Moving through Cancer: An Interview with Carol Collins

Feminist Studies 41 (3):571-593 (2015)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Feminist Studies 41, no. 3. © 2015 by Feminist Studies, Inc. 571 Moving through Cancer: An Interview with Carol Collins Artist Carol Collins spoke with Feminist Studies editorial collective member Stephanie Gilmore about her experience of cancer, treatment, and recovery and how it gave rise to an art series that examines what nature means in the midst of unnatural treatments. SG: Carol, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about your artwork. Having just lost my sister to cancer, your work reminds me of much pain and loss, but also of love and the desire to survive. Before we discuss the work itself, I would like to hear about your journey through cancer, treatment, and recovery. CC: The breast cancer patient’s journey is complex and perilous. When I was healthy, I was ignorant about the magnitude of suffering many cancer patients undergo. And, although I am a private person, I’m now publicly sharing my cancer experience in order to be a voice for those who have suffered through similar treatments—and worse—and those who sadly are no longer with us to tell their story. Being bald and nauseated are not the most awful possible side effects of the treatments, although they are the most well known. Some women survive the cancer but can die from the treatments, or others suffer through the treatments and die anyway. Often, it seems many believe patients can overcome their 572 Carol Collins adversity solely with positive thinking and persistence. However, not discussing the array of physical and psychological damage that even those with good prognoses incur propagates ignorance about this malady. I hope that my artwork and story will promote a deeper understanding of a breast cancer patient’s plight and will encourage more support for research for individualized therapies and prevention. My cancer journey began when I received a breast cancer diagnosis in January 2014. Life just before that point was good; the future was bright. Tendon pain, caused by my flat feet and a lot of exercising, was my only known ailment. But one day a routine mammogram revealed three tumors in my right breast. The radiology oncologist said the masses were highly likely to be cancerous, so he immediately did painful core biopsies at the sites of my three tumors. The next day, it became clear that we needed to act quickly. The biopsy results revealed I had a very aggressive invasive breast cancer with estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 receptors. Breast cancer in premenopausal women grows quickly due to the high level of hormones present. The oncologists and surgeons said I would, at a minimum, need a mastectomy and possibly lymph node resection, and they warned that I would likely need chemotherapy, which would destroy my eggs and ovaries. After learning of my limited options, I approved the removal of one breast and my sterilization. I knew I needed to think rationally and face the giant raven before me head on. However, I did not realize the magnitude and multitude of physical and psychological pains, illnesses, and losses that were soon to come. The first year of cancer treatments inflicted much physical pain. I received three extremely painful injections into my right breast with a radiolabeled colloid just prior to the mastectomy. The pain came from the injected dye, not from the needle. The modified radical mastectomy was more excruciatingly painful than I anticipated, even with painkillers and overnight hospitalization. Breast reconstruction was an option that added more pain and discomfort from weekly fillings of the installed “expander” and additional surgeries. Extreme pain after the mastectomy prevented me from lying down for months. Foolishly, I did not get an injection port installed in my chest. Instead, I endured numerous deep (and often unsuccessful) needle pricks into the seemingly few veins of my left arm (which still had its lymph nodes) that were appropriate for infusions over the period of a year. Shooting pains across my chest and arm were the norm. Carol Collins 573 In addition to the surgically induced physical pain, the chemotherapy quickly caused a myriad of undesirable physical side effects. It is scary to realize that the medical community does not often fully understand...

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