Unique Ways to Share Thoughts and Experiences

June 30, 2017 5:33 pm

The following article is provided by The Clearity Foundation to support women with ovarian cancer and their families. Learn more about The Clearity Foundation and the services we provide directly to women as they make treatment decisions and navigate emotional impacts of their diagnosis.

Unique Ways to Share Thoughts and Experiences

By: Annette McElhiney

In 1953, when I was 12, I received a paint by number set, a craft item wildly popular at the time. I began painting immediately and loved seeing a recognizable painting emerge as a result of following the given instructions. I’d always wanted to paint, but I wasn’t very good at drawing; therefore without numbered instructions, I couldn’t easily recognize a figure or object I’d drawn or painted. As I matured into a young woman, I became more self conscious and I quit trying to do either. It wasn’t until I retired from teaching in 2002, that I again took up pencil and brush. I decided if I didn’t try painting at that point in my life, I might never do so.

Having more free time on my hands than I had ever had, I took plein air workshops, drawing, and painting summer sessions at the Denver Students’ Art League. Still, I was hung up on product—the painting I produced. Yet what a number of artists told me was to concentrate on the process.

After I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008, painting became my lifeline to sanity. Whenever I write or paint, I get caught up in the process of expressing whatever thought or feeling I want to express. Sometimes I am angry but more frequently, I am painting to remind myself of something and not to take myself so seriously.

In the winter of 2012, four years after being diagnosed,  I took a four-day workshop with two of the most beautiful women models I’d ever seen. As an ovarian cancer survivor and a woman over seventy with an ugly pelvic scar, I felt somewhat intimidated by their beautiful bodies. But I completed the workshop as best I could with a total of twenty-five drawings. When I arrived back home, I wondered what I would do with these sketches, as they hardly seemed suitable material for survivor art shows or for educating women about ovarian cancer.

One day, I let my mind and fingers play with one of the sketches. As I painted, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself creating a curvaceous body. I was also reminded of one day in Nicki’s Circle (my ovarian cancer support group) when we were asked by the moderator what each of us did that helped when we had a “black fog” day. Some people said meditate, others said listen to music or eat chocolate. I’d taken another ovarian cancer survivor with me that day. When she was asked, she said, “I have two margaritas!” The group laughed heartily and we all felt as if the elephant in the room (our situations including both physical and psychological scars complete with the vulnerability that goes with them) was acknowledged.  Obviously her remark had stimulated my imagination and Margarita Girl emerged in my painting.

At a Nicki’s Circle meeting several months later, I took the painting with me and presented it to my friend as a gift. It reminded all of us at the meeting of the huge role that humor plays in assisting us to heal. So I have begun a series that I call Althea’s Teal Tarts. As I look at them on my walls, they remind me that a sense of humor makes cancer less draining.

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