Karen Wildwood of Saco loved life even while she battled cancer. She refused to let the disease sap her vitality, and instead used her final years to rediscover love and joy.

“She really believed that if we learn to love ourselves, we can heal ourselves and others,” said Carl Rudman, Ms. Wildwood’s brother.

“Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she used her illness to seek out joy and heal others.”

Ms. Wildwood died Sunday. She was 50.

She was born in Worcester, Mass., and moved to Maine, where she attended Rockland and Deering high schools. In 1982, she graduated magna cum laude from Ithaca College in New York with a degree in theater production.

After college, Ms. Wildwood was deeply involved in the arts.

“Even back in high school she had leading roles in plays,” said Rudman. “She has always loved the arts as well as spiritual interests.”

She was, among other things, a healer, a poet, a dancer, a mother and a teacher.

“She did a real tapestry of things in her life,” her brother said.

She worked at the Saint Lawrence Arts Center in Portland and was a “glowing presence” in Portland’s dance community and at the annual Dance New England summer camp, he said.

Dancing was such a significant part of her life that one of Rudman’s most cherished memories of his sister involved her dancing at her 50th birthday party, in April.

“She danced her heart out all night long,” said Rudman. “It is a beautiful memory.”

Ms. Wildwood’s sister, Pam Carpenter, recalled that evening and said her sister did a flip into her brother’s arms.

But Carpenter’s favorite memory of her sister reflected Ms. Wildwood’s love for the outdoors.

“About a year ago, while her cancer was in remission, she called me one morning and told me ‘I’m hanging in a tree and I love you,’ ” said Carpenter.

She also had a passion for poetry. Rudman said his sister recently finished a book called “Falling Into Joy,” a compilation of poems.

The book will be available at Ms. Wildwood’s service on Saturday at 4 Maple Ridge Road in Standish.

Carpenter and Rudman agreed that their sister was an enormous presence in their family.

“She was not just a sister, she was one of my best buddies,” said Rudman. “She has left a giant hole in all our hearts.”

Ms. Wildwood is survived by her husband, Mark Dunton, and her two children, Samuel Dunton, 17, and Allie Dunton, 16. Her family said her children were “the light of Karen’s life.”

 

Staff Writer Max Monks can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: [email protected]