When I first heard of Karen Lee Sobol’s story of experimental treatment for a rare type of cancer, I simply could not imagine what she had been through. And when I learned that the disease was labeled “incurable”, I didn’t believe it at first. Her book, Twelve Weeks: An Artist’s Story of Cancer, Healing, and Hope, describes the journey through all kinds of uncertainty with unflinching honesty, courage, humor, and–somehow–curiosity.
Sobol’s methodical account is inseparable from her spirit: “Monday, March 7…This is when I first began to notice that in a cancer hospital you can’t make assumptions about who’s a patient and who’s not” (51). The result–an immersion into her experience–yields both inspiration and practical knowledge. For whom? For anyone dealing with health stuff. And for anyone in the business of understanding other people’s health stuff.
Sobol, an artist and architect, intersperses her own artwork throughout the book. The works–paintings, drawings, and sculpture–offer some of the highlight moments of exploration and humor. In my opinion, they offer particularly rich material for educators using visual arts-based interventions; they allow viewers to explore disease and one artist’s experience of disease simultaneously. The works look straight at both disease and experience–and at the same time, all kinds of other things are happening, too. Just like life.
L’Chaim, a sculpture playing with various beverage vessels, is particularly provocative to me. I plan to experiment with it with medical students this coming year. We will see how they drink it up!