I have finally finished the oil painting that I have been working on for the past six months. It is a large canvas…24 X 30.
The vision for this work began as a challenge to myself. I wanted to paint a thunderstorm over the Badlands. My goals were to create distance; capture the back glow of light in a storm and the roughness of the Badlands terrain; and to improve my drawing skills by including animals….Hereford cattle.
The biggest challenge of this painting was the sky. I just could not get it right. Then, I realized I was painting a Minnesota sky. The clouds were too close. Once, I got that right, the painting started to work.
My goal with the cattle was to paint a very strong bull lovingly guarding his family.
I remember the call from my oncologist so very clearly. After months of battling brittle bones and being injected daily with bone hardening drugs into my stomach, just as I thought I had begun to make progress, he called me to tell me that my bone marrow biopsy was positive for multiple myeloma…a bone marrow cancer.
My first thought was thank God they finally know what’s slowly killing me. My second thought was like the words of the song says, “Lord, this time you gave me a mountain. A mountain that I may never climb. It isn’t a hill any longer. You gave me a mountain this time.”
It isn’t surprising that my first thoughts were of God and mountains. Throughout the four years that I battled multiple myeloma, at first just to survive, then to get mobility back, I would often mentally picture walking in the mountains of Montana. Mountains have always been where I have felt closest to God and found peace.
Multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, destroyed my bones. They became so brittle that all of my thoracic and lumbar vertebra sustained compression fractures. I once had six new fractures in my back at one time. I also endured several cracked ribs.
I would break my back doing the simplest of tasks including flossing my teeth, lifting a toilet lid and trying to pick a shirt up off of the floor. For over 18 months I was imprisoned in a chin to hip hard body cast. I spent over two and a half years confined to a hospital bed in my living room staring out of my living room window at a small oak tree in my front yard. I was unable to stand or walk without using a walker for over three years. So, being able to hike in the mountains of Montana was a pretty far-fetched goal.
Getting stem cells
Sitting up in body cast, watercolor painting, not allowed to lift elbows off of the table.
Where I spent almost two years.
If in reality I couldn’t get to mountains, I could in my mind. I dreamed, I was in those mountains, often. I was there when I was encased in that body cast. I spent time in them when imprisoned in the hospital bed in my living room. I was climbing those mountains the day they put the Hickman chemo port into my chest. I visited those snow covered peaks each time they bored holes into my bones using only local anesthesia before they used a massive syringe to suck out bone marrow samples.
Those mountains were in my nursing home, rehab and hospital rooms. They were there the day I watched, “the nuclear bomb” of chemo for my stem cell plant slowly enter my body.
There were times during those years of battling cancer, fear, depression, chemo therapy and stem cell transplant side effects, mobility loss, and pain when my only contact with the great outdoors, for this outside farm girl, was dreaming of mountains and their meadows.
To beat my cancer I did everything the doctors asked me to do, except for one thing. I refused to use a wheelchair. I had no intention of being trapped in one of those. For, I had decided, like Winston Churchill stated in his greatest and shortest speech to “Never, never, never give up.” In fact, I bought a silver dog tag engraved with those words to always wear around my neck on a necklace that included my cross, a silver family tree given to me by my grandson on a Mother’s Day long ago and the first ring my husband ever gave me.
After making the decision to fight on, no matter how sick I was, whenever someone helped me out of bed, I would push my walker around my kitchen island until I was too tired to go any further. First one, then five, 10, 20 and eventually a 100 laps a day. I wore a trail into my hardwood floors.
During the long months that stretched into years when I was too sick and weak to leave my home, occupational and physical therapists would come to bathe me, and help me relearn the simplest of tasks. First, I had to learn how to get out of bed without breaking more bones. As I would sit up I could feel my weak spine bend sideways just like a willow branch and would pray that it would not snap and paralyze me. It didn’t.
Eventually, I re-learned how to do stairs. Then, after months of being totally house bound, with two therapists, one on each side, I was allowed to go outside and push my walker to the end of my driveway and back.
There were many trips to the end of my driveway. I can still remember the sheer terror of trying to step down from the driveway to the street for the first time without jarring my spine. I did it, though, and my world began to grow. First just to the edge of our property line, next came the end of our street and eventually laps around the block pushing a walker with tennis balls on the bottom. As I grew stronger, I mastered using a walker with wheels, next came two canes and eventually just one cane.
I walked and walked. I walked with shuffling feet, bent over, with a broken back. I walked sick and exhausted from chemo. I walked bald. I walked masked. I walked on flat streets, inclines and hills. I wore out many tennis balls. I have worn out many rubber stoppers on the bottom of my canes. I climbed stairs many times a day just to strengthen my bones and leg muscles. Each step I took was me telling my cancer to go to blazes.
After such a hard and long cancer battle, you cannot imagine the joy of traveling out of state for the first time in almost six years; being in Great Falls, Montana, to visit and hug my dear Aunt Margaret who faithfully called me weekly throughout all of those years to lead me in Bible study; and to at last stand on a hiking trail in Montana and see a horizon filled with snow and wild flower covered mountains.
Uncle Klynn and Aunt Margie
As I stood beneath a snow-capped footstool of God, the bible verse that I clung to throughout my cancer battle was again prayed.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
It did not matter whether I could only lift my eyes to the top of a small oak tree in my front yard, or the summit of a great mountain, my help always came from the Lord….who never left me or forsook me.
With baby steps, a bit a grit and by the grace of God, I climbed the mountain!!!
I hope you enjoy these vacation pictures!
Lots of Wild Horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Herd of Wild Horses at Theodore Roosevelt Park
Foal with Mare
Foal trying to eat car
Beautiful Wild Flowers
Animals galore! Bear, wolf, elk and antelope too!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park
It was a great trip. We hiked from sun up to sundown and I never even got sore muscles….Bully!!!!!