I saw the painting Born To Be Wild by Norwegian artist, Sylvia Sotuyo, for the first time the day before yesterday on the NET Cancer Day Facebook page and it immediately spoke to me in a way that art seldom does. I looked at it over and over again, each time asking myself what it is about that figure that inspires me so. I even posted it as my Facebook profile picture. Why? Because I see it as a picture of me! I may not look like this to you and it isn’t what I see in the mirror, but I know it’s me!
I contacted the artist and she graciously gave me permission to share her painting here and to try to explain what it means to me, but first, let me share her description of it:
The dynamic human tree represents the strength and stamina of the tree, combined with the power and intelligence of the human being. The human tree stands proudly, well grounded to earth, and reaches towards the sky to achieve all it`s hopes and dreams…
I, too, see it as a symbol of strength and hope, but I see other things that the artist may not have had in mind. First of all, the zebra is the symbol of neuroendocrine tumours (NETS), the incurable cancer that I was diagnosed with almost two years ago. Neuroendocrine tumours are difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are usually vague and similar to more common health problems. Many family doctors have never encountered a NETS patient. When presented with symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea, they naturally think of things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease or lactose intolerance. Medical students are taught “when hearing hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” Neuroendocrine tumours are very rare and therefore they are considered to be zebras.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve noticed zebra stripes everywhere! In recent years, the fashion world has been inundated with animal prints and the zebra is definitely a popular motif. I’ve seen zebra t-shirts, zebra leggings, zebra pjs and even zebra bras. I’ve tried on zebra jeans and a sexy looking zebra dress, but I didn’t buy either one. I’ve also seen zebra handbags and zebra luggage. One of the ladies I occasionally play golf with has a zebra golf bag. Obviously, it was the zebra stripes on the figure in Sotuya’s painting that prompted the NET Cancer Day organization to post it on their Facebook page and that initially caught my eye, but there’s more than that to my fascination with it.
Like the tree, I’m more firmly rooted to one place than I was before my diagnosis. I receive a monthly injection to alleviate the symptoms mentioned above that has to be administered by a specially trained nurse. Fortunately, I can arrange to have the injection given anywhere in Canada. In fact, plans are already in place for me to have my next one in Vancouver, but arranging to have it given outside the country would be much more complicated. There likely won’t be any more long term stints teaching English or doing missionary work overseas in my future.
I’m also firmly rooted in my faith, however. It’s my absolute confidence that my life is in God’s hands that gives me the freedom and joy that I see represented by the outstretched arms or branches of the figure in the painting. I see strength and purpose in those arms as well as exuberance.
The figure is also graceful, possessing an elegance that I would like to think is true of me. I often pray that I might be a woman of grace, one who doesn’t allow the circumstances of life to define who I am. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I fervently prayed that God would enable me to endure whatever lay ahead with grace.
As the title of the painting implies, there’s also a wildness in her. I, too, am a little bit wild at heart. It’s not a loud or out of control sort of wildness, but I believe in living life to the fullest and I’m always ready to try something new. I don’t like to follow the crowd and I don’t always see eye to eye with the people who love me. I speak my mind, but I don’t fly off the handle. I love nothing more than a hike in the wilderness or a walk on a beach and just because I’m in my 60s doesn’t mean I can’t climb a tree! Yes, I’m a little bit wild; a little bit unconventional and I think this is a picture of me!
You can see other examples of Sylvia Sotuyo’s work and even purchase prints here.