My first art teacher’s advice for success was to focus on just one subject; but today I’m proud to be equally expert in painting oil portraits, still life, and landscapes. Somewhere along the way, I also became an expert in another field – survival.
Branded with the “S” word, I live in two worlds simultaneously – my dream world of oil painting, and the hard core reality of three auto-immune diseases. I’ve absorbed more toxic chemicals than the state of Nevada, and have more zippers than a bomber jacket. Striving to maintain my survivor title, I get points just for showing up. But I do have interesting statistics:
Graves / Hashimoto’s disease
Kidney Disease, Stage 3
15 years of chemotherapy (ovarian cancer)
18 surgeries during these years
12 different chemo drugs to date
24 times on the operating table in my life
28 years since my breast cancer diagnosis
I'm also living my fairy tale, and have enjoyed some remarkable achievements in my professional career during this time. Because I manage to be happy and healthy, people call for advice on how to handle their life crisis. They’re looking for a silver bullet – I try to tell them about the pot of gold between their ears. The rules in life are the same for all of us whether your challenge is divorce, disease, or dastardly bosses. I see the similarities between life and art, because both require the same discipline, hard work, and focus.
Speaking at seminars, I wanted to help people understand the intangible elements necessary for healing and survival. Giving visual form to my personal game plan, I designed an oil painting of five calla lilies. Beginning on the left, each flower represents one of the essential elements which I call the “Fran Plan”; every moment of every day involves some facet of these elements.
1. SPIRIT: Faith in your God (he didn’t give you cancer). You must also have faith in yourself – you’re stronger than you think. Love yourself, and love others, rejecting anger. We have so many reasons to be angry, but how can you stay focused on saving or improving your life when your energy and emotions are consumed with anger? Strive to maintain unyielding zest for life, and enthusiasm to face each day no matter how difficult.
2. DISCIPLINE: This is where the rubber meets the road, and most people fail. Make conscious decisions and follow through. Be diligent about exercise, even if it’s simple yoga. Do your homework on nutrition; your “bloomin’ onion” days are over! No excuses and no cop-outs. Staying alive is a full-time job.
3. LAUGHTER: Laughter is oxygen, which is energy for mental, physical, and emotional strength. Seek only the joyful and uplifting. Laughter conquers fear and depression, which are crippling. (Caution: Laughter is contagious; joy can be habit-forming.)
4. PURPOSE: A reason to get out of bed – mental entertainment which brings you joy; an activity from the past or dream for the future. Dare to dream! You may look back years from now, chastising yourself for wasted time. When you focus outward, life is easier; involve your brain in something you love – you’ll notice that “quality of life” thing happening.
5. FOCUS: Don’t get distracted by pain, complications, or question marks; set goals and take charge. Don’t cower in fear; look your challenge in the face, declare war, and never take your eyes off the prize.
Life doesn’t happen by accident.
Every element is necessary for handling challenges and represents positive, purposeful effort. But here’s the catch: No single factor does the job – it requires the whole bouquet. The lessons in life are the same for all of us, whatever your special circumstance. Consider your life as a work of art: You’re in charge. You’re holding the brush. Strive for attitude management, and clear-headed focus. We all started life with a blank canvas; decide what you want and are willing to work for. Take a risk: Decide to change your life from a question mark to an exclamation point! With iron-willed determination, choose your path. Believe in the art of the possible. I sure am glad I didn’t quit years ago, when I received another diagnosis. You can do it.
Artist Fran Di Giacomo is author of
I'd Rather Do Chemo Than Clean Out the Garage: Choosing Laughter Over Tears.