Saturday, December 29, 2012


Some things have changed for me. Big time.
1. Absence I have not written on my blog in months. Three months. I continue to write daily but in my journal instead. This daily practice has meant the world to me, giving me quiet, solace, space, and time during my day to reflect, get centred and also escape. I think some of the absence is related to the need for me to keep my thoughts contained, own my thoughts, and in writing on the internet, blogging, you share your thoughts, you give them away... Nonetheless, I am thrilled to know that my Blue Butterfly blog still continues to be read by many and hit 100, 000 pageviews in October. I will share my thoughts as I am ready.
2. Loss I am not as involved in a lot of cancer- and thyroid-cancer related activities. Right now, I feel like I need a break. Today, I just learned a fifth young person who I met through young adult cancer circles has past away. I only spoke to Naomi Baker on a few occasions at the YACC Conference in 2011. I since learned that Naomi is an artist, she has two Mater's degrees, and she was also a teacher like me. She also had this calm spirit about her. Maybe it was the Kris Carr-inspired Crazy, Sexy, Cancer life that she lived. (Naomi shared with me that she attended a retreat with Kris and spent time speaking with her. Naomi promised to connect me with some interesting lectures that Kris did but I never pursued it.)
I felt sad, hurt, and disgusted when I discovered this news. Why is she gone? Like me, she got married this year seemingly suggesting that she had many more years to live. I know she was sick but it doesn't seem fair. Part of me almost wish I didn't meet her, so I do not feel a sense of loss. I know that sounds selfish, doesn't it? Rest in peace Naomi. These losses from the young adult cancer community has been something I think contributed to distancing myself from the cancer groups. In April, I lost a friend to stomach cancer-- her name is Agnes Kwasnicka.
Agnes Kwasnicka, Dr. Kwasnicka, was only 35 years old when she passed away. I met Agnes and her partner Greg through a Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) event called the Compassionate Marketplace. Agnes and Greg were volunteering at the registration table and signed me up as a member. Agnes recognized my name when she saw it written down because she had visited this blog. Like me, she was a vegan and as we talked, I learned that she was also a cancer survivor. I still feel a lot of sadness with the passing of Agnes. In fact, I had not written about it on this blog until today. It was too hard. Today, I went to dinner with two of my friends at Fresh. As we took our seats, I realized that I was sitting down at the very booth where I last sat with Agnes. It was about a year ago when I went to Fresh for brunch with her and some of the young adults we met in the cancer community. This was the last time I saw her before she moved out west to be closer to family to spend her last days. Agnes was my friend for a few reasons. She attended my positive prognosis by attending my Celebration of Life fundraising picnic. I am still amazed that she celebrated this day with me, that day I thought I was "cured" based on what my endocrinologist, Endo #4, told me, but technically I was (and still am) in remission which is not a word that thyroid cancer doctors seem to use as is done with other cancers. (In November this year, at the follow-up after my September scan, my new Endo, Endo #5, told me I am "low risk of recurrence" and require "annual follow-up".) As a doctor, Agnes would have known that I will most likely be cured and live a very normal life post-thyroid cancer. She would have also known very well the course her own disease would take. Her prognosis was not positive like mine yet she came out to my potluck picnic with her partner Greg, their two dogs, and a vegan dish in tow. She came. She came to celebrate with me. How selfless!
Agnes also made an extra effort to include me in activities with other young adult cancer survivors. She was wise, thoughtful, and intelligent and I wished so much that I had contacted her when she first moved away. She moved away in January, by February I thought about her and sent her a card in March. When she did not respond to my e-mails and I read her blog with updates, I had a feeling that things were not looking good. Greg had indicated that she was not able to respond to the e-mails but that he could share them with her. I felt silly sending e-mails to Agnes about my upcoming wedding and the plans and seemingly trivial questions. I desperately hoped to communicate with her but it wasn't long before I got the news that she was gone. After her passing, I attended a dinner with a few friends of Agnes from the young adult cancer community. I had a hole inside and I wanted to find others who knew her and could relate. (I had already lost my Uncle C (Horace) just a few weeks prior. Uncle C passed away suddenly on a visit to Jamaica just a few months before our wedding which he was supposed to attend. My husband and I missed him so much.) I attended a memorial for Agnes at Wellspring. In October, I also attended a memorial organized by Greg at St. Michael's Hospital to launch a scholarship in her memory where I was asked to say a few words. Ironically, I knew Agnes in the "cancer world" as a fellow survivor yet many in the "vegan/vegetarian" world, one that I was new to but she and Greg belonged to for many years, did not know she was ill at all. She was such a dedicated volunteer to this cause. Here is an article written by a TVA staff member of the Toronto Vegetarian Association. In her last years, Agnes focused on her life, people, her husband, her family and her activism. I once asked her what she wanted her funeral to be like. She told me she doesn't want to think about that. She focuses on living. At the Wellspring memorial, I dedicated a song Greg asked me to share with other young adult cancer survivors who wished to remember Agnes. It was a song that Agnes requested to have played at her funeral. The time that I knew Agnes was very short, not even a year, but it had a huge impact on my life. The stories about Agnes I hear from others who knew her, she sounds mouthy and "punk rock" and fiercely vegan. (A lot of the young cancer survivors I have met are kind of "punk rock".) I would have loved to get to know her better.
