Then I took a deep breath and stepped forward to meet Mr. Cook at his podium, and while he presented me with a trophy, a piece of artwork I created nearly six months ago was unveiled. I can only describe the time I was on stage as one of those rare moments in which still images of one's life flashes before them; a full-circle moment. One in which it seems that in the blink of an eye, everything aligns, and suddenly all the things that made no sense for so long- all the pain, despair, struggle and fight- culminate, and it all miraculously makes perfect sense. That moment, the experience of sharing my story- my secret- in that way suddenly made the chaos cancer brought to my life make perfect sense. But there are no words for that.
What I felt in that moment is what Lilly Oncology on Canvas is all about. the competition and subsequent two-year cross-country tour of artwork and accompanying narratives is an incredible program. It allows individuals touched by cancer to share their story, and the artwork and written words instill hope, understanding, and inspiration in anyone who has the privilege of experiencing them. I feel so blessed to have been one of the top three best-of-exhibition winners. I don't envy the judges, all of the 160 pieces on display in Union Station were outstanding. Here's to all the 6oo-plus participants, and a special thanks to all the amazing people from Lilly, TogoRun, and NCCS that I had the honor of spending time with while in Washington DC. I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity to share my story, and come full circle with cancer.
below is the narrative piece I submitted with my artwork (above) titled 'No Words'.
I was twenty-one when cancer disrupted my life. I was in college. I was in love. I was unstoppable. In the months following my diagnosis and treatment, I lost my hair, my invincibility, and the boy I thought I would marry. Through the year I spent undergoing treatment, I held on to the hope that I would pick up the pieces of myself when it was all over, that I might walk away unscathed. But when I finally was told I was better, that I should go and live my life, I couldn’t put things back together in any way that made sense, because nothing was the same. So as I graduated from college and got a job, I pretended to be normal. Cancer was a secret I kept from most of the people in my life. Eventually though, I began to realize how badly I needed to tell the story of my experience with cancer. I was compelled to write it all down because the burden of keeping the secret and carrying the memories became more than I could bear. One year, and one hundred fifty pages later, I found that I had finally untangled myself from cancer's grip.
When I was finished writing, I took a deep breath, a sigh of relief, really, and found that I could finally say goodbye. Although it was quite some time since I had been truly ill, it wasn’t until I finished telling my story that I was able to let it all go. What I realized after I wrote it all down was that I would never be the person I was before; I am now stronger, more self-assured, and have a perspective that allows me to balance my life in a way my same-age peers have not yet discovered. I don’t think it’s important for anyone else to read my words. They’re mine, and it was the act of writing them that freed me. With this idea in mind, I converted just a few of the storied contained in those one-hundred-fifty pages to a piece of artwork, but you don’t need to read the words, because they don’t really matter. What’s important is that through writing them, I finally said goodbye; goodbye past, goodbye pain, goodbye cancer. I've won, and that means that you lose. I am finally, free!