I’m not entirely certain where to start...so I'll just jump in.
I left off having just found out the tumor actually grew during radiation and that a clinical trial with two immunotherapy drugs was the next step. The immunotherapy “exposes” or as a Trekkie fan would say, “decloaks”, the tumor, so the immune system itself can fight it. As I was writing this, I also thought of photography analogy in astrophotography. The exposures used in astrophotography reveal stars and the Milky Way that humans often can’t see with the naked eye, so like that, the immunotherapy exposes the tumor and then the body can "see" it and fight it. The schedule is both drugs infused (IV drip) on the first day and then just one drug every two weeks with the whole cycle repeating every 6 weeks.
The first two infusions went fine and I was busy with work, my two photography shows (which went great, BTW), and planning fall photography. Then one evening at Art Therapy class, my heart started racing. I thought I was having an AFib incident. Being very close to The James, I just called Jim and drove over to the ER. Seventeen hours later, the diagnosis was the immunotherapy drug(s) had caused off-the-charts hyperthyroidism (a known possible side effect). There are all sorts of toxicities that happen in the body with this, along with racing heart, weight loss (13 lbs in 10 days), gastrointestinal problems (which I will spare you), dizziness and lightheadedness due to low blood pressure, anxiety, and the list goes on. I went from active, working, doing stuff I love, to barely able to walk from my bed to the bathroom without feeling weak and dizzy. A mix of the symptoms and the side effects from new drugs sent me back to the ER and the endocrinologist kept thinking she wanted to hospitalize me. Thankfully, blood tests that day reassured her we were heading in the right direction. We still don’t quite know what will ultimately happen with the thyroid. It's in the normal range now but it remains to be seen what will keep it there.
As I write this, I'm still not quite myself and I won't mince words, "It's been a nasty four weeks", and I've not handled it as gracefully as I would have liked (some of that is actually a side effect of hyperthyroidism). However, I've slowly improved over the last two weeks and the immunotherapy continues. Scans are coming Thanksgiving week, but I’ve been warned not to really “worry” about them. They said often the tumor gets “angry” at first and gets larger (The Romulans don’t like being decloaked and fire back at the Enterprise or if you do too long of an astrophotography exposure your stars will streak). I do love my analogies and metaphors, don’t I…lol. These first scans in no way determine the final outcome of using these drugs or whether I can stay on them.
So, back to that Art Therapy class that I happened to mention above…
In September I started going to the “Healing Through Art” series offered by JamesCare for Life. These (and other types of sessions) are free to any cancer patient, survivor, or caregiver regardless of whether your treatment is/was at OSU. For me, it’s more about seeing their process in these classes than any sort of great insights into myself (but I might be wrong on that). I consider my photography a form of art therapy, but, I was curious about a more “formal” art therapy program. Personally, I feel I am "really bad” at most of the projects we do, but it’s fun and a diversion and I get a chance to talk with other cancer patients trying to live normal lives. I was going to share some of the art but chickened out. I’d rather share my beautiful photo that inspired one of the activities I did.
At one particular session, the lotus was the theme of the activity. The session brought up all the spiritual and emotional connotations of this flower (I recommend googling it as it’s too much for me to go into in this blog), but what caught my attention was “it’s a flower”. I thought about how I started out photographing flowers ten years ago, and still do on occasion, but moved mostly to landscapes. I shared earlier this year that I attended a Macro (close-up) photography conference last fall and that during it I felt like a fish out of water. I realized it was because I consider myself a landscape photographer, but, at the time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Over the last year that has become clearer to me and I think it became even more clear for me that day.
So why I am a landscape photographer…
I painted my lotus small in the corner of my drawing, which started out as a loose copy (and I do mean loose…I am NOT a painter) of one of my landscape photos, the one featured in this blog. The meaning to me was the lotus is a detail, it’s not the whole scene. In my day to day work life, I am very detailed oriented. I write software for a living; code is very detailed. In my personal life, I make lists, calendars, and micro-manage my schedule (and sometimes other people’s as well). I’ve often quipped, “If the devil is in the details, then what does that make me.” Landscape photography pulls me out of all that. It forces me to look at the big picture. For my life, it’s the balance to the “can’t see the forest for the trees” syndrome. I can still look for details that will capture the viewers’ attention, but my goal, ultimately, is to draw the viewer into a complete scene and have them feel like they were there.
You can use great creativity in photographing a single flower and I personally know photographers who are masters of this. I respect their work as I do the work of any artist and enjoy viewing it. I would even go so far as to argue that close-up photographers have more leeway with creativity than landscape photography. But, ultimately, for me as a photographer, the photos that appeal to me are the big, bold, layered landscapes that I can “walk” into. I can admire a photo of a single flower, but it does not take me to the park where it was photographed. But that flower as a foreground element to a path that leads into a woods just might make me feel like I am there.
In the case of the featured photo, the deck that leads into the blue water that leads to the fall-colored hills and then to the sky beyond beckons the viewer through the scene. If my photos can make someone forget the details of their lives for even a moment and transport them onto the scene as I saw and felt it, then I have done my job well and maybe, just maybe, given them some “art therapy”.
…and that is why I am a landscape photographer.