Monday, March 31, 2008

"chaos can be regarded as very good news"-pema chodron

good morning, friends,
Monday morning-this will be my first full day back.  I am sitting in aforementioned favorite chair with coffee at my side and Ozman cat and Bella dog whirling around me like tornadoes.  They remind me that I have Mrs. Abraham's first graders today.  This class is somewhat like having 25 Ozmans and Bellas, and it is always interesting. As with all children, each one of them is so unique and beautiful in his own way, and they have bright flashing eyes, quick smiles, terrific energy and little patience for dull lessons. There are several who dramatically melt my heart and others who challenge it. Teaching these guys is sort of like trying to keep a bunch of puppies in a shopping bag.
When I read Pema's statement this morning, my mind went to the days after my surgery, with a house full of family, friends in and out, soup cooking just about constantly, meds, pets, doctor appointments, trips to Walgreen's, endless phone calls...a marked change from my solitary life before with everything just so, the books stacked by size next to my chair, the vegetables stashed in ziplocs, the counters clear.  What became clear is that peace and contentment came with relaxing into each day and moment, and my attempts to organize, clear, contain, and control my surroundings brought me only misery.
As teaching again becomes a bigger part of my life, I need to remember to greet chaos with joy! Now, if I can only remember this when I am standing in the middle of the art room this morning watching the tornadoes fly by...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saturday morning

I am sitting in my beloved leather chair that I was (practically) given by my friend Carolyn. It is a beautiful carmel color and sleek/teak in design. It is old and vintage and I just love it. I have a couch that matches. As I look around my living room I see a print from Nathan, paintings from both kids, even a painting done with Annie one day when we were in the studio.   The end product of this painting is a little chaotic-wild swirls of color, foggy areas, some tired neutrals among the brilliant corals, but what I treasure most about it is the memory of the process of creating it.
As I recall it (and of course, memory is a reconstruction,  so don't hold me to this, Anna), I was making tentative inroads on to this canvas with a small little easel brush, carefully applying some color with great trepidation and doubt, conscious of my accomplished artist daughter's eye on me and feeling terrified and unsure.  Suddenly, there she was beside me with a huge brush, scooping blobs of paint from my palette (and in the process destroying the careful order of the colors) and saying, "like this, Mom!---just, well just paint! " and she obliterated my careful attempts in a few passionate strokes.  
After I got over my horror, I joined in, and I felt like I had taken off my bra and kicked off my shoes....oh, can painting really feel like this? 
I have my new eye now, and in some sense, that is the end of my Melanoma story.  I am back to work, looking pretty symmetrical, energy level good, fridge cleaned out (you have no idea), forgotten articles of clothing and books mailed back to visitors, promises to stay in touch to and from the people who appeared during all of this...and yet, I want to say, NO, it is not over.  I don't want to go back to making those tentative brushstrokes every day in an attempt to create some picture of my life.  I want to continue to smear great blobs of color all over my life, and I want to do it with all of you, laughing all of the way, not giving a damn about what it looks like in the end.  I hope that you all will help me do that. Please save me from my fear and my isolation. Don't let me fall back to that. Grab that brush!
The picture is by my ex-husband's little boy, Benny. They were over last night for dinner. Benny and I share an interest in Pudge Rodriguez and art. I wish I could draw more like him. I watched him do this-his concentration, the confidence of his strokes, the movement of his arm, the confident choices of color. I thought, I am an art teacher!!! THANK GOD!!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thursday night

Hello, All-
On Tuesday, I re-took my road test--the one I failed last week because I failed to understand that 30 in a 25 actually IS speeding, according to those nitpickers at the Secretary of State's Office (imagine my surprise...:)) so now, I am officially able to drive, by myself and without restrictions! I am right on the borderline on this, having 110 degrees of vision range, and will have to be retested annually.  Driving has become a nonissue (except of course for the speeding, which I am working on!)-and so is everything else that I was so worried about.  I thought that I would be running into things all day, every day, that were harder or different to cope with due to my reduced vision, but this has not been the case. Most of the time these days, I live in joy and gratitude--and here are a few reasons why:
1- every day when I go to work, I get greeted with smiles, hugs, waves and hellos from many beautiful children.  This is an excellent way to start one's day.
2-Also, these days include spending time with my dear friends who happen to also be my co-workers--additional hugs, smiles, greetings, chocolate--and in two cases, beautiful spring flowers!  thank you , Lynne, for the perfect red tulips, and Nicki and class for the lilly. 
3-Smiling face of awesome principal who loves to talk to me about Daniel Pink and the importance of art. We are speaking the same language and that is a beautiful thing...
4-Additional smiles, good wishes, hugs and yet MORE presents from parents who spoil Mrs. Art to death....Courtney Leonard's mom brought me back a beautiful skirt and bracelet from her recent trip to Africa. You will see me sporting these in the hall at school!
4-cute dog, potty trained most of the time
5-daily chats with family and friends
6-I dont' have cancer anymore
7-I have a beautiful new eye
8-you get the idea......

