help me to take this reporter up on her offer to build awareness for us ‘flatties’. 


 
Call For Art: Breast Pockets (pockets as you would find on your favorite button up, pocketed blouse). There are many shapes of pockets, the western, patch, button down flap, choose a style! 
 
 
If your aunt had a unilateral mastectomy without reconstruction, make just one pocket and/or flap. If I am the only ‘flattie’ you know? Oh, well, you will need to make a pair!  The point is, I would like a physical representation of how many women forego reconstruction. I am lifting the curtain and peeking in. How many women do you know? Make pockets for each one, unilateral or bilateral. Each pocket should have a name attached to it, first names only. Please use the pattern on my site (see link below), or make your own pattern, because breasts come in all sizes and shapes, make them with your tools and media, don’t think twice about it. These pockets can be cloth or paper or. 
 
And please, invite your friends, in fact, forward the link to this post freely, please speak up, talk about it on your blogs. 
Email me when you have your  pockets completed and I will tell you where to send them. 
 
Deadline: Please send the pockets to me during the week of October 22. Comment on this post and I will put your name in an already growing list of participants. I will let you know where to ship your pockets in a private email.

Thread Dyeing and other Fun. Also a Call For:

Yesterday, I was making coffee and who ran past the window? A black Squirrel. I immediately grabbed some granola and put it on the sill. Grey Squirrel quickly ran over and started eating.

It is funny! At our subway stop there is a transgender person and a shoe shine man who both ‘beg’ change, the shoe shine man is new to the stop, he has priced his shine at 1$ hoping his customers will give more. I gave some change to the transgendered woman and she asked me to give the shoulder to the shoe shine man as I walked by!

Grey Squirrel didn’t ask, he just shouldered right in!

I am dyeing a color wheel gradation of embroidery thread in four steps for each color of the color wheel, 48 hanks of thread in total. I am doing this in preparation for the upcoming Boro Bag/Hip Bag class at The Clever Guild.

And Look! what just fell into my cart over at Amazon. I have been doing lots of embroidery over here and I find that I like 6 strand floss the best! I love the look of a single strand of floss, I like the ability to use all 6 strands, three strands, two, I am forming preferences related to embroidery threads.

These ‘100 calorie’ zip tight bags, all in a row, happy sigh. I am so glad you can’t eat the content of these bags! That would be a lot of calories.

I don’t think I got the recipe for the gradation down pat. I will be washing these samples today or tomorrow and I will need to tweek it a bit.

The 4 red thread samples you see here, told me the middle two gradations were ‘too close’. But they are so pretty all the same.

Who doesn’t like a gathering of good stuff to get the juices flowing.


 

I now have a fascination with breast pockets. I have been making breast pockets, not the blouses to go with them, just the pockets. I am changing my wardrobe to printed, button down blouses and pockets are key! Really, I like the name breast pocket, I no longer have breasts, but I can wear breast pockets!

When breast cancer survivors wear breast forms or prothesis, they need pockets sewn into their bras, camisoles and bathing suits to hold the forms in place. And flaps? Some reconstruction techniques use the word flap in the description of the procedure. I am not interested in any of that, but I like thinking about parallel ideas. In talking about clothing, when breast pockets have buttons, I think of them as nipples. When they have snaps, those too are nipples, with the added benefit of the actual shape (the male portion of the snap is nipple shaped). And with breast pockets on shirts, you can be prepared to stuff them full and change out the size of your ‘breasts’ in minutes flat (pun intended)! It is always good to have some useful pockets! In fact, I was putting embroidery floss in my breast pockets while laughing my head off in this in this post.

Do you know anyone who has had a mastectomy without reconstruction, unilateral or bilateral? Say you or aunt (mother, sister, friend, wife, coworker) was diagnosed with breast cancer and didn’t have reconstruction? In her name or memory, make either a single or a set of pockets and flaps appropriate to her choice, unilateral breast pocket or bilateral pockets and send them to me. I would like a huge pile of of pockets, in effect creating actual ‘awareness’, with a physical object that represents a real person.

And in preparation of the ‘pink month’, I figured I would ask for some help in creating awareness that does not exploit, or misrepresent me as a survivor and to go further, to shed light on us half/flatties! Some of the half flatties call themselves uniboobers! Funny, right? So, I invite you to make pockets and help raise awareness and pride in a choice I hope none of you ever face.

You can make them out of cloth, paper, I don’t care how or what you make them with, just make them. If you are interested in helping me out, please comment on this post. I will let you know where to send your pockets.

Here is a pattern for  a BreastPocket, if you feel you need one.

Edited to add:

Here are a few examples of the pockets I have been making, showing some pockets with flaps and just flaps:

Got that Off my Chest

Today an article I wrote about going flat, breast cancer and gender went live at Role/Reboot. While I feel passionate about the topic, I feel some trepidation on how it might be received too.

