Sunday, January 6, 2008

Art, Cancer and Mental Health

Found this in the NY Times today.
One thing Dr. Heineman, an English professor at USF and head of the Honors program, often said was that in the United States of America, there is too little focus on mental health. I never forgot that.
We were reading Freud at the time. As a 21-year-old student at a private college in San Francisco, I had the privilege to not think about the issue, or at least not feel affected by it.
Nearly ten year later and having been through cancer and chemotherapy, I completely agree with him.
The physical is obvious and visible. You can see when someone is physically sick or feeling weak. Signs like the return of hair, the tone of ones voice and strength in your step, are easily noticed.
But what goes on beneath is not. And, as we all know, it's not that hard to hide.
At least in this country, and many of this country's cultures, it is difficult to talk about mental health.
How often do we honestly reply when some asks 'How you doing?'.
Though I think there has been a great shift -- in acceptance -- in attitudes towards psychiatry and mental wellness between my generation and my parents, there still seems to be more to go.
I was lucky. I had Adrian, Paul, Guadalupe and many more friends to talk about how I was feeling. My oncologist, Dr. Ahmann, mentioned he could refer me to a psychiatrist that works with cancer survivors. My parents were anxious to listen to my feelings. Even here, I was able to write and get it out.
As a writer, be that articles, poetry, essays or songs, I am comfortable expressing my feelings. But that's not the case with everyone.
I can't even imagine being a child cancer survivor, like little Henry Ortega, Jr., or 11-year-old Alexandra La Force Harkins, mentioned in the Times article, and dealing with cancer and survival, let alone regular growth and development. How different the world must, and will, seem to them. they are the real survivors.
So programs like this are important. I'm glad to read about one.

just in case you were wondering

(Shakeys, Nogales, AZ. 12/30/07 by GRC)

Here's a photo of me: full head of hair and my bigote. Guadalupe shot this one of me last week when we went to visit her grandfather, Samuel Herrera, in Amado, AZ. We took him down to Nogales and we wandered around all afternoon.
Grandpa Herrera has come up with some great plans to support his family after he passes on and he has enlisted my help to set up a factory that manufactures toy UFOs. Also, we'll be heading off to Caborca, Sonora, Mexico, sometime in early February to find a hangar where he can build a safe plane.
I kid you not.
Expect a short story on this adventure later on down the line. While I was getting excited about our adventure, he promised Guadalupe there would be no girls, only pilot business.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Never Saw My Face in the Obituaries

I got a fade today.
It has been nearly five months since I last walked into Curley's (formerly Johnny Gibson's)in downtown Tucson.
Thomas, my barber, was really excited to see me. He said he'd been wondering how I was doing. I let him know how things had gone and how I was feeling. He explained that he kept a close eye on the obituaries in the local newspaper. Since he never saw my photo, he figured I was alright.
I suppose that's one way to keep tabs on me.
My hair isn't that long. In fact, it is about the same length when I left Curley's back in August. I've been letting it grow since the reunion. But my cousin Diane is getting married in Albuquerque next weekend and I want to look sharp. Besides, Guadalupe tells me every time she sees me, my hair is different and it feels like she's seeing a new man. so I can't let her down.
Meanwhile, I've been keeping an eye on my finger nails. Another subtle reminder of the chemo., the dark streaks have moved closer to my finger tips and I suspect that part of my nails will be clipped by the time I get to Abq. Slowly returning to normal.
Oh yeah, I thought I'd share this with you.
Turns out only nine people tested positive for TB after the Cancer Clinic screened 700 people.