Thursday, April 10, 2014


In my previous post, I mentioned that I have been dealing with a progressively worsening illness. I have Stage IV Endometriosis (endo). One in ten women have endo so it is not something unusual, it is just not a very well known disease.

I should stop to give a quick disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and any info on this blog is meant as a record of my own experiences. I am sharing what is going on in my life to spread awareness and understanding, not for sympathy. I am a tough lady.  :)

Alrighty. So, what is Endometriosis? To sum it up, endo is the growth of endometrial cells outside of the uterus that cause irritation and pain through cysts, scarring, and adhesions. Endo can also cause infertility, chronic pain, and fatigue which can bring along depression, anxiety, and isolation.

I am a visual learner so when I was researching this disease, I found the following video from the World Endometriosis Society. It shows and describes endo pretty clearly.

Every woman with endo experiences it differently. Some women with Stage I endo have huge amounts of pain while some women with Stage IV don't find out they have endo until there are complications with fertility.

My story with endo may have started when I was in high school. I had extremely painful periods. By my senior year, I wanted to be put on birth control to help with periods and acne. The pain lessened and I went on with my life. There were a few rough months here and there but for the most part, I just chalked it up to normal pains that every woman has to go through.

A little over three years ago, I got off birth control with the hope of having a child with my husband. I got off all medications, started taking prenatal vitamins, and started researching and planning. The painful periods were back but they were manageable. After 6 months with no luck, I started tracking my cycles more closely and doing more research. A year passed, still nothing, periods getting a little worse. At the year and a half mark, I talked to my general doctor when I was in for a yearly exam. Since babies were on the brain, I didn't talk about period pain much, I just wanted to know the next step to achieve pregnancy. She sent me to see a doctor at a women's clinic and I was given some advice, told that stress might be making things harder, and that if I still had no luck after another year, I should return for tests.

A year later I returned and one test was done that turned out to be inconclusive. By then, I was losing a little hope and started questioning myself. If I am not pregnant by now, does that mean I am not meant to be a mom? Is something wrong with my body?

It turns out there was. Around the three year mark of infertility was about the same time that my period pain started interfering with my life. Even with the highest dose of pain meds, I was getting pale, shaky, and dizzy from the pain. The breaking point came when I could not stand up straight at work and had to lay down in the break room so I wouldn't pass out. It finally made me question if the period pain could be connected with infertility. As I always do, I researched the heck out of my symptoms and found that endometriosis fit pretty closely.

I contacted the women's clinic with my idea of what could be the issue. My doctor confirmed that it seemed like the correct diagnosis but the only way we could tell for sure was to do a diagnostic laparoscopy - an outpatient surgery where they fill the abdomen with air and then make a few small incisions to peek inside with a camera. I had the surgery in January and my doctor took photos while checking things out. To keep things more light-hearted and not so graphic, I drew simple illustrations of what things look like in there.

My doctor told my husband that the endo adhesions were basically trying to give my organs a 'big hug'. They have completely surrounded my uterus, my right fallopian tube and ovary, part of my left fallopian tube, and some of my bowels. I also have one chocolate cyst (filled with blood) and quite a few other cysts.

With the endo being so extensive, I was recommended to a fertility specialist that is highly skilled in cases like mine. She met with my husband and me recently and told us it would be smart to have surgery as soon as they could schedule it. On May 21st, she will try to remove all the cysts and adhesions with laparoscopic robotic surgery. The healing time will be 2-3 weeks. Once I am feeling well enough, I have been instructed to try for pregnancy before the adhesions grow back. With Stage IV endo, fertility is not a promise but In Vitro or adoption are definitely options.

I am ready for the surgery and I am hoping that a lot of my symptoms lessen. Though I am tough, things have been getting progressively worse. The amount days in between times of pain is getting smaller and new pains are popping up. I am also almost always exhausted. It is not easy to sleep when in pain and I have woken up with nightmares and clenched teeth. I am tired of missing workouts and I am tired of my stomach bloating from the toxins. I am leary of taking on too many events/social commitments outside of the house because I don't want to let anyone down by withdrawing or go out and act like a basket case because I am in pain.

I know things will get better, though, and I have an amazing support group. I am glad that there is an explanation for my infertility and pain. I have been making art as personal therapy and a way to process all that my body and brain are going through. Even creating the illustrations and writing this out has helped a lot. My heart goes out to all my friends that have invisible illnesses like Endometriosis, Ehler's Danlos Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue or Pain, Fibromyalgia, Depression, IBS, Lupus, the list goes on. You are all so strong!

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this very personal blog entry!

*Read about my second surgery, here. :) *

Where'd She Go? (art-life update)

Oh man, it has been a while since I have blogged and I have missed it a lot. I hope to blog more regularly in the future. For me, it is a great way to keep focused and to process life.

