Melissa processes her diagnosis through art

Melissa processes her diagnosis through art

By Melissa Baron

I started this painting the night before having surgery on my neck to check if my cancer had spread. I was 29. About six weeks prior, I had been diagnosed with melanoma. I was supremely ignorant of the ramifications I would soon experience. I was trying to paint despite my confusion and fear. I blocked in the key shapes and went to bed.

Cancer cut open my life, both in terms of the multiple surgeries and a painful recovery, but also cutting up my understanding of self and expectations for my life. It was an incredibly humbling experience. To complicate matters, my husband was working overseas when I was diagnosed. He was able to come home for my surgeries, but we were both ignorant of the emotional recovery associated with the experience. Alone, over the winter, I battled an emotional fight that rivalled my physical recovery.

In the summer following, I came across this painting. The absence of features had become symbolic. Cancer cuts away so much from your life, including your sense of safety and wellbeing. You meet people that understand your experience, and then some of them die. You know poignantly that you will die, perhaps soon. The featureless woman represented my new self, the one that had been cut open and had her sense of security cut away. A person trying to rebuild. A person raw with grief.

Starting to paint again felt like a hazardous experience. I hesitated to engage emotionally with my work the way an artist needs to. This emotional territory felt like a minefield. Creating art could set off any number of psychological bombs.

I found this painting in the summertime after my husband had returned home for good, and I had found some purchase for my wellbeing. I was struck by the expression and the moment it represented, and I began layering keys lines and shapes within the composition. A friend who had recently lost his child wrote an epistle on the oceans of his grief, and though we had both ended up at this ocean via different paths, I knew this place he was describing. I worked his words into the painting. I worked intuitively, and to my surprise, at the end, the colours included a glowing yellow. In my lexicon of colour, this one represents hope.

I did not expect to find hope as an element in this painting of darkness, but it is there. Gradually, I have come to master the oceans of my grief and to see the good that grows with this sort of experience. It is a slow journey, and it is still progressing, but I am making way.


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