Cancer Is Just Slightly Annoying

So as some of you may know, I’ve gotten sick again, and only now finally after almost 2 months is it being taken care of in full. I’m having 3 surgeries done at once (possibly 4 in the worst case scenario, and it’s a really bad one so I don’t even wanna think about it), and I’m hoping that will be the end of it. Sure, I’m going to have annoying side effects for some years to come, but I’ll gladly take them right now.

Despite the “greatest healthcare system” in the world, it still took the initiative of ordering my own ultrasound to find out I was in serious trouble even though I’m not even 4 years out of having cancer the last time. I’ve had 3 doctors more scared I would sue them than the fact I can’t stand up straight + am carrying a growing mass the size of a baseball in my gut; 2 oncologists; tests that were never ordered; scans that got delayed; scans that were read wrong; consent forms that went missing; orders not put in because someone went on vacation; surprise tubes shoved up my butt at 9am; giving my entire family medical history for the 6th time to a guy who was texting and getting snarky with me about the proper name of my syndrome; and having to fight to even get a prescription for the baby sissy Xanax when I freaked out crying in my car — and I’m not a crier.

Oh, did I mention I have more tests next week I have to do, and my surgery isn’t until the 28th now because someone forgot to book it? And, I was told not to pay attention to the online MyChart as for directions and schedules because it is “not accurate” and “kind of messed up” as opposed to what I’ll be getting via UPS from the actual surgical team. Man, when Cleveland Clinic can’t even have a reliable website, that’s kind of screwy!

ANYWAY, thank you all for the encouragement and mutual outrage you’ve been feeling along with me as I’ve been dealing with this bureaucratic nightmare. I don’t understand it; this has been an experience that is almost the opposite of when I had the liposarcoma. Mercury retrograde? Shitty start to the year?  Who knows? It’s actually been a really crappy 2 months for just about all of my friends. The running joke — although I’m serious about it — is for us all to take a Xanax, have a Botox party, and then go to a crappy dive in Cleveland for karaoke. That’s my idea of fun right now.

In the meantime, I’m just going to do what I need to do for my art shows and my husband’s book tour, and read some of these books. I’m so paralyzed by anxiety, anger, and a general “I Don’t Care About Anything Anymore!!!” feeling that the best I can do is just be like a catatonic 19th Century British aristocrat, and get on with it. I knew this disease wasn’t done with me the second I awoke after the surgery on my leg — I just knew it! I didn’t think I’d be back into the mix so soon, though.

Medical Themed Art Show in Cleveland

I’m pleased to announce my next solo show is April 4th at BAYarts! I have been teaching kids classes at the beautiful BAYarts campus in Bay Village for several years now, so I’m really excited to be exhibiting there. This exhibit will depict fun stuff like amputees, ocular prosthesis, virgin goddesses, and maybe a nude or two. The irony is that I’ve been having health problems, again, and I’m due for another surgery as I’m trying to get work done for this exhibition — so it might not have as many pieces as I had planned originally. However, this is my first big solo show in Ohio since 2009, so I hope you’ll join me. Facebook invite here.

“Ephemeral Antidotes: Revisited”

April 4th – 25th, 2014

Sullivan Family Gallery @ BAYarts, Bay Village, Ohio

Opening Reception: Friday, April 4th 7pm – 9pm


In 2010 Arabella Proffer was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer, and in the process of being treated, she discovered a 16th century painting of Saints Cosmas and Damian where it appeared the “cure” for her particular ailment had changed little. The result of the traumatic experience of having a section of her leg removed gave way to a new fervent interest in medical history, and is chronicled in the afflictions of her fictional female portraits.

After discovering the Dittrick Museum of Medical History was located in Cleveland she spent time doing research, and attending lectures there, that would help fuel inspiration for ways to combine this new fascination with her art. “This series was a good way for me to work out my anger and be even more thankful that what I’m going through is nothing compared to old remedies and techniques. My art and interests were in the way society lived in the past, but with emphasis on the defiant, glamorous, and eccentric. You could have been rich, important, or beautiful, but if sick you would still receive brutal or worthless treatment,” says Proffer, “but I also fell in love with old medical illustrations; they somehow made gorgeous artwork even though it depicts amputation and syphilis.”

