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Cancer patients conquer disease, depression through art

By Carole Mikita | Posted - Feb 13th, 2013 @ 7:48pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Art can be a powerful expression of pain and torment, as well as joy and overcoming. Perhaps it's fitting, then, to take a disease that can often combine all of those emotions — cancer — and make it the basis for a patient's creative endeavors.

Tami Riaz used photographs of her kidney tumor specimen and turned them into earrings and pendants. She started while participating in a class in which many talents have been discovered. All with no experience necessary.

"If you see a picture of it, you say, 'This is it,' you know," Riaz said. "It doesn't have to be so scary anymore."

Patients at Huntsman Cancer Institute call their teacher, Jorge Rojas, "the art guy." He inspires people who are battling the terrible disease as the Institute's artist-in-residence.

"When they're doing something that uses their creativity, (it) takes their mind off of their illness, and off of the depression or anxiety or anger," he said.

"Your ability to heal, I think, increases significantly."

The artist and supplies are sponsored by a grant from the LiveStrong Foundation. At this point, there has been so much produced that there's enough for an exhibition, which will take place Feb. 19 at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, by invitation only.

Different patients take different paths and approaches to their art. While Riaz used a slice of her own tumor, others paint, draw or craft.

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John Maack is in remission from a rare form of lymphoma. Aside from painting, he does pencil drawings. His superhero, H, whose arch enemy is Cancer, stands on the strength of the names of all of the hospital staff, family and friends who helped him battle the disease.

"I really want to promote wellness and health, positivity, you know, humor," Maack said. "I had cancer but I didn't let it have me."

Diana Chadwick takes her cues from the sea. The Chadwick family has collected thousands of shells during family vacations; Chadwick created wall hangings for each of her four children using the collection.

After treatment for pancreatic cancer, she is doing well.

"I'm not tied down," she said. "Here I can just be me and have fun."

Cancer does not define these people, despite the enormous chunk of their life the it has taken from the. "Rather, they are defined by their art.

"It's kind of empowering," Riaz said. "When I look at it I think, well, that's not such a big deal."

"It's been kind of like I'm taking a hold of it, you know, and not just letting it lie there and do whatever it does," she said. "It's like I'm saying, 'Here, this is what I have and this is what it looked like at one point.' "

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