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Ever since I can remember, I enjoyed visual repetition. Even as a small child I enjoyed seeing stacks of the same thing all lined up, and would neaten things on store shelves because it pleased me to see them together.

In December 2015, after a long and difficult journey to find a specialized surgeon to remove my chronic endometriosis I was finally going to start the pain-free life I’d always fantasized about. Very quickly the pelvic pain I’d had most of my adult life began to go, but for some reason I wasn’t getting my strength back. In September of 2016 I noticed a lump in my breast but disregarded it as a cyst or some other benign fluctuation. By December it was unavoidable and so I got an appointment for a mammogram which immediately showed a large, solid mass in the center of the breast. A biopsy revealed more tumors in the lymph nodes in the neighboring armpit and on February 14th 2017 I had surgery to remove the breast, some chest muscle and all of the lymph nodes in that area. It was stage 3 which is treatable. Chemo began in March, there were eight rounds of three different kinds of chemo administered every two weeks for four months. This was followed by 25 daily radiation sessions. There is a risk that the cancer is still in other parts of my body, waiting to reoccur, but the hope is that the surgery, chemo and radiation got them and for the next 10 years I’ll also be on medication to also try to help prevent a reoccurrence.

Usually six months or so doesn’t seem like a lifetime… This is because I did not know what cancer treatment would feel like. Chemo stops cell division and that felt a lot like life stopping; it got hard to think clearly, memories were lost and new memories were nearly impossible to hang on to. On top of this there other side effects like intense, systemic physical pain and frequent, overwhelming nausea.

There were many days during treatment when all I could do was lie down, and even speaking could bring on overwhelming pain or nausea. Sometimes I would be overcome by sadness or fear and then of course tension would follow as a result, and that tension would exacerbate the pain and nausea, it was a ridiculous cycle. With a mind dominated by a powerful fear of death and suffering, I found that I could not meditate because all I’d do was cry with fear and horror. While this was a good outlet, I had almost no strength and so if I surrendered to crying I would be giving up being able to walk up the stairs or eat a meal, (and this is where learning about “spoon theory” came in handy, if you’re interested in managing your own pain/energy). Clearly I needed another way to calm myself and since I’d always calmed myself as a child by drawing, I instinctively felt drawn to it. An ipad and apple pencil made it easier to draw from my sickbed so that even at my sickest I could enjoy the basic act of putting pretend ink to pretend paper.

Drawing this way was often all I could do during treatment, the only extra thing in my life some days and an essential part of my recovery. There were many times when drawing these patterns saved me from falling into a deep depression in the midst of all the pain and nausea, instead lifting me back into a creative, expressive state.

Despite my desire to create and soothe myself with art, I was also very angry at the bad luck of having spent decades dealing with pain from endometriosis only to get breast cancer just as I thought there was an end to it. The disgusting effects of the treatment, the frightening and painful experiences kept on coming… It wasn’t just that I wanted to swear, I needed to swear! If I could have, I’d have been shouting those profanities from the rooftops. But I had no strength to raise my voice or even stomp around, so that left my drawings. I could write down an exclamation of disgust, carefully and lovingly so that seeing it gave me strength, reminded me that I have a voice and I am still alive. Seeing the repetition of my words and patterns calmed me, the inherent beauty of them made me feel in harmony with life again and able to rest.

When I was drawing these patterns and posting them online for my own edification I found that people gravitated towards them. Their enthusiasm and enjoyment of my drawing helped in my recovery, and there were many times when sharing laughter with strangers over another swearing pattern was the brightest moment of my day. People often asked when I’d be able to put these patterns on clothing and other things, so I made it my mission to recover as quickly as possible so I could give people this. Now my life and my strength are slowly returning and I can channel eneergy into making all sorts of things with my patterns.

So far I’ve created an online shop with my patterns printed on clothing, a coloring book, as well as a spoonflower store selling 130 of my patterns on fabric and wallpaper. At the beginning, drawing these, I never imagined that my swearing pattern drawings would mean anything to anyone but me, let alone resonate with so many people (with and without cancer) who just enjoy the cathartic nature of subtle swearing patterns. Finding out how much joy they bring to strangers has been a completely unforeseen result of a terrible year and it continues to fuel my ongoing recovery.


I drew these patterns freehand on my first generation large iPad pro with an Apple Pencil and the software Amaziograph, iOrnament, and Procreate.


If you’re looking for information about breast cancer I found breastcancer.org and The American Cancer Society full of useful resources. Of course talk to your doctor first with all medical questions, doctors can definitely give you more information about your health than coloring books can.

I wrote a few more things about cancer: