While I was recovering from my stem cell transplant, I was at home with my then 5-year-old daughter full time. She wasn't able to attend preschool due to the pandemic and my being immunocompromised. We were running out of things to do at the house, and so on a whim, I decided to buy an Apple pencil for my iPad. I have always been creative and crafty, but I wouldn't call myself an artist. However, I wanted to try my hand at drawing as a way to process some of what I had been through (and help with the boredom). Little did I know that this decision would forever shape the future of my life!
A few months later, I decided to open up an Etsy shop under the same name as my Instagram, "Oh, You’re So Tough." My idea was to create non-traditional cancer products with a humorous twist. I know that I personally never felt "brave," "strong," or like a "warrior" while I was going through treatment. However, that type of sentiment was generally the only one available on cancer products. I am blessed to say I have been able to grow a successful Etsy shop with this premise, and I have made many people laugh along the way.
That is what makes it all worth it for me. Around this same time, I started sharing a few of my artworks on my Instagram. I was surprised just how open and willing others were to connect with me over these shared experiences and feelings. I was able to make awareness more relatable and, therefore, reach more people. A few months into sharing my artwork, I began getting stories from fellow survivors of their "wtf" moments with the people in their lives, such as telling them to just "forget" about their cancer and get over it. From that, I developed a twice-weekly, ongoing art project where I take survivor and patient stories and translate them into art, a "post secret" of sorts but with original art pieces.
I have been consistently sharing my experiences, awareness pieces, and stories of the cancer community for over a year now. I am so thrilled that my Instagram page has become a place for cancer patients to feel seen and supported (and to laugh too). I have heard from many folks who say they met their cancer bestie on my page, and that truly warms my heart. I try to take the time to write back to each person who sends me a message because I remember being the person on the other end when I was in the middle of treatment. The value of having a sense of community and being "seen" cannot be understated. I have been able to translate my art into other projects that I am proud of.
One of the main ones is three children's books about various aspects of cancer. The first one I wrote was about my own hair loss and how it affected my daughter. Two of my books are given out free through a charity called "Bright Spot Network," and the day I found out they had chosen my book, I cried my eyes out. I was so happy that my book was going to be available for other families who needed it. I have also published a non-traditional cancer coloring book (because we all know cancer patients need another coloring book, ha). Right now, as I type this, I am coming up on my two-year, post-transplant scan in about two weeks. My second re-birthday is on April 1, 2022 (and yes, the irony that it's on April Fool’s Day is not lost on me). If this scan is good, “knock on wood,” I will not have to get routine scans anymore. This is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
I will never say I am happy I had cancer, but I am happy with how my life is turning out. Every time a fellow member of the cancer family tells me that something I have posted helped them if even in a small way, it makes everything worth it.