Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Threads of Light & A Personal Note on Breast Cancer

My book ~ The cover displays the embroidery version of a photo by Mr. Ketchum

Nature photographs by Robert Glenn Ketchum hang on the walls of the main building of the UCLA Medical Center. I spent the summer of 1999 walking the corridors there on my way to radiation therapy and appointments with various doctors. I had breast cancer. Fortunately chemo was not required, but seven weeks of radiation were not exactly easy on my body and soul. Five days a week for seven weeks, I passed by Mr. Ketchum's nature photographs. I looked at them and they calmed me. 

The embroidery version of a photo.

At the same time, in the Fowler Museum of Cultural History on campus, there was an exhibit of Mr. Ketchum's photographs, but with a twist. The exhibit was called Threads of LightChinese Embroidery from Suzhou and the Photography of Robert Glenn Ketchum. I went to see it, not knowing what to expect. And I had a visual and emotional experience far beyond anything I could have imagined. The examples below are just to give you an idea, the exquisite originals cannot be captured.

 The actual photo.

The embroidery version of the photo.

In China, at the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute, embroiderers, who work in the institute's Random Stitch Embroidery Research Studio, used their skills to capture the essence and beauty of Mr. Ketchum's photographs, translating them into intricate embroidery pieces. Imagine the above photograph of a forest of deep green and flaming red autumn colors transferred, stitch by stitch, to an embroidered canvas. I am really speechless here, it was that amazing. 

Panels embroidered from a photo by Mr. Ketchum.  Can you imagine embroidering something like this, stitch by stitch? Not only the artistic skill, but the patience......

Amazing is an overused word; it should be reserved to express something astonishing, surprising, something that gives you a sense of wonder. It definitely is the correct word  to describe the wonder I felt as I looked at this exhibit. Amazing!

A work in progress. The photo that is being embroidered is at the top.

My book shows many incredible photos of work in progress at the institute, as well as the finished products. 

It feels good to know that a place like the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute exists in this day and age to keep ancient traditions and skills alive. 


Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want to encourage those of you who need an annual mammogram to just go do it. Have it done, don't forget, don't plan to do it later, just do it once a year on a regular schedule. OK!

I didn't feel a lump or anything unusual when I had my mammogram back in 1999. But something was wrong and the mammogram picked it up. The cancer was stage 1 or 1.5. Because it was caught so early, I didn't need chemo, which was huge. Seven weeks of radiation therapy was not easy, nor were the five years that followed on the drug Tamoxifen. 

But in the end, it was no more than a pebble on the road of my life.

I'm still here, after all. Who knows where I would be if I had skipped that one mammogram, thinking I would just wait another year................


  1. My sister just finished a year on the breast cancer train to hell and back; lumpectomy, chemo and radiation. So wonderful for you during such a difficult time to witness such beauty!

  2. A beautiful and inspiring post. Beautifully put together. Thank you.

  3. the paintings are wonderful, the embroidered is beyond amazing. I did not realize you are a breast cancer survivor. this is a wonderful post to raise awareness.

  4. Those were beautiful art pieces and the needlework gorgeous. I do some needlework, and it does take patience and skill to do work such as you show here.

    I do go for mammograms on a regular basis. I usually go every two years, so I'm due next year. It is important and it's great you're emphasizing it's purpose. I've had close friends who have had to deal with this.

    Enjoyed the art work, Inger.

  5. "But in the end, it was no more than a pebble on the road of my life"
    Oh Inger I just loved this line.
    I am so sorry you had to go through this and I am so happy it was found early.
    I love love love the embroidery it is so beautiful and I imagine very time consuming. Incredible I can see how you drew strength from it.
    Hugs B

  6. thanks for sharing your own experience, inger.

    i love this embroidery work! stunning!

  7. So glad you didn't miss your exam that year Inger. I, too, think annual exams are a must and don't understand why some skip them. The photos are beautiful.

  8. This is such a stunning post on so many levels -- from the photographs, to the very special embroidery skills that translate what one art form has done into another to your encouraging us all to have breast exams. To be able to find beauty when going through difficult and traumatic experiences is a wonderful thing.

  9. Wow what beautiful pictures and the work..oh my goodness!!

  10. Va fint jobb de gör. Jo det är viktig med kontroller , i Sverige kollas kvinnor efter 50 vartannat år. Grannen skulle inte gå men hon gick då hennes bror fått tarmcancer och de hittade en liten mm stor tumör. Hon har strålats nu 25 dagar i rad och det verkar ännu vara ok.

  11. As hard as it may be to believe, you've left me speechless!

  12. Lovely embroidery work, love them! thank you for sharing your story. Have a lovely day! It's been a typical autumn day here in Dublin today, with some drizzle but it's not very cold, so all is good.


  13. How beautiful! What talent.


  14. You brightened my day. Those pieces were exquisite.

    There are too many who suffer from breast cancer. Your voice echoed strongly today.

  15. wow! Just wow on the photo to embroidery. I have embroidered some, but I think I would be curled up in a ball, sucking my thumb to do something like that. And that little task is on the to-do list. I have never had a problem, but come from a family history of lumps and bumps, so putting it off is not an option.


  16. That artistry truly is amazing.
    So glad you came through cancer in such fine form.

  17. (((Hug))) :O), the photos are lovely, I can see why they would be calming.


  18. What a beautiful post! You are an inspiration.

  19. Fantastic post, Inger!

    Thanks for visiting my blog and always leaving such nice comments!

  20. Wow! just beautiful. That is amazing!!

  21. Amazing work, indeed. And I'm so glad that 'pebble' is behind you. What a great attitude!

  22. Dear Inger, yes! Amazing is the right word for the embroidery. I can't imagine that kind of patience. The woman sitting there and embroidering is engaged in holy work. She is caught up in silence and Presence.

    I'm so relieved to learn that the breast cancer is a thing of the past for you. And thank you for this reminder. I do get the mammogram but I need to do the Pap smear in November and I'd forgotten about doing it every two years. Peace.

  23. Thanks for sharing your experience. Finding about it in time saved your life and now you live to tell us about it.Thanks for the reminder.I know I keep putting it off. I know I shouldn't.
    Thanks for sharing the beautiful pics and the artwork. They are stunning.

  24. I came back and looked at this again after you wrote me. I just didn't leave a comment but did see it. I can't believe how this must look in person, all those tiny stitches. Now I do not have that kind of patience and you must sit to do it which I don't like. You were so fortunate to be able to see this exhibit.

  25. Hi Inger - what a great post .. and like the others say so pleased you came through that trauma .. a mere pebble in the path of life.

    The embroiderers must be quite extraordinary .. and those panels are just beautiful - staggeringly lovely work - wonderful that the hospital has such reflective work on display ..

    Loved reading this .. and yes I do go for my appointments .. thanks - Hilary


Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger


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