A Different Winter on the OBX

As an artist I love winter on the Outer Banks. It is a great time to concentrate on making art since there are very few visitors to be distracted with.  Last winter my time was spent painting, but not the the painting that I like doing.  Instead of creating art on canvas for the walls, I was painting the walls.  It was a necessary sacrifice; no studio time, but instead a beautiful new studio.  With our major renovation project behind us, my husband Gary and I were excited for this winter to do some of the things we love doing, making art  But life has a funny way of throwing you a curve ball and making you re-examine things. It turns out that this winter was to be more about healing and health and art would have to take a back seat.  But, despite that I still managed to pull out some canvases and capture some of my favorite scenes on Hatteras.

“Coming Back” Acrylic on Canvas 8″x 10″

In September I was diagnosed with Uterine Leiomyosarcoma.  Never heard of it?  You are not alone.  Less than 1% of all cancers are sarcomas, and uLMS is diagnosed in 5 out of a million women.  A tumor was discovered when I had a hysterectomy to remove a fibroid.  The good news was that all my scans came out clear after my surgery, I was NED (No evidence of disease).  There I was walking around for probably two years with cancer and I did not even know it!  But because of the aggressive nature of this disease, the way the tumor had been removed (with possible risk of cells spreading to other parts of me) I had to do chemotherapy.  In October I began making trips to Chapel Hill to get, what my friend Lucie and I began to call “the shit.” I received 6 rounds, a total of 12 infusions.

The trips to Chapel Hill and recovery from infusions cut into my beloved studio time and at some point I thought I would have to let another winter pass without getting to create any new art work. It was dampening my spirit.  And I realized that I could not let this happen, making art was a necessity.

“Dragonfly Prayers” Mixed Media on paper

I knew that painting would lift my spirit and soothe my soul.  I had to let go of the expectations of what I could make since I had to balance this with my side effects to chemo and energy levels. But, I followed a strict clean eating program which I feel kept me in the best condition I could be and allowed me to have a life and not just be a patient.  Creating art allowed me also to be present to all the emotional process that comes with this journey.

I received many cards and notes from friends and family near and far.  Each so beautiful with beautifully written messages.  I could not part with them.  And so my studio time began with these cards.  I  began collaging, something I have never done in art. I took the beautiful words and pictures and began combining them with paints and drawings.

It felt very good to be able to honor these beautiful notes and carts and it felt as though the words seeped further into my being and the thoughts and sentiments of healing were reaching me on a deeper level.

“Boat Loads of Wishes” mixed media on canvas

It reminded me how I was not alone there were so many people that were routing for me, even people I did not know that well.  Walking into the studio and seeing a table full of messy art and then words of encouragement painted in big bold letters gave me energy on days when I really needed it. 

When I felt I had exhausted myself of the collage process, I pulled out a fresh canvas and started with some beachscapes.  “Coming Back” was the first canvas I painted which flowed right off my finger tips when I went from a beach walk and into the studio painting.  It was a very happy day!  To keep myself grounded, centered and remember that a higher power was there to help when I needed it.  I often go to a favorite spot with a friend to walk and meditate.  It has become known as “The Spot” for us and so it was only natural to make it my next painting of the scene that we see when we walk to the beach.

“The Spot” acrylic on canvas 20″ x 10″

Staying positive is such an important part of the chemotherapy, cancer and sarcoma journey.  Art has played a huge part in helping to keep me in this frame of mind, especially in the final stages of chemotherapy.  I am happy to say that chemotherapy is done and in a week I will travel back to Chapel Hill for my next scan to prove what I already feel which is that I am continuing to be sarcoma free!  I look forward to sharing with you some of the other pieces I made this winter, I hope it might encourage you to find some time and space to make your own art.  Find a way to have some fun with and let your happy creative self shine!

Carolyn Schena

7 thoughts on “A Different Winter on the OBX

  1. Carolyn, I had no idea you had been sick. (As in that IS in the past.) I wish you continued healing and will believe with you that all cancer is gone.

  2. My thoughts are with you threw your journey. Very true that a positive attitude it important, I have been on that journey. This year on St Patrick’s day it will be 20 years since my last chemo. Keep up the fight and see you this summer

  3. Carolyn, I was so sorry to learn of your health issues this past winter. I am glad to hear that you are recovering and have such a positive attitude. Since I am giving up my house in Salvo ( just to long of a drive for some one getting on towards 70) I have to say the one thing I will miss the most is the time spent at your shop and learning from you. My daughter and friends say the same. I wish you continued success with your art and the shop but most of all I wish you a complete recovery. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.
    Blessings, Sharon Stephens

    • Sharon, Im sorry to hear about you giving up your house, we always look forward to seeing you and your daughter, she is always so creative and you’ve both made so many neat things over the years!

  4. Sending you positive thoughts and prayers. My daughter and I visit Studio 12 every year and become “artists” for a day.

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