Coping with loss: Artwork helped me heal

Liz’s younger sister was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that forms inside the body cavities and around the vital organs–she was not yet 30.

“By the time they found it, the cancer was touching all of her organs,” Liz recalls. “She went through major surgery, which gave her four to five years.”

Liz knew that her entire family would have to help her sister Rebecca through her illness, but she wasn’t sure she would know what to do. But as is the case when caring for somone you love, crisis forced Liz to discover things about herself that she had never explored, including her limitations. Because her sister she was always incredibly hopeful, she did not want people crying around her. “She was very much, ‘if you are going to cry, I can not talk to you,’ and she would not talk to me for a month until I could gain my composure.”

Liz learned to restrict her emtions through helping her sister. Becoming the person that her sister needed, fulfilled her own needs. Although she had recently completed graduate school to figure out who she was, it was the time she spent with her sister that taught her true confidence in her capabilities.

“I think that is what is so amazing about the experience is that I walked away, obviously really grief stricken and really upset that I had lost this person. But I had this experience that tested who I was.”

After her sister’s death, LIz went back to work. Althogh this seemed impossible, she reminded herself, “All I have to do is make sure these kids are safe and that I am teaching them, but my 100% may be different today.” She got to a certain point where getting up in the morning, going to work, and going through the motions became part of the healing process. Eventually motions become beacons of stregth.

The instant she found out her sister was sick, Liz’s idenity as an artist undrewent a transformation. “I was still making art because it’s something I have to do, but all of the critique talk that went on in graduate school went out the window. I found myself making work and taking that time to reflect and quite myself down.”

Her artwork became a physical form of how she was dealing with the pain. It also became a way to integrate part of her sister into her own life. “My sister decided what she wanted to do and she made it happen. Now with my own life, when I sit back at the end of the day and I say, ‘What have I done and where do I want to be,’ it comes down to the fact I want to make art and I want to teach.”

Like many of us who have lost loved ones, Liz kept seeing her sister in all sorts of things and people after she died. Liz and her sisters would believe that Rebecca was giving them a sign if the lights flickered in the room.

The arch continues to change–she’s now at a point where doesn’t need that shape anymore. “The shape I am seeing now is a circle or an oval, and I guess you could say it is completeness.”

Liz just sold her first big piece and it is of an arch. The woman she sold it to asked her to explain what it was. Although she typically leaves interpretation to the viewer, Liz felt like she had to tell her. After explaining the story, the women explained that her husband had passed away from cancer several years ago, it was a beautiful and intimate moment.

Liz’s advice to other people who are helping someone with cancer is, “You really just need to give this person what they need. She told us what she needed and we did it to the best of our abilities. All you have to do is make it through the day, that’s all you have to do.”

There is no easy way to get through traumatic events, but there are some things to keep in mind while time heals the wounds. Understand symptoms, how to care for yourself, and how to recover, check out these tips at the University of Iowa.

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How Tai Chi helped me through breast cancer

When Dorothy received her breast cancer diagnosis, it felt like a death sentence. At the age of 66, she had already retired and was looking forward to teaching and spending time with her grandchildren. Cancer has a way of divorcing the mind from the body. It is hard not to feel betrayed by something that has turned against you. Dorothy turned to her love of tai chi to get her through the fight of her life.

Tai chi (TIE-chee) is often described as “meditation in motion” because it promotes serenity through gentle movements–connecting the mind and body. Simply watching graceful movements of people gliding through dance-like poses as they practice tai chi is relaxing.

Along with reconciling her mind and body, Tai chi enabled Dorothy to have a purpose in life, “It gave me positive movement.”

Throughout the process, the American Cancer Society a huge support and comfort for Dorothy. A member of the ACS and student in one of Dorothy’s tai chi classes brought in a video documenting several women’s experiences of breast cancer and examples of prosthesis to wear after treatment.

This student made such a great impact that now Dorothy has devoted 8 years doing Relay for Life for the ACS. “Every year, my tai chi class would go to their opening ceremony,” Dorothy said. “Every year we would take up collections and each year we would double or triple the collections. And I’m still doing it. Maybe after this year, after I turn 80 I might stop doing it. Maybe not.”

“Being a 13-year breast cancer survivor, I feel very blessed. There’s so much hope now compared to when I went through the treatment. I feel that I’m still here for a reason – to help other victims of breast cancer.”

