Figurative Testimonials

HealSpring 2008
Volume 2
Issue 1

An ovarian cancer survivor uses her art to make her hidden emotional journey visible.

In June 2003, artist Karen Starrett Belfer was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. To cope with her cancer experience, she turned to her art, which, she says, helps her process and make visible hidden emotions. Visually exploring her cancer experience, Belfer used a wax medium mixed with oils that allowed her to incise the paint and reveal the undercoat, where she left writings and prayers. For each painting she wrote an essay that reflected the emotions of the woman in the painting. For more of Starrett Belfer’s work go to

I consciously experienced unarticulated emotions as they manifested themselves within my work — and safely experienced my inner self as it emptied its contents onto each painting surface.

Every night I lie in bed in silent terror. When I lie down to sleep I feel a pulling sensation on the left side of my abdomen where my ovary used to be. My cancer has recurred. I feel silent terror.

I have to wait for my next oncologist appointment. I go every three months for an examination and the results from the CA-125 blood test and CAT scan. My oncologist says the results are good. I tell him about my constant pulling sensations, and except for opening me up, he offers no other options.

The pulling sensations continue, and I wait another three months in my nightly terror. At my appointment my oncologist informs me of a problem on my CAT scan.

I have an abdominal hernia — Thank G-d!

While I was sick, my oldest son went out into the world. He graduated college and got his first career position. He moved away to the South to establish himself.

I am a spectator to his choices.

I watch him with such a full heart and pride for the man he has become. He is still my dream come true. It’s hard to deal with losing him after I have lost part of myself.

Beginning to look like I used to. My hair is getting longer and it’s the same color as before. I fit into all my clothes. People look at me and don’t know that not long ago I was in chemotherapy.

In my new world, only my internal constitution is the focus of my attention.

Does looking “normal” promote a sense of wellness for me? I don’t think so. I don’t connect my appearance with my heart and soul.

How do I connect with this new body in remission. Can I love it?

I can’t see; I can only feel. I trust my feelings more than I trust appearances.

This is me and my fear. We go food shopping together, watch TV together, sleep together, and are inseparable. At first I shun my fear because I am uncomfortable with it. But my fear’s presence gets bigger and begins to overwhelm me.

I learn that if I accept my fear’s existence along with my own, we can live together in peace.

The “Two of Us” is my portrait. I am beginning to see a family resemblance.