I discovered that Living Proof's co-founder, Mary Ellen Cunningham, has nerves of steel and a strength underneath her gentle smile.
Mary Ellen and I met in 2010 at the Quad City Breast Cancer Support Group. I found out that she had some of her art in a local show. I'd been using art as therapy during my cancer treatments so I bounced up to her and suggested we find out if other survivors were artists. Could we put on a show of their work? Not only did Mary Ellen not run away, she made connections with her lifelong friends, who happened to be professional artists, and they were instrumental in helping the first Living Proof Exhibit (LPE) come to life.
Mary Ellen and I have spent hours together planning the exhibits, working on Creative Sessions and have become good friends. We share a love 0f all things 'bunny.' I covet her silver bunny salt and pepper shakers; she hugs my needlepoint bunny pillows. We both love to garden, decorate our homes, laugh and listen to live music. We joke that we were probably sisters in a previous life.
Mary Ellen is a very powerful and successful business woman, which could be intimidating if she weren't so nice. Usually, I don't see the high-powered executive side of her. Our LPE meetings are pretty laid back and typically involve coffee, treats or wine.
One Wednesday, I saw a side of Mary Ellen that made me shake my head in awe. That evening was the opening of the exhibit for our sponsors at the Figge Art Museum. The Figge would be filled with trustees, board members, and doctors--exactly the audience we wanted to rea h as we began our second state of growth for LPE.
Earlier that day, Mary Ellen fell while walking; she ended up in the emergency room. when I saw her, she was pretty banged up, hand purple and swollen, and she was dizzy from the pain. Since nothing was broken, they sent her home with pain meds. We had to give a speech to the sponsors in just a few hours. So two hours later, I picked her up and we were on.
And boy, did she bring it! As we walked up onstage, she drew herself up and commanded that room. She spoke with authority, with passion and with confidence. I watched her as she spoke and saw a spark in her that I had never noticed before. I imagined her as she battled through her breast cancer--exuding the same power, passion and strength that she did that Wednesday night.
She is an amazing woman and I am lucky to call her by friend.