I've written about my friend, fellow brain cancer survivor, and watercolor classmate, Michael Orchowski, in a previous post, but I'm going to do it again. I want you to have an opportunity to participate in the remarkable journey of one of the most fascinating people I've ever met. Are you reading this, Barbara Walters?
The Dream Foundation is collaborating with Cancer Center of Santa Barbara and 33 Jewels at El Paseo to present an exhibition of Michael's work, "Painting Toward Grace", on Thursday, December 1, 5-8pm, at 33 Jewels gallery in downtown Santa Barbara as part of 1st Thursday.
From the event flyer:
"Michael's art is rich with imagery, with each of his paintings detailing his journey through and beyond illness. Michael hopes that others will benefit from his experience, and enjoy this exhibition of his work...
"In the advanced stages of ALS, Michael's wish is to have an exhibition of his work "which would expose many others to my joie de vivre in spite of this strong infirmity." Paralyzed on his right side, and only able to use his non-dominant left hand, he strives to express himself in "joyful colors, with my right brain and my left hand. The colors which I applied in the various paintings are happy and express my positive outlook towards life."
Nearly every painting Michael has painted in class will be on display and for sale, so there should be a lot of opportunities to obtain some one-of-a-kind holiday gifts! Michael and his equally inspiring wife, Doedy, are generously donating the proceeds from the event to be divided equally between the Dream Foundation and the CCSB Wellness Programs, to increase awareness for both organizations.
Michael is a bright, shining light with an infectious smile, and an inspiration to everyone he meets. But don't just take it from me - I've asked my classmates to contribute their thoughts on our friend Michael, too:
- "What a pleasure it is being a painting comrade with Michael. He is an inspiration of love and hope and an artist to boot! His paintings exude joy and life filled with color and brush strokes that define his unique style, absolute "Michaelness". His art is a true expression of his life, his heart and his story, which is compelling and reaches out and touches the viewer. I'm glad that he found his brush." - Libby Whaley
- "Michael is the kind of philosopher we need quoted in textbooks. Upbeat, courageous, memorable, he smiles at himself and the capriciousness of life. Michael has a droll sense of humor, and a gentle, loving and sensitive heart. He’s a one-of-a-kind artist, and an inspiring member of our art class. He’s a hero!" - Laurette Valentine
- "Michael's art has always expressed to me his love of life in the face of challenges and pain. His good humor and whimsy belies strength founded in humility and kindness." - Michael Taylor
- "When I first met Michael I felt an immediate bond with him. I know he felt it, too. It was only after my initial meeting and conversations with him that I was able to step back and appreciate his art. What a treat that was! He can somehow capture what is going on in his body with paint and paper in the most amazing way. His paintings are expressive, organic and extremely captivating. He is a remarkable person in many, many ways and an artist in the BEST sense. I am proud to know him." - Karen Westheimer
- "I'm the girl that sat next to you most of the time at class. Your work there has been an authentic journey towards Heaven. Your graceful attitude has inspired many a great deal. I looked forward for Mondays to come. I have enjoyed the comments, the interaction and the encouragement with you. I hope to see you at your coming exhibit. You leave behind you a work of love that I personally appreciate. Your presence will be real to me in my future work, and I hope will reflect what friendship and support can bring to a searching world for true goodness. Your positiveness gave me hope and then some. Ma el salama, my dear friend......" - Natalie Khoury
- "Watching Michael paint is an education in itself. Every brush stroke is loaded with meaning and is an integral part of the whole painting. In this way, each of us adds an integral part to the lives of those around us. Michael has shown us by example that, no matter what challenge arises, there is a way to express yourself and create beauty in your very own, wonderful style. Thank you, Michael, for blessing us with so many magical paintings--you can always tell an Orchowski!" - Tessa Flanagan
- "Michael is our Archangel." - Rick Stich, Instructor
- "The kindest blue eyes. Big blue and filled with love. His art is an extension of his love and the way he lives. Each piece is filled with bright colors, abstract, yes but his message is clear, live each moment in joy and hope. I love you Michael...you know that." - Charlene Hovey
Please join Michael's friends and help Michael fulfill his dream on this very special night.
