North Coast Journal



Healing Art

by Marie Gravelle

JOYCE RADTKE REACTED LIKE an artist when she was told she had breast cancer. She put her mind's images, and her gut feelings, down on paper for all to see.

Talk about intense.

Take a look at her coming shows at Plaza Design in Arcata and the Ink People studio in Eureka.

"If I don't know how long I have left, I'll be damned if I'm going to live in fear," the 42-year-old Arcatan said.

For a year Radtke's been on what she calls "a journey" with this cancer. She's read everything, talked to everyone, even found guidance through meditation.

Like any good warrior, she knows her enemy well. She's learned that one out of seven (some say eight) women will develop breast cancer. According to health officials, rates of breast cancer cases are reaching "epidemic proportions."

But Radtke also learned about survival. According to Sylvia Jutila with the American Cancer Society, "if it hasn't spread, the cure rate is 95 percent."

One out of eight women, however, will develop invasive cancer, and one out of 30 will die.

The artist's main weapon against this disease has been her inner self, something she expresses with a paint brush, pastel chalk, dyes and silk. These are helping her heal.

"The cancer has been like being thrust into darkness and finding my way to the light," Radtke said.

As you look at her work over the past year, you see and feel her story.

Always a storyteller, Radtke's themes since have been about conquering fear, opening her heart and hope.

One image is titled, "Barely Containing the Fear," and a woman is seen sitting, tightly clutching a rabbit. Another is called "Cancer Dancer" -- the dancer is walking a tightrope, trying to keep her balance while forces strain against her.

Then there's the "Hands That Heal." Dozens of outstretched hands pour out of a woman's mastectomy scar. The scar is a recurring image, along with pomegranates, her special symbol of hope and fertility.

Married, with a 6-year-old daughter, Radtke isn't taking this lying down. She opted against traditional chemotherapy, but is taking hormones. She had surgery on one side and is keeping a close eye on her body.

She's read poetry to her surgeon and even connected with the earth during her recent mastectomy.

"I painted 40 pairs of socks," Radtke said. "Everybody who touched me -- the surgeon, the nurses, friends -- everybody wore a pair.

"It was my own personal ritual. I felt I had to take charge, take the power."

The medical profession may gasp at some of her methods, but they're working for Radtke.

The well-traveled woman has been interested in a variety of cultures and ancient myths for decades. A successful artist for many years, her silk work is a delight of colors and images, some simple and others more complex. Each piece tells a myth, or story, using colors and symbols. Earth Mother holding her babies hangs in Radtke's living room. The artist also has a self- portrait, showing herself in a wolf mask.

It's called "Not Too Proud to Howl or Dressed to Kill."

"I really love being alive," Radtke said, sitting in her house, surrounded by her life: art, her child's toys, her husband. Her life's work, she said, is to send a message about the earth through her art.

"We've really separated ourselves -- we poison the planet and feel we're impervious," she said.

Using her art to teach children and others the need to heal the earth, Radtke believes the cancer may be her wake-up call.

"How can I teach healing if I haven't healed myself?

"It's OK I got the cancer; I have a big mouth and maybe I can help other women," she said.

"But it's not OK, too. I don't want to leave behind a 6-year-old." Using art as therapy, Radtke's determined to keep healing, both herself and the world. And she's hoping the coming art show will help other women deal with breast cancer.

According to Geraldine Goldberg, outreach coordinator for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program at St. Joseph Hospital, "Women who look inside themselves seem to do better. Unfortunately there are those who look outside for help. I know, from personal experience, healing comes from inside."

Goldberg is on a crusade to get younger and younger women thinking about breast cancer and asking doctors for complete examinations.

"If you're not satisfied, go to another doctor," Goldberg said.

There are about 100 new cases each year in Humboldt County, where the rate is 121 cases per 100,000 women, slightly higher than the state average of 107.

And the risk factors? Says Jutila: "Every woman should accept the fact that if you're a woman, you're at risk of getting breast cancer."

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Many activities are planned, including Radtke's art exhibit at Plaza Design, 808 G St., Arcata, with an reception Oct. 6, 5-7 p.m. Another exhibit this month will be at The Ink People Gallery, 411 12th St., Eureka, featuring work by Radtke and others.

The opening reception is the same night, Oct. 6, from 7 to 9 p.m. On Oct. 11 the Irish Shop at 334 Second St., Eureka, will hold a fund-raiser fashion show to help pay for mammograms for women aged 40 to 50.

There will also be a candlelight ceremony Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Eureka's Woman's Club, 1531 J St. The American Cancer Society will hold a brown bag lunch and breast self-exam class on Oct. 19 at noon at the offices at 2942 F St., Eureka.

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