3. Work The third thing that changed for me is returning to work full-time. What a huge change! I didn't think I would last 6+ hours each day teaching up to nine classes and 200+ student again but I made it through the last four months with a totally new teaching assignment. I am teaching Music and French from kindergarten to Grade 8. It's quite a challenge. At the end of the teaching day, I am exhausted. There isn't much energy for anything else which brings me to...
4. My Introverted Nature I am such an introvert. I realize now that I have always been an introvert. As a child, I used to prefer staying in at recess so that I could finish my art projects. Or if I did go out for recess, I would read books or share the books that I made with other kids or hang out with one or two friends. I was a bit of a loner and even if others didn't see me that way, I identified with being a loner. Now in my adult years, post-cancer, I realize that I especially crave the quiet spaces and times that I had during the months of recovery/healing time after surgery. During this time, I would spend hours journaling, blogging, meditating, doing yoga, and reading. During my four day radioactive isolation in 2011, I sketched pictures and journalled lots. Now, I am two years after my diagnosis and I am still trying to make meaning of this introverted nature that feels even stronger. Part of me is scared, terrified by the fact that I am more clearly aware than ever before that life is short and I am even more reflective and introspective than before. I treasure my life and think often about how to make it more fulfilling and happy. It is a bit of a contradiction for me since I have done so many extraverted things in my life and love performing and being in front of an audience. I think I figured out how to function much better now in a world where extraverts get ahead, rewarded, and acknowledged. At heart, I don't follow the crowd and stand a part from the pack.
5. I'm a Writer... I'm a Writer... I'm a Writer I'm a writer and as of late, I have been having these insistent thoughts that I must write a lot more than I have before. A few weeks ago, I woke up at 2:30am on a worknight with the urge to write. The urge was so strong and would not leave me and so I got up and started to write. Another night, I could not sleep after reading a list of African-Canadian children's books written since 2000. The list had twenty books and was very narrow in topical focus, mostly about slavery and the Underground Railroad. Most of the writers weren't African-Canadian. I wondered who would write the books for African-Canadian children now? I couldn't sleep with that thought and lay awake for hours as my mind raced. I want to write but I've got to eat. I have had a few conversations with writers lately and some encouraged me to pursue this passion and it's still to come. My frustration is that I lack energy and time at the end of an intense workday to start working on my books. So recently, I decided to take my eyes off another Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Writing for Children program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts just long enough to acknowledge what I feel that I need. (I applied to UBC's MFA in Creative Writing program in 2011.) I also need to journal every morning (and sometimes evening) or else the day just does not seem right.
So I've ordered every book from the library about writing and illustrating for children. I need a mentor!!! I need a doula, a midwife, someone to help coach me through the journey of writing for publication. I need someone to help me focus and work diligently to complete at least one book project. The first one I wish to complete is one that I have worked on for the last three years which is about seventy pages in length. So I will be applying to some mentorships in the new year and until I can figure out how I will finance a $ 40, 000+ MFA program at VCFA without any funding from Canada, the United States, or anyone else, I will try to get some writing mentorship (a much more affordable option for me) somewhere. I am meeting other writers more and more and there are so many who offer their words of wisdom and help me see that you can earn a living at this. I am actually starting to see myself more and more as a writer who can actually make a life out of this. Some of my students have started making books that they illustrate. When they show these stapled paper booklets with pencil-drawn images to me, I am so impressed and honoured and excited. I love it! They are self-publishing. They are trusting me to look at their manuscripts. I am sooo excited. I feel sort of like their mentors. So these changes listed hear still mean that there is still a year of changes awaiting me and with that more growth to come. I look forward to it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Low Iodine Diet: The Sequel

