~Happy New Year 2015 ~
Opal, our cat, watched me from her perch in the book shelf.
It was December 22 and I was racing against a deadline, well aware that last year I did not get this accomplished. But I had good reasons, because I encountered some unexpected circumstances that exploded our world just one year ago. No one could have anticipated what would enter our life as we walked unaware, into 2014. That was one year ago, today! This article is a look back through 2014, from the rear view mirror.
January, was an exciting month for me as an artist. My mixed media fiber piece, The Dragon’s Healing Breast Plate, was on display at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, in the New Collective exhibition. Bob and I attended the opening night. So exciting!
A couple weeks later, back at the PCA I participated on a four person panel at a conference on sight loss and the arts. After that program, I was photographed in the gallery with my art work. This photo appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. I think it is a great photo because my mobility cane is clearly visible – my long white cane – my badge of courage – my guide through life – my visible life as a blind artist and writer. This photo shows what is “normal” for me these days, yet, I seldom even think about it. I just keep on going. After all, we are all the person we THINK about being, and I think about being productive and happy as much as possible. Most of all, I think about sharing the gifts I have with everyone – gifts of Humanities and Faith.
Well, yes, you can already imagine that January was a crazy busy month – I presented a workshop at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. It would be at a conference on Disabilities and Inclusion, sponsored annually by the university president. Bob and I arrived very early in the morning to set up my display of pottery and fiber arts. I addressed the audience about how a blind person functions in everyday life, and how I adapted as a visual artist who had lost most of my sight just 7 years earlier. It was so nice to be back on campus and see all the fantastic changes that have made the university I earned 2 of my 3 degrees at SRU. (Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1998; MA in English Literature in 1994.) The audience at SRU was engaging. Bob and I had such a pleasant day meeting people and looking over the new buildings on campus. The official photographer took many photos and a video was made during my presentation. It was such a good day for Bob and I to be there together. SRU became a central part of my academic life from 1985 through 1994. How great it is to occasionally have a look back.
Oh, but amid all that good stuff I just related, something else was going on, too. In January, Bob had symptoms of “something wrong.” Those fluttering, persistent, and silent symptoms escalated quickly; Bob collapsed and was unconscious in a local restaurant. The rescue squad arrived within two minutes and after a long time of working on him in the back of an ambulance, he was “brought back” by the rescue team, then taken by ambulance to the local hospital. For the next three months, Bob was tested, prodded, stuck with needles, thumped, scoped, observed, catheterized, and mis-diagnosed by numerous local doctors and specialists.
At last, the two-person exhibition, Vision and Revision, opened. I had conceived, organized, and promoted this show for over a year. Opening night was on March 7th at Merrick Art Gallery, New Brighton, PA. When I stood in the gallery and surveyed the work of my hands. I was so joyful as I greeted my friends, family, and gallery visitors who flooded into the show for several hours. Prior to this night, I had worked in my solitary studio for over a year to make my art of Ceramic sculpture and Mixed-Media Fiber for this special show. Bob had worked diligently with me to set up my work so it was cohesive and on opening night some of our family members came early to greet visitors and handle the many sales of my work. The night was a success and sales exceeded my dreams. In such moments I can feel the love that peple have for me and my work because they love it and want to live with it in their own homes. That is the highest compliment I can ever have. I get so excited when I get the “red dots” put up on the walls beside my work – the red dot means the work is sold. I posed for photographs with the visitors and the collectors. We artists gave a special “artist talk” during an intermission and the audience kept asking me so many questions about my work and how I do it without sight. Bob and I had a stunning night and we felt so happy. It was a “night to remember” for a life-time in the arts for me. In 2015 I will celebrate 39 years of exhibiting my art work world-wide.
As our year progressed, it was finally on April 17th that Bob received a correct diagnoses. We both stood at the phone when Dr. Islam called and said, “Bob, this is a very aggressive disease. It is blood cancer. It’s called Acute Myeloid Leukemia, AML, and you have to get to the hospital in Pittsburgh immediately. We have to begin treatment…you will be there for a month…it has to begin today!”
At that moment, a shift took place in the lives of our entire family. At 9 pm, Bob entered his new home-away-from-home for this year. This floor is called, T-7 at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. Our daughter, Salome’ drove to our house, gathered us up and deliver us to the hospital. We were all in shock, numb. What do you take on a moments notice when you are told you will be there for a month? There was no way anyone could prepare for this night in any way. We were drifting along in a dream that had turned into our worst nightmare. We felt lost at sea.
Spring and summer passed and the warm weather and pleasant days are a blur in my mind. This year is remembered by admission and discharge dates at the hospital. We packed bags to leave home; we unpacked bags when he came back home. Departures and arrivals are the keys to our our normal mind-set most of the time We circled around in the troubled waters of a disease which tried to swallow our entire family. Bob had more hospitalizations – more chemo treatments- more rough seasons – more medications – more – more – and more.
