How Cancer Led Me to Paint Big
Like most journeys mine was filled with bumps and turns. On a bitter cold day in February 2013, I sat on my kitchen floor trying to register an unexpected thyroid cancer diagnosis. I could never have imagined that this discouraging experience would land me where I am today.
Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, I attended a women’s retreat. We were asked to create a list of wildly impossible life goals. One of my goals was to “paint daily.” In writing about this list later, it struck me that daily painting actually seemed possible. Though at that time, I hadn’t painted in three years, I already owned plenty of paints, brushes and an easel, which were currently occupying some dusty corner of my attic.
As part of my thyroid cancer treatment, I knew I would have to take a radioactive pill and be in isolation for seven days. An inspiration came to me as I prepared for this medical treatment. I would use these seven days alone (a sort of luxury for a mom of young children) as a retreat. I wanted a joyful terror (painting on a larger scale than I had ever attempted before) instead of just the terror of the medical treatment.
I bought a canvas more than four times bigger than I'd ever painted before. And I made a rule: I wasn't allowed to start that painting until after I swallowed that pill.
Even down to the moment of holding that pill in the intimidating small back room of the hospital—the pill that came in a lead case in a lead box that was handed to me by a technician who then backed quickly away—I didn't know if I could do it...if I could actually swallow. For me, swallowing that pill was climbing Mt Everest.
I never could have guessed how profound the period of isolation ended up being for me. Never in my life had I spent seven days alone, let alone seven days painting. In those first seven days, I completed more than twenty watercolors and two large acrylic paintings .
Painting was a refuge. It was empowerment. It was inspiration.
I will never forget that time, and I will always remember it with that first painting, called “Radioactive.” At the end of my isolation, I thought that would be the last time I ever painted big. (Spoiler alert: I've now made more than seventy LARGE paintings).
Why I continue to make space to paint
Somewhere along the way I decided I don't have to have cancer to get to spend time alone or to restore your soul. I don't have to be sick to 'get a break' from work or parenting. I had such a transformative experience during those seven days, that I chose to honor that experience by continuing to make space and time to paint. I gave away our guest room furniture and took over that room as a painting space. Now, with my health restored, I choose to remember the divine feeling I have while painting and to consciously give it space in my life.
Why I paint what I paint
I find renewal in nature. The trees remind me of the scripture “The leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.” I hold a space for healing within me and for those around me. I am often drawn to painting aspens, meditating on their beauty and also their interconnected root systems, which reminds me how connected we all are. Each painting I do is filled with prayer, meditation, and joy.
Painting and Prayer
It is my hope and prayer for each of us that we might face our fears, that we might be courageous, that we might let hard situations transform us, that we might know our interconnectedness with others and feel the comfort that comes from that connection, and that, in our own way, we might step through a gateway into compassion. With this hope in mind, I welcome custom commissions; I find absolute joy in hearing a client’s own hopes and prayers, which I then meditate on while painting.