Lopsided Life

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I was 29 in 1994 and recently married. I had a small but successful decorative painting business. I was healthy, happy and excited about my future! When I wasn’t painting client’s homes, I was in my little home studio. One long day, after painting a client’s ceiling blue skies with clouds, my neck was in more pain than usual. My husband rubbed my stiff neck and, as he was rubbing, noticed a lump on my right clavicle. He asked how long it had been there, but I had not noticed.

I went back to the job the next day, not feeling very well and a bit nauseous. I thought, could I be pregnant?! But I needed to finish the job to get paid. The next day I decided to get a massage and was encouraged to see a chiropractor. I made an appointment and had an xray. What she saw was not chiropractic, and asked how long the lump was there. The lump was leaning on a nerve that was causing the pain. What she couldn’t tell me then, was the mass she ultimately saw was the size of a grapefruit sandwiched between my heart and lungs. I then went to an infectious disease doctor and had a dozen vials of blood drawn….and within a few days I was told I had Lymphoma. I had never heard of this- I was only 29! Soon I learned that Lymphoma was cancer of the lymphatic system. We have around 700 lymph nodes in our body and mine were creating cancer and it was spreading.

Soon I was in an Oncologist office with my mom. When my name was called they all looked towards my mother. During the consultation I was told I would need a preventative splenectomy and several rounds of radiation (45) on my chest and my abdomen. “The treatment will most likely leave you infertile,” the doctor said.

I ran out to my car crying with my mother. How was I going to tell my new husband, not only do I have cancer, but we won’t be able to have kids?!! I recall coming home and telling my husband and him throwing a chair in anger and disbelief.

At that time, I turned to my art in my little studio. After much recoup from surgery, and the start of the medieval amounts of radiation, my art was BIG, messy charcoals full of anger. No one was meant to see them. I rolled them up and put them away.

It was 3 years before the recurrence happened and I would need Chemo ABVD. My life stopped again. Having a child was definitely out of the question. I met with a new team of oncologists and they became my new family. After several rounds of chemotherapy, I was back in my little studio drawing again and this time my art was large pensive portraits in pencil. I had control of the line and enjoyed creating them.

After 2 years of being NED, my doctor asked, ”Why don’t you try to have a child?” In 2000 Leonardo was born happy and healthy! Our miracle! A happy ending to my cancer story…stupid cancer!

Then in 2014, I found a lump in my breast. My Gynecologist said it looked “unimpressive,” but because of my history, I should go get a mammogram and sonogram. I was able to get an appointment that afternoon. WIthin a day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My life was on hold again! I was told I would need surgery and chemo. The Breast Cancer was a result of the mantle radiation from my Lymphoma 23 years earlier. I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction and Cytoxen and Taxol chemo, and 10 years of an estrogen blocker: Tamoxifen and arimidex.

The implants unfortunately caused 4 (out of a total of 6) infections which left me so sick and septic, and in and out of the hospital for weeks at a time. Eventually I had the implants removed.

Again, I stepped into my studio. My art, at this point, was all about body image, often with birds, representing my breasts, and birdcages, my sexuality. Having my breasts removed has left me emotionally and mentally exhausted. My art is my therapy and therapy is my art. My art now is vibrant, informative and, hopefully, inspirational! Like the scars on my body, I’m piecing together my art to tell my journey…of stupid cancer.

PS…Leonardo is 19!!!

By Marianne DuQuette Cuozzo