Monday, December 30, 2013

Dollhouse Sketch

Daily sketch of a dollhouse I built for my daughter in 1992

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Turning Over a New Leaf: Daily Sketch

3 x 5" December 29, 2013

The beginning of my daily sketch blog posts.
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Day 2454: Artist A Day Feature!

My art featured today on Artist A Day!

Here is my day, #2454

Thanks to the powers that be at Artist A Day.  How wonderful to be featured among some of my all time favorite artists! Sure made my day. :-)

Alice McMahon - Galena, IL artist

Monday, December 9, 2013

Magnolia triptych

Charcoal and pastel on prepped and toned board, (3) 8 x 8" panels
prints available on Society6

This and one other work have been accepted for the Outside the Lines Gallery "Tree" juried exhibition, Dubuque, Iowa, January 2014.  

Like the magnolia tree,
She bends with the wind,
Trials and tribulation may weather her,
Yet, after the storm her beauty blooms
See her standing there, like steel,
With her roots forever buried,
Deep in her Southern soil.” 

~ Nancy B. Brewer

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Magic Time

Dusk - I live in the most beautiful place on earth.

I walked at dusk to a spot on the top of the hill - overlook to Horseshoe Mound. Bunnies emerge from the woods and stand stark still - then turn fluff tails and run wild eyed into the lush blue green underbrush. Storm brewing - muggy - but the brisk breeze blows off the day's dust and the buggy gnats. Jitterbug Perfume scented air - fading May Mother's day lilacs, pre-June bridal wreath dropping snow-petals to the damp earth, honey locust blossoms, dogwood. Snoopy the Afghan hound takes a walk with Grant - the wood turner.

Dusk and another late spring storm brewing over the Grant Wood-ed view down the Galena valley - neighbors low conversation murmurs up to me but I only catch a word or two - they are so far below. Maxfield Parrish deepish aqua sky and pinky yellow clouds. Yes, there is a storm brewing and now the scattered cooling raindrops come dropping slow.

And I do live in the most beautiful place on earth!!! I know this and I am grateful to have had just this one perfect moment before dark, before I am old, to breath in the perfumed air at twilight. Loveliness in every direction, knowing nothing more perfect ever existed - turning around slowly taking in every detail. And then - my eyes adjust to the woods gloom and see a young doe up the path - gazing calmly directly into my eyes. Both knowing we are in the most gorgeous and perfect place and moment ever imagined.

Blessed to have lived and witnessed magic time.

"Call it nostalgia, I don't mind
Standing on that windswept hillside...
In that magic time"

 ~ Van Morrison Magic Time

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Craniotomy, Hospital Stay and Recovery

Wise words from my neurosurgeon:


“I believe that professionalism is the inspiring of passion, creativity and service. When I enter an operating room I am immediately struck by the very profound experience of the relationship between doctor and patient. A person who trusts you with their life, their person, their speech, their memory, this is something much more than a delivery of a pill or a medication. It’s a very personal relationship that goes far beyond science. To me the OR is a work of art with a choreography and an emotion all its own. And I believe that the art part of our profession is our creativity. The passion is the driving force or energy. It was Osler who said that the profession of medicine is an art not a trade. The reality of that art part of what we do becomes clear when you understand without creativity, new methods, new techniques, we are hopelessly lost against the diseases we treat. We must change what we do; we must improve, to do that we must use our creativity.”  
~ Robert Dempsey, MD - Art, Passion and Neurosurgery


We arrived in Madison, Wisconsin the night before my surgery, one month ago today, and I had a nice Korean dinner with my oldest son who lives in Madison and my daughter who took a bus down from St. Paul to be with me. I gave them gifts and love notes and we laughed and talked about happy times. It did my heart so much good to see them! My younger son called me that night from Galena to tell me he was concerned about me and hoped my surgery went well. These loving gestures were the greatest gifts I will ever receive from my children! Craniotomy, even under the best circumstances, is a serious matter. I had just spent the past few days filling out paperwork for a living will and powers of attorney for health and financial concerns, just in case. To know my children love and care about me relieved a great stress I had felt for two years and I went to sleep smiling and ready for the worst outcome, but expecting and hoping for only the best!

