My cancer survival story: ‘I don’t feel like I’m defined by this disease’
Ryan Summerlin July 16, 2014
EDITOR’S NOTE: As we count down the days to the 15th annual Incline Village Relay for Life, the Bonanza is featuring several stories from locals who survived the disease and are using it as a reason to give back to the community. This week’s story is from Incline resident June Forman.
June Forman is this year’s speaker at the Incline Village Relay for Life. An Incline Village resident since 1982, June has been involved in higher education as an instructor (she also taught at Incline schools) and administrator most of her working life, and has done a great deal of motivational speaking both before and after her cancer.
Today June’s interests lie in her oil painting, her love of cooking and open-water swimming.
WHAT DOES RELAY FOR LIFE MEAN TO YOU?
The Relay for Life is personal for me. I walk among the survivors and light candles for friends and lost family members. There is a lot of sadness in that stillness and yet it can be uplifting.
Cancer is a personal journey, but something can be said for a strong community.
Incline is that type of place. It’s because we all know each other!
Late at night when I’ve walked that track I see the names of so many people and I understand that we are bound by an awful thing that touches our humanity in an unexpected way. It is humbling.
Breast cancer was my first big health issue. I was just fifty. My mother died of cancer at that same age. In the early stages I was just very scared and trying to make good decisions. When the dust settled and I knew I would survive, things were different.
I had read that cancer was a disease that takes and gives. I started looking for the gift! The door that said “perfect health” was forever closed and I had to walk through another. My cancer experience started to inform me and it was telling me how to use my time!
And there I was: at the intersection of my new lesson and a passion. Lucky me! Painting became my thing to do because I really wanted to paint. It was just that simple. I now paint when I get up in the morning even if I have a pile of laundry!
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM CANCER?
I don’t know why cancer takes some lives and leaves others, but, in general, cancer survivors pay attention like they never did before. Ask them! Survivors have a new responsibility. For me, the take-away was simple once I was staring at it!
Both aging and illness can represent a minefield of limitations. Acceptance of that was step one. What happens if I can only do one thing and then can’t do that anymore? Life could get real narrow. We need a long, rich list of things to do. Then, if your horse dies, get off and find another!
Cancer also made me realize that I needed to use my time differently. It wasn’t like “I found myself.” I had been there all along! It was all about the way I was using my time. That reshaping entered into many parts of my life.
It was a shift toward greater authenticity. Not a selfishness, just a clearer focus.
Some things just mattered less after cancer. Some things mattered more. It is like a sauce reduction in cooking! Cancer boiled it down for me.
SO HOW DID YOU GET INTO PAINTING?
When I think about my interest in art, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a pencil in my hand. I had surrounded myself with it. I have taught art and art appreciation, worked for the Nevada State Arts Council, evaluated art education programs throughout the schools in Nevada, and sought out exhibits and museums everywhere. It was already a part of me.
Painting is really about mileage. Inspiration is a piece of that, perspiration is another piece and learning technique is the last part. That translates to time spent behind an easel and miles of canvas.
When you think about all that, a painter’s intention has to be strong … “I’m getting out of bed and doing this!” That’s the inspiration! It also helps that my husband, Sid, thinks it’s pretty cool for me to paint.
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT PURSUIT?
My focus is generally plein air painting in the Sierra Basin. I travel around with my paints and paint on location. Last year I did a series at Martis Meadows. I like the whole Tahoe landscape although I regularly paint throughout Idaho and on the Yucatan in Mexico.
I paint in a studio at home and drop in weekly to the Brewery Arts Center in Carson City. I am part of a continuing and rotating exhibit at the Nevada State Legislature and I exhibit at a small gallery in Idaho. I post my paintings on Facebook as well as my website.
AND HOW ARE YOU NOW?
I am surviving two and a half cancers. My breast cancer in 1999 was followed by a melanoma. I am watched closely for other changes! All my cancer treatment is based at USC Norris. I follow the ACS guidelines for healthy living. I recently participated in a genetic study at USC and learned that my cancer was not inherited. I’m fine now and almost 15 years after my first diagnosis I don’t feel like I’m defined by this disease.