Christina Laurel/wife and mother/artist/survivor of breast cancer/Survivor Series Curator

“Cancer feels like a silent creature lurking in the shadows, everywhere, all the time. Fear of a return is an emotion I acknowledge, but do not dwell on.”

“In 2015, my diagnosis was stage 2 breast cancer. I am in remission, entering the fourth year of my five-year cancer journey. In year two, when I began to feel better, I decided to begin giving back. A newspaper article about the fledgling Cancer Survivors Park Alliance and Kay Roper – she and I held the same job at an earlier time – appeared at just the right time.”

“I had just returned from my first artist residency in Paducah, Kentucky, when I discovered a definitive lump during a self-exam around Thanksgiving. It was difficult to enjoy the holidays while waiting for the test results.”

“My response to hearing the word “cancer”, as my diagnosis, surprised me. Everything about my life changed in that instant.”

“After first hearing my diagnosis, I remember the nurse saying, “You are already a survivor.” This made little sense to me at the time, but I am a survivor…of the treatments and of the time it takes. I cannot speed up the process; the journey takes as long as it takes.”

“When people would say, ‘You look good,’ their eyes focused on my hair. I realized there is a cancer stereotype: bald and weak. Because I participated in an NIH study where my treatment was intramuscular endocrine therapy (injections) rather than chemotherapy. My hair was unaffected. I wasn’t bald, but I was weak, especially following two years of injections, multiple biopsies, a lumpectomy, and radiation.”

“Because I am still on the journey, I can better share “what advice, wisdom or insight” in two years. I can say that in the beginning, support groups and yoga and communicating via Caring Bridge were helpful.”

“During my first year of treatments, I created a collage, 82 x 24 inches on a wood panel, titled ‘Pushed to the Periphery’ where the colored collage elements were only on the edges of a large neutral space. I felt as though my life had been pushed to the periphery because of cancer. Within the past year, I changed that wood panel into a working table in my studio. It is a fitting transformation and reflective of my survivorship.”

“My husband and adult son, as well as siblings and friends, were supportive throughout and continue to be supportive. I am a private person, so I journaled through the first year to process my emotions when the treatments became my consuming ‘job.’ I am also an optimist.”

“I am one of 14 men and women who participated in an exhibit titled ‘Direct Experience.’ What we have in common is that we are artists and we have (or have had) cancer. I am encouraged by the survivors who are two decades out, and I have great empathy for those who are just beginning their journey. Strength and vulnerability go hand and hand with cancer.”

Interview by Amy Doser//Photo by Jose Zurita