After she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2015, Mary Arndt had to rethink her entire life.
The 44-year-old mother of four was juggling household duties in addition to working as a secretary full time.
“When I got my diagnosis, it was a roadblock,” Arndt said. “Oh you’ve got to calm down, you got to focus on yourself now.”
Her doctor said she had to take it easy so Arndt switched to part-time work and tried to find other ways to supplement her income.
She loved arts and crafts and founded the Yorktown Calligraphy Club.
And, she has recently picked up a new hobby: Wood burning.
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“So I decided to practice with that and so the first time, it looked awful,” she said. “The first time you do anything like that, it looks awful.”
Another reason she started wood burning was a way to support her husband, Mike, with his hobby and side business, too: TrueNorth Woodworking.
She started watching YouTube videos and “things like that” and after a few days Mike told her the pieces were “awesome.”
“Because my dad was a woodworker, so it’s kind of in me,” Arndt said. “I like being around wood”.
After a month, she posted pictures of her work on Facebook and some people suggested she would do it “for real.”
“I was kinda scared about that,” Arndt said, adding she started getting commissions in February 2019. She also invested in a new machine.
People message her on Facebook for commissions, sending her a clear picture of what they would like wood burned. Each commission takes Arndt anywhere from three to four days to complete if “she has nothing to do” with a minimum price range $60 and up for a 8-by-10 basswood oval piece.
She primarily does portraits of pets over actual people using basswood or birch wood since it’s a softer wood with a smoother grain than other woods.
But that’s not the only craft she makes. Arndt also creates vinyl wood signs with her Cricut and started teaching herself wood carving, too.
“And I just dyed my hair blue just because,” she added with a laugh. “So my Instagram is blowing up because I dyed my hair.”
But the coronavirus has been tough for Arndt with her diagnosis.
She takes an oral chemotherapy pill — which she will take for the rest of her life — and has not left the house since March 13, except to four doctor’s appointments.
“And so my doctor said, don’t go out unless you have an emergency or unless you have to go out,” she said. “So I’ve learned how to be I guess, alone, but not alone.”
She hasn’t been to her church, Bethel Baptist Church in Hampton, since March either so she listens on Sundays — she misses providing sign language services in the church’s deaf ministry, too.
Altogether, she just misses being around people.
Her family has been supportive. Her husband has done all the grocery shopping.
Her son, Steven, an electrician, has helped out around the house and her other kids, Heather, Alexandra and Travis have helped clean, do grocery shopping and take out the trash.
The family dogs: Kimber the German shepherd and Shiloh the husky, have helped keep her company, too.
Arndt’s particular leukemia type is Chronic Myleoid Leukemia and while the current medication she takes does not cause her to lose her hair, she has other symptoms that come with having leukemia.
“Because with leukemia, one of the symptoms, and it’s an everyday thing [is] not having enough energy to do anything,” she said. “So like a regular everyday healthy person, their white blood cell count is usually from 4,000 to 10,000 — well for leukemia, it’s like anything between 120,000 up to 200,000, which is crazy.”
“Basically all the white blood cells are crowding out the red blood cells and you can’t breathe right — that’s how I found out I couldn’t breathe.”
She called it a “silent disease,” adding people can only find out through a lab test.
“You could walk around with Leukemia and not even know it…and there’s no cure and it’s not genetic in the sense of I can give it to my son,” Arndt added.
September is Leukemia Awareness Month and World CML Day was on Sept. 22 because leukemia is caused by the 9th and 22nd chromosomes switching in your blood, she said.
She wore her shirt for the occasion.
“I have a lot of leukemia shirts,” she said.
Arndt is doing a virtual walk via Zoom for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night walk in Norfolk on Oct. 3. For the months of September and October, she is doing a $65 special for her commissions with a $10 donation going to her leukemia team, the “Miracle Misfits.”
Normally during this time of year, Arndt goes to art shows to sell her works but this year, she is mailing out items to customers or having them pick up their items via “porch pick-up.”
After COVID-19 started in February, her art sales increased and she was getting at least three commissions a week.
“And the only thing I could think of, I have a service, I have something online, and I can actually mail an item,” she said.
She’s currently the Facebook group moderator of Hampton Roads Woodworking but she wants to start her own woodworking club for people to sit, do woodworking and talk about tools.
“I’m always doing something,” she said, adding if she’s in bed, her family knows something is wrong with her. “I like being busy; I don’t like sitting around, I don’t even like sitting on my phone.”
“Because time is so previous, you can’t get it back.”
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