Art, in its essence, is just another way to tell a story, a way for humans to make meaning out of their experiences. At Health Story Collaborative, a nonprofit founded by Dr. Annie Brewster, a Boston internist and CommonHealth contributor who uses storytelling in a therapeutic context, artists are invited to tell their unique stories.
Here, Dennis Svoronos, a Boston-based sculptor who describes his work as existing “between art and engineering,” reflects on his cancer as a force for creativity and social engagement.
By Dennis Svoronos
In September of 2009 — at 26 years of age — I was diagnosed with cancer after experiencing the first of many seizures. Of all the trials I could imagine that lay ahead, I never thought most of them would be exercises in recollection.
Patient name? Dennis Svoronos (thankfully I can always get this one)
Date of birth? 3/8/83 (a palindrome, helps to keep it easy)
Occupation? Artist (maybe not my parents first choice)
Approximate date of last surgery? 11/09 (Who forgets their first brain surgery)
Existing medical conditions? Anaplastic Astrocytoma (a cancerous brain tumor)
Repeat daily, for years.
As time progressed; I remember those waiting rooms — questions and ID tags — much more than the operating theatre and injections; trauma is kind of like that.
However, they made me feel intrinsically linked to my disease. What was I, without these suffixes of sickness to identify with? Somehow, all my other unique and admirable qualities were set aside for the identifier of ‘cancer patient’.
It’s easy to resign to the belief that those forms and wristbands define your life, mere statistics, data — you and your cancer. Just as painless is to ignore the process completely, pretending your exams and operations are the bad dreams of another person, your ‘real life’ goes on unaffected.
Either way, it seems you’re not to talk openly about cancer, and it is difficult for most; patients, family and doctors alike. My initial sense was, it would be easier for me — and more comfortable for others — to keep off the topic. Sickness is a surprisingly taboo subject in a very liberal culture.
The artist in me, however, couldn’t stop questioning why we hide from the discussion. Continue reading