My surgery was performed from 7:30 am to 1:00 pm Friday February 8, 2013 at the University of Wisconsin Hospital by Robert Dempsey, MD.  My vital signs were all good during the surgical prep , in fact I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep! My blood pressure was practically too low - a defense mechanism for stress perhaps? The anesthesia and surgical crew were all young, gorgeous, empathetic, talented and bright with impeccable bedside manner. I kept thinking, “Am I on the set of ER or what?!”  

As I was wheeled into the operating room I exclaimed, “Fired up! Ready to go!” The nurses all laughed and cheered me on. 

 Video: Robert Dempsey, MD speaks about Art, Passion and Neurosurgery, 35 minutes

It is amazing that nearly a month post op I found the Youtube video posted above while writing this blog. In the video, Dempsey speaks of the OR as a carefully choreographed work of art. My dear friend and caregiver Peter Fraterdeus said, “This video deserves to go viral; his talk touches on everything that is important in life...Really!”

The entire experience with Doctor Dempsey and the surgical staff at UW had a profound aura of sacrament – the body and human spirit were respected as sacred. I "went to sleep" peacefully in the OR after I was allowed to have time to ask every question I needed to calm my fears. Once I was asleep, I was positioned on my stomach for the 4 1/2 hour surgery. Before I knew it, I was being wheeled out of the OR to recovery, feeling nauseated but otherwise not too bad! I don’t recall much from the recovery room except I was doing far better than some of the other patients and my heart went out to them in their pain. 

All Night Party in the ICU with RN Joe Cougar

Friday February 8, post-op – Once in the ICU I was surrounded by the relieved faces of Peter and my daughter and my oldest son – such a wonderful feeling! My family in Chicago were waiting with my Mom so I was able to speak with them on the phone. I even sent text messages to some of my friends! 

What a cool contact, my ICU nurse “RN Joe Cougar” is a former cop, now he and his wife of 30 years are opening a hippie coffee shop outside of Madison, Wisconsin, where right brain expansion is the ultimate goal! I must get there once it’s opened! 

RN Joe checked my vital signs every hour throughout the night and asked me each time to do the standard tests for neurological damage. Once the anesthesia wore off I noticed that I had numbness and tingly sensations on my left side, shoulder, arm, hip, leg, foot and toes. I had some spasms too, especially in the toes, and the left side was quite weak. It was hard to use utensils with the left hand and the IV and arterial lines were in my right hand and uncomfortable. Other than that I felt alert, clear headed and relieved! I was still on steroids and pain killers and the anti-seizure medication Keppra. Seizures can sometimes be worse after brain surgery than before so levels are carefully monitored. 

I ate dinner less than 12 hours after craniotomy: cranberry-apple juice, wild rice blend, bland baked tilapia, even vanilla ice cream! Joe warned me to eat sparingly but everything tasted so good! “American Pickers” was on the History Channel on the tube. The star of the show once visited our family cafe in Galena and mutual friends had introduced me to him. That was a funny coincidence for my night in the ICU – I had never seen the show before because I don’t own a TV! I did not get much sleep with the hourly neuro checks and the fidgety feeling from steroids.

 "Allie Anne" - Some Bunny Loves Me! From Thomas and Elizabeth
I had physical therapy two times in the hospital. My left leg was dragging and at first it was difficult for me to walk or stand for more than a couple of minutes. I was only able to do stairs one foot at a time at first until my strength came back. This showed me exactly where the right sided tumor had been causing damage to my brain and the blood vessels related to my left side. The therapist was somewhat concerned that I would need some follow up therapy if the leg remained weak a month post-op. 