Being flat after treatment for breast cancer is quite an interesting experience, our society is so focused on breasts, it can feel comical, degrading, mostly just odd to experience this obsession while ‘living flat’, especially in the face of a disease that kills so many. When we focus on our looks so much, we can loose sight of the end goal, living and life! Being human, experiencing the world around us, listening to music, seeing works of art.

I will always miss my breasts, but even with reconstruction, I would not have sensations that I had before, they would not be what they were. And to rely on a doctor to give you the results you hope and wish for? And even if the doctors does everything spot on, there is no saying that your body won’t reject the implants. Me, I just think it is easier all around to step away from the status quo, take responsibility for myself and  mourn the passing of a personal era.

Does this make me stronger? More confident in my body? No, I am just like the next person. I wish I had never had to make these decisions or to think these thoughts, but I did. Geez, I bought some time and I am going to enjoy it to the best of my ability! 

I would much prefer to be who I am today, without looking back.

So please go read the article and share it, like it, pass it on. Comment on it too!

 

 

 

 

Dreaming from the Journal Page Give Away+

Dreaming from the Journal Page is a pretty snazzy book, if I do say so myself. North Light was very gracious to me when they heard I had been diagnosed with cancer and rather than flying me to home base to have step out photographs taken, they hired a photographer to come to me. Many of the shots in the book are candid, taken in our tiny apartment, with images of my paint boxes, pencil cups, and ‘smalls’ (the little things collected that make us happy). 

So you get to see my beloved peg board, our lifestyle, my belongings, one of the last photos taken of me fully figured. When I first saw the photographs, I was floored! I could pretend our apartment is huge! I could believe the story that was created by beautiful photography. 

The author photo shows me with a doo rag covering the glare of my shiny, bald head (which I came to love as a symbol of my strength.) I was in the midst of my 4th chemotherapy dose, just the week before my 5th, when I felt my best. I think back on this and marvel at my strength and tenacity. This helps me to realize just what I am (we are) capable of. And to have such a thing, bound, laminated with my name on the spine as a reminder? Priceless. (I had the spine cut off  the covers laminated, had them give it a spiral binding. I even signed my own copy, why not?). I saved the spine and applied a magnetic strip to it, it is on the fridge!  🙄

So, if you own a copy, here is some insider info:

Page 32, behind the plastic dye containers, on the wall is an ornament that Judy Coates Perez made for me.

Page 88 and 89: That is my good friend Cricket, who hepled the photographer and I organize ourselves.

Page 91: We had to rearrange the apartment to take the three sewing machine shots.

Page 112: The little wooden sewing machine was made for me by my friend Jod, the Snape ring to the right of it was made by my friend Shanna. The pinecones were sent to me as stuffing in a package.

Page 120: I call my bed quilt The Beast (it is KING size), I asked the photographer to take this photo, he didn’t really want to because it a wonky angle. But it made it in the book!

Page 126: The author photo was taken across the street, it was the first photo that was taken of me for that purpose. I like my softness. 

And, because this is a celebratory day, my one year anniversary (birthday?) from surgery, I am going to give away two books to folk who commented after helping me with my survey.

And the winners are?

Suzan Engler won this copy. Please email me!

Janet Burns won one copy. Email me please.

And heck, if you would like a signed copy, please don’t hesitate to click that button on the upper right. Or if saving some cash works better for you, Amazon has a pretty cheeky discount, Dreaming From the Journal Page.

And you know? Thank you. It has been a long road since this post, where Leslie helped me tell you what what happening. So many of you sent packages, cards, love, care, emails, prayers. You helped me to see that I am as well loved as I love. Thank you for that. That is a gift beyond measure.

Looking back.

Hey there. This blog post is a bit hard for me to post but one I feel passionate about and one I feel needs to go live. It is about cancer, recovery and ‘going flat’. Last year, on June 21, I had bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. And as you might imagine, my thoughts, feelings and memories are swirling around me this week and it is time to let them go.

My treatment protocol dictated that I have neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the tumor and get cleaner margins), surgery and radiation. In some ways neoadjuvant therapy is a blessing because it gives you time to think through your options. And by options I mean, needing a mastectomy and deciding what type of reconstruction or lack thereof . Surgery is often the first thing women (and men-men get breast cancer too) have to go through after finding a lump- and at that point everything is happening so fast that it can be daunting to make a decision that is right for you. So I had some time to think and to decide what would work best for me.

I chose against reconstructing my body for so many reasons, the number of surgeries, failure rates, and the fact that there is no sensation and that reconstructed breasts are reported to ‘look good in clothing’.  Luckily I found photographs of another woman whose body I could relate to and who made it seem as though this would be a choice I could wrap my head around (they are beautiful photos). 

