On 01.02.02, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Too late for surgery, I had chemotherapy, which failed. In May the chemotherapy was changed and I was soon in remission which was celebrated and welcome and lasted nine years - until October 2011. There was progression in 2011 so more treatment was indicated and I am now back in partial remission. But I'm not only a cancer patient - I also enjoy my family, walk my dogs and am learning to draw and paint. Life is good!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Five dogs and a cat

"You are so over the top," said the friend I bumped into at the farmers market a few evenings ago.

I had just told her that we were doggie sitting two more while friends were on vacation and she did the math and came up with -- five dogs and a cat -- in our home. 

Back in the old days I didn't know what a dog was, thought I hated them, and would never have considered owning one. But now I'm old and on the cusp of preferring animals to people so having so many critters felt like paradise.

We had cared for one of them before. Buley is a breeder dog for Canine Companions for Independence. Because of her high status and impeccable manners I took her with me to Juvenile Hall all last week and the kids were absolutely thrilled to meet her. "How many dogs do you have???" they asked, that same over-the-top question.

The second dog was a new one for us. Misty is of mixed ancestry but, if her coloration is a clue, she seems to be mostly blue heeler. We found her to be absolutely adorable. She made me want to rush over to our local animal shelter and find ten or twelve to bring back home. (Okay, even I admit that would be hoarding and therefore truly over the top.)

Misty played run-for-the-tennis-ball ALL DAY LONG. If I am diagnosed with tennis elbow during July, we'll know why. But my favorite was when she would use her short little legs to scramble up the steps to our very high bed, insist on putting her head on my pillow and breath in Steve's ear. We're still laughing about that. You know, getting old has compensations -- life is so much more fun when each day comes as a brand new gift.

Back at Juvenile Hall, several weeks ago I got the girls restarted on art journaling. I did this all last year -- incorporating various pages into their group therapy -- but wasn't sure how much they liked it or how much value it had.

But after yet another girl greeted me with, "What are we doing today, will we draw or make something?" I got the message that the journaling project was indeed enjoyable for them and that it was simply my responsibility to turn it into something therapeutic.

So I gave them some time to design personal journal covers and then began a several weeks series on emotions and emotional regulation. I stretched a huge page of freezer wrap on the table (they aren't allowed to stand or move around without staff permission) and gave them a set of colored markers (contraband). I asked them to brainstorm every possible feeling they could name in either English or Spanish. Occasionally I prompted them. "Did anyone think of 'jealous?' It's J-E-A-L-O-U-S. Somebody, write it down."

Then I asked them to sit quietly for a moment (one moment, a very long time for this group) and check into themselves. How were they feeling now? What was the name of the emotion? You'd be surprised how many kids I see who are simply unable to give their emotional state a concrete word. No wonder they're so often wild and out of control.

I gave them colored tissue paper and showed them how to correlate a color to an emotion that they actually felt in that moment. Most of them associated red to anger -- they rage a lot -- but bright happy colors and feelings, were more difficult. Color-coding "calm" was just about impossible.

I made a quick demonstration of where I was at the moment and set them to work. When the glue (ModPodge) was dry, I asked them to draw their own portraits over the top and add a little key to show what meant what. I reminded them that color coding can be highly individualistic and encouraged them to do what felt uniquely right for them.

It was a successful start. They now had a decorated cover and one real therapy page with lots of comraderie and discussion along the way. We kept that theme going for quite a while with different projects and journaling pages as new girls came into the group and others were shipped out to various programs.

They keep me on my toes, those girls. I'm forever searching out ideas in blogs I read and considering ways to adapt them for therapeutic use. You'd be surprised -- it may be YOUR blog entry that spurs me on next!


  1. Anonymous10:19 PM

    It's difficult to put words to an entry that touches so deep. I feel very very grateful for you and what you do.

  2. Hi Phyllis -- It's folks like you that make me want to continue doing and blogging about it.

  3. What an absolutely GREAT idea!!!


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