Living with Lymphoma

There were a lot of unknowns. At the age of 26, Jen was the youngest person ever to be diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The average age being somewhere between 55-60. “I didn’t know much about it. I went on a leukemia and lymphoma website and looked it up and just poured over information for hours and hours about the disease and what was going to happen.”

Jen had to figure out a way to still live her life and enjoy her youth, though she had cancer.

Jen was incredibly independent, a single woman living alone, when she got sick. Balancing her independence with her sudden need to be taken care of was a huge challenge. “My mother would come to stay with me on treatment days. There were days that I still wanted to make my bed, and I still wanted to get ready. I would never let my mom help me take a bath or, when I could, take a shower. At the same time, I gave her complete control of the kitchen, which is huge for me.”

She found out on May 24th that her cancer was in remission, but the doctor was very frank-this isn’t a cure. It can and probably will come back. Although remission can seem like an end to life with cancer, Jen is very conscious of keeping a sober and peaceful perspective about her health. “For now, I go to the doctor every three months for checkups. I have X‑rays every six months. I have bone marrow biopsies every six to eight months. In between the doctor’s visits, I just have fun.”

Cancer brought love into my life

Angela found a lump in her leg a week after her 30th birthday. She would later find out she had malignant fibrous histiocytoma, which is a soft tissue sarcoma. Only 5,000 to 6,000 people are diagnosed with it each year.

The disease normally affects senior citizens or young children and it is often found in the limbs or a muscle mass. She had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving.

“I knew my life was changing the moment when I was in the dark room and they were doing the biopsy with the really big needle. I started crying. I remember the doctor grabbing my leg and saying ‘you know what you can cry, this is definitely something you can cry about.’”

Only two and a half months prior, Angela had met the man of her dreams. Her family stood watch to see what her new beau was made of, he was either going to cut bait and run or stay in it for the long haul.

The day she met Matt, Angela felt an instant connection. But cancer is a terrifying disease and angela vowed to take it one day at a time.

Get updates on Angela’s latest acting gigs and watch as she chases down her dreams on her website.


Silver Screen Star
Did you think that student with the umbrella in Necessary Roughness looked familiar? That’s because it’s Angela! See where else she’s made her acting mark at IMDB.

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This is what cancer looks like

The day Ruth went to the doctor with bronchitis she was a healthy 37-year-old woman who had a bad chest cold. When the nurse came back with the x-ray, she became a woman who was going to have to fight to survive. Ruth listened in disbelief as she was told there was a huge mass on her lungs.

“I walked out of there that day thinking that I had lung cancer, which my grandmother had died of a few years before that, and I knew it was pretty much a six month death sentence. That was a pretty traumatic day.” Just days later she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Ruth had never met anyone who had survived cancer. After some research, she found out there were hundreds of people who survived, but just don’t talk about it. “It felt really important to me that I do something that showed this is not automatically a death sentence,” she said.

One of the most exhausting parts of being diagnosted with cancer is trying to reconcile the visual information, “I am looking in the mirror I am perfectly healthy, I think I am fine and all of a sudden I am being told that I am deathly ill and I am going to lose all my hair and that this chemo that I am going to go through is going to tell the world that I am sick. I am not going to be able to hide it because it does it to you, you don’t have any choice, you lose weight, you turn yellow, you lose all your hair.”

As a photographer, Ruth became armed with a sense of purpose to document the jouney visually, which has admittedly been explored by almost every professional photo journalist– bookstores are filled with all sorts of great photojournalistic essays about people dying from cancer. But that’s just it, Ruth wanted to document the story of someone who had survived.

Two days into the process, Ruth began taking photos.

About four months in, Ruth laid the photos out for her and her students and realized that they told little stories. She put the stories together into groups, picking out groups of three that expressed complete statements. There are 350 total in the collection.

Follow this link to view Unremarkable.


Worth a Thousand Words
Get a glimpse at some of the other photographic work Ruth has done in her career at Ruth Adams Photography.

Hodgkin’s? Huh?
Learn more about Hodgkin’s Disease with this detailed guide from the American Cancer Society.

Run for Her Life
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society are racing toward a cure by training people for marathons and triathlons and getting them to spread the message. Take the first step today with Team in Training.