Let's play a little catch-up.  :)

Solo Art Show 2013
So, the last time I shared was in August before I finished work at the cake shop. My last day there was November 8, 3013 and then I had my very first solo art show that weekend at Bright Red Studios in Madison, WI. The show was a huge success! I sold many prints of my work, had a ton of amazing people come to see my art, got to show off a little body art on some beautiful friends, thank you Erin (the raven) and Lindy (Sparrows) - hair done by hair-extraordinaire Kristin Lillig, and got to explain a lot of my work by placing little meaning cards under each title card. Thank you to all of you that supported me! It made me so happy and enforced the fact that though my new path is unpredictable, this is what I am supposed to be doing.

A few shots from the solo art show, aptly titled 'New Chapter':

I had the honor of being chosen as one of three Semi-Finalists for RAW Madison's Artist of the Year! I won this title in 2012 and talented fellow artist, Miranda Morrissey, won it for 2013.
To promote the awards show, a few other RAW artists and I were invited to talk on a local morning show. I brought along the lovely Brittany as a model for some of my body art. (Thank you for getting up at 3am with me so we could get ready!)

During the awards show, I displayed some of my visual art along with my body art as I painted four different models as attendees watched. My special trick for the night was that I used UV body paint that glowed in blacklight. Thank you to my models: Amanda, Erin, Katie, and Lindy!

Project Famous
It's funny what starting a blog can become. I ended up selling one of the first pieces I blogged about AND I caught the eye of an online local arts magazine, Project Famous, run by the wonderful Kelly Lajter and Joey Broyles. After writing a piece about an art show that I attended, they asked if I would join their team as Arts Editor. I told them that I would join the team once I got past the craziness of my solo art show. Since then, I have been writing for the magazine every month, working with some talented writers and artists, and connecting with the Madison art scene more than I had ever hoped!
Check out the magazine and download issues:

Finding My New Schedule
After all the hubbub of finishing my last weeks of work, the solo art show, the awards show, some various face painting and caricature gigs, dealing with a progressively worsening illness (see next blog), and the holidays, it was suddenly the new year and time to create some kind of guidelines for my newly found state of self-employment. This was not easy and I am still working on it but I have started to find a rhythm.

After breakfast, I find that mornings are best spent on the computer, cats on lap, with a cup of tea. My body takes a while to wake up and my creativity is still snoozing. This morning time is spent answering emails, updating my website and social media sites, editing photos, writing, making to-do lists, researching for projects, etc. Sometimes my computer time switches to early afternoon if a workout is scheduled in the morning and that seems to work well.

By late afternoon/early evening I am itching to create! This is when I hop down to my art cave where I usually have multiple projects in progress. When I am on a roll, sometimes Mark has to remind me when it is time for dinner or time for bed. I can get caught up when it comes to making art.

This is the ideal schedule for my week days. Weekends are mainly filled with art shows, gigs plus social events, church, and some quality time with my husband. This whole setup is peppered with day to day responsibilities, too - meetings, groceries, cleaning, cooking, pet care, etc. Days rarely turn out as expected but I am learning to be kinder to myself, taking each day as it happens and enjoying the small successes.

Here is some of the art I have made recently (late 2013, early 2014):

Yay art! Hi, are you still with me? This is turning out to be a pretty long post, further proving the point that I have to blog more often! Anyhow, thank you for sticking with it if you have gotten this far. Just a little more to go...

Zombillies - The Greater Midwest Body Art Convention and Competition 2014The ladies of Glitter to Gore outdid themselves! They worked really hard to bring some fantastic body art and sfx instructors to Madison and I looooved the classes! If you are curious about the classes I took, I wrote a whole article that will be in the May issue of Project Famous.

The competition was based on the Zombillies theme, a mix of Rockabilly culture plus zombie style. I created a character named Hot-Rod Rita, a freshly zombified hot-rod pinup model. Before the competition, I sketched, made a headpiece, painted flames on the fake nails, re-worked a bustle (with the help of my mom's seamstress skills), met with my friend/model, Amy-Jo, and practiced wound work and paint techniques. I also worked in some of the new knowledge from the convention classes.

The competition was 6 hours long and the time passed very quickly! Amy-Jo was, as always, an excellent model; she kept still when I was doing detail work, took direction easily, and was just all around fun to work with because of her positive/silly attitude. I ended up placing third for body painting!

What's next?
After doing so much with body art during March, the next few months are packed with visual art shows! I was just in a gallery show at Yellow Rose Gallery, I have will be showing art in two places for Madison's Gallery Night in May, I am making art for the new gallery in Mt. Horeb, Opera House Gallery, I am an artist for the Madison Art Hunt in June, and then I will be the featured artist at Art and Soul Tattoo in New Glarus in August. Also, scheduled are face painting gigs, caricature gigs, and some quality time with my friends and family. Busy times! Adding these events to my website is going on my to-do list now!

This will be my first summer in eleven years that is not pre-structured by the wedding and graduation season. Strange but true. I miss making cakes and my friends from the cake shop (hi guys, I love you!), but I am excited to experience what is ahead.

Thank you so much for reading!