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Inside out

Cancer victims and friends heal through art

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On Hearing the News by Catalina depicts a woman - learning she has cancer.
  • On Hearing the News by Catalina depicts a woman learning she has cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 700,000 women in the United States have been diagnosed with cancer so far this year.

Cancer doesn't discriminate. These women include business professionals, mothers, daughters, artists, musicians, teachers, lawyers. They are black, white, Latino, Asian, old, and even young. It's a devastating illness, and its victims react to their diagnoses in different ways, with a lot of emotions to express.

Multinational pharmaceutical company Lilly is coming to the rescue. Yep, you read that right. A big-time, big-spending drug company is encouraging expressive outlets, encouraging patients and those close to cancer to take up a bit of art therapy.

Begun in 2004, Oncology on Canvas: Expressions of a Woman's Cancer Journey is an international art competition and exhibit that gives cancer patients, their family members, and health-care professionals a chance to express the intense journey of pain, hope and change associated with a cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival.

The traveling exhibit features selections from a juried competition of almost 400 entries from more than 23 countries. About 50 of these works will be shown locally.

Jami Nelson is responsible for bringing the art to the area. A local oncology nurse with Colorado Springs Health Partners, she was at a professional conference in Orlando, Fla., last spring when she first saw the exhibit.

"I saw it and was incredibly moved by it," she says. "You see this art and automatically feel what the [artist] was feeling. I show the book -- a collection of all the works -- to my patients now, and they really respond to it."

A few months later, Nelson happened to be in Las Vegas and saw the art show again. Upon her return to Colorado Springs, she contacted her local Lilly rep and asked about the show.

A longtime health-care professional, she never had tried to organize an art show before. With the help of a number of her patients -- some of whom volunteer at fine arts venues around town -- she finally got in touch with local restaurant The Warehouse, which agreed to show the exhibit.

The competition is relatively young, and Nelson hopes to put a Colorado Springs imprint on it in years to come. "It was too late to have any local people enter this year's competition," she explains, "but a number of my patients are interested in submitting for next year. Some of them are professional artists. I just think it's just such an important thing."

The works -- watercolor, acrylic, oil, pastel, charcoal, and photography -- are startling, touching and evocative of pain, anger and, most significantly, hope. Along with the artistic image, each artist submitted a narrative about what the image expresses.

Each piece depicts how individuals process information in different ways -- some use images of stunted nature, others abstract images -- but, most importantly, provides a true testimony of what the human spirit can endure.

-- Bettina Swigger

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Oncology On Canvas

The Warehouse, 25 W. Cimarron St.

Sunday, Nov. 27 to Thursday, Dec. 1; opening reception Nov. 27.

Free; call 475-2405 for more information.

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