- Location: 33 JEWELS AT EL PASEO, 814 State Street, 805-957-9100
- Date: Thursday, December 1, 2011
- Time: 5:00 - 8:00pm
- Bonus: Wine and refreshments will be served.
A couple of years ago, I started carrying a notebook with me everywhere I went. I mean everywhere - doctor's appointments, grocery stores, to the kitchen for every meal, next to my computer, next to my bed at night. In my purse or in my hand in between. If I could have a holster made for it, I would. It started out as a necessity - all of the medicine made me forgetful, so I'd make lists. And lists and lists...I wrote down everything, there for a while, because I could remember anything without it!
Then it was a way of keeping myself sane, writing down thoughts and feelings to get them out of my head, so they'd stop spinning around in there and driving me nuts. I suppose that's sort of a necessity, too. Then it just became a habit to have it with me, and I'd get sort of lost without it. I'd panic when I couldn't find it, tearing the house apart, only to discover that I had just left it in my bag by the front door!
I write something in it every day to keep track of things: ups and downs, highs and lows. I tell people this all the time - write something in a journal every day, to keep a record of where you're at, whether battling cancer, or just life in general. I may not feeling like writing an elaborate account of each day, but I make myself write a sentence or two in my notebook every night before I turn out the light. My bedtime ritual has turned thoughts into stories and sentences into a record of events in my personal journey.
As I finished my journal entry last night, I realized I was at the last page. I had no idea when I'd started, so I flipped to the front, and whoa: November 3, 2010. A year's worth of journaling in one book, how cool is that? What was I doing a year ago, anyway?
I started reading and ah, yes, the crying. Lots of crying. I was pre-bankruptcy and the phone was ringing off the hook with angry creditors. Boyfriend and I still had no income or work and bills needed to be paid. How much longer would our landlord put up with us? Not to mention I still had a good sized brain-tumor. I had scribbled on one of the pages, "When was all this positive thinking going to kick in and turn things around?"
Then December came and things started to break loose. My December 2nd MRI was a pretty sweet Christmas gift. A few weeks later we finally got the web contract we'd been vying for for over a year. We caught up on our rent. We paid our bills. Then Christmas and the silly stresses that tend to go with it. I was happy and grateful that I could afford gifts and cards for those I loved, but didn't realize I wasn't up for the full-time "job" that the holidays really are and I was still exhausted two weeks a month with chemo! Hmmm... something to do better this year...
I kept going, so many ideas, stories, and lessons I may not have remembered without my little spiral-bound companion and trustworthy mechanical pencil!
When Boyfriend came to bed, I was still riveted. "This is the best book I've ever read!"
"What is it?"
He smiled, "It's a good story, isn't it?"
I'd better keep writing to see how it ends.
Stevie taught me something about being present when I was out visiting him at the farm today. I gave him a bath, and we went out to find some grass for him while I toweled him dry. After my towels were mostly wet, and my horse was mostly dry, I sat down on the lawn to watch him happily munching on green grass. As I sat back against a tree, I thought maybe I'd check my email, now that I had a moment, so I pulled my phone out of my pocket.
As soon as I held it up and looked down at the screen, the contented crunching stopped. I looked up to see my horse frozen in place, his eyes empty, staring straight ahead. Definitely an expression of resigned sadness.
"You okay, buddy? What's wrong, Steve?" I stood up, went over to him. The phone was back in my pocket. I put my hand on his neck and he didn't move. Where was my horse with the big personality?
Then I heard him, "You came all the way out here to stare at your phone? Really? Because that's crap, if you ask me." And as if to emphasize his point, he crapped, right there on the lawn.
Oops. Sorry, man. You are so right.
Next time the phone stays in the car, my attention on my horse, and my mind in the moment.
