By Caitlin Wilts

Joanne Bekkerus, an MSUM alumna and current employee who has worked in building services for over 30 years, has used art to share her survival story of defeating ovarian cancer. Creating art using acrylic paint and tapping into her emotional journey has transformed the way she views life.

Sanford’s Roger Maris Cancer Center celebrates her story by displaying her two-part art display titled, “Cancer, Momentous Metamorphosis for the Soul.” Her 29-piece showing includes paintings and photographs documenting the remarkable change and growth she experienced during and after her cancer treatment.

On March 8, 2017, Bekkerus found herself in the emergency room, thinking she had appendicitis. During the unexpected visit to the hospital, the doctor informed her that they had also found a tumor. Over 15 days, Bekkerus underwent surgery to remove both the tumor found on her ovary and her appendix, which first brought her to the hospital.

During her post-operation appointment, Bekkerus heard the heavy words that would change her life.

“Something you don’t ever want to hear is that you have cancer. In my case, I was diagnosed with Stage 2A ovarian cancer; I thank God every day because most women don’t find the cancer until it’s Stage 4.” That spring was the beginning of a long journey as Bekkerus started chemotherapy.

Bekkerus had her sixth and final chemotherapy infusion on July 26, 2017. As she looks back on a journey filled with unpredictable hardships, she shared that instead of looking at her circumstance negatively, she learned to perceive it as a way to grow and transform.

She used her lifelong love of creating art to help her brave the many intimidating and physically draining hours of treatment. With a psychologist in the infusion room with her, she shared that she was encouraged to use her art as an opportunity to grow. “Art can be a reflection of who you are at your core, or you can use it as an intention to change.”

Bekkerus introduces her art display with this opening statement:

“Art’s my personal expression of emotion wrapped in symbolism that for me, no word or words could ever truly portray. I have the option to use line, color, shape, value, space, form, and texture along with balance, movement, harmony, pattern, rhythm, and variety to create effect. However, the internal process of accepting feelings and thoughts without judgment while the work unfolds is more important to me than the finished product and is teaching me to trust and accept myself. I want to express an emotional experience more than I want to depict realism in the artwork. During this series, I have used art as a catalyst for positive transformation.”

The artwork and photographs included in her collection represent her heart, perseverance, and the emotions she felt as she endured and won the battle against cancer. Chronologically pieced together by the dramatic use of color, shape, and hidden messages, her artwork is a direct and raw reflection of her transformation story.

Her second gallery exhibit was displayed on March 15 and will be an extended showing due to COVID-19. At this time, the general public is not allowed to view it. Bekkerus shares how she is fortunate that current patients and employees at Sanford can appreciate her art. 

Bekkerus wishes for others to be inspired to grow in their own life after they see her artwork. “I hope that people will look at each piece and say, ‘you know, if she could be diagnosed with cancer and be able to change, maybe there’s something in my life that I can change, too.”