Embracing Full Nudity and the Art of Chelsea Rose

I should have posted sooner about the day we collaborated with our friend and artist, Chelsea Rose. I got so caught up in my radiation treatments and everything else and let it slip by. Today I want to re-visit it and share the experience with you. Chelsea is a painter and has been working on her “Goddess” series, which involves her painting on fully nude models and then photographing them, either in nature or in a studio setting. I had been tempted to volunteer to model for her for a while, but once again, let my fear of my body image get in the way. It’s been there for a lifetime and yes, I’m working on it, but these things take time.

Okay, I’m fat. I’ve always been chubby or plump or had baby fat or whatever else you want to call it. I’ve never been skinny. I’ve always had a belly and was always made to feel ashamed of it. When I look back at myself now, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Because I was made to feel bad about it, I hid and ate more and got bigger. I had a long-term relationship with someone where eating was how we bonded. That and watching tv. I ended up weighing over 300 pounds and felt horrible about myself. In my late 30’s I started realizing I had to change things. I stopped eating fast food, stopped drinking any kind of soda, and started doing more exercise. It was a start.

Because I had been on diets from childhood, I decided I would never again be “on a diet”. It was a lifestyle change and I was going to take things slowly. Weight did start to come off gradually. That was around 2006 and now my total weight loss is around 74 pounds. I did lose 13 pounds after my hysterectomy surgery and during chemo, but everything else came of gradually and I’ve easily kept it off. I know we are all looking for the quick fix, but it doesn’t work and doesn’t last unless you are willing to do the work on yourself and figure out why you are using food as a way of comforting yourself, instead of to feed your body. I was that person. I still am, but now I make sure I get enough nutrition to be as healthy as I can. I am in no way eating the way I wish I was, which would be lots of fresh veggies and plant-based protein. I feel amazing when I can eat that way, but I admit that I am lazy and the time it takes to prepare meals often gets in the way. I do my best and that is all we can ask of ourselves.

Moving on – I have spent a lot of time working on my body image issues. Meeting Sam was a big deal for me because she doesn’t have body issues and hangups like mine. Our relationship has been the key to me moving to the next level in facing my fears, getting out there to enjoy life, and learning to love myself more and more. She loves all of me. She passes no judgements and has never once made me feel awkward or like I “just need to do… and she will love me more.” It truly is an unconditional love. I know how rare that is and I am grateful for it every day. It has enabled me to do things I never would have done before and to face things from a more confident place of strength and happiness. I’m not “cured” and certainly am still self-conscious about my body, but, I am doing a better job of living my life and if I died tomorrow, my regrets would be few.

It is a BIG deal for me to place my trust in someone to 1. See me fully naked while they paint my body 2. Allow that person full control of the photographs that would be taken of my fully naked body and 3. Be okay with whatever she chooses to do with those images in the future. Once I was diagnosed with cancer and survived surgery, I decided it was time to ask Chelsea if she wanted a “bald, cancer lady” for a model. She immediately responded and our mutual excitement grew. Sam offered to be a part of the photo shoot, which was wonderful because Chelsea hadn’t worked with a couple yet. I was excited and nervous as we planned the weekend and location where we would spend the day doing this.

Chelsea often spends 3-4 hours painting just one person, in fine detail. You can see her work at www.chelsearosearts.com. We were dealing with two people and entering fall, so the sun was setting earlier. It was going to be a race against time. We picked Chelsea up and headed to the beach location we had decided on. She set up and we took off our clothes and she began painting – first Sam’s face and then mine and back and forth until we were both fully covered. It took around 4 hours to complete. Because of the time constraints, she used more bold lines and fewer details, but I think the emotion and feeling we wanted to capture is just as significant. We are a couple brought closer together through cancer and this was a great way to honor that. Chelsea did a great job with the photographs and having us relate to one another. Seeing the finished images blew my mind. She converts them to black and white and the effect is striking to say the least.

Yes, I am naked and I am learning to see these images in a way that helps me to look  past my shape and the fact that I am aging and sagging. I am trying to embrace the fact that I have earned every wrinkle, stretch mark, and imperfection and that I have survived everything that life has thrown at me, so far. I can now joke about the fact that I have lost most of my weight in the lower part of my body, leaving me with what I call an “old man butt”. My hips and butt have disappeared, yet my stomach has lost nothing. Having naturally large breasts means they will sag. I am who I am and this is the package that it comes in. Learning to accept that in a society that shames everything about everyone until we have little girls talking about diets and criticizing their bodies, is hard. I am so much further down that path than I ever was before and that is something to celebrate. I am also honoring myself as a survivor and this body that keeps on ticking. I’ve been told I am a warrior. I don’t know about that, but looking at myself covered in Chelsea’s paint sure makes that seem more real to me. Thank you again Chelsea, for celebrating us in this way. It is a day I will never forget. ❤

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Me, in the beginning.

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Sam, just getting started.

Sam, almost finished.

Sam, almost finished.

Me, almost finished.

Me, almost finished.

I took this image of Sam as Chelsea was finishing painting on me.

I took this image of Sam as Chelsea was finishing painting on me.

In the woods.

In the woods.

I can't wait to see this in black and white and to hang it on the wall at home.

I can’t wait to see this in black and white and to hang it on the wall at home.

My view of Sam during the log photo. <3

My view of Sam during the log photo. ❤

Relaxing together.

Relaxing together.

Finished black & white images, selected by Chelsea.

Finished black & white image, selected by Chelsea.

Another selection by Chelsea.