Many with "benign" meningiomas do not fare so well. Dr. Dempsey informed me that if mine had been found even just a little later down the line, the outcome would have been far worse. He told me that he had a difficult job saving a couple of large and vital veins as it was, but his hand is steady and eyes keen. He also had to use a microscopic technique to clean and save the important sagittal sinus – and he thought he had gotten most all of the tumor cells. He was able to use my own tissue and not a synthetic to replace the meninges – the brain covering that was damaged by the tumor. The doctor also had to work at saving the smaller veins in the brain beneath the tumor, I was in very good hands! RN Joe told me not only would I have become progressively worse without the surgery, I would have eventually died from the tumor if it had not been found. I wish I had known of the growth earlier - there had been subtle signs for years that I had ignored or belittled.
There was a code red incident that night in the next ICU room, and I said prayers for the patient and the concerned and competent hospital staff. I once more felt so fortunate that my case went well, but my heart went out to my struggling neighbor that night and later someone else was getting bad news about their outcome. I have utmost respect for doctors and nurses after my night in ICU!

 All Night Party on the Neurology Wing


Worst breakfast ever! Yay!

Saturday I was moved to a regular room in the neurology wing. This gave me a taste of what dedicated nurses face with patience and compassion each day. Some of the neurology patients cannot control their emotions or actions and I heard first hand some of the trials these nurses face, all handled calmly and well. Unfortunately I did not sleep well my second night in the hospital either – but I could tell once more that I was one of the most fortunate patients on the floor!

My post tumor resection MRI was not too much fun in a turban. Quite uncomfortable really and I was glad when the test was over, but results were good! It seems like the entire tumor was removed - good news! My left leg is numb but working well enough, head and eyes are clear as a bell! Thank you, thank you to everyone and especially Dr. Dempsey and all at UW Hospital! 

Home a Day Early ~ Great Outcome!

Alice in Stitches - heading home! photo by Peter Fraterdeus

Sunday morning, February 10, the neurosurgery resident came in to cut and remove my tight bandage “turbin.” My incision was probably about 8 inches ear to ear, and about 20 or so stitches. Peter said it looked kind of like I was wearing a carmine colored rope headband, but a bit further back. The stitches are pretty tight - like a long thick snake across my head. At least the doc left most of my titanium locks along with the titanium screws and just trimmed back the hair instead of shaving my head! I was able to shampoo my hair too. There is some swelling but surprisingly very little pain and no headaches! 

Dr. Dempsey came in before noon to check on me and said I was doing so well I could go home a day early. I am healing in every way and so filled with gratitude!

Heading home after the tight bandage is removed from my head! 
Otter sketch by my artist daughter Teagan White.

 Video: “The Healing Has Begun” Van Morrison Live, 1986

 Kate Friedman, posthumous portrait by Alice McMahon, February 2012 Charcoal on Mylar film

I was released from the hospital one year to the day since we said goodbye to our beautiful talented friend and sister, artist Kate. Be sure to view Kate's series Gray Matter. Shine on forever, sweet love!



On Dr. Dempsey’s advice I will be off of work for one more month, that is 2 months post op, because I still tire very easily and do not yet have the stamina to work a full day. I have occasional weakness and numbness on the left side, especially my left leg, but the strength is back enough to walk and do stairs well, so thankfully I will not need further therapy. I had a difficult time weaning from steroids but that is all behind me now. Last Monday I had a partial seizure and my entire left side went numb for a few moments – head to toe. The doctor increased the dosage for the anti-seizure medication and recommended I take a single aspirin per day to help thin the blood while healing continues to the blood vessels that had been compressed by the tumor. I hope I will be able to wean from Keppra 3 months post-op, and I may not be able to drive for a few months.

"Zipper head" one week post-op - some goths would pay big bucks for this 'do! 
photo: Peter Fraterdeus

3 days post-op I heard the most excellent news that the meningioma was benign! I am still uncertain about how my future may look as I heal. I will be monitored for regrowth for years to come and yearly MRIs will be needed for the rest of my life. I feel I am just beginning to experience the post traumatic stress that most survivors of brain surgery often describe. I am confident and hopeful that mine will be one of the best case scenarios. However, I am moved to tears daily reading of my new friend's struggles with meningiomas - "benign" brain tumors: their fears while on "watch and wait," photos of their scars and swollen faces post-op, a caregiver grieving the loss of her mother after repeated regrowth and treatments, their financial trials because of insurance issues. I am so fortunate that things went well for me - that my tumor was found before more serious permanent damage happened. I am amazed at the miracles of modern medical science. Benign tumors can wreak havoc if they grow to the point of brain injury and surgery. More research is sorely needed on brain tumors!

