Sketch diary: it's harder than I thought

I am two and a half weeks into a six week course of radiation therapy, to zap the remaining cancer cells in my body. The course I am doing now is the type where a highly localized beam is aimed at my abdomen from all sides of my body. Every weekday, an ambulance-taxi, or The Guy, drives me to the radiotherapy clinic in Avignon, which is about an hour away from where we live, and back. Each session lasts about 10 minutes, and is completely painless. It's the side effects that are the problem.

I know that radiation therapy is much, much kinder to the body than chemotherapy is. Still, it's harder than I thought it would be. The biggest problem is the chronic diarrhea. It usually comes in the evening or at night, and sometimes it keeps me up until 3 or 4 AM. This doesn't help the other big problem, the constant fatigue. I usually wake up feeling more or less ok, but by the time I've done the normal morning things like brushing my teeth and taking a shower, I am totally wiped out. I usually sleep in the car all the way to the clinic and back. Then in the afternoon I may have about 2, 3 hours of alertness before I'm lying down again. My concentration, any ability to focus on a complex task, is almost completely gone. I also have very little appetite - which is a problem when you write about food.

(Update: on Friday, I asked the oncologist how much radiation I am being exposed to during the course of therapy. The answer: 45 Gy or 45 Sv (sieverts). Take a look at the the xkcd radiation graphic for a general idea of that what is. That's about 1.5 Sv per day, or one and a half yellow squares. It is pinpointed at a specific location on my body of course. But wow, it's a lot. No wonder I'm not feeling too good.)

I have been keeping a sort of sketch journal about the way I'm feeling. Here are a couple of excerpts. These are just quick scribbles done in a few minutes so they kind of suck as drawings, but they convey more than I can do with words at the moment. I also didn't scan them (well the burglars took our scanner so I don't have one at the moment), I just took pictures of them. Anyway.

This page has a very inaccurate sketch of how the radiation machine thingy looks like on top. I lie on a stainless steel table, on a styrofoam mold of my body that keeps me in position. The round thing rotates around my body into 4 positions. The middle sketch is of me when I'm healthy, always curious, usually with a camera or notebook in my hand. (Yep that's a camera.) The bottom pic is me now. It's pathetic.


This is how I spend most of my day now, either whimpering and lying down or napping, or wondering if my hair is getting thinner because of the radiation or just general bad health. (It's probably the latter. Plus I need a new haircut.)


And this is me, at the bottom, wondering when I will be able to go to an onsen (hot springs) in Japan again. Hopefully soon.


Drawing these has been strangely cathartic, in a different way from writing.

Filed under:  personal sketch diary

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These drawings are amazingly vivid and expressive. I really see what you mean. What a thing to go through.

But your creativity is still smouldering steadily, and it just goes to show that they can't keep a good woman down. Hang in there, Maki.

More than any words could say, these sketches tell me you're badly in need of a hug. So here's a bunch of cyber-hugs coming your way from Honolulu, Hawaii. Imagine, too, a lei of fragrant flowers - pikake (jasmine) or plumeria (frangipani) or whatever you like. And some delicious food. Above all, don't be hard on yourself. And know that I'm thinking of you. Aloha.

Dear Maki, I'm sure your energy will come back after the therapy. It's hard to accept we are temporarily not able to be so active as we used to be, but we must never forget it is temporary. It will go away. I am writing this for myself as much as for you, since due to some health problems, I'm basically not able to walk for more than a few meters: I've walked kilometers every day for most of my life. But it will change. Your drawings are very expressive. Maybe you are discovering a new talent? I know you love comics... Take care of yourself, in the meanwhile.

Hang in there! Take it one day at a time. Rest all you can, just think about yourself and picture yourself free of cancer, Your readers will be waiting for you when you are ready!

Please remember you have LOTS of people - all around the world - pulling for you. The only suggestion I can offer is to do more 'visualizations' like the hot springs: imagine in great detail that you are experiencing the favorite thing - at least it is something to do while you are an involuntary inert lump! - the mind is a complex thing and it might just help. Maybe?

