Show features cancer journey

Event planners Carla Jolley and Renne Yanke pose in front of a chemo gown covered in signatures. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Event planners Carla Jolley and Renne Yanke pose in front of a chemo gown covered in signatures.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, artist Gaylen Whiteman avoided painting anything related to her disease.

“I felt like I needed to distance myself from it for a while,” said Whiteman, who was diagnosed in early 2000.

This year, she decided to join the “Art Celebrating the Cancer Journey” show for the first time. About 15 artists, who are survivors or caregivers, were showcased in an annual event aimed at sharing images and stories of fighting cancer at the Coupeville Arts Center. Whidbey General Hospital was the host.

In 2001, Whiteman said she was given a lumpectomy surgery to remove a tumor from her breast. She painted a nude woman sitting in her hot tub, who had gone through this surgery and wrote: “I envision the side view and smile. I look like hot tub Snoopy! I am a survivor.”

“I was able to add my quirky sense of humor,” she said.

According to hospital event planners, art is considered therapeutic for cancer patients and can help with processing emotions. In exhibition, the art can create an understanding in the viewer. One in four people will have a history of cancer, said Renne Yanke, Whidbey General Hospital cancer program manager.

“People come in and their eyes will sometimes well up. It’s about learning to be more aware of people’s journey,” Yanke said.

About 20 pieces of art by professionals and amateurs were hung at the art center, each accompanied by a short text.

Some contained a cancer-related theme, such a quilt composed of cancer-causing agents, but most of the images were personal to the artist.

Artist Larry L. Bucy painted two realistic scenes of Lake and Mt. Shuksan in the Mt. Baker wilderness area. His journey with cancer began in January 2008.

His caption read, “God has given us an awesome world to enjoy with him. Even when days are the bleakest, life still has reason for joy.” He died March 8.

The event is in its 12th year, and this year was marked by the large number of pieces submitted by caregivers.

Along with providing guitar music for the show, 25-year oncology nurse Lisa Toomey created a shaman robe out of staff chemotherapy gowns. The gowns are used for protection when administering drugs.

“Every time we put on our chemo gowns there is a real ritual of mental preparation,” Toomey said, adding that the gown represents the powerful bond between patient and nurse.

Hospital staff also honored one of their own at the event. Dr. Paul Knoll, who worked in oncology, died last summer of colon cancer. A photo of Knoll was surrounded by a candle and a tie covered in music notes.

“He was famous for his ties and his big heart. He is very much missed,” event planner Carla Jolley of Home Health and Oncology said.

Some of the art work was for sale, and the proceeds will be shared by the Coupeville Arts Center, the contributing artists and the Whidbey General Hospital Foundation.

Funding from the foundation goes toward programs such as public education and developing a garden outside of the clinic.

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