“Ephemeral Antidotes: Revisited” explores the medical superstitions and practices of centuries past with a touch of magic realism. Continuing the theme from her 2012 solo show that took place at Loved to Death, in San Francisco, the subjects in her paintings are accompanied by a biography — all written by Proffer — highlighting the fascinating and misguided aspects of old medicine. Proffer takes inspiration from old world mannerist portraiture and medical illustrations of the 14th and 15th centuries while weaving in her own contemporary punk and goth sensibility. Done in oil on linen, her stylized subjects are bold and colorful, yet reveal a hint of the sinister.

Described as everything from neorealism to pop surrealism, her work touches on themes of identity, history, rebellion, and refinement. Earning her BFA from California Institute of the Arts, Arabella Proffer has participated in group and solo exhibitions throughout North America, Europe, parts of the Middle East, and Australia. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she has taken up residence in Laguna Beach (she went to high school there, thankfully, before the reality show), Boston, Los Angeles, and currently works from her studio in Lakewood, Ohio.

Gallery talk Wednesday, April 9th 6:30pm – 7:30pm


Have I Mentioned Cancer Sucks, Lately?

I have a few friends who have had their own cancer battles recently. They are keeping track of odd anniversaries they way I did, except now, I’m trying to forget those anniversaries. Obviously the day I was told I had a tumor in my leg is hard to forget, because it was on my birthday. But the rest, I try to forget and I don’t want to keep track anymore. Let’s just say September is a month I have grown to loathe;  it’s not only when I had the surgery to remove my thigh, but when my father died of cancer as well. I understand they want to keep track as a form of achievement, but I guess I just don’t want to be reminded. I get enough reminding.

Since June of 2010 I feel like I have been to a doctor’s office or the Cleveland Clinic main campus at least once every 2 weeks — that’s not even counting the daily visits I had for a summer. I’m sure if I look through my appointments, it would average out to that. I have had complications with my lady parts thanks to the cancer, as well as invasive procedures and more testing of my DNA. Did I tell you that my new exciting cancer syndrome may eventually be named “Proffer Syndrome”? It’s true, because they can’t keep saying “it’s like Lynch Syndrome” for long before the insurance company wonders how they hell they are supposed to bill it. We’ll know it’s official if you go to Wikipedia and there’s either a picture of me, my dad, or a close-up of cells from my samples given. Oh yes, my DNA is in an official database now, too. Maybe they’ll engineer some cancer-proof wolverines or something. I’m due for another preventative procedure on top of surgeries being discussed for down the line, but I decided against it. Frankly, I’m too middle class to afford this ongoing medical maintenance anymore.

Everything was going fine lately; I opted out of using my cane a lot of the time because it’s a real pain in the ass to carry everywhere. Have you ever tried to hold a cocktail glass, a purse, a cane, and try to shake people’s hands? I started swimming, doing the treadmill, I was doing more things in a normal way. My back has been a real problem (like having to leave events early because I need to lie flat somewhere), but aside from that my only mobility issues still being that I won’t ever be able to run, inclines hurt, and doing stairs like a toddler. Seeing a long flight of stairs still gives me a scare — especially if I’m in high heels.

Everything was dandy, until late Friday night. All I did was get up from a chair and then pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop! And suddenly I was half standing while everything inside my knee and my re-structured hamstring fell apart. It felt like the opening scene from Prometheus when the alien DNA starts to melt and unravel. As I stood, I realized my knee was not aligned, and as I was sobbing in a fit of panic, it suddenly shifted back into place. My hamstring has been in pain about as bad as it was post-surgery. Thank God for my doctor answering a page to get me vicodin until my x-rays tomorrow. So much for me trying to forget and pretend I don’t have something missing from my leg; and it’s true that almost anytime I try to act like nothing is wrong or be a hero, it will throw something in my face to show me all is not normal.

