Waiting

Muriel Eulich. Road Map, Sign of the Times. 2012. Watercolor on Paper, 23"x30".Muriel Eulich. Road Map, Sign of the Times. 2012. Watercolor on Paper, 23"x30".From August 13, 2012, through October 4, 2012, Art Saint Louis proudly presented a new art exhibit addressing the issue of breast cancer. Waiting featured the work of watercolorist Muriel Eulich, and the writings of Mary Ellen Havard, author of Breast Cancer: One Illness, Two Women, Four Seasons (co-authored by Mary Openlander; PenUltimate Publishing, 2004). Together, these artists of paint and page have created a unique viewing experience that addresses a disease that affects far too many women. Personal photographs and interviews of numerous women influence Eulich’s gorgeous watercolors, while Havard draws from her personal experience with the disease. While no two women’s journeys with breast cancer are the same, both artists explore the pain, the struggle, the anguish, and the beauty and liveliness of those with breast cancer.

 

ARTIST'S STATEMENT

"What made you choose to paint a theme like this?"

Nearly every person who enters my studio asks me that question. The truth is I did not choose this subject, it chose me. The day an assistant gallery director suggested that I paint a show around the subject of breast cancer because she had it herself, I was totally in. My life has been closely touched by breast cancer. I followed the brave journey of my sister-in-law Sally who lived through numerous returns of the disease and a new course of chemo every time. At a very young age I also lost two close friends, one to breast cancer and one to ovarian cancer. I am still mourning the loss of Grace Brod who gallantly continued to celebrate life up to the last moment. This show is dedicated to Sally and Grace who both taught me so much about living every day to the fullest, about gratitude, and about the simple joys of family and loved ones.

Muriel Eulich. Connect the Dots. Watercolor on Paper, 23"x15".Muriel Eulich. Connect the Dots. Watercolor on Paper, 23"x15".
Along with my personal experiences I also have had the past three years of listening to the many stories of  wonderful, courageous women. I listened, I asked questions and I listened some more. Approaching this project with my background as a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) has been extremely helpful. It enabled me to come to the table with the tools and skills to ask the questions, earn trust, and to be able to HEAR and process what I would be told and  what I would have the privilege to see.  


Some people ask me if this isn’t a depressing subject and even suggest at how difficult these last few years must have been. My response is, “not at all, and actually it has been inspiring and an honor.” This is truth; I have met and gotten to know the most wonderful, generous and acutely alive women ever!


I have learned a few things in the process of this project and I would like to share some of it with you.

1) No two women experience the same journey. There may be a woman who had a lumpectomy and radiation and she may not give herself the credit for what she has gone through. This is because there is always someone else who has had a much more intense course of a single or double mastectomy, radiation and chemo. But they both have breast cancer.

2) There are women who do not want to talk about their illness or what they are experiencing. These women want to feel “normal” and be asked about their children, travels, school, grandchildren, anything besides breast cancer.

3) There are women who really do want to talk about their experience with breast cancer. People will ask them how they are but don’t really want to know any details. They don’t want to see the lumpectomy, the mastectomy, hear about how crappy the chemo makes you feel, or the radiation process. They don’t really want to see or hear about the long and difficult reconstruction process or even the great exuberance over new nipples!


So I suppose that this is where I come in as the storyteller. I have been given the honor of interpreting the stories shared with me and showing the world the truth. Sometimes that truth is harsh and raw, other times that truth is tender and joyous. Thank you to every woman who has helped me by sharing her experience with me in order to let this happen. 

— Muriel Eulich, Spring 2012  


Waiting - Poster design by Emily AmbergerWaiting - Poster design by Emily AmbergerTHE COLORS OF CANCER

It is Tuesday morning, I am sitting in my writing group, working on an assignment. As I glance around at the other writers, all cancer patients, I wonder what else anyone can think of to write about cancer and how it has changed our lives. There is a window just opposite my chair and I see the beginning wisps of green on the branch of a tree. It is spring and the time when we all emerge from our winter caves, cast off our wooly wear, put on our pastels and celebrate because we can now wear our cancer colors and sign up for walks and runs and everything else that is supposed to pump us up. At last we can wear our cancer message tee shirts with inspiring messages like, “Fight like a girl,” or “No, they are not real, the real ones tried to kill me,” or “Warriors in Pink,” or “There wasn’t supposed to be cancer in my fairy tale.”

It is not working for me this year.

Let’s talk about the cancer colors, pink for breast cancer, blue for colon cancer, and on and on. I am in the pink group, or at least that is what they tell me, because I have breast cancer. I have been in this group for eleven years. But pink to me is a Barbie shade, little girl dress with a big pink sash, cute, lipgloss. What does that have to do with cancer?  I have seen pink blenders, pink director’s chairs, pillows, teddy bears, even pink mixers. What is that all that about?


