living in limbo, aka a test of virtue

Just 17 days ago I last wrote here, and it feels like a lifetime. I have found time slows WAY down when you are waiting. They say patience is a virtue, and mine has been duly tested these past two weeks.

I would like to be writing about my yuletide plans and the decorative magic I’ve created in my home, but I don’t have much of either to report. I have been otherwise occupied, and I want to share, as it is more relevant to my art and work than I could have imagined.

When I last wrote I reported being taken out by some way serious back pain. I pondered how I might continue to function as an artist if I became permanently disabled in any way. I attested I would find a way. I did not know that I would be challenged with a real life experience.

The Wednesday after that post I went for an MRI of my lumbar spine to see what was up. We expected a herniation of at least one disc. Bad news, but not uncommon or life threatening. Not more than an hour after I returned home I got a call from my doctor’s office. “Can you be here in an hour to discuss your test results, and can you bring someone with you?”

I think everyone knows this is not a good sign, right? As I drove over I considered worst case possibilities. You can imagine a few, I’m sure. What I got I could not have imagined.

“You have a broken back,” she said.

“A broken back? Nothing happened. How did I get a broken back???” said I.

“Well you also have tumors on two other vertebra. These may have weakened your spine, especially as they look consistent with… (here it comes) metastatic cancer,” said the doctor.


Next up: blood work, a neurosurgeon, a cat scan, the Firebird Festival, a general surgeon, a needle biopsy, a breast care coordinator, and a whole lot of confusing non information. I still don’t know anything definite beyond a broken back. There are more appointments and tests lined up for next week, and this could go on for a while. Thus, my patience testing me.

I tell you all this for a good reason. Not to gain your well wishes, although I welcome them, but to share my unexpected response. The waiting game has me feeling in limbo, which is normal, I suppose. I created the image above to represent that feeling.

I also feel like my immediate purpose is dimmed because I don’t know what is wrong with me. Thus the sunglasses.

I feel silenced as I don’t know what to tell people, and scared to say too much, thus the mask.

I feel naked in my inability to do anything about it. Thus being naked, and I feel defensive about my life, thus my posture.

I also feel strangely optimistic, thus the calla lily – which, by the way, has remained blooming for over a month.

The surprise is that the potential diagnosis of cancer made me feel like a door was opened, and permission granted to do what I truly want.

I feel like the struggle I have had to feel worthy of my dreams can be over. I feel like being sick is permission to live and be me.

Wow, is that really what it will take for me to blossom? I have decided that regardless of what the diagnosis ends up being I will ride the feeling of permission and do my greatest work after all. As is often the case, the universe (or the netosphere) is providing me with positive signs!

Ten years ago in September my mother died from colon cancer. During her illness I spent a fair amount of time at the cancer center waiting. In the lending library I found this book by the artist Hollis Sigler. I remembered she had come to speak to one of my classes when I was in art school, about her art in dealing with cancer. I was quite taken with her at the time, and again when I found the book. I started investigating healing through art, and found there was beginning a new form of arts therapy that used art-making as a healing tool, as opposed to traditional art therapy where a patient’s art is analyzed  in psychological terms.

Alas, training was random and not something I was able to do so I shelved the idea, but the desire never left me. The past few months I have found I need more than creating art to feel useful in this world. I have been feeling, to use Laura Simms’ Cupcake Approach, like I have some pretty awesome icing on a lackluster cupcake. I want more! I need to work with others and I need to help people seek and heal.

I have privately been researching the possibilities again, and I made a discovery.

The Art4Healing® Certificate Program is an affordable program that would allow me to feel qualified in teaching what I know about art and healing as well as what I learn. This, by chance, is happening in July of 2012 when I will be on the West Coast for the World Domination Summit! Guess what??? Yup, I’mma goin’!

So, that is only a small piece of my new-found inspiration, but we have time. Scoutie Girl is taking a break next week and posting some best-of stuff, but I’ll catch you in 2012 with more. My last piece of inspiration comes from ArtBiz lady Alyson Stanfield.

Let’s make things happen despite obstacles, like Santa and Rudolph.

