After a Fashion: The Report

Stephen's upgraded his assessment of the fight of his life

New styles from Helm Boots on display in their new West Sixth location
New styles from Helm Boots on display in their new West Sixth location (Photo by Brad Seats)

It is no secret that I am possessed with designing like I've never been before. But pulling out my guts to create the coolest thing I can, and pulling and pulling, is madness. And madness takes its toll. I. Must. Design. It is my religion. It is also my escape from the otherwise inescapable fact that I have cancer. I'm medicated well enough to function as necessary, but I definitely go into overdrive at showtime. And it's always goddamn showtime these days. The DIFFA event in Dallas took a lot out of me. After days of uninterrupted rest following the grueling work schedule I set for myself, I laid off most of my medications and began to explore what I really felt like ... and what I was avoiding.

I was drained emotionally and physically but had to begin dealing with the everyday fatigue of my cancer. I'd lost a dramatic amount of weight, going from thin to emaciated. But something I'd only had twinges of before – the literal and constant ache in my bones, particularly through the hips – had become distressingly prominent. The likely scenario is that the cancer has metastasized into my bones, but I'd have to go to a specialist to determine that, and specialists are hard to come by when one has no insurance.

Do I really want to know? Not really. My mom does, and I owe her that since she is always the only person there for me all the time. But it means signing up through a clinic and getting a charity referral, a lengthy, laborious process at best, and I'm just not dying to do it. (Did I really write that?) In addition, there appears to be some drastic surgery in my future for a matter from which I will delicately refrain mentioning. But believe you me, I will try everything before I submit to the surgeon's knife one more time. Unfortunately, the longer I wait without some immediate changes, the sooner I may face what I'm avoiding most. I have the coolest doctor in the world who takes care of me wisely and lovingly. But this recent visit was deeply disturbing. Why? Because, it's showtime again.

I can hardly complain, however, since I am the finale of the Austin Fashion Awards on May 11, and a nominee for a Trailblazer award. Going back into the studio – a totally new studio – has me a bit apprehensive. Do I have the strength to pull off the kind of show that I want this one to be? Can I still rely on the "Medicated and Motivated" routine without causing further physical harm? I don't care, dammit. This design work, these things that I've been creating ... I don't really care whether anyone else likes them or not. I love them, and at this point in my life, such as it is, I don't have to please anyone but myself. I don't even care if they sell. If I could, I'd give them all away. At the same time, I feel compelled to squirrel away the best pieces for my own private archives. I don't really care that I don't make any money at it, but at some point, I'm going to reach the ends of my devoted donors' purse strings. And then what? I'm scared. Scared that my fantasy world will collapse and disappear around me, like the shimmering, opulent mirage that it has felt like? Scared that I won't come up with enough money to present what might be my last collection? Scared that I may not be physically able to complete the show? Sure. I need a battery of help and money to pull off some of these ensembles, and I do indeed design every garment as though it may be my last. I always want each one to be better than the one before.

Do I set high standards for myself? Absolutely. Am I sometimes foolish in my assessment of exactly how much work I can do or have done for me? Absolutely. But I keep thinking of Dangerous Liaisons with John Malkovich's Valmont (a favorite fashion icon) bloodlessly repeating to Michelle Pfeiffer's Madame de Tourvel over and over, "It's beyond my control." I. Must. Design. By the time this column hits the stands, I will be in the thick of it again. I know I've said it before, but somehow, I feel like this may be the fight of my life.

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Austin style, cancer, bones, DIFFA, Austin Fashion Awards, Trailblazer, ache, donors, medicated and motivated

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