It's official. I've got my Thyrogen. I've been on the Low Iodine Diet (LID) for the passed week. In some ways, I feel like I've gone back in time as I prepare for my scan this week. A few months ago, I cried in the nurse's office as she told me the details of my scan-- the number of appointments, the Thyrogen injections, the bloodtests, and then finally the scanning dose of radiation. That was the last straw. Radiation, again. It was a strange thing for me to realize that I had to enter the world of thyroid cancer again. Especially since I felt like I left my status of cancer patient behind. But there I was crying in the nurse's office and when I dried my tears, I began to cry again.
"Why am I crying?" I wondered. It didn't make sense. "Why can't I stop?" I barely cried when I was diagnosed two years ago. I didn't cry at my surgery. I didn't cry when I was in complete isolation for for four days. Why was I crying now? Logically speaking, doing the scan and preparing for it wasn't any worse than anything I had been through already. I won't need to go into complete radioactive isolation for four days. I decided to do my scan in September. After the wedding. After I had gone back to work. After I had some time to prepare for it... mentally... I can do this. Last Sunday, I drove to four different health and natural food stores looking for salt-free foods. Iodine free salt is not sold in Canada is what someone told me. I ended up using the Windsor Salt from the last time I was on the LID a year ago. I realized this week that I can do this. I just can't wait to get past it. So in the meantime, I am enjoying a largely whole foods like beans and rice minus the salt. I can do this. I can get drug benefit coverage reimbursement for the $ 1594 I spent on the Thyrogen.
I will go to the appointments that I need to. Another woman going who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, told me that this scan is part of the follow-up. The protocol. When I asked Endo #3 if I had to do a scan, he said no. That put it completely out of my head. No more radiation. No more hospital. No more LID. Lies. But then Endo #4, my new endo, told me I needed to do this. Disappointment. Betrayed? Tears. I will get past this. I am sleepy but a different kind of tired. At least I don't have to come off my Synthroid for two weeks. At least I don't need to be in withdrawal from synthetic thyroid hormone. I will get past this. The scan is a much lower dose of radiation to see that the cancer cells are gone. I will need to be away from children for 3-5 days. I will need to sleep in a separate bed from my husband for about that long.
I wonder will that mean I don't need to think about cancer after the scan this Friday. Maybe... maybe not. I hadn't thought about it for a while even as the editor for the Thyroid Cancer Canada newsletter. When I go to the gym to workout, I have stopped thinking about the fact that I "beat the odds" or are defying the cancer that attacked my body. Cancer had started fading into my memory as something in my past. I want cancer to stay there.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

E-mails to Blue Butterfly #6

I love getting fanmail. I am not loving the new layout and format of this blog. Love your blog Blue Butterfly. I stayed up last night reading it. You are a wonderful writer, thank your for capturing your experience with thyroid cancer for others to read as they navigate this disease. Great stuff! I hope you are currently well. I haven't finished reading everything. My fingers are crossed that all turned out well for you. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last December and have had two surgeries. No metastases but too many microcarcinomas in the organ so it was fully removed and in the coming weeks I'm goign to do radiation ablation. Right now just doing the tango with the insurance company over thyrogen and authorization etc. I live in metro NYC. Anyways, hope you are well and healthy and keep up the writing, you have a wonderful gift there. All the best

Funky Sexy Manifesto # 23 Get Married

My husband and I decided that this year would be the year we get married. Two years ago when he proposed to me, I said, "Yes." Later that week, when I went to the doctor, she found a lump in my thyroid after a neck palpation. Perhaps in all of the excitement that week, I forgot to follow-up. I forgot to go to book an ultrasound on my neck. I forgot to take the lab requisition form to read it. I forgot the whole thing. In the fall of 2010, once I had the ultrasound and then the fine needle aspiration (FNA), my life changed. I became a thyroid cancer patient. All of the plans for a wedding in 2012 stopped and "everything" was put on hold as I navigated my way through the healthcare system, followed the treatment protocol, and focused on getting better. It didn't seem that the wedding could happen. However in January this year, we started to think again about having a 2012 wedding. In some respects, it seemed like a bad idea-- a short time to plan a wedding, very little money saved on our part since I was still working a part-time salary after being off of work for 7 months, and a busy schedule. Then there was the question of whether or not we were going to have a wedding here in Canada or our dream of a destination wedding in Jamaica. It took us about two months to decide if we could really do this. I particularly had fears that no one would show up to Jamaica on such short notice to attend our wedding and my dearest friends and family would not attend. With the help of our parents in March, we finally had our wedding date set and decided to move forward with our plans. I also realized that working part-time meant I had more time to plan the wedding of our dreams. Plus part of me didn't want to put off the wedding for another year since I didn't want to have a wedding in 2013. So on August 3, 2012, we got married with 67 of our friends and family in attendance. What a blessed occasion! It happened like a dream...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Funky Sexy Manifestos Update and What's Happening With Me

