August Spree Reflects on Her Experience with Brushes with Cancer

It was a breezy April evening, and I happened to get a ticket from a co-worker to an event called “Brushes with Cancer” that started right after work. Without having any idea what to expect, I walked the six blocks or so to the event. It had been 10 years since my first cancer diagnosis and only a couple months since a recurrence scare. In addition to being a cancer survivor myself, my grandmother was diagnosed with stomach cancer a few years after my experience, and she passed away only 10 months later. I was eager to be connected within the cancer community.

As I observed the event throughout the evening, my heart was touched and I remember thinking, “What is this? This artwork is so amazing. How did they do all this?” as I walked around the venue reading the stories next to each work of art and each individual story. I asked one of the artists who was responsible for all this and he pointed me in the direction of Jenna. When I found a moment to introduce myself to her, I jokingly said, “My name is August, I am a cancer survivor, and we are going to be friends!” and she very graciously laughed and agreed to have coffee with me soon.

We sat down over coffee and shared pieces of our stories and I asked, “How can I be involved?” The poignancy of this program, creating beauty from pain using art, touched my soul on a deeper level than I was even able to express at that time. This was what I had been looking for within the cancer community; a way to be involved in something personal, something creative, something with a healing quality. Jenna talked to me about her vision for the organization and I couldn’t have been more excited. I called a friend as I walked through the city back towards my apartment: “My life has just been changed, I know it.” I told her.

Over the next two years, I told everyone I knew about Twist Out Cancer. I began recruiting my closest friends, family and even acquaintances to be involved with the Brushes with Cancer program. And then, one day after a phone call, Jenna suggested I participate as an Inspiration in the 2014 Brushes program.

After being accepted and receiving my artist match, I was nervous. As we exchanged emails, I knew I would have to dig deep and talk about things that I hadn’t talked about for a long time. But I was also excited to have the opportunity to share my journey with someone who would then create something beautiful from it.

My artist and I met for coffee on a Sunday evening just before Thanksgiving and he was engaging and interested in knowing every piece of my story. We spent 5 hours together sharing pieces of ourselves and I found a liberty in being able to talk about some of the things I was unable to share with my loved ones when I was going through my diagnosis. We agreed to meet weekly after that to continue getting to know each other. He shared bits of himself with me just as much as I shared with him.

With my artist, I could talk about how I thought I was going to faint when the doctor told me the biopsy results, how I felt my baby kicking in my belly while I struggled to make my way back to my car after that appointment (I was 8 months pregnant at the time of diagnosis), how I felt guilty that I didn’t have the strength to call my best friend and tell her so I sent her an email instead, and so many other things. I was able to lay out all of my journey, the fears, the struggles, and the victories, without judgment, criticism or emotional reaction. And while I shared, I could feel myself coming to terms with my own experiences.

After 4 months, the exhibition and gala was in Chicago and he had kept his art creation a secret from me. When I walked in to the event, I saw the beautiful sculpture in person for the first time – a piece he titled “The Dance”, and I wept. That experience helped me to heal in ways I wasn’t even aware that I still needed, and since then I have spent my energy on encouraging others to participate.

Having experienced cancer as a survivor and also as a caregiver, I am even more passionate about what Brushes with Cancer offers to those who choose to participate.

Since that initial experience in Brushes with Cancer, my artist and I have become partners in many ways and we now live together in Michigan. That first night when I walked into the Brushes with Cancer event, I knew my life had changed but I had no way of knowing just how much. From growth and healing through the Brushes program, to the expansion of my heart and new love, to becoming an Executive Board Member and ambassador of Twist Out Cancer and the Brushes with Cancer program, my life has been altered in the best possible ways because of this experience.

What the Brushes with Cancer program offers is a chance to express pieces of your journey with cancer that may be unexpressed or unfelt. It offers a chance to connect with a stranger and realize that we are all so much more similar than we are different. It offers a chance to see that from so much pain, beauty can still grow. And it offers a chance to be part of a strong and supportive community of people who understand what you’ve been through. Sometimes it seems like we are all so divided these days, and this gives people a chance to be vulnerable together, see another human for their experiences and who they are instead of assuming we already know, and then, after all of that, it gives each pair a chance to look at the dark experience through new eyes with a new light and pull from it the threads of beauty and strength that will be added to the tapestry of the life of everyone who interacts with them.

 

Meet Jacqueline Carmody, Brushes with Cancer Artist & Twist Out Cancer Board Member

About Jacqueline Carmody

Jacqueline Carmody is an Art Therapist based at the  Art Therapy Studio Chicago, LTD in Wicker Park. She also works as a freelance artist with the Fulton Street Collective and is currently working from home studio in Roscoe Village.Jacqueline uses art as a platform for communication and self-expression. She was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago and attended Western Michigan University for undergrad. She began studying painting in the Gwen Frostic School of Fine Arts, but quickly realized that the competitive art environment did not feel natural.  Jacqueline knew there was another path to share her artistic skills and sought out an art therapist as a mentor. Jacqueline graduated undergrad with a bachelors in Psychology and BFA in painting. She went directly into graduate school at Adler University to obtain her Master’s in Counseling and Art Therapy.

Jacqueline is currently a registered art therapist and licensed clinical professional counselor. She is working in private practice in the Chicago area where she provides expressive therapy services to individuals, families, and groups. Jacqueline provides a safe space to unleash your creative potential and encourages art making as an effective way to discover solutions to life’s struggles.

