Breast Cancer in Words and Pictures
Two alumnae create very different books that both use art to explore the experience of the disease
by Cheryl Dellecese
A Google search of “breast cancer books” yields more than 68 million results, but two alumnae recently published books that deal with the topic in new and innovate ways.
In Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment (The American Cancer Society, 2012), former breast cancer patient Sally Loughridge (Sally Blakeslee Busch ’66) deals with the emotional rollercoaster brought on by her diagnosis and subsequent radiation treatment in 2010 by painting and writing journal entries over a six-and-a-half week period after each treatment session. Loughridge, a clinical psychologist turned full-time artist, says, “My goal was to better express, understand and steady myself during a tumultuous and unexpected journey.” Compiling a book was the farthest thing from her mind.
Loughridge’s usual artwork of deliberate, skillfully executed landscapes that focus on organic shapes, light and shadow was supplanted by almost primitive renderings and a need to work quickly guided solely by raw emotion. For the works that would make up the visual diary, Rad Art, she created guidelines for herself: no planning ahead, a 20-minute time limit for each painting, and no revising later.
Oncology professionals who saw the work produced during her treatment period repeatedly urged her to create a book as a way to help others through the same experience. “I was initially hesitant to share this material,” says Loughridge. “I decided to go forward when I saw how strongly the journal and artwork resonated with others on a similar journey. I also knew, as a retired clinical psychologist, that my openness might encourage expression, connection and communication and even ease someone else's emotional pain.”
While Rad Art illustrates one person’s intimate experience with breast cancer, A Celebration of Healing, by writer Eve Parker Hoffman ’64 and artist Sal Brownfield, looks at the disease from just about every possible perspective, with a wide range in age, ethnicity and socio-economic status, including men with breast cancer and family and friends of breast cancer patients. Brownfield had started painting breast cancer models, but soon asked Hoffman to write their stories when he realized he could not completely capture these in paint. Hoffman initially declined the offer, not having any firsthand experience with breast cancer. She reconsidered when Brownfield emphasized that the project was a celebration of wellness—not a series about illness.
“My first challenge was to capture the models in their own voices,” says Hoffman. “The second was to balance the dark and the light. These are real stories of real people whose lives are neither Hallmark cards nor how-to illness guides. I wanted the paintings and the stories to stand together in such a way as to honor the models, who honored us with trust and extraordinary spirit.”
The response of the medical community to A Celebration of Healing has been positive, and one reason may be the wide demographic of the models, which helps to dispel some misinformation about the disease. For example, Hoffmann says, she was unaware that very young women and men could get breast cancer.
Ultimately, Hoffmann hopes the book will provide emotional support for someone facing illness or facing the illness of a loved one. “A Celebration of Healing gives permission to be afraid and to face that fear,” says Hoffman, “to feel less isolated, to cry, to hope, to laugh—to find a new normal and to celebrate.”