When I got a facebook post from Lindsay asking me if I was not doing Blue Butterfly any more, I realized that I was neglecting a big part of my writing and healing journey. I know many of you have come to read and love this blog and I had become sidetracked with other areas of my life-- work, wedding plans, social commitments, and all of the above. I cannot believe that almost four months had passed since my last post on March 31 introducing my new blog, My Big Fat Jamaican Wedding. Yikes! I did not intend to stop writing this blog so suddenly but this is exactly what happened. Nonetheless, I will update you on some of what has been going on in my life. First, my fiance and I decided to get married this summer. Given the fact that I my thyroid "lumps" were discovered the very week I got engaged, it seems ironic now that just over two years later I am now getting married which was our original plan. Being diagnosed with thyroid cancer in November 2010 and having surgery, getting treated, and recovering in 2011 took over one year out of our wedding plans. I was skeptical about whether or not the wedding plans could be done in time for summer 2012. We decided to take the plunge. In less than six months, we pulled together a wedding of our dreams. Only thing, it has not happened yet so please stay tuned. Second, my extracurricular activities had increased. I began singing in a choir (which I will share below) and completed my second issue as editor of the Thyroid Cancer Canada newsletter. The second issue was the first issue in which I featured two articles. Please click here to read the web version. Third, work began to take up more space and time. I applied to new teaching jobs and had a number of interviews with no offers. It was report card time as well. Fourth, it is so strange to say but I have not been thinking about cancer lately. In fact, over the last several months, I stopped thinking about thyroid cancer on a daily basis. It was the strangest thing. I know I have to do follow-ups and I will always have Meaty, my surgical scar, sitting on my neck. I know that I am technically in remission and it will be four more years before I can say I'm actually cured. I know now that I have to do a frickin' scan, one that involves taking another dose of radioactive iodine (low dose), days off of work, Thyrogen (yes, the overpriced medication that is not covered by my insurance which will prevent me from "going hypo" this time), and a period of radioactivity. I also know now that thyroid cancer tumours can recur in up to 30% of cases. I even write and am the editor for the Thyroid Cancer Canada newsletter. Yet, I do not think about cancer all that much any more. Weird! Lastly, I accomplished a number of my Funky Sexy Manifestos as well. Here is a list that I am extremely proud of and at some point in the future, I may write more details about each. #3 Do the Crazy Sexy Diet Cleanse
In March, I did this mostly raw, vegan cleanse. I did not feel any special benefits right away but I did feel a nice boost of energy when I drank those green juices each morning. This diet is expensive! My grocery bills at this time were massive. You have to spend a lot of money purchasing a large volume of organic greens and veggie each week and consume them in time before they decompose. But people, there is a reason why this cleanse is 21 days long. Don't extend it right away! I added two extra weeks to my cleanse and guess what happened? I spent the night in the emergency at my hospital (the whole night into the morning). Our health system is backed up and this was not the only system that was backed up. I had strange pain in my abdomen and severe swelling from my belly to... well... it's embarassing really. When I jumped, I felt like I was wearing a water suit. I was shocked to learn I was slightly dehydrated and severely constipated. The doctors told me to consume a lot of fibre. I was so doubtful but I returned to my regular diet, consumed more bread and fibre, and wouldn't you know, the swelling disappeared within a few days. #37 Visit Little City Farm
I visited and stayed at this beautiful bed and breakfast in Waterloo this week. When I saw Karin Kliewer's face in an Alternatives, an eco-friendly magazine, a face I recognized, I skimmed through an article about Little City Farm. I met Karin more than ten years ago through the Peace Society when I was a student in residence at Conrad Grebel College in Waterloo. I was happy to learn that she had started this bed and breakfast which also is an urban farm. It is largely sustainable, eco-friendly, and peaceful. The house sits on 1/2 an acre of land and features an extension composed of sustainable materials, insulated by hay bale. There are two "grey water" ponds in the backyard which are filled with water from the sinks and bath tubs in the house. Each pond has fish. There is a large herb garden in the back which features edible flowers. Karin uses these to make her own herbal tinctures and products such as soap and organic insect repellant. Also, they have a woodburning pizza oven and chickens. They raise chickens! (I have never held chickens before and these chickens were as gentle as my cats at home.) I spent only one night at this beautiful place and it will definitely not be my last.
#41 Get an African Dress Customized I love wearing African dresses. I only owned one dress but each time I put it on, I felt proud and regal. The dress is made of cotton which fits me so well and the pattern is bright.
So this time, I wanted to get another African dress which just fit me so well. African dresses purchased here in Canada are typically not cheap so you have to save up for it. I decided to purchase mine with the purpose of wearing it at my school gala, an annual fundraising event that is held at a banquet hall. I also decided that I could bring it to wear at an event for my wedding. I selected a dress that was displayed in a local store. They could alter it and adjust it to fit my body. I liked this very much so much that I asked the seamstress to make a matching one for my fiance. In West African traditions, the couple often wears matching clothes, made from the same cloth, to their wedding. Here is the finished result.
#44 Start a Book Club
I started a book club at my school for teachers. There was an enthusiastic response to the club but the attendance began to dip. I decided to wrap up the club and hope to start it again in September. #62 Launch My Wedding Blog
I wrote my first post for My Big Fat Jamaican Wedding on March 31st this year. Writing for this blog is a lot of fun. It gives me an opportunity to share some of my experiences, highs and lows of planning my destination wedding in Jamaica. I also get an opportunity to write about Jamaica and my Jamaican heritage. I try to post each week, whenever I am able, and have been more consistent than not. Please visit my blog.
#77 Go 80/20 Raw
Okay, I tried my best. I did this with the Crazy Sexy Diet but it is a lifestyle I am finding a challenge to maintain. #78 Get a Massage What can I say? Very nice. I had to do it twice.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