Outside of her clinical work, Jacqueline continues to use art making as a form of self-care. She is a member of the Fulton Street Collective, and is creating original oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings from her home studio in Roscoe Village. Jacqueline engages with her work in a relaxed and curious way. Her work reflects her values of being present in the current moment and explores mindfulness based techniques.

Her Involvement with Twist Out Cancer

Jackie first became involved with Twist Out Cancer in 2013. Fresh out of graduate school, she had just moved into the city and was beginning her career as a therapist.  While browsing the internet for different art therapy opportunities and different areas to share her artistic skills, she stumbled upon Twist Out Cancer in a blog post!  She was intrigued by the combination of using art as a form of healing, communicating, and storytelling. Jackie, along with many others, have lost family members and friends to Cancer, and felt a special connection to Twist. She followed her intuition and reached out to the Founder, Jenna Benn Shersher. Jenna was so welcoming and excited to have her jump on board as an artist in the Spring event. She has since participated as in artist in 3 events, and 2017 will be her 4th.

The highlight of being involved with Twist Out Cancer has definitely been the personal connections. She describes having have formed unique relationships with people that she would never have met otherwise. As an artist, she is honored to be paired with such brave and amazing individuals each year. She is excited to meet other members in the community and see all of the beautiful creations at the event on Saturday, September 9th.

Jackie recently held a night of art therapy with current Brushes with Cancer participants at Therapy Studio Chicago in Wicker Park. Be sure to check out her blog on the experience and her artwork on her website.

You can also learn more about Jackie’s involvement with Brushes with Cancer through the Brushes with Cancer impact video.

Is there a fringe benefit of cancer?

On Friday, September 9th, I had the opportunity to share my story with over 200 cancer survivors, artists and their loved ones at the 5th annual Voices and Visions Art Exhibition at the Art Center Highland Park. Curated by Caren Helene Rudman, this exhibit features art that expresses how cancer can be a metaphor for so many areas of our lives- from facing one’s mortality to survival and strength. The Artwork for those that participated, not only showcased the struggle, but it revealed how art has the ability to empower and heal.

This exhibition was particularly moving as Caren has recently lost her mother after a long battle with breast cancer. Her beautiful family was with us that evening to show support and honor her memory.

Caren reached out to me to ask if I could share what I consider to be “the fringe benefits of cancer.”

Here are the words I shared with those that attended.

In 2010, at the age of 29, I was diagnosed with Grey Zone Lymphoma, a rare blood cancer that affects less than 200 people around the world. During months of treatment and immunosuppression, I was grounded. Grounded by a disease that forced me to face my own mortality. Grounded by a disease that stole so many moments. Grounded by a disease that forced me to live in the shadows, excluded from the world I was so desperate to be a part of.

During the hundreds of hours of  ground-breaking chemotherapy, I was given the privilege of time. This borrowed time became a sacred time. It was an opportunity to take stock of what was really important and examine what it really means to be grounded. What keeps me rooted, centered, and focused, as the world around me unexpectedly shifts and changes? Cancer may have caused irreversible changes, and temporarily shackled me from my former self, but it also provided me with an opportunity to be set free, to reinvent myself, and to find a path full of meaning.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in my late 20’s, I was admittedly searching for meaning and fulfillment. I had dreamed about moving to Israel, a place I felt a deep spiritual, emotional and cultural connection to. I had wondered if I would one day fall in love and find employment in a role that nurtured all parts of me.

In the midst of filling out the application to make aliyah- and to fulfill that dream of living in Israel, I was diagnosed with cancer.

While Cancer may have physically grounded me, preventing me from world travel and exploration, I sought refuge by looking within. I was determined to learn more about  my inner world, my emotional world, and my spiritual world. As my physicality became more severely compromised, I was determined to find meaning in my suffering. My heart and mind were like a sponge waiting to be filled up. Within a few months, I had never felt more plugged in and in tune with my inner compass.

By the time I finished treatment, I had a much clearer sense of my hopes and dreams. I had a acquired a sense of fearlessness, perseverance and determination. By finding and listening to my inner compass, I changed course, seeking out a new path that I was excited to explore and take on.

In May of 2011 I finished 720 hours of chemotherapy. In October of 2011, I founded the nonprofit Twist Out Cancer which focuses on the emotional side of a cancer diagnosis through creative arts programming. We believe wholeheartedly in the fringe benefits of a cancer diagnosis. We call the fringe benefits- our “twist on cancer.” There are plenty of lessons and blessings that can accompany a cancer diagnosis- you just have to be open to experiencing them.

In November of 2011, I met my husband, my soul mate, my everything, who saw beyond the scars, beyond the baggage, beyond the diagnosis, and saw the spirit that lives within me. We were married in Israel, in May of 2013 and we gave birth to our daughter Noa in May of 2015.

My life has evolved, changed and grown exponentially since cancer.

Cancer at the time may have grounded me physically, but it has since rooted me and guided me towards decisions and choices that are fulfilling. Cancer has provided me with meaning, with direction, with purpose. It has shown me that hope, love and light can come from even the darkest of places.

Tonight we celebrate the voices and visions of so many of you here this evening. Thank you for being brave, thank you for being bold, thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us. I believe that when you share- the world opens up. And from sharing comes healing. Tonight is a testament and celebration of just that. Caren- thank you for vision, your voice and your leadership. It is because of you that we continue to share our story- and we continue to remember.

Thank you.