On the phone today, my surgeon’s nurse said, “knees are a problem, and it only gets worse the older you get. You can’t act like you can do anything normal from now on, and you aren’t even old, so imagine later down the line”. This was exactly why I was sobbing so bad as my husband held me not knowing what to do after the whole episode — what am I going to do when I’m older and he’s not there? The whole thing happened so fast, and really all I needed at that point was something to make me sleep through the pain of the trauma, but what if I hadn’t caught the table and had fallen? Hell, what am I going to do when my surgeon retires? Because he’s the only one who knows specifically what he did to that leg! My surgery was not a normal one by any means, and I was lucky to have the best man in the world to do it. I’m told my case is unusual in that he made it so I can feel my foot!

If this is the kind of thing I am going to deal with at 34, what about when I’m 70? 80? My husband is 14 years older than me, and I can tell you right now that there’s no way I’ll have a retirement stashed enough to be at a robot cabana boy retirement home after he’s gone. He said to me that night, “well, I just won’t die then”, which was actually kind of romantic. He sort of is a vampire (anyone who has met him and then finds out his age can attest to that), so maybe he can pull it off?

Have I mentioned that cancer sucks, lately? Well, it does!

Attitude and Cancer? I’ll Take Science

One thing that has irritated me for the past few years is when I get advice or remarks from people about how “mind over matter” or holistic approaches may have/may aid in all the cancer bullshit I’ve had.

I’m currently waiting for my DNA results (no, unlike the movies you have to wait 6 weeks) to see what the diagnosis is with which syndrome I have. My mom and I already know, but doctors need it to assess the situation as far as my continued care. I’m already needing an organ removed as a precaution, and other complications have popped up that will always have to be monitored. It’s a DNA issue all around; it was pre-programmed, and getting cancer was going to happen to me no matter how I tried to avoid it.

As well meaning as it may sound, flippant remarks and pontification with regard to someone who has a pretty severe case of an advanced disease is just plain idiotic. I’d like it stop. That my “good attitude” saved me, that “God” had something to do with it; that maybe I got cancer because I smoked, drank, did drugs in high school and college. Keith Richards says you are wrong. Maybe I ate too much processed foods, too much meat, or my milk had additives. Monsanto didn’t give me liposarcoma! When I get people telling me, “I hear coffee helps prevent cancer” or “tomatoes are supposed to help fight cancer” I want to smack them with a 2×4. Listen, I eat tomatoes almost every fucking day (it’s weird, I have a thing for tomatoes), and I’ve been drinking coffee since I was 21. So no, it didn’t help. Acupuncture, ginger root, reiki and all of the crap that the Whole Foods going crowd tells me to do? Guess what, I had it all done at some point in time. It doesn’t now — nor did it then — aid in fighting cancer cells. I’m not going to go and spend money I don’t have (thanks to medical bills) on your Chinese medicine hoo-ha or color therapy practitioner in hopes it will stave off anything. It won’t. I actually had someone tell me I should try to avoid radiation because it was *bad for me* and try a more holistic approach. Clearly this person was an idiot with no understanding about aggressive cancers, and they didn’t seem to get that having a massive tumor with tentacles crawling through my leg, then dying, was also bad for me. “Maybe you should meditate”, no I’m pretty sure wine helped me not have a freak-out during my treatments. It was either that or Xanax, and my oncologist said wine was an awesome choice.

A sense of humor and a sassy attitude didn’t save me. In fact, I’m pretty sure timing, lasers, the top surgeon in the world for my case, and SCIENCE saved me. Attitude had nothing to do with it. Radiation and slicing me open = winning! In fact doctors kept telling me youth was a major factor as well.

So the next person who tells me about their herbalist, or an article they read in some stupid magazine about what foods I should be eating? Well, they can suck it. Would you tell someone with a broken spine to drink mint tea and get their chakras aligned? No.

Viva la SCIENCE!

O+ Festival: Medicine and Art

I found out I was accepted into the O+ Festival taking place in Kingston, NY this coming October!

I’ll be showing a lot of my newer weird organism paintings, since the theme this year for the festival is “flux”. It’s looking to have a great line-up so far, including bands like Hopewell, The Felice Brothers, Richard Buckner, and so forth. As a participant I get free health services! Going into debt on past, and now, future cancer related to-do and all that comes with it, I’m glad I can finally just see a damn dentist and a chiropractor for my back. If you’ve been following this blog since 2010, then you know those 2 things haven’t exactly been high on the priority list of health concerns.

