Painting Flowers With Blood Cancer
Last year, as a perk for being a contributor to Blood-Cancer.com, I signed up for an event called Pause & Paint. The purpose of the event was to bring Health Union contributors together for a fun and relaxing hour of acrylic painting over Zoom. The initial excitement I felt about the class quickly turned to frustration as I struggled to paint a single flower. Embarrassed and disheartened, I threw my painting in the trash and vowed never to paint again. I had no idea that a few months later, not only would I paint again, but I would be doing it every day.
A mangled masterpiece
I knew I was in trouble as soon as the Pause & Paint instructors began mixing paint colors. “Why do we need to mix colors?” I thought as I strained to remember color theory from grade school. I panicked, attempting to paint a simple stem. Which direction should it go? What if I make a mistake? Why was I doing this?
I was not relaxing and having fun anymore. Instead, I felt paralyzed by fear and frustrated with my lack of coordination and imagination. When the hour was over, I was the only one who chose not to share my mangled masterpiece with the others. Instead, I turned off my camera and tossed it in the trash.
An abandoned inner artist
After the class, feelings of failure hung over me like a dark cloud for days and then weeks. I was confused and surprised by such uncomfortably strong emotions and by how much I seemed to care. After all, before blood cancer, I was a math teacher. No one expected me to be good at painting flowers. Those skills were theoretically on the opposite side of the brain.
But as I thought about it, I realized that my well-meaning parents and teachers had influenced how I thought about myself as an artist. As a child, I loved to doodle and draw, but my lack of confidence and formal training prevented me from practicing a talent that I didn't seem to have. My parents were both highly-educated scientists who encouraged academics and classical music; I succeeded at both.
So with the best of intentions, I traded something I loved doing for something I could do well. I swapped artistic freedom for job security, and I silenced my inner voice so I could listen for the approval of others. By the end of high school, I had completely abandoned my inner artist.
Inspiration from blood cancer
One of the greatest blessings of my blood cancer diagnosis has been the inspiration to live life on my own terms. I realize now that I get to be the author, producer, and star of my life. So, a month after the Pause & Paint class, I decided to become the artist I always wanted to be. I enrolled in several online acrylic painting courses and ordered boxes of painting supplies that soon showed up at my door.
Those supplies have now taken over my dining room, which has become my temporary art studio. Artbooks, palettes, papers, canvases, brushes, acrylics, watercolors, pencils - even a French easel - now reside where napkins, eating utensils, and fine china once did. I fell completely in love with painting.
I am no Van Gogh yet, but I have greatly improved at flowers. I paint mostly smaller pieces and a few greeting cards for my mother (who assures me they are delightful). But I am excited to see what happens as I gain more experience and confidence. Who knows, maybe I will even sell paintings someday like my friend Holly. She began painting in her 40’s and now displays her work in local art galleries.
A blank canvas is such a wonderful teacher of possibilities. I get to paint anything as I see it - or as I want to see it. Each brush stroke offers endless opportunities to let go of resistance and limiting beliefs that have not served me well. And each mistake reminds me of my endless capacity for adaptation and transformation - something quite useful for navigating the world of blood cancer.
Painting makes me happy. It feels like the long-awaited marriage between the frustrated inner child who wanted to be an artist and the blood cancer patient who finally chose her. And we will always be grateful for Pause & Paint for leading us back to each other.
What type of blood cancer are you or your loved one diagnosed with?