A new old identity

A year ago today, I started bleeding and this whole cancer journey started. A year ago tomorrow, I got my diagnosis of kidney cancer, and the following day was told it was stage 4, and to not expect a cure.

Years ago, after I finished graduate school, but before I met Reil and had our two children, there were moments when I struggled with what to do next with my life. Although I was working, I didn’t have the constant structure of school – classes, projects and assignments, tests, my graduate assistant job, etc – and within the previous 3 years had achieved all of my educational goals: a BS in the sciences and a Master of Library Science. So, with less structure and no medium range goals, I felt a bit adrift.

In the year since my cancer diagnosis, I’ve experienced similar feelings. I can’t make long term goals, how long do I have?. I am hesitant to make medium or short term goals as well. Planning, in general, has been difficult, but not knowing how long I’ll be around makes some goal making feel silly. I find that I think about goals for our kids much more than I think about goals for myself.

This lack of planning, lack of goals, sometimes makes me feel as if my life now consists mainly of sitting around, waiting to die. And I struggle against that. I don’t want to be defined by cancer, defined by a terminal diagnosis. Yeah, even though that’s the whole subject of this blog. 🙂 Instead, I’ve found that falling back into a label that I used to use on myself has helped.


For many years in the 90s and early 00s, I made and showed quilts around the country. I showed in galleries and small and large quilt shows. I showed as part of a group and had individual shows. I sold most of what I made. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do better, more innovative, work. To be the next big thing in the art quilt world.

And eventually, I burned myself out. I stopped quilting, almost entirely. When we moved back to California from the DC area, I sold or gave away all but one box of fabric, culling my collection by about 90%. I just couldn’t deal with it. Didn’t want to deal with the pressure, internal or otherwise.

And then last fall, I decided to make a quilt. I went to Joann, bought some fabric, and started to work. Since then, I’ve purchased a lot more fabric. A LOT MORE. And I’ve once again embraced the craft that I used to love so much.

And you know what? This time it is so much better. I’m having so much fun. I make what I want to make, when I want to make it. I don’t worry whether it will be shown in a gallery or if someone will buy it or even want it. I’m not worried about where it will go when it is done. I just enjoy the time working on it. The colors. The feel of the fabric. The hum of the machine. The heat of the iron.

I don’t worry if I’m making anything original. In most cases, I’m not. I DON’T CARE. (Oh god, how good that feels!) I’m making something beautiful, if not to anyone else, then at least to me.

Some of my finished quilts

Some of my finished quilts

And I find that with quilting, I am giving myself goals that I don’t have to worry whether they’ll be achieved, if I’ll make it long enough. I hope to finish all of the quilts I’ve started – there’s currently about 11 quilt tops waiting to be quilted, and I start new projects every week. But the reality is that even if I get all of those finished, there will still be more to make. And I doubt I’ll time death, or more realistically, the point when I cannot function well enough to sew, precisely with getting all my projects completed. And that’s ok.

For now, it’s just good enough to be able to spend my days with one of the loves of my life.


6 thoughts on “A new old identity

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