[personally visualizing Maki energetic, well and happy again]

Kat said exactly what I was thinking. Maybe we should all visualize ourselves sitting in the hot springs with you.

I've been under teraphy for a liver problem for a year and and half, it was surely much less aggressive of the one you're doing, but somehow I can understand how you're feeling now. I was under fatigue too, and I lost a lot of hair, so I had to cut them so short I was resembling a man- I was horrible. The teraphy caused me depression and also hypotiroidism. But at the end I made it, thanks to my personal THE GUY, and thinking to what I would have done after recovery (i.e. another trip to Japan,that we had when I was still under treatment). I was forced to get up the morning to go to work, and to feed my beloved cats. Both things kept me on the way and helped me a lot.

What I want to tell you is that you'll be able to get out from all this because you're a strong woman, full of interests and dreams. You're beating the cancer and you'll be the old Maki soon,but much stronger and confident- with a new perspective , perhaps, that will allow you to enjoy life much more than before.

Apologies for my englis, i wanted just to let you have my support.

I think your sketches are great! I've been reading your blog for a couple of years now, and I just wanted to let you know that my thoughts are with you. Keep on drawing!


I'm sorry for what you're going through. I'm praying that you'll be rewarded for your struggle in a big way after it's all over. Think positive and it'll ease you through to the happy ending. =)

hugs and fresh rice balls for you! I've been reading this blog and Just Bento ever since I got into college... I've now graduated and still enjoying your posts and wonderful ideas. You've been a huge help for many of us, so if there's anything we can do to help you, please, let us know. Try to get out and enjoy the lovely spring while you can, I know some sunshine always helps me feel better. Ganbatte ne!


I admire you in that even while greatly fatigued due to all you are going through, you are still able to do these sketches that are so very expressive as well as write the blog to go along with them. While I have never dealt with radiation (or chemo for that matter), I know how exhausting it is for ones body to be dealing with chronic diarrhea which enhances that fatigue and helps one lose their appetite (acute ulcerative colitis is brutal on the body). I also know of the hair loss caused by stress and the depression.

I think you are doing a great service to your mind and body just by doing these sketches. Thoughts flowing your way - knab

Hello there. Just wanted to say you are a amazing, talented woman (your drawings are so expressive!) and that I wish you a great, quick recovery. A big, virtual hug from Madrid, Spain ;)

You're one tough cookie!!!!

We are all feeling your pain and wish you a very strong recovery. Maki, as you probably know, positive mental attitude will get you everywhere in life - some paths might be bumpy, but your positive mental attitude and the vision of the future will always pull you thru and right back on track.

Your blog has given me great inspiration as to my roots in Japan as well as dealing with life thru a stranger's eyes. I know this is going to be a temporary bump in your road and we are waiting for you to get back on your journey thru life.

Take care and think of the positive things in your future and the enjoyment your life brings to you and your extended family in hyperspace!!!!

Thank you for being Maki!!!

Take care and may the force be with you!!

We are all rooting for you, Maki. Hang in there! Lots of love going your way!

So very sorry you have to go through this. I am sending a hug your way.

Your sketches are touching. Hang in there, and know this too will pass.

Dear Maki,
Hope you feel well soon. My thoughts are with you.

I have had cancer but not on the level that you have. The important thing to remember is that you need to rest & give yourself an outlet. The drawings definitely express what you are goin through.I wish there was something that I could do to ease your discomfort. I will continue to keep you in prayer.

I'm a big fan of your websites, checking in for the first time in a while - I didn't know you were sick. I'm sorry you have to go through this - I'm sending you blessings and light - may you heal quickly and fully!

Dear Maki,I've been reading just bento and then just hungry since three months.At first just looking for something reminding me of the time I spent in Kyoto long ago (taste has such a power). But in the end is amazing how it helped organizing meals in my terribly busy day. You are in my thoughts too.A big big hug and ganbatte from Germany!

i wish you so many well-wishes! from an artistic perspective, your drawings are wonderful and if you wanted to you could create some kind of distributable booklet out of them. it would interest people who are interested in art, and it could be therapeutic to people who are also dealing with cancer.