The real colors of cancer for me are shit brown, puke green, necrotic black, blood red. Does anyone want to wear those colors and get happy?

There is nothing beautiful about cancer. It sneaks up on you like a thief in the night and robs you; no, more than robs you, it skins you alive. You are cut, ravaged by chemicals and burned. Now there are some reasons to celebrate.


Then you are told to battle the disease and, extending the battle metaphor, we are called survivors. One of my brothers, who was wounded in combat in Viet Nam, told me that the only people who want to talk about war are the ones who have never been in a war. In order for me to do battle, to be a fighter, I have to hate. With cancer who is there to hate?  Am I supposed to hate the doctor who diagnosed the disease, the radiation oncologist who treated me, the chemotherapy nurses and their drugs, my parents for my genetic makeup, myself? I don’t think of cancer cells as an enemy. Somewhere inside me the signaling system tripped up and cells multiplied out of control like zillions of little Pac men running amok. For me there is no battle metaphor. Besides how could someone all dressed in pink be a soldier?


Then there are the slogans. “God only gives you what you are able to handle.” Now there is a big serving of cold comfort. Just think, God has chosen me for this gift. “No, thank you.” I have much more respect for a benevolent deity than that. Otherwise God is responsible for all those bald headed children I see lying on gurneys waiting for brain radiation.


“People who have a positive attitude always do better.” Or at least that is what I have been told by some. I used to be afraid that if I did not have a positive attitude I would be responsible for a negative outcome. In the December 1, 2009 issue of the American Cancer Society Journal, “Cancer,” there is a report of a study showing that “even after accounting for other variables that could affect survival, a patient’s emotional state was found to have no bearing on whether or not he or she lived or died.” The idea that I can control cancer or my survival by my attitude has no science to back it up. So the positive attitude tyrants can sit down and be quiet.

It is not working for me today.

When I hear someone say, “Why me?” I think, “Why not me?” I have a human body, flawed like all of creation, and this body will die someday  have a body that wants to be well. I see doctors, modern day shamans, exercise, take treatment, meditate. But I do not think I can control the course of this disease. I do what I do in order to place myself in the healthy present moment, knowing full well that I can be healed and still die. I have cancer. My life has changed, and for a lot of it I am not grateful. And don’t tell me that I should be.

— Mary Ellen Havard


THE WAITING ROOM

We sit in rows, facing each other, waiting for our names to be called while trying to read magazines or work crossword puzzles. I hope they don’t forget me, I hope they do forget me.


Across from me sits a young man whose scalp looks like the body of one of those little dogs who have only one or two wisps of long hair. His entire head is sunburned, perhaps a ski instructor who has just stepped off a plane from Vail. His name is called and he gets on board.


There is a toddler all dark pink and fresh and bald, sitting in her mother’s lap with dad in the next chair. A bag of toys waits at her mother’s feet. I can see the instrument implanted under the skin of her baby skull. Her name is called and I hope she and her family are going to Disney World.

In the seats next to me sit an elderly couple. His arm is across the back of her chair while she plies her knitting needles in a steady three quarter time, stopping occasionally to tug at extra yarn in the bag under her chair. I hope the weather on their cruise is warm.


I wonder how many here are frequent fliers, like me.


Each one of us here has learned to wait. We wait for days, weeks, for the results of scans, biopsies, cultures, slides to be examined. We wait for phone calls that don’t come and dread those that do.  Our tickets are bought at a price. Then we are sent here, to this waiting room; that is what we are good at, waiting.

Each of our itineraries is set. We wear our maps on our skin like members of a secret cult all covered in paint. We have tattoos, and marks drawn in different colors, helter skelter lines and crosses all meant to point the way. When these lines are combined with the laser lights that dart across the radiation treatment room and the numbers on the screens hung on the walls, they tell those in charge, who know the code, just where we are going. No movies on this trip, just rows and rows of numbers.


Then my name is called. First there is the security clearance. I stand in front of a computer where I am asked to identify my photograph, recite my name and date of birth, and answer the question, “What area of your body are we treating today.” I have already read the instructions in the seat pocket in front of me, “Lie still, don’t move, the machine will move, you will hear noises, do not be alarmed, we are just outside and will return in a moment.”


I take off my clothes and lie under a sheet on the narrow board. The cheery white coated flight attendants use the laser lights and the marks on my body to line me up. I ask if Beethoven could replace the country music that is being piped in and within seconds the familiar symphony surrounds me. The door closes and we are ready for takeoff.

— Mary Ellen Havard


 

Waiting was presented concurrently with [context]Texture, a jurried exhibition featuring the work of 44 St. Louis regional artists.

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