New Blog

Hey Folks, I've started a new blog called My Big Fat Jamaican Wedding. Check it out!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Too Young to Die

I was in a funk today (translation: sad) and set up my playlist of Jamiroquai songs. When "Too Young to Die" came up, I immediately thought of Julie Devenny whose funeral is today. The song is a protest against politicians sending young men and women out to fight in the military to die for their country. This is a perfect analogy for fighting the "war of cancer". Each year, over 7, 000 people are diagnosed with cancer in Canada. The cancer death rates for many age groups have decreased but this is not the case for young adults which have remained the same since the 1970s.

She battled breast cancer for five years. I shared a train ride with Julie and Bonnie from the Young Adult Cancer (YACC) Conference in Ottawa last November. Julie was so vibrant, outgoing, and looked like she had a lot more living to do. She died too early at the age of 30. At the conference, Julie was always laughing and joking around and, me being a bit of an introvert that weekend, was more quiet and withdrawn. Yet during our train ride, I got to chat with her and learn about her. I saw Julie's quieter side. Julie's cancer was stage 4. I remember she said that she first found out she had breast cancer after graduation. When she finished her first bout of cancer and was deemed "in remission", she dived into her career as a physiotherapist. She loved her job and worked hard at it but had to leave it once again when she was rediagnosed with stage 4. Julie did not look sick by any means.

Julie's obituary photo. To read Julie Devenny's obituary, please click here.

Julie on the court playing for the University of Waterloo. Coincidentally, I was a student here too but never met Julie at the time.

Less than a week prior to Julie's passing, Andréanne Arcand, who also attended the YACC Conference passed away. I got to know Andréanne during the conference well because she was in my small group. I was intrigued by her peaceful nature and also her spiritual experience with Peruvian shamans. Andréanne had a form salivary cancer. Although her tumours and surgery scars were visible on her face and arms, she was radiantly beautiful. She was selfless and I remember her saying that she was glad that the suffering she was going through was happening to her and not a family member. I could not imagine what it must be like to be at stage 4. I asked Andréanne what she focused on in life. She told me she focused on spending time with her family and friends and living.

Andréanne Arcand, to read her obituary click here

And just a few short weeks prior to Andréanne, Adam Cardinal, another YACC Conference participant, passed away. I don't remember talking to or interacting with Adam but the only memory I think I have of him is sitting in front on the bench in front of the hotel, alone. Was it Adam Cardinal, I saw sitting there, smoking a cigarette? Did I say hello? I don't remember.

