Sunday, February 24, 2013

Back Home Again

 There's a storm across the valley clouds are rollin' in
the afternoon is heavy on your shoulders.
There's a truck out on the four lane a mile or more away
the whinin' of his wheels just makes it colder. 

Hey, it's good to be back home again
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend
Yes, 'n, hey it's good to be back home again 

-John Denver

Yesterday I went out with my husband to visit some friends. A mutual acquaintance had died during the week and we went to find out more and see about the services. On our way back to our place we were driving down a familiar road. The sun was out, you could see "Skyline Drive" across the Shenandoah Valley. The Blue Ridge Mountains surrounded us, as we passed over the Shenandoah River.

We were talking about something and laughing at some inside joke when John Denver's "back Home Again" came on the radio. I like to listen to a local county oldies station on the weekends, it just seems to fit with the surroundings most of the time. The strains of an old country song playing from an AM station and filtering out of our old truck radio always bring me back in time. It just works for me.

Anyway, "Back Home Again" came on and while we continued our talk the music was creeping into the back of my head. I was enjoying myself, I felt healthy, I had been out of the house all morning and wasn't thinking about cancer. I think it was the first time in more than a year that I really felt like I didn't have a care in the world. I felt "Back Home Again" in my own skin. I miss that.

Somewhere in the past year between treatments, appointments, tests, scans, blood draws, surgeries, trying to keep up at work, pretending to be normal, obsessing over research and focusing on how I can make this cancer thing mean something through this blog or support groups.... I lost a little bit of me. And, for the first time in awhile I felt that again.

Of course like everything about this cancer thing, timing is everything. There is a "storm across the valley" for me. I'll be starting chemo again in a few weeks. There will be more fatigue and more tests and appointments and more trying to keep up with work and blogs.... but for a few minutes, bouncing along in that old Ford with my husband smiling and chatting about nothing important, I felt "back home again." I'm going to hold on to that for as long as I can this time.

It's the sweetest thing I know of, just spending time with you
it's the little things that make a house a home.
Like a fire softly burning and supper on the stove.
And the light in your eyes that makes me warm

Friday, February 15, 2013

You should have seen it in color

That’s the story of my life
Right there in black and white

And if it looks like we were scared to death
Like a couple of kids just trying to save each other
You should have seen it in color
-Jamey Johnson

This morning it occurred to me (a little late) that I hadn’t documented the scars from my mastectomy and I needed to do that before they fade. I’ve been taking photos throughout my treatment. Despite being a professional photographer, I mostly just use my Iphone. I don’t use my real camera often because of the awkwardness of shooting myself and the knowledge that very few people will ever see the photos anyway.

While shooting I began to contemplate whether I should convert the photos to black and white. As a photographer so I’ve debated the merits of color vs. black and white many times over the years.  I’ve seen a few photo galleries on breast cancer recently and they always seem to be in black and white. Here’s one called “The Battle We Didn’t Chose.”  The Scar Project, a well known photo gallery is about half black and white as well.

Like most photographers I love black and white but over the years I’ve been annoyed by its use many times. I think photographers mistakenly believe that black and white conveys a stark reality and a mood that color detracts from. As if there is some innate truth that can be seen if you eliminate the color. But I don’t believe that. I believe it’s used too often to imply that situations are in fact black and white. And, of the many things that cancer is… it is not black and white.

A picture’s worth a thousand words
But you can’t see what those shades of gray keep covered
You should have seen it in color

The scars from my DIEP Flap surgery.
Yes, you either have cancer or you don’t but if you do… living with it is not that simple. I’m not happy or sad, positive or negative, or even going to live or die. There is a lot of meaning in those shades of gray. And, the colors tell an important part of this story.

For starters this story cannot be told without the color red. Oh sure, there is the obvious kind of red like with blood or the metaphorical red of anger. But red appears more subtly in my experience. Like with my husbands green eyes. The green is exceptional when surrounded by the bloodshot red that comes with his tears. He is a pretty tough guy and when I see that red it reminds me that while I am pretending to be strong for him, he is pretending for me as well. Black and white does not tell that truth.

The Red Devil
Then there is the red from my scars. They are jagged and angry and stand as a permanent reminder for me. And even as the red will surely fade to pink I’ll always have these scars to bear witness to this struggle. There is the red of the “red devil,” the drug so aptly named because it is the most caustic form of chemo offered to breast cancer patients. And, there is the red flush of your face from the steroids, the red burn of your skin from the radiation and the flash of red in the port as they prepare it for your next dose of chemo. Black and White cannot show these truths.

Surgical Drains
There are other colors as well. My new breast is a particularly odd shade of orange, yellow and blue-green. The chemo chairs are brown and the hospital gowns always seem to be blue. My favorite blanket is a maroon plaid and my dogs, who lay by my side when I am not well are black and tan and chocolate. 

So, I don’t know how a black and white photograph could ever do justice to this story. My own memories are filled with colors. For my part I’m going to use color in my photos so that my memories can stand true to my experiences. I won't diminish my reality in order to present a certain view of my life as starkly black or white, attempting to convey some meaning that doesn't exist. This story doesn’t deserve to be white washed. It is rich with depth and subtleties. Today the sky is blue and the grass is brown, tomorrow there will be clouds but no rain. My cancer should be gone with my mastectomy but it may not be. I could have more chemo or not and I have no guarantee with either. I’m happy and sad at the same time and my emotions cover a wide range they are rarely just one way or another. The world is a colorful place and this story is meant to be told with every hue. 

You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away