Today I saw my family  doctor, Giny Hoekman and got good reports all around. Yippee on that.

Having monocular vision doesn't mean my vision is poor, just that it is different. I think I read more than ever now. Also, interestingly, literally not a day goes by that I do not hear of another person who has lost an eye, or vision in an eye. Isn't that weird?
Love to you --do you hear the birds singing in the mornings??

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mike's Email

Hi, All,
It has occurred to me that some of you may want to send an email to Mike with questions, concerns or a pat on the back!  If so, you can contact him at:

My buddies at are checking out this blog, too, and there are those who are facing now what I just went through!

Sunday, March 23, 2008


My Bella and I-I am feeling pretty great!
Another picture of my beautiful new eye. Please note the beautiful turquoise and gold peeking out ever so subtly!

Mike Mauled by Grateful Patient

Annie took this right after I saw my new prosthetic in my face! What a moment. I had tried to keep my expectations low, understanding that there are limits to what a prosthesis can do in terms of cosmetic wizardry, but I was just blown away by the results. I looked in that mirror and saw ME looking back!

Mike's Toolbox

A look at Mike's toolbox--he tries to work ahead a little on the irises, creating "iris buttons"  that can later be customized to the individual. He travels to GR and Traverse City as well as working in Saginaw, and when I hear him talk, being an art teacher at two schools seems like NOTHING!!! I can't imagine how organized he must need to be.

Addin the veins

Mike uses a fine red thread to add the veins to the white part, or schlera, of the eye. This gives them some dimension-not as flat as in the old days, when they used colored pencil.  
There is a clear shell that fits over this painted eye, and it is bonded and fused to the prosthesis so that the paint, threads and all of that aren't on the surface any more. The clear shell is polished up so that it is smooth an shiny.

Looking over Mike's shoulder!

Mike hard at work with Annie looking over his shoulder.  As you can see, he is wearing a jeweler's set of maginifying lenses. My dad uses these to paint tiny little details on his HO gauge trains. Mike says that he is not by nature a patient person, but watching him, I beg to differ!

Mike's Palette

Annie took this photo of Mike's palette as he worked on painting my eye. As you can see, it takes a high degree of visual discrimination to do this subtle work. He does 6-8 layers of color, from light to dark, in order to get a dimensional, life-like appearance.
This is my eye in progress....he has just about got the iris done, but hasn't started painting the white yet so it has that stark white look that my temp prosthesis had. Every eye's "white" is unique--and Mike's job was made harder by the fact that my eyes were reeling from allergies at the time! (both eyes feel them!)
Mike's exam room in Saginaw. Annie took this pic soon after we got there, waiting for Mike to come back from doing some painting.

Good Friday: My New EYe!

At the risk of sounding sacreligious,  I want to tell you that Good Friday was a very Good Friday indeed, as Annie and I made our journey to Saginaw in early morning to see Ocularist Mike Bain once again, this for the creation of my custom ocular prosthesis. Mike was looking natty and professional in his white coat and greeted us with a warm hello and a gesture that meant "just a sec" as he flew through the hall. He is a busy man. He is one of only a handful of ocularists in the state, one of only 125 in the country, and his job makes demands on him that I can barely wrap my mind around. He needs the kindness of a priest, the patience of a kindergarten teacher, the painting skill of an artist, the knowledge of an opthamologist and the stamina of an athlete to travel through his busy days.
My eye, as you can see, is so beautiful-he nailed it. He worked for hours, and he and Annie collaborated as the day went on. It was a joy. Even the trip home through the snow did not dampen our spirits!

Sumi-e Painting

On Saturday, Annie and I spent some time painting and drawing. My new sumi-e supplies were a gift from my kids for Christmas--they made me swear that I would use them before they got them! The orchid was a gift from Mark the day of the surgery. When I paint I am in heaven!

