Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cancer Sucks

As part of Brigitte of Unfettered Ink's 5 Stories to Master Blog Hop, I've been reflecting on things I've overcome to be a bead embroidery designer/artist/business owner.

I guess I don't think in terms of "overcoming" something.  I'm of the school of thought that every experience contributes to the whole.  The journey is made up of a thousand steps, not simply the destination.  That there are no accidents.
Don't have a source for this photo other than "I saw it on Facebook."  Doesn't she look like fun?

My life has definitely had twists and turns, all of which affect my beadwork.  A major turning point came when my husband died of liver cancer.  (Hard to believe it's been 9 years.)  He went fast, within about 5 months.  But during this time, we had lots of time to talk.  About everything.  One of those conversations, focused on the things he would regret not doing, made me realize how much I wanted to go back to school.  A year after Tom's death, I enrolled.  And now I have a double major BA (Women's Studies and English/Creative Writing), two MA degrees (Women's Studies and History), and will start my PhD studies in History (focused on the history of women) in Fall, 2012.  Now, that's how you fulfill a dream!
Being in school has given me a stability that I've never had before in my life. I've also put the patience that I've learned from beading into practice.  When I'm in the middle of multiple academic hoop-jumps, I remember the process of beading, in which one bead builds upon the next, and the next, and the next.  Steps.  Yes, sometimes life feels like one step forward, two steps back, but amazingly, there's always progress.
Fairy statue, my garden
Preparation helps to navigate the process.  As Tom prepared to die, he planned a trip to Vegas, where many of our friends still lived.  A big party for his 50th birthday was organized and over seventy people came to celebrate Tom's life.  That's amazing and meaningful, but the memory that sticks with me is Toms preparation for the party.  He spent weeks going through his possessions, picking out gifts for people.  Deciding which things to pass on to who.  Most of these things were spiritual in nature, holding little monetary value.  A crystal, a knife, books, hammers, clothing.  But each choice was based on what Tom thought would best express his love for the giftee, fulfilling an interest, a shared experience, even a few jokes.
Kwan Yin statue, guarding the front door to my house.
By all accounts, it was a fabulous party.  (I didn't go.  My employer wouldn't give me the time off and I knew I'd need vacation days as Tom got sicker.)  There was laughter and dancing and drumming and magic tricks.  (Thank you to our dear friend Jeff McBride for hosting the party!)  Tom was able to celebrate his life in a fabulous way, giving that nasty ole cancer the middle finger.
The "Spirit" pole, guardian of the garden.
Through Tom's experience with cancer, I learned that life really is short.  I learned to do the things that are most important to you and let the rest go.  I learned to value the moment, the experience, more than the results.  When I sit down to my beadwork now, these lessons inform my process. 


  1. I'm from the same school of thought -- that even the most heartbreaking experiences can teach us, and it's just a matter of letting them.

    *Hugs.* I'm very sorry for your loss. Tom sounds like an amazing person who lived the heck out of life right up to the very end.

    When my father died last summer I learned that we can't put off telling people what they mean to us, and we need to start making peace with their complexities while they're still around. He was full of contradictions and hard to get to know, but that's part of being a person.

    1. Hi Sarah -
      there's nothing like death - and sometimes birth - to put things into perspective. I use lessons from Tom's passage every day. It was definitely a time of self-discovery.

  2. Life is quite a journey- so sorry for your loss- Congratulations on your academic accomplishments- may you continue to explore new avenues of learning.
    I loved looking at some of your beading in your previous post- You do beautiful work- some are quite intricate- The color choices are lovely and the designs so unique.
    Thanks for sharing your moving story.
    Regards from Western Canada,

  3. Thanks for the lovely compliments, Anna! The beads have been a big part of my journey.

  4. Hi Skylar, Thanx for this post.Yesterday would have been my 41st anniversary, but my husband passed away last fall so I was feeling kind of blue. It helps to know that others have been through this & are coming out on top. Congrats on earning your degree. Keep up the great work.

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