Thelma & Louise

This week our daughter and I are celebrating the seventh anniversary of a memorable road trip. And a whole lot more.

Seven years ago, after learning that she had inherited the BRCA1 gene, Karen elected to undergo aggressive breast cancer surgery and reconstruction at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN. I came from California to help care for her over a six week period, the first week while she was in the hospital. My son-in-law Kevin and I took turns helping her with all the routine, mundane items of recuperation – plumping pillows, back rubs, sips of water, alerting the nursing staff when more serious needs arose. There was a lot to do, but also plenty of down time while she slept.

I filled that down time by creating a watercolor collage art journal for Karen suspecting she might not remember much of what happened during her stay in the hospital. In reality, it was just as much for me. It was my way of attempting to create beauty out of a brutal experience. A brutal experience happening to the sweet baby girl I’d given birth to only forty short years before.

Her recovery unfolded as the doctors expected and by the end of the week she was discharged from the hospital. Karen was more than ready to return to her home in Western Kentucky where her twenty-month old adopted Korean son waited for his mommy. Kevin had returned to Kentucky to get Nate settled into his routine at home before Karen arrived. It was my responsibility to drive her from Nashville back to Benton – a two hour road trip.

Karen was headed home with extensive surgery incisions and drains. We were both anxious about getting her comfortably cushioned in the passenger seat before buckling in her. I was anxious about being responsible for her care and safety plus negotiating the partially familiar roads between “here and there”. As I was closing the car door I offhandedly asked, “Well, Thelma, where to next?” When I opened the driver’s door to climb in she said, “Did you call me Thelma?” “Yup,” I said. “Well then, Louise, let’s hit Starbucks and then head for home!” And that’s what we did.

That brief exchange somehow shifted the universe of our relationship. All of a sudden we were no longer just mother and daughter with all the wonderful and odd implications of that unique relationship. We were battle-scarred girlfriends on a high road to adventure navigating unfamilar territory, empowered, heading for home, just the two of us.  We spent the next many weeks dealing with daunting wound care, rejoicing when the drains came out, crying together over the loss of her body’s integrity, and laughing at a thousand things. We grew deeply comfortable with each other, even referring to each other as Thelma and Louise.  And we found ourselves, not infrequently, dressed in similar outfits! Our husbands weren’t too sure they wanted to climb in a car with us…

On the last day of my stay, Karen and I emerged from our respective bedrooms  dressed more alike than ever. We decided then and there that Thelma and Louise had to be memorialized. Kevin found a couple of rifles in the deep recesses of his closet and we struck our very own iconic pose. Robert and Kevin teasingly kept their distance. Seven years later the names have still stuck. She’s still Thelma. I’m still Louise. Sometimes a brutal experience creates something beautiful.

Have you ever had a brutal experience create something unexpectedly beautiful? Has an offhand comment ever transformed a relationship for you? Has the journey of shared suffering ever transformed a relationship with someone? If you were to create a page in an art journal that memorialized that experience, what photo would you take? What story would you add to the journal?

 Thanks for sharing in our seven year celebration! 

PS – The photo above, with its watercolor extentions of our lower extremities and the surrounding front yard, is part of a double spread of pages entitled Thelma & Louise in the art journal “A Complex Good” created for Karen. 


11 comments to Thelma & Louise

  • Kit Ripley

    Thanks for sharing about this remarkable and redemptive experience. What a joy that you can celebrate Karen’s 7 year mark with her! God’s mercy is unending. And I love your Thelma and Louise photo/painting!

  • Sally

    Thank you for sharing the journey – physical, emotional, sentimental and fashion!
    Happy 7th anniversary to Louise and Thelma.
    Wonderful photo collage too.

  • Deanna J Bowling

    It’s hard to believe that it has been 7 years since you and your daughter went on this adventure <:). Congratulations to both of you on your anniversary.



  • Love the photo/painting and as a eight year volunteer with Ribbons of Life Breast Cancer Foundation I love the story. Lynne check out the website of our local, grass roots, non profit.

  • Barbara

    Love love LOVE it! As you know, Lynne, I will be celebrating six years cancer free this August 3. It is very weird to say, but next to becoming a mother, getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me. Is that possible? Ahhhhh, but it is. Maya Angelou says that God speaks to us in a whisper. If we don’t listen he’ll throw a rock, then a brick, and eventually, if you don’t pay attention, the whole brick wall will fall on your head! Cancer was my brick wall, and I’d like to think that I’ve been a better listener since then.

    Your blog is a joy. Thank you for being so reflective and for giving us a moment to be inspired to reflect as well.

  • Deanna J Bowling

    Love the picture of “Thelma and Louise”, especially with artistic addition of a fuller picture.


  • Joyce Lombard

    TERRIFIC story, Lynne! It is a thrill to hear it again! Joyce

  • Jacki Guerrero

    What a lovely story, Lynne. My mom and I shared that journey fourteen years ago (only the other way around . . . I was caring for her). She bravely survived cancer surgery and the aftermath and I grew from the experience. Our relationship will never be the same – just so much better!

  • Robin Rice

    Road trips (and highly charged emotional experiences!) are certainly bonding experiences. Many years ago I was able to travel in our RV with my mother and her two sisters….three week journey to Yellowstone, Black Hills and Nebraska (their roots). I didn’t want it to end!
    Your story is wonderful and the dressing alike is so funny!

  • Kim

    Thank you for sharing a wonderful story. It brought many smiles. Great thoughts to ponder.

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