A personal Note from the artist about the tone of the series
An important point, and one that I hope others may find heartening, is that if you look at the images as a whole you will not find them particularly dreary or depressing. Some images are certainly more intense than others, just as some are unexpectedly cheerful. In fact, one might wonder at the surprisingly positive tone of the series. I think I can account for it in a number of ways - First, when I allowed my experiences to unfold naturally, I was able to focus on the many components that comprise our days, which makes it difficult to easily categorize them simply into “good” or “bad”. A morning might be really hard, but the afternoon rather pleasant, so the overall effect is mixed. Infusion days sound scary, but were actually often somewhat relaxing, with a team of supportive professionals, family and friends. Some days, even if I was still not feeling great, just realizing I was getting past the worst part of a cycle buoyed me with a sense of relief and hope which I think you can see reflected in the art. And even the most difficult days were punctuated by bright spots – the kinds of things that brighten any day – a fun activity, a visit with a friend, good news about a family member, or maybe just the fact that it was spring!
I do not wish to understate the serious ordeal of chemotherapy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure. And I am among the fortunate ones – supportive husband, family and friends close by, great insurance (Medicare!), no job responsibilities or kids at home. Still even my very best days were tinged by my struggle with one or more of chemotherapy’s endless side effects. But as you live through it on a day to day basis you experience it through a relative, not an absolute, perspective. It’s all about the trend. If you’re better today than yesterday, then you’re “good”, even if on a pre-chemo basis you would have probably considered yourself “not so great”. There’s a gradual adjustment, and even a sense of gratitude, that develops with the process. It’s reflected in the art, and it’s not all bad as a life philosophy either.
Alisa Singer, 2018
Day to Day Journal of Paintings
In these pages I describe the personal events and feelings that inspired the individual artworks. Each of us will experience the challenges we face in ways that are, like all of the days of our lives, unique and unpredictable, which is why I think the particular details of each of my own days as I navigated this journey are not especially important. More significant is an overview of the tones and feelings of these months as represented by the art – months that could easily reflect the highs and lows of any period of any life. That, I think, is the main point.
Still, in case you are curious…
Image 1 - Approximately one month before 1st Treatment - (Waiting for surgical pathology results.)
Very tense and anxious day. 65th birthday of old and dear friend. She uses her birthday wish to hope for good news. Receive results in the evening – best possible, given the previous diagnosis.
Image 2 -1st Treatment (also 1st day of spring)
I worry as I enter the treatment room: Will it hurt to access the port? Will my bloodwork allow me to go forward? What will it feel like when the toxic meds drip into my veins? Surprisingly, the day turns out alright. Surreal, for sure, but not bad. The nurses are competent and friendly, my oncologist is reassuring, and friends and family are present to offer distraction and support.
Image 3 - 1st Treatment – Days 2 and 3
I am not nauseated following my first treatment but do have trouble getting all the recommended food and liquids down. The shot given to build up immunity isn’t as bad as warned. Still kind of a “not myself” feeling, but could be much worse.
Image 4 - 1st Treatment – Days 4 and 5
First weekend after first treatment. This is rough. Feeling very sick/fluish and feverish all the time. Not getting enough fluids or food down and very, very achy with pain in bone and muscles. Overnight I get almost no sleep. But with the support of family and friends there are still positive moments, even during these two dark days.
Image 5 - 1st Treatment – Day 8
The challenges of chemo are pervasive and ever changing and at times can feel overwhelming. But for a few days I have been feeling better and more able to address specific effects. I am now entering the “nadir” of the cycle (where I am most defenseless against infection) and I expect my hair to fall out in a few days. Still, I have many moments where I am back to my ordinary life and so I am beginning to feel hopeful.
Image 6 – 1st Treatment – Day 11
Kind of a sad day. I have my head shaved (trying to stay ahead of the game). I buy a glamorous wig but hate to wear it, though many people have already told me it beats my natural hair. Overall, a distressing and disorienting experience. I suppose I’ll adjust.
Image 7 – 2nd Treatment
I am fairly relaxed, recalling how well the first treatment went, and this one turns out much the same: good enough blood counts, doctors and nurses are kind and encouraging, and as with the first treatment, friends show up to cheer and distract me with a game of canasta. (“Cancernasta” has become my infusion day tradition.) Still, the eeriness of the scene - playing cards while poison is dripping into my veins - is not altogether lost on me. Nonetheless, a better day than would be expected and not without its highlights. And I am halfway through infusions!