Friday, March 21, 2008

she's back!

it was a very long day. we'll post more pictures tomorrow. in the meantime, go ahead and tell her how fantastic she looks.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday night-March 16

Today is Annie Lane's birthday. She would be 27 today. Many of you know that there was another little girl before my Annie Elizabeth who was stillborn. I am happy to say that Miss Annie E is here with me tonight and will be accompanying me to work this week as I make my way through my happy reunion at Waukazoo and Sheldon Woods! I will be working mornings only this week, easing back in, with the wonderful Ken Newton taking over for the afternoon shift each day. People, I cannot tell you how hard he has worked to provide the kids with great art experiences, and he has gone way beyond the call of duty for me. Thank you , my friend, for your humor and dedication as well as creative sub plans and art displays of marvelous student work!
The temporary conformer has made me pretty much symmetrical again, and with my glasses I can mingle and go out feeling much less self-conscious. I have gotten used to it for the most part, except for a few minor glitches, the worst of it being that I can't quite close my eye without forcing my lid down. This means that it's hard to get to sleep with that lid a little open...isn't that funny that it would matter? but it does! Also my socket aches a little tonight, so I put my little clear conformer back in for the night. I am getting good at taking the iris conformer in and out and have washed it out a few times.  My socket is still healing, of course, and looks a little grizzly. I guess it takes a full year for the healing to be complete!
I am continuing to log on to, a great website for folks who have monocular vision for one reason or another. Many of these people have struggled for years with glaucoma, infections, cataracts and injuries and I am inspired by their stories, their good humor, positive attitudes, warmth and the amazing wealth of information available on that site.  There are people from all over the world, of all ages (moms are members who have infants with ennucleated eyes) and it is a great support group.
Speaking of support groups (and speaking of speaking!) Annie and I went to a speaker's meeting tonight and heard Mark Vandenbosch talk. He did a great job and you can just tell he is going to be a great preacher once he graduates from Western Sem.  Talk about a story! Mark's pic is back a page or two on my blog...he and Lori have been great and Mark is helping me learn that asking for help won't kill me!
Two mile walk with the dog today in the bright sunshine! Starting to feel like my old self again and looking forward to continued progress. Thanks, all, for your amazing love and support, and I will let you know how it goes tomorrow!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday, March 14: a trip to the ocularist!

Hi, All, 
Today was a very big day-Bobbi and I went to Mike Bain's office today and he made me an Iris conformer!  As you can see from the pictures, he is a lovely guy and he was very painstaking in working on this temporary eye. I will be wearing it for a week, and then next Friday the 21st, I will go to Saginaw and he will make for me my "custom deluxe model".  I feel like this is a great transition, and it is really nice to look at myself and see two eyes looking back at me. I can only imagine how cool the final one will be.
I had dinner with the girls and they all gave me the thumbs-up and they feel like I am "back."
Let me know what you think!

Iris conformer!


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tuesday March 11: One Month Post-Op

Hello, All,
It has been almost a week since I have posted. Since then, my old friend Julie Wennekes has visited.  We visited Carolyn's for movie night, had lunch at Butch's, shopped at BFF stores Roxie's Vintage and Karla's, did beauty rituals, stayed up late, lounged in jammies...we had dinner at Ron  and Val's in Michigan City (Ron is Julie's bro, and he and his beautiful wife Valerie are both artists.  Check out the book they illustrated: Klemp/dp/1570431493.  Her other bro Phil with his sons Noah and Travis were there, too, as was sis Coralee and exhub Pat. I have known all of these people since I was about 18, so it was a good reunion...went to work yesterday, not to teach but to work on curriculum with art amigos Jan, Christina, Sherry, Kathy and Susan Loughrin. Good way to get back in to the swing of things. Bella made friends with Pam Howard!

ONe month Post-op, I have recieved the second-opinion path report from Emory University, which concurs with the first one, so according to at least two learned groups of people, I am cancer free. Words cannot express how that feels but I know a lot of you know.
I talked to Diana Esquival today-she and Al moved to Cincinnati last year. Her family has had a number of very serious medical crises in the past few years and I have admired the way her family has come together, and the strength of their faith. Who knows when these things can happen to any of us and how we will come together? We hope to see each other in the spring.

Also thank you to Ann McKnight, fellow 8 and holy woman healer, for the cranial-sacral massage. She loved up my poor eye today.

