My husband, Coleman Schoessow, draws vibrant, abstract, stream-of-consciousness art with ink on canvas. He discovered this hidden talent during brain tumor treatment. He began using art as a form of relaxation and meditation, but it’s become something so much more than that.
Black and white: a brain tumor diagnosis
On Oct. 5, 2013, Coleman and I had our own uniquely perfect wedding. We were practically giddy in love. Then, on Oct. 15, 2013, the day after we returned from our honeymoon, Coleman had a grand mal seizure. We were stunned to learn that he had a brain tumor. Everything about our new reality seemed unfair.
Coleman was diagnosed with an anaplastic astrocytoma, a malignant grade III brain tumor. When the local neurosurgeon suggested waiting four months before taking action, we sought a second opinion at MD Anderson. We haven’t looked back.
Shades of gray: brain tumor treatment and side effects
After Coleman’s initial surgery, we temporarily moved from our home in Granbury, Texas, to Houston so that he could undergo six weeks of radiation therapy. This was an intensely stressful time. We learned that brain cancer can cause patients to doubt their own thoughts, abilities or even who they are, and treatment can exaggerate these doubts. The radiation treatments affected Coleman’s ability to think clearly. He began having trouble discerning one voice from another when multiple people were talking, which led to intense social anxiety. A year of chemotherapy (oral Temozolomide) also brought fatigue and exaggerated his headaches and anxiety.
As Coleman’s wife and primary caregiver, I saw through his uncertainties and knew that the kind, witty and interesting man I married was still in there and worth fighting for. My job was to support him as he found himself again. I also had to learn to prioritize what truly mattered and balance my own emotions. A quote by Brian Tracy helped me to refocus and stabilize myself: “You have within you, right now, everything you need to deal with whatever the world can throw at you.”
After months of watching a new spot on his MRIs, we braced for a recurrence. Thankfully, his second surgery in October 2015 revealed it was actually necrosis, and we were able to breathe a little easier.
It took several months for Coleman’s brain to heal from radiation, chemo and the surgeries themselves, but he did heal. The physical and mental side effects have all but disappeared. There were a lot of tears in those first two years, but our situation formed a powerful love and an unbreakable bond between us.
Art as therapy
The combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy made it difficult for Coleman to focus and left him with a high level of anxiety. He began doodling in a notebook to help quiet his nerves and calm his mind. He found that drawing allowed him to focus his mind in a meditative way.
Coleman’s drawings had both a healing value and unusual style. It was obvious to me that his artwork needed to be encouraged and shared. I pushed him to experiment with different mediums. He began working on canvas, and his creations gradually increased in size and complexity. Over time, his anxieties have faded, and I largely attribute this to his daily drawing sessions.
Coleman’s studio is in our home, where he can fully immerse himself in his creativity. He listens to post-rock or punk music as he draws. He creates highly detailed, non-objective drawings with bold coloring. His vibrant artwork offers a glimpse of his mind. Each of his creations is unique.
Our home has gotten brighter and so much more colorful. Now those gray days seem like a distant memory. Coleman is doing remarkably well. We are so very thankful for the team of professionals, led by neuro-oncologist John de Groot, M.D., who have treated Coleman with care and expertise.
While Coleman also leads a healthy, active lifestyle, I believe strongly that his artwork played a huge role in his recovery.
I am so lucky to have Coleman. Our marriage has been a roller coaster of emotions, but our love is perfect. We are easily the strongest, happiest couple I know. We build each other up at every opportunity and champion each other’s talents. We have never been more hopeful for a bright future.