I’ll be attending with a posse of friends, and I’ve never been to the area around Rhinebeck, so this will be a fabulous trip — especially with the leaves turning at that time of year!

Short Trip to the Museum of Medical History

My friend Dott and I went to the Museum of Medical History on the Case Western Reserve campus. It has hours that are weird, and the rare books section was by appointment (bah) but we are both very fast when it comes to museums so an hour was all we needed. We do plan on going to this talk, however. Just in time for Halloween!

The building and libraries remind me of places around the Harvard University campus.The museum it self is very small, but the research and archives look to be quite vast. The main exhibit was on contraception and all things related to baby-making. The other exhibits looked like they were in flux, half finished or being moved, but we still saw some cool things and learned interesting facts. Did you know that to drink tea made from a Beaver’s gall bladder (among other parts) was supposed to be a baby blocker? Yep, it’s true.

Here are some photos…

I thought we should start bringing newspapers and brandy, and transform it into our own little club like the men’s clubs of London and New York in the “olden days”….except surrounded by microscopes. We also saw a slide show of old watercolor illustrations from France telling you exactly what will happen if you young men beat your meat too much! Coughing up blood, losing use of your legs, and rotting teeth are just a few of the symptoms, FYI. Also, syphilis is bad…

I need to go back again, the library alone is worth it. Totally geeked out there’s a picture of Babe Paley’s dad, Dr. Cushing, hanging up there, too.

Welcome to Hell, I’ll Be Your Tour Guide!

I’ve clocked in over 60 trips to the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus since June of last year. I find it horrifying that there are patients who have done even more than that! Most people have to travel a lot further than me — some from other states, or countries. When you have to go there often, and for many different things, you get to know the place really well. It has become routine, and it’s almost like a part-time job. The cruel irony is that I applied for a job in the art department — the whack-ass online system probably didn’t even register my resume, I doubt — and this was right before I got diagnosed!

Being that I still have to go there for the foreseeable future, I wish I could get a job with them that was like being an information desk tailored for grumpy people who are all, “oh fuck this being sick shit, I can’t believe I have to be here!“. You know, people like me who swear a lot and just want the real info, but with some surly humor, and maybe a little less of that fake compassion I encounter. I know the place too well, and being that it is laid out almost like a city, I think people would appreciate it.

You want diagnostic radiology? There it is, go see those motherfuckers, don’t bother locking up those lockers from 1977, they stick and you’ll never get your clothes back.

You want sushi? Go down to this floor by the valet dudes, it’s next to the fancy bathrooms that aren’t crowded. Oh, you want expensive sushi? There’s the fancy-ass restaurant. Maybe you’ll see a sheik, or Oprah in that bitch.

Want radiation? You want the old ass part of the complex on the 2nd floor. They’re real nice, they have the good magazines and some of the better art.

Parking that isn’t a bitch? You are shit out of luck on that one buddy, and all the handicapped spaces are taken with fatties who need a walker because they ate too much pie. But the parking garage on 100th street ain’t bad by the 3rd floor.

You need an MRI? here’s the fastest way to get there, those bitches are in the basement across the street and it’s all complicated to get down there. The TV doesn’t work in the waiting room. Bring an iPod too.

Need your eyes looked over? There’s the Cole Eye Institute across that street there, take the skyway!

Need a scented candle? The gift shop by the big Starbucks’s has all that holistic and organic bullshit.

Don’t bother going to the main Starbuck’s around noon, the line will be out the door.

Want to see droids in action? Go down to the basement of the Miller Building where you get the CT scans done; they got those fuckers hauling medical equipment and shit! They take corners and everything! Don’t get in the way, they might run over your foot.

Need to drop a deuce in a quiet area? There’s a tiny bathroom en route to the Taussig Cancer Institute, right by the creaky elevator, and the Andrea Joki artwork.

Wanna excellent view of the city? Go to the top of the Miller Pavilion, it’s fucking beautiful…for a rust belt town.

Wanna look at some photos of puppies in sweaters? In the main lobby by the electric tree — you can’t miss it!

