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Health News Florida

Symposium Addresses Relationship of Illness & Art

The healing power of art is on display at the Moffitt Cancer Center through September, and it's also the topic of a symposium there tonight.

Megan Hildebrandt was just 25 years old when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2009. She began receiving treatment at Moffitt, and went into remission in 2011. She graduated from USF with her Master of Fine Arts degree last year, and now lives in Texas.

Now, a collection of her drawings reflecting on her time as a patient is on display in the lobby of the Moffitt Stabile Research building, where she'll speak at a symposium called "Witnessing Cancer: Communicating Illness through Visual Art and Narrative" tonight at 6 p.m.

While Hildebrandt continued working on her art while receiving treatment, she says she didn't start seriously focusing on the Counting Radiation series now on display at Moffitt until about a year after her cancer went into remission.

People expecting to see a series of melancholic drawings are in for a surprise -- Hildebrandt says her abstract work reflects a wide range of feelings cancer treatment brought out in her.

"I don't think anyone experiences chemotherapy as just darkness. There's moments of hope, there's a light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "You're going towards remission, so it's not all dark, dreary, depressing. Humans want to hope, so there's definitely sort like a landscape of emotions that are explored in it."

She adds that any hobby or passion should still be followed even when someone's sick.

"It just matters that you're able to explore something and continue on some path of normalcy," said Hildebrandt. "For some people, it might be like writing poetry, for other people, it might be making art--maybe directly about the experience, maybe not."

Hildebrandt is drawing on a new experience for her inspiration--she's pregnant with her first child.

She'll be joined at tonight's symposium by USF professor of English and Gender Studies Diane Price Herndl, who will give a presentation on breast cancer art and the ethical dimensions of witnessing illness. That will be followed by a panel discussion that includes Moffitt oncologists Dr. Sarah Hoffe and Dr. Lodovico Balducci and Peggie Sherry, the founder of Faces of Courage, a Tampa non-profit group that offers free camps and events for women and children with cancer and blood illnesses.

Tonight's "Witnessing Cancer" symposium is presented by the USF Contemporary Art Museum and the Moffitt Cancer Center. It takes place in the Moffitt Stabile Research building lobby, where Hildebrandt's drawings will be on display until September 15th. The symposium is free to the public and starts at 6 p.m.

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