Hugs for you. I love your sketches. They are very expressive.
Rest a lot, and I'm sure you will be back to normal Maki soon. We will still be here when you are ready.

I have been reading your blog for about a year now. Your situation is one I have seen in my own family. Have hope! This is not something that can keep you down forever! Everyone pulled through in my family and I'm sure you can too! My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family.

*Gives you a big warm hug.*

Sorry to hear it's been so hard.

We're all here if you need anything though, ok?

Much love to you and the Guy.

Stay strong, Maki! This is only temporary, you'll be back to yourself soon. Remember you've got people all over the world rooting for you. I'm sending you virtual hugs from Boston!

Wishes on behalf of all the food lovers from Brunei!

Hang in there! I am sure you can win over this war! I will say prayers fro you every day and night!

I think that I am going through menopause. I have to keep on reminding myself that it's a normal phenomenon, and the fatigue and ira ira will eventually go away. It makes me appreciate my own condition to hear what you are going through. I have no complaints now. Hang in there. Thinking of you in Tokyo.

My mom used to say, "itaitai no tondeke!". =)

Maki-chan tsuzuite ganbatte ne!


Love and many warm hugs. Stay strong and draw strength from your friends and fans here.

Be strong. It's been 3+ years since my wife went through treatment for the same cancer (different treatment though). She's remained happy and healthy, and if nothing else, the experience makes us value our time that much more.

I really understand what you're going through. I haven't been myself for years because of health problems. I hope it's over soon and you can get back to normal. I'm also very glad the cancer was caught and you are still with us. Hang in there.

Thanks for sharing, you are strong woman and I'm sure you'll better soon.
big hug to you and Guy.

Hi Maki

Love and hugs from Michelin land, France! I love your blog because your recipes are fantastic and one of the most authentic japanese blogs written in English.

Stay strong and know that we all look forward to reading your new adventures/ recipes!

Elaine, Clermont-Ferrand, France

I am your twitter follower who just started subscribing your "Just Hungry", and it's great (*^◯^*) Sorry to hear that you're unwell.. a Big hug for you from Tokyo. I'm also a survivor who went under the knife 6yrs ago and underwent a full-course treatment of chemo-radiation-hormone. My prayers for your full recovery*・゜゚・*:.。..。.:*・'(*゚▽゚*)'・*:.。. .。.:*・゜゚・*

Hang in there, Maki. Wishing you renewed health and strength ASAP. And thanks for sharing your cute sketches.

Diana, Tel Aviv, Israel

Virtual hugs! Do what you can, when you can, and don't worry about the rest. The world can limp along if this or that isn't done.

Lovely, wonderful, clever Maki. You're a stalwart of the internet for so many of us. I wish we could do something for you and The Guy (since I'm sure he's not finding it easy to see you go through this). If you think of anything we could all do to be useful then let us know. For now it will just have to be messages of support.

The drawings are moving and a bit sad but they're also full of your sharp wit and humour. Thank you for sharing them with us.

Dear Maki,
Sending you lots of get well soon wishes. I hope your treatment goes well and you feel much better soon. Be gentle to yourself and take it easy.
Laura xx

Lovely sketches. They express the up and down so well. Take care of yourself and know all will be fine.
Support for you from San Francisco.

Best wishes to you!

I love your blog, I cook from it all the time, and I appreciate the care you put into your posts and your recipes--especially the vegetarian ones!

I wish I could send that care back to you now. I hope you will be well and eating again soon!


I don't think I have ever left a comment on your blog, but I have read it for some time--I just want to leave my well wishes and send healing vibes to you. I hope you get better very soon!

i join all of your friends sending hugs and wishes for your full return to you. your drawings are so wonderful, perhaps you will draw maki and all of us with you in the hot springs. it will be a joy to be there with you.

"Laughter is the best medicine." A very good friend of mine and I both went through breast cancer surgery about 6 months apart. I had radiation; she elected to have a double mastectomy with no further treatment except Arimidex. To cope, we laughed ourselves silly -- the more outrageous the jokes and images we made, the better.