Cancer's a weird thing. For all the pain and distress it brings, I've found that it can bring equal amounts of opportunity, hope, and enlightenment for everyone affected. The avenue to health through cancer can be eye-openingly positive with the right kind of support. And my Yellow-Brick Road to this conclusion went directly through the front doors at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. As I've told so many people, "Santa Barbara is the place to have cancer, if you must, because of the Cancer Center."
The staff and doctors at CCSB took me in for treatment before I was qualified for any financial assistance, because I needed treatment "now, not whenever the state figures out that you qualify." The caring staff felt like a family by the end of my seven weeks of radiation. I was actually sad it was over, because I wouldn't get see them every day!
In addition to offering outstanding medical care, cutting-edge technology, and an ultra-caring staff; CCSB provides a vast array of classes, therapies, and counseling - all free of charge to patients through their CCSB Wellness Programs. I've been taking watercolor and yoga classes, receiving Healing Touch Therapy, and attending support groups at the CCSB Wellness Center for almost a year now. Their Wellness Programs perfectly complement the outstanding medical care provided by top-notch physicans with opportunities to heal mind and spirit while the physical body battles cancer. I can't say enough to express my gratitude for CCSB's emphasis on healing the Whole Person through Whole Wellness.
Through my activities at CCSB I'm learning new skills, keeping myself sane and happy, getting the help and support I need, and meeting lots of interesting new friends. There are a lot of amazing people with whom I may have never come into contact if it weren't for the common thread of cancer and the CCSB. I've met so many people through the CCSB's Wellness Programs: fellow cancer survivors and warriors, amazing staff, volunteers, teachers, and family members of my cancer peers.
One of my new friends is a fellow brain cancer survivor and watercolor student, Michael Orchowski. He is an inspiration: a bright, shining light to everyone he meets, and I'm super-lucky to get to spend time with him every Monday in art class.
Here's his remarkable story: Following brain cancer surgery, Michael embraced painting classes offered by the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. Losing strength and control on his right arm and hand, Michael learned to be left-handed. Inspired by his beloved Corgi dog, he began using his left hand to paint particular images and colors without making conscious decisions of what he was painting. Michael's cancer is no longer active thanks to the skills of surgeons and the wonderful medical and spiritual support of many medical staff, friends and family and the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.
Michael donates most of his paintings to CCSB, and they've taken five of his doggie paintings and printed them on notecards to sell in 5-card assortment packs for $10 (All 5 cheerful images, shown above, right!). I've bought a pack, my parents have bought a pack, and I'm suggesting that if you like these cards, you do, too. Your purchase will help a tremendous organization continue to help people like me, when they need it the most. The cards will brighten the day of whoever receives them. Just like the smile of my friend Michael brightens everybody's day and lights up every room he enters.
Your $10 donation is tax-deductible and (much-needed) proceeds will be donated to the valuable Wellness Programs at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. To learn more, please email the Wellness Center Coordinator, or call (805) 898-2204. Please tell them that Lisa Tomlin sent you.
Okay, I'll admit it. In between thankfully longer and longer stretches of positivity, I still have plenty of bouts of uncertainty. So I keep a log of some of the best advice I receive from so many of the amazing people in my life, and check in with it when I need a boost. Here are some of the gems I've collected so far:
On getting back to life:
Don't BE the disease. Get back to life. Get back to living.
On going back to work:
Don't worry about going back to work just yet. You've still got 11 rounds of chemo, and I don't think you could work full-time until that's over. Just concentrate on staying well.
You will always have what you need, when you need it.
Cut yourself some slack - we've had a really hard couple of years.
It'll get better.
On what to do next:
You've been blessed with the opportunity to figure out what you really want in life. Take it!
Now's the time to learn something new. Take some classes, maybe go back to school.
Maybe you should write a book.
Been thinking about that, actually...
On my horse career:
You've got this crazy ability to read horses. Use it!
Working on it!
Why aren't you teaching riding lessons? You need to be teaching riding lessons!
When you remember who you are, and I remember who I am, we remember: We are ONE.