Dying for a copy of Arthritis Magazine? Desk A41 waiting area has tons!

Need to park your RV? There’s a whole lot just for you off Chester Ave! You can BBQ and swap road stories with other RVing bitches who hang out at the clinic.

Need a cane?  go to the pharmacy hidden inside the Euclid Ave parking garage. They tend to be surly at that one, so watch out for those bitches.

Farmer’s Market? Yup they have one on the lawns in front of the Crile building. Go buy some blueberries or some other anti-oxident shit.

Getting surgery done? There’s a parking for the Surgical Center, it’s all hidden, and make sure your family members or spouse get a pager, because God knows the nurses won’t actually call their cell phone when you’ve been out of surgery for hours. FYI all the food is from Stouffer’s, and don’t get the pizza — that shit is tiny.

Wanna take a nap between appointments? Do it in the big ass lobby by the electric tree, the leather chairs are comfy; that’s where most people nap anyways, so don’t be a dick and talk all loud on your cell phone.

You want a banana? The Au Bon Pain in the Crile Building has tons. Go eat one of those motherfuckers.

Need a massage? Reflexology? A gym? Need to test your sperm? Chemo? A bone scan? Chest x-ray? Need your veins looked at? A good glass of wine? I know where you do all of that!

See, I think people need to know these things. Ask me where anything is, I’m like a damn rolodex of information and bitchy sarcasm when it comes to the clinic. Would you have it any other way?


After over 5 days in the hospital and a complicated 4 hour surgery, I am now cancer-free but at a price I hadn’t counted on. Aside from the huge section of my thigh being removed, I have some empty spaces, muscles moved around, and ham-string repositioned which feels really weird. I can bend my knee in 10 days, and will be at full operating capacity in 6 months. I will, however, always have a bit of a funky walk, and may need a cane for the rest of my life. Hoping this will close my Summer of Suck for good.

I had no idea the stress and complicated nature of this surgery going in. I don’t think I have ever screamed or cried for 2 days straight like I did last Friday and Saturday. I remember 4 or 5 people standing over me at one point asking, “why is she screaming so much? This shouldn’t be making her scream like this.” It also took 2 days for nurses to realize my pain pump meds were what was making me throw-up and want to never eat again. They don’t mess around at Cleveland Clinic, they made me sit up and try to walk the next day — which made me faint. They also showed me the end result of what my leg looks like now — I fainted again. Thankfully I could watch HGTV and Bravo to rot my brain and laugh at what everyone perceived to be drama or a problem in their lives. Rachel Zoe freaking out because it was raining on the day of the Golden Globes — oh my goodness — her problems are huge. Which $435,000 condo will the couple choose on an episode of “House Hunters International”? The suspense! I tell ‘ya, morphine makes these shows even better.

My recovery would have gone better if it weren’t for the fact that sleep is something one never actually gets in a hospital. In my case, it was more so because of my awful roommates. Not only did the 1st one need the thermostat set to 85 at all times, had a need to eat crackers constantly, called for help because the helicopters landing outside “scared her”, and talked non-stop about her medical history, but she called on nurses for EVERYTHING literally every 10 minutes. This is on top of them waking you ever hour for vitals, and breakfast being served at 6am. Despite the signs posted everywhere to not get out of bed alone, she went and fell in the bathroom after her knee surgery; broken toe and head trauma obtained. She still got released before me. My second roomie was no better, in fact, worse. My husband was ready to smother her with a pillow. We thought she was 85 but turned out to be only 62 — proof you can be old in mind and body. She called nurses every 5 minutes and always needed an audience — especially when discussing football (kill me). “Are there always 2-7 people in your room like this? Every time I come here it is chaotic”, said my doctor. The staff in turn, loved me, because I was probably the most easy going patient on the floor, (okay except the incident where I accidentally pee’d on the floor but whatever) enough so that they gave me flowers and always wanted to just chat (and how they do their job without throwing a fit is beyond me, very admirable). There were fears of blood clots in my leg due to the fact my heart rate had never gone down since surgery; after tests and assessments of my hospital room and roommates, it was determined my heart rate never went down because I never got a second alone or more than 10 minutes of sleep at a time for 5 fucking days!

