Fast Company

Inspiration by Design: A Journey Through Cancer with Paper and Glue

Artist Victoria Behm has chronicled her breast cancer ordeal in two achingly funny illuminated manuscripts, and shared them online. "I feel better now than I have since everything began," she says.

It began with the shock of recognition that every woman dreads: A lump, found while showering. Wrote artist Vicki Behm, "the first image that popped into my head was Mr. Clean. What will I look iike bald? And who will I look like? Telly Savalas? Yul Brynner? Homer Simpson? G.I. Jane?"

Behm was 57 years old when she was diagnosed with stage IIa invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. An artist and teacher, she chose to turn her nine month journey through the madness of diagnosis, surgery and recovery into an  illustrated notebook that unfolds as part travelogue, part medical chart, and part love letter to the people and practitioners who shared her adventure.

"Chemo involved many pills, blood vials, and drips in each five-hour session. I always invited a friend along for bedside dinner and a movie on my MacBook. Jean-Luc and I dined on Badlucci's pate, cheese, fruit, and Young Frankenstein. Rachel and I watched Grey Gardens with Caesar salads and fresh pineapple."

A subsequent project highlights her fight with the terrifying congestive heart failure that may have been caused by the cancer drugs that saved her life.

Behm credits her husband, Glenn, (a former editor of mine) with being her rock. "[He] has been the dream husband: long back rubs, flowers and a Balthazar croissant now and then."  But she has been through the ringer - she now has to wear a defibrillator vest everywhere she goes which will shock her now permanently damaged heart, should it suddenly fail - all of which she documents with vivid detail and humor. "I'm still wearing the sexy harness with heavy battery pack and will be popping pills forever. But a dark cloud has passed over our heads and things are clear..." 

Enjoy. Bring tissues.

 

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