How shaving scuttles changed my MPN life.
by Julie Moore
I was diagnosed with Essential Thrombocythemia in 1987 at the age of 30 after experiencing an episode of alexia (word blindness). At the time, I was enrolled in an ophthalmic technician training program at Georgetown University and was fortunate to be referred immediately by one of my instructors to some excellent doctors for evaluation. Within a short time I had a diagnosis of ET. I was asked to discontinue my birth control pills, begin taking a baby aspirin every day and return to the hematologist’s office weekly for CBC’s, which I did for a month or two. Eventually, because of a severe needle phobia that I believe developed during a series of 21 painful rabies shots into the abdomen at the age 9, I decided that staying away from birth control pills and taking an aspirin daily was going to be my self-proclaimed treatment plan and I promptly disappeared from follow-up.
Around this time I went to the medical library at the school and read everything available on the subject of ET. There was very little to read and less that I could understand. My reaction…complete denial.
I got away with this for about 8 years, but eventually started having visual disturbances that were very persistent and wisely decided that it was time to be reevaluated. My new hematologist was a wonderful, warm doctor with a very caring manner as he broke the news to me that my platelet count was now 1.2 million and it would be wise to start treatment to lower it. After discussing the options it was decided that I’d start on Hydrea. I had no side effects to speak of and it did wonderful things for my blood counts. With only one adjustment of the dosage early on, I’m still on the same medication today.
In the early days I often felt a sense of panic. I was a single mother of 2 very young boys and only 30 years old! Joining Joyce Niblack’s online support group was my turning point. I was finally able to get information and ask an unlimited number of questions. Knowledge is power and, once again, I felt some sense of control.
It wasn’t too many years after this that I began to realize that, in a way, there were some positive aspects to this journey. I’d had an opportunity at an early age, long before it crosses most peoples’ minds, to be shaken into completely reassessing my priorities in life. Blissfully ignoring my own mortality and living for some future dream was no longer an option. Carpe diem was now the rule.
I finished the technician training program and worked in the ophthalmology field for 20 years after this, but I also had a healthy attitude toward work. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my passion and definitely took second place to my family and quality of life. As the medical practice I worked for got busier I began to feel exhausted by the end of the day and struggled some to keep up the pace. Eventually, I switched to working part-time.
At about this time I decided to pursue a long held interest in making wheel-thrown pottery. I signed up for a beginner’s class at a local community center and began watching for used equipment (a little prematurely). Within a few months I had set up a studio in my basement and was spending large chunks of time down there practicing a craft that didn’t come easily to me. But, because I was determined to follow my dream of becoming a professional potter I persevered and within a year or so a few marketable pots were coming through the process.
The next step was to register my business name, get business cards and get busy about developing my new career. As I threw pots, elbow deep in clay, I’d constantly be watching the backyard birds out of the one window nearby. This became the inspiration for the not so serious name of my studio, Dirty Bird Pottery. My son’s friend, a recent graduate of Savannah School of Art and Design, agreed to draw up a logo for me. My husband purchased the domain name www.dirtybirdpottery.com and set up a preliminary website for me as a Christmas gift and I began to sign up for some small local craft shows. What a thrill it was when folks actually bought and used my work. Eventually my skills improved and I worked my way up to doing large, juried shows, even traveling some distance for a few.
Making the leap from a hobby potter to a professional potter was a difficult and scary proposition. There was much debate, reading, questioning to be done. In 1999, as soon to be empty nesters, my husband and I developed what we liked to call our five year plan. It involved both of us retiring from our “regular jobs,” building a house in rural King George County, Virginia and moving. He would be a consultant and work mostly at home and I would be a full-time potter… finally. We completed the house in 2004 and moved from suburban DC to our property on a protected wetlands in the country. Not only did I now have a beautiful studio above ground, but I was my own boss and doing something that I loved every day.
In time I was contacted by a member of the wet shaving community (who knew?) and asked to make shaving pieces. These have now become my specialty and the orders for these pieces have helped complete the process of making a living at my craft. Last year I was able to quit doing my road trips to various craft shows and haven’t really found that I miss all the work of packing, hauling, setting up, taking down and hauling again though I do miss interacting with the customers. I still get some exposure to the public each fall when a potter friend and I sponsor a self-guided driving tour of the county’s many artists and craftspeople’s studios. I also get a break from the shaving pieces by making custom beer steins which my son sells at his brewery in Manassas, VA.
Between maintaining several honeybee hives, baking bread, roasting my own coffee and being a member of two clubs in the county (an officer in one) I’m always experimenting with new pottery forms, glazes and techniques.
There are so many benefits to being my own boss.
My time is flexible now. Family and friends can definitely be a priority without a second thought or anyone’s permission to take time off. I work 6-7 hours a day in the studio most days, but can sleep as late as I need to in the morning. Breaks during the day to put my feet up and rest have become part of the routine and really help me avoid exhaustion at the end of the day. I feel a great sense of satisfaction in seeing rows and rows of pots in various stages of completion lining the shelves and no longer feel that I’m living for some time in the future when things will be the way I dreamt. I have arrived.
Take me back to the Contents
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Comments on: "Dirty Bird Pottery – Leaving ET behind." (2)
Julie, you have shown how one can get a chronic disease and change their lives into something they always dreamed about. I wish you continue success as an artist and businesswoman working on your own terms. Congratulations. I admire you.
And what a marvelous arrival it is! Please post one of you pieces.