Warning Signs I Ignored

 FYI – these are extremely sight specific to my tumor size and location, but any ongoing or progressive symptoms you may have – write them down! Go over them with a doctor! Insist on testing if these symptoms are progressive! I hope you will research meningiomas and partial seizure symptoms and keep a document of your own symptoms of aging, hearing or visual changes, falls, one-sided weakness, spasms or other progressive symptoms.

1  Slight urinary incontinence – I thought this was menopause related. I now believe this was from tumor pressure because the problem was pronounced immediately post surgery – but now I feel better that I have been in years!
2       Tripping – missing steps, falling off of ladders, balance issues while dancing, some days stronger or weaker than others. I also KNOW this was from tumor pressure because once the resection was complete my entire left side was numb and tingly and weak. At least 5 years ago I fell and chipped a front tooth – clumsiness was never a problem for me before then and it became gradual progressive left-sided insecurity.
3    Left side visual deficits which I noticed with certainty only after the tumor was diagnosed. Before diagnosis I kept thinking I needed a visual exam or was simply aging! I will have an eye exam once my I have healed and my vision stabilizes.
  Cramps and pain in left leg when sitting on planes and in cars. Pre-surgery I often felt very uncomfortable in close spaces and would take off my left shoe or cross my legs trying to get comfortable.
5    These may or may not be from the tumor but I wonder: depression, anxiety, difficulty completing complicated tasks, difficulty verbalizing words. These symptoms seemed to come and go.
  Seizure symptoms – “spacing out” usually just for a moment. Left arm spasms, I had attributed to stress, in hindsight I realize these were definitely seizure or tumor-pressure symptoms. These were often followed by extreme fatigue for a day or so.
7    My left leg was often "dead" asleep as if there was poor circulation. Last month, my arm was also “dead” in the night. The pain often stayed in the effected limb a full day after an episode such as this.

 Three weeks post-op, at Rodity's in Greek Town, Chicago! All's well that ends well! Cheers!

Thanks to each and every one of you for holding my hand through it all! The love, support, caring letters and sharing of your own stories and trials have been a gift to me at this time. The financial support is such an ease to my troubled mind. Living month to month with no credit and no savings of any kind, out of pocket expenses alone could have forced me out of my apartment. I will be forever grateful to all who have reached out to help and I look forward to a time - hopefully in the near future – when I will once again be able to return the favor to someone else in need. My wish is that by sharing my story in this way, I might be able to help ease the mind of someone who has been recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.

There is still time to give to the Alice Recovery Fund and there will also be an art auction fundraiser in Galena, Illinois at Catherine Kouzmanoff's Miss Kitty's Grape Escape! I am so overwhelmed by the many artists and friends who have donated their artwork and other items to be auctioned for my benefit thanks to the kindness and hard work of Joe and Lydia at Pinder Pottery.

And now, I must get back to dancing at the drawing board!


“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Please support the work of the Meningioma Momma’s!

Monday, March 4, 2013

"Brain Storm" Brain Blog, Part 2

"To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life."  


With my employer, nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen and Peter Fraterdeus, 
Galena, October 2012, photo by Tracey Russett

Boxing Day – I had a partial seizure Dec 26, 2012 at about 9pm in Galena, Illinos. 

I was at home after a very stressful day at work at the Mangelsen Gallery, and making Alu Gobi – cauliflower and potato curry with rice and waiting for my companion Peter Fraterdeus to return from his letterpress studio in Dubuque. After he arrived we shared notes about our day and we were waiting for the curry to cook down a bit. I remarked a couple of times that I was having an odd feeling, kind of déjà vu – but I continued to stir the pot.

