Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.BR.11.1.7 | PDF

Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment

Sal­ly Loughridge

When I was diag­nosed with breast can­cer in 2010, I was star­tled, fright­ened, and anx­ious. After surgery, radio­ther­a­py was rec­om­mend­ed for 33 con­sec­u­tive days (exclud­ing week­ends). As an artist, I decid­ed to make a quick, small, and unplanned dai­ly paint­ing imme­di­ate­ly after each radi­a­tion treat­ment to help me express, dis­charge, and cope with the over­whelm­ing and unfa­mil­iar feel­ings I was expe­ri­enc­ing. I did not want can­cer to become my iden­ti­ty! After treat­ment end­ed, friends and pro­fes­sion­als encour­aged me to cre­ate a book from these pri­vate paint­ings and their accom­pa­ny­ing dai­ly log. The Amer­i­can Can­cer Soci­ety pub­lished this mate­r­i­al as Rad Art: A Jour­ney Through Radi­a­tion Treat­ment in 2012 (Atlanta, GA).

These oil paint­ings are the first two I cre­at­ed as my radi­a­tion course began. My goal was expres­sion, not art­work per se. I allowed myself 20 min­utes or less for each 5 x 7" paint­ing in order to min­i­mize ratio­nal thought. Indeed, the pieces seemed to flow from my brush with­out fore­thought or plan­ning. Stirred by each com­plet­ed paint­ing, I wrote a few words to describe how I was feel­ing at that moment.

Day One: My Right Breast

"My Right Breast." Copy­right 2012 Amer­i­can Can­cer Soci­ety, Inc. Reprint­ed with permission.

"I had always thought of my breasts as a matched pair. But since I received a diag­no­sis of breast can­cer, they have become dis­tinct­ly indi­vid­ual. i am anx­ious about start­ing radi­a­tion, and I feel pro­tec­tive of my right breast–in a famil­iar, moth­er­ly way. in this first paint­ing, i am star­tled to see how dark the inte­ri­or is, full of the mys­tery and men­ace of the can­cer cells.

One treat­ment down, thir­ty-two to go! Six and a half weeks feels like a very long time. I am glad I have start­ed this series of paint­ings, but I am not sure how my near dai­ly prac­tice of stu­dio paint­ing will fare. I am already look­ing for­ward to my first week­end off treatment.

Day Two: My Terrain

"My Ter­rain." Copy­right 2012 Amer­i­can Can­cer Soci­ety, Inc. Reprint­ed with permission.

"I start­ed this paint­ing full of raw emo­tions and uncer­tain­ty about the radi­a­tion process. Do I need it? Will it help me? Will it have long-term side effects? I am angry that I need more treat­ment, angry that I have cancer.

I loaded my brush with magen­ta and sculpt­ed a moun­tain­ous ter­rain. The land­scape quick­ly became my pro­file as I lay on the met­al treat­ment table–arms over my head and knees ele­vat­ed. I have to assume a very exact posi­tion and remain still dur­ing the treat­ment so that the rays can be pre­cise­ly focused on the tar­get area mapped on my chest. The jagged cloud shapes in the paint­ing are the radi­a­tion beams aimed at my breast, com­ing from a huge, cir­cling, and hum­ming appa­ra­tus over the table. I have already begun to count the clicks and move­ments of the machine."