After three cancer diagnoses, Marianne Duquette Cuozzo found returning to her love of art helped her understand her changing body.
As told to Britt Julious
I’ve been going through this for 24+ years and I had three different cancers. One was a recurrence. I started out when I was 29 and then 32 and then it came back in my 40s, so it’s pretty much been half of my life [that] I’ve been going through this.
I’m writing my journey through a story and I’m going through all my journals because I have the time. I’m looking at all the ways I changed from being a young woman to being older, how I grew with this. I wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t for this.
I was diagnosed in 1994. I had a lump on my clavicle and it wasn’t where the lymph nodes usually are. It was in a very odd spot. I didn’t even notice it. My husband noticed it. I had a lot of neck pain. When I look back, I had all the symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma. It was stage IIb. I ended up having radiation and then I had a splenectomy and other sorts of things, because that’s what they did back then.
I’m looking at all the ways I changed from being a young woman to being older, how I grew with this. I wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t for this.
Two years later, it came back. I dealt with chemotherapy at that time and then it was gone after a year. I was back to my life. At the time, I was told I couldn’t have a child, but I had one anyhow. And then in 2014, I found a lump in my left breast and it ended up being breast cancer from the radiation I had when I was younger.
After I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma the second time, the doctor told me that in your future, breast cancer is likely to occur. At the time, I thought it would happen when I was 60 something years old, not 40. They didn’t know what the radiation did back then to your body. Now, we know that it causes breast cancer and there’s a lot of us in the world. The radiation was so tough on our young bodies. It was always in the back of my head, unfortunately, but it made me live more. Like, “Gotta get everything in now.”
It wasn’t a huge shock that I got it. It was a huge shock that I got it so young. Everyone says to me, “You’re lucky you’re so young when you got it.” But my youth got taken away. So much has been taken away from me being a young woman diagnosed with this. I was alone in this. Completely alone.
It was a lot. When the doctor told me the news, I just looked at her and said, “It can’t be. I have so much to do. I can’t possibly go through that again in my life right now. I just started all this new stuff.”
I have good and bad days for sure, but I think being positive has been a huge component in my getting through this.
But there was no time to feel sorry for myself. Let’s be proactive. Let’s get this out real fast and get going. Luckily, with social media, I had so much more information and people to go to. And I went to the best of the best. It was taken care of quickly and the treatments were crappier than crappy.
It wasn’t until afterwards—after I had the double mastectomy—that I had issues. I became very infected with the implants. That was a whole other journey that made me sicker than the cancer and chemo itself.
I never had the feeling of despair. I’ve never felt [that] this is going to take me. I just never thought like that. I know women that do now. I’m in groups and I can tell. But I have a positive attitude. My parents are positive. That’s always been instilled in me. And it does something. I’m not necessarily religious, but I’m spiritual. And I know the universe has a plan for me. I have good and bad days for sure, but I think being positive has been a huge component in my getting through this. And just knowing the people around me are going to take care of me and trusting them. And trusting what they have to say and doing what they say.
I never had the feeling of despair. I’ve never felt [that] this is going to take me.
My whole family are artists. I have two parents who met in art school. All their kids, my siblings, are all artists. So art was just something totally natural for me to express myself as a kid. I did it daily. My father’s studio was a heaven for me to get supplies. He’d tell me to go make him something fantastic and show him later. We all did and we all still do that.
When I was first diagnosed and I had nobody to talk to. I did go to a support group, but I was 29 years old and everyone was 60+. These were people who already had families and I was just married. I didn’t know if I was going to have a kid at this point.
But I had an art studio. I was a decorative painter so my artwork was pretty art. I sold pretty art all the time and I loved it. It was therapeutic.
I started making these charcoal [drawings], which was not my style at the time. I’d take these messy charcoals and big paper and draw these very dark messy images. They were very cathartic and scary. It came out of me out of nowhere. But that’s me. That’s angry Maryanne. These things were never meant to be seen. They were dusty and messy and I would shove them under the couch I had. You don’t have to be artistic at all for art therapy. It’s just a huge way of self-discovery and expressing yourself.
As my cancer progressed the second time around, I was so sick with the chemo that it was very hard to do these huge charcoals. I would just sit at my bed and do these drawings of faces. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it became all about my body.
I had this 10-inch scar from the splenectomy as a young woman. And I had a double mastectomy that failed and I had 6 infections and I had to remove my implants so I had new scars. Now, I have a big T of my scars and they’re my journey.
And it’s in my artwork. Everything I draw has them. When I do these drawings now, they’re more whimsical. I’m trying to figure out my body through my artwork. With a lot of women, it’s resonating and they’re feeling the power. It’s awesome.
When I show my artwork, I can not believe the response I get. And yes, I get likes and everyone likes to get likes. But it’s when I get private messages and somebody writes, “I can’t believe how much this spoke to me. You’re doing exactly what I’m going through and I didnt know how to express it to anybody so I showed them this drawing.”
It sounds so simple, but it’s not. It’s a way of communication. The fact that I can do that for somebody and someone else too […] their happiness makes me happy. And I wont stop doing it. It’s the way I express myself. And it’s definitely spectacular. Something that I’m really proud of myself for doing.
For more of Marianne’s art, visit her site.