One year ago today, I still had my breasts. I miss them, I grieve the loss of my breasts. Do I regret my decision? No. Is it an adjustment? Yes. 

Why am I telling you all this? First and foremost, because I bet there is a woman out there who is making this same decision, and I want her to know she is not alone, this does not suck, we are a tribe. Beside which, this decision is just as valid as wanting to reconstruct, no matter the societal pressures related to femininity, breasts, appearance and gender. In facing this anniversary, this change to my body, I want to acknowledge the particulars and to release my body past.

Tomorrow my new body will be one year old. Welcome! I live in a world of firsts right now, first anniversary after surgery, the next treatment related anniversary will be one full year out from my last radiation (August 25) and boy are these welcome. It feels good to move away from active treatment, to put time between me and the immense pressure of active treatment. Thank goodness. Glad that’s over. 

I like being flat. I like owning my choice, my body. I am amazed at how resilient the human form is and I prefer to stay centered in this new place. This new landscape. This new me. So let’s celebrate!

Tomorrow I will choose the winners of my book, Dreaming from the Journal Page related to this post (I have been remiss in doing so and tomorrow seems a good day to give stuff away).

Phew. Thanks for reading this far.

And hey! I gave my mother her Jelly Roll quilt this weekend, looks great, huh? Very beachy.

Artist+Clothing=Adorn?

Gather your Sew-plies!! Purse

So here is the story.

I have been quiet on the home front of cancer. I don’t know how to frame a discussion about my experience last year, all I know is I am just beginning to land and unwind, and integrate what I have learned from being ill. But at the same time I think it is important for me to be plain with you as well as myself. Perhaps you have already noticed but I chose not to ‘reconstruct’ my body. I think having a body, healing and moving into life after cancer is enough. I am still all woman. I am just a flat chested woman.

I am being up front about this because I am exploring clothing as a form of artistic expression. This is a creative theme that I need and want  to explore, both metaphorically and physically.

Clothing my body has become an adventure. I am an artist, I have always wanted to dress ‘singularly’, uniquely. And what better way to explore artistic, healing and integrative themes about the body than to adorn myself. 

I have fallen in love with the word, Adorn. 

Adornment. 

 Suggestions? Anyone? 

for Gather your Sew-plies Purse.

This purse recipe is a lot of fun, it is a sewing/fashion accessory. Big and bold when paired with a white shirt and skinny denim jacket. I purposely made this purse in such a way that I could continue to work on it until I had perfected the design. Do you know Cat Bordhi? She is a sock knitter and a creative thinker. She wrote a book about starting the sock… ‘from the middle’. And this got me thinking. What would happen if you started a project in the middle rather than tucking in all the loose ends at the get go? So this little purse is being completed as I go. I started in the middle. Will you make one too? I would love to see how you proceed alongside me. Mini Sew Along?

I am making an add-on pattern for the Gather Your Sew-plies pattern…A thimble Cinch Sack! More on this later.

From Messy to Clean and Back

6x6 Journal, hot press watercolor paper

I don’t know how it works for you but at Casa Melly, the studio gets messy as all get out, I can’t stand it anymore, I can’t clean while in the middle of project. Then, just when it is driving me batty, I clean it up, spic and span. 

Highline Drawings

While my studio was clean and approachable, I opened a journal to find gentle little drawings that I did while walking the High Line. I drew this last fall, while I was going through radiation treatment, I had gotten to the cancer care center too early and so took a walk on the High Line. The great thing about New York City is that New Yorkers are not generally, morning people, but I am. So I sat down next to some pretty flowers and drew. I drew in pencil and painted when I got home. I used pen later still. My journal pages are completed over time, not in one sitting or in one place. I don’t think this page is complete even still.

JJ Made these.

I asked a friend to make me a set of tiny sanding blocks and this is what she came up with. It turns out, when I paint with acrylics on pine board that I love debride, sand and deconstruct the surface of my work. What better way to get in small places than with tiny little sanding blocks? Super cute, right?

Sleuth Work!

Melanie Testa's Sleuth Work

 

I think I have figured out that I can purchase the pattern online and print them out on paper. I have an acquaintance who speaks and reads Japanese. Now, I don’t want to a pesky, but. I am on a mission with this shirt. It contains surface design possibilities.

Here is a helpful pdf by Batty Chan and this list of translated sewing terms off Karen Boyette‘s site.

Last night I found myself working out the pattern pieces, measuring, checking, cross referencing and I realized something. I have been struggling with the limitations of my circumstance. Having had to take chemotherapy, I found that I was struggling to put sentences together, couldn’t stay focused in reading a single book and was feeling out of control. This type of loss of ability is frightening. But I know that if you try to open new pathways in the brain that activity and compensation will often occur. I think it is funny that I have gravitated to a meticulous, beautifully rendered, form of communication to help me through this portion of my recovery.