author . artist . singer

Genetic Sequencing and Art

Still cancer free. (Woo.)

I had the scan before I went to World Fantasy Con in San Antonio, but since I was out of town the next day I had to delay my followup meeting with my oncologist, Dr. Hu, until today, two weeks later. I didn’t think about the scan during the conference. I didn’t think about the scan the following week when I was tromping around San Antonio with Jody and Yo. I didn’t think about the scan while I was waiting at the hospital this morning.

The scan is fine, as I was pretty sure it would be. I didn’t even bother looking at it or taking a picture this time.

Is it possible that I’ve already become that blasé about it?

Dr. Hu asked if I was interested in participating in a study on rare cancers in a project that was part of Joe Biden’s Moonshot initiative. I was very excited about having my tumor sent into space until he explained that no, they just wanted to sequence the genetics of the tumor, then sequence my genetics from a normal tissue sample, and compare the two to isolate any mutations that were associated with the malignancy. The study included a lot of rare tumors, and sounds like a good way of finding targets in cancers that are otherwise too rare on their own to attract much research attention individually.

It also means that there will be a database somewhere with all my genetic info, prime for plundering and abusing in the near dystopian future where our human rights are suborned to actuarial tables of risk and inherent, inescapable fallibilities. This gave me a moment of pause, naturally, until I remembered Mark had recently done 23 & Me and our family was already screwed vis a vis genetic privacy.

Man. How cool would it be to have your tumor on the moon though?

Kristi, the resident working with my oncologist thanked me again for sending the link to the cancer art series I did. She really enjoyed going through it. (As a side note, I also sent the link to my surgeon’s office, but they didn’t even acknowledge that they had received it.) She had emailed me back right away at the time, saying how much she liked it, and did I know they sometimes had patients’ art exhibits in the patient information section in the hospital. She would forward the link to them. Maybe they would be interested in hanging the show.

My visit there today reminded me that I hadn’t heard anything from the office of patient information services, so I asked at the front desk where I might find them, and if anyone was available to talk about my art. Then I whipped out my phone and showed the series to the woman at the front desk.

She got all excited and called the patient information office downstairs, and even walked me down there to introduce me to the woman in charge, Mary, who was a Stage IV breast cancer survivor who never expected to survive, but has been in remission now for five years. She runs the whole thing as a volunteer. They have exhibit space and seating, and a garden outside.

I never knew any of it was there. When I was in the thick of treatment, all my focus was on me, my body. I had to sit just right. I had to breathe just right. I had to concentrate on holding my arm on.

But there it was. It’s kind of nice. We walked in past the current exhibit – small oil paintings, scenes of everyday life, children holding their parents’ hands, guys looking at antique cars, etc.

When I showed Mary my cancer series she said, “Oh. Your work is disease-based. You know it doesn’t have to be. Most of these shows are just the artists’ work. It doesn’t have to be related to your treatment.”

“It is,” I agreed. “Well, it’s kind of a story arc, about the whole treatment experience. The last piece is about me being done with treatment and deciding what kind of person I want to be now.” I showed her Human Again.

“Oh. That’s nice. That’s very powerful.”

“I’m wondering now if you might not want to put it up, though, since, although it’s not graphic per se, it is very focused on the tumor and the treatment. It might be upsetting to people who are still in the middle of it.”

Mary looked thoughtful and said, “You know it’s funny. My mother had breast cancer, too, and because I was next to her through the whole experience, I thought I had the inside track on what patients would like to be exposed to. Then I went through it myself, and I had been completely wrong. No one can tell us what we want to see or think about our own experience. I would like to offer you a show next fall.”

So. It looks like I have a show at Norris Cancer Institute next fall. They have a lot of wall space, so maybe the cancer series will go in one area, and the rest of it will be something else entirely. Like a series of story illustrations. Or a series of illustrated game tiles. Who knows what I’ll have generated in the next ten months?

The thing is, before cancer, I never would have gone downstairs to show them my art. I wouldn’t have wanted to be a bother. Why would I waste some other person’s valuable attention on my stuff?

After cancer, it’s more like, why wouldn’t I? What else were they going to do with that time? Talk about the weather? They might as well look at my art.

Life is short. Whatever hangup I’ve been living with about not wanting to ‘bother’ people – with my art, my music, or my writing, was burned out of me by the chemo. I’m going to create. I’m going to make good things and be unapologetic about them.

And if they turn out not so good on any given attempt, I’m going to be unapologetic about that too.

I’m over it.


  1. Sally Treanor

    You’ve broken free!

  2. Rachel R.

    Very cool!

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