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How one woman's cancer journey was transformed into art

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Posted: Sunday, June 15, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:39 am, Wed Jul 30, 2014.

(BPT) - A cancer diagnosis can be one of the scariest moments in a person’s life, but now, more than ever, that diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Today, it is estimated that two in three people diagnosed with cancer survive at least five years, according to the American Cancer Society. In fact, as of 2012, there were an estimated 13.7 million cancer survivors in the United States alone.

The goal of continuous innovation in cancer care is to help improve the lives of people with cancer. However, opportunities to convey patients’ hopes and fears, gains and losses, and more, have not been as readily available.

Since 2004, the Lilly Oncology On Canvas: Expressions of a Cancer Journey Art Competition and Exhibition has invited individuals from the United States and Puerto Rico diagnosed with any type of cancer – as well as their families, friends, caregivers and healthcare providers – to express, through art and narrative, the life-affirming changes that give their cancer journeys meaning.

Judy Elsley knows about the power of Oncology On Canvas (SM). Elsley has survived cancer twice. Her first diagnosis came at age 23, when she learned she had Hodgkin lymphoma. Thirty-six years later, in 2012, Elsley was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer.

An English professor by trade, and a prolific quilter, Elsley had begun exploring the combination of written and visual artwork into a single medium when cancer struck. In fact, she created nine quilts chronicling her fight, which included a mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy. Each quilt featured select handwritten entries from her journals.

“I was inspired to enter Lilly Oncology On Canvas after thumbing through a competition art book in my oncologist’s office,” she said. “At that moment, I realized I too wanted to share my story and inspire others.”

Oncology On Canvas (SM) judges were amazed by Elsley’s entry, a quilt titled “Chemo,” which took first place overall. In her accompanying narrative, she wrote, “The quilt shows the work of chemo as it flows through the port into my bloodstream. The colored beads represent the chemo and the white beads signify white blood cells helping my body move towards health. I visualize the future in the smallest plume in the left side of the quilt, a time when my bloodstream will carry plenty of white blood cells – no cancer or chemo present.”

Elsley’s award carried with it a prize of $12,000 to be donated to the cancer charity of her choice, which was Casting for Recovery, a program that takes cancer patients fishing and one that she participated in.

“In addition to medicine, in my view, creativity engenders healing,” said Elsley. “But it doesn’t matter what one’s creative outlet may be. Writing, drawing, anything – do something to express your journey!”

The 2014 Lilly Oncology On Canvas competition is currently underway and will continue to receive entries until August 15 of this year. To learn more about how to enter – and, like Elsley, be inspired by hundreds of previous entries – visit www.LillyOncologyOnCanvas.com, call 1-866-991-LOOC (5662) or e-mail artdirector@mylooc.com.

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