A Courageous Fight: How Cancer Inspired Me to Pass It On

Northwestern Medicine
Cancer Care/Oncology February 07, 2013
Jorie Gillis, a 38-year-old Lurie Cancer Center patient, has agreed to share her inspiring story and what led her to create an organization for cancer survivors to express themselves artistically. Below is Jorie’s courageous journey in her own words.

According to Merriam Webster, Courage is defined as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”

My name is Jorie Gillis. In December 2011, at 37-years-old, I was diagnosed with stage 1 triple negative breast cancer.

Jorie Gillis takes time to smileI carry the BRCA1 gene mutation. Knowing that, for the eight years prior to my diagnosis I was a participant in the Northwestern Ovarian Cancer Early Detection Program for women at increased risk of gynecologic cancers. I also had a yearly mammogram, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and biannual exams by my oncologist.
When my last MRI detected two abnormalities, and then a biopsy confirmed the diagnosis, I joined the ranks of people—too many people, who have to dig deep; to find their own courage and fight illness.

When you are a newly diagnosed patient, vulnerably fidgeting in an oversized gown on a scratchy tissue-papered bed, you are not at your sharpest. But I knew it was crucial for me to become my own health advocate. Thus, from the very beginning I asked questions. Lots of questions. I didn't know where to begin! I took notes. My mother took notes. My dad nodded, and my sister took notes. This was my team. My team also consisted of the incredible members of Northwestern’s Oncofertility Consortium, and all of the kind and helpful administrators, nurses, therapists, my physician assistant, acupuncturist, primary care physician and my oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University’s Maggie Daley Center for Women’s Cancer Care and the Lynn Sage Comprehensive Breast Center at Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital.

Due to the nature of my aggressive cancer, I elected to have a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and implants. After my surgery and recovery, I went through 12 weeks of chemotherapy. I wore my bald head proudly, worked when I could, and made sure to put on my best face each and every day.

I left town for a change of scenery once I was strong enough to do so. As I sat alone in my friend’s lake house, I thought about how I could give back to the tremendous community that supports survivors throughout their journey. And, I knew that whatever life-altering disease, ailment or challenge one faced, it demanded courage.

One of my majors in college was art. For over 16 years, I’ve worked in the marketing and advertising industry in Chicago. I am a cancer survivor. It was a no-brainer: these three passions from my life would become The Arts of Courage Project (ACP). My desire to give back would now begin. In June of 2012, I created ACP.

The Arts of Courage Project’s mission is to create an empowering opportunity for cancer survivors to express themselves artistically. We believe: art creates dialogue, dialogue instigates ideas, ideas produce knowledge, knowledge is power, and power breeds courage. The courage that it takes to continue living, adapting and fighting through a life-changing and life-threatening moment, and the physical and emotional challenges and acceptance that piggyback such experiences. Possessing and openly sharing one’s courage and strength through artistic exploration is a crucial and therapeutic release. It deserves to be recognized, honored and celebrated.

On March 2, 2013, this is exactly what we are going to do! ACP is hosting its inaugural silent art auction and event celebration, and we’re asking everyone whose life has been touched by cancer (and other life-altering illnesses) to think about creating and submitting their artwork, along with personal stories associated with the art.

Learn more about supporting The Arts of Courage Project. Please join us, help us spread the word, and consider being a part of our commitment to courage.

The Arts of Courage Project
Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.
Frontier, Upstairs Private Event Lounge
1072 North Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

The ACP is actively seeking artwork for the event, created by anyone affected by cancer and those who have had to find courage above and beyond daily life.

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