We're still here 3 years later and counting.

Yes, friends thought we were nuts when we'd get fits of giggles about our conditions. Then they recognized that this was how we were dealing with our situations.

You are finding an outlet with your sketches. Keep on sketching and, I hope, the sketches will become less sad and more humorous in time. Or more forward-looking.

As expected, you are going through "The Naps" and loss of energy from the radiation treatments. Your surgery and radiation area are different from mine, so perhaps the treatment is affecting a larger area of muscles and tissue than mine. Nevertheless, you are receiving a medical miracle which is saving and extending your life.

Continuing your website can be a diversion -- or too much for you right now. Never mind: we'll all still be here, sending you our hugs and love and wishes for your bounce back. You will be "normal" again, for sure, but the energy loss is something your body copes with by letting you have deep, deep naps.

After the treatment ends, your strength will return slowly and you will be yourself again. You will forget about this stage of your recovery and go on to a long and fruitful life.

Dear Maki,
My thoughts are with you as you undergo this trying and tiring treatment.
You surely know that miso soup made from non-pasteurized miso can help alleviate radiation symptoms.
All the best for your speedy recovery from Wellington, New Zealand.

I know you've gotten lots of virtual hugs, but here's a few more!

There is an in-treatment support group at the cancer program house I go to, and one of the things that they recommend if you're up for it is Mindful Meditation. It really helps with managing the side effects, and after you're done with treatment, it helps you realign yourself back to something that feels more normal.

I did it myself after treatment and can testify that it helps a lot. I wish I could be there! Having gone through the same treatment myself I feel your pain.

Keep up the drawing, writing, and reaching out to people. It does get better, and your creativity will help you get through it.

Dear Maki,

Be well. You're in my prayers.


Dearest Maki

What that does not kill us makes us stronger-I am certain you will come out of this trial victorious and stronger!

My thoughts are with you constantly.

I heard electric field therapy is being developed to treat cancer without symptoms of traditional therapy. However, the only human trials so far are extremely limited. I can only hope it will develop into a better alternative in the future or used in combination with traditional therapy for better quality of life. Hope you feel better and get well soon.

This almost made me tear up for some reason; my aunt died of cancer, it runs in my family and I can only imagine how awful it feels to have it :( I hope radio-theraphy works well for you I've heard great things about it! Side effects are unavoidable for every treatment I fear :/

Be well soon!!!

Oh, Maki, it's a shame we can't all take a share of your horrible treatment and get you through it a bit quicker. It seems like you are one of those people that has always coped with everything and it's now a bit unbelievable to you that you could be laid low - but just keep doing what you can to feel better and get better and think of the waves of support coming across to you day and night when we're checking your websites or thinking of what to cook or whatever it is that brings you to mind. We really appreciate you keeping in touch like this, and letting us know how you are doing.

sorry to hear that Maki! Gambatei! stay strong and have faith ok... hugs xoxoxo

Just back to look at your "an" recipe, and saw this. Sorry to read the news - I will make the batch of "an" in your honor and for your speedy recovery! Know that so many are cooking your recipes around the world (I'm in NYC) and thanking you! I'm chanting for you- MP

I'm so sorry you are going through this ordeal. Please stay strong and don't give up!

Thing is, you will feel better at the end of the treatment.

The problem is just that it is so hard to believe now, when you are feeling like, well, crap.

A big long distance hug.

Dear Maki, I read Just Hungry and Just Bento since two years,and it's always with a huge pleasure, being fascinated by Japan and by cooking since my youth, many years ago.I want to thank you for sharing recipes, culture and life with us. Hold out in this hardship, and eat japanese traditional food which is so good for health! My secret hope is that after recovering, you would like to visit France and come to Toulouse where I live for a lecture, or cooking demonstration, or only for the pleasure to meet your readers. Let me know!
With my warmest thoughts, M.C.

