Cancer challenges a lot of your comfort zones.
The other night we were watching Baring it All, the documentary about the SCAR Project and the fact that the women being photographed were comfortable showing their bodies was being discussed. Irene turned to me and remarked that this was not really surprising, because by the time you’ve gone through treatment you’ve shown your body, your breasts, to many people on many occasions.
In striving for a voice in advocacy I have also been moving outside my comfort zone too, touching on personal matters as I tell and share my story. Being photographed for the SCAR Project: Male Breast Cancer recently was a great honor, something that I hope will have impact and another experience that stretched me. Not the being photographed, really, but the idea that ultimately an image of me will be public.
Well, I found another opportunity to practice extroversion too!
Let me take a small step back: soon after my diagnosis, I decided to challenge myself with some new learning. I had wanted to do some electronics for a while, and also was getting interested in the new field of 3-D printing. Wired ran a cover with Makerbot’s consumer printer in October of last year, which coupled with a reinforced feeling of “what am I waiting for” that is pretty common after you are diagnosed with cancer, made me take the plunge. I spent some months learning the basics of Arduino electronics. My printer arrived in January and I learned how to use it. Really fun stuff.
During these weeks, as I was getting my chemo, then my surgery and now radiation I began to perceive this as a journey. I had seen my wife go through it 5 years ago, and here I was doing it pretty much the same. The urge to tell that story, with its distinct phases, grew. I wanted to capture the feeling that you get a lot of information that you have to somehow integrate. And above all, I somehow wanted to represent the cancer as an external entity that I could see, as it was eliminated by the therapy and that I could therefore somehow hope to control (ha!). So I decided to make a thing. It would be a box that you could dimly see inside, where a tumor was, and we would hit the tumor with all we had and it would go out. I would make it for myself, as a form of therapy.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks back, when I was well underway with the project and was reminded of the annual faculty art exhibition that our Faculty Health Program at MD Anderson puts on. This event is part of a rich program of events that support the well being of our physicians and scientists. What if I showed this piece there? Most of the art at the show is visual, although writing is also well represented, and while all of it is by cancer professionals, next to none is about cancer. Well I gave my introvert a nudge and submitted it, and showed it.
I have to say I was honestly surprised that it resonated strongly for some of the people who viewed it. I think I caught the tiniest glimpse of what an artist must feel when their work connects with others. I have been encouraged by my colleagues to share it more widely, and specifically to make a video. Gulp. So here it is.
A mixed media piece I made about my experience with cancer.