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Winter 2005/2006 Volume 6, Issue 7:
Challenging Cancer with the Power of Painting
By Mary Ellen Stokes

June 6th, 2000, arrived cloudy and cool in Roanoke, Virginia. The threatening weather would mirror the mood of this day for the Stokes family. For it was on this day that my husband, Bill, began his journey of co-existence with one of the most insidious and clever cancers of all, multiple myeloma. Official diagnosis would arrive early afternoon; by nightfall, a game plan would be initiated

For the next twelve months, our cancer odyssey took us to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. There, Bill received a "mini tandem transplant," autologous and allogeneic. This is also where Bill began to pursue a hobby he never had time to enjoy. The stress and demands of a busy dental practice left him little time to paint. All of sudden, time was on his side, and lots of it. So, Bill began to sketch and paint, and with this creative, therapeutic process, found that he could challenge cancer with the simple strokes of pencil and brush.

Ever since his first art show in 2001, Bill has donated the proceeds of all art revenues for myeloma research and education. "This is one positive and productive way that I can give back," Bill reflects. He enjoys painting, and it has given him a very tangible way of challenging a faceless monster.

Bill likes to paint landscapes, and many are inspired by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and by the time spent in the great Pacific Northwest where our family lived while Bill was in treatment. Some paintings reflect the cancer process itself. Currently, Bill is working on a series of bright, colorful, gyrating figures he calls "Stemmies."

Every art show provides an opportunity to make a difference in the world of multiple myeloma. At one recent show, an interior decorator snatched up three watercolors for an installation in a new retirement center. "Residents love the soothing colors in Bill's paintings," she observed, "and my employer has multiple myeloma so this is one way I can be supportive while adding beauty and pleasure to others' lives." One can't argue with that!

The Stokes family actively supports research with many other venues of expression. We regularly participate in an event to benefit the Fred Hutchinson Center—Bill walks the 5K while I run the 10K. Together, we generate a monthly newsletter for the Multiple Myeloma Network of the Blue Ridge, the support group Bill co-founded in 2003. And, every June, we lobby in Washington, DC, for more blood cancer funding. All in all, our creative efforts have generated more than $50,000 for the myeloma cause to date. And we're not done yet!

It might be a cliché, but the saying is very true for us: When one door closes, another one opens. Bill and I are fortunate that so many doors have opened for us in our journey with myeloma. In late 2004, Bill relapsed and we headed back to "The Hutch" where Bill received a DLI (donor lymphocyte infusion) from his brother, Clay. The procedure was a success and left him feeling better than any other period since diagnosis.

We adhere to the one-day-at-a-time philosophy. But this mentality doesn't prohibit us from looking to the future and having a vision. We've taken a very negative experience and made it as positive as possible. Frankly, there are no other options for us.

NOTE: To contact the Stokes, email bstokes47@aol.com or mesaab13@aol.com.

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