Image 8 – 2nd Treatment Days 4 through 6
The weekend is cold, rainy and exceptionally dreary. I am feeling, predictably, sick, fluish and somewhat weak, though comforted by the belief that in a few days I will begin to recover. Surrounded by husband and pets, and constant check-ins from friends and family, I get through okay.
When I don’t feel much better on Monday I am disheartened, though I had been warned that with each successive cycle the recovery time could be slower. A bad morning is followed by a better afternoon and then a slide backwards into misery. My fever spikes to just short of having to call the doctor and I have a restless night.
Image 9 – 2nd Treatment Day 7
This would have been my dad’s 95th birthday. I wake to sunshine and no fever. Thanks dad! The fog is lifting and I feel past the worst of the second cycle. Though there are plenty of daily challenges ahead, my optimism and relief are restored.
Image 10 – 2nd Treatment Day 12
An up and down day. Beautiful weather. Nice unexpected visit from a friend. But my husband is sick with a bad cold (hoping nothing worse) and after dinner I develop a throbbing toothache. The possibility of the need for emergency root canal leaves me distressed. Chemotherapy and dental work don’t mix. (They warn us about that.) Eventually the pain subsides.
Image 11 – 2nd Treatment Days 18 and 19
Relaxing, pleasant weekend before third treatment. Close family visits from out of town and I receive other welcome company. A lot of social plans are packed into the last few days of the cycle and it feels good.
Image 12 – 3rd Treatment
The third infusion goes smoothly. It’s hard to escape the disorientation of the scene but the environment is as relaxing as they can make it and, most important, I am able to move forward with treatment. I continue the traditional canasta game during infusion. No unexpected setbacks and feel well enough to enjoy a bit of the day afterwards.
Image 13 – 3rd Treatment Day 4
Expecting the worst based on past experience but today isn’t that bad. The weather is delicious and I find myself able to take some walks and relax outside on our deck.
Image 14 – 3rd Treatment Day 6
Well the tough moments do finally arrive – a day later than expected. I experience a pretty rough morning and a shaky afternoon, but the day is punctuated by beautiful weather which always, somehow, makes a difference.
Image 15 – 3rd Treatment Day 9
A very, very good day. Genetic test results come back all normal. Now I know I can proceed with the planned treatment. Though never a big risk, it certainly feels like a big relief.
Image 16 – 3rd Treatment Day 15
Nothing special happening - just taking note of a very pleasant day in the middle of a treatment cycle. I brunch with a friend and meet my daughter for a long walk in her neighborhood, then sit outside and have coffee. Feeling pretty good!
Image 17 - 4th Treatment – (Last)
A very big milestone. I anticipate the next week will likely be tougher than the cycles before, but knowing I will continue recovering after the worst is over is exhilarating. I plan a trip to see kids and granddaughter before radiation starts and even buy a new bike. I am feeling my life returning to me and I’m brimming with hope.
Image 18 – 4th Treatment Days 4 and 5
Surprise! I expect the worst but the weekend following the last treatment isn’t too bad after all. No fluishness this time. This is a gift, especially over a beautiful Memorial Day holiday. I really feel I’m on my way.
Image 19 – 4th Treatment Day 15
Had myself “tattooed” this a.m. in preparation for radiation (permanent marks to allow for proper alignment of the equipment) and then board a plane to see my son, daughter-in-law and our precious 7-month old granddaughter. This is such a treat and the perfect way to celebrate the end of chemo!
Image 20 – 4th Treatment Day 22
I am “de-ported”, which is to say, I have my port removed in a simple surgical procedure. For me this marks the official end to chemotherapy. I’m feeling great relief, of course, but my emotions today are not purely celebratory. I realize there is much ahead of me. In addition to a month of radiation, there will be years of nerve-wracking scans, exams and tests. With a lot of luck, that will be the worst of it. But I didn’t go through the ordeal of surgery, chemo and radiation only to allow constant fear and anxiety to cloud my future. My plan is to put all of that “in the rearview mirror” and move forward. Well, we’ll see how that resolution works out….