Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Backstory to BACKSTORIES

As an essentially private person, the following isn’t the kind of information I normally share publicly. But for a number of reasons, I feel it’s necessary to explain why it has been so important to me that my current show goes ahead as planned - or as close to it as possible. 

As some of you already know, since November 2020, I’ve been treated for breast cancer. My first reaction after I received the diagnosis - that is, after the initial shock and disbelief - was that I didn’t want a fuss, particularly because for some anxious weeks, I didn’t even know what my prognosis was. At first I only told only a handful of friends and family, who have been tremendously supportive and encouraging throughout this ordeal. I love them all dearly and can never thank them enough. Needless to add, I simply don’t know what I would have done without Shane - and neither of us know what we’d have done without our cat, Alice. An incorrigible show off, she can always make us laugh, even when our spirits are down.

From the outset, I continued making my work, albeit a scaled-down version of it, with full encouragement from the brilliant Oncology team at Ballarat Base Hospital. 

With these support systems in place, and with the intention of directing my energy into surviving this thing, late last year I withdrew for several months from social media. A compromised immune system meant I had to largely withdraw from social interactions too. 

From the outset, I’ve refused to let the illness define me. Making my work didn’t just keep my spirits up - it helped retain a sense of normalcy and equilibrium, so much so that for hours at a time I would actually forget I was sick. 

Miraculously, the galleries where I had shows booked were all able to reschedule my exhibitions. They have my eternal gratitude, as it also meant I had something to work towards and look forward to. I know it wasn’t easy for them, because they were also dealing with the uncertainties of COVID-19, as they still are. 

In recent weeks, I’ve had successful surgery. However, months of intensive chemotherapy have left me with numb fingertips - a real concern for an artist - and my feet and ankles are sometimes so numb, on some days I can barely walk. Fortunately I can still hold a paintbrush - but on some days I feel so drained and exhausted, my studio time is minimal. I’m assured the numbness will eventually subside. Meanwhile, even half an hour in the studio still adds up. 

Technically I’m now cancer-free and after the surgery, I dared to think that my life would soon return to some kind of normalcy, especially as, side affects aside, I’d responded so well to treatment. Unfortunately, small traces of cancer cells were found in the now very small tumour that was removed. It seems only 15-20 percent of patients come through this procedure completely free and clear. Mine was a particularly aggressive cancer, so another 6 months of preventative treatment will be required. This came as a blow, because not only will the next lot of treatments be potentially even more debilitating than the first, I still haven’t completely recovered from the previous chemo. The good news is that the treatments will ensure my long-term survival, so I’ve come to terms with it. 

The treatments are due to start in August. The ever supportive Oncology and Radiotherapy Departments at Ballarat Base Hospital have been aiming to time them so I can have my show first, which is why the latest lockdown has been especially stressful. A third postponement would have been devastating. Thankfully, today’s easing of restrictions will ensure the exhibition at Stephen McLaughlan Gallery goes ahead and fortunately I’m pretty well prepared for a second exhibition later this year at Queenscliff Gallery

Last November my life changed in ways I could never have imagined. But not of all it has been bad, not by a long shot. It will take some time yet to process all the good that has come out of this. But that’s another story.

Pictured from top:

Seeker, 2019, acrylic on linen, 40.5 x 30.5 cm

Shane Jones and Alice in the cinema room outside my studio, July 2021