Adam Cardinal, to read his YACC profile click here

When I learned about the news that three survivors passed away, I gradually felt numbness, guilt, and some anxiety and disgust. How could this be? I felt a hurt feeling in my heart. I felt worried. How much time do all of the sick people I know have?

When I found out about Andréanne, I went back through my e-mails. I recall e-mailing her. This is what I wrote:

November 9, 2011Blue Butterfly
It was really a pleasure to meet you. I hope you're sleeping in your own bed tonight and out of the hospital. My hope is that your health is stable.

November 9, 2011Andreanne A
Thank you. Yes I am back home since Monday night and it feels great to be able to sleep in my own bed.
It was great meeting you too!

Is that all I wrote?

I became increasingly aware of how limited the time is for many cancer survivors. I think of all of the sick people I know and I felt guilty. Guilty about the fact that I have actually begun to forget that I had cancer at times. Felt guilty about doing things like planning my wedding, putting a deposit on my gown, and nursing an eye infection. I get to celebrate and get stronger and healthier while others get sicker.

But now (as I write this on Thursday), I realize that all of these experiences, it is all life. Life.

Andréanne's words meant she was focusing on life.

On Saturday, I mourned a bit for Julie at home. I mourned for sick survivors. I also mourned the part of me that obsesses and worries, wasting precious time. So I danced when I heard all of my Jamiroquai tunes and from this dance, I felt my mood lift. There is so much living to do.

I cherish the lives of these three young adult cancer survivors who each touched my life in different ways. They were all too young to die and have not experienced many of life's triumphs like getting married, having children, realizing dreams, buying a home, growing old, and many other dreams. May they continue to live on among those who knew and loved them.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Funky Sexy Manifesto #33 Become an Illustrator

When I was a child, I had many dreams. One of my dreams was to be an artist. Luckily, I had a natural skill for drawing, crafts, and painting although as I got older I began to doubt the practicality of this skill and even my talent. Nevertheless, drawing came very easily to me. (I think this skill runs in my family since all of my siblings can draw.) I never felt anxious or inhibited when asked to draw something in art class since I felt very comfortable coming up with an image from my imagination or sketching a still life. I began creating my own picture books at the age of six. In fact, I felt more relaxed and in elementary school, I often asked the teacher if I could stay in at recess so that I could finish an art piece. Often my classmates said, "You are such a good draw-er" or "You're an artist." I entered my drawings and posters into contests and received honourable mentions. At the age of nine, I had the opportunity to paint a large mural of a picture I drew at the new wing constructions site at the Hospital for Sick Children. I even won the art award at my high school graduation. My middle sister and I both shared a love for art and would spend hours drawing together as children. As I got older, I spent less time with visual arts other than a few courses in high school. Art got pushed behind things like academics when I took more and more science and math courses, got involved in extra-curricular activities, and other ambitions. By the time I got to university, I rarely put my pencil to paper for drawing. (My sister however was smart and majored in art for a time in university.)

A few years ago, I began drawing characters, characters who had stories. I dreamt of doing a graphic novel and began to recover my dreams of being an artist. After creating several sketches, I enrolled in a community college course in Illustration. At first, I loved it. I was being exposed to so many techniques and materials but for the first time in my life, I was being seriously critiqued for my drawings and I wasn't the only "good drawer" in the class but surrounded by other artists. Although, I enjoyed the weekly assignments, I felt overwhelmed with the feedback and the intensity and I dropped the course. I have also participated in my own personal growth for years with a trained art therapist.

Fast forward a few years to 2011. Since my cancer diagnosis in late 2010, on several occasions throughout my journey, I have turned to the arts for inspiration. Not only writing, as you know, and music, but visual art. I created sketches and drawings and paintings in Art for Cancer workshops and on my own. I made thank you and birthday cards. In addition to my dream of writing books for young people, I wish to become an illustrator. I never had someone take me under their wing when it came to art or give me advice on how to make a living at it or even if my art was good enough to make a living at it. So I decided that this needed to be one of my Funky Sexy Manifestos, a survivor resolution. (It's never too late!)

So earlier this year, I had my first opportunity to get a professional (that is, paying) gig as a Illustrator. I was asked by the Spinlaw Organizing Committee to design a poster for the Spinlaw 2012 Conference: A Seat at the Table. (The conference is for law school students interested in social justice and it will take place on March 3rd, 2012 at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto.) The poster features Lady Justice as a woman of colour, holding a scale with a Ma'at feather, seated at a big pink boardroom table surrounded by a wheelchair, an Ashanti seat, and Chinese and Middle Eastern chairs. Members of the committee presented their ideas and through our collaboration, problem solving, and discussed, we get the finished poster you see below. I loved this process-- envisioning, sketching, creating drafts, finding techniques, and seeing what works best. I know there will be other projects like this.

