December 24, 2012

Coping with cancer inspires art that helps others

Sally Loughridge's images and messages go into a book that shows the power of expressing feelings.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SOUTH BRISTOL - Twenty minutes a day.

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Painter Sally Loughridge describes the machines used in her radiation treatments and how they affected her.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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"My Terrain," from the second day of treatment, an image of Loughridge on the treatment table.

Additional Photos Below

PAINTER TO SPEAK

SALLY LOUGHRIDGE will present her story at the Community Cancer Center in South Portland at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 22. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required; call 774-2200.

SHE ALSO will present a workshop at a Living with Cancer conference at the Augusta Civic Center on May 1. Call 800-227-2345 for more information.

Sally Loughridge disciplined herself to stand at her easel for 20 minutes each day that she received radiation treatment following surgery for breast cancer.

For 33 days over the bleary late-winter of March and the hopeful early-spring of April 2010, she traveled from her home in South Bristol to the Coastal Cancer Treatment Center in Bath for focused doses of radiation. She returned home exhausted and filled with unsettled emotions.

Maybe she would have a quick bite or a brief rest. But always and with unwavering discipline, Loughridge mustered whatever strength and resolve was necessary, and engaged in a vigorous, spirited painting session.

"It gave me some sense of control of a situation that felt scary and out of control to me," says Loughridge, one of Maine's most popular painters, who is best known for her soft-hued seascapes in watercolor, oil and pastel. "It wasn't about painting pictures that would be hanging up anywhere. It was a way to express myself and to understand myself better."

Her 20-minute painting sessions became a coping strategy, allowing her an unfiltered means of expressing the fears, sadness, vulnerability, uncertainty and anger that many cancer patients experience. The resulting series is a record of her private experience.

The American Cancer Society has published Loughridge's paintings in a new book, "Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment." Each painting includes a few sentences from Loughridge that explain her feelings each day.

Tony Award-winning playwright Eve Ensler wrote the introduction.

"Rad Art," which takes its name from the computer file that Loughridge used to store digital images of her paintings, will help others facing similar life-changing crises navigate their emotions, says Susan Clifford, state director of communications for the American Cancer Society in Maine.

"Her powerful images and short messages convey her feelings and emotions in a simple but powerful way," Clifford says. "After being diagnosed with cancer or any other life-changing event, people may feel like their life is out of their control. Expressing emotions instead of keeping them inside lowers stress and promotes mental and physical health. Sally's book helps people discover the power of expressing their feelings through art, music or another creative outlet."

When she made these paintings, Loughridge had no intention of sharing them. At first, she wasn't comfortable "going public" with breast cancer at all. She did not want cancer to define her.

A retired clinical psychologist, Loughridge wanted her painting exercise to be something that would help her feel better, to purge negative feelings and anxieties from her system.

She was adamant about restricting her time in the studio to 20 minutes a day. Had she allowed herself more time, or if she went back later to work on something, she would defeat the purpose of her exercise.

It was a form of therapy, and it worked.

The process helped steady her emotions and gave her something to look forward to each day, she says. "Usually, I was eager to paint," she says.

Loughridge, who is 67 now, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2010. She had surgery almost immediately and began radiation soon after.

She remembers feeling overwhelmed with confusion, anger and fear. Everything happened so fast, she barely had time to process one piece of information before another came along. She needed ballast.

Painting made the most sense. Loughridge and her husband, Stephen Busch, moved to Maine in 1999, and Loughridge has painted full-time since.

During a trip to Portland before beginning her radiation regimen, Loughridge stopped at her favorite art-supply store and loaded up on 5-by-7-inch panels. This was the perfect size for her exercise, because it allowed her to fill the surface quickly.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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In her book, “Rad Art,” Loughridge shares painted and written expressions of her experiences as a cancer patient undergoing radiation.

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“Beyond the Woods,” a painting by Sally Loughridge of South Bristol, who turned a series of small oil paintings into a book, “Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment.”

 


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