Until this posting, I have never really told my story publicly. But, I am going to because it is a part of who I am and how I have arrived at this point in my life. In 1993, at age 5, I was diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer; a malignant rhabdomyosarcoma; stage III, inoperable tumor, sitting behind my left eye and penetrating my brain. My parents were told that I had a 5 percent three-year survival. I was in the hospital for 18 months, at least once a month and often for weeks at a time.
The treatment plan was aggressive; I was given a lifetime dose of radiation to my head, and 3 different types of chemotherapy. I was so ill my doctors sent me on a “Make-a-Wish” trip with my brothers and sister. During this nightmare for my parents and me, they made funeral arrangements on at least two occasions. I have many memories of this difficult time. The experience forced an early understanding of life and death, the true meaning of friendship, commitment and determination. For example, before I was age 10, I had attended many funerals of other children with cancer with whom I became friends, as we had spent weeks in the hospital together.
Because of the initial severity of my disease, and the rare case that survives; I was 15 before I was considered a cure. I continue to experience side effects of the treatment; but, with the support of my family, the brilliance of my medical team, and the intervention of a higher power, I am alive. I’ve learned that life is short; it is important to treasure each day; to spend your days doing what you love.
There are two analogies related to my experience. The first is related to the Greek mythical bird, the Phoenix. The Phoenix is a fire spirit, a beautiful bird, that at the end of its life-cycle burns fiercely; but, from the fire and ashes, it is reborn, and rises again. I feel I have emerged from the fire, and I am living the life I love; and as chance would have it, I now find myself working with fire. From the fire, emerges beautiful things — first, my life, and second, the art that I am able to create.
A second analogy is the cancer treatment process itself. From the beginning it is an all-or-nothing journey. When starting the treatment, most choose to see it through to the end, whatever that may be. There is no taking a break and starting again later. Blowing glass is similar to that. Once I take that first gather of molten glass from the furnace, I am committed. There is no putting the piece away to finish it tomorrow. I must work the piece through to the end, even if the outcome is not what I desired. During that process, the piece undergoes many changes and, at times, due to many reasons, can almost be lost. Like the result of my cancer treatment, fortunately, most of the pieces result in something beautiful.