Aileen Bennett has become a painter. Half of her studio is filled with her work. Some of her pieces are being displayed in local exhibitions this fall.
Bennett is a longtime designer and creative consultant, but painting is a new world for her. It’s something she might never have taken up if she wasn’t diagnosed with breast cancer last year.
“Basically during chemo, you’re just tired all the time, so really all I could do was sit in bed and draw on my iPad,” Bennett said. “I found that level of joy again you have when you’re seven and you’re just drawing because you’re drawing. There’s no client. There’s no reason. You don’t even have an idea of what you’re drawing. It’s completely fun. I never expected painting to ever be my thing, and now I paint and I’m putting some things out there.”
Bennett was diagnosed with Stage Two breast cancer in April 2018, but after a biopsy and surgery, doctors determined it was at Stage One, “which apparently is fairly unusual,” Bennett said. She underwent chemotherapy as part of an aggressive treatment plan.
“I think the idea was that they treated it very harshly this time in the hope that it will never come back,” she said.
All of Bennett’s recent scans show she is cancer-free, but the journey is not over. She still has regular doctor’s appointments, and her chemotherapy port still must be flushed every seven weeks. Sometimes, it dawns on her that she has had cancer. She’s had two close friends pass away from breast cancer in the past year.
“The only thing we’re certain of is that we are going to die, and yet we all secretly believe it’s not going to happen to us. To have that reminder isn’t a bad thing,” she said. “I was really, really lucky. I definitely consider it the luckiest year of my life because if I hadn’t found it when I did, I might not have found it until it was too late.”
One major lifeline has been Bennett’s husband, Sean. Even though she knew he was scared, Bennett said he powered through. He continued working while keeping up the house, tending to the couple’s pets and caring for his wife.
“I really have no idea how he did it all,” she marveled. “He must have been terrified, but he stepped up. I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
The experience has also shown her the kindness of friends and strangers alike.
“You kind of always know people are kind, but it’s been on a different level,” she said. “You get letters from complete strangers and beautiful gifts. You get things in the mail. Someone is always checking in on you. I’ve seen the kindness of friends and people who used to be strangers. It’s been absolutely amazing. I knew that if I ever needed to ask for help, I could. Sometimes just knowing you can ask for help is enough.”
There have been other changes as well. Bennett celebrates birthdays and special events more with her friends and family. She takes more time off work. She takes more creative risks. When deciding to take on work, she thinks about how much fun she can have before she thinks about how much money she could make.
“I’m trying to do whatever I can to have the most fun and to be the most creative I can be, because that’s what I’m meant to do,” she said. “I think I’ve always lived my life quite bravely, but this is a whole new level. I’m going to take the chances and I’m going to put my work out there and I’m going to be even more of who I am, because I could be dead and then I wouldn’t be able to do any of that. It’s on a completely different level.”