My Never-Ending Story

Posted by on Feb 13, 2017 in About me | 45 comments

As most of you know by now, I have been in two years of medical hell. Recently there was good news and that was a rocket ship to hope. I still have to take nasty dangerous drugs for five more months, but the lung disease looks like it is ready to depart my body.

Last week I went to the dermatologist, which I do every year since I grew up fair-skinned on the beaches of Southern California and like all my friends slathered on baby oil and baked my white skin on a striped towel on the sand as many weekends as I could manage. In the last two years, being distracted by emergency open heart surgery and life threatening lung disease I got behind on my other doctor appointments. Truth be told, I was so doctor weary I put some things off. So, it had been 18 months since I had seen my skin guy instead of a year.

Now I have cancer. It is on my nose, and I have to have surgery to remove it and reconstruct the damaged area. My doctor held my hand while I cried in his office. He knew what I had been through. He would rather have given that news to anyone but me. I was so, so grateful for his wonderful kindness and empathy, it is rare in doctors.

I came home and cried. My kids were not home, thank goodness, because I sobbed. There was a pity party here the likes of which I hope none of you ever witness. My husband brought home sushi and wine.

The next day I told both my kids and they came home. We listened to old music from car trips, song lists we had always loved. We danced and hugged. We ate stupid food and laughed. They are so weary of the stress of worrying about me, it is not how a teen should spend their time. We pretended all of it was some finished discarded fiction.

I am weary of sharing bad news, of being that “one” that scares my loved ones. 

On Saturday I removed the bandages from the biopsy, and as usual I had an allergic reaction to the adhesive and my face was bright red and blistered. I had to go to an art party, so I slathered on some makeup and went. The party was to pick up a totem I had just made in a class taught by Katy Diver. This class was so much fun and I would recommend it to all of you. We made ceramic components that stack on rebar that you place in your garden.

Here is my totem.

In the last few days I have been once again questioning why I do what I do and what I should do now. I think I have some answers. Creating art is as close to bliss as I can get. It is powerful, fun and transformative. Making a totem, single pieces that stack up to create a cohesive piece, seems so metaphorical to me. Isn’t that what we are all doing? Each experience is one of those components. Some are pretty, some are sentimental or funny, some are simple, some are placeholders. Collectively they present our story.

And why do I photograph the sunrise and the sunset? It is because they are the brilliant prismatic parenthesis that frame each miraculous day. I need to take notice of the beautiful things that transport me.

I do not have this trauma thing wired. These are the ways I want to feel, they are goals, not achievements. In fact, I am faking it till I make it on some of these practices, remembering what a wonderful therapist told me years ago that has become my mantra: “Action is the opposite of depression. What would a happy person do? Do that.” (Dr. Michael Yapko).

So for the next few months it will once again be worrisome and dicy for me and my loved ones. This one is unlikely to kill me, but I am nervous about the unknowns, skin grafting and more surgery. I will try as hard as I can to be creative, loving and grateful. My tribe becomes more and more important. Your encouraging words do too, so please leave them here, even if you already have many times in the last few years. I hope never to have to do the same for you, but will if you need me to. 

I get to start teaching again and for that I am SO grateful. See my Classes page HERE. I adore all of you who show up and take these creative journeys with me, thank you. 

The best to all of you. 



  1. I have a friend who has had skin cancer on her nose. They did reconstructive surgery and she looks fine. No ugly scar. After all you have been through you can do this. Will send positive thoughts and prayers.

    • Georgia, I am hearing more stories like this and it makes me feel so much better! Thank you for your support.

  2. Look to the Four Corners, Jill. I’m standing here in Mancos blowing you peace filled kisses. Seriously, I am. So wave to me when you see this. I’ll wave back. Hand squeezing is welcomed. Mostly wanted you to know someone’s thinking good, good things about you and for you. xo

    • I am so loving this image! Thank you Lille Diane and see me waving?

  3. I’m so sorry that you have yet another hill to climb already out of breath from the mountains you have already climbed. Art is transformative….love that perfect word you used. Use it as you can to help you through this next chapter. My prayers are with you.

    • Thank you Nancy, I appreciate your prayers.

