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Artist discusses battle with ovarian cancer during lecture

By Staff | May 18, 2010

Captiva resident and artist Stella Farwell talked about her battle with ovarian cancer on May 6 at St. Michael’s & All Angels Church. Her cancer is currently in remission.

"When you see a blink — THINK!"

That’s the first message island artist Stella Farwell passed on to participants in her Ovarian Cancer Awareness presentation at St. Michael’s & All Angels Church of Sanibel on May 6.

“Now, many things can you think of that you see every day that blink?” she asked. "Turn signals, traffic dividers and traffic lights, airplane lights…" and the cancer logo magnet/pin she handed out when you come through the door.

The second, and undoubtedly the most important, is “A woman who is having medical problems that aren’t being resolved — vague problems, not necessarily related to anything or, often most commonly, seemingly  related to other diseases — should see her OB/GYN and rule out Ovarian Cancer.” said Farwell, who emphasized the importance of being in tune with your body.

There is, at this time, no approved screening test for ovarian cancer (although one has been developed and is, apparently, languishing in the halls — or wherever — of the Food & Drug Administration.) Stella went to her doctor complaining of problems with her right hip when her ovarian cancer was found.

Farwell has been a resident of Captiva since 1984, having left the business world at that time to pursue a career in art. She’s served with the Captiva Volunteer Fire Department as both a responder and as a Fire Commissioner, was the first female president of the Captiva Civie Association, and was the first woman on the Island Water Association’s Board of Directors.

In addition, she is a nationally known artist with work in businesses and homes all over the country. Her piece, “Forward Motion,” is on permanent display in Schein Hall at BIG ARTS, and she is the artist responsible for the occasional vehicle you still see on island roads sporting red, white and blue ribbon streamers — a concept she came up with to commemorate 9/11.

A lot of her work, since she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in late 2007, has been inspired by her “battle” with the disease.

“I’m thrilled i have this creative outlet,” she said, “because it doesn’t allow me to slide into the boring, one-focus pit of being just a cancer patient — to myself or to anyone else.”

So, what were her symptoms?

“Certainly not typical,” as she puts it, “but whose are? This is known as the silent killer.”

Farwell’s hip was bothering her. She was bloated and she had what was appeared to be ‘thrush’ in her mouth (a type of fungal infection). She had surgery with chemotherapy in January 2008, in June 2009 the cancer came back and she had more surgery and chemo. By December of that year, it had metastaized to her lungs which called for radiation. She is presently in remission.

Her presentation featured a short film created by Rusty Farst/Jaws Productions in which Stella talks about the disease but mostly about the artwork she has created during her journey with the cancer. One piece, for example, is called “Layers” — handmade paper in layers that represent the frustration, the fear, the waiting. But another is “Fun” — a free-handed, swirly fingerpainting on Plexiglas.

“You simply cannot dwell on it all the time,” she added.

“Stella’s film depicting her journey through Ovarian cancer is stunning,” Captiva librarian Anne Bradley said. “Her modesty belies her great talent and presence as an artist. I thank her for sharing her story and probably saving lives.”

“if it was Stella’s desire to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, she certinly did a good job with me,” commented Captiva resident Vanessa "Queenie" Viglione. “I

knew absolutely nothing about it when I walked in there. Now I do… a lot.

“And I loved her explanations of her artwork," Viglione continued. "The pieces look relatively simple but, as she pointed out, there is a lot of complexity just below the

surface — just as she explained about one’s journey with cancer."