Suddenly I felt very strange – I was stirring the pot but I knew I was not really stirring, the motion of stirring was there but I was staring off into space and the spoon was not really down in the curry – and I was trying to tell Peter that something was wrong but I was not able to speak. He was saying something to me but I could not reply, and then he noticed that something was very wrong. I became suddenly extremely weak and dropped the spoon into the curry and grabbed the oven door handle – Peter held me and I slumped into him and he helped me to a chair but I did not even have the strength to sit. He helped me to the floor, got me a blanket and grabbed the phone to call 911. I kept thinking “No – don’t call the ambulance – I can’t afford this right now!” but then thinking “What is wrong with me – am I having a heart attack? Am I having a stroke? I think Peter MUST call for help – he is doing the right thing to call - why can’t I talk to him – I want to say something but only one word comes out at a time.” It was like my mind was in overdrive but my body was not fully connected or engaged and had its own agenda.  

By the time the paramedics arrived I was having spasms in my arms – worse on the left side - but still was thinking quite lucidly. The paramedic gave me oxygen and took my vitals and assured me that they were normal. As he asked me questions I was able to respond but the words came slow and brief. The paramedics brought in a chair stretcher and took me out the front door and down the tilted, steep and icy front steps of Peter’s front yard on a hill to the waiting ambulance. Even at the time I saw the humor in the situation and I felt quite calm as the paramedics struggled to get me down the steps and then worried about how they would get me into the ambulance parked uphill. They commented to each other that if they opened both of the ambulance's back doors, the inside stretcher would fall out and race down the street! So they finally asked me if they supported me I could climb up into the ambulance – how strange that they did not park facing DOWN hill – they live and work in hilly Galena every day! I was still weak but they helped me up inside. My first ambulance ride – pretty bizarre – I watched as we passed all the traffic lights, normally so familiar to me, but now seen while looking up, to the nearby Midwest Medical Center. Peter and my best friend Tracey Russett were with me at the Emergency Room, such a great comfort to me!

The ER staff took blood, did a chest xray, started an IV and I recall being unable to keep my annoyance in check at the pain of the needles – normally I would grin and bear it but I was quite vocal about my pain. I was given something to calm me down. I was getting freaked out because I did not know what was happening to me and was getting spasms in my arms and these were spreading to muscles in other parts of my body. My jaw was clenching until it ached and I felt chilled to the bone. I was given a CT scan and I don’t recall having the test, but I do recall that I was moved from one stretcher to another. The scan showed a 3 cm meningioma brain tumor in the right fronto-parietal parasagittal region, between the frontal and parietal lobes, along the important large sagittal sinus vein that runs between the right and left lobe from the front to the back of the brain. These tumors grow from the meninges - the covering of the brain - are most often found in women and are usually benign.

 Above are poor photos of creased print-outs of CT or MRI images of my brain, 
taken December 26 and 27, 2012. The top image was taken before contrast dye was injected. 
The scans are reversed, so the tumor was actually in my right brain.

The doctor on call at the medical center informed me that the “golf ball sized tumor” was probably not related at all to the incident that sent me to the ER – that it could have been there for decades unnoticed and that I could have it for the rest of my life without having any trouble. He sent me home that night with literature on panic attacks plus two sleeping pills in case I had trouble sleeping. I was told to come back the next day for an MRI. I was able to walk back up the stairs at home that night under my own power, and had two helpings of the rice and curry! I felt fine!

Later my neurosurgeon told me I had actually had classic partial seizure symptoms that should have been recognized, and any panic symptoms came from my freaking out because I was having the first significant seizure of my life. The partial seizure was definitely caused by the meningioma and this is a typical way that the tumor makes itself known. The seizure was really scary and I hope to never have another – I never heard of “partial seizures” before, so I did not have a clue what was happening to me. Looking back on it now, it was almost like a shamanic or out of body experience. The feeling of déjà vu I had before the seizure was what is known as an aura. I want to think about that feeling more and use it in my art. Below is a link to share information about partial seizures, often misdiagnosed and misunderstood.

I returned to the medical center for the MRI the following day and I found I don’t really mind the scan, I kind of enjoy the “house music” beat. I can often easily put myself into a meditative state and first I meditated but my thoughts flooded back and I found tears running down the sides of my face as I lay in the machine thinking about the past two years. This was  just two days past Christmas and I longed for my kids to be near me, I felt so alone but I did not want to tell them about this incident. I still was under the impression I had had a panic attack and did not want anyone to know about it because of the stigma that some people attach to such things. 