It would have been easy for Santa to stay home at the North Pole when the big blizzard hit on Christmas Eve. Picture him: feet up, boots off, sitting by the fireplace sipping eggnog.

But he had an appointment to keep. People were depending on him.

Santa recognized the solution to his dilemma when Rudolph’s nose lit up. Rudolph could help guide his sleigh through the blizzard.

Santa made Christmas happen despite the bad weather.

Instead of making excuses, ask yourself: “How can I make this happen?”

What obstacles can you overcome this holiday season?

Happy Yule and New Year to all!

From the Heart,

31 thoughts on “living in limbo, aka a test of virtue

  1. Maintain this mindset throughout whatever the future holds. I am a seven-year survivor of breast cancer (diagnosed at 32)…Optimism and hope work wonders…as does acupuncture :)

  2. O my God, Gwyn. That image is stunning. The strength of your artistic drive is formidable. I am almost more inspired to give you congratulations than well wishes.

    “I feel like the struggle I have had to feel worthy of my dreams can be over. I feel like being sick is permission to live and be me.”


  3. Holy moly, Gwyn!!! This must be all so scary. I am amazed and proud (though not surprised) at your resilience and stubborn determination. I am hoping and hopeful for you. Please let me know if I can do anything at all. I’m happy to come along to any appointments if you want company, a ride, whatever. Much love to you. xoxo

  4. Gwyn,

    Today’s image — breathtaking. What shined forth from your post was your positive attitude, energy and enthusiasm for life and helping others. Wow! Such a beautiful mission to heal through art — for yourself and others. My thoughts and prayers for you and your husband.

    Peace and Joy!

  5. Touched by your post. Thinking of you and I am very impressed by your attitude. You are an inspiration. I am hoping for you. Wishing you strength and sending you love.

  6. Your post touched a lot of people, I’m sure. One thing I know is that we only think we have control over our lives. Things happen and you’re an inspiration to others to take advantage of those things. Another thing I know is that having a positive attitude and even a sense of humor goes a very long way in the healing process. I, too, wish you strength, send you love, and hope for the best.

  7. Of course you will be grumpy and impatient and anxious and all those things, TOO. Those are totally fine. But this new energy and bravery and inspiration is fantastic!

    I really think you’re on the path to new amazing things.

  8. Gwyn:
    Thank you for baring yourself and your vulnerability and your resilience. As human beings we all need to feel and share and have hope. Just by posting your situation you are helping me, helping others and most of all, I hope, helping yourself. Blessings to you from the heart.

  9. I’m a 13 year survivor of metastatic endometrial cancer. I think that waiting for tests, results, and proceedures was the hardest part. I also believe that having cancer was one of the most amazing and life altering experiences of my life. It changed the way I view the world and myself, which is why I consider it to have been a blessing.

    Be well.

  10. This is a huge one and I respect you deeply for sharing your story. For me the last year has been a limbo, mainly due to circumstantial and financial constraints but also because I struggle with a mental health condition that is at its worst points completely debilitating. While it is not cancer I’ve had two distinct periods in my life where this felt like a living death sentence.

    But the year is almost over, circumstances have changed and I’ve set up my life in a way to better manage this illness, so this holiday I am determined to overcome living forever in limbo by accepting things just as they are. I too have found freedom in this because once you hit the bottom you there is nothing left to fear and you feel okay with being a little foolish.

  11. I’m so sorry to hear this news. I have been following you for some time now (not in the creepy sense!), but rarely comment. This time I had to.

    I understand where you are because I have been living with metastatic breast cancer for over 8 years now, also diagnosed as a result of bone fractures. As I read your email, I went back in time and relived my own horrible experience with my diagnosis.
    As an artist and as a person living with MBC, I want to tell you that YES you can live with this and in fact thrive with it. It will change you and your work, for sure, but not all those changes will be for the worse. There are some gifts that come with this too, as hard as that may be to understand right now.
    If you like, please contact me via my website. I would be more than happy to help you navigate this crazy road or just be there as someone who shares the journey.
    Hang in there… you WILL get past this.