Then this weekend, I had my first opportunity to participate in an Art Exhibit thanks to Cid Palacio, the founder of the Art for Cancer Foundation who asked me to participate. The Art for Cancer Foundation is showcasing some of my art as well as that of other survivors and artists at the City Hall Rotunda in Toronto City Hall this week from February 17-24, 2012. This is a free event.

I will also sell some of my beautifully illustrated handmade cards on Friday, February 24th from 1-6pm. A portion of the proceeds from these sales will go to the Art for Cancer Foundation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Funky Sexy Manifesto #57 Do a Speaking Gig Part 4

Recently in a conversation, I was asked the question:

"What does Black History Month mean to me?"

I responded by describing the historical significance of Black History Month and I why I acknowledge it today. There was a time when I rejected Black History Month since I felt that the celebration of the accomplishments of African-descended peoples should not be relegated solely to one month but throughout the year. As an educator and a citizen of this globe, I think that there is still an important role for Black History Month-- which is, that it does exist. Just because Black History Month exists for me every day of the year, does not mean it does for my fellow citizens in Canada and the globe. So what if delegating one month-- February-- (the shortest and coldest in Canada, although it has been mild) puts it on the radar for the rest of the country? So what if many teachers are now panicking and administrators are now scrambling to include Black history content in their schools, curricula, and lesson plans? So what if many Black artists, musicians, poets, writers, dancers, and motivational speakers are booked solid throughout February at a variety of engagements when their schedules remain empty at other times of the year? So what if my local bank is sponsoring a month long series of arts events which celebrate Black history? So what if other disenfranchised or marginalized groups such as Asian, Women, LGBTQ, Aboriginal/First Nations in Canada have followed the lead of Black people and also begun their own history/pride months? (Also some Black people may also fit into these aforementioned groups.) These are all good things, right? As long as we avoid tokenist observances, it is a start. I mean, when I attended elementary school in the 1980s there was no Black History month celebration, observance, or mention in my Canadian Catholic school and when I got to high school, it was thanks to my involvement in Black History groups in high school and mentors from the community that we organized celebrations. Not the administrators at the school mind you but the students with a few required teacher supervisors pursued this project. Consequently, I learned most of my knowledge about Black Canadian history on my own not in the school curriculum.

I am now realizing how far we have come in just ten years since we high school student activists who helped to place Black History on the map. However, as you can see, there is so much more growth necessary.

I was asked to talk about Black History month to my church congregation. At first, I was not sure if I should accept. I am not a Black history expert nor was I sure what the response would be if I delivered this sermon. Nevertheless, since I had placed #57 Do A Speaking Gig on my Funky Sexy Manifesto list, I accepted. Also I am a Black woman, living in Canada, and this identity probably more than any other (e.g., survivor, vegan, Christian) shapes my lived reality more than any other and so in this respect, I am an expert at being a racialized person and living a racialized reality. Plus, I have gotten to know many of the members over the last several years so I felt comfortable enough (accept for a few pre-speech jitters).

The writer in me leaped for joy. I loved writing this sermon. It took a lot of time to edit and I had to look up more details such as dates and places of birth. I started off wanting to connect the spiritual tradition of African peoples as an enduring source of strength for my ancestors to today but I am not an expert in that area and the words would not come. They sort of fizzled away. However, one verse in Psalms really stuck out to me:

The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel.
Psalm 147:2

I immediately thought of the image of the Sankofa, an Adinkra symbol of a bird with its body facing forward but its head looking back. The Sankofa means we need to look back to move forward, a proverb I personally believe in which helps me to move forward.

According to the African American Studies website at the University of Illinois at Springfield, Sankofa in the Akan language is:
"se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki" which literally translated means "it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot."
Or "We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today."They go on to say "whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can be revived, reclaimed, preserved, and perpetuated."

After I finished telling the sermon and the service ended, I realized that there were two things that I forgot to mention. First, there are several other African influences that have remained with us, the descendants, in North and South America including rich spiritual tradition and orality. Second, I might have eliminated some details since the sermon was very much a history lesson and there was so much I wished to share. On the other hand, there was probably more I could have said about this topic but I will leave that up to you my audience to research or study on your own.