Pictures of Julie and I at the beach...the one of our footprints was Julie's idea.  As Leonard Cohen would say, " our steps will always rhyme.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wednesday, March 5: News on my New Eye!

hello, good people out there,
Good news! Through my new friends at I have learned about natural iris conformers, which are a more realistic-looking alternative to the "clear conformer" which provides the shininess you can see peeking out of my left eye. This led me to talk on the phone today with Mike Bain, who will be creating my custom prosthesis in the next few weeks. He will be able to have on of these iris conformers--basically, white with an iris painted on-- ready for me when we meet next Friday the 14th! This means that if I go back to work on the 17th as planned, I will have something that looks like a human eye in place. I am so excited about this! He also looked at the ideas Annie and Jon created for my permanent new eye and feels that he can accomodate me there, too, so this is very good news.
The sunshine is certainly helping to lift my spirits, as is the company and communication provided by Bella, great books and dear friends. Thank you for continuing cards, phone calls, emails, jokes, coffee dates, movie recommendations.....
love to you all.

latest glam shots!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Tuesday morning

I have been exploring, which is an amazing resource for anyone who is facing the loss of an eye, and I found this picture of what my implant looks like.
As you can see, it is very porous, which allows the muscle to really permeate and become a part of the implant. Though it is manmade, I feel that it has an organic quality about it, don't you?
It is quite beautiful, I think. More so than the villanous FRedd.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Monday night, March 3

Three weeks post-op today.  Annie went back to Chicago with her car loaded with the accumulation of four+ weeks here in Holland...thank you, my girl, for being here through all of this.  I have appreciated having people around and will continue to need to stay connected with all of you as time goes on and this adventure keeps unfolding. It is certainly one of hills and valleys and I must admit to being in a valley now and then lately. I think that the reality of the loss of my eye and its vision are settling in now.   The surgery is over, the cancer is (hopefully) gone, the swelling and bruising are almost a memory...and now for the rest of my life!  Realizing that what I am looking at today is going to be the "new normal" is a bit of a blow at times. I am sure that my other senses will step up to the plate and round out my sensory experience as time goes on, but today, I missed the richness of my former visual experience. Of course, I need only remind myself that I at least HAVE vision to get out of that line of thinking in a hurry.

I have joined a website called, a message board and info forum started by a man who had the same thing I did-interocular melanoma.  It is a great find, full of resources and supportive, upbeat people who are going through the same thing I am, or who are long past this stage and leading happy and productive lives.  There are so many different reasons that people become blind in one eye and the stories are as varied as the people who write them. I am relieved to post questions and concerns and have them addressed by those who know.  It is important to check sources, too--I got on one site that had misleading stats about longterm survival from my cancer and it scared me to death until I read further and realized that it wasn't accurate information.  My friends, this is one heck of an education.

I drove home from a meeting in the dark tonight and it went fine.  The lights threw me a little but I quickly adapted. 

Thanks to Jan for the call today, and to Nathan for coming over and helping with the license plate on the RAv. Also to Jade the Warrior Princess for stopping by for a cuppa after work. All of you got me through the day!
As always, so thankful for my life and for my friends and family....feeling a little somber tonight, I guess, and like the road is a long one ahead, but also knowing tht I am safely held throughout....
love you guys....

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Here's Jon's design....he combined the ring with the idea of a sunset.  BEEaautiful.

saturday -March 1st

good morning,
the sun is shining and it is a gorgeous morning. 
Yesterday, I woke up with a head cold, and it is still making life interesting today...Annie agreed to stay for the weekend to see how this thing plays out. I feel especially vulnerable given the recent vertigo and fears of germs in general!  So, laying low, reading and sleeping and leaving the day to day up to Annie and others. Again. It is hard to let go but I have no choice. I miss my life, the person I saw myself as being before all of this. Of course, I what is really happening is that I am letting go of that fictional character who was invincible and could do anything. 
Suddenly, it is March. Feeling like I was in some kind of weird other place for the whole month of February. It was one month ago that I received the news from Dr. Aaberg.  
Feeling hesitant to write too much for fear of self pity leaking in to my words, but it is lurking there around the edges, and reminding me how important the health of my spiritual practice is right now- (really, it is important every day, through everything...) 
Anyone want to go see the Dalai Llama in April? He is coming to Ann Arbor.
Hope you are well and happy out there.
Julie Wennekes, my old friend and college roommate, is coming for the weekend next Friday.
She will be here for 3 days. I went to see her in November-she is a fellow in DC for a year, working at a federal level to push Head Start initiatives, but her experience is so much larger than that, of course. She has immersed herself in DC and is taking every advantage of being there. I am very proud to call her my friend because it really makes me look good to be in her light. :)
I am getting cards from Waukazoo families, some of whom have left Waukazoo and are now Harbor Lights or High School warms my heart to be remembered.  Also having fun with Facebook talking to former students and old friends. In the middle of this somewhat cloistered experience I am feeling far more connected by heart with so many. I talk to my dad every day. What a blessing.
anyway, how I do ramble on....more later....