I’ll swear on a stack of freshly folded laundry that I was born the first day of art class. When I smeared the brush around in the paint and timidly swiped it across the canvas, my breath caught in my throat as if entering sacred territory. In that instant I was irreversibly addicted; I knew I would squander every penny, barter my children, and neglect my husband for a few stolen moments with the paint brush. OK, so I guilt-tripped a little bit; frankly there was no time for art, but I freely admit that every waking thought involved some scheme to carve out time for painting. It seemed an unreasonable obsession, but I knew that one day I would fulfill this yearning.
Hello – chemo! Little could I know that cancer would provide an excuse to spend long hours sitting at my easel, and art would be my greatest ally in the struggle to survive. I can be zoned out on chemo with overwhelming pain in my arms and legs, too tired to breathe, and suffering with the shakes; but if I drag myself up and go sit in front of my easel, all of that washes away. I can forget about the pain and the question marks in my life, as my thoughts are consumed with the artwork in front of me. It’s an easy choice – I can ache and shake in boredom or I can ache and shake at my easel. Painting is my meditation, my Nirvana, my sanity and my soul. Focusing on beautiful paintings instead of my ugly disease helps me get out of bed and face each day with zest and enthusiasm.
Spending time and dedication painting has resulted in amazing accomplishments in my career that I never dared to dream of. Using my passion for art as the “carrot” to keep moving forward, I determined never to decline an opportunity because of cancer. One such story is a great lesson in life – I was commissioned to produce an immense painting, but also needed major surgery and more chemo. My first impulse was to reject the commission, and just focus on small works. Reminding myself this was contrary to the “Fran Plan”, I ordered the canvas and began designing the painting. There’s nothing more terrifying than a blank canvas, and when I saw the enormous canvas carried into my studio, I nearly passed out!
Relying on lots of deep breathing and many chunks of chocolate, I painted the highest and lowest areas which were difficult to reach. With these portions of the painting complete, I went into surgery wondering if I would ever get to finish. Back on chemo immediately after surgery, I finished the painting when I was able to sit up. It was a wonderful success – and two years later appeared on the cover of a national art magazine. During those dark hours in the hospital, hooked up to nine tubes and hammering the morphine button, who could have known this would happen? None of us really know what possibilities the future holds, but only if we keep getting up and moving forward.
I urge everyone to find something in their life that gives them purpose, mental entertainment and joy; an activity from the past, a dream for the future. Dare to dream; believe in the art of the possible. You may look back years from now, and chastise yourself for wasting so much time. When you focus outward, life is easier. Involve your brain in something you love; you’ll notice that “quality of life” thing happening, and it could be your greatest weapon against depression.
During one lengthy hospitalization, complications required me to receive ten pints of blood. I wondered if any of the blood donors were artists; it doesn’t matter of course, but somehow I’ll never feel alone in my studio. In grateful recognition of these donors, maybe we should incorporate. Hmm.....Di Giacomo Art Studio, Inc?
Artist Fran Di Giacomo is author of
I’d Rather Do Chemo Than Clean Out the Garage: Choosing Laughter Over Tears