I ran into an old friend the other day who also happens to be a fellow breast cancer survivor. When she asked how I was doing I told her that I was still cancer-free since my mastectomy a year and a half ago. After congratulating me, she instantly responded with “We’re not cancer-free, we’re in remission.”

Yeah…but… “in remisson” sounds so much worse, doesn’t it? It means I still have cancer and that it’s just not showing up right now. I don’t want to think that way. I really want to be cancer-free. What I actually am is evidence-free. As long as there’s no signs or symptoms of the cancer, I’m considered to be in complete remission.

But I’m not cured. See, it’s like alcoholism. You can stop drinking but you’ll still be an alcoholic – you’re just a non-drinking alcoholic. We removed my cancer and stopped it, but I’m still considered a cancer patient – I’m just a cancer patient in remission. Cancer cells could still be in my body, without showing any signs, even for many years. Then someday, like a sip of wine by an alcoholic could trigger disaster for him – one stray, rogue cell that grows out of control could trigger cancer recurrence for me.

So, because the words “cancer-free” implies your cancer will never come back, and there’s never a guarantee of that, most doctors will not give you that diagnosis. Instead, we are N.E.D. No evidence of disease.

It’s interesting what I hear – people tell you to forget about it- be grateful that you survived – go on and live your life. Okay. I get it. I should be happy and move on, forget what I went through. Don’t think about the small chance that the cancer may come back.  Let’s just say that it’s easy for someone who’s never had cancer to give that sort of advice.

Cancer changes you. As I’ve said before, never again will you think it won’t happen to you – because it already has happen to you before. I know I fought it off once, but if it comes back, can I do it again? Mostly, I do give myself the same advice the non-cancer people give me –  try not think about that. But I do. And I’ve found most other cancer survivors feel the same way.

It’s getting better. Other than the daily reminder when I shower that I only have one breast, and the variety of issues I continue to struggle with – I don’t think about it as often as I used to. It pops into my head more fleetingly now – a stray thought that I’m able to push away fairly easily most of the time.  Before my chemo treatments, my friend had told me that someday I would look back on all that I went through as an abnormal blip in the timeline of my life. That the time would go by fast.

They were right about that- I can hardly believe a year and a half has gone by since my surgery. In September it will be 2 years since I had my last chemo treatment. (and yet I still get nauseous at the sight of red or pink clear liquids :/ – only those who have had the chemo drug Adriamycin will understand that one 🙂 )

At my last visit, my oncologist said that after December, we’ll be switching from having checkups every 3 months to having them every 6 months. A milestone on my way to the coveted 5 years in remission.

During my morning run, I saw one of the homeless ladies that I regularly see on Grand River. She, as always, was wearing a coat and a smile. In contrast, I was wearing running shorts and a sleeveless shirt, sweat running down my face as I ran past her. I was burning up from my exertion, she had very likely been out there all night and needed the warmth of her coat.

She had been leaning on the bus shelter as I approached but hurried to move her cart off the sidewalk when she saw me. She said “I’m so so sorry.” I told her it was okay, I could go around. We exchanged our normal “Have a good day!” and smiles as I continued on past.

What if this lady was to have cancer? Would she even know what to do if she found a lump in her breast? Could she get to a doctor? Does anyone ever check on her? It reminded me also of Carmella and how I first felt when I realized what her situation was like for her.

It was a gentle reminder that life is good for me. Sure, I battled cancer and struggle with the aftermath, but I have a job and healthcare and a family to care for me. Life is good, even when you’re just in remission.


Felt People in the Crosswalk

Last fall when I was running, I noticed a little person lying in the crosswalk. It looked as if a preschooler had accidentally dropped part of his felt art project on the way home from school. I felt bad for the little preschooler and his parents, who would miss out on seeing the crudely cut little felt man.

A few days later, I noticed another little felt person in a crosswalk nearby, and I investigated. It was stuck to the pavement with something akin to super glue. And it wasn’t felt, it actually looked and had the texture of whatever crosswalks are made of (paint, stiff tape?). Obviously not someone’s lost art project.

When walking with a colleague later that week, we noticed several more around the edge of campus, all in crosswalks. At the time I was intrigued, surely this was part of some big secret code that I could investigate. What could be the meaning? I hoped it wasn’t some commercial advertising ploy, that would be disappointing. The additional ones we found looked more like robots, so I decided to call them felt robots.

Over winter, as I moved my run to an indoor track, I forgot about the little robots and what their purpose could be.  When I began running outdoors again a few months ago, all the robots in the crosswalks along my running route were gone, but I didn’t really notice. I’d forgotten about them – until a couple weeks ago.

My friend and I took a walk along a sidewalk we hadn’t gone on in a long while and there was a new robot right in the crosswalk. I remembered the photos I’d taken last summer and that I had never investigated what they were all about. I watched diligently for more and on our way back to the office, I noticed an old robot that was still there from last year, albeit whitened from being bleached in the sun. Each time we’ve walked since then I’ve watched for them. Most are gone, probably scraped away by snow plows during winter.

But their meaning? Who had placed them there and why? Maybe I’d put off investigating because I didn’t want to find out it was some gimmick to sell something or that it had to do with whatever the latest political anti-freedom movement was. I liked the mystery and didn’t want it soiled.

But my curiosity was piqued again so I gritted my teeth and googled ‘felt people East Lansing’. I found nothing. I got the same result with ‘felt people crosswalk’. This actually made me feel better. There was still a mystery. If it had been some advertisement or a political statement, there would have certainly been something in Google about it. Then I tried ‘robot crosswalk’ and bingo!

There were articles and blog posts from as early as 2008 up through present time about these robots called stikman and its anonymous artist creator known only as ‘Bob’. “He considers himself an artistic Johnny Appleseed, spreading stikmen instead of seeds.” (from Washington, D.C. article below) Although in that article, the author questions whether ‘Bob’ really is stikman’s creator, because no one really knows. In the latest articles, they mention the stikman being seen in cities such as Philadelphia, D.C., San Francisco, New York, and Ann Arbor. None mentioned East Lansing, although it’s only a hop, skip and a jump from AA.

As best I can tell, stikman originated in NY. And according to the NY artist who claims to be the creator, they have no meaning at all. He is not trying to convey any message. He is simply sharing his art with the world. His thoughts on street art/graffiti: “At its core we all work in that vibrant zone where art meets real life in the space we all share.”  He also mentions that when his stikmen are removed, he may be disappointed, but he doesn’t consider it as “precious art”.

Interesting, I guess, but I was actually quite disappointed that there was no real meaning to it other than he enjoys making little stikmen and leaving them behind in cities he travels to by sticking them on the pavement. No message. No more mystery.

And then as I read article after article (surely there was more meaning to it somewhere, right?) I started to sense something. Nearly every website that I read had a multitude of comments posted on it by people from all over the U.S. mentioning that they’d noticed stikman in the crosswalks near them. That they enjoyed seeing them and finding new ones, like I did.

Were the ones here in East Lansing really from the legendary stikman creator? Or was it perhaps a copycat that was placing them in other cities? Were these real stikmen or just copies?

Then I thought – does it really matter? Art inspires art. We are all connected, really, by our appreciation of things that people have created. Art affects each of us in different ways, bringing forth emotional responses that even we struggle to understand at times.

Whether it is the striking architectural features of certain buildings,

notes from the musician on the street corner wafting through the air as we walk along the sidewalk,

a natural scene,

or even street art such as robots in the crosswalk, we are all touched by art.


The best articles I found for more information on stikman are:

Washington, D.C.

New York City