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Art Imitates Life: Ovarian Cancer Patient Shares Her Gift

Art Imitates Life: Ovarian Cancer Patient Shares Her Gift
M. D. Anderson News Release 08/31/01

Alicia Torres has a story to tell and with the help of her canvas, contrasting strokes of bold colors and her own cancer journey, she hopes to relay to others that even with cancer, you go on living.
Born in Bogota, Colombia, Torres has been painting her entire life. She has been recognized around the world - including in Mexico City, Paris, Washington, D.C., Madrid and New York City - for her artistic vision and immense talent.
Having just opened the Alicia Torres Art Gallery in New York City, Torres was at the height of her professional career when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1996.  Her cancer was discovered at an early stage during a routine visit to her gynecologist - just one week after her 52nd birthday. At the time, Torres felt fortunate that her disease was found it its early stages.  Yet, despite being treated with standard chemotherapy and surgery, the cancer returned just ten months after her initial diagnosis.
Since then, her quest for the best cancer care has taken her across the country -- from New York, to Chicago, to Iowa and now to Houston at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Along the way, painting often served as an emotional and spiritual outlet. At other times, painting was not an option, due to both the immense physical and emotional pain of her illness.  Recently, however, Torres has picked up her brushes again and begun to share.
"Cancer has changed my art style completely," Torres says.  "Before, my work was totally abstract and everything about my painting was very strict - connected by squares and circles - and a slow gradation of light and color.  Now my art is brighter, stronger, more expressive and contrasting with colors that explode.  I am not scared of using contrast any more."
In Houston receiving treatment since last December, Torres has been extremely impressed with her care and the gracious warmth of the city.
"My experience at M. D. Anderson has been wonderful in every way - the medical and human care are just extraordinary. I have never been at a place so prepared," Torres says. "The people in Houston really enjoy life here and that's contagious.  I absolutely feel at home in this city and am seriously considering making it my permanent home."
Her artwork has already found a home at M. D. Anderson's Place of Wellness, the country's first complementary care center affiliated with a major cancer center. Torres has chosen "The Journey" - a seven-part series chronicling her five-year cancer struggle - to be on display throughout her stay in Houston.   She feels that these paintings express her rediscovery of life, reflect her personal cancer experience and capture the intensity of human feelings: disbelief, pain, fear, happiness and hope.
"Now, my motivation is to share with others, both those with cancer and others who are cancer-free but affected by the disease," says Torres. "These paintings detail my personal experience and also tell others that it is okay to have the feelings they do."
The reaction to her art from Place of Wellness visitors has been overwhelming, she says.
"I have had tremendous response from those who have visited the collection," Torres says. "One patient - a woman - left me a note saying that I had captured all the emotions she had felt - the anger, the confusion, the fatigue."

Just as her cancer journey has benefited others, so, too, has it touched Torres.
"I've decided that not everything is bad with cancer. I have even accepted it and appreciated the people I have met along way.  Also 'Why me?' is not a question I ask myself anymore. Cancer can happen to almost anyone and it does."


© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center