So I’m finally home and able to sleep. I’m doing well enough that I don’t need at-home care or physical therapy, or so I was told . My husband however, has had his hands full. I have a walker, but can’t do most things by myself and am stuck in bed. He has to change my bandages, drain my blood, give me injections, measure fluids, time my medications, and all while the cats are sick and shitting blood. That he has newly discovered nursing and cooking skills are a plus. In the meantime I will be reading lots, and showing work in a few shows this fall in DC and Cleveland; nothing new will be created for the foreseeable future until I can walk again.

Cancerella Is My Nickname

On my 32nd birthday I was told I had a tumor that was certainly 99% benign. Last Monday I was told I have cancer, an aggressive form of lipo sarcoma. Basically a big nasty tumor with wandering tentacles in my thigh. While things have been a bit slow going since it was discovered it thankfully hasn’t spread to my lungs, I will finally be starting radiation on Monday (and will continue 5 days a week for 5 weeks), and I was told I would not have to do chemo. At least, not until possibly after my surgery, but not likely. Yay! So, I’ll still be tired and a tad sick — just not pukey-sick. Bad enough the anxiety is giving me sleep trouble and I’m already losing chunks of hair in my eyebrows and eyelashes. I have some fun targets, tattoos, and lines drawn on my legs that I have to keep for the whole summer before surgery. It looks like a serial killer was making butcher marks on me. My knee tastes the best, btw. The only unfortunate part of all of this is I will be losing some bits and pieces inside of my leg that will never grow back due to the radiation. I’ll be pissed if I have a limp is all I’m saying. What will become of my high heeled shoes?

It has been strange having such easy access to the Cleveland Clinic main campus; I have been calling it The Death Star because of the modern architecture and the fact there are actually droids wandering the halls lugging equipment. There is also a great sushi bar, a digital tree, a string quartet that plays a bizarre selection of music — including the Mickey Mouse Club theme — there is a 4 star restaurant for Oprah and the Saudi princes to chow at, and a Starbucks of course. I got to know the campus well after having 6 hours of tests scheduled. Sadly, the Star Wars vibe ends once you get into the Radiology building; the Death Star becomes 1976, full with wood paneling, bad oil paintings, and drop ceilings. At least I get free valet parking and free spa treatments.

I also got a few new kittens to keep me company, as I’m probably going to be napping quite a bit and they are very good at napping with me so far. Meet Ike and Tina (Ike is the younger baby who Tina beats up!)

Most people turn to religion when something like this happens to them. I have gone the complete opposite. I’ve had the lingering nihilist tendencies since several of my friends have died recently, and now I’m all about science! That nothing happens for a reason, it just happens. Who the hell gets leg cancer in such a random spot? Gods don’t do these things, a chaotic universe does these things. Who cares, just get rid of the bastard with some lasers and crap. People have been telling me I’m a tough broad and this will be a minor set-back for me in the end, but getting injected, extracted, poked and prodded, hooked up to machines and having to be in that damn clinic all this time before anything has even really happened, has been trying as hell; not to mention what it means for my future as far as family history goes, and what other fun tumors are to be expected. It is probably worse for my family even, as I’m sure this is giving them flashbacks (I only have vague memories) of what they had to endure in the years my dad battled cancer being treated at NIH — no happy ending there.

In the end I’ve decided I’m not going to live safe anymore. I’ve had a feeling for a while I could stand to be more reckless, taking trips I couldn’t afford and things like that. Next time The Damned and Motorhead do a European tour that ends in Russia? I’m going! Feel like piling into a van and driving around the country solving mysteries? Why not. I doubt anyone has ever taken a trip they regretted. Because you might get cancer and die just as much chance of anything else it appears. Pardon my French, but fuck it! This isn’t to say I’ll let this thing stop me from my responsibilities in regards to my art career — I’m still doing commissions and such — however, I’m pretty much done with penny pinching, restrictive diets, geographical limitations and other nonsense. If I end up alone in a studio apartment totally broke like La Belle Otero or Luisa Casati after my husband goes, so be it, as long as my funeral arrangements are paid for. I don’t care anymore.