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John-David Perry Photo courtesy of John-David Perry

John-David Perry, 34, remembers how painting reinvigorated his mother’s spirit when she was first diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast in 1996. While Elizabeth Perry recovered from her unilateral mastectomy, she attended a mixed-media art class. She spent hours painting abstract pieces in her bedroom, directing her anger and frustration with cancer onto her canvases.

“[Painting] was a chance for her to give a physical form to all of the emotions and feelings she was going through,” he says.

Elizabeth Perry, now 67, turned to painting again in 2005 after she was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer, and underwent another mastectomy and chemotherapy. She has shown no evidence of disease since 2005.

In 2010, John-David Perry, who was living in Washington, D.C., decided he wanted to help other cancer patients, survivors and caregivers benefit from art the way his mother did. He created Elizabeth’s Canvas, a nonprofit organization that provides free classes, ranging from painting and photography to dance for people affected by cancer.

Channel Your Inner Artist

Learn how to create your own works of art.

For beginners, Kimber Luederitz, an art teacher for Elizabeth’s Canvas, shares tips on how to create your own works of art.

  • Start with nontoxic acrylic paint because it’s inexpensive, easy to clean and can be used on many materials.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed when you go to the art supply store. Ask for help and limit yourself to buying basic supplies.
  • Create in a relaxing, uncluttered environment with fresh air and good lighting.
  • Give yourself permission to be imperfect. There are no mistakes in art.
  • Practice. Creating art is like building a muscle.
  • Try to find joy in the process.

He and friends started by organizing a six-week art class for cancer patients and survivors at The Art Studio NY in New York City. After moving to California, he approached cancer centers about offering this free service for patients and their families.

Foster the Arts

Art classes can provide a boost for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. Here’s how you can help foster art in the cancer community.

  • Contact your local cancer center to see if it holds art programs and offer to donate supplies.
  • If you’re an artist, volunteer to teach classes to patients or survivors through a support group or at a hospital.

Elizabeth’s Canvas, which is funded by donations, employs seven instructors in California. The classes don’t focus on cancer, yet they may inspire participants to express emotions related to their illness.

Last year, the organization provided more than 400 classes at galleries, cancer centers and hospitals in Los Angeles County. John-David Perry hopes to extend these services to San Francisco and New York City.

He says art classes provide a much-needed outlet for many cancer patients and that the ability to create can be empowering.

“For someone who’s fighting for their life,” he says, “it’s their chance to leave their imprint on the world.” 

Do you know an extraordinary person who’s giving his or her time to the cancer cause? Email Volunteer@CancerTodayMag.org. ​We may feature the person in a future issue.