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Becoming a Work of Art

A 34-year breast cancer survivor reflects on life after diagnosis and the joy she found in her lifelong passion.
BY Katie Kosko
PUBLISHED May 08, 2018
COURTESY CARMEN TEIXIDOR
 
“FOLLOW YOUR BLISS.” Carmen Teixidor, who was diagnosed with breast cancer more than 30 years ago, has observed this motto — coined by the American scholar Joseph Campbell. It is something she feels is crucial to life, especially for those affected by cancer.

Her bliss is art. Teixidor’s passion began when she was a child living in France with her family. She would draw for hours upon hours. At 25 years old, she embarked on a journey to America, settling in New York City, and has never left.

Now 74 years old, she reflects on the disease that changed her life. “It made me go into my artwork deeply. It was a lifesaver, a healer, that has kept me alive as much as any medication or support group,” she says.

Teixidor was diagnosed with breast cancer at the height of her art career, forcing her to ditch creating sculptures. “I didn’t know anyone who had breast cancer,” she says.

“I was absolutely terrified.” Her treatments have consisted of chemotherapy and hormonal therapy (she’s thankful for this, as it didn’t bring many side effects). Since her initial diagnosis and mastectomy, Teixidor has had multiple recurrences.

The most recent — stage 4 — a few years ago. However, she was not responding to the medication given, so she participated in a clinical trial. Teixidor became resistant to this treatment.

Her cancer journey led her to her latest works of art, digital prints, which are on display at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Outpatient Treatment Center — Teixidor has been treated by oncologists at MSK since her first disease recurrence.

“New Logic,” which runs through July 18, consists of art pieces from 12 artists, four of whom are patients at MSK, with a focus on making sense of truths and half-truths of day-to-day life, says Jay Davis, MSK’s art curator. Teixidor says her favorite work on display is what she calls “If I Were a Vase With Flowers,” which consists of four to five prints.

“It’s amazing because I still deal with cancer, so I feel like a sailor sailing through rough seas, in total uncertainty, but with my artwork as my anchor,” she says.

Teixidor explains how years ago she was sitting by her window, looking at her skin close-up. She began to take photos, then started to piece them together, manipulating the color and creating designs and shapes. This is how the vase-and-flowers display came to life.

“Even though it’s so many times removed from the very original images, it’s still the continuation of my exploration of the motif that skin can create by assembling more and more,” Teixidor says. “It’s really me. It’s me becoming flowers.” She adds, “I want to live, and live longer.”

Works on display from the other artists feature sculptures, reverse paintings, landscapes, watercolors and architectural and nature photographs.

Despite climbing many uphill battles with her health, Teixidor says she feels both lucky and unlucky. “I look around, and I don’t think I have been unhappier than anyone else who doesn’t have cancer,” she says. “I am not envious. I am not jealous. I’m perfectly OK mentally, which is very important to me.”

As she faces this recurrence, Teixidor will begin oral chemotherapy but remains positive. “Facing my fears, which were cancer-related, has in some ways changed my life,” Teixidor says. “I never tried to not face what was ahead of me. I think that made me stronger.”
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