This guest blog post was written by Laura Jaquays, Founder & Director of Art HOPE in Ogunquit, Maine. Laura leads watercolor painting classes at the Dempsey Center in South Portland.

My story with the Cancer Community Center began in early 1998 when my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was the wellness program coordinator at the Women’s Health Consortium in Portsmouth, NH, a grassroots organization serving women in southern York County and a partner in the Maine Breast & Cervical Cancer Program. I wanted to learn more about the cancer killing my mother.

A nurse from York Hospital suggested that I contact Jane Staley, a woman diagnosed with the disease in 1994 who was an advocate for ovarian cancer awareness. We soon connected, and with her generous enthusiasm she helped me facilitate an informational program at our women’s wellness center. We had over 30 women with family and friends at the evening event, and Jane was a wonderfully nurturing leader who was well-informed and upbeat. Even while battling her own cancer she was tireless and stayed long after the program answering the many questions and soothing the fears of our participants.

With my mother in Florida dying, Jane became a mentor and friend who recognized my creative gifts and encouraged me to pursue my interest in creativity and healing. She shared her vision for the Cancer Community Center and I attended the grand opening event in South Portland, 18 years ago. I’ll never forget that night when she told me I should consider being a teacher at the Center. Though I’d been facilitating creative wellness workshops for a few years I never identified myself as a “teacher”, and what she said resonated deeply with me. Jane reminded me that the Center is a community, and the services and programs will support individuals in a group environment. She believed in me and gave me a nudge and confidence to become a community artist and to do what I know and what I love.

We stayed in touch until her death in 2001, and finally in 2004 I began facilitating a series of workshops at the Cancer Community Center. During the past decade I’ve expanded the creative wellness classes I teach in clinical and community environments, and in 2011 I founded Art HOPE, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting health and well-being through free expressive arts programs for people living with cancer and other long-term illness, and the community at large.

My Simple Watercolors for Well-Being class has been offered at the Center since 2008 and we have a creative continuum of participants who help support the painting process in a lively open-studio environment. We make a joke in every class that there is nothing simple about watercolors. I describe how to use materials and the organic process of painting, and mostly I give participants creative confidence. We have painters at all skill levels in the class who mentor first-timers and give the support of creative fellowship. The class has evolved with the participants, and there are a core group of artists who have expanded the community art process and are offering an Open Studio class session every Thursday at the center. Community art in action.

For all my friends at the Cancer Community Center, thank you for the creativity and healing we have shared. Many of you know that I’ve been writing a book about creative wellness and the Art HOPE story, which will be published this fall. What follows is an excerpt, the second to the last paragraph in the book, that describes an experience in my watercolor class at the Cancer Community Center and a precious moment of hope. Recognize your angels, Jane Staley’s legacy continues to inspire.

About the Dempsey Center
The Dempsey Center is committed to making life better for people managing the impact of cancer by providing support for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. With locations in Lewiston and South Portland, the Dempsey Center provides services that ease the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. Understanding that a cancer diagnosis impacts the whole family, the Dempsey Center provides cancer support that feels good for children, teens and families. All services are provided at no charge to the people who use them.