I had been going to tell this part of the story later, but something happened this morning that made me decide to tell it today:
I dropped off my “Operation Christmas Child” shoebox this morning. The lady coordinating things at the drop off location asked if we could pray over the box. Of course, I expected her to pray for the refugee child who will be getting the box. Instead, I listened, stunned, as this woman whom I’ve never met, prayed for…my hands.
In 2012 I was diagnosed with Lymphoma, and went through 6 rounds of chemo. Halfway through the treatment, my fingers started tingling. I learned that this is the first sign of neuropathy; a word I didn’t even know the meaning of. Caused by nerve damage to the extremities, neuropathy begins with tingling, progresses to pain, and can end in complete numbness.
For some people the effects reverse, and for some they don’t—some people end up with numb hands/feet for life. And it takes 6–12 months after the chemo is complete to find out what the end result will be.
Up until then I had handled all the treatment/side effects/uncertainly relatively well. But with the normal use of my hands in potential jeopardy, I started to unravel.
I had been a commercial artist for 20 years, and I also coach figure skating—I literally make my living with my hands and my feet. But my main concern was, ‘what if I can’t paint anymore?’ About the time I had devised a way to strap a paint brush to my wrist, it started to dawn on me that perhaps painting was more important to my life than I had previously realized.
After 6 months the tingling and numbness began to subside from my fingers and eventually disappeared completely: my hands were spared. I started painting with a newfound urgency and sense of responsibility to the work. I found my voice in portraits and telling other people’s stories. And I found a purpose—yes, even a gratefulness—for the cancer, for waking me up to what I believe my role is meant to be in this life.
In a portrait show, it is traditional for the artist to include a self portrait. For “Famous,” I will show this painting of my hands, which were given back to me, and with which I intend to speak for as long as I am able.
Coincidentally (or, you know, probably not), today is the third anniversary of my diagnosis.
Click here to see a video of the painting in progress.