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Breast cancer battle changes work for Mesa artist




Breast cancer survivor and artist Helen Rowles poses with work from her

Breast cancer survivor and artist Helen Rowles poses with work from her “Scarves of Heaven” series at her home in Mesa, Ariz., on Oct. 7, 2009. In 2003, after she gained the strength to continue her artwork, she started her new colorful artwork theme featuring scarves as landscapes, whimsical items, and most of all, support. (AP Photo/East Valley Tribune, Thomas Boggan)

MESA, Ariz.

Helen Rowles’ art changed after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Before, the Mesa artist created black and white drawings.

Now, she incorporates colorful scarves and patterns into her color pencil drawings, many of them on birch wood.

The idea of scarves came to her while sitting in her doctor’s office during her five months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. During her treatment, she never wore wigs, only scarves.

“The possibility crossed my mind of not surviving, and I thought of all these scarves in heaven,” said Rowles, 51.

In 2003, after she gained the strength to continue her artwork, she started her new colorful artwork theme featuring scarves as landscapes, whimsical items, and most of all, support.

“(When you have cancer), people help you,” Rowles said. “It’s just amazing. I wanted that whole idea of being held, hoisted up, and supported (in my artwork). It was all about the healing process, and a way to express myself.”

Rowles routinely had her annual mammograms after pain under her armpit started the annual tradition when she was in her mid- 30s.

A radiologist discovered something strange in a mammogram, and after a biopsy, her doctor called on her 43rd birthday to tell her she had cancer.

Rowles never found any lumps.

She had a partial mastectomy, and then went through chemotherapy and radiation.

Rowles is now in remission and has been cancerfree since 2003. She encourages all women to get their annual mammograms because one saved her life.

She has taught drawing and color pencil art to adults at the Mesa Arts Center for three years.

Sandy Solomon of Chandler is one of Rowles’ art students who also owns a piece of Rowles’ artwork. Solomon bought Rowles’ “Pear Embraced” piece, which is featured this month in a local Mayo Clinic calendar.

“I love her work. I love them from an artistic perspective, but then when I learned the background behind them, this was kind of an additional perspective on the pieces that had significance to me,” said Solomon, a breast cancer survivor.

“The picture just grabbed me,” said Solomon, a retired information technology manager. “I felt it was something that we wanted to live with. It fits in perfectly with our home.”

Since Rowles’ diagnosis, she has become a more prolific artist. She creates her artwork in her upstairs studio. “My goal every day is to get everything done so I can get in my studio and do my artwork,” said Rowles, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree in drawing from Arizona State University and a master’s in education focusing on adult curriculum from the University of Phoenix. “I produce a lot of work.”

Having cancer has given her a different perspective on life.

“It sort of makes you grow up and see this next phase,” Rowles said. “You also realize how much your family relies on you.”

Rowles is married and has two children. Her husband, Greg, is a custom home builder. Her daughter is a senior at Mesa’s Mountain View High School and her son is a senior at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Besides teaching art classes, Rowles helps out with her husband’s custom home building business. She does some design work and office work, and each house gets a uniquely painted wooden door by Rowles.

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