I was a little scared to listen to myself recorded as I have never done an mp3 before. My parents and my fiance sat amidst members of the audience. Once I was up there, I relaxed a bit more.

I will not say too much as I have linked the sermon below for your listening pleasure. (I do sing a in this sermon so this is a little bit of Funky Sexy Manifesto #83 Get My Voice Back.)

I have had a few reactions to the sermon which have mostly been positive. Many people thanked me for the history lesson. Others found it interesting. My mother said she learned a lot. My fiance thought my sermon was very Rasta. I am very curious to know what are your thoughts.

Click here to listen to the sermon. The sermon is called Sankofa: Looking Back to Move Forward.

I am standing with Minister, Martha ter Kuile.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Papillon Bleu

A blue butterfly is...
a magical creature and at the moment you see it, you must offer the blue butterfly your dreams. The blue butterfly will take your dreams to the Great Spirit. Blue morpho uses his beauty to lure people into the forest whose spirit will be lost forever.

This quote was taken from a clip in the 2004 Quebec (French-Canadian) film Papillon Bleu (Blue Butterfly). The man, a shaman from an ancient indigenous group in Costa Rica, is a member of the Bribri people claim to be descendants of the butterfly. The film is based on a true story.

In 1987, entomologist Georges Brossard founder of the Montreal Insectarium, fulfilled the last wish of a terminally ill young boy David Marenger, by taking him to the rain forest to find a blue morpho. After his return, David's cancer had disappeared and he was healed.

A little girl in the movie, calls the blue butterfly un miracolo (a miracle) and es todo (everything). The movie is sweet and endearing but predictable. Some details of the true story were changed for the big screen. For example, David Marenger is named Pete Carlton. Instead of 6 years old, Pete is 13. The boy who plays Pete in the film displays such a blind optimism and the journey to finding the blue butterfly and consequently a partner for his widowed mother. Instead of the very eccentric and extremely passionate Brossard, we get the dull, guarded, and awkward Alan Osborne played by Canadian actor William Hurt. I enjoyed Pete's journey which took the plot into the very colourful Costa Rican rainforest which was beautifully filmed and enhanced by detailed cinematography and digital special effects. The film inspired me to dream, a dream to see the real blue butterfly in a Costa Rican rainforest.

I had not known about this film until after I developed my Blue Butterfly blog. One sweet detail that I learned from the DVD's special features is that David Marenger is still alive today. Thanks to the film, he has begun to work with children who have cancer. From Marenger, he learned to capture and preserve butterflies which he then gives to sick children.

Art for Cancer Foundation Art Exhibit

I will be showcasing some of my art at the Art For Cancer Foundation exhibit at Toronto City Hall next weekend, February 17-24, 2012.

The Opening Night Reception is at the City Hall Rotunda from 6:30-9:30pm.

Please check it out (it's free) and support this great cause.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Last Thyroid Scanning?

By the way, this is the real photo of my ultrasound machine and the bed I lay in.

I went for a neck ultrasound ordered by Endo #5. Being just over a year (January 24, 2011) since my thyroidectomy (a surgery in which the thyroid is removed), Endo #5 thought it was time I did an ultrasound to make sure it was all clear. As my scar Meaty is disappearing and my thyroid treatments are getting farther and farther between, I feel like I'm moving beyond cancer. As I lay on the bed and the technician rubs the probe along my neck, I tried to croon my neck a bit to see the screen, to see what images I could decipher but it's difficult. I ain't no trained technician so I just close my eyes and relax.

She asks me if I had cancer and what kind and then what kind of thyroid cancer.

After a few moments of sliding the probe along my slippery neck, the technician asked, "Did you have a cold recently or something?"

"Yes," I said. "I had a few illnesses in the last month."

"Okay. I'm going to show these images to the radiologist."

She tosses me a towel (that lands partially on my face, hey!) and leaves.

Then, of course, in true Blue Butterfly-fashion, I panic. What could it be? Could it be another illness? Did she something? Doctors have told me lymph nodes tend to be on the larger side, did she see any big behemoth lymph nodes? Will the radiologist order me to do more tests?

I lay there. Trying to relax and breathing through the seconds... minutes... I fell asleep in the waiting room prior to this appointment so I tried to go back to my happy sleeping place without luck.

After about 15 minutes, the technician re-emerges and I hold my breath.

"Okay, you're free to go," she says.

And with a sigh of relief, I get up, wipe that nasty ultrasound gunk off my neck, get rid of this blue gown, and get dressed.

I'm out!