Sometimes we come into our passions through the back door. For the first 25 years of my professional life I facilitated art programs for others—from being a teacher to curator for an art college to an education director for a major Northwest museum. But when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, my world changed. Suddenly time was compressed and I could no longer delay my dreams. Those things that had seemed so important—a professional career, a good income, and status in the community were totally meaningless. If there’s any good side to cancer, it is the way it gives us time to reflect, to make changes, to examine the quality of our lives, not the quantity of years ahead.
As I entered the bizarre and scary world of surgery and chemo, I found myself agitated, restless, bursting with a new impulse—that of confronting my mortality. And although I had little physical energy during chemotherapy, I had a ton of emotional energy. Soon I found myself painting a self-portrait posed with my bald head, one breast and an expression on my face that was unfamiliar—that of the angry warrior. Having this disease really pissed me off. So I continued to work, started acupuncture treatments and most importantly, started living a more authentic life and tapping into my creativity. When I first started making collages I was a manic mess. My work was burdensome, over-worked, and maudlin. But it helped me release the fear and find some peace. It was something I looked forward to every day, something that took my mind off the cancer and the anxiety.
In the past three years I have probably created over 200 pieces and they keep coming. They come from places within I never knew existed before. Sometimes they are humorous or ironic, sometimes so dark or sad people look away. All I know is they are a gift. Art has helped me define who I am. Art is my legacy as I never had children. When I do succumb to this cancer in my body I hope my friends and family will remember me by my art, my sense of humor, my love of life. Cancer has strengthened me and helped me live the life I always wanted- one of passion and purpose.
States of Being is a series of small collages I made while waiting for CT scan results right before Christmas.
Susan Olds is an art historian, curator, and artist who works in mixed media and fabric collage. She describes her work as “narrative with a humorous edge”. Susan has shown her art at the Up Front Gallery and artEAST in Issaquah, the East Shore gallery in Bellevue and Cancer Lifeline in Seattle. She posts updates on her work and whereabouts on her blog: http://birdneststudios.blogspot.com/.