I did my best to keep things as normal as I could at home with the four cats and two dogs to care for, interspersed with little periods of creativity and trying to manage our home and our business affairs. I had water problems that a friend came and fixed. Then, I had electrical issues, and another friend showed up to fix them. Lawnwork needed to be done by family and friends who showed up and helped out. I cannot drive, so needed transportation – and sometimes it was hard to find and frustrating. At those times it was very lonely and unsteady.
Art making took a shift to the back of my thoughts and somehow I managed to get 2 pieces of fiber art work done for the entire year – and another piece in progress laying on my table at the end of the year. That will turn into my first piece of the New Year, I suspect. Writing continued to be a passion as it has been my entire life. Words have always been important for me in dealing with everything from the highest highs, to the lowest depths of my life-journey.
And, so, it was, that I started a Facebook page for Bob’s journey. I called it “Bob Lambert Diary” for I expected it would be a photo diary of his journey from the beginning of his life with AML. This was a way that I could disperse information on the disease to help others, and a way to let the public know what was happening with bo. And, most of all, it was a way to let people know what his prayer needs are because I know for certain that prayers will be what brings us all through this shift in our lives. This diary would give us wonderful photos to look back over so we could see how far we have traveled as we look back in the rear view mirror of the journey to wholeness for Bob. Today, on the first day of 2015, I am looking BACK and smiling in the rear view mirror of the last year.
I had another exhibition of “Vision and Revision: Two Artists with Sight Loss, Not Loss of Vision.” It was at Jameson Hospital in New Castle, PA and ran from April 7th through July 7th. I was unable to attend the opening but got to enjoy the show later in it’s run with Bob when he returned home from his first stay in the hospital on June 2nd. What a joy to walk through this beautiful show with him and know he could enjoy it with me. Later, I visited the show with our daughters, Ilsa and Heidi. We had fun taking photos of my work on display in such a lovely gallery setting.
Two additional juried exhibitions finished out the year and moved into the New year. Somehow, I managed to write, make art, serve on two panel discussions and conferences, and do my exhibitions and publications between all the hard times and hospitalizations. That is how creativity is – nothing can take it away. When God pours out such gifts to people, the gifts are forever available in all the challenges of life. That is why I sing about the glories of the Humanities and Faith in all I do.
On September 25th, Bob was hospitalized for the fourth time. Now, he would get a fourth round for a week. The long awaited day came on October 2, when he had a stem cell transplant. His donor lives in a different country and the stem cells were flown to Pittsburgh and transplanted into Bob. It is a miraculous process and at age 73 Bob was given the immune system of a 48 year old man. This hospitalization would be a month-long one, too. It was followed up by several weeks in “short stay” and two or three trips to Pittsburgh every week for the remainder of the year and into the New Year! Our daughter Salome’ took off work each week to transport us back and forth – a gift beyond price. It is also a gift of her presence for us, as before this time we were not able to see her so often due to her work schedule. It was also another blessing for us to have another pair of eyes and ears taking in all the complex medical changes and scheduling the many hour-long trips to Pittsburgh.
Each day brings new challenges. Thankfully, we are blessed with a wonderful family, good neighbors, and dear friends who have helped us in many ways. The challenges are beyond anything we could ever imagine in our worst nightmares. In the middle of it all, our God is with us and we have had miraculous guidance and the best oncology team possible. Keep Bob in your prayers please, for the upcoming year!
Currently, Bob is working on our income tax materials! He works during the times when his energy level is up and rests in-between as needed. He does what he can and he is a determined warrior – armed for the battle against AML. I stay busy helping him out and most of all keeping his spirits up. We find many things to enjoy and laugh about every day no matter what is going on. We do our best to keep our speech positive and uplifting and to encourage others. I think Bob is a great candidate for a POSTER CHILD for AML, if there was such a thing! Bob has more courage than any person I have ever known – he is brave beyond boundaries.
As we walked down the street together last week. I was laughing. He asked me why. I said, “Look at the two of us. We are still standing. We are together. and we are at the end of a year of more trials than anyone would ever want or choose to go through. Yet, we are here and I am walking beside you. You are a miracle!” He laughed with me in the cold winter sunshine.
Bob and I saying “good bye” to T-7 at West Penn Hospital last November.
At the beginning of 2015 – here is what I know for sure:
God is good. I can say from my heart, He can bring you through any trials you may encounter at any time in your life. Oh, but wait just a minute! This is not the end!
Bob has a Community Page on FaceBook at: https://www.facebook.com/boblambertdiary
Lynda has a FaceBook Page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/River-Road-Studio/175785105811956
SCANdalous, llambert363.wordpress.com – My blog features essays which focus on Humanities and Faith.
My website and blog (Walking by Inner Vision) : www.lyndalambert.com too!
Thanks for being our FRIEND in real life, or,
through your prayers, and on the “net” – Lynda and Bob
Lynda McKinney Lambert. Copyright, 2015. All Rights Reserved.