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“Being an artist means forever healing your own wounds and at the same time endlessly exposing them.”

Annette Messager

UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner

My Source of Hope

2022

When I was five years old, I started making art as a distraction from the big bubble in my tummy called nephroblastoma. I had major surgery to remove my kidney and the Nerfball sized tumor. During treatment, I would spend hours in bed making crafts, drawings, coloring, and cards for the other kids on my hospital floor. At age seven, I relapsed with cancer to my lungs. I had more chemo, surgery, and this time radiation. I hit every holiday inpatient that year. So Stickers, coloring books, sketchpads, and any crafts became my new best friend. When I was diagnosed with cancer the third time, my doctors told my parents there was nothing they could do for me and I had a 2% survival rate. At age eight, I thought I was going to die.

We searched around the country and decided to try a bone marrow stem cell transplant which had never been tried before for my type of cancer. I was in the hospital for 50 days straight. In total, I have had 12 surgery, 27 CAT scans, lost my health insurance, was impatient for over 150 days, lost my hair twice, and countless prays. From elementary to high school, I missed over 650 days of school and a school year is 180 days. I hated it for a long time once I went back because I was behind, missed my friends, and was struggling in all my classes, except art. I wanted to give up because I didn’t think I would live until middle school, let alone college. 

Although I have no evidence of disease in my body, cancer continues to impact my life on a daily basis. There are days I cannot breathe. There are days I cannot leave bed because I am in too much pain. There are days the word “cancer” sends shock waves up my spine. The pieces I have submitted are a part of my “Disintegrating” series which confronts my late side effects, both physical and emotional, and are representations of the feelings, memories, and moments I do not talk about lightly. 

My initial focus was to gain some control over my PTSD because the flashbacks are so intense I lose the sense of present-day reality. I wanted to try to defuse the flashbacks by attempting to understand them. This is a challenging process as I am triggered easily and I am working with materials or images that are emotionally charged. I have to carefully test my boundaries to balance what I want to create and what I can healthily manage. 

My work captures flashes of me in my most vulnerable states. I have been working from the outside in, literally, as each piece is a self-portrait. Artists normally create self-portraits to identify themselves but I create mine to show who I am not. I am slowly detangling myself from years of trauma as it does not define me. Art provides a healthy release of emotions so I do not get crushed by the overwhelming weight. The work in this “Disintegrating” series represents the trauma that wants to devour me and allows me to release my anguish as I relocate it into my art. Each piece contains a painful moment in my life that brings me one bit closer to resiliency to continue the never-ending daily battle. 

A few pieces focus specifically on the years of pain from my uterus and my inability to have children. Now that I am an adult I am starting to realize all of the things cancer has taken from me. It has taken my kidney, my hair, birthday parties, holidays with families, innocence, and the choice to have children. Art allows me to work through these complex emotions and is an outlet for my grief. 

Art has become more than my distraction, favorite class, a beloved hobby, and career choice, it has become my place for hope. I am currently in recovery from major surgery so I have returned to where my art journey started–coloring books, stickers, and crafts. Just three days after surgery I was coloring a picture of Blue’s Clues when I began to feel euphoric as I realized how far I have come as an artist, as a student, and as a person. I am in pain now, but I know it will get better. 

I am no longer the eight-year-old with a 2% survival rate but a three-time cancer survivor. I am not weak, I am a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I am not alone, I am the Vice President for UWW-Dance Company. I do not hate school, I am a senior in college with a 4.0 GPA pursuing my BFA in painting and my teaching licensure. Growing up, I wanted nothing but to be done with school, now I value education so much that I want to stay. I am blessed to still be alive on this earth, therefore, I want to learn as much as humanly possible about it. After graduation, I will go to graduate school to get my MFA to continue developing my skills as an artist. I aspire to teach high school or college students to find themselves in their work the way I have. 

Annette Messager once said, “Being an artist means forever healing your own wounds and at the same time endlessly exposing them.” My continuous goal as an artist is to make myself heard, not necessarily by others, but by myself. Art is intimate and personal, it is a visual for feelings that have no words. It is a form of self-expression no matter what form, media, or subject it comes in. It isn’t about how many people like it or relate to it because it is about how I relate to my work. Art is a place to be unapologetically human. 

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