  4. Oh my dear one. So sorry you have had to endure so many terrible trials! I am happy to hear you have your family, friends and art near. They will all carry you through. Wishing you all the best on your future surgeries and keeping you in my prayers. (hugs) <3

    • Lisa thank you for your support and encouragement!

  5. Hey Jill!!! Sorry about the bad news of the skin cancer – but good news – they caught it and it can be treated. You can do this!

    As for why you do what you do – I’m so glad its what you love! And your art and teaching has inspired so many people around the country – as have your books. I saw 2 of your maps in a friend’s book of papers from Artfest just this past Friday – and it was so wonderful to see them! Love your totem – would love that in my own yard!

    • Janet, you are so fab for saying this, thank you! Nice to hear my art is still floating around!

  6. Jill,
    Sending lots of healing love to you and your family. Happy to hear that art continues to feed your soul, even through all the yucky stuff.

    • I need that dragon to slay my medical monsters Christine!

  7. Oh, Jill, for crying out loud! Evil things…stay away from her! I mean…now and forever! You know that we’ll all be thinking about you and your family through this whole ordeal and hope that the whole series of procedures will go well and quickly! Now, go make something for yourself. (May I suggest chocolate cookies???) 🙂

    • Yes you may suggest chocolate cookies Karyl, good idea. xoxo

  8. So sorry to hear of this recent health challenge, Jill. Like Georgie, above, I know of two (one my mother) who have had this with reconstruction on the nose and both have had beautiful results. You have been through so much and I know your confidence has taken a beating, but I have every confidence that you will see this through to the other side in good fashion.

    Your totem is lovely and I can see why it holds deeper meaning for you. I am a fan of cairns and see them in a similar way…as an Ebeneezer, a symbol that He has brought me this far. Keep using your art!

    Sending healing thoughts and prayers.

    • Try the totem making Julie, it was so much fun. Thank you for your support.

  9. Jill, I can not imagine how hard this latest diagnosis must have been to hear, to comprehend, to share with your loved ones. I do know that you have been tested—again and again—by fire and you emerge each time, stronger and brighter. Your spirit is incandescent. Your humanity is luminous. You are, to me, courage personified.

    I am so sorry. Be brave. So many of your admirers are right here. We send love and light and healing energy. Use our energy and get on with getting well.

    You are loved.

    • I am using all of your energies Michele and it really does help. Thank you for your kind words.

  10. Dear Jill……I am soooo sorry to hear this latest news… need to be cut a break already…..not fair for you to have to deal with so much. Glad that aside from your family and friends that you also can find solace in your art making. Thinking about you and sending love….

    • Laurie, thank you! Art making is a gift, isn’t it? Thanks for your kind words.

  11. I had malignant melanoma when I was 19. It was successfully removed in two operations. Thank you for the reminder I needed to hear to go get the health things checked which have been falling behind. All my energy has been going into surviving depression and complex post traumatic stress disorder. I need to catch up on some other stuff. And I need to create like a happy person would. Thank you. I care about what you and your family have been through, and what is facing you with fixing your nose. I’m beaming you all love and gentleness and freedom to be real together, and peace. I love your totem. It makes me smile. Xxoo

    • Rachel I am hearing so many stories like these! So sorry to hear you are fighting your own monsters and have you tried EMDR treatments for PTSD? It has been very helpful for me. Much love and support to you.

  12. I copied your mantra. Sending you a lot of love and safe light. Above all, sending you a lot of great times making and creating.

    • That is a great mantra and very helpful to me. Thanks for your support Angeline.

  13. I am so sorry that you are going through all of this. I am glad that caught the cancer on your nose and you are being treated. I love the way you look at each day with the sunrise and sunset. And the way art is the closest to bliss – that made me smile. You are strong and you are a fighter because you have family and art that makes you happy and worth fighting for. I pray this treatment will go quickly so you can get back to all that you love. Take Care

    • Wendy, thank you for your supporting words and for taking the time to send them!

  14. Jill, just wanted to let you know that I too had skin cancer on my nose, right on the very tip. I had it for a while and just thought it was another freckle, until it became transparent and sore. My dermatologist said that had I waited any longer, I could have lost my nose!

    Everything turned out fine, and it will for you as well. You can do this.

