It has been said that art imitates life, and vice versa. For artist Corrine Bayraktaroglu, a chance decision for a mammogram not only saved her life, but it also inspired a way to use her talents to deal with the difficult process of treatment.
Corrine came to America nearly 40 years ago from, as she put it, “The north of England,” Newcastle upon Tyne, to be precise. Today, she lives in the Dayton area as a full-time, independent artist working in photography, painting, textiles, and embroidery.
When she decided to schedule her mammogram, she hadn’t found a lump or experienced any sort of symptoms, and it had been just a few years since her last. But the results were unsettling: stage one invasive breast cancer.
“I had what they call the ‘garden variety’ form of breast cancer,” she said. “Garden variety? I thought all breast cancer was the same and didn’t realize there were so many variations.”
It was caught very early and had not yet spread.
Her doctor in Yellow Springs referred her to Dayton Physicians Network for treatment, where they performed a test to predict the behavior of the cancer according to her genetics. “I didn’t need chemotherapy, but I would get radiation treatment,” Corrine said.
After her first day of radiation treatment, Corrine looked down at the small stones lining the DPN parking lot and was inspired. “I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. As I was walking through the car park, I saw this perfectly round stone and thought, ‘Oh, I could paint a boob on that,’” she laughed. “So, I picked it up and took it home, and when I painted it that afternoon, it gave me a distraction.”
Corrine said that her artwork has always been based on everything going on around her and her “rock art” is no different. “My artwork is an expression of my experience of the world,” she explained. “My portfolio of work looks like it’s all over the map. But it’s not — it reflects how I feel at that particular time.”
Friends had suggested that she should treat herself after a treatment: buy something special, go out to lunch, and so on, and she did some of that. “But there are only so many lunches you can have, and I didn’t want to keep spending money,” Corrine said. “So each time, I picked up another stone.”
She said that the funniest stone was from treatment number 24. “When I went to treatment, I had told the technicians that I started to feel like a piece of fried bacon,” she said. “Then the technician and I started playing the Kevin Bacon game, where you change the title of a movie to having the word bacon in it. Gone with the Wind, became Gone with the Bacon, and so on.” As a result, that stone ended up painted as a piece of bacon.
From roosters and robot faces to beaded corn cobs and shadowy self-portraits, each stone expressed how she felt after her treatments. “I felt like it was a healthy distraction for me after my radiation treatments. It was a very meditative process. I was in the now, and only focused on being able to paint that stone. It was very calming.”
Corrine also kept a sort of diary in the from a blog, “This Art Life: C-Central.” In her own uninhibited words, and photos of the stones, she helps readers to understand what she went through, hopefully inspiring them to find comforting expression of their own.
“Writing the blog meant I had do some research on the treatment process, and it helped me understand my feelings and not be frightened of them,” she said. “Everything I experienced made me think I had something to say about how I felt, and the reason I wrote about it on the blog is treating it like a diary. I also was hoping people would read it, gain some courage from it, and get some ideas.”
After 33 treatments and as many painted stones, Corrine has been cancer-free since June of 2016. She will continue with a regimen of mammograms every six months and medication to help prevent a recurrence.
Her experience is certainly one of hope, strength, and artistic expression, giving life to what can be a frightening and painful process. Sometimes the scariest part is the unknown and remembering that you need to be good to yourself.
“What helped me is that I talked to a woman who’d gone through the same thing. Just hearing about the process and the steps helped me not be so frightened,” she said. “Talking to other patients can help, and each treatment doing something nice for yourself. Also, I think it’s important to tell your friends and family how they can help you.”