At long last I have completed my embroidery piece, Bleeding Vessel. I started the piece 27 July 2020 and finished stitching it 15 June 2022—almost two years.
I began this piece as a combination of symptomatology and anatomy so it sits between those two series. Each of my symptomatology pieces has been done in order to understand my symptoms better. Each is a meditation, a learning, and often ends up manifesting some sort of treatment or solution by the time the piece is complete. This piece in particular took me deep into those three journeys.
When I started this piece, it was going to be mostly about my fibroids and ridiculously heavy periods. Heavy periods meant I was anaemic & had trouble keeping my ferritin (iron stores) at a healthy level. Low blood volume is an issue in ME/CFS so each period I would crash from even lower blood volume and it would take 5-10 days to come back to baseline. I was managing well aside from that—able to write and play the piano regularly—and would work on my stitching while crashed from my period. Then, starting in fall of 2020 I had a series of five hospitalizations from liver infections and sepsis which are still under investigation. I stitched while in hospital and during my home recovery from each.
I had a good summer in 2021, and wrote an essay on Stoicism and chronic illness that won a contest, but ended up hospitalized with more liver abscesses that winter. I had a lot of imaging done at that point, and they found endometrial buildup in my uterus which greatly informed the texture I embroidered in the endometrium of my piece.
Between hospitalizations, I had a couple of phone consultations with a new gynaecologist. She was quite curious about my embroidery piece and gave me clear measurements of all my fibroids and the one ovarian cyst so I could integrate them into the piece.
In April, my gynaecologist performed a hysteroscopy to remove what was either a polyp or fibroid within my uterus and did an endometrial biopsy and D and C at the same time. I was so relieved that the D and C meant no periods for at least a couple months.
Pathology came back a month later. I was diagnosed with stage IA endometrial cancer (the earliest possible stage). This surprised everyone, including my gynaecologist who said the polyp she removed didn’t look cancerous. A couple weeks later I had a complete hysterectomy. The surgery got rid of all the cancer, but I will need regular checkups for the next five years.
I had completed most of the embroidery by the time I had surgery, but still had the beading to do. The beaded fibroids, cysts, and cancerous polyp are based on actual measurements from my imaging and pathology reports. It was during my surgery recovery that my gynaecologist first saw the embroidery and she absolutely loved it! I plan on bringing the finished piece to my next appointment with her. I also have a very long thread over on Twitter where you can see all the work-in-progress photos.
Making art about being ill while being ill feels like a healing act. It allows me to understand what is happening to my body so I can better offer compassion to those parts of myself. As I write this, I am four months post-hysterectomy. The relief of not only being cancer-free but also of no longer crashing every few weeks from such heavy periods is palpable. Embroidering a uterus to help solve my gynaecological issues has manifested itself very well, and I am readily embracing my cronehood.