Get well soon Maki! We all love you and wish you to get better and 100% old Maki again! :)

Lots of love from Denmark!!

hi there, I've been following your blog for a while now and just wanted to say that I really enjoy your writing style, being informative yet creative about the japanese culture.

your sketches are very expressive and i'm sorry for the pain and anguish you're going through. I hope you feel better soon so we can have the happy, lively, healthy Maki back again.

hugs from Hong Kong

My heart goes out to you - and thank you for sharing the drawings with us. They are evocative and thought provoking and plain old GOOD DRAWINGS!!! I love your style. And your attitude. All the best to you. Hugs!

So very sorry for all the hardships you have been facing lately. Sending you so many good thoughts!

Gambatte kudasai Maki chan. Just a little more to go. Praying for you.

I hope you will get better as soon as possible and just keep with the treatment despite the side effects :D

Hi Maki,

I never left comments on blogs but I just feel compelled to after reading your recent news. Your blog is one of my favourite. I love food and I too have spent most of my adult life (well and my teenage life too actually) outside my "furusato". My heart goes out for you. Stay strong. You will make it!

Love from the UK

Hi Maki, I wanted to take the time to let you know that there's one more person sending well wishes your way. I'm a big fan of all your writing and bentos, and I know you'll make it through this and be the better for it. It's difficult to see now, but there will be better times! Get lots of rest, and we'll be waiting for you when you're back up and running full tilt.

Hi there,

I've been a silent reader of your blog for ... I can't remember how long. It's always been my favorite weekend reading as I admire the beautiful written and inspiring content of every entry. Today, I just want to officially thank you for being a talented blogger and a beautiful person (as I know you through your writings).

Everybody above me has written all the encouraging words I know, so I'll just say this: "Ganbatte", with a thousands "!" behind, each represents a hug for you :)

I just got to know about you and your website 4 or 5 weeks ago and i'm already a big fan of yours.
sorry to hear about you suyffering.
Feeling with you and sending out thoughts of love.
Stay strong XXX

Hi Maki, we don't know each other and I never posted a comment here, even if I've been following your blogs via RSS for quite a while now.
Well, I just wanted to send you a "virtual hug", because everyone experiencing pain, or health issues, or just bad times, should get all the love in the world.
I wish you all the best, but most of all I wish you to be brave and strong.

Sorry for your pain. I hope your current discomfort brings you an extended lifetime to enjoy the wonders and pleasures in this world. Hugs to you.

Wow, I am touched by your struggle.. I've been reading through your blog - I do hope and pray you get better soon and back to normal Maki!

I picked up your book while visiting Japan with my wife, and it has inspired us both to work harder on eating healthy (and delicious) lunches. We both hope that you feel better soon!!

So sorry to hear your feeling that way. I love your recipes. Hang in there.

I just found your site Friday and today is Monday. I am on break at work and thought I'd see what's new today. I am sad to hear about your illness and radiation treatments and trust that you can return to being in good spirits. I know to a certain extent how you must feel. There are times when my nasal allergies are such that I cannot smell anything and it drives me crazy. So many times I'll think up something to cook and then find I can't smell (and therefore taste) anything while I am cooking and eating it. It is so frustrating but I think your unique situation must also be very frustrating. I, like you, am always thing about food, ingredients, recipes, etc, etc. I thank you so much for your tips on making dashi, especially since I am gearing up to make shabu-shabu, which I had once in Korea and loved. Please feel better!

Maki, I'm a new reader, and I was surprised and saddened to read about all the things happening in your life lately.

Sometimes drawing is all one can do, when words don't fully capture what we're feeling. I made some watercolor postcards last week, after a close friend's dad suddenly passed away from complications with cancer.

I didn't describe the impetus, so most of my readers wouldn't know, but I just wanted to express my support for all you are going through. You have incredible strength and will to survive, not only your own illness but all life is throwing at you. My condolences for your father's recent passing, and I hope you heal fully!

Hi Maki, I just want to say I absolutely love your blog and your book, but it is sad to hear about your illness. I give you me full support and I sincerely hope you get better so that you can continue to not only inspire me but everyone else who loves what you do! Continue to fight!

Hi Maki...I came across this post one year were having your radiation treatment....I wonder how you are now?


Hi Maki...I came across this post one year were having your radiation treatment....I wonder how you are now?