A chance meeting at a breast cancer support group turned a new friendship into a non-profit that reaches out to support others impacted by cancer.
Pamela Crouch was diagnosed in 2008 with breast cancer. A writer prior to her diagnosis, during chemotherapy she developed aphasia which meant that she couldn't remember her nouns. This became problematic since her clients expected her to remember their names and the names of their products! One day she sat at home, bald, puffy from the steroids, unemployed and feeling very sorry for herself. Then it hit her – As a creative person, she just needed to find a new way to create! She went to a hobby store, bought little birdhouses and painted them with pink roofs. She gave them to newly diagnosed cancer breast cancer patients. Along the way she discovered that doing something for someone else made her feel better. "Art has always been part of my life. Chemotherapy took away my ability to write or even be on stage. I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself and decided to start painting birdhouses. I painted the roofs pink and planned to give the birdhouses to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. I discovered that you cannot be sad when you are creating pink-roofed birdhouses!"
In 2007, Mary Ellen Cunningham was diagnosed with breast cancer while caring for her elderly parents, long distance. Mary Ellen traveled, had surgery, underwent treatments and worked full-time. Her many professional artist friends encouraged her to look to art to help her cope. Mary Ellen picked up a camera and began to take photos. "A cancer diagnosis was a monumental shift in my life. I realized that I had been living my life in a way that had relegated my creative side and artistic talents to the background. My 'business life' had taken over. I realized that I wanted to live my life differently and that there were things I wanted to accomplish. Jacki Olson, a friend and professional artist, encouraged me to explore my creative side and artistic talents again. This helped me through the months following treatment. Every day, when I wake up, I thank God for another day that is cancer free."
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
In March 2010, Mary Ellen and Pamela met at the breast cancer support group. Mary Ellen had recently had a photo accepted into a juried show, and Pamela was thrilled to meet someone else who used art as therapy. She bounced up to Mary Ellen and said, "I used art as therapy, you used art as therapy, I'm sure there are others who did that too…let's put on a show!" To Mary Ellen's great credit, she didn’t run away. Instead she arranged a meeting with her artist friends, and in October 2010 Living Proof Exhibit
had their first show at Bucktown Center for the Arts in Davenport, Iowa. The original plan called for beginning to offer Creative Sessions in 5 years. Because Mary Ellen and Pamela saw such a great need, Living Proof Exhibit offered its first Creative Session in November 2010.
Pamela (left) and Mary Ellen (right) in 2010.
In 2015, Living Proof Exhibit sought and received its 501(c)3 status as a nonprofit organization and recruited a board of community leaders to move the organization forward. Mary Ellen served as the board’s first president while Pamela served as Executive Director until 2021.