A butterfly garden grows at Art Prize

 

AP 2017 Illustration

“People will come and see that a part of them is there. Patients can feel part of something bigger – instead of just going in for chemo.” — Zahrah Resh

Now I know how a caterpillar feels: I went for a visit with my oncologist and emerged a butterfly.

In Art Prize. Really.

Unexpected defines everything about cancer. This was one of the uppers.

With luck, it will be for some 6,500 of us, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Having resumed normal breathing after a regular 6-month visit with my oncologist at Cancer and Hematology Centers of Western Michigan in Spectrum Health’s Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, I stopped at scheduling to set up my next appointment.

The luck of the draw took me to Chris Ackerman. 

butterflies Chris Ackerman
Chris Ackerman and my butterfly.

Scheduling business done, she pushed two green squares of paper toward me, and told me to write a message of hope to another cancer patient on one of them.  She would use the other to fashion a butterfly.

Say what? 

Never one to do as told without the “why,” I went after that first.

My message would be turned into one of hopefully 6,500 butterflies, Chris explained.

A scheduler for two years at CHCWM, Chris was roaming Art Prize, Grand Rapids’s gia-normous  yearly art show, and got to thinking about the patients she saw daily.

Many of us are too sick to make the trek to the almost 200 venues in Art Prize, and Chris said she suddenly thought, “It’s just another grief — something they’re excluded from.”

She resolved to do something about it.

About the same time, Michigan artist and gallery owner Zahrah Resh, a thyroid cancer survivor treated in Grand Rapids, was looking for an Art Prize venue. 

She talked about it with Dr. Steven J. Dupuis, who specializes in hospice and palliative medicine. He introduced her to Chris.

Hope, Heal, Soar takes off

Resh sent a proposal for her Hope, Heal, Soar project to Chris and Dr. Mark Campbell, a member of the Physician Executive Team at CHCWM, and with support and funding from Cancer and Hematology Centers and approval from Spectrum, the project took off, she said.

Come Art Prize 2017,  September 20-October 8, she will convert the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion’s lobby into a garden filled with 6,500 butterflies of painted and handmade paper personalized by patients, staff, volunteers, families  and friends of CHCWM and Spectrum Health.

There will be butterfly-making stations during Art Prize, and visitors will be able to make memorial butterflies, Chris said.

“I wanted 6,500 butterflies,” Resh told me. “We have at least 2,500 to go.”

The garden will feature “trees” of dried bamboo about 18 feet high in planters and  “flowers” in the form of parasols she found in San Diego. 

The project is very personal for Resh.

“People will come and see that a part of them is there,” she said. “Patients can feel part of something bigger – instead of just going in for chemo.” 

Through this project, cancer patients will be included in Art Prize, Chris said.

Support takes flight

“I hope when they see the butterflies, they will feel and sense the faith and support around them.”

Mine will be somewhere among the flutter bugs. 

Butterflies - Sue Schroder's
Sister Sue Tracy’s message takes wing on my butterfly.

Its message, “Tears are the safety valve of the heart,” came to me originally through Sister Sue Tracy, my late friend, cancer veteran and long-time oncology chaplain at Spectrum Health.

As I waited for my most recent appointment, I half expected to see her flying through the waiting room at CHCWM as usual, leaving smiles and strength in her wake.

Now I’m thinking she was there after all. I just didn’t see her.

After lung cancer: 5Ks and counting

Sister Sue Charlie Vandebyl photo DSC_2296 2
Man on the run

“She treated cancer like a speed bump: You slow down for awhile, do what you have to do, then move on.” — Charlie Vandebyl

Charlie Vandebyl met Sister Sue Tracy the first time he visited Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids after brain surgery.

Diagnosed in 2012 with lung cancer which metastasized into the brain, he underwent brain surgery and radiation, and later, surgery for the lung cancer.

“I walked in (to Gilda’s Club  about 5 o’clock one evening, and first person I met was Sister Sue … I don’t think I even had the staples out of my head.

“ ‘That’s a pretty fancy zipper you’ve got going on up there,’ she says and gives me a big hug.”

No lock on that zipper

He told her she was the second person to tell him that:

He’d stayed at his son’s house after surgery, and the morning after he got there, his 7-year-old grandson wandered into the bathroom.

“I was trying to get cleaned up, I had matted hair with blood on it.
‘He looks at me with the most sincere look on his face and says, ‘Grandpa, did those doctors put in a zipper???’ ”

Sue hooted and told him he needed to get up on stage that evening and tell that story — it would make people laugh.

Drafted on first

“My first foray to Gilda’s, my first meeting with Sister Sue, my first experience with public speaking … I thought it very bold of her, but it turned out it just part of the norm of her.

“It’s such a loss to lose someone like that, but the memories you have of her just pick you up and move you along.

“If someone like that can do all she’s done, the people she’s touched and given hope… “That’s what I look back on and draw from whenever I’m having a bad day.

“Every time I saw her, it was such a blessing to me. Knowing what she’s been through and all the cancers, she just exudes hopes. She has no idea the effect she had on people.”

Present tense even though the Dominican Sister Grand Rapids died a year ago?

“She’s still here with us and she watches us all the time. I know she does.
“I wonder if, when we start to slow down or falter or lose hope, if she might give us one of the kickstarts we need and we don’t even know it.”

He continues to pay the lessons forward regularly as a Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids volunteer, and as an example of possibilities.

“She showed you that you could be living with cancer, not dying with cancer.
I think she treated cancer like a speed bump: You slow down for awhile, do what you have to do, then move on.”

His cancer status now

He is running 5 Ks, does spin class twice a week, lift weights 3 days a week; and swims a mile 3 days a week.

After surgery to remove the entire upper lobe of his right lung, “They told me, ‘There are a lot of things you won’t be able to do because of limited lung capacity.’

“But a therapist told me, ‘if you get into heavy exercise you can hyperextend the middle and lower lobe to take over. ‘

“I still have some breathing issues — especially when I start exercising, but pulmonary function tests show I’m almost average for a person my age not missing any lobes.”

Scratch that age thing: “I don’t use my age: Just say I’m a Level 63.

“ A lot of my life involves forced effort to breathe.

“ Sister Sue would say, ‘Be thankful for every breath’ — and I am.”