Another selection by Chelsea.

My favorite of the Chelsea selections. This sums us up pretty well.

My favorite of the Chelsea selections. This sums us up pretty well.

After we got home, Sam and I orchestrated this photograph in her chicken coop.

After we got home, Sam and I orchestrated this photograph in her chicken coop. An awesome collaboration.

All images copyright – Chelsea Rose Arts or Kelly Keigwin, 2014. These cannot be re-used for any reason without the written consent of the artists and models.

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Kicking My Port to the Curb

One of the things I’ve looked forward to is having my port removed. It’s something that is necessary and I appreciated the ease it gave when getting chemo and such. For those who don’t know, a port is inserted into your chest and has tubing that runs up into a vein in your neck. Instead of getting an i.v. every week, they would simply access the port, which means they would puncture it with a needle with tubing attached, and I would be ready to go. I was told that it also meant the medication went directly into my heart, versus having to have it work it’s way through my bloodstream, which is a good thing.

The drawback is that you know it is there, especially in the beginning. I really noticed it in my neck and it creeped me out. The part in my chest just felt like a bruise most of the time because it was directly under the skin. I would definitely feel it when I woke up in the morning, after I had slept on that side. It wasn’t awful and like I said, I appreciated not having to have an i.v. each week. It also helps keep your veins in good shape from not being repeatedly punctured. That said, it is constantly there, reminding you that you have cancer and a foreign object in your body.

I started having neck pain issues, just after I completed radiation treatments. I had a conversation with my massage therapist and chiropractor and the theory came up that perhaps my port was causing the left side of my neck to pull out of whack because of the port on the right side. Because I had been taking steroids every week during chemo, it would have masked any pain I was having, but now the steroids had worn off. It made sense and I decided to try removing the port to see if it made a difference. I called my oncologist’s office to see if we could discuss it and ended up being called back by someone I didn’t know in the office. She started telling me that they can’t just put it back in and that with my stage 3c status my chances of re-occurrence (aka my cancer returning) are higher. It freaked me out. I am a realist and an optimist and am aware of the possibility of my cancer coming back. I had been feeling so good after radiation and didn’t expect to be met with that response from my doctor’s office. I just wanted to talk about my port and ended up spiraling into a depression.

Suddenly, I felt tied to my port, as a symbol that cancer was lurking in my body and waiting to come back to kill me. I know that is always a possibility, but I really wanted to think that I was going to enjoy a period of decent health and happiness, at least for a while. A few days later I received a call for an appointment to come in to have my port flushed. I was a bit surprised. Once a month a port has to be flushed with saline to keep it from getting backed up. I knew I either had to have my port removed or flushed because it had been just over a month since I finished treatment. I put the appointment on my calendar and figured I was not going to get to see my doctor and was just going to have a maintenance appointment. I kept hoping somehow I would get to see my doctor and maybe convince him to remove the port.

Today I went in and was told they were removing my port. I was excited and grossed out at the same time. Sam had come with me, just in case it went that way, so she could document it. They check you into the hospital when they install the port. When they remove it, they do it in office. My doctor came in and we hugged and smiled and spoke about everything. I was prepped and shot up with lidocaine to numb the spot. He made an incision over the previous one and loosened the port and popped it out.  It’s amazing that the vein will close itself off and not bleed after the tubing is removed. The human body is a crazy thing. He then sewed me up and we spent some more time chatting about my trip I want to take to the South (he is from Memphis).  I teased him and said I might get more chest tattoos just to make his job harder if he has to re-install the port. He laughed because he had told me avoiding tattooed areas sometimes makes him have to be more creative with placement in order to avoid cutting into them. There’s something you don’t think about every day – tattoos and surgery scars.

My doctor is a great guy and made me feel much better about everything. We spoke about the realities of my cancer being an aggressive variety and the possibility of it returning, or not at all. Chemo actually works better on aggressive cancer cells than on slow-growing ones, because they are rapidly mutating, which allows the drugs to get inside and kill them. There is a possibility that I will never need treatment again. There also is a possibility it might come back in 1-2 years.  I just wanted facts and he was great about that. He  reassured me that it wasn’t a big deal to put the port back in, if I should ever need it again. All of that stress and sadness for nothing. When they asked if I was wanting to keep my port, I said yes and he said, “Of course she does. If you asked me about any other patient, I’d say no, but you, I knew you’d want to keep it”. I said something about how on my first meeting with him I asked if I could keep my lady parts after my hysterectomy, which established where I was coming from. We laughed.

I’ll be going back for my check-up in January and in the meantime, I will focus on being healthy, doing yoga, hitting the gym, and hopefully, feeling better in every sense of the word. Cancer may come back in the next couple of years, or maybe never, but for now, I’m running the show and I refuse to keep feeding the depression spiral. Onward and upward.

Disclaimer – these are photographs from a minor surgical procedure. Be forewarned.

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The tray is prepped and ready to go.

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Getting my gown on.

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One last look at my port, before it comes out.

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Prepping the area with Betadine.

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Injecting the area with Lidocaine.

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Re-opening the original incision.

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Loosening the port.

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It starts to come out.

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Almost finished.

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Boom! It’s out. My doctor is awesome.

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A look at the tray as they irrigate the wound.

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Sewing it up.

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Almost done.

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Finished.

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After.

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Good stuff.

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A photo of us from the early days of treatment, displayed in the main office area. ❤

All images copyright – Sam MacKenzie, 2014. None of these images may be used or reproduced without written consent of the artist and subject.