  12. Oh Gwyn,
    Just sitting witnessing, holding you in lots and lots of love. So much here, as woman, as an artist, as a woman of a certain age.

    Lots of hugs. Inspired by your process, amazed by your work (as always.)

  13. Thank You LeAnn and Christina.

    LeAnn I don’t think you need to compare my situation to yours. We all have challenges in life, some worse than others. My point is how to respond to the challenge.

    When I last wrote I did not know I might be sick, and I predicted I would remain positive. Now I am.

    Christina I am very pleased you decided to comment! Your story can and will inspire me :-)

  14. gwyn–

    what can i say? thank you for so bravely and honestly sharing your story. thank you for providing both inspiration and perspective by telling your story.


  15. I am in awe of your courage and your ability to find the positive in these moments of your life! You will be in my prayers. The sensation of finally being free to do what you are meant to is so powerful! Peace to you and your loved ones.

  16. Oh wow, talk about having the rug pulled out from under you!
    Wishing you endurance of strength, both physical & emotional.
    And that course looks really interesting & inspiring (just like you so I think you will be a natural at it).
    Best of luck, power & freedom to you.

  17. Wow. That’s a stunner. Why DO some of us need a disaster (or old age) to give ourselves permission to live life authentically? It sometimes seems selfish to live life the way I want when it means someone else picks up some of the slack I leave.

    Your art is remarkable and having known you in the past at Pebble, I wish you a wonderful journey!

  18. Gwyn, just found you on Scoutie Girl. So glad I did. Holding you in love and light. Thank you for the gifts in your writing.
    Much love,

  19. Hello Gywn, when I saw the thumbprint of this image on FB I stopped in my tracks. What a striking and captivating picture. When I saw you at the FB Festival I was heartbroken to hear about your back broken and it all seemed so scary and uncertain. I have been thinking of you alot since then. Please be assured that I am actually really praying for you. When disaster strikes we really have the opportunty to be the person we believe ourselves to be. Now reading this post, please if there is ANYTHING at all that you need, I’m there in a heartbeat. sending all the love I have within me your way.

  20. Your post moved me profoundly. A dear friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and the thing that really got to us was the waiting. And the testing and the waiting for the results. Waiting for what they can do for you. It doesn’t seem fair.

    We now know she will go through chemo and radiation. At least a plan is unfolding before us. We plan on turning her long hair into mohawk before chemo gets it. Thank you for your transparency and your positive message. Much love to you and your family,

  21. I like it. Not the possibility of cancer but the response to the possibility. What is so amazing about this process is what we do when we are waiting. All our demons show up, the fears of what if. More often than not, I see people who are told they have a “condition” because there are indicators. Then the reality is very different. So whatever shows itself, you are ready. Judging by the number of responses here, there is already feedback about who you are in the world- what you bring to the planet. There is no one who does healing work who is not in some way a wounded healer. It brings us to our knees and helps us sweep away the small stuff. Love Paula

  22. When you said things were feeling a bit like OZ too, you really meant it!! I admire (have always admired) your deep insight and broad vision. It is my honor to support you in continuing to grow in strength and optimism, making the best possible Gwyn-Michael-Art. I pray for your healing. I sent you my love.

  23. Dear Gwyn,

    Wonderful blog.

    Ay Carumba. I saw the post with the back x-ray but didn’t fully investigate, not even beginning to imagine that you TRULY had a broken back, and of course never even THINKING about cancer.

    I love you and your spirit and your commitment to both your art and being of service. I know in my heart, as you do, that ultimately all will be well. And I imagine this journey will be quite challenging at times.

    Please surround yourself with oodles of positive, loving, affirming people. Take exquisite care of yourself. And I’m so proud of you for giving yourself permission to follow your dreams.

    Please feel welcome to call if you ever want to talk.

    Much love,

  24. Hey Gwyn,
    I’m pretty amazed at your tenacity to follow through with the firebird festival this past year while going through all of this. You are traveling the path of the firebird…for sure!!! Your tenacity and creative spirit is so beautiful. Thanks for this wonderful art and writing. Good luck with the training this summer. That sounds pretty cool.
    good healing wishes to you,

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