Examined Lives: My Sarcoma, the story of a tumor told with art

By Jacob Scott

This is the story of a Cancer Connection I never hoped to make and also the one that has brought me the most joy.

About a month before my family and I left for the University of Oxford, my dear friend and neighbor Ray came over and asked if I’d look at this side, where an orange-sized mass was growing.

So, you know I’m a cancer doctor, so you can probably guess how this story plays out.  But before I tell you (or let Ray tell you), I want to share a bit about Ray. He’s an artist whose paintings have always struck me, and my scientist and physician friends, in similar ways.  There is just something alive about them.  Something cellular.  Something moving.

This makes sense as Ray studied biology as an undergrad, but it is also says something about the artist: that there is always something moving in his mind. At the heart of this artist is a scientist.

I’ll let him share his manifesto about his treatment, and the subsequent healing that he has found through this new project, “My Sarcoma.”

My name is Ray Paul. I am a 50-year-old artist, musician, frustrated biologist and myxofibrosarcoma patient. As of my latest scans in February 2013, I am free of detectable cancer. My next round of scans are scheduled for June 2013.

My journey begins in the spring of 2011, when I noticed a rapidly enlarging lump protruding from my left flank. Unfortunately, I fell into the category of the uninsured who wait and hope for their medical issues to resolve magically. Finally, as the mass grew to the size of an Idaho baking potato, I felt compelled to go into the local Emergency Walk-In Clinic. I was told it was likely a lipoma and I needed to find someone to remove it. After weeks of worry and several inquiries, I approached a surgeon friend who agreed, with some trepidation, to perform a tabletop resection, using local anesthesia. It soon became clear that the mass was more than a lipoma.

I was sewn up and a sample was sent to his pathologist who forwarded it to the pathology team at Moffitt Cancer Center. Soon thereafter, I received “The Call.” Shock and confusion rushed in, but curiously, were followed by a sense of calm resolve and numb determination.

I was admitted as a patient to Moffitt Cancer Center in August of 2011. I began neoadjuvant radiation therapy in September 2011, followed by a radical resection in 2012 of the 12 x 12 cm myxofibrosarcoma. In July 2012 I was diagnosed with a lung mass, and underwent a lung subsegmentectomy to remove a metastatic myxofibrosarcoma.  In November 2012 I began adjuvant radiation therapy.

During this life-consuming ordeal I have placed my complete faith and trust in my team at Moffitt, and in my physical and spiritual ability to heal. Never have I dreaded going into Moffitt. The strength and determination of my fellow patients has been humbling and has greatly increased my sense of compassion. I have been inspired to create a painting for the Radiation Department, which hangs in the waiting room.

Porpoise Song
Porpoise Song

and have donated a piece to the Integrated Mathematical Oncology Department.

Sweet Jane
Sweet Jane

I am currently embarking on a collaborative endeavor entitled “My Sarcoma” project.  I plan on combining painting, photographic images of my tumor cells, printmaking, video and music to create an exhibit that illuminates my experiences as an artist and cancer patient. I envision my art to be a prescient, visual manifestation of the battle raging within, and a powerful testament to the beauty of Hope.

As a teaser, here is a prototypical Sarcoma piece from Ray.  You can see his signature style of abstract forms detailed into cellular figures, and beneath, an H&E pathology image of his own tumor.

Ray's Sarcoma
Ray’s Sarcoma

Jacob Scott is a TEDMED 2012 speaker who blogs at cancerconnector.blogspot.com.  You can follow him @CancerConnector. You can follow Ray on Twitter at @raypaul4.