My nurse-practitioner, Margaret Dittmar, called to discuss the results with me. She sent me copies of the MRI and CT scans which I found fascinating, although it was quite a shock to see the size of that growth in my head that had been there for some time without my ever knowing. Margaret referred me to a neurosurgeon giving me options to go for treatment in either Iowa City, Chicago, or the University of Wisconsin hospital at Madison. My first thought was to go to Chicago since I lived most of my life there and still have extended family in the area, but since I thought I may be put on watch and wait I might not want to inform my mom of the condition unless surgery became inevitable. Since Madison is closest to Galena, I instead asked to see a surgeon at UW. The university chose Dr. Robert Dempsey as the best fit for my condition and how fortunate for me that I was placed in the hands of the very best, the head of the neurosurgery department at the University and a very kind and gentle man of spirit. My first visit to Dr. Dempsey was on Wednesday January 16, 2013. It turns out I have a friend whose husband was operated on by Dr. Dempsey several times and had rave reviews for him. Also, our Chicago area dentist who has been a lifelong family friend also knows Dr. Dempsey because their wives were roommates in college! 

It was decided by the doctor that resection of the tumor was needed. I asked if I would not be a good candidate for watch and wait, but Dr. Dempsey said that in his opinion the tumor had already remained too long and was already affecting my motor skills and vision on the left side. It was not clear if my depression or any other personality changes could have been caused by the slow growing tumor. The doctor apologized that my handwriting would not improve post surgery - darn! I did shed a few tears once I knew I would have to have a craniotomy on February 8, 2013 - mostly because I did not want to have to tell my mother about it. In the end Mom was as strong as always, and she was also grateful that I had such a great surgeon, and an Irishman too!

The doctor prescribed Keppra to control and prevent seizures for before and after surgery. These were difficult to adjust to at first, making me very fatigued. After a week or so of taking the medicine I felt stronger and also realized that I must have been having minor partial seizures for a while because I no longer had spasms or stabbing pains in my left arm. 

A high frequency MRI at University of Wisconsin was scheduled for January 23, 2013, so that the doctor could better map out his plan for surgery. So we returned to Madison the following week. This MRI was felt more deeply than the first – I could feel the scan go through particular areas of my head – I felt the waves go through my eyes and I could tell when the scans exited out the top or one side of my head and past my ear. It was not painful, but a definite vibrating sensation. I am really curious about the MRI images and how my head looks inside, and spent more time researching the workings of the physical brain, what areas affect different parts of the body, language skills, vision, etc. I watched videos like the TED talk by Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor about how it feels to have a stroke. I am more aware of the power of the right brain. What an amazing organ, our beautiful brain! I mourned about the brain injury that had already taken place without my knowledge, I fretted about a possible loss of vision or creativity, but at the same time I was grateful that the growth was found and was curable, and most likely benign!

Feb 2, 2013 My post on the Meningioma Mommas Facebook Group: “My Meningioma has been throbbing tonight - he must know he will be history by this time next week. Bye bye baby! ;-) I don't recall having this specific sensation before I was diagnosed - but now, knowing its location - there is no doubt that is where that "beat" is coming from. I just hope M has not been the source of my creativity spurt of the past few years because my art is going to suffer if so. I feel there have been some deficits recently too. I expect healing to be slow and will try to be patient with myself. The spongy brain will slowly grow back into the space where the tumor once sat, but there will be residual swelling post op and the damage from compressed blood vessels will repair more or less over time, although some damage will never reverse.” 

I am working on one more blog post about the surgery and recovery. I will be on disability for two months post-op. There is still time to give to the Alice Recovery Fund and there will also be an art auction fundraiser in Galena, Illinois at Miss Kitty's Grape Escape! Thanks to Joe and Lydia at Pinder Pottery. Thank you to all for the many ways you have shown your love and support! It has helped my state of mind and healing - I am so grateful!

Time to call on the Butterfly Muse! 
photo and concept by Bob Lieberman for the Artists of Galena photo project 2013