    Holding you in my thoughts

    • Jo Anne, I am so glad to hear your good story and feel grateful that both of us were timely on this situation. I like you best with your nose. 🙂

  15. Damn!!!! I am so sorry!!! art saves lives…hang in there!!! lots & lots & lots of love to you!!!!

    • Lots of love back at you friend! This too shall pass Deedee, and then we get to the good stuff. xoxox

  16. Oh Jill,
    I am so sorry you are having to go through this! I am praying for you and that God comforts you.

    • Hey Lo! Thank you for your prayers and for coming by! Wish I could meet you all in Kauai but this one might put me out. I expect pictures of all your adventures. xo

  17. thinking of you Jill, and sending healing prayers.xoxo

    • Thank you Lori!

  18. Yes, glad they caught it and you have talented, caring people to help you. I am ready to sign up for your Forest Grove class and go on that journey with you. The one last year filled me with joy! Love you, Jill!

    • I would love to see you in Forest Grove Jeanne, so glad you liked my class that makes me so happy!!!

  19. Oh Sweetheart, The c-word is so scary- as someone said above skin cancer docs do wonderful work- I had a chunk taken out of my leg and when I had my checkup recently (now I will Never Skip) the doctor asked me where the repair was. I am sending love and healing your way. When I saw your totems I was awestruck, yes- art heals. Love you! Claire

  20. Praying that this will be your last medical crisis, and that you will come through it quickly, beautifully, and go on to live a wonderful happy life!!!! xo

    • Thank you Karen, I sure hope your prayers work! Sweet words and I thank you.

  21. Oh Jill my heart just breaks for you when I hear this latest news. You have been so strong and courageous these last few years! You have demonstrated an inner strength that you probably didn’t even know was there. I love your totem and the beautiful way you write! It’s poetic and as beautiful as your art! It is a special gift to be able to create beautiful art during hard times and yet you do! I love that you continue to insist on seeing the color through the grey skies. I pray this is just a short detour in your road to recovery. That you continue your healing journey by bathing your heart with self love and kindness and filling your lungs with cleansing breaths filled with the love that surrounds you. Sending you positive thoughts, prayers and hugs!

    • Desiree thank you so much for your concern, compliments and prayers. I really appreciate your support and share the idea that art is a gift. Best to you.

  22. Dear Jill,
    I am new to your tribe having investigated after Tracy Verdugo mentioned your stencils & my friend, Kiala Givehand mentioned your book.

    It is clear you are gifted with great creativity. But now I know you are gifted with strength, resilience and perseverance. My heart breaks to hear all the horrors you have gone through and yet, you are here, sharing your experiences to both get and give strength and love. You are well entitled to your pity parties but I can tell that right after, you stand yourself up. I am so impressed.

    Let me offer whatever power my words can send. I am rooting for you. It sounds like you are well on your way to having your battles won. Hang in there, I bet that is the hardest part at this point. Lean on your good friends, and your creativity to buoy you above.

    Sending love & strength, Karen

  23. I just found you tonite while searching pinterest for some inspiration for my soul.Thank you so much for sharing your gifts and your story. Your writing and art spoke to my soul (and you gave me a much needed reminder about getting on top of the medical stuff). I love your totem, I do think you should add a phoenix to it, after all you have risen up through alot and I am sure youll rise above this challenge especially with the love and support of your family and friends from your very artful and soulful group here. Am hoping you are on the road to healing and finding tons of bliss through your art!

  24. Dear Jill, I was so grateful to be your student in Intimate Atlas at Art Unraveled, Phoenix AZ, Aug 2017. Can’t begin to tell you what your creative energy launched for me–combining visual art and writing in a way that opened so many new doors.
    Here in Tucson AZ, skin cancer on the face is very common. I can understand feeling conspicuous (I’ve had a few less-serious growths removed from my face), but you wouldn’t be in this city. Soon it will be cold in our mountain cabin, but please consider coming in the spring. It’s a place of privacy and stillness, magical light, nightly views of the Milky Way, birds, bears and the occasional mountain lion…and many other healing attributes.

  25. Dear Jill, Your Old World Maps stencil set just arrived, opening new paths for exploration and discovery. Thinking of you today.

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