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Volume 1, Issue 4
Winter 2005:

Lilly Oncology on Canvas: Expressions of a Woman's Cancer Journey

Elaine Adler

Cell 2 Soul. 2005 Winter; 1(4):a14

"The day one is diagnosed with cancer is the day one embarks on one of life's most profound journeys."
-Nicole Zernik, President of the European Breast Cancer Coalition

Artwork from Lilly Oncology on Canvas

To view the artwork of Lilly Oncology on Canvas: Expressions of a Woman's Cancer Journey is to see into the souls of cancer patients and their caretakers.

If you expect to be saddened by depictions of despair in the 400 or so drawings, paintings, and photographs, you will be surprised. Instead, you are likely to be touched by the profusion of bright colors and the predominant themes of hope and light.

The artwork was submitted by patients, family members, friends, and professional caretakers from 23 countries in response to Eli Lilly's request for artistic and narrative reactions to experience with cancer. Most depict breast cancer. Seeing so many expressions of this disease in one location is a stark reminder of its pervasiveness, regardless of country, culture, or age. A worldwide traveling collection of 150 of the entries is helping to raise consciousness of how cancer affects lives, and to see into the hearts of the contributors. Viewing the full collection is worth the trip.

As someone personally involved in the artistic process, as well as working with children in therapeutic settings, I am well aware that expressing emotions without the confinement and limitations of words can be effective in revealing suppressed thoughts, and in healing and recovery. The creative process, whether through the universal languages of visual or musical modalities, allows one to peel away verbal awkwardness and societal barriers, and to dig down to the core of emotions, unrestrained.

Often, artists say that the results came "through them" rather than being mediated in a conscious process. What flows out is more intuitive, more spontaneous, more true. Many who are feeling deep emotions are reluctant to share them verbally. Somehow, conveying such feelings with words seems to make us feel more vulnerable, more self-conscious. Sometimes the right words are elusive, and it is easier to depict our feelings through color and texture and form.

Whether created by a professional or novice, each work in this collection draws you in. The sadness, fear, hope, and tenderness of each artist is palpable, sometimes all in the same image. Each click of the mouse tugs at the heart, makes you gasp at the raw emotion facing you.

Many of the artists provide an accompanying poem or explanation of their feelings through their process. Lilly's editors chose to leave the comments unedited, even those from countries for whom English grammar and syntax are a stretch. I ultimately found it touching to read these words for which the artists clearly struggled, much as they had struggled with cancer.

While Lilly provided a panel of judges to select the best entries in various categories, I personally have to deem each entrant a winner. It took courage for each of them to share such personal expressions of fear, pain, suffering, metamorphosis, hope, and love — the same courage with which they faced their own illness or that of a loved one or patient.

Each of the patients represented in this exhibit brings hope to us all. In viewing the artistic expressions of their process and journey, their strength and courage are contagious. If medical caregivers could see each patient as the artwork she creates in response to her disease, how would that affect the compassionate care they provide?

As teasers, a few of my favorites, along with the personal narration that accompanies them, are provided here. The pictures are worth a thousand words.


"On Hearing The News (La Noticia)"

Acrylic by a Family Member, Friend or Care Provider, Mexico

This work portrays the internal conflict of a woman when she is first informed of having cancer. The impact of the news is stressed by the bright tones and the use of complimentary colours (green and red) in the woman's face, hand and shoulder. In contrast, the overwhelming black atmosphere that surrounds her reflects the fear of the unknown: life with cancer. While the darkness weighs over her, still there is light in her that sustains the hope of surviving the difficult journey of cancer.

The brush strokes are decisive and violent to evidence the aggression she faces, while her bodily expression (the hand over her mouth and the shrunk shoulder) show her intention to protect herself, still her expression may not be contained.



Acrylic by a Cancer Survivor, United States of America

My painting depicts the time when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. There was an evolution: first I felt I was inside a maelstrom, very scared. Then I am out of the whirlpool, I have a scar where my breast was: I have no hair as one of the effects of chemotherapy. At the end there is remission, an epiphany, with light, warmth and hope.


"The Dance"

Acrylic by a Cancer Survivor, United States of America

With cancer came a darkness
That brought me to my knees
Then darkness took me by the hand
It said, "Come dance with me."

As we danced I felt such sadness
As we danced I felt such fear
As we danced I felt such weakness
As we danced I cried such tears

Suddenly my eyes were blinded
By an incredibly brilliant sight
While dancing in cancer's silence
Darkness led me to it's light

Then light took me in its arms
It said, "Let me lead the way.
I'll show you cancer's gifts.
They're in each moment of every day."

As we danced I saw such joy
As we danced I saw such hope
As we danced I felt the strength
Light gave me to carry on


"Blues and Blooms"

Acrylic by a Family Member, Friend or Care Provider, India

Though without a petal
I'm still a wonderful flower!
Healthy and almost normal ...
And the fragrance the same as ever!


"Having Had One Breast Removed"

Watercolour by a Cancer Survivor, United States of America

When cancer struck, there was this ominous feeling of dealing with a powerful adversary. But with it, in my case came a deep sense, that what mattered most, and was worth more than a body that let you down, was love.

In my watercolor, I hope to have conveyed the feeling of sadness after losing a breast and simultaneously the definity to bear it all and carry on and help the healers help you heal.

The artwork collected for the 2005 Lilly Oncology on Canvas: Expressions of a Woman's Cancer Journey exhibit can be viewed at http://www.lillyoncology.com/oncology_canvas/oncology_canvas.jsp.

Eli Lilly has put out a call for entries for the 2006 Lilly Oncology exhibit. Information about submitting an entry, whether for yourself or to pass on to someone else, is available at http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=157126 in Europe or http://newsroom.lilly.com/ReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=174813 in the U.S.

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