Depicting the Grind of Cancer Through Art: How Deconstructing the Disease Led a Mother to Own Her Diagnosis

Alex Mallonee has found it inspiring to depict his mother’s journey with breast cancer through art, and hopes others affected by cancer will feel the same.

Alex Mallonee’s mother lived with metastatic breast cancer for 25 years, and although she died from the disease in in October of 2020, he continues to share her legacy in the form of art.

Alex’s mother, Joyce Mallonee, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 and then received a stage four diagnosis in late 2006. During her cancer journey, she would utilize a mental exercise in which she would imagine all of the parts of her body had been altered or replaced. This is when she got the idea to turn her journey into art and call it “Deconstruction.”

She approached her son with the idea, who has continued working on the project. The recently launched a virtual art experience which can be found at the website - https://deconstructionart.live/

Alex explained that the art depicts his mother’s journey with cancer and shows her identity throughout.

“One of the (main stories) is mom’s journey with cancer and her identity which comes up quite a lot in this. I think the art show was a way for her to, finally, own her diagnosis,” Alex said in an interview with CURE®.

He explained that throughout her journey she was very exclusive of who she would let know that she was sick and would sugarcoat her experience, because she didn’t want a reputation of “being sick.” And by doing “Deconstruction” it allowed his mother to think in a different perspective: “this is part of me, but it’s not the defining part of me.”

On a more personal note, for Alex, it allowed him and his mother to have a more candid conversation about her diagnosis. He knew his mother was sick and it was a scary thing, however, it was something he would “run away from.” And the negative thoughts would race through his head about what if something were to happen to her, but the art show allowed him to see a different side.

“When she reached out about the project it really clicked, and we were able to talk a lot more frankly about the disease and I was getting less emotional,” he

said. “I was able to engage with it quite a bit better.”

The project has been a “really lovely way” for Alex to grieve and he said it gives them a chance to still “hang out.”

“It’s meant a lot because I get to continue doing something for her on her behalf,” he explained. “I do feel like there’s a little bit of a mission and I feel so grateful to have something of hers to interact with. It’s almost in like some way (she’s saying), ‘I am unfortunately passed away, but here’s some homework to do.’”

The "Deconstruction” exhibit consists of many different mediums of art including a "pill dress" embroidered with over 25 years worth of pharmaceuticals and portraits of the six different oncologists who treated her highlighting their differing approaches to care. But Alex mentioned there’s one piece of art that really showed him how hard his mother’s journey was. It is the titular "Deconstruction" piece and consists of a nude photo of Joyce, barring scars and all, with a series of artifacts of her treatment around her that represent a “laundry list of procedures,” he described it as

It is a nude photo of Joyce and there are a plethora of scars all over her body that represent a “laundry list of procedures,” he described it as.

“And that was really staggering to me to really look at it. … It’s inspirational to me,” he added.

Alex said that he also hopes that the feeling of inspiration he feels from the art show reflects on others who have been affected by cancer as well. The hope, he said, is that it may inspire caregivers or friends of people with cancer to start having those tough conversations, just as he and his mom did.

“I think that’s something else that’s really important to me and I think (it’s) important to cancer survivors and their families,” he added. “Helping (to) facilitate those really tough conversations. But the more that you have them, the easier they do get.”

He said that one of his main wishes is that the project helps those patients with cancer to creatively engage and accept what they are going through, as his mother did with “Deconstruction.” It was a way for her to get through the alienation she was feeling and may be helpful to other patients as well, according to Alex.

“I think it’s about that, whatever you can do to help break through the alienation you might be experiencing.… And so this was a way for me and her to do that,” he concluded. “And I hope that it’s inspiring to other cancer survivors and their families to have those similar relationships.”

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